Thursday, November 26, 2015

Unrequited Monsoon Date

There is something odd about the people who wear fakes. One is prone to forgive these transgressions as honest carelessness as opposed to deliberate carelessness, particularly if that someone is wearing a dark blue collared T Shirt on a rainy day in Delhi. She had just finished drinking half a liter of thick mango pulp and was puffing her chest up as if that would relieve the brain freeze! As she inflated yet again, she caught me staring and exhaled violently.

My mind wanders about, does wearing a polo T-shirt make you a good horse rider or a polo player? What does the cross between a frog and an alligator represent? The logo on her T-Shirt? These meditations were intruded by her waving her scarf and saying a hurried “BBye” as one says to little kids in a cheerful not-to-fear-me voice! I waved lamely at the blue poppies on flaming yellow lilies of her scarf.

Every summer I visited home during the summer break from school, mom would be shocked and took it upon herself to repair me as best as only she could over the next few days. That also included shopping for my clothes. I had been home and repaired! I had new sneakers, a pair of Jeans and a teal coloured collared T-shirt. On the front side there were four squares of different colours: pink, dark maroon and other two colour I do not remember at the moment. It was our final meeting to decide our future course and nature of our relationship that day.

We met at the bus stand opposite the park hotel in central Delhi. The air was humid, it was pleasant otherwise as only Delhi monsoon can be. We took an auto rickshaw to the Nehru Park in the area where most foreign diplomats stay and I tipped the guy three rupees. We walked, first single file, then, with me leading and then, side by side to the far side bench. I was savouring the two accidents of our knees knocking against each others during the auto rickshaw ride. I was hoping I could just let her walk in the front and let me watch her. It would have been appropriate to say I wanted my eyes to feast on her image had it not been for my overwhelming desire to be on her side as well.

It started to rain, No! It started to pour and she held aloft her blue-poppies-yellow-lilies scarf as a shield to the rain. She gave me a glance, a half invite of a hurried glance. The rain drenched her lilies in minutes and the alligator label on her pocket looked like a small frog now. Her jeans were wet, her feet, nails neatly trimmed, fleshy, as if they had no metatarsals to hold up, were wet too. She was shivering, I was shivering of desire.

She turned around and asked me why? I had no idea what that solitary “WHY” meant as I craned my neck forward to get closer to the meaning of that word. I had recently been diagnosed with a bad eye sight and was wearing spectacles that made me uncomfortable and I was given to craning my neck forward. In one fluid movement she ripped my glasses off from my face and flung it into the grassy wet ground.

I could feel the startled break of rhythm of my pounding heartbeat as a small boy shouted “Chai”! He was carrying a small kettle and a line of plastic tumblers in the other hand. He came to us and poured two small glasses. The aroma of cardamom was overwhelming, a couple of sips of the sugary tea triggered the rain to stop. I could no longer find the kid who had offered us the tea. The entire park was vacant except for the two of us.

There is a problem that every lover battles in the presence of his beloved. He wants to be in the moment and he wants to cherish the moment as well.

She asked “Why do you love me”...”so much”. How does a man answer that question, is there an appropriate answer? I had nothing to say as I cleaned my spectacles with a fold of my T-Shirt. She handed over a handkerchief to me and I cleaned my spectacles with it. It was silk! I pocketed the treasure and could feel my skin next to the pocket gladly tingling. She saw it through, there was no way I could be sane in her presence. She was getting angry and frustrated by minute now. She asked me if we should leave. We left.

We took a bus that drove through the wet tree lined streets of Delhi and stopped in front of the Park Hotel. She jumped off the bus into a puddle of water splashing water on my shoes. She flagged down an auto rickshaw and sat in, I joined in quickly before she could say anything. We rode through busy streets, vacant four lane roads, sometime endless, sometime wet and embracing, sometimes branching, caressing the moist cheeks. Roads that led away, astray, sometimes in loops and sometimes witness to my hand holding hers. I never met her again.

I have known men, cousins, co-workers and in my family. They are smart, hard working men of strong character and care a lot for me. I firmly believe that men should be strong and of good moral character.

He asked me if we could meet and decide about our relationship. The “relationship” is in his head and I have honestly never felt anything for him. Today we went together to the park in Delhi, somewhere near the big hotel. It rained heavily and we had tea. Too much sugar.

He is a sad guy, something has been bothering him a lot lately. I am going to ask him stop his love rants and live his life. My work is piling up since he has been here and I am unable to get him out of my mind. Yet, I am not happy when I think about him. I can’t imagine life with him, he is so thin, I can just make out his nose standing out of his sad face. He doesn’t even seem to know what a black head is. Ha!

He claims he loves me, I am sure he doesn’t know what love is. He isolates things and frets over them, mistaking parts for the whole. He is one who thinks music is nothing but a series of notes arranges one after other. A flower is nothing, but the petals arranged in a pattern. Love is nothing, but a series of warm woolly passions marching in line.

