Thursday, February 18, 2010

Chandni Chowk and a Cycle-rickshaw

Whenever someone claims to have interpreted reality, the shiver that runs down my spine is akin to the one accompanying claims of having photographed a ghost. The sheer dynamicity of the ever elusive reality is, according to me, something that can only be captured in multiple dimensions. And so, when I hear that the India International Centre’s Annexe is hosting a photography exhibition by Fabio Orlanducci and that he calls it Interpretation of Reality: Chandni Chowk through a Pin Hole Camera, I respond to the exclamation marks inside my head and set out to see it. Images rush by en route, memories of class 8, Physics lectures on properties of light as they encounter a pin hole camera and faded diagrams from Satyajit Ray’s autobiography.
The first image that slowly dawns on my consciousness when I reach the venue is a cycle-rickshaw, right in the middle of the gallery, next to a heap of faintly scented yellow, orange and maroon marigold. The marigold works like a gramophone unexpectedly crackling to life with strains of the “Delhi 6” song “Genda Phool” wafting in my imagination. The photographs are mostly in black and white. People. Places. Pin-holes. Shades of black and white. And the hint of motion in blurry greys. The blur is like the sharp shooting headache that blazes through when you twirl on your toes or go ice skating. And yet, the music in the background holds your hand and gives it a gentle clasp. It relaxes you and lets you be, just as Fabio lets Chandni Chowk throb and pulsate silently beneath a veneer of calm. Chandni Chowk through Fabio’s pin hole camera is not home to Karan Johar’s Kajol. This is not where the effervescent Anjali daydreams about marrying the rich guy. There are colours. Oh yes. There’s blue and green and red. There’s the promise of a bubble. But Fabio takes a cautious step away from it. And lets Delhi be. I walk away as his laptop stealthily breaks into Schubert’s “Ave Maria”. I leave the rickshaw puller on the seat of his rickshaw. I see how he keeps coming back to the vehicle and how his world revolves around it. The rickshaw is his reality. Fabio leaves with a cigarette and a cell phone. And I leave the marigold behind.

Music Medicine

Tonight, Nancy Lee Harper will play the piano (and not the harp).
She walks the stage in black, shimmering silver teasing my eyes like neon lights. Up above I see the patterns of a honeycomb. A thousand bees hum in the audience, as if they can read my mind. The Bosendorfer piano waits in silence and I let my gaze linger on the sardarji perched on the piano stool, testing the strings and playing the keys with a screwdriver in his hand. Ms. Harper might have taught at Juilliard but this, right here, is what India is all about. The spider breathes easy. It’s time to watch.
When her hands first touch the keys, a can of warm colours wash me down like a blanket. I find deep comfort in her milky white double chin. Surely, that’s where she hides her sweetness? Her black stockings and black heeled shoes beat clippety-clop along with the rhythm. It’s like she’s weaving a tapestry of melodies with her sewing machine. She romps about like a benevolent and majestic lioness gently spanking her cubs. In love with the piano, she gently cajoles it into opening up to her. The music reminds me of a kitten chasing a red ball of yarn. Frolicking around till it upsets a pitcher of milk. And I can see the milk trickling down the staircase.
When she comes to a piece by Fragoso, I feel like the black tongue of a river in high tide is lashing at the sides of a tunnel. It’s a seductive rhythm – one that makes you feel like a helpless child. There is a strange play of colours in the kaleidoscope. I find myself suddenly thinking of Russian fairy tales and faded illustrations of pompous princesses in the tale of Beauty and the Beast. Images that haven’t been anywhere near me in ages.
The spider sways and leaps to the near future.
Is this me in the kitchen, busy making tea? Whose footsteps are those? His hands encircle my waist as I feel his breath on my neck, willing me to turn ever so gently.
I listen, I see and I wonder: is she healing me or have I become more vulnerable because of what she’s done? She has poured hot, molten music over my heart and soul; she has torched my memories. There will be blood. There will be scars and burns. But underneath, the raw pink of a treasured yesterday brings the promise of a new tomorrow. Thanks for the renaissance, Nancy.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I wake up at 10 a.m. to the sound of sunshine ricocheting off my pink bed sheet. February is a pink month. Nature has too little of it and fairy tales have too much.
Pink is red and white. Like the Bravery Awards. And pure passion. Strangely, it’s also the month of independence. Which is why when you hear there’s the International Puppet Festival called Ishaara going on at the Indian Habitat Centre, you shy away. This is the month of standing up for the rights of a guinea-pig. The month of exploration.
This is also the month of belonging.
Because you venture a glance at the palms of your second cousin who just arrived from Sheffield and feel the tugs of kinship with the faded Mehendi, so similar to yours. And you know that the Mehendi doesn’t have to mean that you’ve grown up because you still enjoy swinging and she still reminds you of Wilma from the Scooby Doo mysteries.
February is about boarding passes that you preserve. A flight back to Delhi from Kolkata. When you take a controlled little trip down memory lane and levitate back to your loved ones. Don’t fly away too far.

