Train of life

Death. The final destination. Baba had once told me that we are on a train. This train has a start and a stop. At the start is a lot of pain, a lot of blood and a scream. We begin with denial. The screaming infant wants to go back where it came from. It doesn’t want to be born.

As we get used to the train’s motion, the tire jerks on a stone and for a moment our world goes upside down and then it’s back to normal again. When we start to enjoy the journey and get used to the sounds and smells in the train, we are thrust out into a platform we had no idea existed.

We are in denial at the end of the track too. We are dead. We don’t want to go where we are taken. We like the train now. But no one listens. We extend a hand seeking help, run towards the moving train, scream for it to stop, but all of that is in our minds. No one can hear us. We are dead.

Death. The final station.

In between the start and the stop comes unexpected halts where other people, whom we have grown quite fond of, deboard. That is when we see death consciously for the first time. The cold hard rubber like skin and the smell of rotting flesh subjected to the mighty fire that rises high into the sky comes first. Follows it is its old friend disgust.

When I saw the lifeless body of my father, I couldn’t recognise him. The mount of flesh that lay on the slab was not him. It didn’t even look like him. It was without essence, without his poise and without character. It was dead. It wasn’t him.

He disembarked and I kept going. After touching death and setting it on fire, I know where I am headed. All I wonder now is when?

Of luxury, old ladies and winged creatures

I am sitting in the lap of luxury as I write this. My room is a suite- bigger than an average upper middle class person’s flat. I am wearing white slippers and have central air conditioning. A bath tub with pebbles around it; half resembling an oasis in sub Saharan Africa. Separate enclosures for taking a shower and for the water closet. The bathroom unit can easily accommodate two people for days on end.

The patio has all sorts of exotic plants and that piece of heaven is at my disposal for as long as I like. There is a 6 seater dining table that makes me want to keep eating. A pleasing omnipresent fragrance (whose origin I’m yet to find) surrounds me 24/7.

Every time I look at the many mirrors in the suite, I feel like a different person. As if this life was meant for me. I feel beautiful. All of a sudden, my Levis jeans is not good enough for me. I need Secret Circus. I crave for the Jimmy Choo handbag and the Victoria’s Secret bikini set I had seen in the last issue of Vogue. Now I want it. Moreover, I want to flaunt it- that perfect hair, the perfect mind and the perfect life where I don’t need to think about my bank balance before purchasing a surface pro.

But then I feel guilty. Guilty for wanting more. How can I not be happy with what I have? Whatever happened to satisfaction? Moreover why do I need more?

At this conjecture, I meet a lady. She is a cleaning staff who comes to clean the suite. With greying hair and a warm smile, she politely asks me about the pain I need to endure every time I wear the 6 inch heels that are now lying on the floor. This innocent question leads to a conversation and she tells me about her daughter who recently got her degree.

“She also has a boyfriend now. He is a driver and about to purchase a new car,” she beams at me. She is happy for her daughter. She goes on to tell me how her favorite time of the day is feeding the birds left-over rice, early in the morning.

She recalls an instance where one of the birds had sat on her lap and demanded to be fed by her hand. Her eyes smile. That is when I realize that my joy at admiring my situation is nowhere compared to her joy at being loved by winged creatures.

Conclusion– I am never going to stop wanting more. After all, I am only human. But no matter which stage of life I am in, or what plate I use to serve food, I am determined to smile the way she did for as long as I breathe.

Memory Lane

They called it the memory lane. Those who went down the street found themselves lost in delirium and were left wanting more. I was a lonely traveler in search of perks. The blue satchel I carried had only a few hundred rupee notes and a bottle of water which had been there for the last few months. As a result my only fluid companion was left undrinkable.

They say every road has its distinct character. However this particular street didn’t seem to follow that rule. The board at the entrance said- ‘Welcome to memory lane. Hope you enjoy your visit.’

The foot paths were smooth and white in some places and in others, were grey and broken. The gravel was uneven and one could easily lose his balance on certain slippery patches. There was also a possibility of losing a foot in the puddles spread across the street like polka dots on fabric.

The buildings on the side walk belonged to different eras and the hawkers had eyes resembling hawks. An old lady with a black umbrella was walking beside me; our steps matching. She whispered, pointing at one of the hawkers who was staring rather rudely in our direction, “they watch everything, they are like the omnipresent souls that fly around in search of weakness. Be sure not to stare for too long lest your eyes be burned.”

The sky was a blur of colors. A sort of confused disco ball emanating all shades of the spectrum. In some places the clouds were blurred as if the careless painter had dropped water on his canvas under the influence of spirits and melancholy. The trees decorating the street were unusually branched as if stretching their hands as a cry of help.

