Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 - when all that mattered was the way the glass shattered

You were a great year. So great that I will probably not remember you in March, and will have forgotten you by the time October rolls around. But that’s because you would have passed from being a segment in time to being a part of life. Now I don’t know if you get that difference…but it’s like this. You, more than any other year, is like a scar I have on my elbow. I got it from falling into a pile of glass when I was eleven years old. It bled, it hurt, it got infected. When the doctor rubbed it with antiseptic, I almost fainted with pain. When he tried making small talk, I felt like pulling his tie so hard that he’d choke. Somewhere along the way, though, as the doc dressed it up in soft cotton and gauzy bandage, I got mesmerized. One’s open wound is a beautiful sight, once you are through with the screaming. It’s a corporeal reminder of a sentimental truth – whatever hurts, will one day heal.

So, you’re like this wound that I had many, many years ago. Past, forgotten, but permanent. I’ll of course forget you, bit by bit. But one day, when I think of something totally uncharacteristic, I’ll wonder when I’d changed so much. And I’ll remember you, 2009. Like sometimes, when I catch a glimpse of this scar and marks of neat little stitches on my skin. I go back to the time when I yelled and screamed and then calmed down, and showed off the bruise to all my friends.

You taught me to…savour. I’m a gulper by nature. I’m rough with no patience for nuances. But this year, every single month of the year, every single day of the month, and every single hour of the day, you made me aware. There was something so big happening on the outside. Something so important happening on the inside. One just had to wait and watch.

I discovered what it is to come home late, so late at night, switch off the lights, light a candle, and listen to music. The city looks like an assortment of gemstones from the window. But my soft, delicious, dulcet darkness was pretty amazing too. You taught me that although it’s great being the sparkly shiny tripper, it’s just as awesome being the dark, velvet cloth.

I discovered that I wasn’t all that easy-going as I thought myself to be. I need space. I need physical space. I get cranky and tight when I don’t get a room to myself for more than three days. I get angry when people don’t get that. I get angry when people comment on how I look. I get angry when they have an opinion on what clothes I wear – even if they are good opinions. And frankly, the only ones who think I don’t dress well are as stylish as a sack of potatoes. So they don’t count. But still.

I discovered what it is to read. To really, really read. To suck every little drop of a word and to let it percolate through the tip of the hair to the teeniest little cell in the intestine.

And the movies I watched – man…the movies I watched! District 9 …I don’t think I should even bring anything else up here. Nothing compares to that film.

Oh, and the plays! And what about those super art exhibitions I caught at Jehangir? Serendipity in color and sound!

You taught me to not take anything for granted. I had the most glorious monsoon. I had the most fantastic weekends. I had the nicest experiences with people. Like when the guards at Prithvi kept my purse safe, when I’d left it back. How the auto-fellow discreetly parked by the side to let a Sumo full of rowdy boys pass by at 3 a.m. How the police generally sauntered up to me and asked me if I needed help when I stood arguing with an auto-fellow. How the guy in the bus – dog-tired that he was, let me have his seat. You taught me to not trust people carelessly, like I had earlier. But you showed me that people – all people – were deserving of the most noble part of faith one can put in humanity.

You showed me rather ruthlessly that I am bad with money. Who gets down to sixty rupees by the 26th of the month? But you showed me that the city is bright and brilliant if you’re willing to walk. That without a T.V. and without money to go to a coffee shop, you can sit on a swing in your high heels and look up at the moon and feel ultra-posh.

In all my other years, I have either struggled to remember or strived to forget. You, on the other hand, taught me to fuse the soft amnesia and brittle memory together; to make that heady, sweet concoction that makes me smile over the fact that once upon a time, I fell into a pile of glass.

Happy new year, everyone! Stay safe, get bruised, be happy!

Monday, December 28, 2009

When Christmas knocked and said, "Hey there!" (or Highlights of Christmas weekend - 2009)

Dinner with family. Just family. Decorating the tree with them, brother showing up really late, talking to parents, dad dozing off just as I’m getting ready to click, and running out of film just as dad wakes up.