I met him, met him in the park and it rained. I hated his foggy glasses, they always come in the way. I can’t get my exasperation across to him, he is hiding behind those big glasses deliberately. I snatch those stupid glasses and fling them into grass. He seems blinded.


I can’t understand how and why he thinks he loves me. More importantly, he doesn’t know me. He thinks he does, he says he knows me across eons. That idiot! Will there be anything that can drill sense in him? I am afraid: nothing. I am sure it will be a sad life for someone who marries him. I, for sure, would not be the one!

I hand over my hanky to him, the one I blow my nose into! He seems to be brooding over his spectacles. He is wearing a geometric print T shirt, he seems to think he is in his dandy best. He is looking like fish out of water. I hate him!

I can’t see how his longing for me can soften my aversion to him, I have burnt all his letters that he wrote from his college. I read his poetry, one of the poems in blood! He is sick! On my birthday, he sent me a blood donation card. He had donated a couple of pints of blood in my love! Friends tell me that I am his love, madness and pivot ever since he was a teenager. I am amused and amazed at this silliness. He uses big long winding sentences. He is forever posing and trying to be smart. I hate him!

He joined me on the bus ride as the bus moved through dirty filthy streets of Delhi. Monsoon is very dirty and there is mess and slush all over. I got off the bus into a small pot hole. God only knows how he moves ever so slowly, he is so creepy!

I thought the auto rickshaw ride would finish soon, it took ages. The auto moved through the vast lawns of India Gate to cross the raging monsoon Yamuna river. A raging river always seem to clean the filth of this river.

My eyes well up! I don’t seem to see a Yamuna of my own, a river rage within me. He is immersed in his thoughts. He is calm, in trance. His hands are frail, bony and unartistic workman like. I wish I could console him in any way possible: hug him and cry into his chest. To say: “You are a man, wake up and find your pride”. I hold his frail hand, the right one. Neither he offers it, nor holds it back. He is non committal. I can’t see his eyes, I never will.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Saudade and coke can ashtrays

The loss and grieving are not like messages that you can thrust into a bottle and cast into the sea of your fate. They are like irons in your soul and on many frosty cold mornings have a way of reminding you. The heart swells from the edema of those memories as something wells up in you. You seek a release, a Requiem for those moments that are dead, but stay on the slopes of your being ready to avalanche down with a glance or a whisper.

The Glass Bead Games, the headstands after partaking the “Aristocrat” brand of whiskey in the room with the blue door. The shiny red coke cans filled to brim with ashen cigarette butts sitting majestically on the sill of the window that lets in the south Sun peek in through the old broken and grimy glass pane. The old canvas board with a poster of Swami ji who bridged the arms of the solitary aluminum chair. The Swami Ji always looked into the distance, so we were safe in our little myopic room with the blue door. The bare mattress that had sunken like my spirit.

Like alley cats we entered that blue door every mornings as people switched on their water pumps and life was grunting itself awake. We were retiring for the day.

Friends would write poetry, would jump at pagers as it beeped, they loved the same married woman who paged either of them at whim. We slept under the tables in editing studios, in hushed tones a friend would show me the the hair clip that he prized. The other one would go red in ears as someone uttered “doll”. We smoked, drank and never slept willingly.

“Forrest” wore suits, “Chief” wore jackets and fur shoes brought in Ladakh, I wore anything. This was Delhi in late 90s. We smoked Gold Flakes, beer was Sandpiper and whiskey was Aristocrat. There were dying fragrances wrapped in autumn and resistance, there were Steppen Wolves and an occasional Russell. Pathos was Kay Vos “no never, never” and the unrequited love. We were Theos to each other. We were brothers till end.

We had heard of chess games that people play in “real world”. In “high” state we’d despise the chess games and prized our reckless love. We were mongrels much in need of love that came from sunsets never pictured in our valley. The ochery shades were new, the pagers beeped with hitherto unknown insistence, we were in love with everyone. The colony guard, the policeman who we’d chat with during our night patrols. The milk vendor who would always be high at midnight when we came back from the trip to “Princess Garden”, our favourite bar which we could afford when I got my salary. “Forrest” spent all his money on Cigarettes, the ladakh scout had a fiat older than us and it had two functional doors. We drove it like a torpedo at top speed of 30 Kmph.

We came from lost, half burnt homes. The Chief from Ladakh was passionate one, he had shouted “Vande Mataram” in one of his mood upswings and came promptly in the cross -hair of the militants. One day they told him that his friend was “bahut haseen”. He fled the valley next day.

Forrest was an incorrigible romantic: that explained suits. One fine new year eve, we did turns to “couple” dance with a lady older than our mothers. The evening ending with our chief getting lipstick marks on his denim jacket and Forrest finally getting his first ballroom blast!

