Sunday, September 24, 2006

World Heart Day

Funny that September 24th should be World Heart Day. Its also Baba's birthday - a man with a very big heart, who died of a heart attack.

This is not going to be a maudlin piece about how much I miss my father and how I suffer from clockwork sentiment like so many others. Clockwork sentiment? You know, the sorts that spring up obediently and punctually on specific days. Oh, its a birthday. Sniff sob nostalgia. Yikes, its a death anniversary. Snivel, whimper, memories.

Not that those emotions are untrue. Memories do come unbidden, images appear in sharper focus. You remember excruciating details that you manage to keep at bay the rest of the year. My sympathies to clockwork sentiment, including my own.

However, like I said. This is not a piece cleverly weaving the pathos of world heart day with the death of a large hearted man who died of a heart attack. [dang, I do like that connect, don't I? Mentioned it a second time in the span of 4 paragraphs!]

This one's about developing a personality. I was 20 when my dad died. I was a confident, successful, accolade winning, teacher petted, academic achiever kind of youngster. Everything I touched seemed to turn to gold. I was the role model and the model child. Yeah yeah.

Then one day I was standing in front of my bookshelf at home, wondering which book to pluck out of the rack. As my eyes scanned the titles, they stumbled on one I'd read recently, just before baba's fatal attack. Did I like it? Was it a good book?

I remember the slow sense of realization coupled with mild horror that assailed my brain, as I processed my own thinking. I had absolutely no idea whether it was a good book or a bad one. I had no clue whether I should recommend it or trash it. Sure I'd read it. Sure I'd absorbed it too. But had I formed an opinion about it? No I hadn't. And why?

Because I had not gotten the chance to discuss it with my dad.

Once this sinking awareness set in, I got into a morbid fascination of testing it out on other things in my life which I thought I had an opinion on... books, movies, people, food, clothes. Gosh. It was a horrible excercise. Because at the ripe old age of 20, I discovered that I did not have a single opinion of my own in this world.

All my views were directly bounced off my father's opinions. Either he liked something so I liked it too. Or, he hated something, and as the rebel teenager, I began to like it. Or he loved something and in order to be different I chose to dislike it. You get the drift right? I'm not saying all my opinions were the same as my father's. What I'm talking about is even more sinister. All my opinions were a product of my father's views on the subject, coupled with my equation with him at that point of time.

Trust me, it sounds trivial now, but it was a very painful realization then. That I had absolutely no personality to call my own. No thoughts, opinions, ideas, views, concepts that were truly original. Sure, all our notions are influenced somewhere or the other by history, culture, context, peer group, family, friends and tradition, but within that we amalgate what we call a singularly personal world view. This direct richocheting off a strong personality's mind and believing it to be yours can be quite misleading and disconcerting.

I am 31 today, going on 32, and I still find myself stopping to think 'what would baba have felt about that?'. At times the exercise is an amusing one, at times frustrating. But I do hope that somewhere along the way I may have learnt to distill, process and gleam a position that is genuinely mine. A stance that may well be reflected in like-minded people, but which is not arrived at because of them.

Because I went through this quiet realization many years ago, I also test it on people I am close to. Colleagues, friends, family. I try and see, especially if I am close enough to that person, whether they are still in the 'richocheting stage' or the 'assimilative stage'.

So where are you?

The reason I ask you to think about it, is because I hope and pray that a tragedy, like the loss of a loved one, not be the spring board for examining the development of your personality. Death is a great teacher but hey, not a very pleasant one. But since that day I've often wondered - had baba not died, would I still be richocheting, and not ever grasping that I am?

Many, sadly too many people I know, are richocheting. I know this sounds hopelessly pompous and priggish, but its true. Very often, people who come across as strong willed and opinionated, actually aren't. You just have to meet their closest people - a parent, a best friend, a partner, a boss - and you realise where their world view stems from.

