Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Goldilocks Day

I had gone for the Strand Book Sale at Nariman Point last Sunday. Very few things can get me dressed and out of the house by 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning. A trip to town is one of them.

I had with me a stack of railway coupons. It’s one of those things – only when you have them will you realize how much easier it makes your life. I love huddling around the validating machine, listening to the punch it makes on the coupons. And the blue vein-like stamp that gets printed on the small strip of paper. While I was having my coupons thumped happily, a long line snaked behind me at the ticket counters.

I felt good. The city was just getting ready, and I was already off.

I had an errand to run at Peddar Road, which is always fun. Walked around for a bit, grabbed a bite at Subway (only women employees there – heartening), and walked around some more.

Then I headed to Nariman Point. I caught a bus to Mantralaya. The conductor was nice enough to make an unscheduled stop closest to Bajaj Bhavan, , where the book sale was. I yelled a loud thank you, which startled the bus driver a little bit and dove into those roads.

I love that place. I love it. Even with the faint smell of urine, even with the fading, paling asphalt, I love it. I love it because it is looks so distinct. And tall. The bends of the road from where you can see sky-scrapers, where you allow yourself to get dwarfed by an urbaneness that’s polished and raw, where you squint and look at flats that might as well have clouds stuck on their ceilings…they’re such absolute ‘weak-in-the-knees’ stunners.

At Bajaj Bhavan, I spent close to three hours amongst books. Touching their spines, reading their jackets, absorbing the book covers. It’s so replenishing to be around literature. Muted, strong, full.

That done, I traipsed to Inox and went to the Tea Leaf and Coffee Bean cafe.

And there, even though I wasn’t looking for it, I found it: the spot I could settle in and watch the world forever.

It was at the corner table. Hidden from the crowd. A cute little red couch by the window.

I settled in with my new book, ‘How to save your own life ‘ by Erica Jong. Outside, I could see a street picturesquely dappled with afternoon light. A tall, blond woman wearing a rust-colored dress talked animatedly into the phone. Two little girls in polka-dot dresses giggled around trees. A sleepy policeman munched on his supari.

I read a few paragraphs of my book. It had a lovely cover – a young woman with teased, caramel-tinted hair wearing a white blouson and black panties. She’s standing in a room full of potted plants and flowers and she’s looking away at something. I thought of that room where the picture must have been taken. It was nice – happy, with just the right traces of the season flitting in. I sipped on my warm Apricot-Ceylon tea.

I turned a few more pages and studied a few more people. A handsome man in white and beige smiled to himself as he read the Financial Times. Outside, the weather was changing. It got windy and a little trail of leaves blew about. A lot of tree-tops shivered and people looked up expectantly.

There’s something about the promise of rain, however faint, that makes my heart dance a little.

I got myself another beverage. A cup of hot vanilla. Frothy, sweet and wholesome. (I do hope that there comes a time in the history of the world when every single coffee shop serves this concoction.)

As I sipped it, I realized that I could share this…this wedge of a day… with anyone who had time to see any one thing in Mumbai. Whether that person was family or a stranger from across the world, someone I barely knew, someone I’d always known. Whoever.

This was my postcard from the world that was perfectly tilted.

This city gets crazy and conflicted by the minute. The frenzy doesn’t stop, the bruising doesn’t end. From where I sat, though, the place was ebbing and flowing towards a changeless calm.

From where I sat, I looked out at a city that was not Mumbai. Not Bombay. It was just right.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Remembering the time...

There used to be a time when life in Mumbai was so good and easy that it spoiled me to live anywhere else in the world.

Now, life in Mumbai is so tough that it prepares me to live anywhere else in the world.

The city worked for me then. It works for me now.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Stunning

Can I just say that the most stunning aspect of life...oh wait, I must capitalize that...'L.I.F.E.' is that it knows how to do a stunning volte-face. Yesterday, the morning started off slow and low. But by evening, it had picked up so spectacularly that I was sending out bursts of love and luck everywhere.

I'd lost two or three phones in the last week. All numbers gone. A friend who I was meeting up pretty regularly in the past somehow had gotten lost in the void.

But yesterday, he called. It was the most exhilarating rush ever! Seeing an unknown number blink on the mobile screen and attend to the call and suddenly, everything that one has ever lost carelessly comes tumbling back. Unbelievable!

