25 December, 2011


Going through old diaries is perhaps the next best thing to actually writing in them. Sifting through pages I've spilt onto in the past (an end of year ritual of sorts), I found a little poem, aching to be heard and so naive in its tone. On a second reading, it is a little screechy too : |

Image from Tastes Orangey

Stop hovering around
a sullen thought
the quiver in my anger
the stench in this rot.

Why take on this disguise
of my loneliest need
Hollowing each promise of hope
on your island of greed.

Worn as a coin
of your vain frivolty
don't foolishly entice with
a second helping of novelty.

Whimpering, seething, 
thoughts ricochet around
heartbeats desperately venture
to make a sound. 

1 August, 2009

25 November, 2011

Wanderings


(To the ones I lost to the forks in the road)

Oh our gay little steps
on that long straight road
we walked so sure.
In that world of naivety
there were no crooked alleys
no gullies of guile,
no diversions with misleading names
no glitzy shops to sell us spurious wares.
There were no dead-ends,
we wished for no U-turns.
In that uni-dimensional future,
how we skipped along, unassuming.

Just when did we meet that fork in our path
Did you see it before me? Or did it
confront you with the same stealthy insidiousness?
I watched it force us,
to make decisions we were too ignorant to understand.

Your way, they tell me, sparkles,
sometimes its fragrance wafts my way
and I think I hear the laughter and the
chatter of your world.
But Wisdom whispers
there must be the tears too,
I'm just not close enough
to hear how they must impale.

My path often colours my sky with happiness,
other days each step opens a fresh sore,
I wonder if I should call out to you
Or is my voice too far to recognise?
I teeter between dilemmas
and let the moment pass.
Often, I hear tales from your latest giggle of friends
and jealously retreat into my solitary wanderings.
And so I walk,
some days a companion graces my way,
our anonymity blanketing us 
into charming conversations.
On other journeys, silence serves me well.

I looked back today,
and could no longer see the fork in the road,
no longer remember it, and its cruel suddenness.
A grove of trees has befriended me now,
a breeze soothes me into submission
I watch my road yawn forward - 
perhaps tomorrow another fork in the road
will marry our experiences.
Perhaps.

21 November, 2011

Where?


Remember my knack for finding work in the most unheard of places? Well after all these years, I have to say, I haven't lost the touch. And so, I find myself in Pratapgarh. Err "Where?", you say. "Have you heard of Chittorgarh I ask? "Err... sort of", with that intelligent expression that reeks of "I don't know what you're talking about but I'm just going to nod along to appear I do." I see through the nod straight away but join in the pretense. "So ya go on 150km south from Chittorgarh and you reach Pratapgarh." At this point most people abandon the conversation, others rush off to fulfill their Cartographic Cravings [alright, run off and map it on Google, its a reflex you just can't get rid off eh?].

Traveling from Delhi, Pratapgarh seems to be at the very end of the earth and for once, I am not even exaggerating. You start off in one of the fancy (and pretty impressive) luxury buses that the Rajasthan Tourism guys are (justifiably) proud of. They cater to the more-touristy (oh don't you just detest that word?) parts of Rajasthan, the ones frequented by the firangs, for they alone deserve good transportation, to hell with the general public. When I called the tourism office, they told me I would be in a Volvo-Mercedes bus. I put down the phone suitably impressed and understandably flummoxed. That not one, but two auto giants were gracing my mode of transport would have been flattering if only it was not so absurdly unbelievable. 

I settled into my seat. Rucksack in luggage area. Check. Ticket in easily accessible pocket. Check. Earphones within reach (without having to move). Check. Shawl to combat frigid night temperatures AC buses just love. Check. Whoops! Am I sitting on the correct seat number? Check. The bus started off bang on time. 4:30pm and I was off. Punctuality. Oh so check. 

*                    *                      *

At some ungodly hour, frantic horn honking and loud voices woke me. "Chittorgarh, Chittorgarh" they seemed to be shouting. Hmph, so much for finishing that dream. The Chittorgarh bus stand at 4am is an eerie place, like a scene out of some alternate world where all the women of the world have (smartly) taken off, leaving all the men, predominantly middle-aged, behind. The bus stop, like most others I have had the mis(fortune) of being at, smelt of pee and I struggled to find a bench free from snoring men all wrapped in something: shawls, newspaper, and some innovative ones, in plastic bags. Finally I plopped myself on one semi-empty bench, and struggled to keep awake for the next few hours.

Buses came and went announcing their arrival with that brash impolite way horns have about them. Suddenly there was a commotion around counter 6. Hey, I'd been furiously guarding that one - willing it to open so I could buy a ticket. I saw a mass of humanity (all men in this quasi-, semi-stupor-world) stick their hands into the mouse hole opening - all with exact change for the ticket. I, with my silly big note, was naturally sidelined till enough change was collected. 

