18 October, 2009

Trudging to the end

so very fast
up the tunnel
towards the darkness.
Isn't that the wrong way?
whisper whisper
Where is the right?
Somewhere opposite the wrong.
Tumbling over
into a sleepless dream
Has it begun?
shout shout
you took a wrong turn
And now we are plodding
Back to the ending.

05 October, 2009


It an unexpectedly pleasant evening. Awash with recent rain, resplendently green. The dust had settled down into smudges and everything seemed to be smiling. My grin of course had been wiped away after all the haggling with the auto rickshaw drivers. Could absolutely no one find it in their hearts to agree to go to Janakpuri? Could no soul be decent enough to agree to go by meter? Since when did 8:30 become so late that fellows would start asking for exhorbitant rates? Just as I was beginning to get Infinitely Irritated, Along Came Polly. No along came a Kindred Spirit (I just wrote Polly on a whim. Ha).  So. He agreed to:
  1. Go to my house,
  2. Via Mr. Co-Passenger’s house and
  3. Go by meter.
With a triple whammy like that, he obviously falls into the Kindred Spirit category (for definition, refer to Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery). However, flustered with the whole auto search and fail thing, I admit I muttured some “Aap auto waale kabhi bhi meter se nahin jaate” lines. Next I know, we had begun the long journey to the Faraway Land of Janakpuri  in absolute  silence and a whir of motion – he flew the rickety little triangle right upto Dhaula Kuan, where we hit the much dreaded, transportation nightmare - Perpetual Red Light.

Here, he turned around and nonchalantly said, “Toh kya bol rahe the aap auto waalon ke bare mein?”

“Err…yahi ki aap log meter se nahin jaate…” I squeaked because he after all was a Kindred Soul.

“Aapke haath mein kitni ungaliyaan hain?”

“Ek mein paanch.”

“Aur kya saari ek barabar hain?” (knowledgeable expression on face of a spider who knows the prey is oh-so-surely-entagled)

“Nahin” (foxed expression on face of a person who does not know where the conversation is leading)

“Yahin toh seekh hai. Sab ek barabar nahin hoteen. Ekdum se sab auto waalon ko achha ya bura mat boliye. Har jagah imandaar aur bemaan log hotein hain.”

Here the light decided to stop stopping us and we carried on in our motionic cacophony. I was quite startled by his sudden outburst (outburst is too strong an adjective, he spoke in a very mild, non-patronizing manner). Our next piece of conversation began at the Delhi Cantt light.
“Aap hi ki tarah ek madam mili then mujhe. Jyoti Madam. Rohini jaana tha. Tang ho gayeen theen. Koi bhi meter se jaane ko tayyar hi nahin tha. Phir mein le gaya unhe. Achhi dosti ho gayi hamari.”

(Here, I scoffed inwardly – “Is this a mujhse dosti karoge moment?” It wasn’t.) 

“Phir main unhe daily le jaata tha. Ek din Jyoti ji ne mujhe Pakistan mein driver banane ka offer diya. Mein tayyar ho gaya. Unhone mera visa passport sab banwa diya, mujhe ek Mohommaden naam tak de diya. Mein ghabraya hua tha par tankha achhi thi. Chala gaya. Plane mein baithkar. Wahan meri mano, sadak par laashein padi milti hain. Mera kaam embassy mein tha jo achha tha. Par wahan ka khana bahut kharab tha. Gandigi itni ki poocho mat. Aur har jagah maas. Mein thehra Hindu. Kaise khata unka khana? Chhe maheene maine dabal roti khakar kaate. Ek din mujhe teen ladkiyaan sadak par dikhin. Unke gaadi ka tyre puncture ho gaya tha. Maine unhe lift de di. Unka driver bhi Hindu tha, mere Bihar se hi! Sochiye! Bhagwan ke ghar mein der hai andher nahin. Bas phir, roz wahin, unhi ke ghar khana. Baarah sal kaise kate, pata hi nahin chala! Paise kamakar mein aa gaya wapas India.”

Reeling under the sudden turn of conversation and the socio-religious implications of this man’s interesting journey, we moved onto the next red light. For a moment I wondered if he was bluffing, cooking up a tale to make fun of the snooty girl who had defaced his kind. Then I shuddered at my cynicism (or was it suspicion?) and decided that even if it was a tale, it was keeping me hooked, so simply for its entertainment value, I should listen along. At Thimayya Park, he resumed: 

“Haan toh vaapas aakar maine auto khareeda. Paanch lakh ki aati hai ek. Pata tha aapko? Kaise pata hoga. (oh you poor richer-than-me kid sigh).  Phir bas dekhte dekhte ab mere paas teen auto hain. Ek chalata hoon, baaki chalwata hoon, achhi business hai.” 