But there was one tree about a kilometer down the road which was illuminated with yellow chrome and sprinkles. It looked happy; euphoric even. It could well be a wise old banyan with its roots to the ground and leaves looking like chirpy school girls in the morn. That tree was bang in the middle of the road and somehow the inhabitants of memory lane had let it be.

Nearing that tree, I heard the chirping of birds, the thundering of clouds and the call of the sea gull all at once. Don’t ask me how, but I did. I could feel my smile emerge from a place I did not know existed in me. My chest felt warm and light weight. I was nearly happy.

Further away, the diverged roads, separated by a barren patch of earth for about a few feet, converged once again. Again the disco colors returned and the hawkers could be seen perched on their porch like vigilant birds of prey. By now I was used to their stare and they had ceased to be an object of concern. They were now just background noise meant to be ignored.

The road turned into the right and scene changed. Now, instead of the hawkers, there were empty stalls and the buildings had been stripped naked. The only color in the sky was grey and the trees were burnt at the bark. I could taste the rust on my tongue. The lady beside me said, “Time is the culprit you know. Look closely and look hard. This is what we all will come to.”

It was scary and thus I increased my pace. I did not want to know the games time played on people and things alike.

The road turned yet again and this time I saw water on both sides of the road. The waves were crashing on my right and a yacht was sailing lazily on the left. The latter was calmer and monotonous whilst the former was exciting and terrifying.

A tumult of emotions overcame me. Truth be told, I did not know what I was doing there. It was supposed to be rejuvenating and refreshing. But I was left with a mixture of thoughts and feelings I could not make any sense of.

Further down the road, a few kilometers walk ahead, my journey ended. The last thing I saw was a green board which said—‘Thank you for visiting memory lane. Hope to see you soon,’ before my alarm clock woke me up just in time for class.

Onism

Airports are places which have always fascinated me. They are the doorways to different worlds. Airports- a place where one can spend a whole day without getting bored. It is a place where dreams come true and all emotion are present simultaneously in a muddled thought of different people. What are the chances that the guy next to you is not thinking the same thing you are or that the old couple in the seat across yours’ is leaving their son’s family and going home just as you are leaving home to get back to your life in a foreign city. Sometimes I feel lonely when I leave home and seeing those families going on vacation to Ladakh absolutely tear me up. Smiling faces, sad faces, indecisive faces, despairing faces, apprehensive faces, ecstatic faces, scared faces, indifferent faces, all of them together under one roof- a sort of collective thought process, all very different from each other and yet have the same underlying feeling- one of change. No other place is a classic example of how nothing in the world is ever constant. Flights leave; flights arrive; flights get delayed and flight get cancelled. Success, failure, stagnation and death all under one roof called life.

I remember having spent the Christmas of 2010 stranded in the Delhi airport with my little sister. We spent 10 hours sitting on the airport floor observing people around us. During those 10 hours, we ended up speaking to a wide variety of people. I struck up a conversation with a young man, in his early twenties sporting dreadlocks and tattoos. He was from San Marino, a small country in Europe. He had come on a tour of India and was travelling to Amritsar from Delhi. He told me about his country and how it is almost the size of Delhi. We spoke about the way people in his country are different from those we see in India.

He seemed to be intrigued by the idea of eating food using ones hands and licking the dripping curry off their elbow. The way folks in our country start talking to each other on the roads without any proper introduction seemed strange to him but interesting, nonetheless. I grilled him about how to go about travelling the world on a low budget- the dos and don’ts. He was more than happy to answer me. His trip would end in another month and he would go back to university in his country the following year.

He was travelling from west to east and had covered most of the countries. But he had to leave a few. For that, he was sad. That is when I realized that I would never be able to see the world in its entirety. No matter what I do, what job I get, how much I earn, there will be some small corner of this vast world that I would never visit.

This corner would be beautiful and have its own flaws. There would be a new kind of flower growing. The people will speak in a different tongue. They would have breakfast at a different time and might skip lunch. They would celebrate Christmas differently. The horizon would be green instead of yellow. The water would be greenish instead of blue. They would grow coffee beans in their backyard and keep lamas for pets.

So many places to see, so many things to do and I had no idea how much longer I would be stuck at that airport. My only dream is to travel the world. But now that I think about it, I will never be able to travel the world. I will probably just visit the Eiffel tower, Notre Dame, the Pyramids of Giza, the hanging gardens of Babylon and the Big Ben. But what about the rest?

