Monday, January 12, 2009

My Father's Eyes

I can still remember freshly those distinct sound that the TVS Luna made as it limbered towards our front entrance. Those were the times when we would all be bundled up by 7:30 in the Friday evenings, and eat our lumped rice sorted out in small little round bowls by our mom with Usha Albuquerque reading out the evening dossier of the country in front of our Ondia Television sets. ( Yes.. Neighbour’s Envy , Owner’s Pride) Usha Albuquerque along with her cast of DD newsreaders and the Onida Mascot , were the face of Indian media back then. Our creaky wooden door would open to the sight of my father easily identified by his trademark chequered Chirag Dinn shirts. His was a frail frame back then, and his eyes would look weary after the work done for the week. But customary as it was, he would take me out for the evening ride after his meals on that Luna to the Alembic Bridge.
Vadodara is not exactly a city known to many for the right reasons. Yes, this is where Irfan Pathan comes from and yes, we have a very good Ranji team. It’s also known as a hotbed for communial riots and the culture capital of Gujarat. But once you do become a resident of the city, you get endowed with an ability to see beyond the stereotypes of a city and identify with it’s symbols in your own unique way. To me, Vadodara is the city of silent streets by night with laaries lined up the road with the aroma of spices and street side food filling the air. These days, whenever I do get back a chance to go to the city, I ride my worn out down bike with my limited driving skills around the city at 11 in the night to take in a view of a city that seems almost at peace with itself. I breathe in the comfort that I feel on escaping the urban chaos of Mumbai, and watch the night lights in the city as they light up the increasing number of malls which have taken up the city streetside.
Tonight as I drive past that very bridge, I stop and decide to take a look at something that I have been missing for almost 20 years now. Having parked my bike at the entrance of the bridge, I climp up and almost miss the cemetery that stands in the background. Screeching Skodas and Honda City pass by, and I manage to find a place next to the footpath for walkers. As the beggars prepare to sleep satisfied by the tiny morsels that they have had for the day, I watch the goods train in the night go past by under my own eyes in the middle of the night.
20 years back, this place was a lot quieter. There weren’t many cars around, and Bajaj Scooters competed with the japanese vehicles which had just entered the jittery Indian Markets. The air was a lot more cleaner, and there weren’t many of these flashy orange lights that you see nowadays. Even in the dim lights that we had back then, with my nascent memory which had just started forming its first roots back then, I could remember the image of my father as he stood with me on those nights.
His frame belittled in a way, the hope that he carried in his eyes. He carried in those eyes the hope that Usha Alberquerque and alike talked about every evening in the news. This was the hope of a change, as the country back then was transforming itself from its ultra socialist leanings to embrace the culture of merit and prosperity. Rajiv Gandhi led the nation, and there were ads of the Information and Green Revolution through the public broadcasting arm of the government. The media oscillated between showing Rajiv as the blued eyed boy of Indian Politics, burdered by the responsibility on his young shoulders and the image of a young Sachin Tendulkar, as he walked out to a packed crowd in Lahore for his Test Debut
A lot of things have happened since then. Sachin Tendulkar’s genius has overshadowed the cricket field for 19 years and the little master is all set to go into the gentle night of his cricketing career. Rajeev Gandhi is long since dead and on our new flat TV Screens, Aaj Tak, IBN and NDTV jostle to show Rahul Gandhi and Omar Abdullah as the next hope of our Indian Youth. The Dal Lake which used to be on the postcard of every Indian hall now is mostly barren and the land of Kashmir, once the proclaimed paradise on earth, now stands ravaged and torn by ethnical and regional strife. Madhuri Dixit has now become the ‘Dhak Dhak ‘ girl of Ram Nene and ultra thin heroines now grace the silver screens with oodles of oomph.
All this , in the span of a quarter of a century that a generation along with me have been witness to. We have been fortunate enough to be privy to the comforts of liberalization, and to watch a country which has been in the very heart of the change that is taking place around the world. I would marvel at the perfectly shaped bottles of Coca-Cola, Fanta and Sprite as they replaced our Gold Spot’s and Mazaa’s in the fridges. We would not remember them so much for their brand value, but rather because we identified them with an 18 year old girl called Aishwarya Rai , who with blue eyes stormed into Aamir Khan’s house to ask for a ‘PEPSI’. Then there was the scrawny figure of Kumble, as he ran through the West Indies line up to get a career best 6 for 12 at the Indian mecca of cricket, Eden Gardens in ’93. The bearded figure of Prannoy Roy as he introduced sophistication and content in the news media, reporting with unnatural horrific expressions the demolition of the Masjid on the evening of Dec 6th, 1992.
Like every other boy in this generation, I underwent the metamorphosis from a boy to a man through that glorious phase of adolescence in college. Unknown environments led to new found perceptions, which remained encased and solidified like a hard stone in the labyrinths of my mind for a long time to come. This was a generation that witnessed the advent of internet and late nights to watch Desibaba getting loaded in 15 minutes for their first sight of carnal pleasures. This was the generation that got lost in the surreal lyrics of Morrison’s poetry coupled with excess of the most unimaginable kind. This was the generation that laughed together and found new friends while getting drunk for the first time and roaming merrily on the streets together. The generation who grew up to realize that education was not one to be gained through writing sheets and sheets of paper , but one to be lived and enriched with experience. Ironically, this is also the generation that is now dispersed and lost in all the parts of the world through irreversible realms of binary logic and late night shifts for support calls for a company on the other side of the world. They make their breads learning the most subservient expressions in the most concocted accents to live what is the great Indian service dream.
As for my father, he doesn’t visit the bridge anymore. I still see him on Friday nights on our balcony though, with that same expression of staring into the vast open distance, almost endlessly for hours. The bags under his eyes are more pronounced because of his age, and he bears the omnipresent symbol of the great prosperous middle class, the paunch.

