Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Conversations with (so many) nobody(ies)

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This post was up on this blog over a year ago, but it is special as the people mentioned in it are so. Between when it was published and now, one of the participants got married and two of them are going to get married very very very soon (like tomorrow!). MaheshC and I remain the same, unchanged by time ;-p
Those were days when a few of us used to blog and comment regularly. I think we have all grown up and become serious adults! :-( I miss those days when participating on blogs was so regular and full of life. With some folks we would comment and then discuss comments over the phone (across states, sometimes). I doubt whether that fervour would ever return to the blogging world. :-
It brings back a lot of fond memories (honestly, I couldn't make head or tail of the comments on this post!)... Here is to the wonderful people in this post.

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This was a conversation I had with some very interesting thinkers. I am sure most of the readers of my blog have already visited their pages, or maybe not. It was about 20:00 hrs (while in bed) on 3rd March 2005 when I had this conversation although the conversation was in the coffee shop of Landmark in Spencer's a little before lunch time... You'll figure, don't worry. Meera, Extrospectrivia and I were sitting at this table with my back towards the counter (I had to look away from those brownies in the jar). We were waiting for Renuka and MaheshC. They had promised to arrive some time ago but they haven't.

Pan to a table where all of us are seated, still with my back to the counter.

MaheshC: I suppose you are the only one who actually writes such detailed comments
Meera: (Rolls her eyes) Yeah right!
Like A Feather: Actually, I like to write so ...
Meera: But longer than our posts? Puhleaaze.
LAF: Its not about the length. I like to point out what I felt and liked in the post. If I see something that could have been changed then I suggest.
MC: But I like those comments. Sounds genuine.
LAF: Exactly, I can't just stop by and drop a "Brilliant" or a "So nice"
Me: I agree with you, Eroteme. I was just pulling your leg...
Renuka: But people who drop those comments are not necessarily insincere
LAF: Agreed, but repeated "That was so great" makes me wonder "Why?". Think about it. When I say on your blog that I like your post, shouldn't I let you know what parts I liked and what parts I didn't? Wouldn't that make you feel a shade better, Renuka? Uhh, by the way, is there a shorter form to your name?
[MaheshC and Meera laugh. Extro smiles]
R: Renu
LAF: Cool. I'll keep alternating if that is ok. So back to the original point. Shouldn't people know why they like something rather than paste a comment like a smile on the corridor.
MC: You used that same expression on my blog
LAF: Yeah, I'm running low on creativity off late... So tell me Renu. Huh?
R: [After a deep inhalation] What you say is right, Eroteme, but not everyone wants to give a detailed comment, and ...
LAF: Then why comment? Simply to let me know that you also read my post?
R: What's wrong about that? As in, my friends ...
LAF: Nothing wrong. I am not saying that these guys are bad or wrong, all...
R: Don't interrupt me!
LAF: Oopsy daisy. Sorry.
R: [Smiles] Its ok I was just... See my friends would want to simply drop by and say that they liked my post. Why must they define their likes?
LAF: Nothing wrong with defining likes or dislikes. When I go to a shop and pick a shirt, and someone asks me "Why do you like it?" I think I would be able to give countable reasons for that. "I don't have this colour.", "Nice stripes, naah?", "I wanted a shirt like this ever since I watched Ace Ventura!"
[Laughter around the table]
LAF: Thank the lord. I thought I was in a morgue!
MC: But I agree with Renuka. Sometimes the comments would be general, because breaking it down to parts might make them lose the mystery of it. Sometimes its simply the feeling of joy in reading such a piece.
LAF: But defining something doesn't kill the beauty of the thing. I think it was Feynman who once said that studying the stars doesn't take the beauty out of them. Calling them a gaseous mass doesn't make them less beautiful on a cloudless night sky.
Me: Actually, they are right, Eroteme. In spite of the many conversations when we agreed on this, I think we can't help general comments at times too.
LAF: I am lost. I think it is a problem with what I think is the purpose of a comment. I think the comment is more to let a person know what I felt when I read the post. And in that...
R: Feeling nice or finding the post brilliant is ok, right?
MC: Yeah
R: It's like when someone says that he or she is in love.
LAF: Oh oh. Don't go there...
Me: [with a grin] Why not? I know you hate that topic, but...
LAF: I don't hate it. I just don't seem to be looking in the same direction that others have their faces towards.
R: What's wrong with love?
LAF: Nothing Renuka, but its more about my beliefs. I believe that Love too can be and rather should be defined.
R: What?
MC: This is getting interesting.
Me: This is only the start.
LAF: Guys, help me.
R: Love should be defined? As in what? How?
LAF: See, I think that when someone says that "I love someone" I think the person should know why.
R: Why?
LAF: Exactly
R: No, no. Why should they know that? Love is such a nice feeling.
LAF: Who said anything about it being bad? All I am saying is that a lover should know why he or she is in love.