On the other hand, funnily enough, a lot of seemingly tentative people are assimilative. They appear unsure, hesitant, questioning. You'd think it would be the easiest thing in the world to influence their minds. But no, they are not that easily swayed because they are good listeners. They will hear you out, absorb what you say, process it and then assimilate it into their world view. Open to being agreeable, but not open to being overtly influenced.

These sort of minds are not aggressive or confrontative. Because they have no turf to defend. They are not embedded in a subconscious emotional connect that they dare not defile. For example its so much more uncomplicated to take it easy when my opinion's are attacked rather than when My=Baba's views are under threat. After all, I loved that man, I must defend him, right?

Hey its his birthday today. Birthday, not birth anniversary. Because he continues to live and glow in the recesses of my mind. And perhaps the girth of his personality does not admit defeat, but I continue to love and battle him in a way that one can only do with someone who was more than close; who was a part of oneself.

Happy birthday baba! Keep up the fight.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

CALCUTTA [from the diaries]


What she remembered of Calcutta were hot summers and pinafores. The kind of pinafores that one had to cross the mighty seas for, catch a flight from another country, catch a train from another city and finally arrive at cool houses with cement floors and loud indulgent voices.

From there the pinafores weren’t far away. A tram or a taxicab, sometimes even a rickshaw would take you to them. For her, Gariahat was not a market. It was the triumphant sound of what to Ma was a secret treasury. The coffers of all that could not be found anywhere else, even if one were to scour the entire universe. Gariahat. Home to the magical pinafores, which could not be found anywhere else in the world.

She preferred it when the pinafores got a bit old and wash worn. True they did not quite remain as crisp and as white as they first were, billowing off hangers strung high on the shopkeeper’s shack. As Ma and the shopkeeper haggled good-naturedly, the pinafores would proudly fill themselves up with the Calcutta air and swing and sway and swing and sway…

But Ma never got those pinafores down from the hangers. What a waste it seemed to her, that after pointing to them and haggling over them and making them altogether the focus of the entire transaction, Ma would make the shopkeeper pull out fresh flouncy pieces from a large cardboard box.

That’s the only time she would be consulted. Which ones did she want? The ones with the leaves and flowers? Or the ones with the carrots and apples? The ones with the orange and red threads; or the ones with the blue and green patterns? She never knew, she could never say. Choosing pinafores seemed a matter of grave and serious deliberation. After all, one had travelled the seven seas in search of these exotic things. How could she possibly decide?

Finally the purchase was made. She was the proud owner of four new ‘pennys’ as grandma would curiously call them. And Calcutta was the only place where she was allowed to play with only the pinafores on. In Delhi one had to wear a frock over them. In the other country, which you had to catch a flight to after the summer vacations were over, somehow the pinafores lost their seat of pride and glory. That’s where you needed gum boots and fur coats. That’s where it snowed. Pinafores got snowed under other clothes.

But here? Here it was different. Prickly heat powder and cousins who were always in the twilight zone of friend and stranger. Load shedding and hand fans. And the chatter over her head that never seemed to end. Pishis floated effortlessly into Mashis who got enmeshed with Nau Daa-s and Mejo daa-s and then found themselves entangled in Didis and Mamas and Kakamonis. An assortment of nicknames followed and a string of addresses chased them. She never knew very clearly who was who at the end of it all when she met them. For her, they were conversation: carried from one land to another, from telephones and dining tables to four poster beds and string chairs, and it seemed a bit strange to her that they should become real people one had to say ‘hello’ to.

Calcutta. What else did she remember of it? Bathrooms she did not like and too many sweets she had to eat. High ceilings and creaky fans and oh yes! Bars at the window. Curtains at the window. She somehow loved both the bars and the curtains. They seemed to make the windows come to life. Give them the respect that sleek sheets of glass and Venetian blinds did not offer them. The windows in Calcutta, she was sure, were happier off, with their creaky wooden doors – imagine windows with their own little doors! Blue or green painted doors, two per window, opening out onto the street, with little wooden blocks at the corners that prevented them from banging shut if the wind got into them. And to cap it all, every window had a sill low enough and wide enough for her to sit on. Yes, she liked the Calcutta windows.

