Friday, March 29, 2013

Does he even know what he pulled off?

Finished re-reading Salman Rushdie's 'Midnight's Children'. The book is shockingly both - a chronicle and a prophecy of India and Pakistan. That this book was published, read, and celebrated as 'fiction' points to simpler times that is hard to even imagine now. As for Rushdie as a writer, with this book he makes every major work of Indian fiction after this one seem like a college essay.

Here's why: The story involves a man born at midnight of Independence day who later becomes the adoptive father of a child who is born at midnight of the Emergency. A man with a large nose whose arch enemy is a man with large knees. The story has references to blue Kashmiri eyes, pickling and migrant memories, tetrapods and reclamation in Bombay, circus troops and city beautification projects outside Jama Masjid in Delhi, vasectomy in Benares, the making of Bangladesh, the unmaking of other nations, the profiling of the Gandhi dynasty - and all this peppered with the Indian phrase of 'you believe don't believe '(tum maano ya na maano). With a storyline and sub-plots like this, with language like that - Rushdie has walked a tight-rope over every single sentence in those 500 pages. And he made you believe the story - believe it enough to be uncomfortable and apprehensive. That you may not be Saleem Sinai. You may not be born on August 15, 1947. But if you live in such times, you could still be a midnight's child....with no escape.

How did could he...know?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Weird pick-me-ups

Today I had a colossal backache and a really dull headache as well. My throat was sore, eyes were scratchy, and the food seemed to have settled in my stomach and turned into lead. The lower abdomen was bloated unhealthily and I dragged myself to office feeling swarthy and unattractive. Also ill. But impersonable and inadequate for any sharp thinking or coherent conversation - these two thoughts dominated my mind.

I attended the meeting I was to attend and then promptly called up my folks who (who are visitng) to pick me up from office. They were out shopping, though, and had made dinner plans with my cousin. I had to accompany them for dinner and although I am really fond of my cousin, niece and nephew, I felt so thoroughly weary at the time. My mind was already shutting down. My body was aching so badly that I just wanted to be under covers with the lights off, fan in full swing, dreaming away until morning. But that was not to be. There was a dinner to attend and one that I was actually looking forward to.

For swift mood upswing, I rely (and I know how superficial it must sound) on clothes. Food also always makes me feel better but clothes make me feel well enough to go into the world. And not just any clothes. They must be cotton, freshly washed, crumpled, and short. I love soft cotton that is not pressed or starched. I love that baby-like gentleness that a crumpled piece of soft fabric can have on my skin...and on my mind. Crumples are so much more welcoming than something that's neatly pressed. A clean, crumpled bit of cloth gives you a chance to drape yourself in sea-breeze or a gust of mountain air -m you know, things that have no other agenda than just being around. Crumpled cotton clothes give me that same sense of comfort and satiety that a plate of hot, ghee-drenched khichdi does.

As for short clothes - well - I just find them very happy-making. A short flared skirt or denim shorts with large pockets you can stuff lozenges in...or tissue papers on which you will note down interesting quotes off restaurant wall-pictures - those get me in a very happy mood.

So, as it turns out, I wore a light, baby-pink top, soft as muslin, and a coarse, pleated khaki skirt. The fever was there, the aches were there, but I was out of the house greeting a lovely summer night.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ordinary day and insight that gets lodged in the head like a seed in the tooth

Today, I wore a white tee-shirt, faded blue jeans and scarlet flats. At work, I reviewed a few things and skimmed through a 143 page document. Not much registered but I know what exactly to review tomorrow.

I surfed the Internet a little bit and thought of a few friends. One of them is taking up tarot-card reading soon. Another one seems to have gotten her life on track after her divorce. Another one is moving out of his house and is bravely putting together a mental system to combat a loneliness that will surely befall him in the early days. I saw an interview by Robert Schwartz on pre-birth planning (the premise that the soul chooses exactly the kind of experiences it will go through in its incarnate form). He spoke of a woman who had once been wounded by a bomb so badly that her eyeballs were seared and sharpnels had entered them. At the hospital, doctors had to use magnets to hold her eyeballs together to work on her.

I was eating my tiffin of fruits: watermelons, grapes, and pomegranate seeds. It suddenly occured to me - like it hadn't occured this way earlier...with such sudden, throbbing insularity - that there are so many people. So many people and so many lives. So many lives and so much living.

And yet, this miasma of coagulated destinies and hardships and overcoming and personal stories - all of these million tiny motes of fated beings - when they all come together and be together - they are still called 'Life'.

And life is singular. 


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Things of note today

The 'rents came to visit. Although father has returned to Bombay, Mom is here. We had a fun outing today at Phoenix Mills.