R: You are mad.
LAF: What?
R: As in, can't someone just love somebody?
LAF: Yeah, anyone can do what they want. All I am saying is that, I would prefer it that way.
Me: But love doesn't have to have reasons. Its a feeling, an emotion.
LAF: But so is anger, and don't we always have a reason for being angry? And don't we find someone silly for being angry for no reason?
R: Its not the same.
Me: I agree with you. Anger is also an emotion and it usually has a reason.
LAF: Usually? I think it always does. Rarely does one say "I am mad at him but can't put my finger on it"
One of the coffee shop boys: Sir, would you like to place an order?
LAF: Sure. Would love to but in another 5 minutes. Is that ok?
Boy: Sure, Sir. No problems.
LAF: And to think that the Queen is working overtime trying to figure out whom to knight next.
R: What?
LAF: No nothing.
MC: How do you define love?
LAF: Nice piece. I really love the way the flute goes on that one tuuu-ruru. tuuu-ruru. And then the piano starts. Really nice. Mahesh, there is no one definition for love. Each individual needs to know why one loves and be able to put it down in words.
R: That is what has made love so mechanical and artificial.
Me: I agree. Though I have something ...
R: And that is why people keep falling out of love and divorce rates are climbing.
LAF: Actually I don't think divorce is the bad thing out here. It is the love that got them in there. Had they thought about the "Why" in their love they might have realised that a marriage, though nice, would not work.
R: What? And how does that happen?
LAF: See, Renu. Its pretty simple. When I say I love... say that lady in rust colour kurta over there...
Me: I was wondering why you were looking over there. She's ok.
MC: Looks good to me.
LAF: Me too. Nice stilettoes.
R: Guys. Relax. She's probably married.
LAF: Aaah. Experienced! Hmmm. Nice, really nice.
[Laughs]
Me: [Laughs] No wonder you can't find a girl.
LAF: Of course I can, I am just not looking around.
Me: Sour grapes!
[Everyone laughs]
LAF: Glad that lightened the situation. Suddenly things seemed a little serious.
R: You still have to tell me about how divorce is good.
LAF: Boy! She doesn't let go does she? I never said that divorce is good. I am simply saying that divorce might not be the bad guy in the whole picture.
R: How?
LAF: See, if the two people had fallen in love after understanding what exactly made them believe that they were in love, then things make sense and then people are prepared for nearly everything.
R: Huh?
LAF: Let's go back to the woman in rust.
MC: Let's.
LAF: [Smiles] If I come to you and tell you that I love her, I am most likely to have a set of reasons. I might find her a wonderful conversationalist, a considerate person, someone who doesn't really have airs about herself, whatever. But I will have definite reasons. There would still be those "something only she can do" things...
[Laughter around the table]
LAF: No no. I don't mean that. God! I mean those things which people say... forget it. But most of my reasons would be there. Hence, tomorrow if I contemplate marrying her...
MC: The lady in rust?
LAF: Yeah
Me: But you hardly know her.
LAF and R: [Together] Guys!
LAF: So tomorrow if I plan on marrying her, I can at least be sensible about what I decide. I might love her but realise that her eccentricities can be too wacky at times, or the way she doesn't care about a thing is not really something cool in a family. I would still love her, but realise that I don't see marriage working out. Had I not such reasons, it would be likely that I would be riding the wave into a marriage and then think about these things, and if it gets out of hand and divorce is an option we both would consider, then yes, divorce it shall be. Here, divorce is not the bad thing but the baseless or unthought feeling of love that is the problem.
R: Hmmm
Me: What does this have to do with comments?
MC: Beats me.
LAF: Yeah, what does this have to do with comments?
R: We were comparing simple comments to simply falling in love.
Me: There is no divorcing comments.
LAF: Yeah, but haven't you felt often that comments of this sort on a piece you really didn't consider your best or one of your best, makes you feel worse?
MC: Eroteme, I think you need to realise that our blogs are not merely up for literary review. That is what you do.
LAF: And that's bad? Secondly, its not always a literary review. Sometimes it just about the way things are expressed. Don't I do that on your posts, Mahesh? Apart from the literary review?
Me: No, not bad. Just different. It feels nice to know that someone has actually bothered to read our work so closely.
MC: Yeah.
Me: Though it makes me wonder what mistakes I am going to make every time I post a new one.
LAF: Awww. Come on. I am not here for nit-picking.
MC: No, no. Its fine. Actually it is.
R: It is, but simple comments are fine too.
LAF: Hmmm. I'll agree with you. No, not because I have to. I suppose sometimes, and rarer the better, we would not want to think about what makes us feel nice about a post, but simply bask in the niceness we feel after reading it. So I suppose that it is ok. But, you will still get long comments from me.
[A little pause around the table, though everyone seems to be smiling and happy]
Extrospectrivia: What books did you buy yourself?
LAF: Chronicles of Narnia
MC: Isn't that the children's book?
LAF: Yup. Interesting one.
Ex: And the other book?
LAF: Cambridge's Etymology.
Me: What?
Ex: Together they pretty much summarise your life, right?
LAF: [Smiles] Actually, yeah.
Boy: Are you ready for placing an order, Sir.