We met up later and I don't think I've used the phrase 'I'm so so happy to see you now' with more conviction in the last two years! I think he was happy too, although he could've done without the tight squeeze that hurt his busted back some more.

But we ate at Bembos and walked at Carter Road and spent the last few hours of a dying day at Juhu beach. It was cold and we waded a bit in the water. The tide was high and we sat under a frosty, hazy sky, listening to roar of the ocean.

It was so beautiful and I was totally, completely drunk on joy!

Dear life (oops!, I mean dear 'L.I.F.E.'), thank you for that night of cold, wet wind and sand, and trippy, happy sea, and my friend who leapt up from some black hole of lost contacts. When my friend had gone off somewhere after giving me his jacket, and I was sitting looking the Worli Sea-Link blinking away at a distance...I have never felt colder in Mumbai before that day. Or more cocooned.

I sat and I thanked and I said to myself: 'LI.F.E., I'm so so happy to see you now.'

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Not a good day

Sometimes a day begins and you know exactly how it's going to go. Downhill. Not even a spinning, great, downward rush - because that way, it's all over quickly. No. This is a slow, trundling descent.

I am feeling really fed up today. Really fed up. I do not like people. In fact, today I sorely want to snap every one's head off and spit it out into a giant crater in the ground. But that would fill up the crater and there wouldn't be any place left for me there. Where I will be landing any time soon.

I had a sort of a nice time this Valentine's Day. Went to a lounge/ club/ resto-bar whatever place to Kiwa or Kiva at Vashi. Also got told a few things about the men of the species and how the men of the species generally tend to look at someone like me. Do I agree? I don't think so. But then, really what do I know. I know little about men and I care even less of what they think. I am sure the feeling is mutual, and hence there is peace.

Today, I got an email from some old friends ideating about some rendezvous. I put in my two cents regarding the venue. Not that I'm going to make it or anything. Who knows? I might. I'm just so irritated. I know exactly how these plans work out. Endless flurry of emails. Venues to be decided, areas to be finalized. Someone won't want to come. Someone else, with all the mind spatialness of a paramecium won't want to get out of their home zones. Someone like me will WANT to make solid suggestions like to meet in Hard Rock Cafe or town (where, frankly, less geriatric-type crowd meet), but will settle for suggesting something else. In the end, it's all likely to get called off. Just as well, I think. In 40 years, all of us would most probably be dead. If we are not, we'll probably be attending each other's funerals. We could catch up then.

People at my workplace...why do they dress so drab? SO drab! It's like curtain draping. And not just any ole, sweet, funky kind of curtain-draping but curtains you'd find in the film version of a Dickensian novel. Bleak House, maybe. Some others wear the same four t-shirts round the month. Paired with the exact same skirts or trousers. And grown middle-aged men wearing Metallica t-shirts. Sheesh! That's like having mid-life crisis rubber-printed on black. And the French beard that's supposed to make up for the slack jaw.

This is when I miss working outside of Mumbai. People at least dress sharp. At least, they do this one thing that people are supposed to do before stepping out of the house...look into the mirror.

Anyway, I'm just grouchy today. Things will look up later perhaps. Of course, they will! To think, someone right now, might be shaving off his beard or someone else might be picking out a fifth t-shirt to wear with her skirt or my friends could ACTUALLY be considering meeting up in town!

Sigh!

Parenting in Mumbai

Inside a toy store:

Little girl, dressed in a white, denim over-alls, and a sparkly pink and blue hairband: "Papa, I had seen the doll-house here. Really. Mummy promise."

Papa: "But it's not here, baby. We'll see another shop."

Little girl, most distressed: "But Papa, Mummy did not find it in the other shop also. Where is the doll-house? Why we can't find it?"

Papa, patting his daughter on the head: "Oh, I know why! I think it's gone for redevelopment."

**********

The surprising part? The child nodded as if she actually understood.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Looking around me

I left Bandra this Friday. When I pulled the door shut, I realized that I hadn't taken down the Christmas and New Year decorations. Made a mental note to take them off soon. After all, I only have a few weeks here.