Just then, in a display of impressive hooting and a spectacularly large cloud of smoke, the Pratapgarh bus arrived. Oh no, don't get me wrong. No bus goes to Pratapgarh to stay there. Pratapgarh, like Tpur, is one of those places no one really goes to, its always on the way to some place more interesting. This bus was actually going to Banswara (you mustn't of heard of that too...oh dear just go and learn that map) and Pratapgarh was just another stop.  The bus was rickety and dusty, an epitome of that delightful word khatara. I clambered onto it, jostling for space with sari-tied bundles, sacks that vaguely smelt of my chemistry lab, and a frantic breathing body of humanity. Here, the men having done their job of securing tickets, backed out and the women (now where did they come from?) took over. Bangles clanging and freely abusing, they grabbed seats. I hung onto my 'window seat' for dear life, the rucksack suddenly becoming a lifesaver as it deterred many by sheer size alone. After the morning shift of mosquitoes had had a hearty breakfast, the bus took off, hooting at the mirth of having a load of passengers.  

*                    *                      *

The way to Pratapgarh to Chittorgarh is a sheet of potholes with some road thrown in, just enough to keep alive a spark of hope. But the driver seemed to disagree and flew at a pace that would've shamed many. He zipped - hooting his way past trucks, blaring cars into submission, zooming past motorcyclists and leaving their helmetless heads in a swirl of dust and smoke. "Take that", he honked. His only worthy opponents, other Rajasthan Roadways buses, were few and so the Conquest of the Craters carried on unabated.  Abandoning my grand plans of sleeping, I gave myself up to the bumpety bump. 

Roadways buses in Rajasthan are in(famous) for breaking down and my ramshackle stead lived up to its name. It broke down only once though and a co-passenger informed me that we were lucky. After five hours, we reached Pratapgarh - the dirt and grime that garlands every little town welcomed me. The bus swerved and then all of a sudden came to a halt. Like a slain beast, it suddenly stopped breathing and the whole world seemed a gentler place. I stepped out of the bus, lugging the rucksack with me and parked it on some steps nearby. A cow came towards me, its head bent low, those knobby horns not too inviting. Exhausted and incapable of any meaningful movement, I just let it come. At the last moment, it swerved, rubbing its horns on my faithful rucksack instead. Oh the travails of an itchy head. And the ecstasy of itching an itch.

I looked about me. Auto rickshaws parked - they were the usual yellow and black and rather large here. The tea stalls were doing brisk business. Flies occupied every available surface. I swatted some away and sat on the steps. A foot away, a pat of dung lay, in that lazy unperturbed way only a pile of shit can. After 17 hours, I have arrived. (In Pratapgarh of course). 

*                    *                      *

So when people ask me where Pratapgarh is, Google maps just doesn't cut it. And now you wonder why am I here in the first place? Because...

23 September, 2011

The Hedgehog's Dilemma

She was talking very fast. In English, a language he wasn't all together comfortable with. Her face came alive, a canvas for her emotions, each one so passionate, and yet so fleeting. Her orange dupatta, the one with blue tassels at the edges, was draped in hurried carelessness. She had big expressive eyes. And they sparkled with so much life. He watched her, those hands making delightful designs as they kept up with her words, her audience captivated and hanging on every idea she happened to toss their way. And through that haze of words (he couldn't keep up with them anyway, at least not in that language she had claimed as her own), she suddenly looked at him. Straight in the eye, that frank gaze that never failed to make him uncomfortable and inexplicably drawn towards it, at the same time. She broke into a grin seeing him, although she didn't even know him. Yet.

She, on the hand, hadn't spotted him immediately. When she did, she saw he had an air of someone who's travelled too far from his comfort zone. He was out of place in that roomful of people, and in that moment when their eyes held each other, she could see he was unsure of which box to place her in. She didn't help him out of the enigma. He was holding a glass of juice. Apple of course. He bit into a paneer pakoda. Vegetarian of course. He was not blunted into being just another face in the crowd. The sleeve of his jacket was ripped. His hair had specks of grey in it. He smiled at some people but struck up no conversations. When they were introduced to each other, he smiled politely and quickly moved away, a detail not lost on her. She was sharp with people and something about him got under her skin. She had shivered slightly and that seemed like a sign. 

"Aha, so you are from my part of the world!"

The pride she took in her sense of belonging was not lost on him. Her smile, how it lit up that face!

"Tumhe pata hai tum bahut jaldi baat karti ho?"

His voice was gruff, rusty as if unused, but his eyes were earnest. They seemed to say, "O lovely lady, see through me." 

To all the stories we are part of.

