Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Reached Home. :-)

Mashi, you really thought I was going to be able to finish all the stuff you’d fetch from the market in that bag? I ate out half the time and was just plain distracted or depressed or not hungry the rest of the time. Not when you were around, I’ll give you that. You made life seem so tangible with decisions like “Is it going to be chapattis or rice?”, “an omelette or egg curry?”, “a plain papad or a masala papad or no papad at all?” I mean I just had to sniff and you would find out the thermometer and insist I spend the day indoors and go buy some Crocin.
What is it to you?
Why were you there on the staircase just outside the flat, waiting for me to come over? You missed your train, offered to stay at night because I might get scared of ghosts or something and there might be a powercut and what not. Why did you sound apologetic that day when my friends came over and you had to go? What was with the "Please stay back. She needs friends. She's not well. And she shouldn't be here alone." Of course, I wanted to sink through the earth but the bigger issue here is that of course you needed to go and be with Swapna. She’s your daughter. Why would you even ask me? Just go.
No, it’s not you and your insistence that I rescue the papaya rotting in the refrigerator. I’m just angry it’s you and not him. Because he wasn’t waiting for me and you were. And because your eyes lingered on that "hot Habib’s haircut" that was supposed to make him smile.
You don’t bat an eyelid when I take your photograph. You don’t even pose. And I don’t caption it and put it up on Facebook. You don’t exclaim when you realise the heavy curtains in the drawing room have come undone and that I have minutes before I leave for the airport. You treat it like your house and your room and it goes without saying that it has to be perfect. The curtain is a symbol of status quo ante, as my grandfather would have put it, when he lived in the same apartment.
I didn’t even plan for what fruits and vegetables to have what day. I didn’t have to tell you my days are incomplete without that morning cup of tea. You just had it ready. I planted myself on that chair beside the television set and poured out my heart and soul on a cell phone that hardly simulated the warmth of a relationship in its small, metallic frame. It didn’t strike me that I was shutting myself from you. I never asked them to hold or hang up because it was important to me to talk about obscure intellectual events in English or Hindi and brush my hair as I scan the newspaper and go to that place inside my head that’s private and out of your reach. You asked me if you should buy the paneer and you should buy the chicken and I thought you and me should only be about a yes or a no to specific questions.
You cleared the cobwebs and mopped the floors and washed the utensils and got the tap running and the house smelling like home. The sound of the chillies hissing in the oil and the bayleaves crackling as you cough and open the windows skims only the surface of the character that you lend to the apartment.
I wish the liftman would know what you do when you scurry up and politely ask to be taken to the 10th floor. He got a piece of my mind for his new “rules” about who can use the lift. I’m not sure it’s going to help when I’m not around but it’s worth it. You’re the last thing on my mind when I leave the city and I mean it in a good way. You don’t just see me off when I take a cab and make sure I leave in time. It’s that smile that follows the sigh when you realise everything went off smoothly and when you brush the sweat off your forehead, leaning into the cab with your final queries, “So if you take a flight from Kolkata to Delhi will you reach the same day? And will you let me know you reached safely?”

Monday, April 26, 2010

Please Stand Clear Of The Doors

That’s Shauqat, the campus Chai wallah. The department of Psychology owes many an intellectually stimulating sip to his hot, dented kettle. He had a younger brother. And a school that he went to when he could. I haven’t seen him around much of late. And I think it was two bucks a cup.
Shauqat can’t be the guy looking at the camera and smiling. He was always busy. Or maybe he wasn't serving us tea at that moment and that’s how I wanted to remember him.
He’s inseparable from my memories of the campus. Just like the Metro.
It hasn’t changed in all these years. The Delhi Metro stops at Rajiv Chowk and the crowd tumbles inside. Humming like a honeycomb full of angry bees. I realise I am in sync with my surroundings. That the metro is my home. And the cubicle is my room. My head tilted to one side, I am listening to time rustling by. A girl on my left pores over Strategic Marketing, her eyes trying to focus on the letters, hiding her uncertainty in the course she has chosen. The girl in front of me is concealed by the crowd. She is sitting beside a shock of fluorescent green and her socks are peeping out in stripes of mauve and red and black.
Outside, the rickshaw puller calls me and I walk away with no regrets. This is a walk I look forward to. A walk down Chhatra Marg.
I could photograph the road, maybe. I could even take a photograph of empty tea cups lying on the road but never one of Delhi University’s North Campus or the classrooms we sat in. It’s too close to where I am.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Food for Thought

Thanks, Amma. This one’s for the smile at the end of a hard day’s work. Let’s not pretend that I discovered you. I’m glad I found you though. And I wish I could tell you personally about this post and that you could read it. But I'm just gonna send this out into the cosmos for now. One day, I hope, someone bumps into it and lets you know.

For the uninitiated, Amma has a stall right outside the company I used to work in, in Bangalore. It’s been a while since I left. But yesterday, as we Bongs celebrated the Bengali New Year with titillating temptations for the taste buds, somehow her quiet aroma wafted through the sieve of my memories and the sumptuous spread in front of us.

Amma almost tiptoed into my life in Bangalore. One fine day a pint and a quart of beer came off premise for a drag. And while the quart passed on the bubbles of knowledge while trying to stay on top of the bitter waves, the pint spilled over and gushed. Trainees. On the tracks. And relying on her to blow off some steam. I wasn’t a part of her world yet. She hadn’t let me in.

Two years went by without a blip. And then a junior recommended her with a confident nod.

“Egg pakoras at Amma’s.”

Off I went in search of the fabled boiled egg in fried batter. Munching into heaven amidst pearls of wisdom for a newbie, every addiction begins with a whimper. I came back for more. The boiled egg and chitranna (yellow rice) to heal the wounded ego on days when your mobile is the perfect accomplice and cannot receive network coverage, the omelette dosa on days when you just want to sway on the creaky bench, the earthen cup of tea on days when you’ve got to run, the chilli pakoras to get you through the days of perfect calm and a hastily gulped aalu bonda on the days when your mobile betrays you.

Her stall was underestimated as a social networking site. There were people who came for a joke and people who came for a drag. People who left in a hurry when they realised that it’s better to live in denial than to realise that life is a drag.. that life is a joke.
And people who came to realise.
The tongues that wagged and the heads that longed to stop spinning. Your granddaughter waiting with a glass of water and a twinkle in her eye – did she like it when someone bit on a red chilli? Or when someone raised their voice? Did she eye the smoke and smell the fire? Which did she prefer – the gossip or the fuel for it?

Did I speak first or did you? I think it was you. And for some reason, you triggered off the examinee deep inside. I couldn’t leave my sheets blank. I had to attempt every question of yours. You talked in English, I remember. I don’t know what you gathered from what I said because you went right back to your mother tongue. Talked it over. And I was too busy contemplating a prepaid service with you. A hundred bucks. Eat as much. Recharge when you can. Lots of mental maths. And the beginnings of a strange relationship. You and I. Relative strangers. So this is what trust feels like.

I could count on the egg pakoras being ready at 4pm. I could also count on the stray dog waiting for a bite or two. And I rarely disappointed him.

I’m sorry your mother passed away. It must have been her time. I missed you those few days. We wondered where you’d gone. And we wondered how many of us would go over to your competitor. For good. We contemplated articles and blogs on “Brand Amma”. And then you came back. The theories were puffed away. The discussions veered towards exitees. Who had left? Who were planning to? Where would they go? Who has come in? And when would they leave?
I’m sorry I left so abruptly. And thanks for the photograph. You’re gorgeous. :-)