Now that I'm in Vashi, I'm looking out the window and I see kandeels in white, shiny cellophane fluttering in the wind. My parents haven't taken down their decorations either. I'll leave to go out in a couple of hours. There's no agenda, really. I'll just be off to buy something for a friend, and maybe meet her at the airport later. See her off.

Then possibly head to town. It feels like a sad day.

Or maybe not really sad. Just a day, tired with so many details that are never going to get sorted out. I'll go to InOrbit now. Then the airport, perhaps. Maybe, on the way I'll try to spot decorations that haven't been taken down.

I think I need to look at having some goals for the week. I already have some, but I seem to be accomplishing them just fine now. So, perhaps it's time for a challenge.

Well, I feel very scattered today. So, there's no real strong thread of rationale tying up this post. And it's Valentine's Day. Does that mean anything? I suppose it does.

Love, hope, waiting, celebrating, taking home, taking for granted...like the New Year decorations one doesn't bring down.

Pune

"Trust in Him when Thy have dark doubts;
Trust in Him when Thy faith is small;
Trust in Him when simply to trust in Him...
Is the hardest thing of all."

Three-four years ago, I'd lived in Pune. In Koregaon Park. I used to walk home from office and stop at German Bakery to have tea and cake. I used to run at Osho garden. I used to hang out at Blue Diamond sometimes. And walk through lush, dark lanes at midnight.

I never liked Pune much then. I was too shortsighted to realize that I was, in fact, having the time of my life those days. The other day, when Mumbai got a little tufty and cloudy, I remembered all the good, beautiful, rainy days in Pune. I made some fantastic friends and saw some gorgeous sights there. Pune converted me into an unabashed poet.

I left the city without a proper goodbye. I was planning to go there for my birthday this year and stay a couple of days near the Osho ashram.

And then this horrible thing happened today. This thing that makes me want to hate in plurals. And makes me want to puke in the face of everyone who thinks people can change or nations can mend their ways. It's hard to still believe in goodness and peace. But it's really important to do it.

I hope I can go to Pune this April and leave the earlier verse under a rock in my favorite part of the Osho teerth park. The verse is from one of Edna O'Brien's novels. It has given me a lot of succour through college and thereafter.

The novel is, fittingly called, 'Returning'.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ode to the pink, the purple, the perfect day

I never liked roses much.Until that day. When I was decorating a celestial bed. And spreading all those petals away.

Peeling off petals from a bloom; now that’s a gentle and delicate affair. Their softness on your fingertips linger. The more they’re gone, the more they’re there.

Much like some people one shares a lot with. Deep scarlet memories and deep scented times. Then they leave or get distant. Decaying from brilliant spotlight. To a fading hint of a jaded shine.

One’s left with only a bald stem, sure. One that’s also a bit hurtful to hold. But you look at the quilt and you see what it’s bedecked with. And you’re thankful for what you had in the fold.

This time, it won’t be for a starry night. Or a dazzling day beyond. It’ll be for the dawn with the shying light. I’ll be grateful for the thorns.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Scribble! Scribble!

This is what I believe to be true
Some day, it all melts into blue
Cyan, first, and then deeper it slides
Snuggling finally under the carpet
Where indigo resides




Jotted this during a meeting. Want to think of some kind of illustration for this verse now.

If that's the case, then it's okay

It's around ten thirty. I'm getting back from a nice evening at Kala Ghoda. Didn't do much there. Just caught a Spanish film at Cama Hall, roamed around a little bit along the pretty stalls, and headed to Bade Miya.

Bade Miya now has a stall that sells 'pure veg' food. From what I tasted, the vegetable sheekh kabab is quite tasty. They're a little stingier with the chutney and onions than the meat counterparts, but still. I appreciate its presence. I'm thankful. I'm the only one at this stall.

We take our kabab rolls back to our trains. My friend and I generally chit-chat about the city and the 'scrapers and the awesome new building at Peddar Road - the one that has a beautiful jacuzzi lined with silver and gold tiles, etc. We get silent for a bit. I buy a shiny, bronze rubber-band to tie my hair with. She pulls it out and picks out a sober green one. I don't like sober.

I get off at Bandra and feel a little excited about Friday. I want to spend a long, long while at Kala Ghoda on Friday morning. Some people are milling around vegetable stalls near Bandra Station, making emergency purchases of tomatoes and laukis. A couple of fat, lazy dogs are hanging around, trying to find a safe spot to sleep.

