Monday, February 25, 2008

Shirdi weekend

I had a pretty sad but enlightening weekend. Sad because I had mistaken several things and several people for what they actually weren’t. Enlightened because I finally saw the truth.

I was at Shirdi this weekend. I find it very crowded and all that, but I love sitting at the Dwarkamai when I’m there. It’s very soothing. People inside that quadrangle are much calmer than those who compete for a longer glimpse of Sai baba inside the temple; who push aside older ladies and snarl at children wriggling through queues to locate their mothers. If one could gauge or measure such things, the space inside the Dwarkamai is on some other frequency altogether. I was sitting quietly in one corner when a man came and gave me some prasaad. It was a ladoo. I remember thinking that the yellow of the ladoo would look very nice on a lotus.

I like the Sai baba statue in Shirdi. The marble is a beautiful moon-shine white. In fact, it has a bluish-vein tint to it if you look at it from certain angles. But the best bit is Sai baba’s expression. It’s so joyous – he looks like a loving, indulgent grandfather.

When I was there, I wondered where I’d gone wrong – so wrong in my judgment of people and situations; so wrong about my own abilities. Of course, I do understand that there’s nothing right or wrong about people or situations – they are either necessary or not. Any situation that’s going to make to face your fears is definitely going to come your way. There’s no question about that. So, I suppose, the deal is to not be afraid of anything.

But how can one not be afraid? How can one not balk at the uncertainty of all life? How can I not feel scared about running out of money when I get old? Or become dependent on people and not own a house or a car? Or even if I have a car, then not be able to afford fuel? And what if my parking space is taken over by someone? Or what am I going to do after my parents are no more? And what if I have no job? What if Bombay gets submerged by the time I’m 35 and then I have to move to Pune where the only food available are poisonous potatoes? I love potatoes.

Then what about loneliness? What if I go blind? And I can’t even read books anymore? I have not yet cultivated any habit or hobby that doesn’t engage my eyes – after all these years, I still need to look at the keyboard and type. It’s really weird – when one has to think of times of rationing one’s senses.

But as acutely as I was thinking all these things, I sort of got this feeling that all these thoughts are superficial. Deep down, I know that it’s all going to be okay – much more than okay. The worry is like the film of oil on water. It’s really thin and flimsy and all, but it’s still on the surface. It’s what I can see.

Near the Dwarkamai is a Shani temple. Now I’m not sure about this, but Shani is either the planet Saturn or the Lord that governs this planet. He is perceived to be the most ruthless and harsh planets because he brings destruction and loss in his wake. Shani is supposed to be the planet that compels you to pay your debts, or collect your dues if the case applies. Some bits of Hindu mythology speak of how the mandate of Saturn influences even the Gods. This planet is supposed to trigger the karmic slate to be wiped clean. With this, you begin your period for getting what you deserve and losing what you don't. No wonder, then, that people are so anxious to placate the Shani deity. Generally, people pour oil on a dark, stoic-looking idol on Saturdays and recite the Hanuman Chalisa. Legend has it that Hanuman is the only God that could control Shani. This, of course, is just one interpretation that I am aware of. I’m sure there are others.

But personally, I think people shouldn’t fear something that operates purely to give them a fresh lease of life. Why regard it as malefic? If anything scuttles away layers of falsehood so that you know exactly where you stand, if something forcibly unclenches your fist so that you lose resistance and gain liberation, one should be grateful for that kind of experience. Anything that is fair is always regarded as unduly stern. Just goes to show badly we think of ourselves – if we consider the possibility that we will get what we deserve, we assume we will get blackened, tough experiences, and not happy, uplifting ones.

Instead, people turn to alternatives that feed a fragile sense of well-being. That, to me, is so calamitous. How can you rely so heavily that can lull you into delusion? It’s better to know where you stand. There’s no act more benevolent than cleansing the soul. But I think it takes time for one to understand this.

There’s a beautiful song in a movie called ‘Gardish’ that sums up my impression about this whole dark deal. ('Gardish' is a great film, by the way.) Jackie Shroff goes through life thinking that his father, Amrish Puri, is unduly severe. Later in life, I think he loses him and falls on hard times. That’s when he reminisces about his father’s love. This song is set to that memory:

Hum na samjhe the, baat itni si,
Aap sheeshe the, duniya pathar thi...

How little we understand of all that we know.

Friday, February 22, 2008

I feel a little sad today. No particular reason except that there’s going to be heavy traveling for the next two days, and possibly a few talks with brokers. Homes are so expensive nowadays. I can find nothing on rent for my budget – nothing to which I could return and savor a beautiful night-sky. I haven’t listened to good instrumental music for so long. I should probably invest in an Ipod or something. Or better still, learn to play a musical instrument. (Just now, as I was typing ‘musical’, I was thinking ‘magical’. Words and thoughts are such funny things – even when they go in different directions, they take you to the same place.)

