Thursday, November 23, 2006

One Fine Day...

I was getting ready to drop Ro to school at unearthly 7 in the morning, which is the usual routine every week day. It was cold and foggy outside. Was making a note to send the car for servicing next week, when I stoped to gaze at the number of black items in my wardrobe. I remember telling someone long back ‘I am a black and white person really but you may never know how much of each!’ Over the years my wardrobe added more black than any other shade. Ma in her thankless effort to get my life on track has arranged all the ‘blacks’ in one row. Too distracted to ponder, I pull out the top-most, disarranging its neat folds. As I hurry to pull it over my head I notice its my old D School sweat shirt. Black. With D School written in white at the top left corner on front and Delhi School of Economics written in monotype corsiva in a semi circle at the back.
The black is faded a little. But the white letters are still bright. In the two years I would have worn it dozens of time but washed it only twice. PGW Hostel didn’t encourage us to have any water intensive rituals! The boys had it worse. They had formed ABC, which stood for Anti Bathing Committee. Hot water was scare and winters were fierce. Which resulted in the popularity of this outfit. The sweatshirt brought back a flood of memories. Friends, crushes (actually only one!), teachers, hang outs, K’nags……two years of jam-packed memories.
On the drive back from his school, I was smiling all by myself. I remember Rashmi and I had met this lad from DefCo infront of the Metro shoe store in K’nags. As usual both of us were in a goofy trip and we were inside the store trying shoes of every possible colour and design and going hysterical looking at each other. There were other shoppers and many were scornful of the rags we were wearing (my sweater was donated by a well-meaning cousin) and our prancing in fashionable high heels. At this point Rush hitchs up her skirt knee high and asks ’Isn’t this sexy, darling?’ She had on a sleek 3 inch black patent leather strappy number that had sequins shaped like a rose near the toes….distractingly pretty pair. Eyes turned and the entire shop was staring, shocked at her utterance and her gesture. The shop assistant asked us to leave in a threatening tone. Anyway by now we were bored so we decided to leave.
Still giggling we step out and bump into this tall guy in a tan leather jacket. We say sorry in unison and he smiles and asks ‘Are you guys ok?’ ‘Perrrrrfect’ Rush says with that drawl. I am admiring his jacket. Now, Rush is a good 4 inches shorter than me…and with her slim body can be classified as petite if not short. We look like two stow-aways in the middle of the hustling kamlanagar market. We turn to head towards the campus. He walks with us. Says, 'Its getting dark will you guys be ok all by yourself?’ No Baby we neeeeeeeed you to carry us both back to the hostel on your shoulders like Hanuman!! Ofcourse I didn’t say it but I really wanted to!! Rush ofcourse is more charming than me and definitely more charitable. She smiles and says ‘Thank you, but we would be fine…’ and turns and hops into the nearest cycle rickshaw before any one of us including the rickshawalla could react. I climb in tamely and this lad is still standing at the edge of the pavement looking confused. Mother Teresa that she was, Rush waves at him and says ‘I don’t know your name but why don’t we meet at Nirulas tomorrow?’ She doesn’t even wait for his reply. The rickshaw moves on. I try hard not to look back to see the fellow's reaction. Half way through we are laughing our guts out and Rush announces ‘Tomorrow we are coming back here at 6’. The thrill has caught on with me too so I was hardly in a mood to contradict.
Next evening, we wear what we considered our slutty best (she in a shoooort denim skirt and a white embroidered top that emphasized her ‘petiteness’ and me in black trousers and green cashmere that clung dangerously tight and I wore heels which I thought made me look sleek!) and turn up in k’nags waiting for Rush’s amour. Rush is right as usual. As we walk down towards Nirulas there he was waiting next to the staircase. (got to admit, he looked quite the stud!) We smile. He is a little flushed. ‘Lets have icecream’ he says. We don’t even know his name! We go inside and find a place to sit. Eager beaver asks what we would have. Rush orders a sundae that looked pathetic. I just wanted a chocolate chip. Holding our icecreams, we start talking. Vishal Saxena. 27. Stays in DefCo. Studied in KMC. Now helping his dad in his export business and yes he drives a Toyota. He tells us about his family, his little sister who looks like me. (he lost me at this point…) How he wanted to study further but his family wanted him to join their business. Except for his medical history his entire life span was out over an icecream. Rush listens without interrupting and I am fidgeting without making any attempt to hide it. He says I have beautiful eyes and anyone can watch me smile for hours. Then he gazes at Rush like a lost puppy and says she has an angelic face and heart to match. We smile. Rush touches his hand and says ‘Vishal you are a great guy but we really have to get back to the hostel or else we would get thrown out’. She says that with the right amount of pathos in her tone. Vishal ofcourse offers to drop us to the hostel, which is about 3 kms away. We get in his Toyota. Rush sits next to him and me behind him. We have a little more of the Vishal-life-story and he suggests that we go to Ghungroo the next weekend. He gives us his card and tells me that he would take me to his house to meet his sister (the one that looks like me). We reach the hostel and get out of the car. Vishal walks till the gate. ‘Call me anytime you need anything’ he says. We nod. Get inside the gate and head for Rush’s room. I had promised to help her pack. She was leaving the next day for our winter break and I the day after.
We returned post vacation full of stories of home. We met up in her room the day we returned. Vishal’s card was still there on Rush’s study desk. She got rid of it the next day. Somewhere both of us felt a sense of guilt of a prank gone awry. We never saw or discussed Vishal again. Then ofcourse I never saw Rush after I left Delhi...and she went back to her hometown to get married..

Sunday, November 19, 2006

tabula rasa?

