monsoons are almost here.

Its been a few days. At least it feels like its been a lot. I guess that marking off on a calendar, its less, but the world has rushed by in a haze, its been hurtling past the windows, flashing past in a blur, and before my tired eyes can focus, its already slipped away to a half-kilometre away… five seconds of my life lost behind a bend in the tracks.

So here I am on yet another Monday, looking forward at the week in front of me, stretching long, and with god-knows-how-many-challenges, and looking back balefully at the weekend-that-was, a debauched day-and-a-half stretching from dikchik Saturday to lazy Sunday…

This morose Monday morning, moping and moaning about the mountain of work here at office: its seems to me that there is a lot to do, but there is very little time, or even energy, or humour.

Evidently Tuesday will be better…

 

29may2007
Tuesday is feeling better.

The skies are overcast, and the eastern horizon is dark with angry clouds looming. There is a slight nip in the air; since yesterday night, we have known that it was raining somewhere in Poona, somewhere there in the distance, maybe beyond the hills; in the evening, the twin peaks in the distance were shrouded in a fine cloud of swirling vapour.

I spoke to my parents last night and they tell me that the monsoon has already hit Kerala, it has made its way across the Indian ocean, swung across the small islands in the way, Madagascar-reunion-mauritius-maldives-lakkadives, and split neatly over the knife-point of the Indian peninsula, apportioning itself conveniently to service both the north-east and the south, soaking the Andaman and Nicobar islands on the way. Then, swinging its way crazily once again, it has closed in on the Indian subcontinental tip, to the city of
trivandrum, where the rains are born, and 200 kms to the south of my hometown. My parents have been telling me that the rains have been lashing Kerala for three days now, the long wait is over, apparently, the great deluge is here.

I remember Kerala during the monsoon. After days of dark looming clouds, the sudden appearance of flashes of lightning lighting up the dark night sky, and the seductive smell of freshly washed earth, of flowers blooming, and wet clothes, damp and brought in from the rain and spread out on convenient banisters or railings.

The beginning of another school year.

If u go down to the beach in the last few days before the monsoon, and look out at the ocean, then you could see the long tongues of lightning licking down from the heavens, snaking its way down to the dark blue horizon and into the waters below. The air would be cool, and charged with expectation, and u wud know that in a day or two, this beach that u stand upon would be inundated with dark angry waves, muddy and turbid, the waters sucking greedily at the beach sand.

The monsoons, u know, are almost here.

anticipation

There is something about the anticipation of a homecoming that always gets me…

I think that it has something to do with my college that had a curfew on when we were in the first year; this was when we were being ragged, all tonsured and stinking, going for days on end without a bath, our energies directed to the sole purpose of staying out of the clutches of a rapacious senior, intent upon screwing our happiness…

Anyway, we used to be let off in the evenings, after class, and expected to arrive back in the hostel by 8 in the night. I used to spend the few hours of freedom and happiness in various haunts of the city known only to myself, in second hand book stores, and in random restaurants, reading the books that I had bought, or merely staring into space and musing.

I did not keep any company those days.

Needless to say, 7:56 would see me scurrying back as fast as my fat little legs would carry me, my breath laboured, my heart aflutter, my pulse pounding in my temples, my ears throbbing with the rush of blood to the head. I would be late, of course, and as I approached the hostel building, furiously running past the gate and in through the gaudily painted flowerpots near the entrance, a nameless dread would seize my heart.

In reality, of course, it had a perfectly common name, called ragging by many and torture by some others, but that was just then, wasn’t it? A handful of weeks, a pithy three and a half months of terror, no more, and then bonhomie and cheer.

Then why did the dread still last?

Why is it that even today, ten years hence, if I were to walk into the hostel building at any time arnd late evening, my mind lights up in terror, the crackling 60-watters of fear suddenly all ablaze, their filaments glowing dully in the inky blackness? Why is it that a late homecoming always leaves various caterpillars in my stomach, slowly pupating themselves into bright winged fliers?

Why does the prospect of an impending homecoming always make my tummy queasy, my thoughts garbled, my jimbers froosted?

Even when the homecoming is not my own. Even though I have been waiting for this day for months, nearly a year? I have plotted and planned and schemed and dreamt about this day, yet, as I see it approaching, it is trepidation and not calm that overcomes me. My pulse quickens, my mind races, bang! there goes the gun and hup-one-two-three there we are near the finishing line, banking to the left for one more lap, hup-one-two once more..

