Friday, May 23, 2008

Ode to the Spirit of Love

In our search and quest for meaning and affirmation we often look so far ahead that we forget to have a closer look at what lies around us. It has been my experience that courage, magnificence, beauty, strength and love, which we all so desperately seek is just around the corner, we just forget to observe what lies the closest in our belief that the exotic and the eternal lies in a place unknown to us, beyond our grasp.
I always felt that idea of eternal love, that epic romance, which servers as an inspiration to one and all has been lost in the annals of time, unknown to modern civilization. We all lament about it, cry, bitch and moan of how it eludes us as a generation caught up in our pursuit for material possession and self-indulgent gratification, well at least I know I do, we seek to vicariously live a small piece of it, in the reassess of our imagination, through film and literature, yet I have only just realized that ‘love’ may not after all be such a fictional entity.
Even though we might fail to see and recognize it, the ordinary men and women that we ignore for their plainness and mediocrity carry forth this flame of eternal love and carefully and tenderly spread it around, to their children, their friends, colleagues and sometimes even perfect strangers. If just for once we can push aside our ignorance and just learn to listen, we might just realize that there is still hope, everywhere.
I stepped out of the train at Matunga station at around 10.20 am. I was later than usual; well this has sort of turned into a nasty habit lately that I must get rid off soon. I love traveling by train, on most good days, encountering something amusing, unexpected and engaging becomes its highlight. I absolutely love observing the various species of human beings that share the crowded Mumbai public transportation system with me. I was never much of a TV watcher, with the exception of a random craving for something funny or dramatic every once in a while, for the most part I have been pretty detached from the idiot box. Amazingly enough, I have now completely lost the occasional longing for mindless mass entertainment ever since I moved to Mumbai and started traveling by train! Seriously, who needs a TV set when all the ingredients for great entertainment are around you! Bombay and its over crowed public transportation system has become my window of entertainment!
Yeah so anyways, I have this tendency of going off into these random tangents and completely postponing the point that I am trying to make. It was a scalding day and I was late for work. I was sweating profusely in the oppressive heat. (Seriously, I think I sweat more than anyone that I know and have ever seen. I have observed women looking their freshest and prettiest, with incredible Zen like expressions lining their faces in the midst of the Bombay heat while the sweat on my countenance glistens like hot oil sputtering on a frying fan.)
My head was stuck in my book. (I cherished my last few moments of literary gratification as I marched along the platform towards the exit, expertly avoiding all possible occurrences of a collision between myself and some unsuspecting stranger.)
“You shouldn’t do that you know.” I heard someone whisper really close to my ear.
I turned around some what startled, it was “A” one of the senior managers at work. Oh great, now I have to walk with him and make small talk along the way, I groaned a little within.
I am painfully shy when it comes to having a friendly chat with most people I work with. I mostly speak when I feel there is a purpose I need to interject. I suck at small talk, it gives me a headache.
A friendly, nonchalant chat about the weather and all things meaningless isn’t really my cup of tea. I really envy the people that do manage it, getting friendly and comfy with the senior members of an organization never really hurt anyone. I wish I can do it with the ease and grace that some people manage to pull it off with.
So yeah, “A” and I were walking to the office, luckily I didn’t really need to say much, God bless his talkative soul. I don’t exactly remember how it started; I think I wasn’t even really paying too much attention to what he was saying. Suddenly, somehow the conversation veered towards his family. “A” is not a young man by anybodies standards. For someone who is fairly middle-aged, his son is awfully little. Now I can understand that this is not all that exceptional in this day and age, but some 20 odd years ago, getting married or having children in your late 30’s was unheard of.
“We had an inter-caste marriage, my wife is Hindu, we ran away from home. It was utter chaos in the beginning. We lived in fear for a long time. There were death threats and police complaints. All we had was each other and the clothes on our back.”
“A” straightened his shirt cuff as he went on reminiscing.
“She use to live in my colony, back in the day, we had the scoop on all the girls that lived in the neighborhood. It was something we were utterly proud of, me and my friends. She was the only one that I didn’t know, although her family stayed there, she had mostly grown up at her grandmothers house. I was completely awestruck when I first saw her, who is that girl? I asked my friend.”
“A” said that it was love at first sight. He knew that their union would never be accepted by those around them. A country that has been plagued and tortured by the ugly shadow of religious hatred would never let a Muslim man and a Hindu woman come together.
In an essentially secular country, religion has been the point of contention that has divided people, generation after generation. The passion and fervor of religious fundamentalism has turned men and women against each other, making them forget all empathy that they might share amongst themselves.
In spite of these seemingly impossible circumstances, here they are some twenty years later sharing a life together.
“It was a while before we had our son, having absolutely nothing in our pockets made it difficult to have a child. No complains, we are very happy.”
By then we had reached the office entrance and went our separate ways. I was completely awed by “A’s” story, in this crazy eccentric world that we live in love might just conquer it all. Well at least for this one lucky couple anyways.

