Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Table For One, Please!

We must realize and accept, in full honesty and sensory awareness, that having friends in no way translates into a guarantee of zero-lonely-hours and/or a definite shoulder to cry on.
Sometimes, your friends are simply mute spectators to the game that you play, alone, with your own life and your own demons/ghosts. They watch and observe, taking silent notes that they shall undeniably use on you in your next conversation about the world and its bizarre ways, catching you off guard, touching a very visceral part of your being because you shall suddenly realize, when you least expect it, that you were always being watched and there were always pairs of watchful eyes keeping a check on you.
But despite the knowledge of this fact, I must make note of the sudden realization that I have had over the past few months. No one owns anybody. It's not a relay race that we're all running, with teammates and someone to fall back on if you don't run fast enough. We run alone.
You don't have an audience for your performances on a daily basis. Sometimes you must applaud yourself because you deserve the applause. Acceptance of your sense of singularity is essential to growth, even if it means having a meal by yourself at a restaurant without holding up shields such as cell phones and magazines to lie to the world about how alone you truly are.
It's time that we abandon excuses, hold our heads up high, raising them from the pool of shame that we pissed out ourselves; because being alone isn't always an implication of failure, inept social skills, an unattractive personality or a sordid circumstance.

C'est la vie, mon ami!

Friday, 25 July 2014

Prehistoric Banks Of Bengal

Old ancient wires wound together into cohesive bundles, bound by greying plastic encasing ran across the length of the dusty walls of the bank.
I waited, with folded hands-a patient facade put up to encourage a faster response from the bank employees-as Mr. Ghosh shuffled around looking for my papers and account information at his own lazy pace. The truth was that I was, and always have been, the most impatient woman in the world, and yet, I knew that haggling for time and whining about shoddy service was the last thing one ought to do in a bank in Calcutta.
"You shall have to wait. This is going to take some time. Coming after ten years to activate a dormant account isn't so easy. This isn't a Domino's Pizza outlet. No half an hour guarantees here madam", said Mr. Ghosh through his rather translucent, thick spectacles, wagging a fat hairy finger at me.
Father had told me to hold my tongue and stay calm despite possibly infuriating responses, so I remained silent and understanding of the old man and his careless shuffle, nodding in agreement.
The bank looked like it was stuck in time, in another century, when telephones weren't thin black slabs to touch and fiddle with, but big bulky boxes that rang like relentless alarm clocks. Even the people who worked here looked like they belonged to an older, more complacent era. They wore clothes from the previous decades-bell-bottoms and puffy frilly blouses, sitting sleepily at their work stations and staring at their computer screens as if they were looking for answers to some ancient unsolvable questions. In fact, the computers were probably the only clue that could make you believe that you were, indeed, in 2014 and not a passenger in a time machine.
"Madam, why don't you sit? As I said, this could take a while. Should we get you some cha?" asked Mr. Ghosh. Bengalis and their cha-loving ways will never allow for a guest or a client to escape from their clutches without a cuppa. I nodded my assent and thanked him for the hospitality.
A young boy of about fifteen pulled me a dusty wooden chair out of a corner as he smiled at me, staring rather disconcertingly at me from head to toe, and then settling his eyes on my chest area.
I cleared my throat, as if to tell the kid to snap out of it, and then smiled back at him to express my thanks.
"Oh wait, madam. The chair is awfully dirty, why don't I clean it for you?" said the kid. Without waiting for a response, he pulled a rag out of somewhere and swatted the dust off the rickety chair, making it fly towards me, so that I sneezed for the next two minutes.
When I opened my eyes after the sneeze-fest was over, I saw the same boy walking towards me with a tray in hand. He placed a white porcelain cup with a slightly jagged edge in front of me, smiled again, and trotted away merrily.
Trying to avoid the jagged edge, I sipped on the sickeningly sweet tea, wishing for Mr. Ghosh to really hurry up with my papers. I was suddenly aware of the fact that there weren't too many women in the cramped up bank, and there were at least five sets of creepy eyes set on me and my cup of tea. Like all of us tend to do nowadays in awkward scenarios, I pulled out my phone to fidget with and distract myself.
In reality though, a visit to this place wasn't something I would manage to distract myself from for a while, I was sure.
The fact that it remained like a grimy little bubble, impermeable to the effect of time and change really fascinated me. Less than two hundred metres from the palatial residence of the Governor of West Bengal, it stood there, very inconspicuous from the outside, very resistant to all outside effect and influence on the inside. I wondered how these employees dealt with the real world after 5 pm everyday. Did they step out, expecting Victorian era horse-drawn carriages? Or perhaps the more recent 1960's style cars and trams? Did they, perhaps, go back through some time warp to sleep each night in another decade, coming back the next morning to once again live on this mysterious floor?
My imagination was in overdrive, swapping theories and hypothetical situations when the inimitable Mr. Ghosh returned to his station, noisily dragging his chair into position and dropping a pile of papers on his table for me to sign.
After the formalities were finally completed, I was relieved, and rejoiced in the fact that I was now allowed to return to the 21st century.
I speed-walked my way out of the bank onto the street, inhaling deeply, leaving behind stale oxygen from the time machine I had been sitting in for the past half hour.
This strange little visit left me feeling grateful, for possibly the first time, to be really living in the present. In 2014. We might have wars, rapes, pollution, and corruption, but we can still breathe free, without a sense of claustrophobia or of walls pushing down on us from all sides.
I told daddy that I was never going back to the bank again and that it made me severely uncomfortable and uneasy. He wasn't surprised, simply irritated to know that he'd perhaps have to make a visit to the place himself the next time some paperwork was due. No one likes going there, I realized.
I also realized how there really is no time like the present, no matter how terrible it may seem. No one likes to go retrograde; human beings are genetically designed to move forward. Didn't Darwin say so? We adapt to survive.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Magnets And Ink

