Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Being in love.

I am in love. And this is what it feels like:

A drop of rainwater on a petal when you touch it. The smell of newly baked bread. When you walk along the ocean on a stormy day and mist sprays your face - hard, cool, leaves you yearning for more.

This is the real deal.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Those 3-second connections

As we were driving down the bumpy mountainous roads from Yumthang to Gangtok, I thought of train rides we took when I was little. Our parents didn’t have too much money then and we would travel to Kerala by second class non-ac in the hot summer months. Since these trains had windows that could be opened and closed (as opposed to the A/C coaches), my little brother and I would spend our time fighting for the window seat, peering out of it, and waving to passers by. We would especially look out for children of our age; he would look for boys and I would look for girls. We would even keep count and decide a winner afterwards.We would wave – wild with excitement, hair flying in the wind, hands outstretched and flaying wildly, full of glee if a wave was returned, while anxious mothers and aunts would pinch our ears gently and tell us horror stories of how they’ve seen little children’s hands get cut off by electric poles when they stretch their hands out of train windows.. yes, they would say, so many times we’ve seen that happen in front of our eyes.

What is it about those moments I miss now?, I wondered to myself as those straggly haired urchins waved madly at our car speeding down North Sikkim’s roads. Well you see, in those 3 seconds, our eyes locked, our smiles met, and we communicated: When I see you again, I will recognize and know you. Because of this moment.
We will talk about all the lands we’ve traveled by train, all the gifts we gathered from relatives, and the people we’ve seen. We will swap stories. We will be friends. We will play make-believe. We will be best friends.
Those 3 seconds locked us tight in embrace; so what if it was only imaginary?

Ah but who has the time or inclination for such trivialities now? And so I smiled to myself and looked back into my travel guide that morning. And it struck me that what I miss most about my childhood is those simple things that cost me no money and gave me so much pleasure.

All eclipsed (July 22nd, 2009)

Today was the longest solar eclipse of the century, lasting 6 minutes and 39 seconds, visible all along a 250 km corridor across Asia, witnessed by billions, as it cut through the two most populous nations of the world - India and China. In Delhi though, visibility was said to be poor, hampered on account of the monsoon clouds (‘What’s that?!’, you said? Yes, I said monsoon. MON. SOON. Ok? Mon NOT soon at all in this case, but anyhow…)

Anyway to get back to the subject, thousands gathered all across the holy city of Benaras (Varanasi), especially at the Burning Ghats, to watch the brilliantly glowing ‘Eye of God’, better known as the Corona (the sun’s atmosphere), which is visible only during a total eclipse like this one was. Thousands all over India also took part in purification rituals by bathing in the river Ganga (the Ganges) to ward off any evil that might strike during the 6 minutes that the sun god took his eye off the planet.

Unfortunately, I missed the event of the century since I had not being paying enough attention to the news. But that is not to say I was unaffected by these celestial happenings. So that day, I went down from lab to the canteen for lunch as usual, and asked for my regular 20 rupee fare – roti (leavened dry bread), sabzi (the vegetable of the day), and daal (lentil soup).

“Aaj khatam ho gaya, madam” I was informed. (It’s all over today, madam)

“Kyun?” (why?)

“Voh aaj grahan thha na, is liye koi ghar se khana nahi bana ke layen. Sab ne yaheen se khaya”
(Well, because of the solar eclipse no one has cooked food today at home. Everyone ate at the canteen)

One of the (many) ways in which North India differs from the South is that superstition (mostly connected with religious ritual) is rife among well educated people here. Not to say it is absent in the south, but it certainly much much less prevalent. The solar eclipse (‘grahan’) is considered to be an extremely inauspicious time especially to cook food or engage in household activities.

So, for lunch I mulled eating a few samosas (deep fried pastry stuffed with spicy mashed potato), a tea time snack and also the only food item available on this particular day for consumption. It is yummy, although good neither for the waistline, the heat, nor the appetite. (In my head, I could hear my mother say – “Yes Nayan, eat all that potato. You will look like one very soon!”)

“Chalo thik hai bhaiyya, do samose hi de do” I succumbed to hunger (Fine, just give me two samosas)

“Er actually madam..., voh bhi abhi just khatam ho gaya” he answered sheepishly, as he handed the last two pieces of the only consumable item at the National Institute of Malaria Research to a lanky boy ahead of me.

“Huh?!” I exclaimed loudly, a look of immense distressed clearly visible on my face.

“Sorry madam. Vaise madam, grahan ke time par kam hi khana chahiye …” (Sorry, madam. In any case madam, one should eat less during the eclipse) he offered helpfully.

Er right, I muttered as I marched off, pulling out a piece of gum to chew and shaking my fist at Mr. sun god with my other hand …

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Empty Space.