Because there is excitement, definitely. Excitement at what could be, excitement at what was. But it is tinged, most certainly, with trepidation. Trepidation, not at what will be or could, but just trepidation because I am thus. Trepidation, because anticipation always gets me by the balls, and twists it around a coupla times and gives it a good yank before letting go. Trepidation, because homecomings will always be tainted with the silent click of a minute hand that traverses the final seconds towards 8 o’clock.

And nameless dreads shall forever fly up from the bottom of the well, to billow and blow in the breeze, and to make horrid faces and remind me that I may be secure and happy and warm and well fed for now, yet homecomings have the potential to be menacing and scary and dreadful, I only have to peek over the side of the well……

kebabs at dawat

I am in dawat restaurant just before ravivar peth, sitting with my cuppa of steaming hot, sweet chai. I have ordered a plate of sheekh kabab, and am waiting for it to come, sitting at one of the tables to the right of the kebab spit. It is a little past seven in the evening, and the restaurant is filled with bearded men in caps who are here for a chai and a bit of gossip after the azaan. The nearby masjid is called the soniya maruti chowk masjid, for some reason, and it is a beautidul structure with mysterious turrets and random minarets, glowing green in the night sky. There are different types of caps on display at dawat today. There is the smooth, beautifully embroidered filigree cap that fits right over the skull, and moulds itself to the shape of the head it adorns. This graceful headdress is in many forms, and not necessarily white all the time. Then there is the less amorphous cap that fits on the head like a thimble; it still assumes the shape of a skull, but more because of its innate structure rather than its adaptation to the man’s skull. Then there is the third variety, which I have seen several bohris wear, so I am guessing that this is particular to this community. It consists of a round band of embroidered cloth, delicately worked upon, and surrounding the head, just below the hairline. The cap rises above this, it is straight and stiff, and has a shape of its own, dictated entirely by its basic form. The top of the cap may be either smoth and rounded or it may be straight, with sharp angles. The cap usually covers the hairline, and neatly circumscribes the head.

I am sitting here writing, and the waiter who is from
Calcutta is gawking at me with unabashed admiration. I started to show him some of the pictures on my desktop, but he was called away, by an angry major domo, who gave me the once-over and stroked his long beard. People have begun filing in for dinner, and eaters at nearby tables are also stealing glances at my screen, giving me curious looks. Curious, but not unfriendly.

There are no women in this joint. It was evidently never created for the fairer sex to grace its presence, since there seems to be no evidence of a “family room”.

There are 18 tables, and the restaurant seems reasonably busy. The kebabs are delicious, anyway. But the women do not seem to think so.

I have kept a copy of Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses” next to me. Noone has noticed it yet, or even picked it up in interest or the universal curiosity of all Indian crowds. If a particularly choleric cleric realised what it was, it is quite likely that I may be asked to leave the premises, or at least I may be given a few dirty stares.

Then again, Rushdie is old Satan. Who needs the salman when we have the george?

At any rate, I am still thankful for the high levels of English illiteracy in this country.

The whole restaurant is filled with smoke, and the men are talking louder and louder as the rush increases. They sit at their tables, sweating furiously, their eyes streaming with tears because of the kebab spit’s smoke pouring into the restaurant. Men passionately discuss politics and business and work and play and the fascinating tapestries of their lives.

A man came in just now, walking in from the street, and grabbed the glass of water that was on my table, untasted. Before the waiter cud get to him, he raised it to his lipe, and began drinking. He was chided out of the restaurant by the waiter, and he left, gulping down the glass as he did so. Evidently he has no money, and he is not welcome.

Suddenly, she walked in and sat at the central table. There was a man with her, but it was infinitely more beautiful to watch her. She had on a cute sleeveless top, and chic pants, topped off with smart red sneakers that she wore with careless panache. So poised was she, that not one head turned to look at her, yet instantly, everyone was aware of her. She blended into the dive smoothly, shaking her head and letting her cute earrings jangle ever so flashily, yet she caused the overall quality of the joint to rise by more than a few notches. She looked around, her dark eyes flashing, and shee coolly took in the men all round her, calmly and unselfconsciously sizing them up. Some of them looked back at her and smiled, the others looked away, their faces suddenly happier.

The man with her ordered a maaza, and asked for a glass for her. He poured it out into the glass, and she gripped it with both hands, he lips latching over the rim sloppily, he greedy tongue lapping up the juice even as she slurped noisily, her mind totally focussed on the drink and the coolness and the oh-so-sweet taste of the mango. The man ordered something to eat, and offered her some. He fed her with his own hands, and she accepted, graceful even in dribbling, pausing to get her delicate fingers to scoop up a glob of curry from the corner of her mouth. A few sighs escaped the tables nearby and rose into the air, to mix with the smoke and the sweat and the heat, and to lie there, like unfinished sentences, the forgotten wit of an esprit d’escalier…

Then it was time to leave. For me, and for her. The man called for the bill, and paid it unhurriedly, taking his time to study the figures. She appeared least interested, he mind occupied with the fascinating melange all round. She glanced over at his creased brow with a mixture of exasperation and pity; she could not be bothered with such mundane trivialities.