Brother stays over. Driving through streets of Bandra on Christmas eve, watching men looking dapper in suits and women looking chic in dresses and satin gloves. We have coffee at a place over-run with kids in Santa caps.

SS visits, after a lifetime. We window-shop. Hungrily. There’s no store on SV road that wasn’t devoured. Mango was the tastiest dish, though.

J and Cy land in Mumbai. (Cy is all of ‘seven’ now – a figure she announces loud and clear, holding up the right number of fingers for good measure.) SS and I are at the airport to pick them up. Cy sits forlorn on a trolley and tells me, “My mother never gave me any food.” I tell her that I’m her real mother, and J is just an imposter who got lucky. So, she retorts, “You’re not my mother. You never ever ever gave me any food.” I suppose all those French fries that seamlessly passed on from my plate to hers never counted.

Walking with J on Pali Hill, late at night. We took a wrong turn and reached Carter Road to witness a strange sight. Strange, yet exotic and beautiful. Like a Latin poem on a road sign. The moon was halved – looked like an upturned bowl, and it was red. A dusty, gritty red. It seemed suspended in the sky, as if it were just about to get plunked into the dark, inky sea.

J, Cy, and I watched our first play together at Prithvi: Kashmakash. I thought it was quite nice. It tackled the subject of a man who fakes the freedom fighter status to get money from the government. But later, his life takes some troublesome turns, and he is forced to confront his situation head-on. The lead actors gave solid, nuanced performances. But I did think Cy might have enjoyed something lighter than a play on the triumph of conscience over convenience. She wanted to come back, though, for another play, so one can’t really tell.

We went to Juhu beach thereafter. It was around twelve at night. Man! That place doesn’t get old! The beach was lit up and full of people and clean. Cy and I ran around on the beach. The sea looked like it had molten platinum mixed in it. The moonlight was that radiant on the surface. Cy and I splashed about, while J walked along the shore, shivering daintily. How she grew up in Delhi, I’ll never know! (Or as she says, “Not Delhi…South Delhi.”)

The night was cold. Just when one had given up hope of having a winter, it didn’t just get pleasant in the city, it got c-o-l-d! We walked to a portion of the beach where some people were playing football. Cy took some rides. J took some pics. And then we hit the stalls.

Getting to the stalls at Juhu beach is like entering a nightclub. That buzz, that noise, the hurling and shouting, and laughing, and thumping on backs, and cacophony of music…it’s brilliant! We ate hot, spicy, overloaded with butter ‘tawa pulao’, paav bhaaji, ragda pattice…gosh! It was so good!

The air had a bite by then. We walked along some more, I got a cup of coffee, and then came back to my cozy, cocoon-y home!

Next night, J, Cy, and I had sushi at Global Village. It’s a nice place. The sushi is affordable, and they had a Christmas menu with roast duck and all.

Later that night, we walked along the dark streets of Pali Hill. Tumbling trees, cobblestone paths, yellow, wax-type lighting from the streetlights, purple flowers dangling from ivies that resembled tendrils of a young girl. I told them of a spooky incident that had happened to me when I was a child. When people didn’t walk on Pali Hill without lanterns or torches in their hands.

Cy had fun at the play-pen on Carter road. It was filled with kids, some shoving past others to get to the swings, some flapping about to reach the slides faster…and the guard gave up trying to get the kids out by eleven-thirty. So he just went back to his cabin and snored away. When we left around twelve-thirty, the kids were still at it.

We reached home. J and Cy went off to sleep. I wanted to do a little bit of reading. But ended up contemplating instead. As I had another supper of warm sooji-halwa, roti, and strong coffee, I thought of this world, my life, 2009, 2010.

There have been so many moments like this in the past - where suddenly out of a crowd, a few people stand out. Or in a snapshot, every single meaningful moment in one’s life gets captured to tell you something. Time, if anything, blurs. It diffuses. Boundaries melt. Sharp edges get rounded. And you think, in surprise, how over the years – who all became family…and what all became home.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

...Glories stream from heaven afar...

To wade through a dense, quicksand of noise and reach home. Home that’s soft and empty in mellow silence.

To sleep with a pounding heart and wake up with streams of bright shards of pure sunlight zigzagging on your bed.