Somedays, I can be silent and scream.
Somedays, I can't find that voice.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

26/11/2008 - The Enemy.

'We are meeting the enemy, and it is us.' (unknown).

Living 2 continents away from ground zero is frustrating because the only way I have been able to vent my frustration is by writing.

In the days following 26/11, I have engaged in (mostly written) discussion with a variety of 'types' -- the indian techie in the US who believes in some sort of generic solution that he can't quite identify but believes has something to do with 'our bloody politicians, yaar', the indian political science student at the London School of Economics who is 'frickin pissed off man!, and we should just nuke that basket-case country, Pakistan', the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) cadre who thinks 'you people who don't pay tax to your own country but leave it to go to America needn't trouble yourself worrying, we have the situation under control', the rich, aloof kid living in South Mumbai who spends her time between 'Mango', the Cathedral and John Connan school, and the Bombay Gym and would you leave her out of all this please! , and the khaadi-loving, liberal indian yuppie with kohl-lined eyes, and a careless cigarette omnipresent between her slender manicured fingers. She has of course, been to pretty much every protest march, candle-lit vigil, human chain organised and is a member of every facebook 'fight terror' group there is.

Everyone is talking, everyone is angry, and everyone is saying the same thing -- our leaders have got us here. They've let us down time and again, and are nothing other than a burden on us taxpayers.
Wonderful, isn't it? If there's any one thing that the 2 billion of us can agree on, it is that our politicians should be put into a big hole in the ground and nuked. (there's cricket too, of course..)

The expression of this collective rage is something very inspiring, motivational, no doubt. To me, it is also confusing. In spite of having identified the problem (and not just once, we do it every time a disaster exposes the utter chaos and lack of planning in our emergency response), we are doing little to address it. Why the slip between the cup and the lip?

I have a theory -- Blaming someone else makes us feel like we're contributing to change. And oh let's not forget, less responsible for those 190 dead people.
But we ARE responsible. Because of our inaction. Because we chose to forget that we have a responsibility beyond just voting these guys in. Because it is our duty to give voice and action to our frustration and BRING change. Because our complacency makes us take Democracy for granted. Because we have forgotten Gandhi and the thousands of others who fought with their blood that we may live free lives and have a say in how our nation is run. Because there is too much hate for us to be able to look beyond our linguistic and religious differences and work together to root out the scum in our leadership.
So, seriously, how did WE let this happen?

An event like this was naturally followed by much discussion between some friends and I. We have spent our high school years together, and stayed in touch much longer after that. These are my best buddies in the whole world. Talking to them at a time like this made me realise how different we are. How, in the deepest recesses of our minds, we cling on to ideas branded onto our minds by that microcosm that we spend most of our time in -- our families. And how if you read between the lines, our responses belie our different perceptions about the degree to which we 'belong' to this patchwork quilt called India.

"Why can't we be like the US? They haven't seen a single attack since 9/11"
"The US is different. They don't have a 14% muslim population that has been persecuted since 1992. They don't have insurgencies."
"That is humbug. Muslims govern with us, study with us, work with us. There are quotas for them. They are part of indian society"
"But that is on paper, look at Godhra '02, look at the social, economic and educational status of muslims today"
"Well, look at '93 blasts in Mumbai by muslim extremists. And there are plenty of poor Hindus too"
"The BJP government has-..."
"The Congress is no better"
"At least they don't slaughter minorities"
"Stop it you two. This is irrelevant to the discussion. The enemy is Pakistan. The US needs to nuke it"
"The US can't nuke anything. That idiot from Texas is gone"
"Nuke Pakistan and bomb their civilians like our were bombed, you mean?"
"Better than doing nothing, right?"
"The govt. should shut down madarsas"
"That is ridiculous. Madarsas are schools"
"Yea right!"
"Discontent muslims in India is not an irrelevant issue. It is our biggest failure as a democracy"
"BJP is just trying to safeguard interests of Hindus"
"By systematically persecuting Muslims and Christians"
"Christians convert tribals by offering them rice and money"
"Oh yeah, so let's go burn their churches and rape their nuns"
"That's not what I said. I just think people should be respectful of Hindu culture"
"You mean INDIAN culture"
"Well, India is 84% Hindu"
"Yes. 84, not 100"
"The problem is that our politicians are not doing anything. What do minorities have to do with the issue? Besides, these terrorists are all Pakis.
"Well who voted these politicians in?"
"Not me for sure"
"Yea right. Cos you've never voted in your life"
"Hell no. Better saving the energy. Where have they got us anyway."

Do our parents transfer their 'baggage' to us? Will we, to our children? Our cynicism, our hopelessness. This negativity, thick and black and dense, that we have allowed the system to beat into us, and have accumulated day by day as we fold the morning's newspaper and shake our heads in dismay. Will this one day, be my gift to a bright eyed young one, whose fresh open mind and eagerness to change the world will make me fearful of the disappointment that I am sure will meet her?