Finally, the change arrived, and the man scooped up all of the change, hastily picking up a few grains of saunph along with it. He looked at her as if to ask if she were ready to go, and she shrugged her shoulder with a bindaas, ubercool, I’m-ready-whenever-you-are-mister look.

So he got up, and walked out, and then waited for her to swing her legs over, and hop off the seat gently onto the ground. She was tiny, scarce upto his waist, and she reached forward and grabbed his hand as she was walking out. She finally managed to geta  grip on a finger, and she gripped it tight even as they walked past my table. I smiled at her, and crinkled my eyes, but she would have none of my sauce. So she glared at me, and put her tongue out, turning away as suddenly as she looked at me. Then she had crossed the threshold and was out on the street with him. They turned right, and walked on, till they were out of sight.

I sighed, and paid my bill.

It was time to move on.

hungover on monday mornings

Hungover on Monday morning is the last place in the universe u want to be…

Ure mouth sandpapery, ure throat semi-parched, ure lids hooded, ure arms bearing that hint of bone-deep fatigue that makes u wanna just sigh and give it all up for a warm bed and a cool room somewhere far far away, where you can sleep without the tension of being caught, or worse still, being giggled at you snore, your nose hair tickling ure septum.

Obviously all this is wishful thinking. I shall have to stay in my seat, and keep my eyes prised open in the manner of some forgotten graphic from a tom and jerry show, with matchsticks to keep my lids from snapping shut…

Or else, I could write.

We are in cruel May in
Poona. The hot zephyr breezes blow across the city every afternoon, the air stinging with the bite of sand particles, tossed across the concrete jungle like so much confetti. We screw our eyes up, and cower behind our scrunched-up lids, our tired, dusty faces, the world for now a series of flashing images and low resolution pictures flashing across a scarred, battered cornea.

There is a cool breeze in the room. Warm water brought in using a hose and fortuitously stored in the tank beneath the cool is sprinkled using a motor on to the mats all round the box. A fan blows out air, vents on all other three surfaces do the rest.

Simple. Ingenious. Cheap (comparatively). The delightful utilitarianism of the desert cooler fills my heart with wonder and joy, I am struck with awe at how it uses such a simple principle, viz evaporation and the cooling effect of water that is turning into the gaseous state to solve such an age-old problem, with considerably less cost to the purse and to the environment than the air conditioner. And how it creates this fine mist in the room, this delightful moistness, this air of fecundity, which besides the natural outcome of keeping everyone cool and moistened, also increases the horniness quotient of the room. The moist, water-cooled air, as it wafts over the room, and assails my nostrils with the sweet smell of its wetness, also carries the unmistakable air of fecundity, it is as if there is a sudden urge to procreate, to celebrate in the fertility all round and to be a part of the grand cycle of life that begets more life.

I’m babbling of course. What does it mean to be hungover, hungry, harried and horny on Monday morning at work? The second and fourth can be taken care of in the loo and the kitchen, tho maybe not always necessarily in that order. But what of the weight of a bone-crunching hangover? What of the persistent feeling that some chump has caught ure optic nerve in a pair of sharp tweezers and is twisting for all he is worth, right behind ure retina?

What of the weariness, the drudgery, the dreary tendrils of tedium, entwining thru the branches of office habit, bringing lethargy, somnolence, indolence, sloth and sleep?

What, indeed, of boredom?

But I am not bored. I like my job, and it is sufficiently motivating for me to shed aside my cynical cap and confess that it does attempt to make a change where there was none, where originally there was a barren desert, it offers the prospect of a garden, and while it may not always succeed, it at least manages to plant a sapling.

In the hard, dry, dusty Marathwada earth, where generations of people lived and died in the calmly fatalistic acceptance that change is impossible, they have managed to bring about a difference. And that difference is heartening to me. It means that there is hope. It means that there is belief, and from there, there is hope.

sometimes.

Is it always necessary to be significant? Or even to be urgent, insistent, to be incisive, to be analytical, to be sharp and piercing?

Sometimes it is fun to be frivolous, to be the person who sits in the corner and giggles vacuously at every passing joke, who says the silliest things to the most profound comments and punctuates it with a fit of corny one-liners and faux-philosophy.