An innocent looking rubber eraser announced the course of future events to Forrest, it said “deepa”! He says it was found in my pocket. The mongrels had found love! We were in love! She took us to a “dance party”! Chief was all bombast and courage, he shelled into the dance floor and did his repertoire of bhangra moves to who the f**k is Alice! I tried my cross-the-legs and Salman’s Pelvic thrust moves. Forrest melted into the corner with a cigarette in hand. In due time he'll metamorphose into Peter Camenzind.

She gave us a tight hug on new year, all of us. We were alive! Someone really cared for us in this city where every sentiment seemed to be trampled upon and could only be celebrated behind blue doors in dark alleys. She took us bowling and we were learning the ropes and ways of this city. More ropes, less ways.

We found that this city thrives on transformation, into pulverizing your desires, dreams, modes, drives and spirit into a amorphous entity of a urban middle class idol. It is mammoth machinery of compromise and transformation intend to bend the steel of our spirits into the stuff that goes into the pillars that prop it up. The forge is compromised by the shear, finally.

Forrest and Chief worked for the same production company that was once very successful, but hadn’t paid anyone salaries for last six months. Chief hadn’t noticed it, but Forrest, being quite young was getting restless everyday. A call from a production house made him run hundreds of stairs up to their office as lift was delayed and he couldn’t be late. He got the job! I got married! Chief was devastated!

We stayed in the same apartment for days after my marriage, they slept in the drawing room and we peeped out for food/drinks which they took care of for more than a week! One fine day they were gone!

I spent hours and hours on STD booths talking to the Chief and all weekends were reserved to “live again” our “good old times”. We drank beer, I sneaked out of home to meet them. We guzzled more beer, we smoked and I always brushed my teeth, the first thing after entering the home again. We reeked of past and each other! City is always intolerant of strange smells, I always smell formaldehyde. My coiled spirit with its stone eyes would always scare young mongrels who come to this city.

So the spirit and formaldehyde are drawn into the two and half step moves of EMIs and selecting teal coloured curtains. We moved to suburbs and our drawing room features the sunflowers and the starry night. I often check these for mold and am disappointed not to find it! Even Van Gogh has forsaken me. In my old blue door room there was a damp patch near the ceiling. I had seen all shades of yellow there, we had seen the sunflowers damping the cracked dry cheeks of that room. The south side window would throw murky brown light of absinthe on the sun flowers and the dignified solitary tungsten bulb shone dimly as we sometimes ate boiled potatoes, huddled on the floor.

As Forrest says our grains have been transformed! Persistent polishing has put shine in our persona, we no longer ask people to read what tarrot cards say and I can never buy large pop-corn at the movies. Jagjit Singh is dead and Chief had got him to his personal party, lost his job in the process, but then “Baazi Chahe....”. Forrest is a celebrity and poster boy. We have learnt to foxtrot to different melodies. Occasional Harmonies are still heard, but ab hum bhi EMI wale hai!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Manitoba blues

Churchill is a town in the prairies of Manitoba area in Canada, it is called the polar bear capital of the world. The other day a program on National Geographic channel showed how bears that get too close to the town are captured and released farther from the town on their annual migration routes around the Hudson Bay. The bears are treated pretty nicely even during the temporary captivity. We are yet to learn to treat our fellow citizens even humanly!
The other day coming to office something strange caught my eye. A child at a residential construction, rolling in mud. Well! that is not something exceptional to see in India. You can see scores of children nearly at every construction site, the older ones, usually girls, taking care of the younger ones as young as a year or so. I reversed the car back to take a look. The child that I had seen was barely two years old, he had peed in his pants and tried to get the wet pajamas off unsuccessfully. He was covered in soil and was pulling at a plastic tether that tied the helpless kid to a nearby tree!  I got down from the car to verify if I was really seeing what I was. It was a human kid being treated worse than they treat their bears in Manitoba.
My daughter is 18 months old and for a moment I saw my own daughter instead of that kid tied to the tree such that the mother can continue earning her wages and the kid doesn't stray onto the road risking being run over by a vehicle. I fumed, fretted and shouted at everyone from the mother, owner of the property, the contractor and even the people who were bystanders there! I drove to office shaking and crying. So much for our GDP figures, rich middle class and the smarter planet.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Morning post: Winter of despair revisited.

“One flew east, one flew west; one flew over the Cuckoo’s nest.”

The morning brings forth the chill in my soul. The memories are numb with overuse and are stretched over my body like the cloak of dark brooding angel of death. This cloak, on which you can see the face of my ancestors, of migrants, who traced the lines written in an enigmatic script, they trace it with their index finger, afraid that the sacred words might take flight. My ancestors were Kashmiri Pundits.