More to follow…

Monday, May 19, 2008

Yeh Hai Mumbai Meri Jaan Part I

Just this one time, I would like to completely dedicate this blog post to something other than well…me. So much has happened in so little time, my mind stands boggled at the mechanics of this city. What really drives it? What makes it tick? What strange, bizarre path are we all trudging along at our pace? Life is beautiful, sounds like a cliché, but I know for a fact that this is true. Bombay is a fantastic place, in spite of all the bullshit that irritates me and bogs me down time and again, The crap, stink and filth that pollutes my life and makes me want to run away to some distant corner of the world, to get away from it all once and for all, it is ultimately the people here that make it truly, truly incredible, they make Bombay a place worth living. I finally feel like I belong here, for better or for worse. Every familiar corner that I turn to, stirs a powerful memory that fills my soul with an unexplainable sense of fulfillment that no other place has ever provided. I have finally realized that I am utterly in love with this city. My love maybe imperfect and humane but it is pure in it’s though and emotion.
. The vast arrays of experiences that this city has thrown my way are unique in their disparity, perhaps only possible to encounter here. Ultimately it is the people and their spirit that makes this city what it is, I hope wish and pray with all my heart that this never ever changes. Without its people a place is just that, a place, a mass of land, a geographic entity without an identity of its own. It is the people of Bombay that make it what it is.
The other day I taking the train to work, it was hot and sticky; I was uncomfortable in the heat and cringed in agony. I boarded the first class compartment as usual, a small luxury I allow myself, in spite of the fact that I only ride it for two stops. The morning was like many others, the air was thick with humidity and foul smells, and it was hard to breath. I always stand by the door whenever I can; I prefer it to sitting in a congested compartment. I was quietly reading my book and whiling away time, the train slowly left the platform at its own leisure pace, just when it was about to pick up some pace a little girl not more than seven or eight jumped in unexpectedly. Her clothes were stained and a little tattered but she seemed oblivious to this, her baldhead glistened with little droplets of unshed sweat. I was instantly jealous; I wish I had the courage to shave my head to get away from the unbearable warmth. Trust me, having ridiculously long; curly hair is a real pain in the summer. My wild mane, gathered in an untidy bun at the top of my head was a real contract to hair free existence. She gave me a small smile, almost acknowledging my awe at her boldness as she firmly tucked her black dupatta into the waistband of her pants. Somewhere along the way, in a quick, swift, precise movement she unfurled the black cloth upon her undeveloped breasts to hide her modesty. I watched a little amused. I remember vaguely what it was like to be eight once. The thought that someone could leach at my femininity, which was still in construction, never once occurred to me at that age. I wondered that instance, what kind of life she must me leading, to be so clearly aware of all the vile, predatory influences that harbor in this city.
Before I could even finish my thought, the little bald girl started singly loudly. Normally this would be nothing out of the ordinary, lots of people sing on trains. I catch myself humming a popular tune every once in a while too. It wasn’t the fact that she was singing, but her choice of song that was so damn odd.
“Nayak, nahi, Khalnayak hai tu, zulmi bada dukh dayak hai tu.” You are not a hero but a villain; you torment me and cause me great pain.
“Iss Pyar ki, thujako kya khabar, iss payar ke kaha layak hai tu.” You are unaware of my love for you; you deserve none of it anyways.
My eyes immediately shot up from my magazine; it was indeed an odd choice of song for a little girl. Not just because it was a tormented woman expressing her love and pain for a treacherous man that is truly unworthy of it, but also because this song is way, way before her time.
To be fair, this was quite a popular tune in the early nineties, when the movie first came out. I may have been ten or eleven when it bombarded the nation and cause mass hysteria and equal outrage. I’m almost 24 now, somewhere along the way its significance had faded with the passage of time and lost in the annals of cinematic history, until now, when it was resurrected in my memory by this little girl.
I immediately wondered where she had heard it and what could have possibly caused her to musically lament about the agony of a doomed love. What had this little eight year old seen and heard in her own brief life that had caused her sing this particular number as she dangerously hung from the open doorway, ignoring our warning about oncoming trains.
“Choli, ke piche kya hai, chunri ke niche kya hai.” What is behind my blouse? What lies hidden underneath this cover that conceals my ripe breasts?
“Choli me dil hai mera, chunri me dil he mera, yeh dil meh dungi mera yar ko, pyar ko.” My heart lies hidden underneath my blouse and cover. I shall only give it away to my aficionado whom I love.
The song remains etched in my memory, I slightly imitated the gyrating hip movements made immortal by the lovely Ms. Dikshit, “The Original Queen of Bollywood”. By then we were all engrossed in the enthusiastic performance. Some
even participated a little. A small encouraging smile, a look of nostalgia at the thought of a skimpily clad MD expertly swinging her nimble hips and a hum here and there is all she needed to continue with great gusto.