But that’s probably because I’m just testing waters now. I haven’t really committed to looking out for a new place. Probably next year…but if things go according to plan, I should be in Juhu next year, in a beautiful flat by the sea.

It’s a lovely flat. It has a really pretty window-sill that’s full of milky-white and poison-blue flowers. Shamir, the person who owns the flat and may be willing to share it in the future, is an avid gardener. He has turquoise-colored pots with all types of tangles – rajnigandhas and sweet peas and something else that smells positively divine after sunset. It’s fascinating, how these little blooms unfurl to let the scent escape when the sun’s harshness is gone. Everything opiate is for the moon.

Shamir serenades the plants every Sunday. He sits on a straw mat and plays the violin. It’s very melancholic. The notes feel very tender and raw - like the first time when a daughter realizes that her father is not the hero she thought he was. It’s something she keeps in her heart and continues to love her father all the same. Shamir’s music is like that. It’s a tender composition of all varieties of silent heartaches. He says that plants respond beautifully to yearning.

I asked him if I could play the violin to his plants. I’m quite good at it now – after a few lessons from my friend in Vashi. But Shamir refused. He says that my fingers are rough. “Too much optimism makes you rough”, he says. I don’t think so, but I think I understand him. A lot of happiness and a lot of sadness can result in the same thing – making your soul impermeable. That isn’t good, because all of life is osmosis of some kind..and so is death, really.

If Shamir is still around when I die, I’ll ask him to play the violin while I get cremated. I’d like to be reborn as a plant that grows in a window-sill by the sea. Even if it is in a house of a man who, people say, killed his baby.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A little sun to make us sprightly

I was out for lunch this afternoon – to a little hole in the wall called ‘Spirit’. Met up with friends, one of who had got me to this place before. We had to crouch up one flight of scary, narrow stairs to enter a reddish hued alcove (and I use the term loosely here) that was begging to get raided. (On account of suspicious red-hue and nothing else.) On one wall stretched an advert-type image of cyclists and a person poised to take a dive. It proclaimed that “..your inner rage is called ‘Spirit’. If you must make changes, reach in there and harness the rage.” Or something equally somber to twitter at.

Food was unremarkable and conversation was light. What struck me was how difficult it is for people who’ve known me to accept that I’m a vegetarian still. I can’t explain it either. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to stay this way – but I’m going to see. As of right now, I am not in any terrible stage of withdrawal. I remember the succulent smells and tastes of grilled crabs, prawn curries, and fried rohu. I remember the spicy tenderness of chicken patties and pork sausages cooked with eggs. I remember phenomenal raans and I remember baked pomfrets and I remember hilsa cooked in spicy mustard sauce. I remember shucking oysters glazed in fig and champagne and I remember eating deep fried calamaris and I remember chewing through tubs of pickled mussels. I remember all that, but I miss nothing. That’s because when I ate meat, I ATE meat. I cracked open shells of crabs and speared through camel venison with my bare hands. I have chewed bones along with the meats. I pledged myself fully to the task of tasting every wafting excellence that ever went into cooking meat. I have never...as in never ever ever taken a ‘boneless’ option if I could help it.

And because I have eaten fully when I could, I can give it up when I want.

I may struggle to get this equilibrium in other areas of my life, but I have it sorted in the area of food. I think I do live by bread alone, and I’m so much happier for it.

In any case, after the meal, my friends and I parted ways and I had to walk back in the afternoon heat. I liked it. It was so much better than eating in a stuffy canteen and then just going back to a Stepford wives-like AC temperature.

The sun felt nice in Marol. I couldn’t believe myself when I thought that.

It’s nice to smile at such things sometimes.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Solace for a tiring day

It has been such a tiring day today, but also really effective. You learn so much by simply being around intelligent people – people who sift the wheat from the chaff, who mentally have a list of priorities and align their time to this list; if something doesn’t help them accomplish something, they don’t worry about it. I like this attitude. When you know what the small stuff is, you don’t sweat it. This makes you composed and so much more pleasant to work with. You are not hassled, you do everything with a purpose, and you don’t come across like a pouch of scattered seeds. Efficient people are no-nonsense, but also human, I think. They will help you out because they want you up to speed in the best way and shortest time possible.

My head is aching, although I just had a nice plate of very tasty sev upma with the sweet tamarind chutney that you get with samosas. I want to think of something soothing.

What comes to mind is an evening in Bandra. I was nine years old, I think, and was playing hide-and-seek with my friends. I hid in a sooty, abandoned garage and waited for the ‘denner’ to come looking. From where I hid, I could see a strip of an evening sky freckled with dancing leaves and little rabbit-tail tufts of clouds. Suddenly, from somewhere, I heard music. Flute.

I didn’t find out where it came from…although it set a beautiful lilting melody to one day in my childhood.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Forest Cha

Last evening, I spent a very surreal evening in Kala Ghoda. It was only 6 p.m. when I reached there, but there was a sort of European grey and blue tone in the sky, and in the tips of spires that seemed to reach it. The sky, that looked like an oxidized sheath of silk, seemed to be folded around old terraces. Portions of it were tangled in the sharp, witchy branches decorated with saffron lights and ribbons. The wind carried the breaths of a million cubes of dry ice. People huddled and walked slowly, like warmth snaking along a blanket.