To shuffle around the kitchen aimlessly, and brew the kind of tea that makes you close your eyes and take you to a cold, frosty mountain peak.

To turn on the shower like you always do, but get bathed in childhood memories of cycling on a beach instead.

To watch the sun come down, the lights come up, and the traffic get more frenzied, yet more distant as you slowly meet the peace that peeps out of chaos.

To hold your heart in your hands – however you may expect to find it– broken, wounded, strong, healthy, tender, tough – but to see it hopeful and grateful. And, yes, smiling.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Leaving Home

Feeling stuck,
Feeling blue,
Feeling not too much
Unlike you

Both of us
On this noisy street
Both of us
With no time to meet

There’s so much now
I have to say
But this razor buzz
Gets in the way

You don’t look up
And I can’t turn
Sometimes, I forget
Sometimes, you learn

What can we leave
And where do we go?
And what will we find
We don’t already know

This grey space,
These crimson velts
This great white void
Soft like ermine felt

We’ll find all this,
Also, cold purple air,
The void is home
When we’re not there.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I hate everyone!

FIRST, the stupid BEST bus does not stop at the bus stop. When I remove my glares to take down the bus number (for some reason I can't see too much through these Fast Track sunglasses), it falls on an idiotic stray dog who yelps and jumps two feet in the air.

THEN a stupid rag-picker points at me and laughs.

THEN, in the next bus I catch, a girl keeps dozing off next to me with her head bopping my shoulder. I tell her, ever so nicely, that she can put her head on my shoulder and sleep if she wants. (I don't want her neck to snap, given all those sharp jerks she's having.) She looks alarmed and tells me, "Oh no no! I'm not like that! Sorry!" (I'm NOT LIKE THAT! What the hell is that supposed to mean? 'Like that' means what...lesbian? Well, I'm not like that either. I was just being NICE! Actually, I'm usually not nice I'll let that pass.)

THEN I read my horoscope that says, "It'll be a good day for those around you. Try to stay out of their way."

Some days, it just doesn't pay to get out of bed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Simple things

I woke up with a bad mood. I had received a message from a friend that made me very angry. Usually, I get irritated. But this text got me inexplicably worked up. I had half a mind to call up and yell, but I was getting late for my yoga class. (Speaking of yoga, whatever my body may have accomplished in terms of flexibility, my mind has not in terms of anger management. I lose my cool just as often and just as badly.)

This was my first yoga class after my trip to Delhi. I was wondering if I'd even be able to touch my toes, after four days of only moving my hand to my face. But turns out, train journeys do keep the limbs limber. So, the class was pretty good. It softened my mood a little.

I came back home and sent an angry, but much more restrained message to the 'friend'. The day had begun on a bad note, though, and I was sure it was going to be one of those days - when the bitter aftertaste in the mouth will not go away. Even if you win a million dollars. Even if you get free movie tickets to a critically acclaimed film, even if the thudding in your heart shouts out, "Calm's not so bad."

Journey in bus happened. That was nice. Jammed my thumb to a table, such that my nail split and I got an angry, red swelling. That was not so nice. I met a blogger friend, who is really witty and funny and exceedingly rude and inappropriate. I have a feeling that its related - the humor and nastiness. Anyway, for an hour, I was treated to coffee and conversation that would make any libel-specialty lawyer euphoric. A very bright spot in my cave-gloom day thus far.

This season is horribly dehydrating. Later, I went to the canteen to see if there was anything to slake my thirst. I think the nature of thirst changes with the season. Like, if one got thirsty in summer or in the rains, cold water would suffice. But winters, you need something cool, zingy, and slightly sweet and tart. I asked for orange juice and someone else was getting kokum juice. I asked her how it was. My memory of that nice, refreshing drink has faded away. I don't travel by trains a whole lot now, and kokum juice was a station staple.

The girl was trying out the juice for the first time herself. I asked her to give me her opinion, so if my OJ turned out to be staid (which it did), I'd try out the drink another time. I took my juice, sat on one table, and went through Economic Times. I don't like that paper. Rather, I don't like the news therein. I mean, so many irritating opinions on whether the freaking economy is up or down or swinging side by side. If I were the economy, I would definitely not like all this stupid scrutiny. "Leave me alone", I'd say.