Sometimes it is nice to be a buffoon.

Is it always necessary to be nice, to couch every uncharitable thought in cotton wool jackets of political correctness, to be sensitive and caring and thoughtful? To be the person who pauses at the right moment and shuts up when words will only hurt more, to be the man who addresses all sides of the squabble amicably and arbitrates, and yet comes out smelling like roses? To be the person who will not thoughtfully hurt, or maim, and whom thoughtlessness has passed by?

Sometimes it is so much easier to be an insensitive clod, causing young girls to burst into tears and men to bristle angrily, to cause irreparable harm to somebody so much more sensitive than oneself, to cause a person to feel hurt, deep down inside, and to cause the fragile edifice of their self-esteem to crumble and fall apart.

Sometimes it is easy to be a jerk.

Is it always necessary that the body be suppressed in public, hidden away behind thick woolly drapes or sack-like garments? Is it mandatory that manifestations of bodily functions, like a low rumbling burp, a loud musical fart, a sob, a sweat, an expulsive glob of phlegm ejaculated from a recalcitrant nose, be hidden away, and even if they escape into the public eye, to be paid for by furious blushing and sorrys?

Sometimes it is pleasurable to scratch your balls in front of a crowd.

Is it always necessary to have a form, a proper sequence, to be logical and calculated? Is it essential that there be an introduction, a body and a conclusion, the flow of ideas leading to a logical conclusion at the end of a series of well-thought out and considered arguments? To have an issue, then its counter point, then supporting statements and a final incontrovertible truth?

Can we not take pleasure sometimes in randomness, and in the haphazard whizzing of ideas past our heads at breakneck speeds? Can we not be happy that we are leading entropy toward its rightful direction, that we are moving forward into further chaos; where the only predictable consequence is unpredictability, and where the carefully ordered minds of Gujarati businessmen and Swiss bankers have been thrown out of gear by errata?

Sometimes it is wiser to break the flow, to stop. And to move sideways

zippin, zippout

Monday morning in Mumbai

I write after a rather hurried weekend at home, fly in at 8 Saturday morning, fly out at 3 Sunday night, oh-so-cool and executive, all-passengers-for-IC-flight-608-please, zippin-zippout, zoom-zoom khattam shuddh. And so, jet lagged and hung over, I found myself once again at Mumbai airport with about thirty other bleary-eyed passengers, next to the conveyer belt, looking toward the yawning mouth of the luggage chute, waiting for it to spit forth my bags and inch them forward on its long, grey tongue.

Suddenly there was commotion behind us. Junta was chattering, some people were running toward the airport customs officials, somewhere a woman screamed I think. I looked up and saw this man, in a corner, slumped, his head lolling on his chest, his face ashen. He was against the pillar with his legs splayed outwards, his mouth dribbling spittle, his eyes unresponsive. I rushed to his side, and checked for his pulse, there was none, the wrist was limp and nothing seemed to course through its vessels, his neck was slack, and the fluid pumping through it was sluggish and weak.

A vein in the corner of his forehead was throbbing wildly, suddenly tortuous and suffused, its winding path over his scalp suddenly in stark relief. I felt his forehead, saw his pupils, and then stripped off his shirt. Vague memories of CPR from internship flashed before my eyes, a co-passenger stripped off the man’s shirt, and I went on to pump his chest again and again with wild abandon. He revived, but only for a moment, before blubbering off again. Somebody had called for an ambulance, we were waiting for it to come, the airport lobby was filled with customs officials flapping around, and the shouts of “where is the ambulance?” He had had a massive heart attack, and evidently it had been progressing for a while, his face was ashen, his pulse feeble. Someone brought a wheelchair from somewhere, and we raised him onto it, delicately, numerous hands appearing out of nowhere to assist us. We emptied out his pockets, someone told someone else that he was an airlines employee himself, a malayali, sudden personal details that were attached like luggage labels to this body that was travelling, was on its way to a waiting vehicle, outside. We rushed him to the entrance, our frantic rushing around making the men in khaki with the automatic carbines nervous, their fingers tightening, their brows furrowed.

The ambulance came in, wee-waa, and I sent him in with the other guy who was helping me, and rushed back to see his bag, and to talk to the doctors from the MI room, also bleary eyed and hurried, running in shouting where is he? where is he?

The entire entourage packed itself into the ambulance, and I pulled out. I went back to take my luggage, we were better off leaving him with as little hangers-on as possible.

We waited outside, frightened, tense. The passers-by had congregated on seeing the flashing blue light atop the van, everyone wanted to know what was the problem? who was inside? what happened now?

Death makes voyeurs of us all.