I saw him today. As he was the day I saw him last. The day he died.
We had been to the new mall near my home. Ro, Baba and I. Three mismatched personalities with equally mismatched agenda. Ro was of course fixed on a crazy contraption called the yo-yo. How is it different from the one at home? This has twinkling red lights that glimmer every time it rolls down. Magnificent men and their equally magnificent machines! So that was Ro. Baba, was carrying a list that Ma had recited in the morning. Spill-proof table cover (both Baba and Ro are legendary spillers….and now with two spillers in the family Ma was finding it difficult to maintain her Martha Stewart standards of neatness), Next was pillow covers (I though she has enough ‘bedding’ to run a cyclone shelter). As it was Baba forgot the rest of the list that had cornflakes and cream-crackers (he of course heard his well-earned share of ‘earful’ from Ma when we returned). Oh he also bought a fake fleece jacket that Ma didn’t have the heart to comment on. Old age does have its luxuries! Though calling Baba old would be an oxymoron of sorts. His inquisitiveness for anything new never fails to amaze me and the only other person who can match it is Ro. So they make a rather odd pair…one with grey hair in his 60s the other with boundless energy and a motor-mouth all of 6…..but both in matching shorts and with competitive enthusiasm for the next mischief. It’s usually Ma who mediates between the two as I politely decline any such position of honour. Her preference for Ro is apparent to all but it is she they seek for mitigation.
Anyway coming back to the much happening mall, I of course picked up some clothes (Ma has been hinting that I have more clothes than I would need in the next 20 years but well they were cheaper than elsewhere and I am very good at soothing my guilt…and hasn’t she heard of retail therapy?) So there we were at the mall…..three disparate generations of divergent aesthetic sense. Ro had his yo-yo and beyblade and Baba had his jacket and other household essentials and me of course had an assortment of things that maxed the bill. At the counter, Baba and I both contended to pay but finally I let him with the assurance that I will pay him my share by cash sometime in the future. Bill settled, we trudged to the basement car park and headed home. I mentally readied myself for Ma’s comments on my ’lux‘ purchases. With the shopping exploits unraveled, Ma immediately categorized them and decided which goes in where. She has this innate ability to categorize, group, organize and store things in a meticulous manner that always made me wonder if, despite her B.Tech, she aspired to be in library science! Or maybe it is a cancerian trait although none of it is apparent in Ro so far.
We talked about the morning at the mall over lunch and being a Sunday we could afford to laze over it and finished with a bowl of icecream! Then it was time for the afternoon siesta. I read a few pages of the Margaret Atwood that I was reading for the past couple of days. Interesting book full of intrigue and deceit. Somewhere in the late afternoon, I would have dozed off with Ro sleeping next to me.
Ok from here on it gets crazy so bear with my incoherence.
Part I
Ro and I are on my bed in our current home, sleeping. And I am dreaming of my old house in Lake Gardens back in Kolkata. There are people I know but cannot remember who they are, in our balcony facing the main road. It was a spacious balcony on the 2nd floor where bro and I spend many an afternoon plotting and planning many of our nefarious schemes that were the high points of our childhood. They are talking among themselves and I don’t want to distract them. I am in the room to which the said balcony is attached. This used to be our bedroom when we were children and had a huge bed that as children we shared. So I am in this room with a man whose face is indistinct but he is tall. He is speaking to me. Endearing words that someone in the recent past spoke. Exact same words. Words that make me happy. Words that make me smolder. He hold my hands and we embrace. At this point, I become aware that Baba is approaching this room, walking briskly through the connecting corridor that was a long passage that connected every room in the house. Baba’s room was on the other end of the corridor and he is steadily crossing the living room, the dinning room. Then my room. I quickly close the door to my room. The man disengages reluctantly and on my insistence hurries off to the balcony. Though how he leaves the balcony perched on the 2nd floor, I never got to find out. Baba enters my room and tells me something to do with how the things are in disarray in my room. Cut.
Part II
I am in a mall not any different from the one that we visited in the morning. It’s not particularly crowded as in there is not jostling. I am holding the shopping cart and its half filled with this and that. I am standing in the middle of an aisle probably trying to decide which section next. Suddenly I see him. I detect something moving towards my right. I turn and there he is walking real fast towards me. He has a harried look on his face. Not one of terror but of panic. Something is following him. He tries to tell me something. Fragments of a second. I remember thinking how can it be him. He is dead and I know that. But he keeps walking fast and closing. Then his face is inches away and I can even smell the slight tobacco breathe. Then we collide. I lose my balance slightly and say ‘Hey watch out!’ But by then he coalesces in. In me. I know I am a sucker for sci-fi. He and I grew up on a diet of Star Trek and then Star Wars…we even were quiet addicted to Jonny Soko and his Flying Robot. As adults, we would watch the Trilogy whenever I stayed over and he would play the Imperial March on his Yamaha with passion and precision. It was something we both loved and we would spend nights laughing over his dreams. He always dreamt of animated cartoon characters (and I suspect his dreams were animated too…). The common theme of most of his dreams were aliens attacking our Lake Gardens house crawling down from the parapet after landing on our terrace in the darkness of the night and he bravely fighting back with his ingenious wit and skill. He would tell me these episodes (and each one was different) with precise details and sincere emotion. To him this was as real as my ‘being-chased-by-a-white-cow-over-stairs-and-terraces’ were to me.