As for the hope, I think it is still there.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Just A Few Grudges, And Certain dreams

The winds start to get a little bit stronger now. I am awake to a sight of trees, wildly swaying by each other and the almost angelic sight of raindrops touching down upon the naked parched mud. They say that when it rains really well, you can sense the gods above in heaven are happy. The pond starts to glimmer slowly, as the rain falls, in shades of silver and white. The geese cackle and the swans raise their necks in the way only they can, exuding the utmost feminine grace. It feels good as the wild breeze, almost sarcastically sometimes called as 'gentle' blows on my face in the early hours of the morning. Well, if you call 10 AM early in the morning, that is.

My mornings to the office have not always been like this. Day in and day out, I wake up to the familiar sight of the watchman sheepishly sitting in a corner, trying to catch his tiny bit of sleep. Queues are lined up at 5 in the morning to catch the first bus to work. One cannot help but to think of this sight as a grand stage, as persona after persona, inches in its own artistic glory. The line is neatly stacked up bit by bit, with actors on the stage and the instinctive expressions on the face. You cannot fake that. It's the time when a guy actually goes to work. Bodies shove each other, with marks of disgust and a funny sense of acceptance etched together on their faces.
I know, being in the city does that to people. I also empathise the almost magical affection every guy has in this city with hope. And perhaps, that is the most stark part about living in a city. The hope.

"Apko Jaana kahan hain?"

His pipe is almost a brownish shade of black. It looks worn out, but classic. The tobacco looks understandably, half filled. The whorls and the frown above the eyebrow indicate he is probably in the fag end of his life. But what really strikes you more than anything else, is the nonchalance written in the face.

"Voltas.... Yantra Park... TCS"


Shared rides in the suburbs are not exactly the greatest bonding sessions. Well, not to me anyway. Inside the rickshaw, we look like 3 different men on 3 different crossroads of life, though the expression on each face is markedly different. The old man continues to puff away endlessly on his pipe, his hollow eyes almost continuously staring at an emptiness. I look upon that same emptiness with a sense of confusion, trying to infuse life into this moment and to an extent , succeeding. The rickshaw driver is just another guy trying to beat the Mumbai rains, as his broken down shutter keeps reminding him from time to time.
In the silence, I hear a whimper.