When the shadows of swords danced macabrely over our people, everyone kept quiet. That was the winter of 90, my last winter in the vale. A remarkably quiet winter that was!

“Jaago Jaago subah hui,

Islam ka parcham lehraya

Roos ke chakke chut gaye, Ab Hindustan kee baaree hai

Naalaye taqmeel…

That song echoed from all mosques and newly brought Maruti cars. The hot selling cassettes of these songs were clandestinely copied and distributed to the masses. We were afraid of our own shadows; we walked close to the boundary walls of the houses in the streets, lest we may be noticed. Pundits meeting in streets barely exchanged glances, playing a peek-a-boo of who- breaks-first. The listless tired eyes hid little. The notes were exchanged at the bakers shop in the mornings. Who fled the valley in the middle of the night, who got the threat letter and who was killed?

The winter brought the frost of its eastern winds to my heart. My love had left the valley too. Every other day, I walked to their empty house, to their barren fields. The first snow hid the decay of the untended land. The snow looked pristine, promising a new beginning. The reality of our gloomy daily lives mocked the fresh snow’s promise. I walked back to the only phone booth in the city, I called a number which no one picked. I counted the rings and somehow felt connected to the home, the hearth of my beloved. A phone ring echoed in a forsaken house as I looked out into the overcast skies.

The steps leading to the roof are covered with pigeon droppings, the TV tower built over the twin hill of the Shankerchariya is painted in red and white colours. Behind the TV tower is the snow covered range of the Zabarwan hills. I sit at the steps, holding onto the thick poplar wood beams that support the roof. The neighbourood is nearly empty, even the airhostess who I watched undress from this vintage point is no longer there! The neighbourhood bakers have fled too, seems, the daily updates of unfolding misfortune got them. Their cabbage patch is covered with snow; a few brown stems still standing up in defiance. The bucket hangs listlessly at the end of a rope near the well.

Every pundit house is Kashmir has its own “Ghar Divta”, a resident deity that embodies the house itself. It makes the brick and wood house: a living entity. On an auspicious day every year, a feast is organized in the honour of the deity, fresh fish is cooked and many delicacies are on the offering. The large bronze thaal is taken out from the large wooden trunk and the food is laid in it. The pattern is typical Kashmiri: All dishes are laid in a circle and in the centre is kept a mound of rice, a depression is created and vegetable gravy in placed in that depression. The thaal is left under the roof, near the gable, on a straw mat. Every year I strained hard to hear Ghar Divta’s steps and in my sleep, I did hear some. I was scared every time; somehow, I always felt reassured when I saw a few spilled grains of rice and bits of fish the next morning when we went to fetch the thaal. We felt secure that there are blessed powers that secure our homes.

We heard the loud reports of the Enfield guns firing, interspersed with a burst of fire from AKs, the Kalashnikovs, as they are known in Kashmir. The Enfield 303s sounded like large snooker balls colliding and the AKs sounded like a chattering merciless typewriter typing out death warrants. 303 fires never lasted long. The brooding night was still young when a racket erupted. All houses seemed to come alive, everyone in the neighbourhood was on their roofs banging metal utensils or their tin roofs.

“Hum kya Chahte: Azaadi”, “Aye Zaalimo, Aye Kaafiro, humara Kashmir chod do”.

Kashmiri Pundits had no idea of the plan, every Kashmiri Muslim house erupted with this spine chilling noise.

In next few days, most KPs had fled the valley. We stayed on. Not because we were more patriotic than others; dad couldn’t believe it was happening! He had run down the orchard at Karan Mehal right from the Mehal to the Dal lake. He told me that he flew down, his feet hardly touched ground. He was staying with Laxman joo, the saint. Laxman joo himself blessed dad! Dad wasn’t going to be believe that we have been disenfranchised in a matter of weeks. He would sit by the window, in his pheran with a kangri between his legs to keep himself warm. He would keep looking at the Chinar branches as they traced the skies with tender, curvy white lines. He would watch snowfall for hours without blinking, or so I thought.

Our house was near a Shamshan bhoomi, it was the nearest one to the military station near the town. Any hindu/sikh policeman/armyman killed in encounter with militants was brought to the place to cremate. Every day we saw an increasing number of gun salutes and funeral pyres, sometimes quite late in the night as well. Brother was in Army, a newly inducted commando in the infantry, stationed in Kashmir. His best friend was an engineer at the local municipal agency. The engineer had turned to militancy. Brother would hastily visit us, mostly in evenings and I could catch his nervous voice when he said his byes to me and sister. His was to hope in face of despair.

The winter dragged on like a defeated man’s tale. Chillay Kalan came and went, Chillay Kharud froze us to bone and Chillay Bacche was not kind either. By the time last leg of the winter came, Kashmir was grey with frozen snow and dirt. My last visit to Dal Lake was in order, I knew that we’d move soon. I walked from my home to the lone phone booth, and, then, with heavy steps towards the point where Dal Lake meets Jhelum river, aptly called: Dal Gate! I walked to the Shenkarchariya ghat and sat on the green bench overlooking my Dal.