Part III
I am back on my bed with Ro sleeping next to me less than a foot away. I am sleeping on my side turned to face Ro. I feel pressure. Invisible hands pressing me down on the bed. Strong hands on my legs, my hip, my waist and my shoulders. I struggle to free myself but I am unable to move. More I struggle the stronger the force of the hands. I try to scream. No sound. I manage a few low garbled grunts. With the sounds the pressure of the hands lessen slightly but not enough to let me move. My eyes are open I try to scream and wake Ro hoping his screams would make the hands disappear. My voice chokes and…..I hear my phone ring. My hands are free and I grab the phone and flip it open to hear DS cheerfully say ‘hello….afternoon siesta?’ There is static. One heartbeat. Is this still dream?
I am completely awake now. Awake for real. I ask DS about his bus ride. He says he would reach in a couple of hours. I tell him about the dream. I look out of the window at the gloomy and darkening sky. I tell him how much I hate evenings. They leave me melancholy. Something he must have heard a million times already. He tells me to take Ro out and go and have a burger at Mc Donald. Or something that would cheer the both of us. I tell him I need to talk to Ma. I have never ‘seen’ him since he is gone. Not even when I really wanted to. Nights that I spent thinking of our shared childhood. Listening to the music we so passionately collected (we used to fight over it and now they are all mine). Lying on his bed trying to imagine how he would have felt during the last few minutes.
Why was he here today?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Simhasta…shashi shekhara…marakata preksha…his clear melodious voice wafts through the house as he sings unconsciously while twisting the playing clay into an unsightly pink caterpillar.
Last year. Shashti evening. There we were, the entire troupe. Seven of us crowding the stage. He was there too sitting diagonally behind me. White panjabi and pajama with gold buttons dazzling. Dida had given the buttons as ashirbaad when he was born one rainy July evening. The pajama had to be folded and so had to be the sleeves of the panjabi. They didn’t have his size. ‘Itna chota larka ke liye nahin hai’. White panjabi apparently starts from size 7 which are for 7 year old and above and he was only 5 and a thin 5 at that. Get real I tell myself. This is not Kolkata. There they would have white panjabi even for a new born!
The pajama till his knees and the back of the panjabi already sports huge splotches of mud brown. It had rained an hour back and obviously he has made the most of it by running around in the muck that the ground had become. Thankfully it doesn’t show when he is sitting on stage with his legs folded like a pretzel.
For the entire month he has religiously accompanied me for the rehearsals and knew the songs by heart. Most were amazed as how he could pronounce the long difficult sanskrit words with ease but tripped on much simpler bangla. Men irrespective of their age will always remain an enigma to me.
The agomoni is on its way and we concentrate on the sequence and pray we don’t miss our respective cues. Almost towards the end, in the middle of the song I feel a nudge on my back. Ignore. The song is not over yet. Next comes the frantic tug on my sari anchal. Ignore again. I fumble on the words and almost miss the third line of the second last para. Suddenly. All eyes are on the left corner of the stage. I pray. Thank you, Durga Ma. No one noticed my near miss. Except of course for my mother but well she wasn’t sitting there that day. Life was good despite the occasional hiccups. But why is everybody looking at the wrong end of the stage? And why are they smiling? I freeze. There he was, mud splotches and all ambling towards the fore corner of the stage and gesturing to no one in particular that he wants to take a leak. Little finger waving just like they have taught him in school. The light guys are localities and in their inability to comprehend the language thought this must be a part of the show and shine a bright focus light on him. The people sitting on the first row were trying hard not to roll on the floor and I did hear a gushing ‘Oh! he is so cuteeeee!” The rest of the troupe is staring at me and I was hoping I transform into a thermocol cutout that they have decorated the stage with. Why me? I have never been faithless, atleast during the Pujo. Then why me? A family member finally carries him offstage and I can’t pretty much figure what happened after that.
The song got over and so did the program. We clear the stage for the next performers. My face had turned as red as the border of my sari. I find him. Stillness. I am finding it difficult to form words in my head. He runs towards me with a cotton candy in his right hand and a big smile. “Mommy, see this is pink like your face!” Then he hugs me. His hands around my waist. His head nuzzling my stomach. My eyes sting. I look at Ma Durga. Isn’t she smiling? Or it must be the tears…

