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?