I see a child, an eight or nine year old boy, trying to feed a tomato to a white sloppy canine. The dog makes a big show of waking up from his position of pure sloth, attracted by the red, round thing, no doubt. He sniffs it and turns his face the other way. And slumps back into position.

The child turns and tells his mother, "Dekho maa. Yeh nahin kha rahaa. Main kyun khaaoon?"

I can see this kid twenty years down the line. Wearing white and black, bowing before an illustrious bench and saying stuff like, "The defence rests."

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Dum dum dum

It's Saturday afternoon and I'm back after a stint at Inorbit with my mother. It was my parent's anniversary on the 4th of February. I'd thought of taking my folks out to dinner and that happy film, 'Rann'. They appreciated the thought and promptly made other plans. Oh well. Of what use is the child who you can't take for granted.

In any case, my father is generally easy to buy for when he isn't around. Got him a shirt. It's full-sleeved, with beige and grey stripes, and in my favorite material - linen. (Favorite material on men, actually.)

My mum, on the other hand, is a different story. She loves buying stuff for the house. And then she'd like to buy a house for the stuff. The best gift for her would ideally be a bungalow somewhere or a nice penthouse. But because she has the kind of daughter she has, she's learnt to make do with lesser things.

But I still don't understand the raptures over a stupid centre-table. When we already have one that was hand carved in Belgium, for Christ's sakes! Or wanting a futon when she was gifted a divan made out of sheesham by some odd-ball royalty from Rajasthan. Or craving yet another coffee set when my dad's colleague got her these really beautiful Greek pieces inlaid with gold.

A lot of people scoff at zodiac signs. But if there ever was a cloud burst of Taurean traits, my mum was right there, enjoying the shower. She just has to be surrounded with all those fine and fancy things. And when the rest of us complain exasperatedly, she looks all martyr-like and says , "Oh...it's only to compensate for the kind of family I have." Well, all the existential struggle hasn't dimmed the sarcasm, you can tell.

Anyway, I don't spend much time in the kitchen. I also don't know much about kitchen appliances. But what exactly is the point of a 10,000 buck hand-blender! I vaguely got references to something about that contraption being made of mother-of-pearl...but...hand-blender! If that hand doesn't come attached to a person, I don't see the point. And then, of course, Ma has these irrefutable arguments..."But then I can have juice every day!"

"You can eat the fruit, you know. You're diabetic. You're not supposed to have juice, in the first place."

"At this age! After I've brought you up and all this...you expect me to chew fruit!"

Gasp! What sort of an ungrateful wretch am I?!

Anyway, she tells me to go away (shoos me off is more like it). And while I look at some reasonably priced options, she has snuck in the hand-blender and is paying for it at the counter. "I'll not deprive myself!", she says all sanctimonious, as if I'm telling her that the money for her multi-vitamins will now be used for my car wax. The store-keeper gives me a withering look and we're off.

Finally, I get her a couple of silk-kurtas (which I can tell she's imagining herself wearing while using that blasted blender) and she seems happy.

Now she wants to have some chhole-bhature and gulab jamun and spicy chicken curry. All the things she isn't allowed to have. I'm beginning to think that I mustn't get my mother to Inorbit anymore. I try to distract her by telling her about my new project at work, etc. but she wants to go to Hypercity. That's clearly a bad idea because that means we'll end up with 5 types of custard-powders and a large bottle of fabric softener. Or worse, we'll end up buying endless crates of fruits and milk so that she can have something to blend when we get back. Bad, bad idea!

Against my better judgment, I get her unsweetened lime juice. Then we head home.

My brother has shipped my parents some gifts, which Ma opens with glee. They're beautiful! I wonder when my brother acquired such fine taste in home decor. (He's a Scorpio - and that's a different story!) He's sent a beautiful matching set of coasters, candle-sticks, photo frames, and a clock. Very unusual and elegant...and perfectly suited for our living room. They're dainty, greyish, and made of...wouldn't you know it...mother of pearls. Hmph!

I hope my dad likes the shirt.

