July ended on a beautiful note. It has been the most wholesome, and peacefully well-rounded month. Every time I looked out my window or stepped into the world, the skies were cool and moist, the breeze was playful, and the rains were perfect. I could take each day of the month, polish up its consummate elegance, and have a string of thirty-one pearls to cherish as keepsake. July 2009 was worthy of being an heirloom.
Last Friday, I had to wait back after office for a conference call. That, thankfully, ended early enough. To celebrate, a friend of mine and I traipsed over to the Costa at Juhu. It was my friend’s first time there, and I was quite keen that she like the place. For a Costa, it was quite empty on a Friday night, but charming all the same. I had a hazelnut cappuchino, and my friend had a ginger-chicken panini. For someone who has given up non-veg a long time ago, my radar is pretty sharp when it comes to recommending meat dishes for other people. In fact, I’d be good at it – recommending dishes. I usually get it right…some exceptions are people like my brother. But then, people like him seldom like anything.
After coffee, I went to the Lokhandwala Barista to meet my cousin, who, expectedly wasn’t there. One of his friends spotted me, though, and was more than cordial. He sat me down on the porch, introduced me to a group of nice people who chatted politely…but I felt awkward moving into their inner circle on a Friday night. They were clearly looking forward to letting loose and having fun. So I excused myself (mainly because a black, smelly dog started wandering around me) and went inside. I tried reading some work material, but kept looking up to see if my sibling had walked in. His friend saw me doing the ‘spot the meteor’ routine and tried tracking down my cousin. (By the way- it’s hard for both of us to co-ordinate because he doesn’t keep a mobile phone, and I seldom use mine to receive calls. Why both of us are in the field of ‘communication’, I don’t know. Our respective mothers think it’s because we slipped and fell on our heads when we were young. I, at least, have recovered. Partially.)
An hour later, my brother came looking all happy and excited: “I just thought of a brilliant script!”
“I’ve been waiting here for over an hour!”, I screamed.
“Huh? You said you’ll come by 9:30! I was waiting here, but since you didn’t come, I went back.”
“WHEN did I say I’ll be here at 9:30?”
“I don’t know…you say a lot of things a lot of times…anyway, listen to this…”
I have to admit that despite my irritation, I quite enjoyed his story. My cousin’s a really good storyteller. One evening, he was telling me a story about this spoilt girl who thought she was too good for the world and then, many years later she ended up being estranged from her daughter. Only after my rapt attention had been broken, I realized that he’d been talking about me. He’s mean, sometimes. So I just listen to his stories and never share my muffin with him. Familial ties notwithstanding, one must draw the line.
Of course, now that I was in ‘his’ area so to speak, he suggested we leave the place. Suddenly, people had started ‘looking at me’. Since all of these ‘starers’ existed in his imagination, I couldn’t really provide a strong enough counter-argument.
He’s moved into a new apartment, and I suggested he take me there. Grudgingly he said okay. By that time, it was close to midnight.
As a house-warming gift, I picked up a couple of chicken and vegetarian puffs for him and his flat-mate. He bought me some Coke at a stall where a guy walked up to me and asked me the time. Of course, this, in my cousin’s world, meant that he’d asked me if I wanted to have dinner with him…so he intervened and snapped ’12 o’clock’.
“They’ll look for any excuse to talk to a girl!”
“Not knowing the time is not an excuse.”
“How you managed to grow up in Bombay like a babe in the woods, I’ll never know!”
Thus we squibbled to his apartment. The walk was awesome! Lokhandwala, late at night, is almost fairy-tale like in its profile. Somewhere on the side, you can hear the sea, the narrow roads morph into woodsy little lanes that disappear into magical areas you can’t enter because you don’t know the secret code. Around nooks and corners, groups of people stand and talk – talk of the dreams they came with, probably think of what they’ll do when they receive their first thunderous applause, talk of the audience they will one day mesmerize, talk of their chances to steal a million hearts, and also probably talk of their final bow. I’ve always wondered how it must be to be in a relationship with an artist – knowing, tacitly, that one will always come second. You could have a person’s heart, but his or her imagination is a knave to something else.