As I contemplated my imagined celebrity status, this girl who'd ordered kokum juice came to my table. She had poured out some of it in a paper-cup and had got it for me to taste it. I was touched beyond measure. That was a really sweet gesture!

The juice was really, really good. It was red (my favourite colour), cold, sweet and tangy. I had the biggest smile on my face after slurping up the last drop!

Maybe that's what the economy needs to recover. Not this 'will it? won't it?' circus flea-traipsing speculation. But someone to just hand it a nice, cool drink, smile and say, "Hope you'll like it."

A little thoughtfulness goes a long way.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My best friend's wedding

I have just returned from a beautiful, satisfying trip to Delhi. Attended a wedding in Gurgaon. One of my very close friends was geting married. I didn't realize just how close she was to me until I clicked a photograph in the Gurudwara...a second after she was wedded to the person she was in love with.

I expected to go to the wedding to build memories, have fun, share joy, and hopefully not embarass myself too much (charging towards the buffet, shoving people aside can be unseemly). I did not expect the lurch in the heart and the lump in my throat, though. There she sat, resplendent in a fine outfit in violet and gold - all poised and regal next to the groom. Very oddly, I remembered an evening a year ago. We'd gone running in the park, and it had started raining. We ran anyway. She giggled like a child in the gushing downpour. Soaked to the bones, we went to buy spinach. On the way back, there was a shattering bolt of lightning and a deep rumble of thunder. And what did we do? We went to a small, musty grocery store and had kairi ice-candy.

That my friend is beautiful, is an understatement. But as a bride, she literally...literally...took one's breath away. And through this solemn, peaceful composure - that only comes from a certainty of knowing that you're doing the right thing - I clicked a girl who sat dripping next to me one evening, with ice-candy in her hands and magic in her smile.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Look here

It’s been a month of being bemused. There has been a sustained period of walking about with a nervous knot in my stomach. I have also, very lovingly, carried a lump of tension at the back of my neck. There is no reason to feel anxious, but I feel that way. There’s an excitement so sharp that it feels like fear. It’s like a nice Betty Cooper type of happiness that went into a parlor and got her hair crimped and body pierced. Joy feels lethal, somehow.

I can’t be out enough. I can’t stay home enough. I can’t sit still. My world can’t stop spinning. If I lay down, looking out into the darkness, tree-tops swathed in moon shadows, I hear a buzz. My world is noisy.

Days begin and end and begin and end. They are not seamless. I have become acutely aware of the start and end points of time. I sense their jaggedness.

I have had bad dreams. Very bad dreams. Not really dreams...but that disembodied reality that comes alive in the twilight of doubt. I have seen dead children hanging from ceilings. Sometimes, while returning home in an auto, I have ‘seen’ a dead child in a sewer.

I have woken up with a start, feeling like I haven’t taken a breath in ages. I have had one hour of supreme respite when I have done yoga, and then I have pushed past hordes of corpses of children while climbing into a bus.

I have been tired and alive and happy. It has been a very good month. It has been a very good year. But the dreams have been bad.

This had been wearing me down so hard that I spoke to a friend about it. She didn’t flinch or look away or make sympathetic noises. I asked her if my subconscious was trying to tell me something. I love children. I am good with them. Very, in fact. And I don’t miss not having any. When the time is right, I’ll get my baby. If I have ever displayed resolve and patience regarding anything, it is this. So, I don’t understand why I see raw, red, children’s corpses.

In some kind of a half-awake state, I walk into a cold, clinical hallway lined with children hanging on big hooks. It disturbs me because it doesn’t feel fantastic. It doesn’t seem unreal. It feels imminent.

I spoke to my friend about this. I would like to go to a psychiatrist or a dream doctor, but I don’t know of any good ones. Given that Mumbai has gone into hair-splitting specialization, I think there are counsellors you can go to only if you are feeling slightly blue, and another one if you are really sad. There’s no one hear for the in-betweens – for the ones who perambulate between fear and phobia.