That day was so many dreams away. Today he watched her breathe as she lay beside him. It was nearly time. His body threatened to betray him, but he was too correct to cross lines, imaginary or otherwise. Were her eyes, those warm brown eyes, moist? No, it must be the light playing games with his hammering heart. He had seen her cry once in all this time, the one time that spectacular smile had faltered. Seeing her sobbing softly, he had felt ugly and weak. In that moment of pain, she had turned away, isolating him more than her fancy words ever could. As she turned towards him now, he realised, she was his and she was nobody's. If anything, that was all he knew of her. He burrowed his head into her hair, it always smelt so sweet! He smiled thinking of all the summer days they had filled with conversations. Flattening so many blades of grass in their favourite garden, fighting over who will hold the ladybird, watching the leaves change colours. They had wiggled their toes and shared ideas, dodged the zaalim zamaana and constructed an unlikely relationship. She had broken through his coarse exterior, and allowed herself to blossom in it. As she got up to leave, her dupatta brushed his face. Those tassels, once again, demanding his attention as she slipped out of his world. Bidding a farewell neither one of them would ever muster the courage to articulate. 

21 September, 2011

My Year With Bryson

Although a gazillion reviews by the fiercest of critics and most ardent of fans have been written on this superlative book, I cannot keep from writing my own views on the wildly engaging "A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson. The reason for undertaking a task as redundant as this can only be explained by the quote Bryson starts his book with:

The physicist Leo Szilard once announced to his friend Hans Bethe that he was thinking of keeping a diary: 'I don't intend to publish. I am merely going to record the facts for the information of God.' 'Don't you think God knows the facts?' Beth asked. 'Yes', said Szilard. 'He knows the facts, but He does not know this version of the facts.'

There. Now don't question my reasons. Reading frantically through all the nuggets of information Bryson weaves together in a mosaic of science and story, I am amazed at his powers of narration. Marrying mind-boggling scientific discoveries with the eccentricities of their discoverers, he unearths connections spanning continents and time periods that make the history of science fascinating. The 40 shilling prize Christopher Wren proposed to the man who could explain the elliptical nature of planetary orbits. The contenders? His dinner guests Edmond Halley (of Halley's comet fame) and Robert Hooke (who discovered the cell). Why didn't my Physics teacher tell me about how Halley collected money (from his own impoverished pocket) to publish Principia, in which the brilliant yet unconventional Newton explains his momentous laws of motion, among other astounding deductions about planetary motion and the not-so-spherical shape of the Earth? Starting from singularity and the Big Bang, Bryson goes to extreme lengths to simplify. To illustrate, I quote him on the minuteness of a proton: 
A proton is an infinitesimal part of an atom, which is itself of course an insubstantial thing. Protons are so small that a little dib of ink like the dot on this 'i' can hold something in the region of 500,000,000,000 of them....Now imagine if you can (and of course you can't) shrinking one of those protons down to a billionth of its normal size into a space so small that it would make a proton look enormous. Now pack into that tiny, tiny space about an ounce of matter. Excellent. You are ready to start a universe.
And then he attempts to capture the vastness of the universe. As Bryson goes about unraveling the hows and whys of science, I am grasped by the sheer courage it must have taken to write a book as ambitious as this, for an audience that has the attention span of a twitter. In his characteristically witty style, Bryson announces his opinions on several key figures: we learn of Cavendish and his reticence (he communicated with his housekeeper through notes!), the egoistic Hubble and his unforgivable lying, Madame Curie's scandalous affairs that stunned even the relatively accommodating consciousness of 19th century Parisians and Mendeleyev's refusal to accept the existence of radiation. Bryson thus, on his quest to demystify science, makes it 'attainable', showing that for all their almost inhuman brilliance, the people that contributed to the fascinating fabric of science were also plagued by the mundane. Moving from the more 'well-known' marvels of Newtonian physics, the book traces the events leading up to the establishment of quantum physics in a dizzying concoction of crisscrossing paths of superlative science. The beauty of this revolutionary theory was the sheer scale of blatant craziness it unleashed on the scientific world.
Neil Bohr is known to have said that a person who wasn't outraged on first hearing about the quantum theory didn't understand what had been said. 
Part of (alright, most of) the brilliance of Bryson's book is the fact that when told well, science is the most interesting subject there is. It has intrigue and suspense, unanswered questions floating in a sea of confusion. It has unpredictable characters warring over momentous discoveries, sometimes fending off dwindling funds and at other times settling petty professional rivalries with etiquette befitting kindergarten children. It has bitter animosity and heart warming amicability, heady ideas and eccentricities all thrown into a pot of opportunity any author would die to dip into. Bill Bryson takes all these mouthwatering bits and goes a step further. He does that thing I hate to love. He leaves the endings of chapters hanging so that you have to start on the next chapter. A sample:
At all events, thanks to the work of Claire Patterson, by 1953 the Earth at last had an age everyone could agree on. The only problem now was that it was older than the universe contained it.
Could it get any racier than that? Blatant sensationalism if there was any! But that is what science does, it threatens to run away with your imagination. And then does exactly that. From physics, the book moves on to geology, a subject which I feel, along with geography, is ignored in an abominable fashion in the Indian education system. Volcanoes and earthquakes are charted, the 'recycling' of the Earth's crust is elucidated and moving from the cosmos to the core, Bryson continues to captivate. Fossils are discovered and he moves on to the realm most familiar to me, that of the bewildering living world.