In five minutes it was all over, he was gone to the world, suddenly another statistic in tomorrow’s papers, a body to be encased in a wooden box, and buried. Six feet under.

And the crowd dispersed, like that, smart airhostesses walked by, and we left, each of us turning away, back into our own lives.

And a strange man passed into and out of our lives, right in front of our eyes: his loves, his lives, his tears, his laughter, his meanness forever cut short in a crowded airport lobby in Mumbai.

On a mad Monday morning.

 Just like that. Poof, khattam shudh, zippin and zippout, the few labels we slapped on him faded, and did not make any sense any more, they were not going to help him where he was going, but it didn’t really matter any more. It never had.

blogging in from mumbai airport

So here I am in the Mumbai international airport, sitting sprawled on the floor, leaning on a pillar for support, my back propped against the wall, my ass parked conveniently on the floor which once was red-smudged and filthy from random arcs of betel-spittle that would land on its broadside.

Now the airport is cleaner, and the staff of kingfisher airlines make sure that its far prettier too. Oh mummy! what babes. They stride purposefully across the airport lounge, their smart white shirts and tight red slacks looking oh-so-chic in the bleary eyed morning. The kingfisher airhostesses too, match them step for step, their short skirts and smart red jackets contrasting with their white shirts and red high heeled shoes.

And in case this post is beginning to sound like a re-living of all my hidden fetishes and secret fantasies, I have to add in my rather weak-spirited defence that it is five in the morning after all, and like any other red-blooded male worth the three chimes on his biological clock, I have also been confronted by a sudden release of endothelium derived relaxation factor in my helical arteries and the result is tumescence, but of course, and a constant, hang-dog, not-eaten-in-days expression when I view the opposite sex.

In terms of representing a universe removed from the dust and the heat of Marathwada, this place manages pretty well, and the smart swish of the beautiful people around is not the only thing that’s changed. In more rural
India, by now I would have been surrounded by a crowd of gawking people, and at least one saucy little boy would have asked me what I was upto, and what I intended to do now that I had written all of this down. There would have certainly been questions, and genuinely delighted oohs and aahs as I took a snap of the entire gang, (even the shyly smiling girl in the corner, who refuses to show her face to the camera) and uploaded it on my machine for everyone to see.

Here, photography is prohibited by law, of course.

It is instructive to see these great engines, these conduits of traffic of modern India, the malls, the airports, the IT parks, the exclusive townships filled with the perfumed plutocracy who strive all their lives to keep out the other, and to imagine what they must think about that very other.

(my god! An amazing pair of legs in red pumps just walked by, her perfume wafting across and tickling my olfactory nerve endings. Um. Very nice)

Do they realise that it even exists? If they see it, will they recognise it as their own, (by extension of course, this whole concept of a people or a piece of earth “belonging” to someone or the other is faintly ridiculous, but in terms of having a common government and common taxation pools, at least) will they see anything familiar in the people, except perhaps in the language of the people, the random articles arranged neatly on the shelves of the grocery stores, the vehicles speeding by on the adjoining highways bearing the same registration plates as their own would?

Does anything else connect these two different countries?

Is there a collective consciousness, a realization that this is part of the same political entity, and the decisions made in one place, in a darkened booth in exchange for an indelible black mark on the forefinger might irrevocably change the lives in the other?

Is that all there is to it? A political oneness? Do these two
Indias share nothing else in common?

Is there any danger that we might anticipate with this greatly widening gulf? Anything that we might see and point out as This is the one danger of this sort of isolation?

I can think of one. Prescriptivism. The belief that since what is seen all round is this, then this must be all there is all round. Both ways, the happy fluorescence of neon does not in any way make it less real, or less significant. Neither does the grinding poverty of the villages make that any more real. Yet, it is instructive, I would think, that these two presumably exist in the same universe, and seek to make broad decisions for each other. Their lives are thus interminably and inextricably inter linked (god that’s an AWFUL sentence) and their relative isolation only makes this dependence more scary.

I have traversed the nearly 450 kilometres from Pachod to Mumbai in the course of the evening and the night, covering the first 60 by ST bus, the next 220 by shared-chevrolet tavera, and the last 170-odd by volvo, and for all that I know, I might be in a different country, or even a different world, where the rules are different, and where mention of the origins of my journey are either met with bland incomprehension or with distaste, as if I had farted in an elevator and the junta had instinctively formed a circle around and away from me, keeping the odious vapours at bay.

Yet, if noone farts, will anyone come to know?

I wonder.  

and here I am, logging on to the airport network, and posting this blog with a click of the button, just like that!

how’s that for ubercool?

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