Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Reclamation

Today was my first time catching a train at Mira Road station. It is quite a pretty place. The ticket counter is on the first level and there's a walkway that takes you to the various platforms. Mira Road has a view of the creeks and salt pans on one side. That entire expanse is open and free. Today, it was cloudy so the vista seemed awash with a minty-powdery-blue hue. It was a lovely November afternoon.

While waiting for the train, I was generally thinking of my current situation. By next year, I have to have some solid plans on where I will be staying, which city, whether I should take up different kinds of work from what I'm doing now, etc. I would like a little more solidness to my life now. The gypsy needs a nest. The gypsy needs to rest.

Around me, people may have been thinking about similar issues. They hid it with such panache, though. An old man sipped his tea noisily, a young girl in indigo leggings and raven-black boots scrunched a packet of Lays and threw it away. Some young children ran about and later begged their mother for some water. Their mother in a beautifully embroidered burqha produced a bottle as if by magic. A beggar came and demanded money - ten rupees to be exact.

I got into the train amidst unnecessary aggression. Pushing, shoveling, pummeling, stampeding, crying, shouting is such an intrinsic fabric of Bombay train life that it's become impossible to imagine any other kind of situation. It's a little weird. The train zipped to the next station. Even the speed couldn't mask the slow, melancholic degeneration of urban life. The 'make-do', the crowded emptiness, the jostling for space greedily coupled with the need for contact.

Just ahead of Malad, though, I saw a very beautiful sight. Two young boys, maybe 10 or 11, were playing in a sandy area that was surrounded by slums. One boy sat on a broken Syntex tank while the other seemed to be racing about from here to there. They wore shorts and shirts that had lost their original color a decade ago, maybe. In fact, their clothing seemed too small for them. They had long, cookie-brown legs warmed in the sun. The one sitting on the Syntex was trying to mend a broken kite. Suddenly, he leapt up and flung the kite in the air. The kite caught the wind and flew. The other boy ran behind and tried to jump and bring the kite down. Their faces shone with such exhilaration that it broke my heart.

Bombay creeps up and erodes so much so quickly. One day one can wake up and wonder how long has it been before one remembered a dream. Or one could look at a baby and wonder if she will ever see a sunflower field. Or be at a mall's Kidzone and wonder if that time is passed when kids would gambol up a leafy lane with nothing to do, no idea what to do next and be perfectly okay being clueless.

But like with everything else in Bombay, happy surprises happen just as rudely as the sad ones. These two boys reminded me of some thing. That the world of sunlight, innocence, and silly laughter is never lost. It's reclaimed every time a child runs across barefoot on the sand.




Sunday, November 27, 2011

So what?

When one is destined to take flight, what does it matter if the bridges are burnt?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Moving in

Today, I moved in with a friend, Eva, at Mira Road. She has a cute little place and high dreams of beautifying it before Christmas. My role in this grand scheme of things would be to tidy up the place after the electricians and carpenters go and hopefully stay out of their way. I say 'hopefully' because in the past, I have tripped over their tools and broken them.

I love moving in to a new neighborhood. I like the initial days of exploring one does, like a tourist.

So far, I really like Mira Road. Eva's home is close to a lot of cute little kiraana shops and boutiques and 'Ladies' tailors'. It's such a big draw to go for a walk and see jars of striped candy in glass jars. Or long ropes of yellow and orange Lays packets. A couple of boutiques showcased some interesting outfits that I will check out soon. I was particularly riveted by a lavender halter top in a slinky material with a little bit of sheen and spandex. The bodice had a generous sparkle of muted silver. I can imagine wearing it with a short white denim skirt or maybe a pair of indigo harem pants in crepe-de-chine for New Years Eve. Silver ballet pumps would be nice too. Most importantly, a great midriff is necessary. So no dinner from tomorrow. (Just kidding! Just kidding! Heard my tummy growl in anger so am pacifying it.)

I reached the place around 4:30, right in time for tea. Eva took my stuff to the room, yelled out what part of the cupboard I could put my clothes in, and asked me whether I'd need a table for my laptop. I didn't answer because I was already busy in the kitchen making chai. I don't understand how people get down to business in the early evening without a cuppa!

Considering this is only my second time at Eva's place, it's remarkable how clearly I remembered where her utensils were, where she stocked the tea and sugar, and which bowl in the fridge would have the milk. I may be scattered about many things. But in terms of tea, the memory is elephantine.