It stretches from the Arabian bends
Of your collar bone 
Over the mountainous terrain
Of that shoulder
You shrug, with such elegance,
As though it were a song
Set in motion by the movement 
Of a girdle...

It climbs down the olive skin
Of that back
On which you lie 
As I lay upon your solid being,
And we move in tandem
With our throbbing hearts
And ragged breath
To a song only we hear...

Black ink that carries

My name and yours,
Entwined into a perfect marriage
Of design and depth-
I stare at the tattoo,
Sated from your loving,
Your hand still in mine,
My name still on your lips,
Leaving them like a sparrow
That leaves its nest each morning
Only to return to it
Each night...

We always come back to each other...

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Death Is A Jungle Cat

Death appears, in slight slivers,
In a comma, or in twilight,

As a marker of an
Impending end,
And a harbinger of
A new time to come...

But its arrival is nimble,
Like a jungle cat,

With raised shoulders,
And a silent crawl
Eyes set firmly on 
The unknowing prey...

Pet Ghosts

I have pet ghosts
That come to haunt me,
On quiet, humid nights
When the world has been harsh
And the mood has been
The ghosts arrive
Like horses without masters-
Legs raised in salutation
And in mockery-
Encircling me into
An impermeable bubble
Where I live with my
Wispy memories,
And my sadistic ghosts..
We dance around the fire
That feeds on integrity 
And on honest smiles..
We dance on until the sun
Shows up,
And I mount my 
Mocking horses,
And ride off into the sunset,
Towards a higher goal,
And a quieter night...

Sunday, 13 July 2014

My First Broadway Experience

I have bored all you lovely readers on several occasions with my incessant diatribes about the significance (and frequency) of the dreams I see every night.
Sometimes the dreams are about long lost friends/ foes/ lovers, sometimes they are about angry elephants trying to kill me, sometimes about all my teeth falling off (a dentist's worst nightmare?), sometimes about swimming with dolphins, and oh-so-many more of such strange, psychedelic dreams.
Last night had a rather disturbing but memorable one in store for me that made me wake up with a heavy head and a tired mind. After a giant mug of brilliant black caffeinated goodness, I realized that I could recall the dream in exact detail as if I'd seen it in HD a hundred times over, despite having driven away my grogginess and properly awoken from my state of sleepiness.

I was in New York City, heading to watch a Broadway musical where my grandfather was playing the protagonist. I sat in front row seats of a grand auditorium, possibly in the VIP-section because dadaji was, after all, the lead in the musical. He looked at least thirty years younger, with a happy, heavy paunch and a smart navy-blue dinner jacket. He had a slightly bucktoothed smile on his face (of course I would notice a man's teeth even in a dream!) as he playfully chased two little kids on stage who laughed and appeared to be greatly enjoying his attention and company. The stage looked like a park, and the children-a little girl, and an even littler boy-sat on a swing set as dadaji pushed the swings forward and the children let out peals of delightful laughter. Dadaji was saying something to them, but unfortunately that's the part of the dream I don't remember now. And perhaps that's what made this seemingly happy dream a disturbing one.