From there the world seemed altogether a friendly place. Everyone spoke the language that was greeted as a strange tongue anywhere else. What was a secret cipher in the rest of the world was the common code here. And so, subliminally, without knowing when or why, the brief and sporadic trips to Calcutta notwithstanding, inside her head, Calcutta was home.


The Mumbai sky is clouding over again. Perhaps it will rain. I hope it does. A short piece of blue sky framed by some fluttering clothes on a clothesline suddenly reminds me of Calcutta. Perhaps it’s the time of the evening. I’ve never been very fond of the dusk. Ever since I was a child, the dusk has made my heart heavy. She always seems astray, like she’s lost her way between the day and the night. And her forlorn silence makes me sad.

Or maybe it’s just the grills at the window that remind me of Calcutta. Or, the sound of children shouting, as the play in the compound 4 floors below. Some sound, sight, texture of childhood returns. I am almost scared. And it still hasn’t begun to rain.

As a child I used to be mostly silent. Mostly bewildered. Mostly absorbing. Sometimes, I think, one never outgrows one’s childhood. I am still mostly all that inside.

Yesterday Mumbai came to a grinding halt. A bus explosion at Ghatkopar, two killed, 28 injured, 4 critically. Frantic calls from home. Yes Ma I’m ok, no Ma I was nowhere near Ghatkopar, yes yes, I never travel by bus anyway.

And then Balasaheb swung into action. And Mumbai stopped. Stopped without question, to question. Stopped without protest, to protest. The pictures in today’s papers are ludicrous. Grinning women in Shiv Sena uniform, stopping trains like it’s a festival. Rail Roko at Thane Station could well vie with Ganesh chaturthi in terms of exultation. Not to be outdone, the Muslim community quickly takes out a protest march condemning the blast. Or maybe they’re just plain simple scared. Nobody wants to give Mani Ratnam a chance to make a sequel.

It’s a scarred world that we live in. But the square blue patch of sky I can see from the bed reveals none of that. Where would you be right now? Now that you have told her about me, our 3-day fantasy has begun to grow roots inside my head. Too much beer, too much Maugham and three heady, sense-sloshed nights. Nights that were meant to fly away in the wind like a careless ribbon. Nights that are now growing tentacles and acquiring a geography.

Somehow your being in Calcutta has sent me into a time spin. That city is not meant to be the present. It’s supposed to be the past. Soft, shadowy patterns under ceiling fans. Calcutta is a fathered world, and the first few days of my first adult romance. Now that neither Baba is alive nor that romance, your bringing Calcutta to life seems silly.

The sun sets completely. I heave a sigh of relief. This is good old uncomplicated night. Always in black, always the same, no matter which window you look at it from. This is not the bewildered, identity-crisis-ridden half pink, sometimes mauve, suddenly purple occasionally orange, streaked with red flushed with vermilion splashed with amber stroked with azure, sheeted with grey riot that the dusk can be. Now I feel safe.

The Kumbh Mela at Nashik started yesterday. Like most everything reported in the papers, controversy surrounded it. Much was made of Akharas and boycotts, central legislations and temple trusts. But today, the Times of India reported “Splendour, shlokas and sniffer dogs kicked off the Kumbh Mela here on Wednesday with prayers for world peace.” And in the meanwhile, J M Lyngdoh won the Magsaysay for his “convincing validation of free and fair elections as the foundation and best hope of secular democracy in India”.

Ours is a robust country for sure. Validated by the square piece of blue sky that has turned an obedient black now. I wonder if you will call tonight. There’s the bud of terror growing right there… yes, I can feel it, in the centre of my chest. I know it so well. I know I will water and nurture it till that all-too-familiar fear grips me again… how many times, just how many times have I grown this plant. A fear that blinds and binds me, makes me alternately cling and run… you’ll hear too much of me, you won’t hear from me at all, there will be deluge and drought, agony and ecstasy, pain and exuberance… you don’t know the pattern perhaps, but I do. The next few months will be an emotional roller coaster for us, before this ubiquitous ‘us’ rises and rises high, high in the air in a stream of glorious flame, spins and turns and showers multi coloured stars and finally explodes in a rain of glowing streaks. Oh I know this one so well. And finally when we drop to the ground, spent and burnt, our fireworks but a shimmer of a memory, that square patch of blue sky will still be square, and still be blue.