" I am not sure if I really like this city anymore. The clogged roads, almost choking with human life. puddles filled with brown impure water. " At this moment, occurs the first of many pauses that are to come in this monologue.
"Dirty Stained Mud"

The rickshaw has now stopped to a signal. From the far corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse and consequently avoid the sight of gypsies rushing to sell umbrellas. Their umbrellas come in various colours. What is most haunting about them is the sight of their eyes, as one comes across the image of almost a perfect circle of uknown blue. Their umbrellas however, come in various colours. Ironically, none of them actually open it during the rains.

"Do you know why I really like my pipe so much"

"No, but I'd like to ". Probably the only words I actually said during the entire conversation.

"It's old, worn out in parts, and the colours are starting to fade. But that's what makes it all the more beautiful"

"Where do you live , son?"

"Back over there." I point. But the hosue is already lost somewhere in the concrete jungle with windows closed, signifying each one of them is already out and earning a living.

" I own a bungalow in Nasik Now. Completely deserted. The streets are eerily silent, and I do feel haunted. Not a soul runs through the streets, and in the evening , even if somebody does come along, it's a bunch of people who I really cannot understand"

"Why do you live there then? "

The old man smiled again, and went back to his pipe and his reverie. His eyes were almost blank now, drawn in, but still staring at absolute nothingness.

" To see the stars again"

After what is possibly the longest period of silence so far, the droning engine of the rickshaw comes to a halt.
“ I get down here”
“Pleasure, Son.”

Every day, the one thing that runs around in the energy of this city is a desperate search of identity. A million faces run through our wavering memory each second, as identities are formed and redrawn.

We never exchanged names. Just a few grudges and certain dreams.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

A Dreamin Man Who Ran

Somewhere along the way
There was a little kid
Who got lost
chasing his dreams.

A flight of a butterfly
Suddenly, caught one day
The fancy of his eye.

He ran along, chasing it hard
Running alongwith an urelenting joy.

Met music on the way,shared a song or two
and then, unflinchingly still ran.
Here breathes the soul
Before You,
Of he who always Ran.

Here Breathes the soul
before you
Of that man.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Sojourn

Riding on an a/c taxi from Changi Airport to my residence I was surprised to see the superway that looked new. On inquiring I found out that the look was changed to promote Singapore tourism.

'New plantations and flowers. This will make people like you to come to Singapore more la.'

I was struck with an amazement that lasted a whole one hour. The median had been taken off and colourful flower baskets were laid in its it a very pleasurable feel in the 10 o'clock sun...probably at any hour of the day. The cars on the road followed strict lane discipline. Every 500 m there was a signboard giving directions, speed limits, time required to reach the prominent destinations nearby...a clear understatement - welcome to Singapore..we are a developed country and we would like you to feel at your comfortable best while you are here.
72 hours earlier I was rushing in a fiat taxi to Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport to get the earliest flight to Kolkata. 6 hours prior to that I was drinking from a bottle of bourbon with a mission to accomplish - to the last drop. I was drunk and the 6 am breeze gave me the warning signs of the Mumbai madness that will soon follow as the day proceeds. My taxi was not a/c and at a erroneous traffic signal made the driver bawl out

'Bhenchod, na khud jaate kisi ko jane dete hain'