Bryson bravely straddles the extremes of biology, from awe-inspiring dinosaurs to humble, ubiquitous microbes. I recognise Miller and Urey's bell jar experiment that used to grace the introductory chapters of most Biology books in school. Simulating the origin of life in a laboratory? Could it get more surreal? Bryson also throws in juicy facts for the did-you-know-freaks. For instance, according to scientific estimates, there may be more life under the Earth than on it. Interestingly, in this nether world,
...microbes shrink in size and become exceedingly sluggish. The liveliest of them may divide no more than once a century, some no more than perhaps once in five hundred years.   
As I flew from one lively chapter to the next, Bryson resurrected for me, some well-loved biologists: Pasteur (who, apart from popularising the more familiar pasteurisation process, also gave us the cell theory which states that all life arises from pre-existing cells) and Robert Hooke (who, after fighting with Newton over credit for the inverse square law, went on to discover cells from cork!). Not only did I revisit Leeuwenhoek (the brilliant Dutch lens maker whose name used to give me spelling nightmares) but Robert Brown too (the man who discovered the nucleus in a cell). As I jumped from one cell organelle to the next, enigmatic mitochondria bumping into lipid membranes, proteases and nucleic acids, I was confronted by apoptosis. The term refers to the fascinating field of programmed cell death or in simple terms, cell 'suicide'. I fondly reminisced about how it had captured my imagination for an entire summer not so many years ago. In times such as these, when one is so easily left uninspired, being caught up in an idea, even if it is as morbidly fascinating as apoptosis, can be a cherished memory.

Next, the book moves on to unravel the mysteries of our lineage, tracing the patterns of Lucy and her ancestors. Peering into the fascinating and often frustrating field of paleontology, it is amazing that we understand anything about the evolutionary history of Homo sapiens (that's us, the 'thinking man'!), considering the paucity of fossil records. The last chapter, woefully named 'Goodbye' ends the book on a slightly sombre note, one encounters the luckless dodo and other species who have been drive to extinction at the hands of the modern human race. But with the tattered state the Earth is in currently, any other ending would have seemed out of place.

To be fair, breaking away from my breathless fawning over the book, I do understand that, for all its brilliance, it is not a scientific publication. Critics have questioned the authenticity of some numbers, splitting hairs over Bryson's figures of the number of cells in a human body. Others have mentioned how the book emphasises only those parts of the history of science that caught Bryson's fancy. But the book never claims to be the Holy Grail of science. As Bryson explains in the introductory chapter:
The idea was to see if it isn't possible to understand and appreciate - marvel at, enjoy even - the wonder and accomplishments of science at a level that isn't too technical or too demanding, but isn't entirely superficial either. 
And if this alone was the aim, Bryson passes remarkably. For me, the book rekindled my love for the sciences, at a time when when it had dwindled in the face of my current social science-centric thesis. Reaffirming the book's importance in simplifying science for the layman without making it superficial, a critic reluctantly ended his review with: "But then again, if my grandchildren in the next few years begin to display some real interest in learning about science, I'll certainly put this book in front of them.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

PS: Thank you to Girl 1 who recommended the book, and to whom I owe my love for reading. It helped that she added in very vehement tones, 'This should be made compulsory reading in all schools.' 

PPS: That Girl 1 recommended the book at all can be attributed to a stimulating conversation with the Paranoid Android: Marvin (he of the planet-sized head brain) where he sounded almost Brysonic in his attempt to elucidate, the beauty of cosmology and quantum mechanics.

For the ones who just won't read (shame on you), go video:
  1. The Cosmos Series by Carl Sagan
  2. From Newton to Einstein (9 min, watch it!!) in The Elegant Universe Series (3 parts)
  3. A simplified (not superficial!) narrative on BBC: Everything and Nothing 

17 September, 2011

YouTube your way to music (and laughter)

What would budding (and sometimes closet) musicians and comedians do if not for YouTube (yes, yes and Vimeo and what not)? Have you heard Jane Lui's version of Duck Tales (she's adorable at 00:42 and 00:54)? [Of course the Hindi version is more familiar and much loved : ) ] 


When in boredom, turn to acappella, something I can never seem to get enough of. Some songs it seems, are more accapella favourable than others (this valuable finding from my years of painstaking research through YouTube gleaning). Africa by Toto, Somewhere Over The Rainbow and Stand By Me being a few that pop up everywhere. Another one, The Lion Sleeps Tonight has been subjected to varying levels of accapella proficiency and the Straight No Chasers do, what I think, is a terrific job. I won't even start on The Blanks and their awesome version of the Scrubs soundtrack:


Another favourite is the UC Men's Octate, an all-male group at the University of California, Berkeley, famous for their terrific renditions of well-loved songs with a bit of goofy dancing thrown in. I'm choosing the Bohemian Rhapsody, just because, (need I spell it out?) its Freddie Mercury. And it reminds me that, for years, Scaramouch and mama mia were the only parts of the lyrics I knew.



