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Sleepy Men

10:15 p.m.

Inner Ring Road aka Mahatma Gandhi Marg in Delhi.

The stretch of this road from Rajghat to the Maharana Pratap Interstate Bus Terminus.

The broad, impressive expanse of this road is interrupted by the narrow divider where Alistonia has just begun to welcome the autumn with its fragrant flowers.

Lie untroubled and asleep on this divider scores of men. Feet of this one touching the head of the one below. As seen from the window screen of a moving car, this chain appears never-ending. Ah Woe Betide! The bronze spoon I was born with in my mouth! The riches, the ‘society’ and the obligations I have to take care of. Thanks to these aspects of the worthless life I have come to lead, I can’t get to spend this night here like any of these souls have to. A poignant morose sounding blog post about this sight should be great!

Millions of vehicles from both sides of the road traverse the scripts of hundreds of those dreams. Fairies come close, kiss and get crushed under the screeching wheels of the speeding cars before their palms get to fondle any further. Damsels in the other dreams get picked up by the cyclists and the autos before they uncork that wine and offer to the parched lips. At home, a wife in a yellow saari with a story and a child with an embrace wait. The words of that tale are not audible in the first go and the arms are at such a distance- the noise and the bright lamp posts. The city never sleeps!

Some emaciated, some hungry, some newcomers, some old timers.  A few sit huddled together and smoke. Once in a while this philosopher breaks this chain as he stares at the stars and wonders if it would rain tonight. Nine out of a hundred awake and calculating the hours of the night that remain. As night falls, the vehicles would be less frequent. At around two, they would almost disappear and allow for some sleep that will be a mix of relief interspersed with annoying aphids, lice and arachnids of all kinds. Thinking of food, this one weeps. His top down neighbor might get a good job in the morning. He is thinking of tomorrow’s evening already.

Some lie adjacent in pairs and share the sheet. Must be from the same place ‘back there’. Talking about the quarrel with their common childhood friend over the two thousand rupees that he did not return, their eyelids have just gone too heavy. They just mutter to themselves- Bahinchod!

Of an alley where the grand old man lies cremated on the bank of the Yamuna. The big brave King’s name shining on the main building of the Bus Station. In the midst of this greatness rests a banality- one that I have not ever lived. I should be wisely wishing for anything here- what if a segment of that wish were to come true! ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’ is another axiom I have to sleep thinking about tonight!

In the dead of the night, one would tell me tomorrow, came to him the spirit of the Mahatma pillion riding on Maharana‘s horse and wept inconsolably at the comfort and at the bliss that this divider teems up with as and when the stars appear brighter and shinier! On the parallel, outer ring road aka K B Hedgewar Marg must be dozing off another set of nationalists and nation builders!

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Book Review: Love Peace & Happiness: What More Can You Want? by Rituraj Verma

 

In the pages of this slick and colorful book lie wonderfully captured the lives of an impressive range of characters. The people in these stories, their life worlds and above all their strikingly individual attempts at finding a way out of crucial existential dilemmas they face is the reason the nine stories in this anthology deserve to be read, appreciated and pondered about.

Firstly, each of Verma’s stories are about a sufficient detailing of the predicament in which the protagonists are situated. Secondly, each story uses the technique of conversation and dialogue quite powerfully. As a result, we meet quite a good number of people from varied socio-economic backgrounds, read about who they are, get to know of what they think and ‘hear’ a lot of their justifications for the decisions and choices that they have made in their lives. Each story is ultimately about a tension that we aim to resolve so very often in our lives that  it begins to  seem unresolvable and hence banal. Verma takes us back to those ‘love marriage versus arranged marriage’ and ‘learning to say No versus learning to compromise and sacrifice’ debates.

These stories do not make a villain out of any of these actors and refrain from offering easy solutions to the deeply philosophical issues they raise. Interestingly, the book offers the readers an innovative option to rewrite the endings of these stories on the author’s website in the event of their dissatisfaction with any of the endings. The episodic nature of some of these stories and the detailed biographical element in others arouse equal amount of interest and one would have to appreciate the comfort and ease with which the author addresses an impressive range of emotional entanglements. Be it the plight of a failed love affair, anxieties and insecurities of a marital discord or the complexities of living in a joint family, Verma addresses them all with a studied  sensitivity.

Two stories that I specially enjoyed reading would be The Practitioner of Austerity and The Soul Mate Theorist.  The former reminded me of Ritwik Ghatak‘s classic Meghe Dhake Tara. Through a glimpse into the tribulations of its protagonist Aparna’s life, the story says a thousand things about the meanings of being a daughter, a woman and a civil servant from the scheduled caste whose life is ultimately nothing but a sacrifice that hardly anyone takes a note of. In what appeared to me to be a modern-day adaptation of the Rajesh Khanna starrer Amar Prem, The Soul Mate Theorist takes us to a bar where two college friends discuss women, love and sex. From the bar we are taken to the apartment of a sex worker where we meet her son. This story is a wonderful take on the static and constraining institutions that marriage and family can actually turn out to be.

The book is written with a specific audience in mind and does falter on its ‘appeal’ quotient. In a few places, the descriptions seem  trite and unnecessary. The reference to the internet pages where background research on the settings of these stories was undertaken could have been avoided. Overall, this is an interesting book- one that ideally can be read on one of those days when the mind is prone to some  retrospection and is willing to pause and take stock of all the puzzles that life has had to offer!