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Things I learnt in the last couple of days...

‘Not to worry about the future, it would come soon enough.’

That someone can find you beautiful even if the person can't see you for real.

That I am able to love with abandon without apology or guilt.

That prophecies do come true, for however briefly, but they do.

That a sincere ‘ I love you’ in native tongue sounds the sweetest.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

last evening

“We love your songs!”
Gang of Girls
Written in Zubs unmistakably neat scrawl on the yellow paper napkin. It was a rainy August evening last year. She, Caroline and I were sitting in Casa's in Devatha Plaza, Residency Road. The beneficiary of her enormous affection was a white haired, white bearded old man who usually sings live in Casa's on Thursdays. She hands the note over to the nearest waiter with a smile and points towards the old songbird. Caroline and I are still giggling over Zubs rendition of Country Roads a la our casa-songbird style which would make you wonder whether his adenoids are the size of golf balls to allow him to emit such super nasal sound!! The napkin returns with a plain ‘Thank you – Collin’. We giggle some more. Collin of course wasn’t aware that his super specialty talent was the reason for the three crazy women giggling like their brains fell off in the nearby gutter. He was all smiles and waved at us from far. I suppose she made his evening.
That is Zubs. Was. She drowned in Goa on 27th January this year. By her standards, going for a swim at midnight wasn’t crazy at all. But the tides thought otherwise. They found her body five hours later in the early morning. They got her back to Bangalore the next day. "Die when I may, I want it said of me that I plucked a weed and planted a flowerwhere ever I thought a flower would grow." - Abraham Lincoln. That’s what her email signature said. And she did. Planted flowers wherever she went, touched who ever she met. I was supposed to go along with her and Bins. We had planned the trip in meticulous details sitting in Only Place one Saturday afternoon with her ankle still in the blue fiber cast. We planned the trip once her cast came off in 15 days. Leave for Goa on 26th January night and come back two days later on the Sunday. She was to join her new job on Monday. Tickets booked. Hotel arranged. Bags packed. 25th January, R is down with viral. Both of them wanted to postpone the trip. I insisted that they go ahead as planned.
Fate. If only I had not insisted. If only I had gone with them. If only I could…..
Her mother looks at her wrapped remains and asks no one in particular ‘why did she have to die’. I try to hold her but she is ‘unreachable’ in her sorrow. She looks at me and says ‘you would understand, how it feels to lose a child’. I am searching for words. Nothing. Her father sits in silence. Not a sound. I remember other times. He would give her a tongue lashing whenever I went to pick or drop her and more often than not we were sinfully late. He is old and diabetic and surviving virtually on medication post his medical complication. All dressed for a party, she would keep his medicines in separate tiny containers marked with the time they need to be taken. He is visibly upset. For a father who reads namaz five times a day without fail, he obviously doesn’t approve of the ‘non-conventional’ life that she leads. Unfazed, she would squeeze his shoulders and say, ‘Abba, don’t forget the medicines and I will check if you have taken them once I am back.’
I don’t want to cry. I can’t. I didn’t.
All that came back last evening. The tears and the pain. I was getting down from the car in front of the Cunningham Road Citibank ATM. Collin, guitar case in hand was walking towards me and we almost bumped into each other. He gave me an apologetic smile. I don’t remember if I smiled. By the time I walked up to the ATM machine I couldn’t see through the tears.
She knew she had touched his life that rainy evening. He didn’t even know that she is gone. Only the little yellow note still lies somewhere in her handbag. Unopened and silent.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Jana Gana Mana...

‘What does jono gono mono mean, mommy?’ R asks looking at me with his big brown eyes, which looked like limpid pools of innocence in the early morning light. I can see the reflection of his long thick lashes on his eyes. He is a beautiful child. My grandmother would have been upset. Mothers should never admire. Now you see he will fall sick, she would say.
It was 8 in the morning and R and I climbed on the terrace and ‘tied’ the tricolour on the top of our now defunct TV antenna. It looked like it might rain and R was worried, what if the rain washes away the colours of the flag, can we paint it back again? I couldn’t help but smile. The innocence of the young. Both of us sang jana gana mana in our mis-matched off key off-pitch tones. R of course sang his ‘hindized’ version and me in the original bengali. No one would offer to record this duet for sure. What amazed me was the goose bumps on my arms. Amazed because I wasn’t expecting them. Not when a diet of mayhem that the morning newspaper brings from across the country fails to elicit a reaction anymore.
15th August was a big day for us during childhood. My grandfather’s house was about 80 kms away in the suburbs of Kolkata, a peaceful haven called Kalyani, and it was there that all of us cousins would assemble every Independence Day eve. On the big day we would wake up early and race each other to finish our bath and run to the terrace of his two-storied house all ready for the grand event. This ritual didn’t change since I was about 6 till my grandfather’s late stage of Parkinson’s. My grandfather always kept the flagpole ready the previous day and before we reached the terrace he would have taken out the satin cloth flag from the cabinet where it ‘rested’ for the rest of the year. The flag always smelled of mothballs and always had the same number of precise folds. He would fix the flag and at 7 am he would gently tug the ropes. The flag rose in to the morning sky and unfurled with a riot of colours. Goose bumps as our hearts swelled and our voices chorused the anthem. Pride. That was what we felt wearing pristine khadi kurta payjamas standing amidst my grandfather’s terrace garden of potted roses and chrysanthemums and dahlias singing jono gono mono
Never expected to feel that way after so many long years.
R pulls my sari end and I give him a hug and a smile. Tell him I would come back from office and tell him about the heroes of our nation. He accepts that easily, happy to return to his world of cartoon heroes. Driving to work, couldn’t help thinking will he ever feel the goose bumps as the flag sways gently with the breeze.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Misty ominous morning. Not unusual for this time of the year. Today I am at the benevolent auto rickshaw's mercy. Radio advices avoid Nandi Durg Road and therefore my helpful driver decides to take a detour. Through S K Garden, Pottery Road, Masjid Road. Houses, building, shops. Familiar places. Caught in a day dream I wasn't prepared atall for Coles Road and Sherlocks, looking very different in the late morning light. Familiar trigger.
Traffic slows. The dark tinted blue Aveo is two inches away. The sub woofer pulsates Robbie.
There’s a hole in my soul,
You can see it in my face, it’s a real big place.
There is always a song to match every state of mind. Sardonic.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


