Thursday, September 28, 2006

Auf Wiedersehen... vielleicht...

I wonder what its like, to do something for the last time. I wonder what goes through the head of individual when they realize they are doing something for the last time. Dead men walking the green mile, a mother letting go of a stillborn baby, a doctor watching a patient dying, unable to do a thing about it. It must hurt. And yet, one can take consolation in the fact that they have known, that they have been given the time go prepare for it. Whatever that entailed.

And yet there must be so many last times that a person goes through everyday, unknowing, without even being given the opportunity to say farewell, let go and perhaps grieve. A friend from school you never stayed in touch with, an uncle who you never really knew. So many of them. Several of them that you haven’t even realized to date.

Maybe I’ve been thinking about this because I recently lost a grandmother. Someone who I was very close to in my childhood days. When she eventually moved to Bombay, there were distances in more ways than one. The stately old lady who used to make me mounds of coconut chamandi with her knurled hands, was just another elder person who harrowed me. Just before she passed away, we ended up connecting over the most unlikely thing, math. I had an exam the next day and we ended talking about negative integrals. This from a lady who still believed that ghosts resided in crows!!

After the exam, we ended up talking late that night about different things. About the annual visits to Kerala with a ton of cousins which had slowly dwindled over the years. The rice paddy field visits. The power outage. Everything. At one point I wondered when it all began. She said she didn’t know when it began but she knew when it had happened for the last time. Cousins grew up and became judgmental adults. Families got richer and drifted apart. But my amooma still remembered the last time the lot of us sat down and ate three jackfruits and got sick later. “Its important you remember the last times” is what she said, in her painstaking forced English. “Sleep and tomorrow I’ll tell you how to identify the sex of a baby still in the belly”. This was 10 pm. 8 am the next day, my amooma passed on. For the last time ever, she looked at me, called me “mole”, something only she does and drifted away. For the last time. This time I was prepared.

I was looking through my life lately over the last couple of years trying to identify if there were more last moments that I could perhaps still salvage.

I remember saying goodbye to a country I called home for five years, knowing I would never be back.

I remember touching the feet of my great grandmother and my mutachchen knowing they wouldn’t be around the next time I came to Kerala

I particularly remember hugging a friend goodbye. She’s still around but we aren’t friends anymore.

I still remember looking at my baby brother’s face the day he was brought home from the hospital knowing that was the last day I would be the baby of my house. I took a couple of years to get over that one…

I wish I had said goodbye to the scores to friends I left behind on different continents.

I wish I had the time to apologize to apologize to a friend I had wronged and I never saw him again.

I wish I didn’t have to say goodbye to a beloved friend who had moved to another continent and we both knew this was the final goodbye.

Yet, how do you say goodbye, whether the wrenching apart is sudden or unexpected or unexplained or long coming. In whatever form, it’s painful. How does one say goodbye?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Attention Readers Digest!

another forward i got... thought it was quite a good read.... more later...

Today's Mid-Day edit begins by saying that you don't need to be a rocket cientist to understand that the chain of events starting from the Bhiwandiriots to the desecration of Meenatai's statue and what happened as anaftermath, to the serial blasts on the trains yesterday, means somebody somewhere wants Mumbaikar's to spill out on the streets and grab each otherby the throats.

Incidentally, these same somebody-- the faceless outcasts that they stillare-- have at least succeeded in one part of their plan. Mumbaikars have actually spilled out on to the streets.

The catch here is that they have failed to succeed in the second and mostimportant part of their plan: that of getting Mumbaikars to grab each other by the throats. Mumbaikars spilled onto the streets-- in a collective show of the middle finger to those who proposed otherwise.

I know very well that you are already aware of how Mumbai stormed onto the streets to help the injured, the stranded and soothe the injuries that werestill gaping along its life line.

There were capsules and capsules of streaming video that showed themoffering water and refreshments to people stranded on SV Road and theEastern and Western Express Highways.

There were captures of students of Sydenham and SNDT college, who camped at Churchgate station with the sole purpose of offering a bed to thosestranded at the starting node of the life line.

And there was also that memorable grab of people standing patiently infront of KEM Hospital-- all in a serpentine queue, to donate blood. Aresult of which has been a no-shortage syndrome, when it comes to blood atall the hospitals where the injured are being treated or are recuperating.But this is not about all that. And yet, it is about all that and more.

Itis about the sights I saw and the people I met with, while travelling alongthe Western Express Highway to Kandivali yesterday, between 7 in the evening and one in the morning.