Do phones still ring in forsaken houses there?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

City moss

Kehne bar ko yeh shaher hai, lekin kanoon yahan jungle ka chalta hai” – Vijay Deenanath Chauhan in Agneepath.

The city is rife with moss covered yellow buildings. Any refugee who comes to this city watches longingly these yellow apartment complexes from the windows of the city buses. The buses pass very closely to these apartment buildings as they cross over road bridges called flyovers. The refugee has his first view of the inside of the apartment from the bus window, as the bus reaches the top of the flyover. He wonders who stays in these magic cubes like blocks, no one he knows lives in these blocks. He doesn’t even dare to dream of staying in one himself. The dare may scare away the dream itself.

City is full of haggard men who go about their daily struggle to earn their keeping in this city. Then, there are dreamers, who go about ignoring all their failures of past, focused on present and success. These are the men most desired and detested by the city. These are the men who are restless and unrelenting in the face of ignominious treatment that cities meet out to them, but that changes soon. They connect, they bond! These are the people who make the city what it becomes; they survive on the edge of the heaving stench of organic growth of the city. They rise, despite the odds against them, they climb the ladders of influence to public spaces, newspapers, club houses and like.

Men as deep as dried out wells, where you are afraid to look for the water at the bottom. They write about unrequited desires, about Maya and glass beads. They bare their wounds and deepest desires unabashedly to the public. The public they want to become, in due time or rather, in short time. They loose their reserve, their dignity to highlight the intensity of their pains and joys, the public cheers for more. It is like a circus of pain and misery. Greater the pain and shamelessness, greater the cheers.

We don’t write about the haggard men who stop to dream, they are everywhere, but they go unnoticed, shrinking in size as dreams roll down the windows of their new cars. They, you meet, no; you see them, as devices, tools! They are the drivers, maids, fixers. They are tools and mechanizations of your happiness; they are cogs of your elaborate machine of happiness and growth. At times they lose their sanity and plunder the joys of the very masters they serve. They rape, murder and destroy, seeking revenge and respite in this unforgiving city. It can forgive anything but poverty.

The potato eaters are no longer potato eaters, they have money too! They earn in a month about the same that you make in a day or half, yet they feel rich! Where is the disparity, you ask disdainfully. They still live 5 in a room, squatting in open, chewing tobacco and spitting on the red sandstone of your beautiful city.

Sprawling campus! That is the way global glossies introduce the new temples of modern India. The campuses are acres and acres of land, recently agriculture, which has concrete buildings clad in highly reflective green glass. Inside, are the new pundits of these modern temples. Overweight, diabetic and full of good cheer! They are the people who sell the middle class dream of a house, a car in the garage and abundant cash in the bank. They are the people who have made it! These are the people who you do not see or meet often, they only hobnob with their own tribe, they are disconnected children of this city, and they stay in suburbs with mansions that have spaces that they haven’t been to in months. They write about frugality and pain of poverty in dailies and glossies. Three spare houses, a couple of apartments and cash parked in government securities, their only fear is that day someone might notice their good fortune in contrast with their own lot.

Sonu lost his father when he was three, he doesn’t even remember the name of his father now. He is eight. His mother works as a maid and he hasn’t been to school most days of last month. Aye Haramee! He calls his friend as I try to digress my daughter’s attention. This is the future! About half of India is this lot earning less than Rs. 90 a day.

Dipen’s father is a mason; he works mostly part time, rest of the time he used to be drunk. Dipen is seven year old and has craniopharyngioma, a form of tumor in the brain. He is of a small frame and blind, which is because of the tumor pushing against the Pituitary gland and the optic nerve. So he has to be operated on and the tumor has to be remove. City’s most premier government hospital has classified this kid’s case as top priority and his father has been visiting the hospital nearly everyday for last five months. There are no beds available for Dipen where he can spent two days post surgery. One of the largest private hospitals famous for its founder’s presence on page 3 of dailies asked for a share of treatment cost from the father, if they were to consider the case under their “corporate social responsibility”! The poor father stopped drinking and hopes to save enough money to bribe someone to get his kid a bed for two days.