She was the most sought after girl in 7th standard. Then she got herself a 'princess diana' haircut and lord were we envious!
One afternoon during lunch hour Tina and I were strolling aimlessly on the ground when a stray piece of shattered glass hit the top of her head, right on the middle. First time I saw blood spurting out. Blood trickled down her forehead and she had the opaque look of shock in her eyes. Held her tight when the resident nurse, a monstrous creature we loved to hate, pulled out the glass piece with gusto mumbling something about the current generation having no tolerance for pain etc. I held Tina's hand tight till a blinding rage to shove the needle on her fleshy bottom passed. The ogre and our classteacher took Tina to the nearby hospital. I saw her again the next day after school in her room. She was lying on her bed among a sheet full of blue flowers. Were they lilies? I looked at her. There was this huge white bandage on her cleanly shaven head.
Tina didn't come back to school for the whole of next two months and I missed her terribly and kept a copy of all the class notes for her which I took along with me when I visited her every weekend. When she came back to school, her wound had healed and her hair had grown about two inches but her spirit was forever scared. She never stepped out of class during lunch and she always wore a cap though her hair had grown long.
Next year we were in different classrooms. She spoke little and wasn't the livewire that she used to be. Even our after school shakespeare workshops led by the boisterous Anil Sir became a drag. By this time I had made it to the junior hockey team and made new friends. Years passed and I saw less and less of her. The last time I met her was when I went to collect my 10th standard board exam marks card. She had come with her mother. We talked for a while and promised to keep in touch. The next few years as I traversed through my now complex life Tina was forgotton. Till I came back from Delhi and rummaging through my old pile of keepsakes found a well preserved autograph book. 'Drink coffee, drink tea, when you burn your lips, think of me'. Scrawled across the pink sheet with 'Lots of Love Tina' at the bottom with an arrow through a heart. I called her old number that evening.
'This number has been disconnected'.
Somedays later went to the lane where her house was but the neighbours didn't have her new address. One friendly fellow told me that she was studying dentistry and no he didn't know which college. I never found out either.
We were 13. He a couple of months older. They lived in Nigeria and visited Kolkata once every year for about a month where we were neighbours. Our parents were friends and bro and I always got invited for his birthdays which always were during their annual Kolkata trip. Though he would spend most of his time in our house - eating lunch that MY mother made and chatting with MY dad in the evening, I didn't consider him a friend. He would always greet me with animated enthusiasm and I would give him a passing 'oh you again' smile and go on about my work. Deliberate disregard. My parents adored him ofcourse. Which was the big problem to begin with.
He was quite intrepid for a boy of that age. My brother hero worshipped him. Which was the other big problem I think. We had this group of neighbouring kids led by Glamour Queen (the young neighbourhood beauty - she was always three inches shorter than me - my saving grace) who would meet up every afternoon and have a good time mostly chattering away as pre-teens do. He desperately wanted to be a part of that group. I ofcouse ignored the request. Glamour Queen can do with one less fan. My brother finally introduces him to the group and everyone seems to like him and his accented bengali. Except ofcourse me. On our terrace, Glamour Queen suggests Go-Statue. A silly game if you ask me where most of the time you are supposed to freeze pose and the tagged one tries to unfreeze the 'statues'. All agree enthusiastically and someone says 'go'. He is tagged and we freeze as statues. We are allowed to blink and I try hard to control the giggles as I watch him make funny faces and body gestures to make all of us laugh. He moves from one to the other and finally he is infront of me. He smiles. Gosh his teeth are REALLY white. Must be because his skin is so dark. Contrast. I blink. He sticks his tongue out. Crosses his eyes. Pulls his eyelids till he looks like a chinaman. Nothing. He bends a little and inches his face close to mine. I can see his pupils. They are jet black. Smell the faint mint of his breathe. Its not so easy to scare me. I don't even blink this time. We hold each other's stare. Dumbass. He thinks he can 'out-stare' ME? Next second without warning his lips are on mine. Soft and warm. My eyes close and his hands are on my shoulder. I jerk my face away. He straightens and there is a funny look on his face. They all laugh out loud. I am tagged.
Glamour Queen's mother calls and we all disperse. My ears are hot and he nonchalantly comes home with us to sit with dad. If only looks could kill. God how I hate him.
One sunday we went to 'Wonderland' which was the only video game parlour in the whole of Kolkata. I have always been a bad driver. I am more of a pac-man person. That day I was a disaster on 'Night Rider'. I cringe as he stands next to me giving me helpful instructions and then suddenly he just grabs the jog stick with me still holding it and took over the game which I was losing 3-10. If I had a sharp object near by he would have been dead right then. How dare he? I deserve to atleast lose with dignity. I try to push his hand away and in the ensuing tussle realize the zipper at the back of my summer dress had given way. There I was all of 13 standing in the middle of the game parlour with a open zipper and a flushed face. My bro no where in sight. Shomit turns towards me. Heck he was a good three inches taller and I bet he saw my now bare back and frozen form and must have the sweet look of revenge on his face. I refuse to look up. He touches my shoulders. Yeeckkks! Isn't it bad enough that I have a gaping hole of a dress! He says,"I will be back". Back for what? He returned in a few minutes with a grin. Hell!!! He must have told the entire crowd and the TV station!!! I cannot hold back the tears anymore. He moves behind me and I hear stapling sound. He turns me around and shows me the stapler, that he got from the cash counter. With a puzzled look he asks, "Did it hurt?"
The drive back home I was perfectly quite while dad, bro and he were sharing their exploits of the afternoon.
They left for Nigeria the next day. I met him two years later. He came over to say hello to all of us. What had happened to him? There he was in his blue denim shirt and faded blue jeans looking like the tall dark handsome M&B heroes I read on the sly.
He hugs me and says, 'Hey did I ever tell you that you were a damn good statue'.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


This is Wendy (Ro calls her 'Windy' - I haven't found out why)! The cutest thing on earth....she has all that you look for in a friend..funny, smart, gentle, loyal, confident, lotsa attitude and absolutely adorable! She is one heck of a cool gal...

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Arranged night Deranged life

Today I woke up early at around 4.30 and couldn’t think of anything to fall asleep for (yes, no shame in admitting that I am an insomniac!)….therefore focused on a much neglected ‘project’ of arranging my modest music collection in genres. Took about an hour but now they are proudly arranged in dedicated shelves with Faith Hill sitting next to Garth Brooks and Pink Floyd next to Grateful Dead. Plus half a rack (furthest away) of hindipop (kajrare and himesh reshmiya’s nasal cry!) that I usually play when I need to feel foolish which is mostly when I am getting ready for work and to distract the voice in my head that keeps repeating ‘you don’t HAVE to do this’.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Only if I could bring back...

