Friday, June 17, 2005

Borrowed memories

I don't meet my cousin often. He's in the movie business and is currently 'struggling'. This means that he has to go through the commerce versus art dilemma every time he decides to take up a job. The dilemma is particularly sharp because he's often out of money, unwell, threatened by his landlord, disillusioned with the idea of merit taking credit, and won't take help from family. He wants to direct a movie someday, and one thing I can vouch for - that guy can tell a story.

We usually go to this church in Bandra and light a couple of candles at the Basilica. While I pray, he often looks into the distance where the sky meets the sea. After that we usually walk on the promenade and talk about how the world does not recognize our worth. Once we were talking about our respective professions and he told me that a director's job is simply about borrowing memories. "Of course not", I argued. "He also dips into his own experiences and searches his imagination for stories and..."

"Borrows memories," my cousin reiterated. "You can't possibly weave a movie based on your experiences alone, Chinkz. We experience so little. But you can always borrow a memory."

Well, what can I say - he's right. I am not a film director or anything, but I think I am a borrower of memories. I think it's as intriguing as interpreter of maladies. I love asking people about their childhood and vacations and the first time they had a sense of victory. And when they start talking to me, I see a life in my head where I'm there, eating the strawberries they have eaten or wiping the berry juice on my cotton shirt. I am a borrower of memories. And here's one I borrowed from my cuz, Y.

He had a particularly bad fight with his mom over the phone. It's usually difficult to answer questions like 'What do you think you are doing with your life?' when you believe the answer is 'Nothing.' Anyway, angry and emotional phone call over, he got into a bus and headed towards office. Being Mumbai, the road was crowded and under construction. It was hot and there
was a cloud of such gritty smoke that you could feel the teeny pebbles getting lodged in the nostrils. In short, it was blazing, dusty, uncomfortable - the type of environment chilled beer commercials are shot in.

Y saw a group of laborers hard at work, breaking stones, smearing tar - unprotected in the cruel heat. Somewhere in the distance, a little baby lay on a blanket under the shade of a tree. It seemed as if he belonged to one of the laborers. Y looked at the creased faces of all the men and women carrying stones on their heads and tried to figure out who the parent was. They all seemed indifferent to the child. Then, suddenly, the baby started to cry and was immediately attended to by a young girl. She was the mother. She cradled the child, wiped his face (I think the baby was a boy) with her pallu, and looked around. A young man bounded up to her and from his gestures, it seemed as if he was asking her what the matter was. The child's father. They talked to each other for a bit, all the while looking at the infant. The mother carried the baby to a nearby mud pot and was soaking her pallu in it to wash the baby's face. Probably the child was feeling hot.

Just then, the father ran up to her and told her to stop. He explained something and ran ahead to a small makeshift shop where you expect to find only Maggi, matchsticks or leaked exam papers. My cousin, by now, had pressed his forehead to the bar of window so tightly, he must have looked liked an urban skinny hulk trying to escape from a cage. The man ran back with
a bottle of mineral water. He opened it, wet his wife's pallu with it, and then wiped his child's face. The mother looked up at him and smiled, no doubt thinking that he really was the right person to be the father of her child. The baby's plump little face looked clean and shiny and was now marked with a toothless beaming smile.

Would the child ever remember that his father, one day, spent a portion of his daily savings to wash his face with mineral water - a practice several of us would find decadent?

Well, that remains to be seen...but it's part of my borrowed memories now.


Ash said...

Borrower of memories.
Now thats an interesting concept.
Lovely story :)

jaygee said...

very well written