I have written before about his Alzheimer's. His lucid intervals are now rare, and his speech is now more incomprehensible than it was a month ago. His gradual decline of cognitive functions is suddenly so apparent and so obvious, and a few days ago, it hit me how I don't even remember the last time I had an actual conversation with him where I was speaking to the man himself, and not to this horrible disease. He has launched a thousand careers in his lifetime, helped out anyone who reached out to him for any kind of assistance, built so many bridges for the sake of goodwill and kindness because he knew that he had been blessed with that kind of power and authority. The example that he has set for the rest of his family through his actions and greatness (there truly is no other word I can think of that fits in this context) is big enough for us to probably never be able to outdo. He has been one of India's most respected corporate names for decades with the most inspiring work ethic that I have ever seen in a human being; so much so that today, even though it's been over four years since he retired, and as I said before, he isn't exactly himself anymore, he still sits with all his paperwork on a daily basis and attends to his correspondence with a punctuality that you won't commonly encounter. 
It's so scary and unsettling when I think about this horrid disease, and how it wipes a man's memory and personality away, slowly but surely, like a sadist with nothing better to do. I fear the future more than would be considered a healthy amount, largely because of the regular changes I have unfortunately observed in dadaji.
But like always, he still has that inimitable spark of humour and positivity in him that we all know and love, and a few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to have experienced that.
I had been having a rough, tiring day, buried in paperwork and grad school applications, and sat on the dinner table with my head in my hands when he entered the room. In one of those increasingly rare moments of clarity, he didn't need to ask me what had induced this posture and seriousness on my usually goofy face, and said to me very firmly yet cheerfully, "What has to happen will happen when it must. There's no good in sitting and worrying about anything for so long. Have faith in your destiny beta!"
I was more than just taken aback by his words for so many reasons, but that's besides the point.
The words he said to me that night will always mean more to me than anything anyone has said or will ever say.
Those words were a bit like Murphy's Law, but with an optimistic little twist in the tale, in my grandfather's signature style. Everywhere he goes and anyone he meets, he lights the place up with his humility, cheerfulness and smile. Perhaps that's what last night's dream was meant to remind me of. Placing my trust and faith in a higher power and meanwhile, keeping my head low. Everything doesn't need to happen to everyone at breakneck speed, I suppose.
Thank you dadaji.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Love And Die

Everyday, Death whispered
Sweet poetry in my ears
Drawing me slowly, surely,
Towards its magnetic poles
Of ends and beginnings...
It romanticized destruction
And glorified creation
Through subtle, serpentine sonnets
That wound into my heart
Through vulnerable corners
That were unguarded
And unloved,
And suddenly, I found myself
Dancing on my toes;
Waltzing with Death,
As if to say,
"I approve of you, and
I shall follow where you lead me..."
Mesmerized by power,
Blinded by lust,
Enchanted by poetry,
I was in love-
And that is what killed me...

Thursday, 10 July 2014

It's Just A Bag Of Bones

I was raised to believe that playing a sport and being fit is the way to be. It's healthy, it builds character, improves one's mental tenacity and teaches a child important life-lessons that determine so much about how he/she will choose to handle pressure in the later years of life.
As kids, all of us spent every evening on the tennis court, sweating it out and loving every bit of the intensive training; every summer was spent glued to the TV screen to watch the French Open and make bets about who we thought would win and then spend the next evening trying hard to replicate the shots that had awed us the previous day.
Somewhere along my path to adulthood, I realized how much the world changed, and how suddenly, scrawny toddlers turned into obese teenagers. Obesity is more often than not a lifestyle disease that we bring on to ourselves. It isn't any karmic injustice that's being meted out indiscriminately to folks on the basis of some morbid little genetic lottery. We bring it on to ourselves when we choose fries over salad, TV over exercise, social media over going for walks, internet browsing over heading out for a run.
Being fit is easy if you make some good choices that agree with your body. Choosing to turn to drugs to lose weight is going to ultimately end with you losing part of your mind, sanity and self-esteem.
When I see people all over the internet go ballistic about 'body-shaming' and 'body-positivity' it drives me crazy.
No, it is not okay for you to be unhealthy and unfit. We need to stop equating these things with positive images that society labels with a big loud "OKAY" sign.
We desperately need to promote sports and healthy habits, specially for kids. Stop announcing that it's alright to be comfortable with unhealthy lifestyles. When you pat someone on the back and say very ignorantly that you're proud of them for being content (or complacent) with obesity or anorexia, you have just lent support to diseases. Encourage exercise and good food.
It's great to be in a state of mental acceptance and peace with your body, provided that you know truly that you do the right things, eat the right food, stay away from unhealthy addictions. And in this situation, it hardly matters if you weigh a hundred kilos or fifty, or whether you're obese or anorexic.
Shift your bloody focus from the way your body looks and turn it, instead, to your fitness and happiness levels.
Those are much more effective parameters to go with, and mean a whole lot more.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Sourenee Tea Estate And Us