  • Hot summer nights on my grandfather’s terrace, lying on our backs and looking up at the clear sparkling sky and racing each other to identify the constellations
  • Watching ‘telesports’ with bhai on our black and white EC TV and laughing our guts out
  • Tangy hot ‘phuchkas’ at gariahat with Diya and our first puffs in her amby with Appy wondering what these two girls-trying-to-be-women doing ducking at the back seat!
  • Visits to Birla Museum with Sammy trying to look intelligent while she rattles away the details of the art on display
  • Braving chilly winds and going for morning walks with the ‘polton’ (platoon) of cousins in kalyani during winter break
  • Chotokaku’s monkey skull (and his narration of how he acquired it from a godman in the Himalayas on one of his anthropology tours) that fired our adolescent imagination
  • Chotokaku’s planchette table - an inheritance that I had really hoped for.. (predictably Thamma got rid off it and the skull after he moved to Rhode Island)
  • Sunday-post-lunch walks to khuni talao at the Ridge (D School campus) - the absolute quiet of the place, the eerie light and mostly shadows, the irritating stumbling bramble, the bristling frisson and goose bumps of knowing that none know of my whereabouts and of course the customary angry looks from IK when I would tell him with glee my exploits of the late afternoon.
  • Bonfire at the Freedom party (for freshers) at D School and my verbal duel with IK
  • Amazing ‘vada-sambar’ at Coffee House (D School) served on pristine white-but-chipped-here-and-there crockery
  • Nimbo pani and dripping-oil bread roll at jai jawan tea stall (D School)
  • New years eve at Fort William, Kolkata with San and bro and XXX rum for 2 bucks a peg
  • Fried salami at Milli's place and San's expertise (the juvenile fear in his eyes when he gashed his little finger!)
  • Long tirades from Ani when I moved to Delhi and she felt abandoned
  • Last visit to Sparks with bro when they played Tequila Sunrise
  • Watching Dominick and Eugene with bro and how he said ‘we are like that na…you and I?’
  • Long late night drives on the Ring road..our conversations and more
  • 30th December 2004 : Faith Hill never sounded like that night

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Phoenix Mumbai

Tuesday 11 July 06
7.05PM : On my drive back home dad calls and tells me about the blasts and that he has been trying to contact Munni and AC Roy uncle and got through to AC Roy uncle and they are fine but for Chotopishi he sent a message as the call wasn't going through. All lines jammed.
7.10PM: Trying D's number repeatedly but its not going through. Panic. Is he ok? My hands are cold and don't much remember the traffic. He told me he is using the train. Trying hard to convince myself that he wouldn't be using the western line but Andheri? He is supposed to be looking for a place in Marol. That is most definitely western line. And he did speak about firstclass. Missed call. Mumbai number. Vague feeling it is him. Called back. Got through at the 5th attempt. "Good Evening, Hilton Towers. May I help you?". Said I got a call from this number and that I am trying to reach a guest of theirs. Why do the hotel reception ask so many questions? What is his name? Full name please. Where is he from? Do I know his room number? (Maybe I DID sound like someone who can blow up the hotel through tele line!) Finally she connects and its him saying he is fine and he came back to the hotel early. His mom's ok too and his spice line is not working. Said I will call his home and bro. Called his bro and home. Lines in Bangalore seem to be jammed too!!! Frustration!! They have heard from him and relieved.
8.00PM : Images passed rapidly on the TV screen....charred seats, mangled flesh, confused and angry faces...Mumbai railways in tatters. There was one particular image of a missing 8 year old boy who lay in ICU and didn't remember his name.
Wednesday 12th July 06
2.00AM : I lay awake the entire Tuesday night watching the news and those densely repeated images. The newsreader said that the railways wouldn't be operating and Mumbai is paralysed atleast for a day.
9.00AM : Trains were running every 15 mins on the much damaged western line.
10.00AM : Talking to S and saluting the spirit of Mumbai.
11.00AM : Heard that Rg's father in law is suspected to have been killed in the blast. He has been missing since he left office last evening. Rg has flown to Mumbai in the morning. His wife was hysterical. She was advised by the doctor not to travel in her pregnant state.
6.10PM : D says everything looks normal in Mumbai
6.30PM : Read "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny." MLK
11.45PM : Can't get rid of the number 11 in my head.
11 - the number in my mail ID which inspired bhai to write the piece posted earlier.
11 September 01 - WTC attack
11 April - S's b day
11 September 04 - lost bhai for ever
11 July 06 - Mumbai blast


"finding yourself in the same place over and over again until you get it exactly right"- read it recently on a wiseman's piece...brought back memories...whole lot of them..tears and smiles as I drifted, 'rooting', uprooting and transplating with ease and pain...inexcapable.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Grebulon I love you!

madness runs in my family :) ....this was a mail that my bro wrote when I created my hotmail id with the numeral '11' in it...!
Hello Grebulon, It is imperative, for you, and for the survival of your planet, your job, and your mental hygiene that we know the significance of the numeral 11 in your current email, in your past email, in your husband's email(past/present) and in your calorific diet intake, failing which we will irrevocably annihilate you. We, ofcourse will get 11 guesses as follows:
1) you see 11 people after consuming 11 bottles of vodka

2) you make 11 million USD annually(in which case we will contact the Internal Revenue Department or Westside Department Store as applicable)

3) you need 11 stiff drinks to get through everyday(in which case you should check into a clinic!!)