 

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Tiny Teeth

A mole comes calling on a rat that waits impatiently saying to himself “a minute more and I hop on the next train and leave the city”. Gulping down his tears and nibbling at the shreds of a five-year old memory, he waits and minutes slither away like cream. The time  comes. Jumping out of her taxi, the mole embraces me from a distance of meters. The rodents feel at pace with the universe. Sun continues its westward trip and both see it dying of curiosity. Sun! you shall miss all that is to follow. Red its face gets and soon it sets. Just like the moon that wishes to stay around longer so that it could witness the much talked about frolic of the matinée.  Hehe! you will always miss it moonu!

Abusive they turn and try slapping each other. Only to end up as miniatures of well fed kittens that chase and bite each other after a sumptuous suckle. They race against the world. Having thrown most of their contempt at each other, lightened claws enter a market. Not enough money clipped in their little beaks that they could throw away in the lake of recluse that both forcibly and happily swim each day, each moment.  Hunger directs the two to joints where taste is on show. Stories of each other and of others they know of intertwine the chews and the chilly sighs. Food over, next item to be hunted. The plates are picked up, the rat still eyeing the sauce that he could not lick away. “People I tell you and their manners. Why are they so intrusive all the time?”. The rat is taken around like a kid coming to a country fair for the first time. Designs, henna, dresses, utensils and faces. All around them. Two nibblers forget all the world and choose to explore it afresh once again. So much discovery on cold nights in the past and adding up to nil. Rubbing shoulders against the other they walk. A walking ethnography that they do not wish to ever write. Forgetting at times their special distance, they hold hands. The rat sniffs sweat and tries getting closer. The mole pushes him away and delivers a smile that kills.

A stall they choose and take rest. Rat mishandles all the heat of the tea and spills it over the market. The alarmed mole offers her own. The rat refuses. And yet does want to snatch her cup and sip it all. “Why should she be sipping when I am not?”

Beings part. Take opposite routes. Call each other to confirm their trains. The rat comes home to a dirty bed sheet that he throws away. Spreads the green and the saffron and the room resounds with the cries of chicken that Afghani dishes are made of. The windows open to a view of lotus ponds and the wardrobe just begins to reek of roses. The rat infused with a delicate energy runs around hysterically on his computer keyboard. ‘Tik tok kit kot’ the keys go clapping. Scattered words stream away. Wish they reach you O Mole! The rat thinks of the very first fruit that would be slaughtered on the chopper that you bought today. Let me know that Mole!

Dear Molu, can you do something for me? Yes yes! once again.

Please tell your friend life something. She should learn something from rodents. They just nibble it all away and never complain. We will take her along the next time if she wants to! What do you think mole? Should we invite the sulky sun and the moon when we go out next? Send a scribble. I will wait.

Heart

Ecstasy

Was looking for a suitable word to title this post. A word that could rightly vouch for the state of my mind at the moment. It had to denote some intense energy and playfulness. It had to exude a groovy rhythm and had to be a bit raunchy. Many surfaced as contenders: bliss (sounded too pure and spiritual), delirium (was more like some psycho stuff) and delectation (was just too a happy happy one). Ecstasy won the race as it balanced the pros and cons of its own multi-meaningness the best.

3:00 p.m. left my room in a hurry to catch the metro train till the railway station where I had to see a friend.

3:20 reached the station, met my friend and decided to take a bus for the return journey for which I had to walk a little distance towards the Red Fort.

I am walking now. People rushing around for so many things. Sellers with their cigarette beedi stalls on the footpath make me meander my way through. From somewhere in the horizon, a thick cloud of dust appears and fills my heart with hope and joy in the sweltering heat.

On the way, a policeman chasing a pickpocket. He runs in full force and his massive belly jiggles. The thief, a thin man dressed in black, running for his life. Cross the street. Two young men on the footpath. They sit with a stove and are frying mini samosas. Another man urinates standing not so far away. Bus 26 comes and I get in. Take the last seat. It does not have a glass pane. Someone fought with it may be. The broad open view of all that happens outside thrills me. The hot gush of air strikes at my curls and I close my eyes now and then to prevent the dust from ruthlessly hitting the retina. Men and women busy walking. Some are just resting here and there on the dusty sidewalks. My eyes meet some of theirs. Some relishing cucumbers and smoking. Inside the bus, the conductor looks at a child and smiles. A fellow passenger playing songs on his cellphone player. I take out my cell too and randomly click all that is coming my way. I touch my hair, my fingers comb their way through. Smile to myself all the way. The city appears so much my very own. Like a fiefdom. I share this sense of ownership with the ones who are traveling with me in the buses, rickshaws or the BMWs and the Mercs. See the woman’s saree fluttering in the wind. She clings to the man who is driving her scooter.

It is a Sunday and the roads are not so packed. Paced out traffic. The bus driver plays a catchy song and I sing along loudly. I have found songs playing in running vehicles to be extra musical. An elderly woman looks at me and I stop singing. Leave the seat, walk till the front gate of the bus like a drunken man. Ask the driver to let me alight  at the next stop. He smiles back. Even when he knows its name, he asks “Khyber Pass”?? I utter an emphatic ‘yesss’. Tightly holding the hand rails, I hum again and swerve to the movements of the bus. He pumps up the volume. The tune touches my soul.

My stop is here. I say a loud thank you to the bus driver and get down almost dancing to the tune in my head.

Love was not in the air. Something else was.

Dear Delhi, I am sorry. Next month, I will complete some 12 years of my life with you. And yet it has only been some 12 times that I have felt about you this way. I want to love you and own you as my very own.

Do me a small favor. Please make sure this high tide never slips off my head.

Exuberance of the physique…wow! the way I swerved on the sidewalk and the dancing steps that guided my head!

Yay!