My sombre self let out a smile thinking about the reaction of my co-passenger. It was my Dad. The man had come to Mumbai 35 years ago and learnt its ways. He sat there unflinchingly...the comment meant nothing to him...the indifference took away my smile. Sushil - the taxi guy - was my father's regular airportman. When you are in Mumbai and have to get around, you need such kind of point men who can answer your calls at any hour. We had called him at 5 am. I saw him rushing down the main road of Vashi and jerk to a stop...and in that quick motion throw out a passenger and his luggage...get back in and pick us up. It took him not more than 23 seconds. We were in time for the Jet Airways flight. The domestic terminal had been recently renovated. Its design will definitely evoke the Shanghai dream among all who plan to see Mumbai there. A quick check in and even quicker take off told me that the bourbon was good. Everything moved fast around thing I remember is staring from the last seat of the airbus to a mega crowd of mostly bengali chatter excited to celebrate Holi in the city of their birth...or something in that effect. I dozed off. Arriving in Kolkata airport has always been a rejuvenating experience. Even the conveyor belt reflects the laziness of the staff...of the taxi unions...of the city. The whole of Kolkata wants to sit back and sip at their cup of tea and filterless Capstan while the world kills itself by running on a mega environmentally unfriendly treadmill. And the airport is a multi-holed veil that fails to mask this image completely.
Outside, as the warm and humid Kolkata air played with my sweat pores...the bourbon began to fade. On an ambassador taxi that couldn't do more than a 60 kmph...we were riding through the empty streets streaked in vermillion red and occasional greens and purples and whites. There were people out there willing to take a shot at coloring my solemn face but the driver had warned against rolling down the windows before we left the airport. It was Holi (Dol in bengali) and I was riding my blues.
We were on our way to a town 65 km away...and the taxi steadily moved at sixty. It was an old cab and made a lot of creak and whistle. None of the indicators worked and if the driver's hand would be off the steering wheel for 4 seconds...we would be off the road. But it kept riding like a surfboard made out of plywood on a rusted steel surface. There were frequent dents on the road and even if there weren't any...the taxi would have made us felt otherwise. We were on our way to a funeral. There had been a death in the family I had not seen them for more than 3 hardly meant anything to me. I was there for my father but my indifference towards the demise was evident. To me it was a joyride before I got back to my professional lifestyle 3000 miles away. It was important for my father to see the last remains of his elder brother..I could feel that much. And I was willing to go to any length to make that happen...but as it has always been..we are all slaves of time...and I felt helpless like so many times before.
We passed through shacks and railway crossings and more shacks and dilapidated buildings and more such and not in that order until my eyes met one of the highlights. I have always been overjoyed at the sight of lush green paddy fields...spreading beyond my horizon. Each square meter of paddy alongwith the hardworking farmers and the shrimps in the thin hand-dug canals and that occasional tree amidst every 30 acres of land said to me in unison -

'Welcome back to the great gangetic plains. Hope you have a safe journey.'