It is about that little kid and his grandfather near Dadar, who, perhaps inthe absence of anybody else in the household, took to the streets withbottles of water and packets of biscuits to contribute in whatever way possible in managing the crisis. "Uncle, you must be thirsty," the kid toldme while offering the bottle. A parched me drank gratefully. And I saw inthose eyes no fear. So what did those terrorists think while planting the bomb? That was at least the silent way of making one statement-- "Terror,my foot.!"

It is also about those housewives in front of a housing society near SantaCruz, who were standing with pots of piping tea, water and God only knowswhat else to help those passing by. And they had this board beside them which read "Beyond Borivli, Can Stay'. I was lucky to get a cab, but therewere people who were trying to make it on foot. And they needed succor.Rest. Shelter. It was raining.

It is about the autorickshaw driver, who finally reached me home in theinteriors of Kandivali at 1 in the morning. And refused to take the nightfare, despite being legally empowered to charge extra. "Nahi saab, aaj kibaat alag hai. Aap thik thak ghar pohuj gaye, yeh hi kafi hai," he bade me goodbye at my doorstep.

It is also about the dabbawala who provides me with my dinner everyday. Hisshop is near the Borivli station, where there was one of the biggest blastsat 6:34 in the evening. Yet, at one o clock in the morning, the dabba was here.
waiting at my doorstp to be picked up. It didn't need a note. The piping hot food at such an unearthly hour said it all.

The terrorists succeeded in synchronising a series of blasts that stoppedthe Mumbai lifeline for somewhere around seven hours. That was all thatthey achieved on 7/11. The trains were back on track by 1:30 in the morning and they plied all through the night. I wonder if the masterminds willconsider this before planning their next attack. I would urge them to-- ifthis reaches any one of them-- to rethink. After all, what did a year of planning, six months of smuggling dangerous explosives, extensive netwroking and crores achieve at the end-- arond 200 lives and just seven hours of disruption? In the deal they united more than they dreamt to rip apart.

And by the way, I did not spot any member of the celebrated Readers' Digestsurvey team yesterday on the roads. Or perhaps they were there--reconsidering their statement.

I request whoever receives this, to forward it to as many people aspossible. At least that way, we will build an opinion against these aceless faces of terror--

Sudip Ghosh
Deputy Editor
Times of India,

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My City Strongest

This is a forward i received... not the best language or writing skills or expressed sentiments. Not even original but for me, it represents the spirit of my city. and for whats it worth, im proud of being a Bombayiite.

I was the lucky one who didnt step out of her house on that fateful day. But if watching the footage was thatpainful, I cannot even begin to imagine the real trauma. He gives and He takes away. My sincere prayers to all those who lost their loved ones in the crash. May our Lord be holding all in his arms, and bring peace and comfort to their families and the ones they have left behind.

Dear Perpetrator,

I hope you're reading this. Time and again you tried to disrupt our lives - killing innocent civilians, planting bombs in trains, buses and cars. You have tried hard to bring death and destruction, cause panic and fear and create communal disharmony but everytime you were disgustingly unsuccessful. Do you know how we pass our life in Mumbai? How much it takes for us to earn that single rupee?

If you wanted to give us a shock then you failed miserably in your ulterior motives. We are not Hindus and Muslims or Gujaratis and Marathis or Punjabis or Bengalies. Nor do we distinguish ourselves as owners or workers, govt. employees or private employees. We are Bombayites. And we're proud of it.On the last few occassions when you struck (including the 7 deadly blasts in asingle day killing over 250 people and injuring 500+ in 1993), we went to work next day in full strength. This time we cleared everything within a few hours and were back to normal - the vendors placing their next order, businessmen finalizing the next deals and the office workers rushing to catch the next train. (Yes the same train you targetted)

Fathom this: Within 3 hours of the blasts, long queues of blood donating volunteers were seen outside various hospital, where most of the injured were admitted. By 12 midnight, the hospital had to issue a notification that blood banks were full and they didn't require any more blood. Thenext day, attendance at schools and office was close to 100%, the crowds were back.The city has simply dusted itself off and moved on - perhaps with greater vigour.We are Mumbaikers and we are one.

The spirit of Mumbai is very strong and can not be harmed.
Do your worst!

The Bombayiites

Monday, June 05, 2006

Bitter Strawberries Sylvia Plath

All morning in the strawberry field
They talked about the Russians.
Squatted down between the rows
We listened.
We heard the head woman say,
'Bomb them off the map.'

Horseflies buzzed, paused and stung.
And the taste of strawberries
Turned thick and sour.

Mary said slowly, 'I've got a fella Old enough to go.
If anything should happen...'