Retired General for Indian Army spends most of his time looking after the garden, maintaining the house and gossiping with neighbours. There aren’t many in the “posh” suburban colony. The colony is full of retired defence forces officers like him, who could afford to buy “plots” here at very cheap rates before the real estate boom. Most officers are old, yet superbly fit and full of cheer. Brig. Malhotra is the most cheerful of all. He refuses to accept that he bit hard on hearing, so he handles whatever you throw at him by way of conversation. Most times he gets the context and he reels on his view of the matters with liberal “buggers”, “bozos” and “my chap”. It feels like Victorian times again. General sahib was the GOC in C based in Srinagar during the Kargil war. One of the local RWA presidents told him “Bahut dekhe hai aap jaise!”, when he tried to intervene in a house owner and tenant argument. The other day he was tending to his garden in his boxer shorts and a nice grey T-shirt, Mrs. Malhotra passed by with Mr. Malhotra at the wheel, she piped in cheerfully: “still hot as usual” to the General! It is fun to watch a 65 old man blush! Brig. Malhotra cheerfully fired his “buggers”/”chaps” and sped on, he hadn’t heard anything.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Cleansing in Gandhi’s land, the Helicopter Harry way

He claims to be an FBI agent entrusted by the “state department” with important information stored in his oversized notebook computer. Of course! he is lying and got us off-guard again!

This Jon, he is one big yankee with a hearty laughter, talks loudly with his nasal roll of a’s, r’s and pets a white cat while we quietly pick the buffet plates at dinner. He is using crutches and we sit at the same table; he is alone. He has been to Chennai to get a hip replacement surgery and he is beaming with admiration for one Dr. Boss! It is been three weeks and he is already able to walk around with the help of crutches. He had been to Matri Mandir yesterday, he tells us.

We are at this resort called Quiet Healing Centre, right at the edge of India in Auroville, near Pondicherry facing the Bay of Bengal. Auroville is a an experimental open world community where one can start a life as a commune member provide one adheres to certain basic simple principles of living as espoused by Aurovillians. The rules are actually very simple: forsaking organized religion, property and living a life in sync with nature and being “spiritual”.

So, we are here, after driving more than seven hours driving on the arterial National Highway -7 from Bangalore to this place near Pondicherry. A set of friends have strongly recommended Quiet as the preferred place to stay, while in Auroville. This place has its own private beach where the fishermen do their morning ablution without any shame as tourists admire the rising sun in the ocean. At other hours, the beach has very few visitors, except evening when other set of fishermen have to do their evening ablutions right at the private beach of Quiet. So fishermen are neatly categorized into owls or larks of ablutionary world! On the other hand it is a thought that some of them do it twice a day!

The hip replacement or the crutches haven’t slowed down Jon, he explains his exploits of the day to us in great detail and is quite elated with his kilometer long walk to see the main temple at Auroville. This is a pumpkin shaped temple at the centre of the Auroville town, which is coated with gold leaves sandwiched in glass. The temple has a single 400 Kg crystal at the sanctum sanctorium which captures a single beam of natural light that enters the structure right at the top. At times when it is cloudy or at night time, an artifical light is pointed at the crystal ball. The Matri Mandir is named after Mirra Alfass, the spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo, who is reverentially called “The Mother” by all Aurovillians. Well! Jon had walked to the temple, but was denied entry as he hadn’t watched the mandatory video about the Auroville Commune. He is bit resentful about that, but quite keen to give it a try the next day. So, we set up a rendezvous for the next morning.

Next morning, we drove to the Visitor’s centre and watched the mandatory video on Auroville principles. Namely: Evolution hasn’t stopped, you need to refine continuously and there is no point in self serving consumerism without being in sync with nature. All quite agreeable to a charitable soul, I’d say. We were asked to set up an appointment with the Visitor centre at the Matri Mandir to visit the temple on phone which is forever busy. We got through after a few tries and asked for an appointment to visit the temple in the evening, but were told that they were all “booked out”. Jon was leaving for the U.S the next morning from Chennai. The kind lady on the phone suggested we may try our luck in evening as there may be few cancellations. We were disappointed, but Jon was still quite optimistic. We decided to head back to the Quiet for lunch and an afternoon siesta.

Jon woke us up, knocking at the door with his crutches and we hurried to get ready in no time. We were supposed to try our luck at the Matri Mandir at 3:30 and it was already 3:00 p.m. Jon remembered a short cut through the jungle and he and my wife edged me on to drive through the offroad track. A few kilometers later, we found ourselves middle of a jungle facing a hopeless ditch of a road section. Jon cheerfully got down and asked me to rush through it all, which I did as he clicked pictures and I broke some serious sweat. Loud whoopies and congratulations everywhere edged me on to reach Matri Mandir gate just about 10 minutes later. Jon said: “Watch this”, stepped out of the car on his crutches and had an epileptic attack! The guards rushed to the rescue, all panic while me and my wife tried hard not to laugh. We were escorted to the waiting room by very nervous guards and Auroville volunteers. Five minutes later, we rushed to join a group of visitors under the huge Neem Tree. An elderly volunteer was explaining the concept of “Brahman” to a restless bunch of Indians and a sporadic foreign listener. He explained how the Mandir signifies the sun surrounded by meditation rooms spread out as the petals of a lotus. The work on water bodies around these meditation rooms is still going on. He also showed the gold leaf glass tiles which are used to cover the oblong pumpkin shape, which looks like a oblong golden golf ball. We were to be very quiet while visiting the inner chamber of the temple. We were not to touch anything, we were not to ask anything, we were not to cough if we could help it and so on. Photography wasn’t allowed.

