Friday, May 14, 2010

Can I Come With You?

Anniversaries are always annoying. They make you think. They make you want to justify your actions and beliefs and worst of all, they question your pace. Now on any given midnight, you never quite find the fortitude to tell yourself that you know how the following 24 hours are going to turn out. You sit back and let endless possibilities flood your mind. But on a midnight that marks an anniversary, you are a nervous wreck. Trying to count your blessings and caught up in defining “blessings” and all that vocabulary.

I got depressed when I did the math for my coordinates. Last year, on this day, I was in Delhi. And this year, this is where I am. Again.

Of late, I have been turning to a Desk Calendar from Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama, Belgaum, with daily quotes from Swami Vivekananda, for advice. It’s like a Magic 8 ball. An offline Facebook Horoscope. As I flipped it to 14th, the verdict seemed to be: “So long as even a single dog in my country is without food, my whole religion will be to feed it.”

I had absolutely no idea how to put it into practice. But the hollow chuckle helped to ease the pressure a bit.

I don’t know about dogs but I made myself some Maggi and an omelette. That was my favourite dish, back in Bangalore. Kind of grew on me since that’s all I could cook at that time. I was missing too many things all at once. Independence. My job. My flatmates. The bean bags. The IPL matches. The Bacardi breezers. Cranberry for me. Jamaican Passion for her. And he was pretty okay with everything.

One whole year.

Earlier that night, “Castle” on Star World had opened with a feather in the breeze, landing on a pool of blood. Unsettling? Yes. The feather in the breeze is about Forrest Gump and going with the flow. You don’t want to mix crime with fairytales. I had skipped the episode at the slightest opportunity. I had been concentrating on Psychology. And drifted soon, when I realised that the author’s initials are R.A.B.. For every fan of Harry Potter, this is a pivotal point in the plot. The sixth book in the series (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince) leaves you with a locket carrying a note signed R.A.B.

There are these times when the Universe leads you on. I believe that’s what happened last night because soon, I was sitting with a book on Scottish Ghosts by Lily Seafield. A few months back, I had applied to Scotland’s Glamis Castle for the role of a storyteller conducting tours about its heritage. So when I spotted it in the list of contents, it got the better of my curiosity. Turns out, Glamis Castle actually has an apparition called “The Grey Lady” and some say there is “a secret chamber with a monster inside”!! Does that ring a bell? I mean isn’t that like Potter’s school, Hogwarts? The ghost from Ravenclaw house was called The Grey lady (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) and the hidden monster of course is the Basilisk (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets).

So I was excited. But it was 2:00am. So, I went off to sleep.

And then I woke up, still feeling off-colour. Imagine waking up to a ringing mobile that you just can’t locate and then when you do and turn it off, someone plays with ice cubes in the ice tray and they clatter annoyingly everytime you want to get a wink.

Anyway, pretty soon you are home alone. You realise there’s a missed call. You call back to find it’s the job you applied for and there’s an interview on Monday, 9am.

You hang up. Moment of silence. When was the last time you reached some place at 9am? When was the last time you woke up at 9am?

You don’t let yourself gloat. Instead, you find yourself back on the conveyor belt, questioning the pace of your life. You call up a few contacts, brush up fundamentals, meet a few experts and then walk into Khan Market’s Barista outlet.

Pace. Waiting for the Spanish trio behind you to make sense or at least, pipe down, as you wait for the Brrrista Choco thrill. See now this is tangible. This cream with bits of chocolate on it. you wish it was cold. You wish the coffee would smoothly slide over your tongue and not get stuck in the straw. You wish the ice cream would melt and not drip on the table. You wish the waiter wouldn’t wear that cap inside the outlet in this heat and that he would just stop staring at you and asking whether you’re enjoying yourself. You close your eyes because you just had a glimpse of the chocolate caramel lacing the walls of the glass, the dripping chocolate reminds you of freshly brewed Knock Out beer in a brewery in Aurangabad, dripping chemicals lacing the inner wall of a test tube, potions that Severus Snape must have lovingly prepared, blood that you donate in the day only to be sucked by a vampire at night. This calls for a rainy day. A break from this relentless heat.

The guy in front looks at you, realising you are enthralled by it. This is indulgence at its best.

Pace. Conveyor belts clash again. It’s time for the bill.

Me: 156?

Waiter: Yes Ma’am

Me: I thought it’s 130.

Waiter: That’s without taxes.

Me: Okay this is really embarrassing but I just have 150.

Waiter: Ma’am that’s okay. Do you have any conveyance?

Me: No I’ll walk. Why?

Waiter: Because then you could take some cash back from what you just gave me.