I nodded mildly as if acknowledging their message. There were a few songs that I would like to listen at that moment and they moved back and forth in my head...browsing through them...I felt at peace with the lack of my mp3 player because there was music with me. When you are riding on a beat up taxi out on the small towns of rural India...of all the things you are blessed with...there is music somewhere. A lot can go wrong but the music is never over.
I glanced through the empty dashboard of the taxi...the beat up knobs and meters. At one of the toll stations that the driver stopped at...he pulled a knob from a row of 7 knobs and the engine died. I was amazed to find this obsolete system still in use...him and the rest around him never felt the need to upgrade and so was evident across the state of Bengal...just the essential. There was a plastic idol of Sri Ramakrishna stuck in the centre of the dashboard. The driver was accompanied with a sidekick. His job was not to speak...just look out on the road and other things on it. Never to complain about anything and learn the way the driver had mastered his skill of driving that tinbox of a car. For all I could see, he was a good student. He had dropped in some jarda at the corner of his mouth when we started from the airport...and all through those 65 odd kms...he kept sucking in satisfaction. At once the driver ordered an agarbatti for Sri Ramakrishna. The sidekick moved in lazy moves to find the box of incense sticks and matches...the driver guided him to the compartment in front left. Out came the box...2 sticks...a strike at the box...2 agarbattis were lit and stuck to the dashboard at some crack. Older agarbattis had left their mild burns on the pleathery surface.
'Atleast pray to the Lord before you that baba...what to teach these young generation,' the driver quipped. The sidekick took the two agarbattis out and moved them around the idol in small circles and stuck it back...disinterestedly went back to his juice of satisfaction and his dull Holi morning. I guess he was thinking about the glass of bhang that he didn't finish before leaving...or maybe he was already stoned. Whatever it was...he didn't choose to bother others with his state.
Suddenly my Dad's cell phone rang and the voice at the other end inquired about our current location. He said that the family was moving to the crematorium. They could not wait any longer. It was close to 11.30 am and were still 30 mins away. My Dad couldn't say much to stop them. He was anyway falling short of speech...away from the mild hustle bustle of taxi ride. He was riding his wave of memory with his elder brother I guess. And the lush green plains outside his window were the best screens to project from the celluloids of his memory. When a close one dies...all you care to see at that moment is the body. The Bhagwat Gita talks about the soul being immortal and the body being 'Maya'...but when it comes to the death of a loved one...we want to see the body and not think about Maya...or soul..or Bhagwat Gita..we leave that for 2 weeks after the death..when the sorrow is at a point where we need to choose between it and the pressures and committments of our own lives.
I was cursing the lack of upgrade in the entire state...had it been would have increased our chances to get there faster although we were doing a constant 60 given the empty roads. We reached just in time at the crematorium and saw the last of a loved one. There was an air of sadness and stench all around. In a grid of 3x3 there were 9 bodies of the very poor and helpless. My uncle was a well known Vet in the town and so had the precedence over others. All others had to wait. The longer you wait before a dead body..the harder it gets to stop the stop the images of better times in our rest the abrupt end of our promised better times. We are so populated as a country that even our dead have to wait in a queue before their last rites.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Fishing For Souls

Golden Oaks
Against the Vast Grey Sky
Its time to go fishing for souls
With My Bloodshot Eyes.

Come, My Love,
time does not stand still
For your stare or sighs,
You and I must go
Fishing For Souls
With our bloodshot eyes

The World will run around
In A Wild goose Chase,
for Their share of
Truth and lies
You and I must go
Fishing for souls
With our bloodshot eyes.

Silent Churches will call for myths
And Merry drinkers
Will continue to make love
To their good Ol' Rye
You and I must go
Fishing For Souls
With Our Bloodshot eyes.

A journey has begun,
An eternal river crossed,
The waters therein,
Have run dry.
But still we must go
Fishing For Souls
With our bloodshot eyes.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

At Sea

The weekend had arrived. A group of friends were on heading to Pune. Another friend was already doing the preliminary round at the countries most sought tourist spot, his eyes gazing over the white sands, smooth skins and across the blue ocean. The cute friend was on the way to the capital of the city. Another punter some where, I guess, was riding his bike making arrangements to drench his throat in a dry state.

So by noon I was swifting through the streets of Bandra. Through the swarming people, under the billboards and on the road, cruising beside dreams homes of the celebrities, rich and the affluent and on the other side, the vast sea. Perhaps at that moment, it was the most perfect place I could reach too. And as I drove past the sea, billowing smoke, with gushing winds caressing the hairs and swiping the sweat from the face, I realized the sea was always there for me. I was at sea.

And while I was sitting at the sea side coffee shop, I saw a young girl pass-by with blue striped sleeve less tank top which hugged her seductively curvaceous body and frilled skirt over her toned legs. And the whiff of the perfume while she passed was enough for me to forget that it was AIDs awareness day. But I was at sea and I had music somewhere within me. So I smiled and she smiled in return. And for a while, the smile was so seductively inviting that would put the devils head to rest.

And when I gazed over the Arabian sea for a food for thought, I realized that for this while, I had no need for any nourishment. It’s a lonely planet and I was busy dreaming to sail at the sea.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Remember when,
For the first time,
You felt like your
existence was merely an illusion.

That was bliss.

Remember when
for the first time,
A soul in you quivered,danced
when the music actually played.

That was bliss.

Remember when
for the first time,
things begal to Unravel

That was bliss.

Everything that has
To Be Seen,

Is nothing but this.

So this surely must be BLISS.