The places not spoken of, not written about and not photographed. Those where no one went and even if some did, they haven’t dared to speak about them. That moment I was attacked by a sensation of impending doom. I could never fulfill my dream. Why couldn’t I have an easier dream? Something like ‘going to Disneyland and posing with Donald duck’ or ‘writing a book’ or ‘opening a restaurant’? Why did my twisted brain have to choose the impossible?

Jules Verne did claim that with the advancement of technology the world has become a smaller place and that man, if equipped with the resources, can go around the world in 80 days. But what of experiencing the very places he visits. Is it enough to have an airport view of the world? Look outside the glass walls of the huge building and see the traffic and the neighborhood. That is seeing but not experiencing.

That Christmas day, sitting on the floor of a packed Delhi airport, talking to a stranger from a foreign land whose name I was hearing for the first time, I realized what Onism was. The realization that I would never experience the whole world and that I would get only a taste of it in my mortal timespan, was a depressing one. It was like being told that Santa Claus isn’t real and it’s mom who has been leaving the gifts all this while. My dream can never be fulfilled and I would have to be content with seeing Moulin Rouge from afar.

Bangalore Diaries (Chapter 1- First Glimpse)

They say the soul of a city resides in its street. It has not been very long since i shifted to bangalore- just about a month or so. Being a typical north indian, my only encounter with the south is the few years i spend in hyderabad as a kid of four. My mind associates south india with women wearing gajras, spicy food, curd rice and a strange tongue. When the talks of my moving to this city started, i was a little apprehensive. I had heard a lot about Bangaluru– people called it the air conditioned city, the garden city, the brewery of india and so on. However, despite all the encouraging talks, the prospect of leaving my beloved kolkata was hard to digest. However with time, i warmed up to the idea.

My first impression of this city- like most others- came from the airport. Otherwise a little intimidating owing to its vastness, the airport came across as friendly and warm. The staff were welcoming and helpful folks who never lost patience despite me pestering them for my luggage which was last to be loaded on the conveyor belt.

For the past month, i have travelled around in this city mainly in the public transport– buses and autos. The locals, wearing their perpetual smile, are a treat, especially at 6 am when the eyes are heavy with sleep and the mind is just getting used to the fact that it is a new day.

I found a friend in an old gentlemen who boards the same bus as me at Spice Garden and gets off a little after Domlur. We just exchange a smile, a ‘Good morning’ and a ‘Have a nice Day’. Maybe our friendship will be limited to this, but finding a friend so easily can only happen in this city I guess.

In time, I will come to admire this city more. But at the moment, I am content with the fact that the city welcomed me with open arms and gave me smiling faces from early in the morning into the wee hours of the night.

The Trip of a Lifetime….

October, 2013

I took a ferry ride from Anacortez, a quaint little port town in the state of Washington to Fisherman’s creek, the port of a small, not so well known island called San Juan. San Juan is situated on the waters of the Salish Sea, between the Coast of Washington and British Columbia. The month long visit to the magnificent state of Washington was my mother’s gift to me for completing 18 years on this earth without getting myself into too much of trouble. The island runs on lavender cultivation and farming—mostly the Alpaca farm and other staples. It is a favorite with the whale watchers and has an untouched forest reserve which one can visit to have a rough idea of how the earth was before the humans ravaged it.

On this 2 hour long ferry ride, I met a couple—in their mid-60s who were making the trip with their dog Lassy. Lassy was a big old St. Bernard who had been with the family for ‘as long as they could remember’. I was standing on the deck of an otherwise empty ferry watching the pristine blue waters, the hillocks surrounding the bay and listening to the call of the occasional sea gull which came our way to rest on the sail, when the lady came up to me with Lassy and got talking.

The hour long discussion ranged from topic to topic and was a surprisingly effortless one, considering that I found it hard to decipher their accent and they- mine. After we covered the basics, I found that this couple had been together for 45 years. They had met in high school, went to the same college and got married after. They had no kids—just a series of highly unlikely pets, ranging from Tod the boa to Bambi the deer and currently Lassi the dog. Their life was a fairly simple one—they worked through the week and visited the island in the weekend. They were happy. When they asked me what my plans were for the future—I told them I wanted to travel the world; see all that there was to be seen. The lady smiled and said—but you do realise that you can’t possibly see everything; there will be somethings left to be seen and if you hurry, you miss out on seeing what you have and where you are. None the less she wished me luck for my future endeavors. Thereafter we disembarked the ferry and went our own ways.

San Juan was an experience I will never forget. Every detail is clear in my head. When I think about it, I can smell the salt in the air, taste the fish and chips of the Rocky bay café, feel the pebbles on the beach, the texture of the alpaca fur and see the lavender ripe for harvest in the farm. During sunset, if you wait patiently for the right moment, you can see the fleeting purple glow over the lavender farm. Those 2 days, I was euphoric and all my thought of travelling the world were gone. I would be content to just stay there. On my way back, I met them while waiting for the ferry to arrive. The lady asked me how I enjoyed and I told her that I had a great time and I would be content to just stay there for the rest of my life.