Disclaimer:
None of what transpired in my head reflects anything about the participants (including me to a certain extent!). If I have offended anyone, I would like to know, and I shall rectify the situation to my best. I have met none of these people, except Meera. This conversation left me with a pretty disturbed night's sleep and really bad dreams! Nothing to do with the people in it, though I would love to blame the lady in rust for hastily walking away...Or maybe ice cream and sauce don't go well together for dinner!!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Room to Read: Must Read

I love books which reveal the spirit of the protagonist. Not moral tales or "You have it in you" self-help books (check out the book called SHAM and relate it to a post I wrote earlier). I am far away from romance, horror and sci-fi. So, when I pick a book, I usually do my research. Here is a book (and the protagonist is .. well, real) which I have been waiting for (without knowing that it was going to be written/published) ever since I read about Room To Read (from my favourite Fast Company website). John sure is a driven person and I simply enjoy reading about the passion he pours into his calling. I like the fact that he doesn't gloss over the tribulations of making the shift.

So what is this book about? Its about a man following his calling. It's not about a man doing something and then preaching that to be the right thing to do in this world. It's not about judging other people's lives or one's own and feeling a pseudo-motivation to mimic such things. It's about a John Wood, who left Microsoft (and that is not such a big deal; there are many of them) because he wanted to create and be part of a revolution to bring education to the young children of this world. It's about a man utilising his Kellogg MBA for something other than investment banking and directing his years of education (in the classroom and on the field) towards education where it was needed the most. It's about a man doing something which he feels passionately about, the results and effects of which will be known only after several years/decades. That is a tough thing. Many people might jump into something whole-heartedly but are disappointed when they don't see results quickly. Undoubtedly, he had several contacts in the big-money world and it helped, but he will still have to wait to know the full impact of his passionate journey (beyond the peace it brings to him). Nope, you aren't going to get a book review here. You might have to wait for an issue of Alvibest in the future!! :-)

I also love the management nuggets he carried with himself from Microsoft. I had the great fortune of working with wonderful people while I was at Computer Associates, and they helped give me words to what I believed in. Together, we had realised several truths about organisations which we had distilled into nuggets and I had them burnt in my mind. It was a pleasure to read some of them in this book.

So here is my request to you:

Buy this book (and you can find this in your local bookstore), read it. If you do not feel his passion and do not feel like working with John and his team at Room to Read, let me know. If I find your stance valid (I will only be listening to you and not debating with you), send me your bank wiring details, and I will refund the cost you incurred on this book (and I want you to send me the bill and other details). I mean it.
While you wait for the weekend to arrive to go shopping for this book, please do take out some time from your schedule to read about Room to Read, and if you find them to be a motivated organisation and on the right track, please spread the word. Feel free to spread word about this post and the offer I have to make.