My friend…she didn’t blink. She didn’t look alarmed. She didn’t make the right noises. She told me that maybe it would be possible. Maybe there will come a time when I will walk into a hallway and see dead children. But it is equally possible that I won’t. “You’ll get into that room and then you’ll get out of that room, too,” she said.

There was a certainty in her voice that was reassuring, yet strange.

I asked her if these dreams were preparing me for anything. And she smiled. Last month, she was crossing Lower Parel and she saw an accident. She could see a lot of blood and a body flung somewhere. A biker had died. People were milling about the body. There was a sheet covering him partially. Suddenly, her cab hit something with a thud. She looked out.

It was the man’s head.

She didn’t get any dreams preparing her for that. But I think that incident prepared her for this conversation. She said that she only saw the man’s head rolling away by the curb. But people traveling before her might have seen that accident. They may have heard the man scream. They might have seen the body get decapitated. Yet, all those people may be living today. They may be working or eating or playing. Or even sleeping dreamlessly.

“You’ll get on with it even if it happens,” she told me.

We looked at each other. It was very brief. But it was long enough to know that sometimes when you look into someone’s eyes, you don’t just see that person. You see everything that person has seen.

Eye contact is a dangerous thing.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Why one needs Lokhandwala in small doses

Sometimes, work gets manic. Rabid, in fact. It swallows up your time, gulps down your weekends, and gobbles away your life. And when you complain, work looks you in the face and gives a long, loud burrrrrp!

This is when one feels a little shitty. Trampled upon. Worn out.

When work gets maddening, one strays so far away from a normal life, that even watching regular people doing normal stuff like bargaining for spinach brings tears to one’s eyes.

That’s when I go to Lokhandwala; late in the night, when everything else is practically closed. To have a cup of hazelnut cappuccino in the midst of people who’ve started their day…with excitement, no less.

But on the way, there’s enough bizarreness strewn about like breadcrumbs to lead me back home.

For example, there’s a small, pokey little hut that sells ‘Authentick Punjabi Food’. Its extensive menu includes jeera dhokla, malai sandwich, and pav bhaaji.

Then, there are the people wearing tight t-shirts with interesting messages. Like the guy who nearly got killed while scampering across the road when a police van careened through dangerously. He was wearing a pink so hot that would’ve made Barbie jealous. His T-shirt read: ‘Vodka. Connecting people.’

Then, there are the conversations. I am sipping my coffee, looking across the road at pretty white, silky blooms. A man walks up, smiles, and asks me if he could click my photograph. I ask him why. He puts out his hand and says, “Oh, sorry. I’m Ketan. I click wildlife.” (Well…I STILL like my hairstyle…so there!)

And finally, there are the store signs that titillate, invite, and yes…make one laugh uproariously! Like the one outside a stationery store that read, “Get your 2010 dearies now!”

Now, I don’t know about the rest of the world, but that’s a sign I’m definitely going to heed. Nothing puts an exciting spin to office days than recording the experiences for posterity: “Dear deary, work was crappy today.”

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

First of December

Today is the first day of the last month of this year. It feels like the first day of the rest of my life. It has been a good year. A very interesting year. It’s tempting to start enumerating – most memorable events, least favorite foods, top fifty buys, etc. etc. In good time, I think.

This year, I feel like I have actually seen things. Seen people. It’s quite marvelous. One night, a friend called me up to share a rather difficult piece of news about his marriage. I asked him what his plans were. He wasn’t sure what ‘their’ plans were. My friend still thought in terms of ‘we’. My friend has made up his mind to stick on with his marriage. Not just in honour of the vows he’d taken taken, but for love.

The next morning, I saw a young boy reach the bus stop a minute after the bus had left. He ran and ran…at the speed of wind, it seemed…and caught it. Everyone at our bus stop broke out into a small cheer.

If one met my friend dropping off his wife at the office, or one saw the boy sitting in the bus…one would never guess just what it took for them to get there. At what risk, at what drama did they get to this little scene of routine.

In today’s times, shrugging the shoulders and letting things go seems to get all the press. But there’s an immenseness too, about going the distance and holding on tight.

It’s not my nature to hold on. I never thought it was a big deal. But this year, I saw things. I saw people. And it was marvelous.