Thursday, August 31, 2006

Five and fifty

And my life flies by in Fridays...

She noticed the couple sneak into the bathroom and couldn’t hold back any longer.
The giggles and fruity-floral vapours escaping from underneath the door did nothing to hide their secret.
Deciding to push her luck, she got up and knocked softly.
‘I’ve been dying for a smoke since we boarded, mind if I join you?’

Written in response to this by BB.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Early 55

Since I'm travelling tomorrow, I'm posting my 55 early this week.
(It's been quite a party of late and I'd hate to be left out.)


I’m healed, an old man proclaimed to the curious cameras.

She elbowed her way through the crowd and stepped gingerly into the murky water.
Maybe it would go away. Maybe what medicine couldn’t cure, a miracle would.
She pushed stray polythene aside and closed her eyes, praying softly as she sipped at the fleeting sweetness.


I'm expecting BB to respond only tomorrow, though. And since mine is a sleepy little blog, do send me links to the follow-up 55 responses and I'll catch up with the chain once I get back from the hinterlands. I'm also especially curious to see how this particular thread might partake in the customary orgy that ravishes Dilettante's comment box!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

City of mad joy

It’s been raining on and off here in Cal, the way I wish it would in Bangalore. In endearing tantrums and sudden outbursts.

I went to Howrah station yesterday and tickets have been bought to take me elsewhere all over again.

The family is as theatrical as ever and every time I have to go away is always too soon.

In other news, two bloggers I have been wanting to meet have finally been met. And much coffee, conversation, greasy fries and chocolate was had.

One thing I cannot get over when I’m in Kolkata is that everything I see is a photograph. And it seems I almost always forget my SLR.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Fifty five

Between the clothes, she tucked in small surprises. Moisturising lotion for her grandmother. Seaweed hair gel for her grandfather. The cologne her brother had been hinting at...

Later, she realised her lip-gloss had been checked in as well.
Maybe she’d ask the girl next to her for some when she got back from the toilet.

Written in response to this by BB from Dilettante.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The right to choose

I often ask myself what exactly it is that I’m hoping to achieve by working with adivasis. Why am I doing what I am?
There will always be a section of society that thinks these people need to be roped into the mainstream or alternatively, left exactly the way they are – so that they may continue to be photographed and pointed at and referred to as ‘these people’. They’d rather we leave adivasis in a sort of greenhouse, so we may peep in every once in a while, just to make sure they’re there, living their lives devoid of televisions and Coca Cola, and then reassure ourselves that India still does have indigenous communities.

Often, people ask me what exactly organisations like mine hope to achieve. Do we want to leave tribal communities in tiny hamlets in the hills or do we try to integrate them into the mainstream? What the hell is the mainstream? Are we, who live and work in the few metros of our country, the mainstream? Isn’t the mainstream the majority? And do we - the educated, the Coke drinkers, SUV drivers, degree holders, professionals, nightclub goers - as a segment of society form the mainstream?

One of the issues I deal with is displacement and land rights. We’ve become so used to viewing forests as lush retreats with deer skipping through the thickets. So much so that we want to preserve this image at the cost of people. So we get rid of the indigenous tribes - who step lightly on the planet, whose women sustain their entire family on minor forest produce, who do a much better job of conservation than we do – and convert every green space into restricted areas. Restricted for those who know no other life and reserved for mining companies and five star hotels. We remove the people from their natural habitat and create places for the urban elite to visit in the name of eco-tourism.

To clarify my own position, I see it as providing people with the right to choose.
If you want to roam the ghats and migrate from one hillside to another the whole year round, I won’t force you to do otherwise. But I just wanted to tell you that now there are schools in the valley – for you as well as your children – so you may learn to read. And when the big companies show you papers, you can read for yourself what they have to say and decide whether you’d like to give all your land away and move to a slum in the city.

After all the broad ‘development’ talk, doesn’t it boil down to a solid chunk of rights?