She never knew quite when she fell in love with Durga Puja. Everything was wrong with it. It was noise and it was crowds and it was sweat and it was new clothes that were always uncomfortable because they were always the wrong fabric for the wrong season because they were always made keeping the winters in mind.

But when it came to Durga Puja, there simply was no choice. One simply had to be excited. One simply had to look forward to it. At the end of four days skin rash, shoe bite and upset stomach, you just nursed yourself back to the rest of the year and regretted that Pujo was over.

Amidst the sodden banana leaves and swollen conch shells, the golden goddess shone down. It was her favourite pastime to establish a secret-connect with the idol, even as the multitudes prayed and the cymbals crashed and the drums beat. She was sure that when she looked into those deep black lustrous eyes, they shone and sparkled just for her.

The smell of Sheuli flowers always told her that Pujo is near. It was heady, the anticipation. A four-day sabbatical from life as she knew it. A heightening of senses, a loosening, dislodging of pain.

Crisp cotton saris and blouses with plunging backs. Dark kohl to line the eyes. The excitement was akin to a wedding and yet different. And even now, after all these years, the first glimpse of the goddess was still heart stilling. Overwhelming. Pain rattling. Something about unfinished chapters and completion of circles. That idol was the centre and the reference point and a quick scan of the year gone by. When She arrived, she felt old.


I light a cigarette. The entire flame of the matchstick gets absorbed by the nicotine tip. I love it when that happens. Flame absorption. How did Ayn Rand describe a cigarette? ‘Controlled fire at the fingertips’. I loved that.

I must return to Delhi soon. It’s most truant; this weeklong leave, soaking in the music and the poetry, humming to the guitar and watching patches of square blue skies. Very wasted.

There was another blast after the Ghatkopar one. This time at a pyrotechnic technician’s residence in a slum cluster in Jogeshwari. Alternately dubbed as an accident and as sabotage by the media and the politicians. Apparently Mumbai is on the edge; not that I can tell.

I am on the edge for sure. I stare at my phone and allow the smoke to curl in vague patterns around my fingers. The centre of my heart is lead. Dark grey and heavy. I’m sure if I fell into the sea right now I’d drown quicker. The waves we saw breaking at the Gateway of India – I could have honestly drowned in them. It would have been very Daphne Du Maurier-esque.

You’re not with me today. Across the miles I feel you peeling off like Velcro. Something is tearing at the fragile fabric of an ephemeral world. Something is reclaiming you like sea land.

The terror is growing. Its gnawing at my insides and the sky is a sheet of grey metal. A crow is beating its wings against it. I’m sure it’ll break something. The sky is unyielding today.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Maharaja of Marine Plaza

5 year old Veer was not enjoying the game anymore. He was finding it difficult to keep his lips from pouting, and in spite of the rain, it was becoming increasingly impossible to fake the tears as rain drops. Any minute that impish brat Rani would squeal out - "Veeru is crying!" and they'd start their blasted little dance around him, "Veeru kitna chhota hai, veeru kitna rota, veeru vada pao khane ka, nadaa kholke dikhaane ka".

Hate that Rani. She really thought she was the queen of the chawl or something. Beastly. It was all her fault. And there she was, at it again...

"What what whaaaaat? Your baba is what???"

Veer braced himself, stood straight to his full height - all 3.5 feet of him, and said with as much conviction as the last 5 times, albeit a bit droopy with tears. "My Baba is a King".

The kids exploded. Some rolled in the mud with laughter, others hugged each other and guffawed till the tears ran from their eyes. The women of the chawl looked up from their fish baskets and smiled. The grime grinned from the dark cement. The stench smirked.