We aren't in a country which can match the dollar and the euro, but this is the least we can do.

Think about this:
If every employee in your organisation contributes Re. 1 (that's 0.0224291 USD) per day, then it goes away unnoticed (it's less than the money you lose haggling with an auto-rickshaw driver, or the gum you spat out on the road). That's about Rs. 30 a month. In a 5000 person organisation, that's a sizeable contribution per month. Do the 'rithmetic for a year and that is about $40,000 or about 160 girl children getting to learn on a scholarship per year. Now span this across the several organisations in India and you can slowly pull that jaw back up and smile. This is just one of the many ways to get money (and this idea was inspired by my work in end-user computing and recalling a dialogue from the movie Entrapment) and I would love to brainstorm with people about other ways to raise money without having to make people frown.

A rupee a day is nothing. We only note stimulating sums of money (and that amount changes according to your earning capacity) and a rupee is usually nothing to people reading this post. Now, when you know exactly how that rupee gets translated (construction, books, overheads, etc.) then there is a greater relief than simply throwing the money into some charity organisation. I have always wanted charity orgs to send me their quarterly report with their expense report published online or sent out to contributors who contribute more than X amount. Well, I don't know any other place that does that. Room To Read does that.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Submission-3

This is one of the submissions I had made to the CBA Short Story competition. As might be known (http://www.cba.org.uk/competitions/short_story.html) the better ones won.

Seeds

"But I don't like watermelons!"
"That's fine, Vivek. Take some chocolates if you want and go play with Sharmila", ordered his father.
"But I don't want to go out now", Vivek whined and turned to look at Sharmila sitting and playing with her rag doll. The flesh of her four year thigh was pressed hard between the chair and the hand which held the doll. He loved the ruddy marks chairs - or anything - left on her skin. He liked her, but not her mommy, mostly because she came when his mommy wasn't around. Another reason was that Sharmila didn't like his daddy. He stomped and grumbled as he went to fetch the plate. He picked one slice and bit into the translucent redness. Something about the onrushing sweetness made him look at Sharmila again, but she was too busy with her doll.

"Coming Sharmee?"
She got up without ceasing to comb her doll and followed him out. She continued fussing over the doll and Vivek spat the seeds as if to help her find her way to him. He spat one very far into the sands and, pleased with himself, turned around to her.
"How far can you spit?"
She looked up for the first time. He spat one for her.
"The last one went ten times as far", he said, hoping that her doll had kept her busy to notice what had really happened.
"I don't want to do this. It's so dirty."
He scowled at her and walked on, spitting closer to his feet. At the wooden pier they sat down with their tiny feet dangling over salt spraying waves. He put the plate between them and she kept her doll farther away from him.
"Do you want some…" and he belched loudly before completing it. Sharmila turned sharply, her eyes widening in surprise. Then she burst out laughing. Vivek joined her heartily and the plate moved behind them, and they, closer to each other.
"I can burp when I want to. See."
He gulped in pockets of air and craned his neck back and forth like an epileptic swan. Sharmila laughed at his preparation for the obnoxious. Then he burped a weak one for her.
"This is so dirty", she said and giggled.
"But you like it?"
"It's funny. Where did you learn this?"
"My father taught me."
"But it's so dirty", and she laughed.
"It's not dirty", he said and grew serious.
"What your mommy did to my daddy yesterday was dirty."

And as they looked away, the waves were a deadening roar between them and even the matted hair of the doll was a tattered flag whipping in a storm. Their legs stopped their extempore dance and the sea stilled with nothing to salt. With the abruptness of their ascent, the noises stopped, but in an instant, were drowned in those of yesterday.

She brought the doll to her lap and resumed combing its hair. Vivek pulled the plate between them and picked a limp slice of melon. As he ate, he watched her thigh pressed against the rough sand-covered wood. He recalled how he enjoyed dusting the sand from her thighs. He spat the seeds into the water. She watched the seeds plop into the foamy water below.

"Give me a slice", she said and reached over to take one. The doll rolled from her lap to the space between them. She caved her mouth and the seeds clung to spittle before reluctantly sliding on to her palm.
"Teach me how to spit it that far", she said and pointed to the horizon.

Submission - 2

This is one of the submissions I had made to the CBA Short Story competition. As might be known (http://www.cba.org.uk/competitions/short_story.html), the better ones won.