The sky was high and blue.
Two children laughed at tag
In the tall grass,
Leaping awkward and long-legged
Across the rutted road.
The fields were full of bronzed young men
Hoeing lettuce, weeding celery.

'The draft is passed,' the woman said.
'We ought to have bombed them long ago
.''Don't,' pleaded the little girl
With blond braids.

Her blue eyes swam with vague terror.
She added petishly,
'I can't see whyYou're always talking this way...'
'Oh, stop worrying, Nelda,
'Snapped the woman sharply.
She stood up, a thin commanding figure
In faded dungarees.
Businesslike she asked us, 'How many quarts?'
She recorded the total in her notebook,
And we all turned back to picking.

Kneeling over the rows,
We reached among the leaves
With quick practiced hands,
Cupping the berry protectively before
Snapping off the stem
Between thumb and forefinger.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Pablo Neruda - Tonight I Can Write

no special meaning here , just one of the better declarations of regret i had seen in a while... i hope he really did love her.. otherwise it would be just a waste...

Pablo Neruda - Tonight I Can Write

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example, 'The night is starry
and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance.

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is starry and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

My sight tries to find her as though to bring her closer.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another's. She will be another's. As she was before my kisses.
Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.

translated by W.S. Merwin

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Dreams Defered

No political views being made here. Don’t expect to see sense at the end of this. This is a disclaimer.

I first came across a poem called What happens to a dream deferred several years ago. When i was still in school when my dad gave me an Encarta. Thrilled at the prospect of my first CD Encyclopaedia, I clicked on something at random and the room was suddenly filled with the chocolate voice of Hughes reciting his own work. More than the timbre of his voice, I remember the pain in just the recitation, a repetition of something that he had probably read several hundred times.

That set off a train of thought which still continues... What does happen to a dream deferred? How does one face reality or normal life after that? Knowing that you are capable of and deserve so much more? Knowing that life will be just a little worse.

I came across an essay by Jack Lessenbarry where he narrates the hypothetical scene recreation if he were to meet Martin Luther.
He states and I quote, "....I would also have to tell him that we’ve pretty much failed at becoming the America he dreamed about. I’d have to tell him that in the America of 2005, integration mostly just means the time from the day the first black family moves in to the time the last white family moves out. I would have to tell Martin Luther King that many black Americans in 2005 have lives of despair without hope. That too many of them live in a twilight world that the upper classes -- black as well as white -- try to ignore. And I would tell him that while children are still made to memorize parts of that great speech, too many adults have forgotten the line about white people. “Their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. “We cannot walk alone.” "

That’s one dream deferred. A rather famous one at that.

But to travel back to our mundane existence, where one is forced to face failure and compromise everyday, how does one face a deferring dream? Having to postpone one's deepest desire leads to destruction. The dream forced to sit idle hardens into an unusable substance of thoughts that have separated themselves from the goals and formed idle destructive thoughts that are crusted over with despair, doubt, anger, and hatred. Violence, guns, the works...

Much later in my academic life, when I was forced to study this as a part of my curriculum, is when the meaning of this poem truly sunk in and suddenly a whole lot of pieces fell into place. That and a piece in the paper today that is what I assume prompted this post.

A piece in the paper narrated the stoning of an old man in a train going to Belapur, that he may incur permanent blindness, the reference to the serious problem that it was a couple of years ago, the reasons why there is this much rage on the streets of Bombay, interviews with a psychologist and some political people, , how Bombay the once safe city is now rearing its ugly head, the usual gamut...

Lets focus on Bombay for a while, shall we? Bombay, the land of the washed out dream. Every day, people spend thousands of rupees and patronize Bollywood, which methodically churns out impracticable movies where there are Swiss locales and dancing women, opulent lifestyles and the light at the of a really short tunnel. The masses lap it up. It’s the closest that they'll ever get to such a lifestyle. Their own Technicolor escapist dream.

Think about it. In many ways, the masses we scorn and shrug off are equal if not better than the rest of us. I'm not trying to make any political statements here. But if a street urchin was given all the basic middle class home takes for granted, say a home, 3 square meals a day, a comfortable life, a home to come back to, an academic qualification, what are the chances he wouldn’t live under the poverty line a decade from now? True, the more qualified get the job, but who takes care of the qualifications? Who makes sure there is money enough to go to school and make something of yourself? Who pays the engineering fees or the architectural fees or the MBBS fees? And we’re talking about degrees in Indian, mind you. Or worse, even if you have a degree, who is to say that you will get a job given the rat race? And with reservation these days, who's to promise higher education is even an option that can be considered?