Eva is quite propah. She gently took the pan away and suggested we get something to eat with the tea. Like khakra and biscuits. Suggestions like that make no sense. When I'm that close to getting some hot beverage in my system, I'm not too keen to break the rhythm and go get snacks! But my scowling didn't help any. So we went to the neighborhood grocer and got khakras. I also insisted we get honey (for the porridge I intend to make tomorrow) and some milk. What's grocery shopping without Maggi? So we got a few packets. And then of course, the setting sun reminded us of some cold cream we had to get. But come on, I was moving in, after all. Mustn't we celebrate this? Hence Red Bull was purchased to be had later at night. Armed with the necessities of 'tea-time', we got back.

We sat in the living room but the balcony looked too tempting to be ignored. We stood there, sipping our tea and watching sunlight dance about on the roofs of cars. She pointed out some of her favorite neighborhood strays, most of whom looked sleepy, lazy, and fat. For a brief moment I imagined them wearing that shiny purple top and laughed. My friend was not amused. Animal lovers ought to laugh more, I think. It's not like their loved ones get offended.

Then we chatted some more...a lot more, in fact. A couple of hours later, I felt like having another coffee but didn't want to make any. Eva had spotted a new CCD around the corner and we trooped there. Now, I must state here that I don't really like CCD. I also don't like how it spreads like a rash everywhere. Yet, I have to admit that nowadays I find it oddly comforting...to see those giant quotation marks and that large symbol of a cup and its token white picket fences in all kinds of neighborhoods. I get the feeling that there will be more like me here. Makes me happy.

We had our cappuccinos and decided to go for dinner. On the way, I had seen a cheery little joint called 'Foodito'. It served Italian, Mexican, and Chinese. I felt like having big, chunky wrap and some tangy salsa. Eva didn't believe that such a place existed. (She heads out of Mira Road whenever she gets the chance so isn't all that familiar with the area.) We walked quite a bit and then saw that joint. They were closed and we were confused. It was only 8 p.m.! The guy inside the restaurant stepped out and clarified that they were scheduled to open this Saturday! Now, I don't know much about the restaurant business but I'm guessing over-eager patrons like us can only be a good sign.

We went to a bakery nearby and I have to say, I ate the most delicious vegetable frankie there. It was like a giant spring roll coated with bread crumbs and deep-fried. It was stuffed with a very spicy cabbage and onion filling and extremely well-seasoned! (We'll go there tomorrow too.)

Eva suggested we take a different route back home and it was a lovely walk. That area reminded me a little of BKC ten years ago. All wide roads, under-construction buildings, and trees on the sidewalk with humongous trunks.

We spoke of splitting kitchen duties. Usually I avoid them altogether but Eva was being really sweet about it. Told me I wouldn't have to cook and all. So, since I don't want to take advantage of her goodness (just yet, anyway), I offered to chop the veggies and maybe do a little bit of prep and of course, make tea.

Both of us are freelancing at the moment and we both had deadlines to meet. But the first few days, I imagine, will be like a slumber party. We couldn't stop talking and joking and then remembering some other grocery item to buy. (It didn't occur to either of us to make lists.) The assignments got waylaid for the time-being. It will take a lot of mental disciplining to get there. I've given myself until next Monday.

Finally, we sipped Red Bull, discussed Sharad Pawar getting slapped, said our goodnights, and went on finish off the rest of our work.

Newness, comfort, familiarity, and prospect of all those things again tomorrow. Change is good. It's even better with a pal.






Thursday, November 24, 2011

How did that happen?

I think of all those things
That made me blue
And they were all those dreams
That came true.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

That other thing

This is really just a note. I put it down quickly, though, because I don't think a day should be lost without people sampling what I'm writing about here. It's the red hummus at Moshe's.

I was at Palladium today with my parents. I really wanted them to try the Egyptian dukka at Moshe's. Mum's agenda was to buy off the Rohit Bal store, so she just slurped through the fondue impatiently. It's the beginning of the week with a million things going on in office. So dad was talking on the phone. The bubbling cheese with pretty seasoning got pushed around absent-mindedly. I thought that my latest earnings from an assignment could have been put to better use. Like maybe getting them tickets to Elephanta or something. This Egyptian dukka was clearly not getting the importance it deserved.