We moved to the inner chamber and Jon fished out his camera! The inner chamber has a psychedelic look of a 70s disco. An orange look with a huge walkway leading to the sanctum sanctorum. The sanctum sanctorum is a huge chamber with gigantic pillars that support nothing and a massive crystal ball on a golden stand which captures light from a opening at the top of the ball. One needs to wear socks provided by very helpful volunteers and one is required to sit on virgin white towels and meditate on the beauty, peace and whatever one fancies immersed in remarkably quiet air conditioning. Jon coughs repeatedly and drops his crutches. I am afraid, it might not be intentional.

Ten minutes later, which seems like forever, we are hushed to leave.

Jon fishes out the camera and clicks! There is a scramble among the volunteers and we pretend not to know Jon. He is already talking.

We head out of the inner chamber relieved at not having been hauled on coals for Jon’s clicking, coughing, talking and the falling crutches. He asks the elderly volunteer is there is a barbecue down there near the meditation room! The volunteer shakes his head to knock out whatever he has heard out of his auditory chambers.

We head down to an exquisite fountain shaped in the form of a lotus, what else! It has a small crystal ball at the centre and the water flows on top of extremely white marble petals. It reminds me of some roman excess. Again, you cannot talk, cough, sniff, click pictures here! By now Jon was decidedly anarchist, he fished out the camera and started clicking with relish! The volunteers do not do anything, because they cannot talk and Jon pretends not to understand their gestures. It is a funny scene and everyone is heartily amused. There is starved looking foreigner with a big beard and long hair. Deepa, my wife addressed him: “Excuse me,….”. He practically runs to her with finger on his lips and shaking all over. “First, First, learn to speak very quietly here….”. He paused for effect and breath, then continues…”yes, tell me…”. Deepa asks him if he knows of a place in Auroville where they make the water listen to Bach and this treated water is actually sold as some sort of “dynamic” water. The guys was out of his depth on this one! He remarked that he was somewhat new to the commune and doesn’t know all the interesting experiments that happen around the 4000 acres of space that a community of 1700 people occupy. I kept staring at his bobbing adam’s apple, pitying him.

Meditation rooms require prior notification, so we head to the huge lawns of the temple. There is a amphiteatre which has a Obelisk shaped lotus bud in the centre which symbolizes the rise of new consciousness. They used to let people watch the sunset from the steps of the amphiteatre a few years back, but all is quiet now. Nearly antiseptic.

The bon fire at the centre is restricted to two days now. It is somewhat strange that such a featureless place with artificial lawns and roman excess could actually quieten thirsty souls.

We rushed out of Matri Mandir, giggling, clicking photographs of lawns, Banyan tree, kids with flowers in their hair. We were practically chased out.

We were tired and the Matri Mandir experience made us crave for some air. The organization at the Mandir left us with a strong longing for the chaos that we are used to. Jon’s hard nosed pragmatic self was completely overwhelmed with the organized spirituality and he was craving to sin!

We head to Pondicherry where Jon knew a place named “Agatha’s palace”. He said he had been a regular patron there and it has an awesome view of the sea. It is at the promenade and remains open way past midnight. So, to the promenade, we headed.

After forty minutes of looking around and asking for Agatha’s place, we finally found the place. It was “Ajanta Palace”! and was closed on account of Gandhi Jayanti! Our plans for a sinful cleansing drink seemed to dash against the firm gestures of the waiters. Jon barged into narrow staircase leading to the terrace, crutches making a racket. No body in India would stop a huge white bald man on crutches intent on barging into a place! Moments later we were seated comfortably facing the ocean as Jon started negotiating with the bar manager. Manager was quite firm: no whiskey can be served on 2nd Oct. Jon said, “Bring me anything else!”. Manager, “Only cocktails!”. Well! We guzzled a dubious couple and were on our way to the sea front. It looked tempting, the waves were crashing on the rocks, a nice breeze, we were alive!

We headed to the Neemrana Property Hotel De Le’ Orient at the Rue Romain Rolland. It was a well set property and since we have stayed at many Neemrana hotels, I took the lead and asked for a table for four (for the three of us). We were warmly welcomed and we knew that Neemrana serves excellent food, particularly the French cuisine at the Le’ Orient. I asked the waiter if they served alcohol, he said, “no, we only serve beer in ceramic mugs!” We asked for the largest ceramic mugs and left the Le’ Orient satiated in body and spirit!