She smiled and congratulated me for seeing. They were going back to Seattle for the week, but they would be back the following weekend. That was when I envied them. They had known peace and satisfaction. They knew a lot despite having travelled to just one place for the last 60 years. They had seen and valued what was in front of them. Today, I wonder whether I will ever be able understand her smile when she boarded the ferry with her husband and dog…even after I have travelled to all the places I wish to.

Romancing the city of joy

This is the fifth time I am coming back to writing this article. Every time I write one paragraph and read through it, I hate myself for such a creation and end up deleting the whole thing. I don’t know why it is so difficult to talk about this city. The city of joy- it is called, but I feel differently about it.
Originally from Kolkata, I am what Bengalis call ‘probashi bangali’- a Bengali who has barely lived in Bengal. My earliest memories of this city are those of my childhood—of a joint family in a huge house; of laughter, of innocence, of joy and of simplicity. But those memories are very few- the reason being that I left this city at the age of six to go to Hyderabad- a city I like to call my own. Having stayed there for 5 years and having become half a rasam loving and Telegu speaking south indian, I moved to Delhi—a south to north transition. I am proud to say I did not handle it too badly, despite changing genders of other people and my own while speaking in Hindi- a language completely foreign to me. Never the less, I managed to learn a concoction of Punjabi-Hindi, Lucknowi-Hindi, and Haryanvi-Hindi and also managed to pick up the swag of a typical Delhite. The transition was so drastic that instead of talking in Bangla at home with my parents, I switched to Hindi.

By the time I completed my school life, someone sitting upstairs pulling the strings of my life decided that it was high time I trace back my roots and see the place I was born in. Getting to know it and experience its way of life was the agenda. I was apprehensive about this city—it had too many memories and too many people I knew (I always wanted college life to be an experience in a completely new city). I decided that I will stay away from my many homes in this city and explore it in my stride.

In the beginning, nothing seemed to work out—the heat was killing, the humidity was frustrating, the rains were irritating- there was mud all over and the city seemed to stop when it rained. The people were very different from my loud and bubbly Delhi friends, the academic system- a lot more serious, the roads -narrower and the public transport- stuffy and crass. For a Hyderabad- Delhi hybrid, it was too much to take.

I complained to dad; asked him how he ever loved this strange city and why it was even called ‘the city of joy’. He told me to give it time, said- ‘your life has just begun in that city; a lot of memories will be made and you need time to fall in love with it. Love doesn’t happen very easily….it is aided by habit, monotony and familiarity.’ I scoffed and cribbed, but consoled myself at the end of the day.

Someone had told me to explore the city on foot; said- ‘kolkata is a walking city, take an umbrella, a hundred rupee note, your walking shoes and start walking without any sense of direction. I’m sure you won’t regret it.’
‘Let’s try this too’- I told myself. Getting over my laziness was the first, very difficult challenge. Once that was accomplished, I took to the road and experienced a mixture of things. The architecture of the city was breath-taking and diverse.

North Calcutta, famous for its historical buildings, which are now falling apart; has an old world charm to it. You can imagine a bunch of young freedom fighters rushing out of one of the narrow, badly lit passages during the freedom struggle. Coming to Central Kolkata, you have the cleaner and more happening part of the city- a strange mix of the old British style of architecture and the modern glass buildings. Places like Park Street and Dalhousie square fall in this category. It can be called the cosmopolitan part of this city. For photography lovers, a rain washed Dalhousie square, Victoria Memorial, Maidan and the race course is a treat for their shutters. Going further south, you find the modern part of this diverse city—high rises, huge malls and relatively wider roads. Moving towards the east, you reach the river bank. This is best enjoyed during the sunset, on a boat listening to ‘bhatiali’ songs (music of the fishermen).

Gradually, even the crassness of the public transport started fascinating me and I discovered the different types of people dwelling here- all had their shells around them in the beginning but with time, trusted me enough to show me their core.
It is in this city- one which is obsessed with politics, Marxism, chai, Rabindranath Tagore, literature; one which is stuck in the past, but wants to step into the future, that I discovered myself. It is here that I understood the value of simplicity.
My relationship with this city is a complicated one—it irritates me, fascinates me and we fight almost every day. I fall for its charms every other day. I want to leave it and yet come back to it. All symptoms suggest that I might be finally falling in love with it. It looks like you were right dad!

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