Deceit

Calcutta arrived after a display of wide tapestries of landscapes changing rapidly, tossed around the train like saris at a shop. I also heard tongues change and conversations becoming less meaningful with every passing station. Now I was here, where things hardly ever seemed to change but the constancy was most unhelpful. This numbing sameness was matched only by my belief that hope could replace the lack of an address or contacts in an alien city.

The city gave me food, wild guesses, frivolous misdirections - ending in stifled giggles - and little else. After asking at South Indian caf├ęs and homing in on a South Indian ghetto, I had finally gotten information about "A pretty woman with a betel nut sized birthmark on her jaw. Yes, from Madras and with long black silk for hair! Oh! She must have cut it recently." I reached the wide roads of Shakespeare Sarani where I was told that I'd find someone who fit my description. "There is a Madrasi couple at house 1521."
"And… their daughter?" I asked.
"I don't think they have children."
That left me puzzled and less hopeful of ending my search at that house.

In the dark, the road was defined by lazy silhouettes rolling over each other like an overturned pot of molten lead. The silver crackling spark above a passing tramcar was the only life here. House numbers stood ailing under the dusty yellow of the sodium vapour lamps. I noticed that I had nine more houses to go and each step thumped heavier in my breast. I clasped my hands which, after endless washing and bathing, hadn't lost the warm feeling of her hand on mine. Such warmth, like love, wasn't fatigued by flitting time and season.

I wasn't sure what those seven years did to her face and I kept conjuring images of possible aging contours and caricatures that might have affected her visage, though I always ended up with that strained face - honey shards for eyes, curved blood for lips - which pulled away with the speed of the train just after she had held my hand. 1521 greeted me with shouts and falling vessels while the whole world surrounding it with yellow punctuated blackness, lay calm and ignored the turbulence inside. I saw her clothes drying from a balcony above. Against the ebony skies her saris appeared like sheets, but there was a familiarity that only a lover's heart could recognise. I walked up the short flight of stairs and was about to knock when I heard a loud male voice with the raspy edge that alcohol is known to provide.

"Get out of my house, you whore! This is my house and I will do as I please."
Sobs broke out in reply and metal and ceramic crashed haphazardly in a grieving cacophony.
"This is common occurrence in this house, babu. Nothing to listen to so eagerly."
I turned around sharply to notice an old lady near the foot of the stairs. I slowly jogged down to her.
"I came to meet an old friend of mine. She was… is very special to me."
"I hope your special friend is elsewhere, babu", she said and walked away into the yawning shadows of the trees that lined the road.

She was right. The sheer repugnance of searching her out here pushed me onto the street. She couldn't be here… god, never! even though the figure against the French window, now clasping her mouth, now shielding herself, now crumbling, resembled her. As I fled, I caught a glimpse of the sheets fluttering outside the balcony.

Submission - 1

This is one of the submissions I had made to the CBA Short Story competition. As might be known (http://www.cba.org.uk/competitions/short_story.html) the better ones won.

Life in black and white


There are things in life which cannot be reversed and that fact gives great solace…
"Are we done? Only the attic is left and I will..." asked Luke.
"I'll do the attic", I interrupted, "Why don't you check on the kids and see if they have loaded their stuff into the wagon?"
He paused for a minute and then agreed with the fluency of the smile that grew on his stubble.

Our attic was a long passage into another world, whose romanticism required us to bow low and walk through its four feet high walls. It spanned the length of our house and captured all the relegated wonders and now useless commodities into a uniform family of memories and sighs.

Stray teddy bears and hose pipes tripped me onto cartons of palm sized squeaky shoes and heart sized t-shirts. I took one long breath of musty air filled with cheerful voices and images of yesteryears: Must these go too?

I crawled towards the far corner where festering cardboard cartons housed things I had well forgotten. I lit a small bulb and opened one dust cloaked box with disgust - old papers. Another one contained moth ravaged curtains and rusting hooks. A few cartons and several sharp coughs and wheezes later I decided that all of these could remain and stay buried under the rubble.

As I turned around on my haunches to return to the pleasant cubes of memories of the euphoria which followed childbirth, I spotted a small suitcase covered in a large checked cloth. What was that? I pulled it out and fell back with the hollow plastic handle in my hand. I sat down and moved the cartons on top of it and opened the suitcase. In its dark interiors lay thick velvet labyrinths of memories wrapped in plastic.