Veer ran home. Hating everybody.

Aai was sitting on her haunches in her faded green work sari, sunning shrimps. She looked up warily from her basket as Veeru burst into the sun streaked enclosure outside their kholi. "Go slow you crazy fool. If you slide on the fish don't come crying to me, crybaby".

It was too much for Veer. Aai too? He started scouring the chawl for Baba. There he was, smoking his last beedi before getting on for work. They looked funny together, Aai and her Pathan husband. When Shera had come to Mumbai to escape the war in Afghanistan, nobody had expected sweet little Jyoti bai to fall head over heels in love with him. Or for that matter, the exotic Pathan to give her a second glance. But obviously something happened, and before 6 months were up, Jyoti bai's tummy started swelling.

Of course Shera married her. And of course everything was normal at the chawl after that. But somehow, Veer had become the product of some unspoken contempt in the neighbourhood. Veer was too young to understand why Aai kept her distance from the other fisher folk, and why baba looked so different from the others. Nor could he understand the mild ridicule he always felt sting at the back of his neck. And now that he had that one chance to be first among equals, Baba was not willing to come out into the open and tell everyone the truth.

The problem was this silly promise Baba had taken from him. Why couldn't he just tell everyone else that he was a maharaja, and stayed in the chawl only as a disguise? But Veer figured, he couldn't. The disguise wouldn't work would it, if everyone knew? And enemies were everywhere. Baba would've kept it a secret even from Veer except for that resplendent gown and turban Veer spotted one day in the trunk. So soft, so silky, so unbelievably rich. Veer had just put the turban on his own head, which had of course promptly swallowed half his face, when Baba walked in and grinned at his predicament.

Picking him up in his arms Baba had told him the most incredible story. About palaces and queens, chandeliers and palanquins; about intrigue and war, and secret tunnels and escape hatches. Breathless, Veer had heard him out - how his own Baba was actually the emperor of a vast kingdom, and was in hiding right now. And how Veer must swear to secrecy, otherwise the entire chawl's life would be compromised. Veer was allowed to occassionally peep into the trunk and stroke the turban, but not much else. In excitement and thrill, little Veeru had made his breathless promise to Baba. Never ever to speak a word....

But to see Aai sitting in that dirty green sari, when SHE was the real rani, not that snot nosed brat outside. And baba, in his torn bandi, smoking a beedi when hukkas could be laid out for him on satin cushions. Veer couldn't keep his word. He simply couldn't.

Not that he minded life in the chawl; it was the only one he'd ever know. But surely Aai and Baba missed their days in the palace? Could he do nothing about it? He was small, but he was smart. The other day when Pappan's kite got stuck on the tree it was Veer who'd retrieved it without damaging. And even Rani, who was 2 years older, and a smartass, came to him with her problems in english. Veer had the best grasp on english in the entire chawl. Grown ups included.

Veer decided something had to be done. Kallu was the only solution. But Kallu was mean. He was a bully and always laughed at everything the kids said, just because he was 13. Kallu behaved like he knew everything better, although Veer had seen the tea stall owner - who employed Kallu - hurl abuses and humiliate him in public. But Kallu continued to behave like the dada. And the kids had no choice because there was no one else old enough to give adult advice and young enough to be one of the group in the entire chawl.

The rest of the teenagers had either run away, or were in some strange homes, or had died. So Kallu it had to be.

Veer went looking. Kallu was not at the tea stall, but his wire tea tray was missing too. Which meant he'd gone on an office delivery. Which meant he'd not return without a smoke. Which meant Veer could very easily find him behind the Colaba fish market with those awful boys.

By the time Veer managed to slip and slide over the slime of decaying fish and reach the empty shack at the back, Kallu was pleasantly stoned. Being the youngest of the dubious clan of ‘beedis’ as they called themselves, Kallu was the least bothered about cops, raids and beatings. As a result, he enjoyed his smoke most leisurely. When Veer huffed his way to him he found Kallu alone, grinning like an idiot.

“Vee vee!” Kallu belched. “Kya re?”