I remember visiting a tribal pocket soon after I moved to Orissa on work last year. It wasn’t as isolated as the rest of the villages I frequented, but it was a difficult trek all the same. I was a little disappointed to see my (self-appointed) ten-year old guide wearing a Michigan State University t-shirt. I don’t know what exactly I was expecting, I just didn’t think I’d see Aamir Khan posters stuck on the walls of mud huts. I wanted folk songs sung to me at night – not the speakers they rented from town (Chalo bhauni! Naacho naacho!). I wanted to hear the children speak in their own singsong tribal dialect, not the Oriya taught to them in the night schools. Where had all the tribals gone?
Shame on me.

The people had made their choice. In addition to constructing water conservation structures, grain banks, and sending their children to school, they also fancied Bollywood music, pelvic thrusts and bubble gum.

I guess that’s as much as any of us can do. To provide the alternatives and to let the people decide for themselves. That would be democracy, yes?
Jai Hind.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Friday 55

She lay on her back, knowing she wouldn’t see dawn.
Her vision grew pleasantly opaque.
Last night, before she slit streaks across her wrists, she looked up at the sky and silently begged.
Anyone, she screamed to the stars, anything. If there is a God. Help.
There was no sign. And that was her answer.

Written in response to this by BB.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

My sentimental mornings

Every morning as I walk the walk from the bus stop to work, I stop by at a nearby darshini for a big post-workout breakfast. It’s been a while since I’ve confessed to my darshini addiction and my routine is juggled around everyday to accommodate either a darshini breakfast or a lunch into the day’s menu.

Sometimes, I eat breakfast at the smaller darshini on the quieter street closer to the office, depending on which bus I take, since the stops are pretty far apart. On bus number 20 or 27-E days, when I walk up to the corner, I see a familiar face look up from his plate of set dosa to smile at me. Every 20 or 27-E day. He waves me over to share his small section of the steel table that everyone stands around. And once I’m done handing over my colour-coded food ticket, having procured my breakfast items, I squeeze through the crowd towards Mr Reddy, former advocate, High Court.

That’s how he introduced himself the first time I met him, as I shared his table along with other strangers, as you often do in darshinis. Nobody usually looks at what you’re eating, no one smiles hello or asks how you’re doing. Everyone’s busy digging into bowls of vada-sambar, scooping up potato palya with a piece of crisp paper dosa or dipping fluffy idlis into cool coconut chutney. Nobody smiles goodbye and tells you to have a nice day. Perhaps because darshini dining deserves one’s undivided attention.

As I cut my vada with the standard two-steel-spoon technique, I was vaguely aware of someone looking at me. I looked up and remember thinking to myself that this man looked a lot like my grandfather who passed away. I used to call my dadu Ha-dadu, because of his loud, unabashed laughter. Hah Hah Hah.

I smiled at Mr. Reddy, who then asked me if I would pour his coffee from one steel tumbler into the other, to help him cool it. And then he said, Myself, Reddy. Former advocate of the High Court. And we started talking. A little more each day.
And he waves me over whenever we meet at the corner darshini. He asks about my work, my family, my travel plans for the month, my bus route, traffic, weather, anything. And just when I think he isn’t there as I step up to the darshini, I hear my name being called from one of the steel tables and make my way through the crowd to join Mr Reddy and pour his coffee from one tumbler to another, leaving half to cool as he sips the other half.

He walks to the nearby park every morning and treats himself to breakfast before going back home. Sometimes, when I’m late to breakfast and he’s already asked someone else to pour his coffee, he’ll still wait for me to finish and walk past my office with me, on his way home. Sometimes when I’m early, he joins me and I wait for him. He sips his coffee slowly and his hands tremble gently with age.

This morning, Mr Reddy’s daughter was standing next to him at one of the tables. She lives in the US and is visiting Bangalore with her husband and child. She introduced herself, saying that she’s heard about me and thanked me for helping her father with his breakfast. Thanked me. Whatever for, I asked.