My fingers trembled as I brought these photo albums to my lap, and I blamed it on their weight. I opened one to the traditional South Indian marriage of my parents, the most colourful event of their life captured in black and white, and the important scenes in the then costly sepia. Sepia was common when a smart young man, devoid of wedding finery held aloft a little nappy clad girl, as she happily sucked on her thumb. Eastman colour ruled the roost when she could walk and played with her toys, posing with her cousins. Kodak prints were affordable when she was in college. I put those albums back in the suitcase and picked the smaller convenient pocket-sized albums. Pictures of me while at Kent, while on my first job in Bristol, an occasional picture of my aging parents captured in full ironic detail and colour.

Amidst those albums were envelopes of dread. Envelopes which contained arguments about my marriage to Luke - a foreigner to them and one who transformed them into alien memories for me. Envelopes which informed me of my father's heart attack, of my mother's depression and refusing to accept help from me, of refusing to ever see me. Black and white images and dark ink cleaved the endless attic into pastel memories of my children and shadowy reminiscence of my childhood in India.

Later in the evening I stood with Luke and watched the machines nudge the walls down. I walked over to the man in charge.
"Geoffrey!"
"Yes ma'am?"
"Once you're done, it's impossible to get anything out, right?"
"Nope. Buried forever ma'am. You want me to stop for a while?"
"No. Go ahead, flatten her nice and tight."
"Sure ma'am?"
Over the accusing voices from the cartons I shouted hastily, "Sure."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I'm a Saboteur

A friend of mine pointed me to an interesting article from one of my most favourite magazines:

http://www.fastcompany.com/online/40/wf_gatto.html

Here is an excerpt:

Look at Silicon Valley. Everybody there is working much harder than you could legally require them to work. Why? Because they are working for themselves. It's exciting; the work itself is exciting. To teach people that we work to get money to buy stuff is insane. We work because work is thrilling.
What would turn this country on its head is a commitment by schools to make room for independent livelihoods of all sorts. I mean that, by and large, you set the terms of your own employment, you decide the relative value of the goals that you're after, you stick your neck out, and you take all of the reward or your neck gets chopped off. That would be a dazzling society. It would be like some of my classes were -- just dazzling.

Friday, November 03, 2006

When he loved...