4) 11 is actually 10 + 1, but you are yet learning mathematics (and how is this significant....I don't know)

5) you buy 11 thousand rupees worth of eyeliner, in which case again clinic for eyeliner addicts come to mind

6) 11 is a sacred number to you - how - only you know and I will find out through hypnotherapy

7) you have 11 subordinate staff under you in your team to whom you shout 11 times a activity every Grebulon is very proud of.

8) you eat 11 hamburgers a day and deny it again 11 times a day??

9) you get promoted( and demoted) 11 times a day

10) one day you will realize 11 is totally the most irrelevant numeral in the total universe, but by then you will have a number 12 fetish.....can't help you there.

11) I'm running out of ideas......hmmmmmm.....

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Jyothika ouchhh!!

What's with me today? Some one said I look like the film actor Jyothika...wondering if the joke's on her or me....

Hotel California?

Walls and doors covered in mirrors and chandelier hanging from the ceiling in the middle, high above the floor. Fading sunlight streaming through the windows to the west and everything had a warm orange glow including the chandelier with a patina of dust aged to perfection for about 50 years or so. The ceiling was real high from where I stood, in the middle of the room and from my four-feet-above-ground eye level everything looked monstrously high. That is the first thing I remember and the mirrors. I could see myself reflecting from every wall of the ‘room’. I twirled and the 50 odd me twirled with me. The ‘room’ was a 50 x 30 ft. space of pure bliss. Welcome to my grandfather’s ‘house’.
My grandfather worked for the railways and from the size of the ‘house’ that housed his office and residence one could safely assume he was at the top of the railway ‘babudom’. Mom and I were visiting along with my brother who was all of four months and whom my grandparents were meeting for the first time, the purpose of our visit. My grandfather was posted in Kanchrapara, a ‘mofussil’ town 80 kilometres from Calcutta, whose only claim to fame was and still is, a large railway workshop set up by the British. On a sultry August afternoon, we arrived at Kanchrapara, on rail, from where we were ferried in my grandfather’s old Austin which was rather crammed with all of us packed like sardines on the back seat and the spilled over luggage from the boot filling every left over inch of space in the car. My brother who was other wise a peaceful soul chose that moment to wake up and greet the world with his ‘baritone’ which later ofcourse stood him in good stead in his ‘band’ days in school and college. I would guess he was suitably overwhelmed by the abundant attention my grandparents were showering on him and ofcourse Sitaram my grandfather’s driver cum orderly cum everything else, who continued to speak with me in bhojpuri with total disregard for the fact that I had no comprehension of either the language or the man. The heat, the sweat and the well timed wails were all that I remember of the journey. We went passed the gates and drove in on the pebbled pathway for about 100 meters till the main door of the ‘house’.
The ‘house’ was a grey coloured stone and wood ‘bungalow’ with two floors covering 4000 square feet of the 2 acres compound and was built around 1870. The main door bore my grandfather’s name and what I assumed his ‘rank’. His office was the entire right hand portion of the ground floor and had wooden benches for the visitors. In one of the bigger rooms was his massive desk covered with various colour files and paper and ofcourse a bell and a telephone (a black contraption that could easily replace a dumb bell with its weight and aesthetics). The residence was on the first floor and the wooden staircase creaked loudly with the collective weight of several feet and tons of luggage that was being hauled upstairs. Across the glass panel of the staircase, I saw a fleeting shadow and heard an owl screech and fly pass with a whoooosh. My grand mom’s hold on my hand tightened and she gave me a quick glance and I kept wondering why.
Upstairs was made up of several rooms that could shelter at least 50 homeless families comfortably. We settled in a relatively smaller room next to my grandparent’s bedroom. Every living soul was busy fussing over my brother and his rather urgent needs which were many. The long stemmed creaky fan had to be switched on, the bed had to be readied, the diapers had to be changed and so long and so forth and there was a cacophony of the maid’s singsong bhojpuri, my mother’s pleasantly urban Bengali and my grandfather’s allahabadi hindi.
I slipped past the commotion and went downstairs. Towards the left of the staircase there was a huge dusty door, which though shut was not locked. Slight push led to my ‘glass room’. The ballroom that held the pride of place in British social calendar had been converted into a railway file ‘godown’ with some of the mirrors cracked and everything covered in generations of dust and held a dull sheen of neglect. I ofcourse took to the mirrors and the chandelier and everything else faded away in the amber afternoon glow….Sitaram called my name (for some reason he decided to call me ‘baby’…..I wonder if I was ‘baby’ then what would be my brother….but ofcourse Sitaram rose to the occasion and christened him ‘shaheb’ which suited his plump rosy skin, red lips and curly brown hair just fine…) grabbed my hand and from his tone I figured that he was not pleased at all. He told me in no uncertain terms that I should never enter the room again and then shouted at the ‘choukidaar’ to lock the door immediately.
Night arrived soon and if you have lived in a ‘mofussil’ town you would know that human activities faded quickly along with the sun and dinner in my grandfather’s ‘bungalow’ was at 8pm and the orderlies and maids left us to ourselves by 9. Only Radha remained in the house and her sole purpose was to execute my grandfather’s many unbending principles. One of them ofcourse was to ensure that his granddaughter never saw ‘nightlife’ beyond 8.30pm. From then on, the only sounds were the creaking fan, my brother’s timely noisy demands and my mother’s and grandmother’s cooing which was aimed to quieten him and meet his input and output demands. So I was left alone with eyes wide open and my mind racing to piece together every sight and sound captured through the day. It is then that Radha took pity and broke one of my grandfather’s rules and told me a story. A story she heard from her grandmother or so she told me. A story as old as the ‘house’ itself. It was to do with my ‘glass room’. She put her calloused hand on my forehead and urged me to close my eyes and she took me through time gone by, a time when the ‘bungalow’ was not used to electricity and had real ‘engrej shaheb’s and ‘mem’s and the revelry lit up the