She smiled and fed her son khara bhaath as he sat on the wobbly table. You go ahead, appa, I’ll finish with this and catch up, she said. Mr Reddy told her that he’d like to wait with them if they didn’t mind.
Today you carry on, he said to me as I handed him his walking stick that rests beside the water cooler while he eats.
In all these months I’ve never seen him smile so wide as he did this morning when he was watching his grandson make a mess of his upma.

Ever since Mr Reddy and I have established this informal routine, I’ve been thinking about my own grandfathers. One in Kolkata, whom I speak to every Sunday morning. And one who remains a vivid memory.
I’ve been missing Ha-dadu and wishing that I wasn’t a bratty teenager when he passed on. I wish I had shared breakfasts with him. I wish I had offered to join him on his morning walks. I would’ve liked to talk to him. Really talk to him. I wish I hugged him more.

The next time I hear Shastidadu’s voice will be when I get to Kolkata next week. He’ll jump up from the sofa in front of the television when I surprise everyone by landing up at the flat early in the morning. He’ll feign anger at my not having told them. When I bend down to touch his feet in a pronaam he'll catch me by the shoulders and stop me halfway. He’ll ask me why I show no signs of getting married to a nice Bengali boy. He’ll raise his hand, pretending to be ready to slap me when I steal his spot on the couch, curling up near the armrest where the seat has started sagging to accommodate his weight.
And I’ll remember to hug him.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

55 fiction

She walked a little faster, hugging her books closer to her chest as she crossed the street.

They stood by the corner shop, sharing cigarettes and profanities.
She caught the eye of someone she used to know. He didn't say anything, but he didn't stop the catcalls either.
They used to dig for earthworms together.

And this is what BB from Dilettante says.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Delhi love

The one thing Delhi-ites take for granted is being able to bump into little bits of history every time they step out into their city. Being able to see ancient Mughal architecture from their car windows, exposed brick from another era as they walk the wide, wide roads and elegant jaalis peeking out at them from street corners.

I’m told that I exoticise everything I see when I travel. But I really can’t help that I love each place I visit. I might be promiscuous in my love for places, but there’s so much to see and love for so many reasons…
And Delhi, much like Calcutta (yes, I’m Bengali and I love the place), has so much to offer the peripatetic traveller. Which is how I always go city-seeing.

Delhi has stories to tell. Ruins, tombs, mosques, stone lattices, fallen empires and glory days. I like that in Delhi, next to a mosque is a Jain temple and next to that is a Hindu one.

Delhi lets me visit its museums and art galleries, bargain on its footpaths and meet friends for a long leisurely night out. A Delhi night lets you eat dinner, lounge at a coffee shop, go somewhere else for gelato and then still has time left over for you to drop in at a nightclub. Delhi nights let you go clubbing in spectacles and a baggy kurta without making you feel like you're any less of a babe.

Delhi lets you walk through the winding alleys of a market place and walk across the street, straight into a deer park. It lets me squeeze through a small gate and step out into a wide courtyard of a centuries-old madrasa. I can watch a cricket game from an ornate window many storeys above. I can drape an arm around an intricately carved stone pillar and lean languorously over a balcony like I could have done a hundred years ago from the same place, surveying the evening walkers below. I can crane my neck to search for the sunset with nothing but minarets and watermelon skies to fill my vision. Delhi makes me feel like a princess in sports sandals.

While I was there, I stayed in the breathtaking Sanskriti Kendra campus in Anandagram. When I wasn't checking out their Terracotta Museum and the Museum of Everyday Art, I was walking with peacocks early in the morning. Every morning.

I swear I felt like a princess. Walking with peacocks in the beautifully landscaped lawns, dewy from a sudden drizzle. Letting my fingers trace the sandstone jaali overlooking the grassy ampitheatre. Chancing upon an antique palanquin parked next to an old temple door and being transported back a hundred years all over again.
Walking with peacocks.
Now how is that not exotic, pray tell.

Also: Thanks muchly to Recluse for the drink and junk food, and my ACJ peeps for a most wonderful night out on the town. Delhi has wonderful hosts!