Father, after finishing his ten millionth call, mentioned that the fondue was too rich. He had spotted Lebanese on the menu and wanted hummus. Mum almost split a blood vessel because we would be spending more time at Moshe's whilst the latest velvet corsets and jackets in the Bal collection were getting bought. I explained to Ma that at Rs.87,000 and above, the lehengas and jamaavar coats wouldn't be flying off the shelves. She was a little petulant but agreed to stay a little while longer.

We ordered the pita bread and hummus. It came with two dishes - one was the regular white chick-pea hummus with a generous trail of olive oil. The other one was a reddish, slightly thicker paste. It was sweeter and I think it had peanuts blended into it. It just tasted so good! Dad suddenly ignored a couple of calls and Ma mentally nudged the Rohit Bal store aside for a moment. In silent communion, we ate, pushed each other's hands out of the way to mop up the sauce, and purred with satisfaction when done.

So, my pick of the Moshe menu was the Dukka fondue but now...it competes strenuously with that other thing.


Friday, November 18, 2011

The world comes

The other evening, I decided to walk for longer. I'd reached the promenade earlier than usual. There was a slightly stronger buttery sunlight and more people thronged the walking track. By the time I was done with my usual rounds, the evening had set in properly. Twilight had floated away, dusk deepened and got spread like a tightly tucked bedspread. The moon and stars got placed in the vast heavens like dainty mints on pillows. Then I decided to walk a half hour more.

Since this is winter, the sun just seemed to drop off the sky at some point. It grew thick and dark. Blue melded with purple melded with black. That was the sky. That, in fact, was also the world. Since the street lamps at the promenade function erratically, one can't really count on them to be lit when the sun sets. They weren't lit then.

But the place looked mysterious and quite spectacular. Once my eyes got used to the darkness, I could make out shapes of different trees, outlines of park benches, the soft curl of the tip of a dog's tail, the silhouette of a jogger...many things. It was like looking at a Rorschach test and slowly watch a pattern emerge.

I think every morning when we wake up, the world gets created like this.There is a spilled splotch of great possibilities and life stares at it hard. Depending on what's really going on in its head, it sees a motif for its deepest, most hazardous sort of bizareness. 

Considering its genesis, of course the world is crazy. It makes more sense that way.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Monday

A deep fascination for Shiva has led me to look at Mondays differently. I think it would take only an iconoclast like him to take the most dreaded day of the week and make it his own.
Today, I went for a walk twice. In the morning, I was in two minds. I'd stayed up all night working and surfing the net. All night was spent in thinking up Facebook updates but giving in to reading other people's instead. Life is so big. Life is so much. Little curlicues of it, the ones that get shaved by time, get put up on Facebook. I really like it.

In the evening, I met my friend and we went for our stroll to the usual place. Nowadays, it's getting dark really quickly. By the time we finish even one round, the sun has vanished and in its place, is a thick quilt of midnight blue. Sometimes, it comes with stars and a moon. Some other times, like today, it comes with nothing.

Towards the end of the walk, I was startled beyond my wits! I saw a huge, huge, huge snake! It was the most magnificent thing I have seen! It slithered along in great speed and gusto, zigzagging with a force I can't quite describe. My friend screamed and stepped back. Some other walker came up and asked, "Kya hua behenji?" I pointed mutely and croaked, "Snake!" He nodded and said it was a cobra.

I'm not sure it was a cobra, though. It was too magnificent to be around a Vashi park, for God's sakes. It's like, I don't know, finding an Aston Martin parked outside National College. Doesn't quite go.
In just a moment, though, a serene evening had become spectacular.

I thought of Shiva. A cobra, after all, could be this iconoclast's way of saying, "Heya!"

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Choices. Simple.

They call us sinners now, the lords of moral fiefdom,
For the acts we've done and the words we've spoken,
But when we'd looked for shelters from the storms,
We'd found the temples closed and the gutters open.

Smile, it's a day

Had a beautiful lunch yesterday. (It's three-thirty in the morning now. I thought of writing 'today' instead of'yesterday but realized it would be temporally inaccurate. However, the number of times my mind keeps going over those dishes, I think I'll be having that lunch for a few more days. In the mind, at least.)

I'd gone over to a pal's house for lunch - a very tasty spread of Kerala food. And while I hogged on the yams cooked with grated coconut, hearty bowls of saambar and spoonfuls of al dente avial, it was the stew with coconut milk that conquered my heart. That stew was so brilliant that maybe a movie should be made on it.