And finally, how can I forget my secret devotion to beatboxing? In simple words, beatboxing is the art of percussion, with your mouth. For an introduction, sample Skiller, supposedly the fastest beatboxer in the world and he's just 18! What's almost better than Skiller? Bellatrix, the number one female beatboxer in the world known for beatboxing dubstep. Aaaah.


Justin Timberlake is one of the more 'famous' singers known for his beatboxing tricks. I'll end with my personal favourite, the hilarious Beardyman. Here he's accompanied by fellow Britisher, Flutebox 'Lee'.


Bzzz : )

14 September, 2011

Blah Blah on Bose


We were at that age when anything associated with the word 'rock' seemed cool and listening to school kids sing bad renditions of Nirvana and AC/DC songs seemed the perfectly normal thing to do on a Friday night. After an hour of some very unprofessional headbanging, the guitar gyrations became too painful for even our unrefined taste, and we wandered away from the concert, outside the Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium (the version before it was transformed into the Commonwealth metallic mesh it is now). There was an enterprising fellow standing outside selling kebabs and chaat and we gratefully joined the small crowd around his stall. Soon, our turn came. We ordered kebabs, and chattered about ways we could get back home, which was a place at the other end of Delhi's unforgiving distances. Our kebabs were ready and we hungrily dug into them. 

Suddenly, a voice behind us asked, "So girls, what would you recommend?" We turned around and were startled to see the voice belonged to non other than Rahul Bose! Let me explain here. In Bombay, running into celebrities and other such applauded species is normal, even passé, if you may. But Delhi is still very uncelebrated (uncelebated? Either way seems so wrong) and thus, when we see our celebrities, we do the instinctive thing. We drool. But faced with Mr. Bose, we maintained straight faces as if running into actors was a usual affair. Perhaps it was the reluctant coolth of that summer night, or the hours of poor musical talent we had subjected ourselves to. In a very nonchalant way, we discussed with him, the succulence of the kebabs, and balminess of the night after which he sauntered off. 

Over the years, I have had the delight of encountering the Talented Mr. Bose in Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, 15 Park Avenue and other such delightful offerings from the Aparna Sen Directorial House. And just when I was finally making up my mind about having a favourite hero at last, the delectable Mr. Bose did something very terrible. He decided to take part in Khatron Ke Khiladi, a reality show where celebrities face their fears by doing daredevil stunts. Pitted against models and TV soap stars, Mr. Bose, a member of the national rugby team, was in no way, a kaccha khiladi. But he fought over petty nothings, argued over rules and ethics, making ardent fans realise he looked best when hiding behind the many faces he wore onscreen. In real life, he came across as the wimpy kid who fought over everything.

And then, today, after such a long while, I bumped into the talent of Mr. Bose again. As he weaved his magic as the shy Snehamoy in The Japanse Wife. The story traces the friendship, and subsequent marriage of two pen-pals, one living in the watery world of the Sunderbans and the other in the exotically distant town of Yokohama, Japan. Spanning the course of 17 years, the lovers never meet, destined to express through the written word, each confined by the limitations of language to articulate the workings of the heart. And for me, the tragic beauty of the story lies in just that. The belief the characters had in this romanticised notion of love and companionship, marriage and loyalty. 

Against the overcast backdrop of the Sunderbans, the tale is languid but not slow. Aparna Sen (Director) Moushumi Chatterjee, is the perfect Maashi, a kind, matronly figure who loves her gossip, while Raima Sen pulls off the brilliantly subdued role of a widowed mother living in Bose's home. Scavenging for details, I watched the riverscapes of the Matla, the almost charming fumbling over the English language. And then there is his room a place made for letter writing. And for lazy afternoons under a whirring fan. Gently lit, it is the place where he keeps his Japanese curiosities, so foreign in a Bengali household, so familiar in his own.  

When I enjoy a movie, I am often apprehensive of the ending. Will it be satisfying? Will the characters die with the end or will they be allowed immortality? The Japanese Wife astonishes by making an ending as  poignant as the story. 

19 August, 2011

Of Chalk and the Chilterns

A walk in the Chiltern Hills when its dripping wet? Not very inspiring. But when you have a guide as sarcastically humourous, warm and educated as Tony, anywhere seems a good place to go. So a motley bunch of seven set off for a trip on a very wet Thursday evening. This is what we saw: 

Insight: When the written word deserts, turn to thy stack of coloured pens! 
[Click on the image to make bigger. Duh!]

15 August, 2011

Saturday at Sonning



"When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
beside the lake, beneath the trees,
fluttering, dancing in the breeze."