Time for us to face the music of the sea. We walked down to the promenade and sat down facing the waves crashing at the shore. Deepa, me and Jon, we felt a strong connection with each other. A stranger whom we had met a day before, we shared the joy of liberation, of being able to experience boundless nature in contrast with the narrow artificial bounds of organized religion. Jon and we experienced the contrast in a single day. I was overcome with the feeling of this liberation and rushed down on the slippery boulders to face the waves. Wave after wave crashed on my face, my body, drenching me to the bone, as I shouted, daring mother nature to “bring it on”!! I kept on shouting: “is this the best you got!!”, as wave after wave splashed on me from head to toe. I could eye the start of the wave on the far side and crouch in anticipation of the wave hitting me as Deepa and Jon egged me on…Then the blinding splash of wave over me. I was cleansed to bone, the Helicopter Harry way.

We walked to the car on the deserted promenade as wave after wave crashed against the shore.

Happy Birthday Bapu!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Man and the bike

A B-grade hollywood movie thief tells his interrogator: "Never take away a bike from a kid!" I learnt this truth the hard way when dad sold off his bicycle when I was a kid. It was a perhaps my first heartbreak! I had learnt to ride on a heavy metal A-Von cycle which dad had used for years to commute to work in Ambala. I used to sit on the front metal rod of the frame and my elder brother used to occupy the carrier seat in the rear. Dad is short (5 and a half feet or so) and he got on top of the cycle after running along it with one foot on the pedal. Once the bike gained some momentum, he'd hop on it. Bhaya would hop on shortly afterwords. Dad would bike merrily to office through kutcha roads of Ambala cantt. singing Kabir's couplet:
"Aisee Vani Boliye, Mun Ka Aapa Khoye
Apna Tan Sheetal Kare, Auran Ko Sukh Hoye".
I kept wondering why this was his favourite Kabir Doha when he and mom had squabbles nearly every day. Later, I realized that we had financial difficulties and parents were in stress to manage expenses.
That was 1978 and I was 9 year old. We returned back to Kashmir and our very first act at home front was to rebel against Dad! We went to our Taya ji's place at Verinag some 70 Kms south of Srinagar. Taya ji was a big business man in the entire Dooru Tehsil, he owned a rice and an Oil mill; he wanted our father to join him in the business and persuaded all of us (mother and us three kids) to sign a petition supporting him! It was fun to sign some officious looking document and we signed! So, in our minds, the matter was settled, we would stay in the land of plenty, of milk and honey. We'd live off the fat of the land! There was the shiny red coloured bike of my cousin and he'd let me pillion ride it as he rode cockily through the market and in front of the local high school.
Dad decided against us staying at the "village" and thought it best for us to attend city school in Srinagar. So we shifted to Srinagar, much against our will with a failing faith in democratic satyagraha. I was devastated! Mainly, because I never got to ride the cousin's bike.
During very first week of our arrival in the city, my (another) cousin brother stormed into our house announcing his new-found mastery of new bicycle. It was a second hand bike gifted to him by his dad. We rushed to Idgah in downtown Srinagar to try out our bike riding skills. En route we ramming into a cow, narrowly missed a cart and came to a dead stop between the legs of an elderly gentleman who was trying desperately to avoid us, but froze up at the last moment. There is something very sinister about biking, the more you avoid going into a direction, more you are dead set to go into that very direction. Idgah adventure didn't go well, we were bruised all over and I was convinced that bike riding is a black art that cannot be acquired in near future.
Years later, I met this sardar Ji at the garment factory where he was the Managing Director. His spacious office was full of garment samples, guest chairs, some photographs of the hills and he sat grumpily behind the flickering monitor. I thought he wouldn't like the intrusion of someone "wanting to bike", particularly during peak working hours. Contrary to what I was expected, he was a paunchy grey haired sardar ji sitting, as I mentioned: grumpily, behind the mahogany desk.
He lit up on seeing me! He called me to his side of the table and for next hour or so, he showed me photographs of his biking trips: Spiti valley, ladakh, Faridabad, Jaipur and so on. He forgot all about the business day and in no time I had a free gift of a red bike with me. his staff loaded it in my car and we promised to ride in the coming week.
Many rides have happened, I have had my shares of broken ribs and bruises. The garage door is awaiting the Trek to buzz out, I keep a meticulous record of the bike rides now. The sound of bike tyres over the asphalt roads, the quiet hum! One is a set of legs pedaling to the horizon, nothing else but, that humming of the tyres kissing the road, noisily. Sometimes, it sounds like a hushed dialogue between the tyre and the road plotting against me. Maybe, to pounce a pleasant view, a sudden downhill or a couple of squirrels haggling over a prized nut.
I take a sip from the camel pack and ride on. Sometimes, involuntarily Kabir's "Aisee Vani...." repeats in an endless loop in my mind. It makes pedaling-on an involution of me, the bike and memories of a lonesome childhood.