Look at me

The behavioural equivalent of illumination is love. Or, to be more precise, those three little words. It’s the illusion that they love you just the way you are. That’s when you open up to them. Show them all you have and give in to them. He’s your paparazzi. He loves your image. Do you care enough to live up to it? How long? Shoot me. Hunt me down. Let me bask in the brightness before I recede into the shadows forever. With every flash of the camera, I love you.

Monday, February 15, 2010

My Cathedral

A song is a lie. Just like everything else in this world. And the fact that I’m arriving at these conclusions snug within my blanket up on the tenth floor is, of course, permitted. Because I imagine it to be so.
Words weave a confusing maze, too. A loud cobweb of neon reds that doesn’t let you breathe, nor blink. The telephone receiver could very well be a part of the face for future generations.
I miss him because I need a lap to lie down upon. Because I just spent a lot of money taking a cab to Nandan to watch a movie called “I Know Where I’m Going” and when I arrived, all out of breath, I realised that the state electricity minister has passed away and that Nandan is in mourning. No shows today.
I never do justice to the part of me that reacts to such incidents. The part that is dismayed, annoyed and even amused. I tend to respond to the demands of the ghost whispers all around me. Like the woman who used to appear in a TV commercial for the analgesic, Panjon, a voice that asks, “Ab aap kya karoge?”
I ate a sandwich. Ruminated. And then set off for St. Paul’s Cathedral. A beggar woman on the way had a thin sheet struggling to cover her little son. A dented vessel in which the passers by would drop their offerings. A hollow sound echoing their hollow intentions. I walked on by. Found a couple of mute hawkers on the pavement where the path bent right. Jhaalmuri, chhola and nimki. For the mother and her son. As I give her what I bought for them, what stays is the nonchalant look in her eyes and all over her body. She stretches out her hand as a little boy runs to her with a pale blue plastic bottle full of water. She doesn’t look at me again. A momentary clasp around my throat. All that under ten bucks. I saved money where I shouldn’t have, to compensate for the guilt of having splurged where I shouldn’t have.
The cathedral is beautiful. The cathedral needs no explanation. In the absence of his hand on my head, I find myself a huge shelter of love. It’s feverish. The murmurs at the back as you let your weight gently drop on the wooden benches. I’m not here to beg for forgiveness or confess my sins. I’m here because I need to be alone with my sins. The sunlight that reflects off the painted glass. Shards of a brilliant red. The gentle fluorescent green. The sound of footsteps. People who come in to pray. People who are in awe. People who are curious. And people who are here because they have been called.
I am here because I want to speak. And to realise that you can only, truly be silent when you know that God understands you and loves you.
It’s amazing how at the exact moment when a pigeon flew over our heads, I realised once again that I need to communicate. I need to look for a cure for loneliness. I need to express myself. What would be the behavioural equivalent of illumination?
Am I looking for God when I insist that he and I enjoy our meals in silence? Am I looking for God in him? When I yield to temptation and let it wash over me and within? When I pull him towards me ever so gently because a cab just sped past us? When I look at him and pray that he looks back?
And then there are those times when I fall in love with Marianne Dashwood (Kate Winslet’s character in Sense and Sensibility)?
Maybe she did fall in love with Willoughby. Maybe she fell in love with love. But she haunts me with feverish chants, drenched in the rain.
“Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, nor bends with the remover to remove. Oh no, it is an ever fixed mark that looks upon tempests and is never shaken.”
And then again, you leave the Cathedral to face the world outside. And you tell yourself, “Kate Winslet is an Oscar winning actress”.