Are you lonesome tonight...
Arbind stretched himself on the easy-chair and squealed, only to rapidly contract himself with the laughter that shines out of the happiness in returning to child-like freedom. He darted a quick look along the long corridor to ensure that no one caught him in this act of abandon. He smiled: how long could he cloak himself in the garb of propriety. Well, he had learnt that ever since he had met her and loved her. Sweta.
He rose from his chair and ambled along. Doors yawned on the side of the corridor as if to tell him something and then vanishing into the space of the room. He always felt as if the threshold moved to tell him something, something he thought he knew but not as clearly as the wooden beams had known over the decades they had held up this bungalow. Something he didn't want them to tell him, because he would hear nothing censoring his love for her. Sweta.
"Arbindbabu, do rush in. Time for the puja. Chotorani is waiting for you," cackled Binnomaashi between her incessant criticism of the increasing prices of the marigolds and how girls of this generation wasted away so much under the assurance of their husband's or brother's bottomless pockets. He reached out to hold her, but the wrinkled frame shrank away from him and kept moving farther without attempting to do so. He cringed at the thought of how he always managed to let dear ones slip by, especially her. Sweta.
He entered through one doorway which held itself agape wanting to say something but reluctant to do so. Sometimes, words of wisdom only re-kindle the flame one tries so earnestly to put out. But how could anyone or anything expect to put out this flame which burned on the fuel of his blood and memories? What water could put out these pure, white flames? The water of a socially acceptable marriage? She had thought so. She had convinced him too. But he knew better all the while. Some things are not for man to make or break. Such love is not an ephemeral thirst which could be quenched by anyone. In the desert of life, only the thirsty knew who bore the pot of life-giving water, who could quench his thirst. Sweta.
The laughter within the inner chambers stopped him in his tracks. Melancholy had no place in the chambers of festive gaiety. He leaned on the door and smiled but not of the cheer that filled the space beyond this threshold. His joy sprung from the Durga Puja celebrations like these, several years ago. She had made him some wonderful nikhuti payesh and brought it to him in a China bowl with a golden rim. The sight of her walking down the stairs, dotted on alternate steps with a chirpy diya on either side, announcing the arrival of a more beautiful flame decked in the traditional white and red of a married woman, with the bright red circle warding off wicked men and intentions - that sight made his hair stand on end and filled him with a sweetness that couldn't be contained in any bowl from a Bengali household.
"Arbindbabu, payesh for you", she said and left the bowl on the side-table. She stood there for an extra minute letting him soak in her entire beauty and relive the love he felt for her. She swayed to the beat of his heart but quickly shook herself out of it, shuddering under the sudden cold air of reality that enveloped her. She smiled and said,"I must go, Arbindbabu. Isn't it the mark of a well brought-up lady to know when to leave?"
"Isn't it the mark of true love to stay long enough to say that?"
"The heart of a bachelor is always brimming."
"What then can we say of one who has known your love?"
She smiled again and walked away. Their love was in danger during festivities when everyone was alert. They would have to wait till everyone returned to the routine of life.
Sweta.
A silver tumbler falling to the marble floor, brought him back to where he stood; in the dark confines of the room unable to walk past this threshold into the cheer and laughter of a well-lit and correct world of his family and righteousness. He smiled and watched his wife arrange the diyas on a large brass plate.
"Anmolika is the luckiest woman."
"Buss, badima enough. All the devils gather during dusk to collect a list of happy souls which they can trouble. He has given me all the joys of this world, but let us keep it to ourselves."
"Who has?" teased her sister, Munmun, who was twirling flowers and threads deftly on her fingers.
"Chchup, mishti", Anmolika exclaimed and threw a few helpless wicks at her.
He watched his mother breathe a deep sigh of relief. All her fears of several years and the suspicion which plagued every waking night of hers, was laid to rest in the form of Anmolika - an honourable daughter-in-law. She rose to leave for the inner prayer room.
Munmun watched her leave and then rushed over to her sister and threw her arms around her neck.
"Tell me didi, how much does he love you?"
"Chchup, naughty girl."
"Come on, its only us, and badimaashi can barely hear us."
"Haan, I can barely hear what you girls are talking."
They burst out laughing and Arbind couldn't repress a smile. Badimaashi got up and left the room to the young girls. Was this what she was talking about? An honourable life, peace, uncensored joy and mirth... social sanctity?

"Arbindbabu, love is not of this world but relationships are."
"But I will come and marry you, Sweta. Let me settle down and be rid of obligations, and I will come and take you away."
"When Arbindbabu?" she had sighed, "When I am slipping into my deathbed and you are still forty?"
"Before that."
She smiled and cupped his cheeks, "Respectability is of utmost importance, Arbindbabu. Don't underestimate it."
"I will need nothing from this world then. I can renounce it all. Not you."
"I will wait, darling."
"Sweta."
She's always a woman to me
"Chchup dasyi!"
"Come on didi, tell me. Do you people.. ummm... ummm... every night?"
"Enough, Munmun, enough."
"Come on, didi. Please. I won't tell anyone."
"Haan baba haan. Oh! God! What has become of me? A sister like you and the devil come to everyone."
They laughed and hugged each other. Arbind smiled and thought: Anmolika wouldn't hesitate to exaggerate especially if it put me in a more sparkling light.
"But more than that, mishti, is how much he makes me feel wanted and loved. He takes so much pain in ensuring that I am happy and cheerful. He has so much love in him that I am not sufficient vessel to gather it all."
"Then maybe I can marry him, too. Sisters forever."
"Hatt. I'll kill you with my own hands. I will kill anyone who even looks at him an extra second. He is mine."
"Who?" teased Munmun.
"He."
"Who?"
Anmolika looked around and Arbind hastily hid himself behind the door.
"Arbindbabu."
"What babu-shabu and all. He is your husband. You have full rights on him."
She breathed in deeply and Arbind watched the nervousness tremble on her lips.
"Arbind", and she quickly hid her face in the pile of flowers beside her.
"Yeaaaa!" Munmun screamed and covered her sister with the love she deserved.
But what about her? Sweta?