1. We headed into the Irish pub at Phoenix for a snack. Now, I have been out of the pubbing scene for a while now. In fact, the last time I'd gone to High Spirits at Koregaon Park, I was so uncomfortable with the noise and the drinking and the hollering and the bonhomie! I don't understand why the music must blare that way! Anyway, on entering this pub I spotted high bar stools, yellow tinted bottles and pretty stacked bars, etc. And I'd slowly started having those swervy palpitations that I get in loud clubs. We got a table in the dining area (I was relieved although my mother looked like she'd have liked a swivel on one of those stools.) Then her phone rang and I wondered how uncomfortable she'd be taking the call in that setting. She, though, chatted comfortably and made jokes, gave advice, and bid someone a hearty welcome into the city, etc. Then she hung up and asked me what was good in the menu. Oh well, you live and learn something about the mother every day.

2. What was good on the menu, though, was jacket potatoes stuffed with melted cheese and slivers of olives. Everything else I ordered was pretty sorry. Mum liked her chicken sandwich and I must say their fries were tasty. They had a chilli-powder and a mildly sweet crust that was tasty.

3. I bought a pair of demin shorts from Zara to herald the summer. The shorts are shorter than what I usually wear and has a cut that is a little difficult to gauge without trying them on. But I didn't try them on because the queue to the trial room was just way too long! I got it home and wow! they fit! (Note to self: Continue with the yoga!)

4. We spent a good afternoon in the bright, arcade luminosity of the mall. When we stepped out, though, the sky was lavendar and a lovely moon was out. It had the shape of a bean-bag that someone had sunk into. A perfect Sunday type moon.

5. To top this off, I finally got myself a lovely, hazelnut cappuccino from Peter Donut. I'm relishing that as I type this.

Good day today.

Happy-making rice

Today was a sweet, lazy Saturday. I ate well, slept really nicely throughout the day, had a massage, and listened to a few ghost stories. Also, from somewhere a great urge to do yoga arose so I did. All this made me hungry for something warm and comforting. Like rice.

Last month, my father had bought this large sack of really fragrant rice. It has a sweet smell even when it is uncooked and lies in a jar stacked with pods of dried, red chillies (to ward off insects). It doesnt have that dusty, grainy smell that other variations of rice have, including grains of Basmati.

Tonight, I cooked this rice along with some fresh mint leaves and a little bit of salt. I like my rice soft and squidgy so I boiled it for a long time. Then I heaped the cooked rice on a plate, added a large stick of butter and took a moment to stare at the liquid potery of buttery goodness coating grains of that lovely rice. Finally, for some flavour, I added a pinch of oregano and Italian seasoning from Pizza Hut satchets.

Had the rice with a spicy pumpkin curry.

The rice was just so good! I think I closed my eyes involuntarilty in bliss after I ate the first spoon.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Need to get this off my chest

I was walking home today. It was not too late. My skirt was not too short. The neck of my shirt was not too deep.

I walked inside the little strip off the road that leads up to my building. The road has street lights that were thankfully functioning today.

A man in a red checked shirt on a bike turns around from somewhere and stops at the entrance of the lane. He hollers: "Your legs are too sexy, baby." From the easy way this rolled off his tongue, I can make out it's not the first time.

I tell him to fuck off home.

He says, "I swear! Too sexy."

Because there are street lights, I loudly rattle off the license number of his bike.

He turns around, yells, "That's a fake number, baby!" and drives away.

I take no chances. Call up 100. They ask me where I am, what model the bike was, and finally what number. They tell me a patrol car will be in the area soon.

10 minutes later, a cop calls me up, gives me his name, and even though they may not be able to nab this guy, tells me to note his number and call him whenever it gets bad.

I do that.

Maybe in a sophisticated world, CCTVs will be the order of the day. In a ideal world, a man will not do that. In this world, though, there is much that I could do and escape from, simply because of street lights.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Because I miss it tonight

Between shut eyes I see you,
Hinged like a waking dream,
Between shut eyes I lose you
Like a fairy tale that could have been
With an open mind I know you
Finally, and not too soon,
Your caprice that soothes me
Your whim that sometimes wounds
If you float somewhere down memory
If you ever come my way
If my shut eyes stay shackled,
Bombay, will you stay?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Days turn good

Somedays it feels drops of rain on parched earth...when you call up friends from long ago and you say hello and words tumble out.

They are far more infrequent now than before - these calls. They are busy and I am hesitant. But lately, in the pit of my stomach there has been this nagging pain. My heart seems to have been closed up. Sometimes I laugh over my dinner over some memory from years ago. And laugh almost soundlessly.

Today, I called up four friends. One who I had met at the premier of 'You've got mail' and who'd downloaded 'Dreams' by Cranberries for me. (It is my most favorite soundtrack ever.) One who I've visited Thailand with and whose balcony holds my most cherished memories of house parties. One who I've watched the crappiest films with but at whose home I am always sure to get a delicious meal, great chai and a sort of banter that makes me forget there's a lot going on. One with who I've spent the most precious rainy afternoons on Marine Drive with followed by butter apple tea at Tea Centre.

I said hello and suddenly I was in the middle of the week in the middle of a life that had sunlight and pain, maybe, but no shadows or ache.