The Flow

It began in a coffee shop.
“Hey.. this is how they sit during psychology experiments in a laboratory.. at right angles!”
“Er.. this is also how they sit in coffee shops.”
Very, very funny.
A month-long stint with theatre had made me wary of social scripts. The art of conversation. Rules that were painfully brittle.
I turned the pages of my memory and pulled on the brakes when the sight of Khokada, our liftman, descending in the newly renovated elevator reminded me of a rockstar in a stage performance and alternatively of an angel. I had a headache. It was cold outside. The elevator emanated a soft, dim glow attracting myriad winged creatures. So yeah, maybe I did imagine the halo around his head.
Let’s rewind.
The day began with sniffles. The hint of a sore throat. Smelly socks that clung to my feet like the phlegm inside my nasal passage. Yeah. Ugh. I know.
The geyser. The maid. The songs on my laptop. Chapattis. Cauliflower. Eggs. Raw tea. Erich Fromm’s psychoanalysis. Slanting rays of the sepia sun shining through the shade. Tongue twisters for the mindfucked.
Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock.
Pangs of possessiveness as you realise that your past has left your side.
And then, celebrations as the thermometer set me free.
Arriving at Priya cinema hall in a blur of yellow. Buy two tickets. Sell off one. Who said it’s gonna be easy?
“Sixty bucks.. sixty bucks.. you’ll like what you see.. I can assure you of that.. internationally acclaimed.. it’s the real thing.. just try it once.. oh you’ve been there already? Come on, give it another try.. would I lie to you? I was hoping you’d be the one!”
You might have been at Deshopriyo park. But you might have also been in a red light area. You can’t bear the thought alone. You share it. You burst into giggles. You have to, lest you feel the undercurrents of the truth in what you just joked about.
The universe has the last laugh. You find a client in a handsome babyface. You know why he bought it from you and not that nice old lady in the corner who came to sell off a ticket for a nice balcony seat because “my husband’s cheeks have swollen up all of a sudden!”
When you watch Rituparno Ghosh’s “Abohomaan”, you wonder why Mamata Shankar and Dipankar Dey still haven’t got the Nobel for chemistry.
But the movie does so much more to you that you compensate for it. You believe them.
It ends in a coffee shop.
You stop looking for a solution. Between the tears glistening in her eyes and the light reflecting off her eyeliner, your shimmering bubble blows bigger and bigger in all its kaleidoscopic colours. You aren’t just happy because you pretended to be the guy in her life and held her quivering hand in yours. You aren’t just happy because you found someone who agrees that snakes are lonely, misunderstood creatures. You aren’t just happy that you got to use your debit card after a long, long time.
You see, you’re happy because you realised that you’re free. And that you aren’t escaping from it.

Let's Do The Things We Normally Do

Jesse Katsopolis talks to his hair. And Phoebe Buffay talks to her clients’. “Now some of you will get cut and some of you won’t but I love you all.”
What about MY hair? I decided I need someone to look beyond the split ends. And tiptoed into New Delhi’s Khan Market outlet of Habib’s. A wash, a haircut and blow dry. Six hundred bucks. The usual.
Maybe. Maybe not.
I pause as I shut the door and the hairstylists look at me.
Reclining myself, straining my neck to feel the first lukewarm drops of water on my hair and my scalp, the promise of a gentle massage. I grope about for a magazine to read. Vidya Balan looks me squarely in the eye from the cover of Hair Magazine’s January 2010 issue. I fall for her hair. Her hair wouldn’t fall for me though. Does her hair fall at all?
The towel wraps my head and scoops up my scattered thoughts in its womb. I head for the chair and look into the mirror.
A snip of the scissors as his reflection smiles at me.
“Hi Ma’am!”
“Maine aap hi se katwaya tha na last time?”
“Maine to aap ko aate hi pehchaan liya tha. Aap hi pehchaan nahi paayi.”
A smile and an ever so slight turn of my head. An apologetic nod. “I’m sorry.”
He pretends. A pout showing he’s been offended. He pretends again. This time its forgiveness.
“It’s okay. Chai? Coffee? Soft Drinks?”
A murmur of instructions reaches the inner chamber like Chinese whispers.
A flurry of colours – orange, yellow and red. Clips that control the madness all over my head.
“Aap last kab aayi thi?”
“November. Beginning.”
“2009. Aap hi ne kaha tha 2-3 months mein ek baar..”
“5-6 weeks bana dijiye usko. Aapke baalon mein volume hai, aapka scalp oily hai par aapke baal dry hain. And you should apply henna for 20 minutes. Throughout the length. Scalp chhodke.”
I drift off.
The red and white cover all around me to shield my body from the chopped hair is draped around me like poetry. I tuck my hands inside.
The coffee comes in with swirling smokes of white and grey emanating from a green reminiscent of Kermit, the Frog. My hair flies in thin curly wisps as the hairdryer whirs in the background. It’s a strange sleepy symphony. The Wella and Paul Mitchell’s products all around seem like resolute fortresses that would help me hide my mind and its labyrinths behind thick curls of crowning glory. I am inching towards the look. Towards the scent of a woman in love with herself.
A sudden attack. He’s back. Scoops up my hair like whipped cream and asks me jokingly, “yeh look kaisa hai?”
“I am sure there are people who would.. find it suitable.. but I..”
“Mere liye nahi hai.. doosron ke liye theek hai, hai na?”
I smiled. Almost hit him. Almost shot a sarcastic remark. Almost let a twinkle light up my eyes and shine at him.
And then my friends called on my mobile. I found myself wanting to get out of there. Putting on the mask of professionalism once again. I hurried back into my coat. Hurried with the clasp of my handbag and with the notes of hundred inside. I hurried with the receipt. Pursed my lips and organised my emotions.
And a chance look into a mirror had me face to face with his reflection again.
“Thank you”, we mimed.
I looked away. Hurriedly. Stealthily. Almost feeling guilty. Almost forgetting that my job here is done.
And so is his.