~  Daffodils by William Wordsworth

[These are not daffodils, but they were just as inspiring.]



"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one..."

~ The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost


"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep.."

~ Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost



Echinops sp. The purple globe thistle.


A job well done @ Bull Inn



Sonning Bridge (1775) sitting pretty upon the Thames.



Ah daisies and the dilemmas of infatuation! He loves me, he loves me not?




"A blackberry alley going down in hooks, and a sea
Somewhere at the end of it, heaving.
Blackberries big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
with blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers.
I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me."

~ Blackberrying by Sylvia Plath 



"What are little boys made of?
Slugs and snails and puppy dogs' tails.
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and all things nice."


"Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company."

~ Lord Byron

10 August, 2011

Do you want what you need?

I see you,
a very small boy
lost and bewildered
in this fast approaching dusk, 
I see your tear-stained cheeks
as you're looking at 
the half melted ice cream
in your hand,
and the tales of sorrow it has left on your clothes. 
I cajole, offering you another one
"It's bigger, its tastier",
but you want none of it. 
you are not falling  for my postponed promises.
With your wails spent long ago,
you just whimper now.
For a moment I hold your hand and
you clutch onto it
in that heart wrenching manner  
only children can. 
Slowly you allow me to walk you 
to the ice cream vendor.

As we approach him, 
your steps become unsure
"Is this what I want?"
I look down to see your eyes
threatening a fresh flood
and I hold your hand a little tighter.
You panic, suddenly feeling trapped
and pulling your hand free, 
you run.
As fast as those little little feet
can take you. 

I look back after a while and 
see a small figure 
hiding behind a tree.
Leaning your face  
to its trunk,
you believe
no one else can
see you. 
I walk up to you,
nervous
to be run away from again
and gently tap your shoulder.
You turn, relieved to see a familiar face
and clutching the corner
of my dupatta,
let those grubby little fingers
leave their prints.
We walk away now
leaving the dusk and ice cream vendor
to their lives. 
You kick a stone, the tears forgotten. 

07 August, 2011

Letters: London


[Image: Outline Editions]
My Dearest, 

What is it about some cities? As I sit in the noisy tube, squashed between a punk with electric blue hair and an old lady with varicose veins, I realise that very few people in London are from London. Does it not resonate with the spirit of my very own Delhi

"Where are you from?", they ask me. 
"Delhi", I reply, a tad wistfully, for you know I miss it so. 
They look at me with indulgent patience and pursue, "Yes Delhi, but where are you really from?"   

I'm watching the people around me, and a memory nudges me. You, quietly applauding my powers of observation. I decide to do you proud. A baby boy is crying at the far end of the compartment, its petulant rants drowning out the announcements. There are little blue sailboats on his shirt and they look like they are waiting for someone to blow a gust of wind their way. I watch a guy watching the girl with red lipstick put on another layer of that blood red colour. An old man is deciphering which station he must get off at, tracing the route with a very long, dirty fingernail. He talks to me in French and I shake my head in incomprehension. The doors open now, I hop off, obediently minding the gap. 


[Image: Blanca Gomez]
London, like every great city, is larger than the sum of its parts. I hear it heaving with the weight of its history, breathing and shifting, muddling heartbeats in its eagerness to impress. I look around me and everyone seems to be clutching onto a map of some sort, struggling with sheets of different dimensions and varying levels of illegibility. There seem to be more people who want to know London than people who know London. I watch the tourists and smile as they frantically flip mini-maps of the underground this way and that. All the colours and lines seem to merge for them, blurring into a mosaic of confusion. I smile again, wasn't I once just as lost, just as harried? Oh how quickly we change sides! Moving from the supposedly brown to the greener side. Sometimes so swiftly we barely catch our breath to count our blessings.

I enter the bookshop and wander along its aisles. It marries my passions of reading and traveling so beautifully that I am overwhelmed by the perfection. Travel books covering every part of the globe line the shelves and I pick out one and bury my nose into it. Remember that time we walked into every bookshop in CP, strangers reluctant to remain so for too long, and you spoke of how each book smelt different? The floor here is covered in maps and I dream of tracing patterns over it. I scan the notebooks and diaries of every shape and size, chiding myself for wanting to buy some more stationery. There is a respectable crowd around the shelves tagged India and I feel self-conscious as I browse through books about my own country, for I know that no writing can capture a landscape that is your own.   

"One day I'll be back (your blue room)
Oh yeah, I hope I remember where it's at (your blue room)
You see me slide on, won't you bring me back home?"


Perhaps every city moves at several different paces at the same time. There is the London of frantic underground travel: an incessant rat race, people metamorphosed into pieces of automated clockwork which reminds me of the video that haunted my childhood. There is the London of leisurely strolls in Richmond Park, with time standing still as deer prance through the grass. There is the boisterous London with people hooting as they cruise down the Thames in their party hats. There is the London of snapshots as people freeze frames against the Circus that is Piccadilly. I watch London trip over time frames and marvel how yet another great water body, the famed Thames this time, plays with my peace. It enters the recesses of my mind, channeling through words and ideas seldom aired. Somewhat like those thought experiments you urge me into sometimes. And suddenly, I realise that you were right, I am in some ways like Celine. I too feel like a very old woman inside.      