Veer started without preamble. “Kallu, I need help”. Kallu looked quizzical. Veer almost never approached him and if he did, it was with much feet shuffling reluctance. This forthright open faced request was new.

“Kya be” said Kallu again, narrowing his eyes.

“My Baba is a king. And nobody believes me.”

Kallu sprayed out ganja smoked spit contemptuously on the dirt floor, "call the king to come and clean this!" he smirked. Veer waited patiently. He was getting used to this.

When Kallu's remark did not evince the sort of distressed tear burst reaction he was hoping for, in order to get the pest of his back, he shuffled reluctantly out of the shack.

"Allright. I'll help you. But you've got to convince ME first. I don't think your baba is a king. I think he's a terrorist. A runaway. A refugee. A bomber. If you can prove to me that that red bearded weirdo is a king, I'll take care of the kids in the chawl. They'll all be bowing and courtesying to him from tomorrow. Deal?"

Typical hateful Kallu swagger. Even when he was interested in doing something, he managed to make the other person feel like he was doing him a favour. And this one was an out an out favour, so it was pretty certain that by the time the entire deal was over, Veer was meant to be feeling dizzy with gratitude.

Veer wished he could've smacked Kallu across the head like he'd seen the tea stall owner do. He swallowed his pint sized pride and agreed. "Deal".

"Ok so how do you know your baba is a king? Where is his palace? Who are his subjects? Why does he live in the chawl? Where does he hide his crown? Why are his kinsmen not looking for him? India doesn't have kings and queens and neither does Afghanistan. So where did he rule?"

The line of questionning was getting a bit too complicated even for clever little Veer. He looked up, a puzzled frown creasing his forehead. "But his palace is right here," he clarified. "That's where he goes every evening. Why do you think he stays at the chawl by day and goes out by night? So that nobody spots him. And I've seen his crown - well, its not really a crown because it doesn't have those jagged edges. But its silky and red. And he has a gown that goes with it. Haven't you seen him leave the chawl with that packet? That's what it contains. He goes to his palace quietly and talks to his courtiers and tells them how to run the kingdom. Then he comes and hides in the morning so that the enemies don't spot him. His kingdom is this entire area. All of Colaba and Cuffe Parade and Marine Drive..." Veer prattled on, but Kallu was beyond listening.

Kallu's expression was reflecting more and more incredulity. He was beyond laughing as well; he was genuinely non plussed now. Veer sounded so convinced. And it WAS true that Shera only left at night. With a packet under his arms. And returned in the morning with the same packet.

Kallu was beginning to feel uneasy. Obviously Veer had no clue what he was talking about. All this king nonsense was total rubbish. But these were unsure times. An Afghan in the chawl, leaving each night... where did he go? What did he do? How did he make a living? How come none of them had ever asked? That silly Pandu did come for rounds every week, but the lesser said of these Mumbai cops, the better. For god's sake, they had not even managed to nab the 'beedi' gang with ganja yet. And they'd catch a terrorist. Right.

"Come lets go". Kallu had taken a decision. On the pretext of Veer, he'd follow Shera tonight. If Shera spotted them, he had Veer as a shield. Surely even a terrorist would not hurt his own child. And then Kallu would be a hero. The papers would talk of his bravery. Vilasrao would throw a party in his honour. There he'd meet Ritesh and the other stars. Shah Rukh Khan would come and shake his hand. Maybe Priyanka would give him a kiss on the cheek like she'd given that loser Hrithik in that junk film....

They waited way past sundown. The tea stall owner hired another boy and swore under his breath that he'd give Kallu the beating of a lifetime when he came to collect his pay. Aai stopped wondering where Veer was and decided it was futile to worry, the boy would be fine. Rani trooped around the chawl wanting to tease Veeru a bit more and finally fell asleep sulkily in her mother's lap.

Veer and Kallu hid, although there was absolutely no need to hide. But they had already gotten under the skin of their sleuthing roles, and hiding and skulking around was integral to that.