During the day, it is so easy to look at these people and call them ‘wannabes’. But in the truth of the night, they shone – each one of them shone – like a little hopeful pin-prick in the sky.
We reached the apartment, where my cousin’s room-mate was just retiring for the night. He gamely stayed up though, and boy! Was it fun! My cousin showed me his room and told me how he uses the same blanket he had since his hostel days.
I don’t know…I just felt very comforted knowing that he’s following his dream – building a home with strangers, sitting now against a light-green wall, folding the blanket his parents had given him when he’d left home for the first time. His room-mate and he were talking about some story session to be held the next day. They seemed to be a little unsure of how it would go…but somehow, I felt so sure that my cousin will make it BIG soon. So big that this home, this conversation, this wall, this blanket – all this will mean nothing.
Sometimes, in some moments you see stuff – stuff that slices through whatever reality you’re in. And I saw my cousin telling his story to a hungry crowd.
After they’d talked shop for some time, he started getting jittery. I was quietly sipping Coke, when he told me I should get going. “This is not a safe place”, he went on and on. In fact, his room-mate told me that I could crash in with them for the night if I were okay. But I just wanted to hang back, talk to them, and enjoy my Friday night. But cousin made it impossible.
Cousin: “I’ll come and drop you.”
Me: “No need. I’ll go later.”
Cousin: Stay here then…or wait, I’ll go drop you.
Me: I want to just stay for some more time. Please.
Cousin’s room-mate: Come on! Let her stay…she can take care of herself.
Cousin: You stay out of this…she’s family.
Me: I can take care of myself.
Cousin: Why don’t you goddamn understand! This is NOT Bandra…you can’t just go around any time you want!
Cousin’s room-mate: Oh come on now! This place is safe…Mukta, stay here if you feel like…whatever you want. Just chill!
Me (not liking the look of murder in my cousin’s eyes): Can I at least finish my Coke?
Cousin (who’d already started pacing up and down): Can’t you drink any faster?
Room-mate: Will you please calm down? Mukta, you want to stay back? He’ll drop you later.
Me: No, it’s okay. He’s getting jittery. I’ll go.
Five minutes later, I’d said my goodbyes and walked out with my cousin hovering around me like the shadow of death. And then he started with his surreal-speak.
“See, you don’t understand”, he began. (It’s a phrase he uses in his conversation with me very often.) “It takes one bad incident to throw things out of gear…You’ve been lucky so far, don’t push it. You are very trusting and all…and I don’t want that to break. I know you…if your trust is broken, you won’t recover very easily.”
“I think my failed marriage has pretty much taken care of that. I’ve recovered.”, I retorted.
“Okay, fine…it’s not about you being trusting…you’re sort of…” Then he made a big production of thinking for the right word while it was right there on the tip of his tongue. “You’re stupid.”
That made things much better. I kicked him, he yelped, and hailed me an auto. And then, insisting that I was not an imbecile, I told him to leave me alone. I could definitely go by myself. When I passed Juhu, I saw so many happy people – children playing with balloons, people having coffee in those thin, small plastic cups. It was around 2:30 in the morning. In a matter of twenty minutes I reached Bandra. I messaged his room-mate that I’d reached safely. But I hadn’t just reached safe. I’d reached in a state so wild and happy and free, that ‘safe’ was too much of a come-down.
I went for a walk down Pali Naka. My cousin is right. Bandra is such a precious little place. It’s like…in other places, you feel like a little ‘tight’. And once you reach Bandra, you just untuck your shirt, loosen your belt, and get comfy. Bandra has that sluchy kind of charm.
On my way back home, I looked up. For a second, I wondered how many people would be looking up at the sky right at that moment. And I thought of my cousin in his room, his room-mate making coffee, all those people still at Versova beach or making plans to go to Juhu…At the moment that I was looking up at the sky, the sky was looking down at them.
Thus July passed, with a silent goodbye, a benign sky, and a soft, hard truth – with an artist, you never come first. But even the second place is higher than where most people ever get to be.