"Arbindbabu, no woman will like to be shared."
"But why should I be torn apart? I shall remain a bachelor."
"Listen to me. Get married to that girl they found for you. She is delicate and beautiful."
"But she is not you."
She smiled and sank to her knees beside his easy-chair.
"Arbindbabu, our love will always live and grow. I will wait for you. Complete your obligations and come to take me."
"But why must you leave Kolkatta for that?"
"She wouldn't like any woman to lay her eyes on you."
"But I love you."
"Arbindbabu, you have enough love for this entire world. Giving her her due will not lessen it nor will it deprive me of anything."
"But only you can contain the love I feel."
"Hence, you can never give it all away and there will always be what you wish to give me."
"Sweta."

"But, Munmun, I always think there is something, some part of him I can never reach."
"You, his wife, can reach every part!"
"No, mishti, I am serious. There is something which is always closed to me."
"How does it matter? If it is closed to you, its closed to everyone."
"Hmmm. True. Chalo, let's get the diyas and torans ready."
"What about the fire-crackers?"
"He doesn't like it."
"Why?"
She shrugged her shoulders.
"All he likes to do is eat payesh and hold on to that book wrapped in raw silk."
"How boring!"
"Only on Durga Puja. Otherwise..."
"Oh! Wife to the rescue, huh?"
They laughed and flung marigolds at each other.

"Arbindbabu, I must leave tonight."
"Why now? Why today? Please."
Her lips quivered with the love she didn't want to stain with words. She came closer to him and he felt their toes touch. The fabric of her starched blouse scraped against his kurta and he leaned towards her but stopped. She was crying and he never thought he would be responsible for her sorrow.
"Be happy, Arbindbabu."
"Only with you, Sweta."
"With everyone... and me."
And as a tear sadly rolled down her cheek, he watched the rising fireworks sparkle in that descending drop. The drummers rent the air with the helpless beats of his heart. Arbind remembered the one thing that crossed his mind then and thereafter: What exults others, saddens me. What completes me cannot be accepted in this world.
Sweta.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Notes on a rainy day

What slipped by...
Did no one else hear the squish from my sneakers? I curl my feet and press it down urgently. The murky froth hisses out from under my feet. In spite of the rain beating against every noisy surface, my noise is noticed and people look at me.

Hence, curiosity is not hampered by weather and physical difficulties.

I watch the reddish blur hurtle towards the bus stop. People slip and tiptoe towards the bus, using every object and human being as support. The driver doesn't pause long enough for everyone to board and the bus rushes out leaving damp fumes and swearing men behind. Was the driver smiling?

Hence, people retain a sadistic streak irrespective of the situation.

A sudden cackle of palm sized feet cutting through water renders the air. A bunch of little boys cart-wheel through the puddles. They paint each other with muddy water and the world with their laughter. A boy in a smart raincoat strains against the leash of his mother's sophistication.

Hence, people still differentiate between what is good for themselves and for others.

I don't know why she twirls her fingers thus. Her knit brows toss as many thoughts as her fingers weave airy loops. With each flick of the thumb she pulls at the invisible braid that ties them together and he finally jogs down with a sheepish grin. She pouts, arms akimbo and he grabs her tenuous waist. She softens to his grasp and the shower beats a familiar old tune, known only to them.

Hence, the rain, in its fall, does raise romantic fragrances.

I feel a tug and look downward expecting a stray frog or the like. I find a handicapped boy with one arm holding on to my trouser and the other hand held out in hope. I watch him as he starts reeling out his well practiced story of being abandoned and not having eaten for ages and how the rains destroyed his house. I wait for him to complete and look away. What will he do now? He spits near my shoe and drags himself towards the next human leg.

Hence, one's condition doesn't always polish one's personality.

I stretch my foot out into the rain and wash stray threads of spittle. How dare he behave like that? Dirty mongrel! He deserves his maimed legs. I wish no one spares him a rupee. I hope he passes by me and I will kick him with the same foot. A car speeds past us and shoots a sheet of muck on him. I smile with joy and mutter sharply, "Good!" He wipes his face and swears at the rear bumper of the disappearing car. Once he is done, he pleads to the nearest lady, "See? This is how life treats me. Won't you spare me a rupee? If not peace at least I can buy a few slices of bread. Please." I secretly pray that the lady doesn't give him anything and she dutifully turns her face towards the far end of the road.

Hence, prayers are answered and life will always remain partial.