Now lets look at things from their eyes. They see rich kids in shiny cars, they see an education that is taken for granted, they see question papers being bought and answered, they see MBA's from the US, they see skimpy clothes and kitsch frothy careers like acting or designing or whatever that involve little labour and much returns. They see social evils being perpetrated and not a soul to show them up. They see Lady Fortuna place their hands on those privileged few and turn her back on the others. They also see that the offspring of the privileged also inherit that hand of fortune. They see it every single day of their lives. They also painfully see that they may never have a lifestyle like that. Ever. They see their personal dreams being bled out. A little every day. For the rest of their lives.

They see it when they clean the filth of the street.

They see it when they clean the sanitation pipes.

They see it when they are washing the behinds of dogs probably better treated than they are.

They see it when they scrub the sick off backseats where a night of excesses has decided to present itself.

They see it when six months salary is blown up on a birthday party in a fancy nightclub.

They see it in their eyes, the scorn, the smirk and utter disrespect because they are children of a lesser god.

The spewing rage, the mounting violence, the escalating suicide rate.. Do you blame them?

I now leave you with the immortal words of Poet Laureate Hughes. In his poem, Hughes places particular emphasis on Harlem, a black area in New York that became a destination of many hopeful blacks in the first half of the 1900s. Now, in a different century and on a different continent, I think the reference still fits.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore-- And then run? Does it stink like?

rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over-- like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Story of Steffi

We brought someone back with us.”

Mahsa looked at me apprehensively as she said this to me. Katherin looked pretty apprehensive too. Since like most Europeans I knew, they were sympathetic towards all gods’ creatures, I was sure they lost their heart to a little chimp or a lame puppy on the street or something to that effect. Hell, they had just driven back from Goa only a few hours ago. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a full-grown black bear in the boot. “So, what is it?” I asked. Before she could say anything, a tall fair blond young child, more striking than pretty, with facial characteristics unmistakably German jumped out of the car with a boisterous exuberance that could come only out of extreme youth. “Hi! Im Steffi!” she chirped, shaking my reluctant hand.

I cocked an eyebrow to Mahsa, who laughingly said she’ll explain later. Later on, sitting in their overpriced little apartment, she did. Stephanie was someone they had met on the beach and later in a bar. being German, they got talking and realized that she had been in Goa a really long time, did not have a steady job, no family no money no prospects nothing at all in the whole world. She needed to come to Bombay as she had a friend here who could help her get a job. He would also give her a place to stay. So they were to give her a ride and a place to stay for the day and would drop her off to a friends house the next day.

“Is that a good idea?” I asked. I was 21 and much too realistic and snarky for my age. A hereditary strain of sarcasm and cynicism didn’t help matters. “How do you know she won't murder you in your sleep and run away with everything you have? I agree, she’s from your country but that isn’t always the best judge of character. ”

She’s seventeen” Katherin remarked dryly, “ I don’t think she’s gonna kill anyone anytime soon.”

Seventeen!! I looked at her, just getting out of the shower, blond hair dampened darker, singing loudly and tunelessly, carelessly wrapping a towel around herself. She seemed much too old for seventeen. Even by non-Indian standards. I thought she was twenty five or more. Definitely not seventeen! That little bit of information didn’t ally my fears at all. She didn’t look or sound or behave seventeen. Something was definitely fishy i thought.

She bounced into the room. “What should i wear to a photo gallery?" She asked the room at large and bounced right out without waiting for a response. Okay, she was definitely behaving a little younger now.

The photo gallery in quotation was the Express photo exhibition held annually. A collection of all the best photographs taken by photojournalists all around the world, it was something I looked forward to, every year.

In the longish car ride getting there, Stephanie unfolded her life story bit by bit, emotional yet candid, about how she was hooked on crack by age six, was thrown out of her conservative household by age nine, how she wandered illegally into Switzerland and lived on the streets for a year, busing tables, waitressing doing anything to get her fix. Eventually she hooked up with a couple of students, all on their way to India. They all pooled in for her airfare, brought her to gGoa and she’s been there ever since. Her narrative didnt potray herself as a victim or without responsibility. Something i found quite refreshingly different about her.

“How did you live there?” I asked.

“ Well, I did all the stuff I did in Switzerland, I danced some because Indians like me. And when nothing else worked, I did soft porn. Nothing dirty!” She hastened to add, seeing my aghast face. Mahsa looked sideways at me and decided to say nothing for the moment.