I find myself in front of the Royal Opera House now, eagerly waiting for my senses to be plundered by the promise of my first tryst with ballet. As the curtains rise, the stage comes alive. Gold and glitter, everything is lit with grandiosity. Oh how beautiful it is my dear, do you see the girls pirouetting on their toes, each one art in motion, delicate filigree dolls dancing to the genius of Tchaikovsky! Ladies use the programme pamphlets as fans, little girls sit at the edge of their seats, awestruck at the beauty they are witnessing. I am transported to another plane, allowing my senses to be plundered, humbled to be part of such beauty. Everyone applauds the victory of the Prince over the evil sorcerer. The fair Odette is rewarded with love at the end. But what of the supposedly 'black' Odile, I wonder at her fate. Do you remember that postcard you wrote about experiences moulding a person and how ours were diverging on so many scales it was hard to keep up with the flux? Sitting amidst the sheer brilliance of Swan Lake, I touched the truth of your words. But you know I am not built for remorse, and so when I walked out, though mellowed, I was satiated.   

Its raining outside now, what would this city be without its weather I wonder. Running for cover, I see the skies change moods again. An undefeated sun is lending me a few more hours of daylight. And then around the corner, I see a spectacular sight. A complete rainbow, so large, it draws an arc over me, a protective arch of unadulterated joy. People stop in their tracks, whipping out cameras of every level of sophistication. Tiny droplets are still falling and the sun rays catch them, colouring them into such pretty hues that I am transfixed. London's skyline has never looked so enchanting, famous landmarks are pointed out to me and I drink in the details. 

I am ending the day with a midnight ride on the tube. I see him kiss her, the girl in fluorescent stockings, she does a little twirl, oh the giddiness of a kiss and I shiver in the slight chill, it is quite late now you know. I see Baker Station pass by and its walls are covered with that famous silhouette; Holmes with his pipe, characteristically looking away from me in a studied silence. I look away too. The guy sitting beside me is bored. His Afro alone is as tall as me and I see him playing with his iPhone, scrolling aimlessly, too fast to read anything, slow enough to appear occupied. He stops randomly and then begins the fervent scrolling again. Perhaps he doesn't have anyone to write to.  


"Are you looking for answers, To questions under the stars? 
Well, if along the way, You are growing weary 
You can rest with me until, A brighter day and you're okay"    
Yours,
M

03 August, 2011

Irish Dailyes

I was a very little girl when I met Ursula. A tall, slim blue-eyed Irish girl, in her mid-twenties who came to India on a holiday and allowed it to claim her. Wearing long colourful cotton skirts and carrying a beautiful hand-printed diary, she took leisurely notes as she explored the beauty of Mussoorie in the mist. She was my first exposure to Ireland and fueled my curiousity about a country I have wanted to visit ever since. 

All pictures courtesy the sunscreen loving Sahil
So when someone planted the idea of a trip to Northern Ireland, how could I refuse (yes, yes its not technically "Ireland" but why get so finicky)? And yes, I was in the midst of seemingly insurmountable deadlines, plagued by a particularly fierce form of lethargy and numbed by useless exhaustion, but since when did those be reasons sufficient to stop traveling? With all possible excuses successfully shelved, plans were hurriedly put in place, people quickly counted, tickets booked in the most unsystematic crazed manner possible over an insane Skype conversation, and bags packed haphazardly. 

After a night of almost-jaagran, the obvious culmination of an alcohol-fast well kept and inane jokes of whether Coke and milk is a real beverage or just an experiment gone terribly long, the trip began. Driving  across the breathtaking Irish countryside, we waged a constant battle with getting the music right and trying to make the uncharacteristically quiet GPS Aunty (rechristened PhoneWati to honour our strong Bollywood roots) talk and finally reached Castlerock, our romantic halt for the weekend trip.

Polka dots make me smile : )
There are some places you feel for, fall in love unconditionally, without a hint of hesitation. Downhill Hostel is that and a bit more. It was the colour of cleanliness: white with neat blue edges and William was its welcoming owner. Inside, this cosy house the drawing room was filled with records (Simon and Garfunkel, U2 and Abba rubbing shoulders with Dire Straits and Led Zep), books (the much loved Oscar Wilde comfortably nudging books of ghost stories), board games from Scrabble to Monopoly and friendly couches around a fireplace. But this was not what Downhill was about. Its claim to fame was these gigantic windows, each opening onto the sea: grey and blue, grim and gay, silent and cacophonous. From our room we watched the wave caress the shore, each ebb playfully frothing up before it receded. 