My grandmother spent the larger part of her growing up years shuttling between Kurseong, a few miles from the touristy town of Darjeeling, and in a tea garden called Sourenee Tea Estate. My great grandfather, her father, was the manager at Sourenee, which made dadi something like local royalty.

I have grown up listening to so many interesting tales of this place from my father, my uncles, and dadi about how every summer, they would sit on a train and run off to Sourenee, which they swear to this day, is the most beautiful place on the planet. Unfortunately, after my great grandfather died of cancer several decades ago, the management of the erstwhile grand tea estate passed into rather incompetent hands. Over time, Sourenee became a forgotten name in the highly competitive world of tea-estates.
It became a name that I unconsciously began to associate simply (and very mechanically) with the place that dadi grew up in. Somehow, very foolishly, I never considered the possibility of an emotional bond that she might have formed with the place. Or memories that she still holds close to her heart that were born in those green hills as the Himalayas looked on approvingly.
In my defense, I have never met a more pragmatic woman in my life. My grandmother doesn't indulge in wasteful human follies such as dwelling on the past or recollecting old forgotten days and wasting tears on what once was.
This morning, as the whole family sat together for a noisy Sunday brunch of dosas, idlis and Colombian coffee that literally knocked my socks off, my uncle showed dadi an article from yesterday's newspaper about how a few summers ago, Sourenee had taken to organic farming and a few German buyers seemed to be showing interest in possibly revamping the place. There were a few photographs of the estate, and a rather well-written article that dadi didn't care to read. Her eyes were fixed on the photos of what she had once called home, and I saw something that I haven't often seen in my life. She weeped sadly and fondly, and I found that I couldn't look at her as she did. Her sudden/rare outburst offered me a glimpse into a part of her life that I wasn't around for, that I had only ever heard about in stories that were shared with me on those sleepy nights from my childhood, dabbed with additional layers of adventure and spice to make for better bedtime storytelling.
It gave me a sharp reminder of how, once upon a time, my grandmother wasn't my grandmother; she was just a young girl who lived and grew up frolicking around in this beautiful tea estate under the watchful eye of Mt. Kanchenjunga. She must have had her share of stereotypical growing-up experiences, and if DNA is anything to go by, then she must have had a rebellious edge to her otherwise poised appearance.
It is so easy for us to record every little thing we experience today on pen, paper and cyberspace. No one needs to worry about earthquakes, wars, fires or floods stealing away our memories from us. We've got it all covered.
I felt so bad to see those tears in her eyes this morning, because it took her nearly forty years to get that tiny glimpse of her old home, and yet it was so obvious that this was a special moment for dadi.
She showed me today how she comes from a generation that's soon going to be lost in time, that practiced patience and derived joy from simplicity. And very unconsciously, she added another place on my bucket-list.
I felt a bit ashamed of the generation that I belong to, which shows appreciation and approval through Facebook 'likes'. The internet has stolen away the romance of holding a photograph in your hands and experiencing the flood of memories that had been tucked away for a long time in forgotten crevices of your mind. But perhaps this is just me indulging in what they call 'golden-age thinking', and perhaps this is how evolution and change occurs.

As I listen to Miles Davis and type these words, I am imagining myself sitting at the pergola in the Sourenee manager's bungalow, staring at the lush green expanse of tea-leaves before me as if to go on and merge with the mountains that seem to shelter this heavenly estate from the merciless ways of time. Life feels beautiful.