From the closeted conservative upbringing that I have had, I was scandalized. Porn was not even an option for most people I knew. In morality-ridden Indian society, even more not an option. And definitely dirty. In fact, the conceept of clean porn was alien to me. I was so shaken I was speechless. The rest of the ride passed in silence.

We got to the venue eventually. Then we meandered in different directions looking at the different photographs, each forming our different private interpretations. Half an hour later, I had just wandered around corner when I heard uncontrollable sobbing. Stephanie was sitting on the floor, mascara running down her cheeks, crying over a … photograph? A closer inspection of the photograph showed me a picture, a sepia toned study of two crack addicts, mother and teenage son lying on a bed smoking their crack pipes.

I sat down on the floor next to Stephanie, watching her cry, not knowing what I could do, and not knowing what caused her such anguish. Fifteen minutes of heart wrenching sobs, a glass of water and much hiccupping later, she calmed down enough to talk. She missed a family, she never had a moment like that with her mother, father or sister, no happy little family traditions, no silent Sunday afternoon naps with her family, no mother daughter shopping expeditions, nothing. In that moment sitting on the plush floor of an upmarket gallery in the middle of Nariman Point, I saw Steffi for what she really was, a lost little child craving her kin, someone who needed a family to ask about her.

I led her out of the gallery and sat down with her on the wall facing the Arabian Sea, listening to her shaky voice talk. For an hour I listened. About her struggle with cocaine, her victory, about her still occasionally smoking hash when she gets a craving for something chemical, about how she hoped to go back to Germany and look up her parents.

“Suppose they don’t accept you, suppose they aren’t willing to let go of old wounds?” I asked. I’m a product of Indian morality, remember?

“That’s okay. I just want to see them once. If they don’t want to accept me, I’m okay with that. I wont ever stop being their daughter. “ She smiled.

I shrugged noncommittally. In my head, it’s all very well for people to talk about it, try being in it and lets see what you have to say. As if she read my mind, Steffi reached out and grabbed my hand and said one of the wisest things I’ve heard to date.

“ Happiness is about little things, you can’t hold on to grudges forever. There is happiness in forgiveness, in letting go. There is happiness in small places. You just need to let them find you. Miracles do happen.”

Discomfited by undeniable wisdom from one so young, I grunted noncommittally and bought a bag of chopped up sugarcane from one of the street vendors. As she ate, I watched the juice dribble down her chin and the ocean lights reflected in her eyes and wondered at the mettle of the girl that had brought her halfway around the world into the care of total strangers. It suddenly struck me that her undeniable faith that brought her to us and not to unsightly characters so abundant in the city.

Of course her faith was tested again, she borrowed my cell phone to make a call to her friend in Bombay to see what he could do for her. Turned out he was on a chemical high that night when he made all those promises to her. Now that he was home and in his senses, it didn’t make that much sense. He’s sorry and he wishes her all the best. Steffi couldn’t be bothered. She sat chewing her sugarcane bits, faith in the her private little system intact.

It worked too. There was a job fair happening pretty close by and we wandered in there later just to use the loo. Five minutes later, Steffi got a job offer as a waitress on a cruise liner going to Frankfurt. She would leave within the week.

At their house that evening, Katherin, Mahsa and I watched Steffi sleep wondering at the power within this child- woman. The thing she wanted the most at that time was her family and she had already made her peace with the fact that they may not want the same thing from her. In my head, that took a lot of strength. Along with breaking a cocaine habit, something i hear is nearly impossible. that girl had acquired a lifetime of strength in sixteen short years. The path she wove through the universe could have gone so awry. But she never lost faith in miracles. Or the happiness.

I likt to think it was because she is young. Whe we were younger, we believed in guardian angels, in Santa Claus, in the tooth fairy, you name it. When we were younger, we were happier because we believed there was someone looking after us, we believed in the inherent goodness of the world, we trusted until there was a reason to distrust.

Early next morning, something woke me up and I wandered out into the living room. There was a Steffi-shaped indentation on the couch, still warm, but no Steffi. My wallet was also missing. My heart had just decided to scream when the front door opened and Steffi walked in casually and tossed my wallet back to me. “I had gone out for a walk and found this on the stairs.” she said. At the time, I didn’t know whether to believe or not. Later, when my inherent cynicism forced me to check my wallet, it was untouched. Everything was as it was. It was time I learnt to keep the faith.

A few days after that, we waved goodbye to a cab with a tearful Steffi in it. The cab would take her to the liner which would take her to Frankfurt, where her parents lived. She didnt call ahead. She wanted to surprise them. I, who used to pride myself on being unemotional, found it difficult to get rid of that lump in my throat.