I was browsing through some stalls doing my favorite thing – pinching fabric with my thumb and forefinger. Cotton saris with shells woven in silver, printed silk stoles with moti sewn at the hems, tussar patches in magenta and yellow, and wide, rich brocade strips. One stall had very pretty handicrafts made of paper. There were some interesting pieces of paper jewellery. Most of them had layered flower designs in bright, lacquered colours encased in black wood. There were pendants in shades of yolk or antique almond and earrings in bisque and English red.

I picked up a set of earrings and pendant in forest green. The color was so deep and rich that the pieces actually looked lavish, and not like some commonplace specimens of novelty. In the ascetic setting tinted with grey and blue, each of these green spiral paper-designs shone. Some kind of gleam shimmered along its curves under the light of the lanterns – carrying life and music of the forest –after the color it was painted, maybe. They looked so alive, so vital.

After I paid for the set, I was making my way to another stall that had an interesting variety of slippers. A man beckoned. He had a huge kettle and really tiny cups. “Cha”, he asked me. Not ‘chai’ – not the term I hear and use around 20 times a day…when swarms of us move to the office canteen for breakfast; when I have a quick one waiting for the train at Chembur; when I ask for a leisurely sip just before going to bed. “Cha” is what I’d heard my grandfather ask for in my ancestral home in Cuttack; what my aunt’s favorite tailor offered me in a silver glass on a cloudy afternoon; what gaggles of women sip as they pound rice and store away the flour in heavy cases; what is instantly brewed when the first croaks are heard on a summer afternoon.

I had to have “cha”, even though I’d had six cups of “chai” already. “Cha” is forest green.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Time to get it back

Also annoying is how my pens keep disappearing from around me. I just got a really fine pen from the ‘stationery department’ – which is basically the receptionist when she’s not too busy to hand out pens and papers.

Then I, so beguilingly, put it on my table and went for lunch (which was fruits and curd, by the way – trying to keep it healthy). When I came back, there’s no pen.

I can’t even go and get another one now. Will have to wait until the incident of getting pen fades from receptionist’s memory.

Or I could whack someone else’s pen, right? Nope. I want a new pen to call my own. (I wonder how many adorable sheep have thought the same way.)

Sheep…pen…get it?(chuckles ‘sheepishly’; chuckles even louder now.)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Time to get him back

This is plenty annoying – I finally find my copy of Rushdie’s ‘Shame’ (the book, that is, not emotion) and read through a couple of pages before I doze off; and the next morning I can’t find it. Why? Because my father suddenly decides to get curious about the book and takes it with him to office. And there it lies amidst thrilling oeuvres, such as Naval Architecture and Thermodynamics or Synthesis of Electrical Engineering and Quay Management.

Over dinner, father says things like, “What’s so great about Rushdie?”

Well…that’s like asking what’s wet about water. Rushdie and greatness go together. He has an expansiveness about life and literature that dwarf other writers who merely write. He creates a language that is not but also English. He can describe ‘khichri’ like it was the last gem of a relic palace. He can describe sapphire like a mouldy lump of stale khichri.

He makes composition feel fluid, he makes writing feel anchored. He singes and he coalesces. He is, in a fragmented, partisan, splintered clustered nebullae of wordsmiths, a sad, solid, superb Universe.

He has given me so much life and living, and now he’s somewhere in a pile of some silly shippy books.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Search for meaning

I just realized that I do not understand the full import of the term 'passive aggressive.'

I think blogging and traveling by autorickshaws feeds that somehow.

I'll give myself two months to investigate the matter and report on it.

My time starts next February, though. Or maybe not.

Friday, February 01, 2008

First Feb, Feast, Fast

Last night, I reached home around midnight. There was a client call and I had supped on a bowl of dahi wada around 8:15 in the evening. The wadas were really tasty. Even the curd was nice and sweet and creamy, flavored with roasted jeera and chilly powder. But the wadas were so light that I was hungry within a half-hour.

Anyway, I spent the better part of the conference call being as far away from the speaker phone as possible. Shouldn’t scare away clients with rumbling. Slim chances that they’ll think the rumble’s originating from the stomach. Maybe they’ll mistake it as a sign of impending mutiny. Never a good thing.

Anyway, as soon as I reached home, I broke down on a plate of yummy besan curry, a bowl of steamed vegetables and some daal. Glutted like crazy. And I slept like a turtle on a cushion.

This morning, I was just swathed with lethargy. So I decided to go easy on lunch. I took a plate of fruits, a demitasse of curd, and had a fistful of some corn rice. The rice was not really part of the planned menu – I just helped a colleague finish up her lunch. After lunch, strolled to a thela outside office to get a cup of strong, watery, tasty chai.

It was a perfect meal.