Finally around 8p.m., after a frugal dinner, Shera left the chawl with his customary packet. The Afghan had long legs and walked briskly and the two kids were trying not to get noticed. So they kept losing him, and by the time they reached the long Marine Drive stretch there was so much traffic and so many headlights that Veer totally lost his bearing. Afraid that the pest would get hit by an oncoming car and spoil the entire plan, Kallu finally hoisted him up on to his shoulders and gave chase. The gentle jog and the split point lights splintering into his eyes slowly hypnotised Veeru into semi slumber. And he missed keeping his eyes on his father's rapidly receding figure.

Suddenly Shera dashed into a maze of dark alleys curving like arteries behind the main stretch of the sea-facing boulevard. Kallu couldn't keep track of where the Afghan went. He wasn't about to give up now so he hailed a taxi. He had mastered the art of dodging taxi fares when he'd reached his destination. The driver looked at him disgustedly. He could spot a runner from a mile and had little hope of a decent fare, but he took the risk anyway. There had been no business since morning and this might just buy dinner.

"Chalo" Kallu commanded imperiously. "Kidhar" came back the bored but valid drawl. Veer giggled. He loved it when someone, anyone, took Kallu's trip. Taken aback and suddenly feeling just 13, Kallu stammered "Marine Drive". The driver raised his eyebrows and shrugged, as if to say "and where do you think we already are?", but then he shifted gear and the taxi was off on the long sea winding stretch of a road.

"What are we doing?" Veer quizzed. "Where's baba? Aren't we going to look for his palace? I thought you said we were following him? Where did he go?" Awake now as much as he had been asleep a minute ago, the way only 5 year olds can be, Veer kept tugging at Kallu's arm and asking questions.

Kallu stopped paying attention. He was scanning the roads wondering what he would do now. The life and pulse of Marine Drive were also sucking him into their glamour and he was finding it difficult to stay focused on his current task. What swank cars, what amazing buildings, what stylishly turned out people. They all looked like film stars. The warm yellow lights glowed inside the new cafes that dotted the promenade and smiling faces suffused in aromatic fumes twinkled at their wide windows. Advertisement panels brought the underside of the over bridges to life, selling everything from insurance to toothpaste, with wide mouthed models flashing sparkling smiles in neon. Hotel after hotel with liveried guards and elegant doormen seemed to welcome, yet with a hint of a dare...

Exotic names. Intercontinental... The Sea Princess... Marine Plaza.... Kallu jerked up from his half recline and craned his neck out of the taxi window. At the door of Hotel Marine Plaza stood a tall liveried guard with a trim red beard. His gown was elegantly long and creamy and on his head was a red silk turban. As the taxi slowed in the snaking traffic, the Afghan's eyes locked with Kallu's, even as he bent to retrieve a middle aged lady's leather suitcase. A stricken expression hit Shera's face as he looked beyond Kallu into the taxi and noticed Veer, looking in the opposite direction at the sea....

Kallu felt the world slow down. A turban, a gown, a night shift, a proud Afghan opening a glass door to a boy in rich threads who didn't look a day over 17. Followed by a middle aged paunchy man, who tossed his car keys into Shera's hands... And Veer's head was turning. Slowly as the taxi revved up again, Kallu realised Veer's head was turning because of the expression of panic on Shera's face... The light at the crossing twinkled to a tantalising yellow before the liberating green... Shera lifted his hand to half cover his face but a guest at the Marine Plaza was talking to him, asking for a car announcement and Shera had to nod and smile...

"Veer look there" Kallu yelled, almost yanking Veer's head back to face towards the sea. See how... how lovely the sea looks at night... I'm sure your baba's palace must be beyond those twinkling lights there... its called the queen's necklace... I've heard that there is a lovely palace beyond the sea there... Now I get it, your father rules from there... why could you not be clear earlier... that's why we lost him, he travels by sea, maybe even underwater, to his castle..." Kallu was blabbering, but his fingers had an almost vice like grip on Veer's neck, willing it not to turn, willing the taxi to move, willing, willing the darkness to swallow one proud Afghan who was not a king...