Friday, February 05, 2010

I believe it

Yesterday, I was out for a walk to Carter Road around 6:15 in the morning. It was still dark and a half-chewed moon shone alone in the sky. I walked up the Zig-zag road, glancing up at the moon. Through leaves, it looked latticed and funny. Like a half-eaten pearl in a lace pouch. By the time I’d reached Carter Road, the sun was just rising. The black-blue color had started getting diluted with the morning light. The world was getting brighter.

The promenade was scarcely peppered with people. The serious joggers had moved on ahead, and the people doing tai-chi made their fluid movements slowly. The fishermen were setting up their boats. Some of them were reeling in fish already. Vegetable vendors were polishing up their bright yellow and red bell-peppers and thick tomatoes. It had all the markings of an ordinary day.

And then it got scary.

An old man, carrying a bag of scraps or food, crossed over the balustrade to go to the rocks. The sea had not yet receded by then. But as the man walked deeper on to the rocks, the sky (that was practically baby-bue now) suddenly got overcast. And the world got noisy…it got filled with these raucious shrieks, you’d think someone was pulling out nails and eyelashes of people tied to stakes. The world, literally, got dark. So dark that you could hardly see a patch of sky. There was a blanket of crows swooping and gliding towards the man with the food. The sky was overcast with crows. If one ever needed a picture of doom, this was it. That noise – it was terrifying! I actually stood rooted to the spot. I couldn’t move an inch because so many, many crows were cawing and swirling about me. I felt like a hapless victim in a Hitchcock film – ‘Birds’ I think it was. They could’ve killed me. I was sure of that. I turned to see if the man was safe on the rocks. I think he’s a regular. He had calmly set down the food in the middle of some rocks and waited. It was a most horrific sight. He stood there, small and slouched, in the middle of this craggy landscape. And every inch of every rock had a crow on it. It’s like the horizon only had these dark birds and the sea. There was no such thing as land.

I walked a little while after that and got back home. Until now – and it’s nearly twelve hours later, I can still hear that bloodcurdling sound in my head. And the sight of the black, winged seige has dug itself into my brain now.

I wondered if the word ‘crowd’ comes from ‘crow’. It’s possible. Because one person and two people and a hundred people in an organized fashion is manageable. But when they gather…when they amass indiscriminately and descend like the way they did today…that kind of unruliness could have probably originated from the social habit of this bird.

I tried to read up on it. I didn’t find any such reference. I did come across a zinger, though.

A group of crows is called…‘a murder’.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Groovy kind of love...and a wedding to match

I just attended a friend's wedding in Jamshedpur… and what can I say? If you took happiness and contentment in equal measure and whisked it up with glorious weather and blended in golden ribbons of serendipity…that would have been my trip.

There were happy ceremonies inside the home. Laughter and sunlight trickling in through lacy curtains. There were also huge lunches with the family and photographs shot for a lark during siesta time. And a beautiful Bengali wedding held in the garden at night. And lots of cups of steaming hot soups and excellent chocolate pies and creamed vegetables and mishti-doi and gulab-jamuns, and apple strudels with sweetened dollops of cream.

Then sneaking away to decorate the celestial bed with a young bridesmaid who had exceedingly deft fingers and very bright ideas. (She stunned me with her ability to spontaneously make wax beads to spread as dew-drops on flowers.) Of course, some ideas I was absolutely against – like putting papads under the sheets. But well, in the face of the cheeky enthusiasm of a twenty-year old, much wisdom pales away.

The perfect, sparkling end to all this gaiety, was the reception. It was held in a lovely club in the open-air. Everything was expansively decorated in peach, white, and gold. The foggy moonlight and wintry shine of the stars glinted off all these satin runners on the table and made it magical. Some of my favorite numbers played in the background, including Karma Chameleon. I’ve been besotted with that song ever since I first heard it.

Flowers so luscious, you could bite into them for dessert. And the moon…it was big. Big like a saucer. Like a white, icy stadium with a billion floodlights on. Like a child’s face shining with joy. Like a heart full of hope and love. That night was so elegant, you could imagine it painted on ivory silk, hemmed with pearls, and sprayed with perfume.

My friends individually are wilful, stubborn, wonderful. Both capable of stirring up storms wherever they go. And now, they were together. For life. And giddy-type of happy.

The night seemed to embrace its two difficult children warmly with such affection. These crazy kids who’d tamed the wind.