30 April, 2009

Leh Journal III - Of rods and unfinshed baths

He was lurking in the compounds, with, of all things, three emersion rods in his hands. What would a man be doing in someone else’s house flaunting devices to heat water in such a manner? We gave him a look and he just shuffled his feet somewhere else, looking around shiftily, like an amateur detective. He had grimy salt and pepper hair which was arranged in disarray on his thin long head. He wore something maroon I remember. Was it his sweater? Most likely. Can’t be his pants. Definitely. He didn’t have the look of a person who experimented with his clothes. So there he was, looking lost and trying to figure out whether this is where he wanted to be.
* * *
I hadn’t bathed in time frames that defy normalcy and so my haste to check whether there was hot water in the HUGE orange bucket (those tall HUGE fellows which don’t fit anywhere in the bathroom) was justified. I ran up the steps, turning back just once to look at the ridiculous guy with his ridiculous rods (no matter what they say, I think puns are always intended). I removed the emersion rod in the bucket and checked the temperature of the water. “The water is lukewarm, another 10 minutes and I’ll be having a luxurious bath.” My whole day had gone by in the hope of this one bath and thus, no matter what you believe, it was imperative for me to get this one thing done. As if I would accomplish all there was to accomplish, as if I would suddenly become the clean good person we are supposed to be. I smugly put the emersion rod back to heat the water. The bath day had come!

Suddenly, things began to happen very fast. Bhaiya (the landowner, self-confessed worshipper of all things electric and usually sloth-like person) was seen running at speeds of light to the bathroom where I stood. Within seconds, the emersion rod was unceremoniously yanked off its socket and pushed into the bucket. Fast on his heels, the unknown pseudo Holmes came, sniffed at the air and looked around the bathroom in this irritating self-important manner that was at total loggerheads with his persona. He looked at the orange bucket suspiciously.

(Imagine the conversation in Ladakhi)
“What is in this?”
“Nothing, only water”, stammered Bhaiya (poor acting if you’d ask me).
“Then let’s see...”

And of course the offending emersion rod was discovered, wet and guilty. The triumphant look in unknown pseudo Holmes’ eyes was a sight to behold. The guy got kicks from confiscating peoples’ emersion rods! In this freaking cold, where geysers are banned because of the scarcity of electricity and these rods are our only path to hot water! The guy must be a sadist. When he was a kid he must have been the boy who tattled to the teacher about who stuck chewing gum to her chair. I could’ve struck him then and there and got back the rod (just as well I didn’t, he turned out to be an “Assistant Linesman” which makes him a government employee and striking such a man for something like an emersion rod would not seem too convincing in court I think).

After that, unknown pseudo Holmes searched the entire house. Downstairs, another emersion was discovered and captured in unfettered delight. We groaned and pleaded with him. I even ran after him shrieking, “I want to bathe. Pleeeeeeeeease give us back at least one rod.” To which he looked back at me in such disdain, it’s a marvel I didn’t wither. Before leaving he said, “Sharam aani chahiye aapko, ek ghar mein do do rod lagate ho. Pandrah laakh ka transformer phuk gaya kal. Huh.”

Right then and there I hated him SO much. Here was this goon, walking away with my only hope for a bath, and that too with such aplomb. Yes he was doing his job, but STILL. I heard Bhaiya mutter profanities under his breath. That made me smile. Then Bhabhi returned (she had gone shopping to get us some veggies...brinjal costs 160/- per kg here hoohaha!!!!! Lemons are an appalling 120/- per kg!!) and shrieked out profanities. That comforted me a great deal. I entered the kitchen, to rehash and laugh over the incident. In spite of the lost bath, the absurdity of the entire event had me in splits. Bhaiya was sitting there, in the middle of an impressive assortment of wires, screws, heating elements, screwdrivers and what nots. He was, of course, making another emersion rod. “Koi nahin Chandni, kal subah tak garam paani mil jayega nahane ko.”

25 April, 2009

Leh Journal II - My Magpie

He looked at me with his black beady eyes
Those eyes lost somewhere in that black face of his
He had a piece of flesh in his mouth
Still dripping red
For the moment he seemed to see right through me
Through my farce
Through my fears
Right to my core
Where nestled my dearest woes
And then he flew away
Resplendent blue feathers
So shiny
The white accented by that ebony face.

Have you ever seen a black headed (or is it called white-chested?) magpie? Its a beautifully coloured large bird found EVERYWHERE in Leh. Google it for some images. I find the bird obscenely beautiful. And the funny thing is its large head (it looks like Moose - the Archies comic male version of dumb blonde guy) which makes it seem like a bully, with its squating oh look at me gait.

15 April, 2009

Orange and Red

He emptied another packet of sugar into his coffee, knowing very well he wasn’t supposed to. What with his diabetes. And all the weight he was putting on. As he stirred his coffee he had a weird feeling that something was waiting to happen. He saw someone from the corner of his eye. She was standing on her toes to reach counter in a ridiculously bright coloured sari. It was orange, vibrantly sunny and she had coupled it with a red blouse (a red blouse? Whoever wore orange with red? She did. Apparently.) He turned to face her. Slowly. He felt himself move in slow motion. He felt this encounter was going to be momentous. It had that air about it. As he turned she happened to look up at him and the full impact of her hit him. Her kajal-lined eyes, her black hair left loose, her sari’s orange paloo falling off her shoulder in unhurried abandon. Her eyes registered surprise and something else (irritation? Anger? Resignation?) when she recognized him. She still looked beautiful, her eyes still smiled along with her mouth, she still seemed to look like she had somewhere to go, something important to do.