The next day Veer walked triumphantly into the playing area, his hands confidently tucked into Kallu's grasp. "Kallu has something to tell you all" he began....

Angry at Anger

What is the chemical composition of anger? Where is its black bleak fountainhead? Is loneliness its younger cousin? Is sadness its secret partner? Is pain its alter ego?

Delhi has come to a grinding halt today. There are protests. And burning. And stoning. There is anger. Palpable in the giant traffic crawl like an endless centipede oozing itself out onto this city's streets. Those of us cocooned in our eyries, those of us who managed to avoid the jam - literally or symbolically, don't quite know whether to feel thankful, or guilty.

Like a cremation, we watch human goodness burn. Human faith smolder. Human contact give way to the trajectory of a stone. And there is no knowing where the stone will land.

Children are stuck in school buses on clogged roads today. Parents can't get to them. Stripped homes waiting for whitewash to kiss their walls stand barren and exposed. There is no whitewash to be bought and the painters have gone home - or atleast tried to go home.

Our walls are bare and the 'marammat' shows through. Our children are stuck and we are waiting to be reborn to them. Our roads are choked and our destination is getting lonely.

Our people are angry. And they are not our anymore.

Somebody tried to seal somebody's shop. Somebody broke the law and as a result, somebody else is keen to take his livlihood away from him.

You know what amazes me, between the hand and the stone, the head and the throw?

The fact that if Mr. Gupta has thrown the stone because his shop is being sealed, and it is Mr. Aggarwal from MCD who signed on that sealing document - then it is but a matter of a series of coincidences and accidents that led to this moment.

If Mr. Gupta's father had encouraged him to take up a government job, if Mr. Aggarwal had had more enterprise and opportunities, it could've been Mr. Aggarwal's shop and Mr. Gupta's signature.

Both in Delhi. Both probably living in similar localities. One slightly better off than the other.

Maybe they went to the same school.

At a time when they did not get caught in snarling centipedes of tar with empty tiffin boxes.

Who's gonna bring the children home?

Full Toss

Coffee stains
On unwashed cups
Love hangover
In soft soap suds

Wash off the grime
Rinse out the rain

Water slides in melamine bites

Ring out a home again.

The party ends
The cups remain

The carom board
In boric stains.

Powdered dreams
And laboured loss
Walk towards or away
Hey. Lets toss.


As the years have unfolded, I've realised what a fundamental fallacy we are all victims of. History and literature have taught us to believe that love is an emotion. Whereas in reality, it is a talent, not an emotion. The moment you view love as a talent, your perspective changes hugely. And different people's relationship with love can be viewed in a far more empathetic, generous light.

Compare it to singing. Some are natural singers, some labour at it and excel, some take their talent for granted and let it atrophy. Some try their damndest best and achieve but a modicum of success. And some are just tone deaf. They simply cannot sing, try as they might. Most importantly, they may not even wish to try.

Do we resent these people for their varying singing abilities? Or do we take it as a given? Some can sing, some can try, and some simply can't.

Some can love, some can not, and some do not.

Its as basic as that. Loving does not come easy to everyone. It is a skill not a feeling; a talent not an emotion.

Attraction, affection, desire are emotions. The art of loving is the expression of those emotions. Everyone can feel their heart swell at the sight of a gorgeous sunset over the sea - thats feeling. Not everyone can pick up a paint brush and re create it on canvas - thats talent.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Me I Wish to Be

The me I wish to be.

The me I wish to be, I was
But just for a bit.

It was fun, it always is
Albeit short,
It's still a lark.

Being the me I wish to be.

Fleetingly in a bus,
On an ocassional sunset.

Sometimes in the rain
Very often in the pain.

In a stranger's eyes
In the unwise of wise

In the guise of a friend
A lover on the mend.

Once in a while
I get to be
The me I wish to be.

And its always fun
And sometimes raw
Bit sour on the tongue
Bit soft on the paw

The me I wish to be
Invariably outshines