I have never understood the sea vs mountains question. It is like the Bombay vs Delhi delusional choice. If the mountains are mighty and proud, the sea is humbling in its vastness. If the mountains rise up and challenge you with their imposing strength, the sea awes with its potential to calm and wreck, its profound extremities. It always wraps itself around my consciousness in an uncomfortable silence, urging me into alleys I have long ignored, calming and upsetting me with careful precision, managing to eat into my calm and soothe me into a gentle oblivion all at once. And so as we explored the beach, scanning for shells and interesting sea life, it was pleasant to hear the moist breeze sing mellow tales. 


Giant's Causeway
 The next day we began the coastal walk from The Giant's Causeway to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. While the hexagonal volcanic columns were stunning in their geometric precision and the lovely view of the sea they offered, the 10 mile walk away from it proved to be one of the most stimulating experiences I have had in a long while. Walking along the coast among wild flowers and heather to the sound of waves crashing far below, sheep sternly looking your way and clouds flitting by across the mirror of the sea, perfection is redefined at every step. Towards the end it began drizzling, proving that sometimes beauty is only skin deep and my much loved polka-dotted raincoat was as water proof as a sieve. Carrick-a-Rede didn't provide the adrenaline rush we expected but it offered another stunning view of Rathlin Island and the Irish Sea. 




Along the beautiful Coastal Walk
The holiday had the slow charm of a cool long evening after a summer day. Humour reached alarmingly low depths at the hands of the boys (which they will vehemently disagree with!), meals of fresh seafood were relished with some delicious champ and our limbs ached with the pleasure of a walk well loved. 


Till the next trip, I remain
Strapped to my chair. 



23 July, 2011

WTF and other words

Even though I am one of those who feels self conscious while swearing, sometimes life hands you these WTF moments. When you find yourself in inexplicably prosaic situations, places you certainly don't want to be in, circumstances you created through random decisions of foolishness, crossroads you don't have a map away from, a limbo without a loophole, dead ends without beginnings. That's when I started some one-sided friendships with some lovely blogs. Care to glean through?


More of the brilliant WTF series here

Clubbin'
"If a June night could talk, it would probably boast it invented romance." -- Bern Williams
  • And of course, more beauty from Tim.

19 July, 2011

Happy Father's Day

Photo credit: Jacinth

Hey Spike!
How did you know when to 
narrate delightful tales
of bloated men floating up to the ceiling,
and when to simplify Shakespeare
for my naive soul?

Hey Spike!
How did you find the strength to swim?
Against the tide, one arm tied, lithium soaked.
And just how did you know that
trinkets and bubblegum 
are a little girl's best friends?

Dear Spike
I am ashamed of deliberately 
tearing all those letters
that were my only lifeboats that long winter. 
Can we relegate that gruesome memory
To the foolishness of an impetuous child?

Hey Spike
How did you know
I wanted to be born an Arien?
How did you manage to set me straight
Even though I came out the wrong way?

Hey Spike!
How do you mix hilarity, exaggeration and love
so perfectly?
How do you sprinkle that
aura of extremes that become you so?

You, Spike
Are the strongest man I know.
The dearest wish I hold. 
And the biggest heart
I can lay claim to.

23 June, 2011

La Dolce Vita

Woman: "In my opinion, when it gets too serious, it's over." 


Let my life be a Van Gogh painting. A symphony of discrete points hopefully merging to form a picture. Sum of parts? Partial sums? Let it be a long walk through a forest, ferns and fairies peeking with equal surprise, reality and magic blurring each others' boundaries. Green undergrowth with secrets to uncover. Let people waltz in and out, sharing their ideas and more importantly, their passions with me. Let them inspire love and poetry. We can share our wounds and grow older in each others' company. If they walk away, let it be with a smile in their hearts. Let my story be a Linklater reel, a chatter of conversations and bold silences. Ambiguous endings and Waking Reality. Let my world challenge me with pain and allow me to treat it with the fervour I reserve for my four legged friends. Let me live through a series of postcards, each with a soulful story to tell. Worn out shoes and a colourful diary. A travelogue through different worlds. Let not fame or fortune be mine, an evening with a well-loved book would be more precious. Let my life sound like the gentle clinking of a payal, unobtrusive and simple. When someone hears it in a distant land, let them think of me. Let a sense of wonder and craving to know guide my actions. Question marks and answers. Let my tale feel like a cosy patchwork quilt, smoothed out by loving hands, wrapped around shivering shoulders on a winter day, imperfect with its stains and tears, sewed up with coloured threads, always slightly warm. Let me not shy away from the bizarre or be supercilious about the mundane. Let not jealousy and anger consume me, let them be treated with the nonchalance they deserve. Let my journey read like a poem, for even if it doesn't rhyme, let it have a colourful soul.  

05 June, 2011

Verbs



“I am only one, but still I am one; I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; And just because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do."

~ Helen Keller
Image: Zootool

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