Pace. An unbelievably slow realisation that this is what cheekiness is all about. You feel like being angry. You feel like asking his name. Instead..

Me: Is there an ATM nearby?

Waiter: You want to pay 6 bucks? Why?

Me: I’ll just talk to the guy at the Counter.

You explain yourself. Not caring why the waiter is smiling. Not caring about his tip. Not even caring about how far you let him affect you just because of 6 bucks. All for the sake of pride. The only thing you were glad about? You’ve learned how to smile through it all.

I thought about pace all the way back home. It distorted my perception. I realised that I was seeing a mouse run over with its entrails hanging out in what was actually a dried up hibiscus that fell on the pavement from the branch overhead.

I reached home. And a boy in a school uniform opened the door. He had come over with my Mother and was waiting for his.

“Sorry. I’m not your Mom.”


I saw it after a while. A schoolbag from Jansport. His schoolbag. I once had one. After the one from Duckback. Must have had others. But these two stood out.

“So you’re reading Huckleberry Finn. He and Tom Sawyer were friends, right?”


“Hey which was the one with the character of Injun Joe?”

“Who? I know there’s a Jim that Huck goes sailing with.”

“No this was Joe. I’m quite sure. See there was a cave they got lost in while playing.”

“Was there a girl?”

Of course. This is a guy talking.

“Yes. Becky”.

“Yeah then that’s Tom Sawyer’s adventures. Joe was a very bad robber.”

“Oh okay.”

“And in Huckleberry Finn’s story, he puts pig blood over an axe and fools his father and escapes.”

“Oh. Okay. Umm… you could get some sleep, you know.”

“I slept.”

“So which class are you in?”


“You thirsty?”

“I have a waterbottle.”

“What classes did you have today?”

He mumbles something.

“Food? Oh wow I wish..”

“No not food. Flute.”

“Oh do you have it with you right now?”


“Hey you know your school is really beautiful.”

“Oh. I wish I could show you the primary school garden. I would have, had I gone with you.”

Men will be men. Whether in school or college or at work. Like Nelly Furtado said, Chivalry is dead but it’s still kinda cute. He takes over the lead now.

“Are you going out?”

“I just came back.”


“From your school.”

“No but are you going out again?”

“No. Why? Did you want me to come along with me, rafting on the Mississippi, like Huck and Jim?”

You smile.

He smiles.

“My friend and I have a pet dove.”

“Oh. Okay. You mean you guys feed it and all?”

“Yeah. My friend stays in the school.”

“Okay. So the summer holidays are taken care of then. I was wondering who would look after the bird now that the holidays are here. ”

“Yeah. You know it can’t fly. I mean.. she.”

“Oh it’s a she?”

“I think so.”

“And we can touch it. And puts our fingers and hands in its mouth and then when we take it out there are scratches. It doesn’t go near others.”

“So have you given her a name?”


We started watching Animal Planet. I think they were showing Madagascar. Ring tailed lemurs. He said he was going to Vaishnodevi in the holidays. And that he’s already been to Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Kulu Manali.

“I think it’s a bit like this.”

“What is like what?”

“The dove. It’s a bit like this picture I drew of it. You know it’s so small and brown.”

His eyes light up. I’m suddenly happy with my pace. I can appreciate this guy. We connect.

We start watching the lemurs again.

“Hey that looks like a soft toy.”

“It is. They are using that to draw out the actual lemur.”

“Hey look at their tails. And the eyes are so green and sleepy.”

The tails sway in a hypnotic rhythm. Corinne Bailey Rae sings “Put your Records On” in the background. He speaks again.

“Do you know about Saturn V?”

“No. What is it?”

“It’s a very tall rocket. Like a 30 storey building.”

“Wow. And no lift inside?”

There’s a pause. Darn. He’s a kid. What were you thinking?


“So where did you study about it?”

“I didn’t study.”

“Oh watched it on TV, did you?”

“Yeah. Discovery. And you know there is a robot which takes milk out of a cow by attaching to the udder. It doesn’t have to pull. And then you can program and push some buttons and go to sleep and it will work even at night.”

For a while you are confused and a little cautious. Why is he talking about milk and udders? And then you remind yourself that he’s just 10.

“So! Which one do you prefer? Discovery or Discovery Travel and Living?”


Definitely 10.

We watch lions eating bisons for a while. He taps his library book with his fingers and plays with the cover.

And then his Mom calls. She’s here. The doorbell rings. It’s his brother. A customary pat on the shoulder and two little feet scurry about and hoist the schoolbag onto the two little shoulders.

It’s not about pace alone, is it? It’s about who’s with you on your journey. The anniversary sucks, oh yes. Only because it isn’t yours.

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