Today, three years later, I still wonder what happened to that child. I wonder if she reached home okay. I like to think she did. I like to think her parents welcomed her with open arms and forgiving hearts. I like to think she would have had some well earned family moments with them. With her unflinching faith in the universe, it would make a rightful ending to this story.

But every time I look at the glittering moonlit sea or look at a sepia toned photograph, I think of a young lady who waltzed into my life, forcing me to look at things positively. I used to believe in angels a long time ago. Maybe Steffi was my angel's messenger. I like to think so.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

I came back to an empty house that evening.

I came back to an empty house that evening. I do everyday but that day it seemed emptier than most days. Didn’t know it was possible. Varying degrees of emptiness. Like varying degrees of alone. Turned the light on and sunk into the all-forgiving bean facing the sofa. Had it really been that long? Felt like yesterday, he sat on the farty settee and cringed embarrassed at the noise.

I’ve lived here for nearly a year, all alone. Never before has this house felt oppressive. Except now.

It used to be home, this house. Once upon a short time. In all its dusty glory, I had found or maybe cultivated a vibe, a peace that was to tide me over several quiet evenings. The bookshelf with its several indefinites absorbed my weekends. You never lack friends with books. The television filled the house up with a comfortable semblance of living. The DVD player was actually used once in a while. Even when the house was full, I was quite happy being alone in it.

Not anymore. The obscurity takes on a tangible masquerade; I can feel it creeping up on me. Slowly. Steadily. Ever so ominously. The feeling snakes into me, curling into a bit in my belly. Tightening steadily. Threatening to choke me. Every time I turn around I can just see it lurking around the corner. The lava lamp, the twinkling fairy lights, the vanilla candles flickering in their glass cases, the Chinese lanterns, the Buddha lamps shedding their own shy sorrow, nothing seems to quell it.

His presence had already permeated the dinky place. The walls echoed his laughter at times. The fairy lights were still up and twinkling like they were on LSD. Need take them down soon. Hell, I needed to take them down a couple of months ago. But they provide comfort. A familiar comfort all those bottles of vodka didn’t provide. A half smoked reefer lay positioned in the ashtray, stray sheaves of rizla surgically elongated, scattered everywhere.. He had put all the lights up. Insisting that there should be lights put up for Diwali. That was one of our better evenings.

Lounging around in the living room over several cases of beer, the fireworks outside had intrigued him. Where he came from, Diwali didn’t exist. He was eager to be initiated.

Soon oil stains dotted the carpets and mats, candles were being lit and placed everywhere, fairy lights in several colours and sizes were strung on every window. Overpriced sweets wrapped in festive yellow cellophane; crinkling merrily, the lights twnkling off it, clothes were bought and worn that same evening, laughingly ridiculing the crude fit of Indian clothing on Europeans.

We watched from the window, families dressed in their best meeting with others. Happy couples walking hand in hand. Children screaming around the lawn. Lights sparks fire colour noise everywhere. The crescendo of excitement steadily rising within the city. Hardly a romantic setting, however that evening was enchanting. My Diwali gift was something I had admired several times in the windows of Bombay Store. A large box full of scented candles. I thought it perfect. Almost.

Six hours. Six hours of sheer bliss, of some kind of a hope, of the light at the end of the tunnel. Six hours on an incredible high, of unbridled laughter. Six hours of being comfortable in another’s skin, realizing that barriers don’t really exist. Six hours when circumstances, emotions, mood, everything came together in a harmony of near perfection. Almost

God has a depraved sense of humour. Or maybe he’s just a man, Maybe not. I dont know. Three months later. My house still looks like its lit up for Christmas. The fairy lights mock me. Mock the light no longer there.

He’d always been proud of his cell phone, in the way only men are. Ironically it was a cell phone that ended us. A phone call from his father. He had been away too long. He needed to be back. Work was pending. His studies were pending. His family missed him. It had been too long. Come back. Blood is thicker than water. I couldn’t win.

We talked a lot that night. He couldn’t stay on. I couldn’t leave. On the last day of Diwali, we bid each other adieu.

At first there were phone calls and emails. A flower, books, promises never intended to be kept. Then life caught up and all communication dwindled. The occasional e-card still marked what once meant the world to both of us. Today the email had bounced back. Account no longer exists. The last link snapped. Electronically. Almost funny. Almost.

His empty pack of cigarettes mocks me. So does a certain denim jacket pegged forgotten behind the door. The open bottle of beer steadily skunking on the shelf. A forgotten bottle of cologne. Memories galore. Unwelcome at this time.