Now she was talking to him. “So how have you been? Oh isn’t it amazing to meet after all these years? (She said amazing. Not nice. Not great or splendid. But amazing. Like how one is amazed at seeing a satellite launching into space. Like how one can be amazed at the squalor people live in. Like how one can be amazed at beauty of a blooming flower.) You look so different!”

He tried to reply coherently. Her enthusiastic greeting had a hollow ring to it. Falsely cheerful. Her smile was shrouded (when had it not been?). “Aah yes it’s been long. I’m working, earning well. I am married and have a baby girl. She’s six.” He felt smug, almost proud telling her of his life. He was living the dream everyone wished for. A perfect job. The beautiful wife. A child – appropriately bright and sufficiently pretty. Then why was he feeling foolish, almost cheap telling her of his wonderful life? As if he was back in school trying to impress his teacher with a drawing he knew was mediocre. He saw her smiling at him. That pretty face exasperated him. He looked closely to find some flaw. He asked her a mundane question, buying time to observe her. “So how have you been?” He didn’t pay much attention to the words being said. He noticed how her hair seemed thinner, the curls fewer. The wrinkles around her eyes became her. She had a scar over her left eyebrow now. I looked like it would hurt if he touched it. There were more lines around her mouth, seemingly there because of her smiling. She wore no ring, there was no red powder on her forehead, her neck was, as always, unadorned. He drank in these details with satisfaction. She was still alone. It made him smirk and he felt slightly light-headed. He had managed companionship, a successful career and a ‘normal’ life. But then how did she manage to make him feel insufficient, make him feel that although he had it all, he didn’t know the secret, make him want to ask her how she seemed so content in spite of the glaring inadequacies of her life? It unsettled him. And the fact that it unsettled him fascinated him. She had always left him perplexed. He went back into time.

She was standing in the doorway, her hair tied back, it was much longer then. A dusting cloth draped her shoulder, her worn-out-spring-cleaning skirt kissed her ankles, one of which had a silver anklet with little colourful beads hanging from it. Blue. Red. Yellow. Green. Her hands were on her hips, she had a cheeky grin on her face. She was calling him, urging him to see what was coming on tv. He was reclining on the pillows, drinking her in. Satiated. Wondrous. Content. Even then her wholeness, her laughter had disturbed him. He remembered often feeling that she was crazy. Mentally unstable. But when you are young you believe strange things. Looking back now, maybe she thought he was crazy. “Perspective, you fool,” he chided himself. That was one of the lessons she had taught him. Then he had believed and that too strongly that they would last. In spite of all her excesses and his insufficiencies. His excesses and her insufficiencies? She made him feel so terribly complete. Snapping back to the present, he fumbled to catch the thread of her conversation. “So now I am living in a house near a zoo. A zoo. It sound ridiculous, but I guess someone has to stay near the zoo. Ha I knew it would make you laugh. It amuses me no end. I just have to hear the elephants trumpet in the evening and I remember the world is just as hilarious as I had imagined it to be.”

Suddenly he was tired of her. She made him feel terrible. The joy in his heart was shriveling. His life seemed a sham. It was OK for him he thought. “I am perfectly satisfied with being ‘conventional’. I like to value things that normal people cherish. So what if she is happy with her singledom, trumpeting elephants and a pathetic zoo-house, her ridiculously bright saris, her thinning hair and aging face, her wild notions and stupid books?” He was sounding mean, a word no one who knew him would use to describe him. That delighted him no end.
She touched his elbow. And asked in that sincere beautiful voice of hers, “Are you ok?”
“Yes. I am.” Yes I am? Blatant lies.

Suddenly he was seized by the urge to get away from her. Tear himself away before he was swallowed into her world again. It glittered and glistened – but for her alone. It was an unhappy world for an outsider. It was complete for her. A colourful world of his orange clad girl.

13 April, 2009

January 4, 2009

I asked him to write me a song

I promised that I’d sing along.

It’s another story that

Neither did he write me one

Nor did I find my voice when he was done.

07 April, 2009

Leh Journal - I

People tell me I have this knack for disappearing without a trace/phone number/squeak. Yes I have a knack. If I want to, I can stay in touch. But what does one do when one revels in being very far away in a new place, incognito? If one doesn't want to stay in touch and exchange ridiculous hellos? And didn't I tell you I have phonephobia? Its a disease that intensifies with age. Ha.

Here I am in Leh for two months and I really can't emphasize how everyone MUST visit the place once in their lifetime. That is if you care for beauty of the harsh bold variety. If mountains make you feel at home. If a blue sky and brown landscape catch your fancy. If looking at a sky with more stars and less black seems remotely interesting. If you don't mind drinking a zillion cups of butter tea. If you love roads that touch the horizon. If staring at HUGE statues of Buddha seems like a perfectly normal thing to do. Basically, anyone who is anyone should come here.

The mountain air is conducive to writing I presume. As is the extra time. I am writing poems by the dozen. Prose flows out onto my diary like never before. Work seems notsointimidating. My brain amuses me by appearing sharper. When life seems this good, it deserves a post. Yes?

Till the nest time I manage to muster the courage to take a chance at the mind-numbingly slow internet here, take care everybody and seriously, think of a trip to Leh (May-September is the best time. In case you need an itinerary, youknowwho isn't available on phone. She definitely isn't.)



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