I can picture a bachelor in his early forties, unlocking the door to his apartment and walking in to darkness. He follows this routine every night. Takes off his shoes, sits down on the couch for a few minutes, wonders what to do. It's been a busy day but an empty one. He steps into a shower trying to get a colleague's off-colored remark out of his mind. If you're 40 and unmarried, you're either perverted or cold or both. Somehow, he thinks, women are prepped up to deal with these harsh realities early on. But men. Not so much. They get told often enough that they own the world, they rule it, they can live on their own terms, etc. etc. It's not so. You can't really rule anything. You can only struggle and hope to belong.

The shower has done him good, though. He's much more relaxed now. Saunters into the kitchen. The cook seems to have tidied up better today. Floor feels cleaner. He helps himself to some rice and takes off the lid of a large soup bowl. There's some stew. It's fragrant and looks pretty with cubes of translucent carrots and potatoes in it. A sliver of green chilli swims prettity in the white, creamy broth. He helps himself to some. Pours a ladel full of that on the rice. Thinks a second and pulls out a bowl. Fills it with more stew. Grabs a spoon and walks into his balcony.

From the 27th floor, the view is amazing. One can't see the sea now but Mumbai's skyline shimmers like decorated sentinel along the shoreline. He starts eating. The stew and the rice. Remembers. His first holiday in the forest. His days in the art school that he abandoned midway to become a professional football player. His loss of eyesight. His project of developing illustration in braille. Comes back. The stew and rice. Truly, a perfect meal.

Now, I do think Anurag Kashyap or Abhay Deol would like this story. Especially if I met them with some of this food.

Anyway, that was a good, good lunch.

Then, we finished off with payasam. Now that's another story...the sequel to Roman Holiday no less.

Friday, November 11, 2011

On 11/ 11/ 11

This is a quick record of today because I understand this day will not occur in another 100 years or so. {It'll be quite a bummer if it does, though. "What?! We weren't special?" My race will whisper from whatever astral planes we are clogging up over the next century.}

The day started off badly. Woke up in a bad mood and a toothache. My left cheek has a slight swelling which, I think, looks kind of endearing. It looks like I have bitten off a lollipop head and am savoring it. There's pain though. But things started looking up after a friend's call. She called me over tomorrow for a Kerala lunch. The prospect of food, the memory of food, the notion of food, food - they are so integral to my sense of...no, not well-being...to my sense of self. It is perhaps a slightly tragic thing to say of oneself but it cheers me up so.

Later, I had a light but very tasty lunch of really well-cooked rice, daal, and some beans coated and fried in rice flour and coconut.

The highlight, though, was my evening walk. I stepped out of the house around 5:15 to meet my friend at the promenade and the world looked like a love song! That evening sunlight was so gentle and sweet...it would make your heart ache. The heart doesn't always feel forlorn in the dead of the night. Sometimes, it starts pouting just before sunset too.

After a lazy stroll, we sat and chatted against a vivid sky. Is it my imagination or is the world becoming more colorful? Earlier, the world seemed to be, maybe regular water-colors. But now, it seems to have a thick velvety and felt-type finish. One feels like touching everything!

My way back home was really superb. I took the old route back, one that I haven't visited for weeks now. A lone firefly gave an amber wink and a large icy full moon gleamed in the sky. Then a friend called me for langar. This was my first trip to a gurudwara in Vashi. My last two trips have been for my friends' weddings and they were exquisite. I find weddings in gurudwaras to be very peaceful, very nourishing. One can imagine a promise of togetherness getting blessed and cultivated here.

After langar, this friend and I walked back home and had a cup of coffee at the neighborhood CCD. It is a quiet, slow place. It's like one of those red and white glitz and glow dhabas you could find alongside an Intergalactic highway. Somewhere else, life might be whizzing past. Here, though, the nerves yawn and say, "Why bother?"

All in all, 11/11/11 was like any other day. And like any other day, it was lovely.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Wish it were different

When sunlight oozes out of the sky like some A-grade cream cheese out of a Waitrose tube; when a soft puranpoli lies rolled up, fresh and warm on a plate; when a cup of the world's best tea is served in a favorite Cerulean blue mug; when the thickly wrapped book in brown FlipKart delivery cover has just come in; when you have ripped open said cover with an injured finger and a chipped nail; when the new book lies unveiled crackling with the goodness of tasty writing, when the day stretches on deliciously and the night promises to ooze out like some more cream cheese from a Waitrose tube...then there mustn't be a deadline for finishing up a press release.

But what to do? There is.