I pick up the reefer and look for a the paper sack. Locate the card and the straws. Snap the seal on the Smirnoff. Switch my phone off. Turn up the music. maybe today it will drown out my thoughts. Look around the room one last time.

This house used to be alive. Once upon a time. Just like me.
The fairy lights twinkle on.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Gay Space

The other day I did something singularly enlightening. I watched a movie.

Don’t get me wrong. I do get out. But the movie I saw was Brokeback Mountain, which is a good movie, no doubt. Not spectacular. Good, excellent in parts. That wasn’t what prompted this. It was everything else.

I saw this movie with a friend on a DVD at home and I quite liked it. Not because it had a gay theme or it was what they term “bold” or anything, but because it had a nice feel to it. Because few movies have been able to show unconditional love so well, let alone homosexual love between men. Because the lovemaking scenes were extremely well shot. Because like most exceptional films, the movie captures certain moments frozen in time, because it shows the travel through time and space extraordinarily well. Because it fills you with a bittersweet symphony of emotions and quite a lot of food for the thought.

What really set this thought process off was a lazy Sunday brunch in a snooty restobar in a tony Pune suburb. A group of my friends, all between the ages of 26-32, all known to be highly erudite, extremely sophisticated, very well informed in terms of art, literature, popular culture and current affairs. The kind of people who would understand Cubism and the Blue Period. The ideal set if you’re looking for intelligent company in the world of the challenged.

Or so I thought.

I was sitting pretty on my third cosmopolitan filled up with the best brunch money could buy, on a very happy high, listening indolently to several animated conversations at once. Then someone said, “oh, have you heard? Its true. Aditya’s gay!” Aditya being the best-loved boy on the social scene. I had met Aditya. He was extremely handsome, nice, funny, sophisticated with a wicked sense of humour, London-returned with a seductive British accent, a spiffy sense of clothing, old moneyed, understated and chivalrous to the core. Apparently they had their suspicions all along because he was 27 and hadn’t even remotely been linked with any girl. In the same breath, that they would slash any book or movie, they meticulously began to dissect this boy who was a large part of their social circle, how he’s a stain on this upper middle class parents, the reasons as to why he’s gay, the repercussions thereafter, life for him from this point on, now that everyone knows…

The feeling of content peace in my heart began to spiral downwards into my belly making a vicious knot on some feeling which I still cant identify and simultaneously left a filthy taste in my mouth. I know people are hypocrites. Thats fine. I can deal with that. But this entire volte-face because of one boy’s sexual orientation is something I refuse to put up with anymore.

I remember another time when this dirty feeling had hit me. Hard. Ironically, there was a movie involved there as well. Boys don’t cry. My friend and I had gone to watch that movie, At the age of 19, it was quite emotionally scarring to watch. But what was more scarring was the reaction of the audience.

Just to give you a backdrop, we were sitting in a movie hall in uptown Bombay, Sterling to be precise, Sunday afternoon. The crowd was the usual motley bunch, young people and old people alike. We were probably the youngest there.

Anyone out there who has seen the movie will agree with me when I say its one hell of a difficult movie to watch. The raw pain and the sheer emotional, physical and sexual violence still send violent shivers down my spine. There were five others in the theater who thought that way. The others laughed their way through it all.

They laughed when they saw Hilary Swank struggle to cover her sexuality.

They laughed when they realized that the character of Lisa actually fell in love with another girl

They laughed when she was gang raped by two men she once thought friends.

They laughed uproariously when the social worker asked her if she had been raped and she said, she doesn’t know.

They laughed when she died in the end.

The Indian audiences defense mechanism when faced with an uncomfortable situation. They laugh. Mature.

Six years later, the situation hasn’t changed much.

Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t a vitriolic rant because I couldn’t watch a movie in peace. It’s the entire attitude shift when the word homosexuality emerged. And more so, it’s the Indian attitude to it.

We’ve all seen the usual tryingly rehearsed discomfited expression a man has around a gay man. Like there is potential harm to his virtue as a man. (What virtue, one might ask but that’s another long story there.) I personally still don’t see why every heterosexual man needs to think that every gay man will be attracted to him but whatever.

We have all seen body language change in front of two gay men.

We also have seen it change pretty drastically and diametrically I might add when the two gay people in question are women.

We have all lived through the elbow nudging, the snickering the video camera slant jokes.

We have tolerated the use of words like queer, faggot, fag, pouffe, femme in several derogatory contexts and laughed at all the portrayal of homosexuality in mainstream pop culture.