bunglow like a jewel in the night. Her bhojpuri laced bengali forced me at times to ask her to repeat certain portions of the story and as she tried to repeat she would invariably add some colourful details that escaped me earlier. She ingeniously weaved me into her story as it meandered through folklore and reality. She caressed my hair she promised to make ringlets in the morning just like those fair ‘mem’s in her story. She told me that my stray strands of gold brown hair was good enough to make me a pucca ‘mem’ of some obsolete nobility and that my hair was God’s sign that I was meant for extraordinary things. Though my life has proved her wrong several times over but somewhere in my ordinary life I am unable to shake away her fascination for my slightly odd hair. But then for a five-year-old, left to her own means and asked to keep out of her busy family’s way, she was godsend. Somewhere in the night, the story got over and I fell asleep with dreams of my ringlets reflecting across the ‘glass room’. Predictably, in the morning, my mother would have none of my talk of getting Radha to make ringlets and told me that someday I would be thankful that I have not inherited her own dreadful curls.
The mornings passed with sundry household activities and lunch was an elaborate affair everyday. My mother was her father’s pet and looked forward to these lunches and they would discuss music and politics like every bengalee’s birthright. I would try to follow snatches of the conversation and learn that communists were not radically different from communalists and that America was the ‘neo Britain’ and would enslave us in the future. What I looked forward was the post lunch siesta when life came to a standstill on the first floor and my mother and grandmother, tired from my brother’s antics, would retired to their respective bedrooms and so did the workers to their quarters. My grandfather would be in his office downstairs and since Radha loved to sleep in the hot and humid afternoons I was by and large left on my own. My interest was the first floor balcony, with its wooden railing, that ran the entire length of the building and had a swing on the far end. The swing was broad enough for four adults to sit comfortably in pairs facing away from each other. It was low enough to allow me to climb on it and sit with my legs folded. It swung gently and even the crows considered me harmless enough to come and sit on the railing and some brave ones would even come all the way inside, a few feet away from the swing. I would watch them endlessly and grew to respect their social order. When the time came which almost always coincided with Radha’s coming to fetch me, one crow, who I assumed was the leader, would fly away and in a military fashion the rest would fly one after the other in rapid succession but never all at the same time and they always gave me a backward glance.
One exceptionally hot afternoon Radha found me asleep on the swing and when I woke up in her arms as she was carrying me inside, her dark face was drained of colour and her large usually friendly eyes were fixed with a strange expression and even her gaping mouth forgot to chew the ubiquitous ‘paan’. As she carried me inside she called loudly for my mother and grandmother and the din brought the rest from every part of the house. I ofcourse was unaware of the reason for her hitherto unforeseen behaviour, since Radha in her excited state was speaking bhojpuri fast and furious. She quickly laid me down on the bed and one of other maids gave me water to drink and another fanned my forehead. Suddenly like the ‘mem’ in my dream I became the center of attention with my mother holding my hand and caressing my forehead and everybody staring anxiously at my face and stealing glances at my hair. My attempts to know what had transpired were met with stiff resistance and I was told never to ask such questions ever again and my grandmother hugged me and made me promise I would never go to the balcony and specially the swing alone again. Years later, I heard from my grandmother the incident that led to the ‘unhooking’ of the swing.
Radha as usual had come to take me inside. What she saw was me asleep on the swing and swinging with abnormal force with no apparent breeze in the stiflingly hot afternoon. According to Radha, she even looked up at the trees, that surrounded the compound, to check whether the leaves and branches felt any breeze. But no it was not breeze that swung the swing that afternoon. Then when she looked at my face she saw my hair had turned into ringlets. Acting swiftly, she picked me up from the swing, which was not easy since the swing continued to swing despite her attempts to stop it. It swung gentle enough for me to lie on it without rolling off but the force was strong enough to make it difficult for her to pick me up from it without hurting her or me.
Come evening, the entire incident, with certain obvious embellishments was narrated to my grandfather. Thankfully, my grandfather, like his principles, had several believes and ‘supernatural’ was not one of them. He dismissed the idea and sat me down on his lap and told me the story of Joan of Arc (and that she was born in January as well) while he sipped his perfected-after-several-trials tea. But in my grandfather’s absence, my grandmother ofcourse instructed everyone to never leave me out of sight.
After that incident many advised my grandfather to shift residence and the railway authorities had sanctioned another slightly less grand premises for his residence but he insisted that there was nothing wrong and stayed on until his own health deteriorated rapidly with a mysterious, what then looked like a skin allergy, from which he never recovered and passed away in a Calcutta hospital a couple of months after our visit to his ‘bungalow’.
I of course never felt any different except for developing a slight dislike for curly hair.

Foot ball Fi ver

These are the times I truly miss Calcutta.....!!!! This time I would pick Brazil and England.....but for different reasons entirely.....Bangalore too is having its share of football fever but it doesn't feel as natural as in Calcutta or maybe I have grown old, which in any case I have!....I still remember way back in 1986 bhai and I would watch the late night matches beamed live from Mexico and one night during the quarterfinal half time I got scissors and cut the string of red CPM plastic flags that the 'party' fellows had hung on our apartment window in a zig zag fashion above the road and the entire string of flags fell off with a whooosh on the road.....after a while when the fellows found out and were discussing how it could have happened we got a little scared since ma and baba were travelling abroad....I still can feel the goosebumps we felt both from the excitement of the match and my anti-establishment act of cutting the string of flags...!!