Dear Universe, thank you for these calls today. They were precious.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Shisha Days

The other day, we got an email from a colleague that he'd be performing at Shisha Cafe in ABC farms. This colleague, let’s call him Xerxes, works from home and is also part of a band. The band would be playing Bob Dylan. He'd sent such invites earlier but these events usually happen on Thursdays. (At Shisha, Thursday is assigned for live music).

Earlier, I'd never been able to get out early on a week day. Also, there was the logistics of it.

Getting around should be easy since I drive and Koregaon Park is one of the few places I actually know directions to. But after losing my license, spotting no less than 3 accidents every time I’ve gone out to KP, and squinting through dark roads whilst at the wheel, I avoid driving at nights. Pune has a pretty good service called Indian Drivers. They loan out drivers for 8 hours for 450 bucks, with extra charges for the night. But you need to book them in advance and then sometimes, they send across a really rude buffoon who ruins a good evening. (Rudeness ruining experience is something I really must develop a thick skin to, if I must live here. I haven’t yet. In time, maybe.) So, all in all, much planning and plotting must be done for an evening get away.

But last week, things sort of came together. Work had been quite gruelling and by mid-week, I sensed a raw, itchy irritation in the air...the kind you have when people have been interacting with each other for too long over the same things. You know, the kind of quotidian dramas that get fixated on when day in, day out, you are solving the same problems, talking about the same challenges, wading through the same 9 to 5 experiences...All you want is for someone to just change the subject!

On Thursday, Xerxes did.

Some of us at office decided to go and I was to leave with a colleague. I think I like it when I have company when I’m driving. At least the kind of company I had that night. My colleague wasn’t too loud, she kept chattering quietly about something – maybe jam or snails or something, and I drove in peace. After a long time, I had a chance to wear a light, floaty dress whose neckline is a blush too low for office, but is fine for an evening out with colleagues. I think the dress, more than anything, made the evening a special kind of get out of jeans that look and feel as if I’m headed to a coal mine somewhere.

Shisha at ABC farms has two levels. The upper level is for live music. There’s a small stage and a scratchy sound system. There are huge divans covered with faded, colourful rugs with some Persian prints of birds of paradise, huge flowers, and vines. A few tables are scattered in the centre. Some tables have votives. When Shisha had, well, shisha, that is when hookahs were allowed, the place had the sweet soporific intimacy of an opium den.

Now, it tries.

My colleague and I reached a half-hour late. By that time, others from office were curled up like cats on those divans in the corner. Large platters of miniscule finger foods were already ordered as was a large pitcher of delectable orange punch. We squeezed in. Since we were all women and women go nowhere without luggage, much time was spent placing handbag upon handbag gingerly. (There ought to be a video-game for that. You score extra points for balancing a square purse over a soft Hobo.)

I ordered my Red Bull, wedged into my spot, and let the evening take over. There’s a reason I still like Shisha, even though it’s ambience or food is nowhere close to what it used to be. I like it for evenings like this. Conversations flitted around like stories scribbled on butterfly wings. Since I don’t drink and was fasting that night, I couldn’t bond over food. Much talk seemed tangential. The music was nice but I’m not a Dylan fan.

I leaned back and looked around. Someone was texting with a goofy smile, someone else was squinting to catch the shade of red of a woman’s shoes. A fleck of golden candle-light did a sort of ballet around the rim of a glass of white wine. Shisha has rolls of carpets hung like sails on its wooden beams. Somewhere outside paper lanterns hang on a single, solid branch. The mood, the time - they swirl with all these arabesque motifs that lull you. Softly into silence.

Many years ago, that was my very first experience at Shisha as well. I was with people I barely knew in a city I had just moved to. But sitting in a corner, sipping my brew (a tea-infusion with dates), I felt ensconced.

At Shisha, I can be as far removed from the goings-on as possible. I can be with strangers or people I barely know. But the feeling – the feeling is that I’m always in the midst of friends.

Monday, March 11, 2013


To go on a drive some cool, pre-monsoon evening. The wind is drenched with luscious goodness of unfallen rain. Roads are empty. I'm in my freshly washed, soft and crumpled shorts and tee-shirt. The music on the radio is wistful and speaks of love, longing, regret. Maybe the song's about life on some open road. The windows are rolled down. The briny humidity of sea-spray coats my skin like cling-wrap. I see waves rise and fall, churn and recede. I drive to the shoulder and park.

I get out and move to a edge of the bridge.

From the back of the car, I've pulled out a bag. It has my phone and laptop. I also have their chargers. I first fling my phone down. It falls somewhere in the far distance. Then I hurl my laptop. I hear a little splash...the sort a thimble would make if it fell into a bath tub. Then I dump both chargers. They fall straight and hit some rocks.

Everything hard, tough, black, wiry, heavy is gone. Everything that has parched my eyes, lodged knots in my muscles, strained my tendons is no more.

The wind whips my hair about, my tee-shirt flutters in the breeze, and I feel weightless almost. I breathe, I smile, I get into the car.

Windows are still rolled down, waves still lash about, songs still float in like dandelion fluff from the open road.

And it starts to rain.