We have cultivated a homophobia that wasn’t ever a part of Indian culture. Not that the homosexual man is treated any better in Europe and the Americas but at least their existence is acknowledged. At least they can sit in the same room and make self-deprecating sitcoms about being a mo in the real world.

In fact, The West sees India as the country that gave humanity the first, most scientific and most explicit treatise of
love. The temple carvings of Khajuraho depict sexual practices more advanced than most of its contemporaries.

Indian mythology is full of instances where people (read Gods) change gender at will, often for sexual purposes, to satisfy another person, political reasons, or even ego-directed reasons. Lord Krishna did it, and even the sagely Brahma is known to have taken the female form, but then that is not in the purview of homosexuality. The only thing these instances serve to highlight is that sex, change of sex or sexual behaviors was never taboo in ancient India.

Then why now? Why the steady digression from being one of the most evolved culture since the history of the world to one that doesn’t even know the norms of social behaviour? Why is it that our country is the only developing democracy that will physically shudder around a homosexual man, who will deride his effeminate quality, who will physically be ill when he realizes that one of his closest friends and colleague is gay? (I swear I know somebody who reacted like that)

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, was enacted by the British in 1860. It criminalizes what it calls, ‘sexual offences against the order of nature’. It does not in any place define what constitutes the order of nature, but the judicial pronouncements that have come over the past
one and half century has extended the application of this section to all forms of sexual expressions that is possible between two male persons. Every time the law or the authorities have come across instances of lesbianism, there has been a thus far unsuccessful attempt to apply this law to them as well. Homosexuality in India stands criminalized because of a mid 19th century colonial law. (so are fellatio and cunnilingus but that again is another story)

Very few
cases on this law have actually reached the upper courts in all this time, but the law continues to be a compelling tool of subjugation. It provides the impunity to a venal protection system to extort money, blackmail, indulge in violence, and extract other favors, including sexual favors, by dangling this law on homosexual males and transvestites and transsexual persons. It impedes sexual health promotion activities like HIV/AIDS Interventions amongst same sex attracted males. It discourages reporting of male rape, and therefore encourages such rape, often by police. In sum, it disrupts the social existence of all same sex attracted persons, erodes their dignity and self-respect, and reduces them to a sub-human level of existence. All because some guys like other guys. ..

Far be it from us to question or even try to change the law. Hell, we can’t even keep our streets clean. But maybe we can keep our minds a wee little more open to the feelings of others. Maybe gay bashing in India can be elevated to the real issue that it is than being stationed in its position of locker room talk, maybe a certain friend of mine could openly proclaim he’s gay without fear of losing his job, maybe one day a gay man can walk away from another group of men knowing he will not be derided.

Maybe I’m kidding myself. But I hate the feeling of not being able to do anything at all. But if anything that goes against the order of nature is deemed criminal, that maybe one should sit up and smell the mocha. the order of nature by itself is changing. And the last time i checked, Buddhist philosophy claims that change is the only permanent thing.

So that balmy Sunday morning, I did the only thing that made sense to me at that point. I put down my share of the money and made my way home.

Inconsequential? Perhaps. But at least I can sleep at night.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

the beginning .. of what?

This blog was an attempt to reach out to the writer in me. I reiterate “attempt” because as you see I haven’t done much about it so far. I have been sucked into a Corporate Vortex which has Human Resources written on it and me shackled to its door with a sword over my head. Me, the free spirited heavy metal listening grump who spent college life from inside a Discman and several Kafka write ups!!! (Dear lord, where did I go wrong?)

Right now I pretend to handle this madness they call Corporate Training. I have been told there is a method is madness. Shakespeare said it too. To a large extent, I agree. But not here.

(For the initiated, I quote incessantly At the drop of a hat and I repeat myself. Repeatedly. Therefore here it comes. )

Much Madness is divinest Sense

To a discerning Eye Much Sense --
the starkest Madness 'Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail Assent --
and you are sane Demur --
you're straightway dangerous
And handled with a Chain

My professor recited this over her half moon glasses with her beady eye searing into me in Women's Poetry, like it was a oracle of some sort. A warning if it be. A public issuance that was proclaimed over the heads of twenty odd lit geeks who didn’t hadn’t heard of Pushkin. A clear-cut sign saying, “your Armageddon is nigh. Prepare for a lifetime in a padded cell with soft walls.” Subtlety wasn’t one of her virtues.

Did it work? Lets see… I work a 10 – 7 job, which involves formal clothing, a cranky boss, the use of the words deadlines and reports and forecasting, mechanical abilities and minimal usage of my gray cells, so yeah, I guess it did.

Thoreau was right. Education did ruin me.

see you around! I think i hear chains clinking...