We are our enemy. In so many ways.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Black fizzy drinks are so evil.

Black fizzy drinks are so evil. 

I have a severe case of addiction I think and it makes me sad. I have resolved not to touch a Coke/Pepsi ever, and in general, I'd say I do pretty well. 
But if I ever slip up once, even ONE SINGLE OCCASION (and I crave it when I eat junk), I lapse back, losing precious ground that has taken me a LOT of work to cover.
It has me in its clutches, this bloody drink, poisoning my system and poisoning my beautiful planet. I hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it. 


What should I do? 

Monday, August 18, 2008

Monkeys scare me.

I always get a little nervous when I look at a picture of any non-human primate looking directly into the lens. Maybe it’s not nervousness per se, but discomfort really..

For instance, pictures like these * – What do they mean to you? Me, I see animals that are almost human, but not nearly. And that’s what un-nerves me.
Their eyes, alive and aflame with a curiosity that is raw and intense. Almost dangerous. Of the sort that will not cause them to hesitate before plucking the photographer’s eye out, or lashing a sharp nail across her cheek in order to find a satisfying answer to some question that burns within that cranium (‘why doesn’t she respond to my courting dance?’ / ‘what an ugly chimp; why, no facial hair at all, ugh!’), a variant of which we humans have been using over the last 200,000 years since we diverged from our sister lineage, the chimps. Using it to discover fire, make tools and weapons that could pierce through raw hide, to grow food, conquer, and colonize. And ultimately, use it to take the planet and everything in it down with us in another 70 years or so.

But most of all, I think photographs of this sort defy a long-cultivated and (till a while ago), almost-established stereotype in my mind, of the ‘un-intelligent animal’. No doubt this has in part, to do with my Catholic upbringing and the traditional Christian view of the hierarchy of life that bestows upon Man, the exclusive status of The Intelligent Being.
With the result that now, looking at those piercing, bulging green eyes burning with intelligence and curiosity, makes me nervous, I admit.

* If you can get your hands on the July 2008 issue of the National Geographic, check out this one picture shot in Japan, of a bunch of macaques huddled together for warmth. That one beats all of these. I tried to find it online, but couldn't.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sher Singh

It's strange - i've been thinking of him a lot lately. To be honest, i never thought i would miss him. And i was right. Till he was gone. Don't they say something like that about taking people for granted...? Now, i think of many things. His eyes - hollow, listless, hopeless, his body, always stretched out awkwardly in a recline, his gait - clumsy and unbalanced. But most of all his eyes. Hollow. Hopeless. With the memory of all the thousand other lives he had lived, binding and torturing him, silently, slowly, constantly.
For nobody except her was he worth anything, even the space of cardboard that he occupied. She for whom he was a respite from the loneliness and regret that her life had become. He was her pitiable beggar child cripple whom she would cuddle and pet and mollycoddle and talk to, pretending he understood and maybe loved her back. Well maybe he did both, who knows these things?
When he fell for the 22nd (?) time, it was to be his last. This time though, he was all alone. Ammi was out of town at a loud garish family wedding where the men huddled together and talked about business, and the women eyed each other's kanjeevarams and gold in the 42 degree centigrade, sweltering south indian summer. She hadn't much of either, so she was usually ignored. The maidservant whose responsibilities included looking after him, was away from work, probably arguing with her newly acquired daughter-in-law as had become her preoccupation lately. So Sher Singh lay on the hard ground, crying and paralyzed with a broken spine for three days till Ammi returned.
Pain mixed with melancholy relief as his short, dependent, burden of a life flashed past his eyes, sweeping through his senses? That's how i imagine it.

When Ammi found him sprawled on the ground, he looked at her and summoned his final reserves of energy to let out a low, crackled moan. Ah, but his eyes! They lit up - she was here finally! Everything would be fine now. But the moment they exchanged glances, a piece of her heart tore inside her, and she knew she had lost him. Life had gone back to a darker shade of grey. She picked him up tenderly and lovingly with both her hands and whispered into his ears, Thank you for loving me back.

The neglected, stupid one who everyone pushed around or stepped on because he got in their way. But who always picked himself up and started all over again, forgetting what just happened. The handicapped beggar who'd follow anyone who gave him the slightest attention. The cripple who liked neck rubs and curling up next to me with his nose in my stomach.
My valiant Sher Singh, I wish we could meet again. I would tell you then, that you are one of the bravest i know. That i wish i had let you curl up next to me with your nose in my stomach more often. And that secretly, we all want to be like you. Able to forget when life is unfair to us.

I miss you more than i ever thought i would.

P.S. - This is a picture of his grave that Fatty took for me, when he went to India last. We planted a little sapling there when we buried him, and Fatty put some flowers for the photo.