Towards the end of the journey, he threw caution to the wind. He gave up on red lights and spoke irrespective of our state of motion. “Log ache hote hain, bure bhi. Bur ke bina humein ache ki kimat nahin pata lagti. Ek machli poore talaab ko ganda kar deti hai toh suna hi hoga aapne. Yahi taqleef hai hum auto waalon ki.”

We spoke of bribery and treacherous officials, potholed roads and karma, money and how daughters were a curse (that was his opinion). My dismal Hindi disallowed me from convincing him otherwise, which was thoroughly shameful. The journey ended (as do all journeys, which is rather depressing) and so did our conversation. He left me with a parting shot: “Logon mein burai nikaalna bahut aasaan hai. Achhai bahut hai. Bas use dhoondhna hamara kaam hai.” 

He had reached me home in record time, surprisingly decent tariff and sufficiently entertained. I realized, that all journeys, no matter how mundane they could be, become interesting.   

01 October, 2009

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the loneliest of us all?

There is something terrible about eating alone in a public place. It seems improper and is astoundingly tragic. I saw her open the menu card, she had an air about her which wished she already done with this one meal. Although I noticed her decide what she wanted right away, her eyes lazily ran over the printed words, hoping for them to provide some solace, for them to start a conversation, entertain her, occupy her in any way possible. Resignedly she ordered, just a nod of her head beckoning the waiter to her in a familiarity that was almost amusing if not pathetic. Now came the waiting and she did it with subdued impatience. She fidgeted with her phone, feigning deep involvement in every little button it had, but she couldn’t fool me. She looked at the couple sitting on the next table and studied their conversation with an interest she thought she concealed well, but then I am after all, a fanatic observer. The couple couldn’t understand the misspelt chomin or sandwitch on the menu and engaged a whole waiter for a whole 10 minutes understanding what each item meant. I saw her lips curl upwards in amusement, or was it scorn? With her you couldn’t really tell. I told you I had been studying her long. I knew the way her features moved, in that intimate way a lover knows each frown, each smile.

Just when the silence was deafening, there arrived a gaggle of people, each competing with the other for being ostentatious and obnoxious. They brought with them a fur clad perfumed spaniel pup. I saw her eyes widening as she saw the little puppy, she almost choked on the water which she had been sipping for well over a minute. There were four of them with one woman, fat in a shapely way, a voice louder than the words she spoke, impeccable English with an authoritative air. She sniffed at the water and asked for mineral water, petted her spaniel with affection and laughed heartily. My object of observation frowned as she watched this ridiculous display of garrulousness, and looked sympathetically at the three men around the table. One had a nervous twitch, so noticeable, it made me want to twitch. The other fellow nearly collapsed in relief when the waiter permitted him to smoke inside the restaurant. The third was one of those people who have nothing specific, they are a face, like any other, listless, without character, the kind of face you wouldn’t want to hear talk, the kind my mind has no use of. the verbose lady carried out pompously discussing everything from cheap hotels to unending journeys, pets and politics.

But coming back to her. Today she is wearing blue. Heightened against her dark skin. Her hair has been left loose. I can make out she hasn’t brushed it and the dishevelment becomes her. She started as her food came and she rolled up her sleeves, as if it were an unpleasant task to be done. Slowly she chomped through the chapattis, taking big mouthfuls and washing them down systematically with water. She cocked her head slightly and I knew she was eavesdropping. I could tell by the way her expressions tattled. There was a frown. Sometimes a grin. She rolled her eyes at times and almost chuckled when the dog peed on the carpet. I played along her emotions, wondering if she saw me sitting beside her table. I had ordered what she had and matched her movements. Break a piece. Make a bite. Put in mouth. Chew a bit. Just a bit and swallow.

She carried on till the dishes were empty. The cheeky waiter, a boy at best, cleared away her dishes. She rose now and I with her, but I left abruptly so I wouldn’t be too obvious. She stood near the counter, picking at the saunf and smiling at the manager. Her knee was bent, she toyed with the tassels of her shawl. It was a balmy night and I hated to say goodbye.


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