Her arms curled into a perfect arch when perched on her hips. They swung back and forth as she thrust her non-existent breasts forward and backwards in tune to the beat of the song. The unmelodious voice rose to a crescendo as it reverberated through the train compartment. We all looked a little embarrassed and dazed at this spectacle. Both these songs that originated in the same film dare to explore the idea of a woman consumed by passion confessing her love and desire for intimacy with her lover. She knows that he is far from perfect and all that might ever come her way at the end of it all is never ending heartbreak, yet she is willing to risk it all, just for that one, small, brief, moment of true happiness, even if it means a life time of sorrow ahead.
Aren’t we all in some ways a reflection of this woman who is willing to sacrifice a life of mediocrity and normalcy for that one single, moment of undying fervor that will awaken our spirit forever? Why then is it that we are willing to suppress our hearts great desire or even remotely acknowledge its existence in the name of false modesty?
Why did I need this little girl on the train, who may or may not even fully comprehend the meaning of her words, to stir my soul and awaken my ardor?
She may never read this, but I would like to whole heartedly thank her for making me realize that although my heart might have been broken before, there is still some room, somewhere in there for love, to let it consume me, once again, irrespective of the consequences.
(Next chronicle to come soon.)

Friday, May 9, 2008

Lady Bombay

I’m so thoroughly bored of Bombay; it makes my head spin and my limbs numb with exhaustion. They call this the city of dreams, a place brimming with excitement and adventure that will constantly keep you on your toes and keep you guessing. What total utter rubbish! I have been back for a little over six months and the memorable moments have been few and far in between. The most exciting that has happened to me since I have gotten back is sharing a cab ride with a transsexual hooker in Colaba; in retrospect it wasn’t all that exhilarating either. Thanks to her, I now understand the small shady alley’s of South Bombay with a lot more intimacy and depth, which I lacked before, but to be honest, I was too damn chicken shit to actually utilize the moment to its full potential. I was so damn freaked out; I hunched low in my seat and tried to disappear into the seat cushions as the rather fetching transsexual openly and unabashedly trolled for customers, staring into cabs and peeking at dilapidated hotels. I was so afraid of being recognized, like anyone one would really even know who I am? I had been in the country for less than two months, a different picture from my childhood days. I should have played along and let my curiosity take over, after all it’s not like everyday that I get to share cabs with prostitutes. She looked so fetching, with shapely ankles and long muscular legs. Her straight, silky, brown wig sure had me fooled for a while. She looked like a polished, young urbanite ready to have a good time on a Friday. I guess I should have paid more attention and noted that there was something awkward about her gait; she was uncomfortable in her ultra tight skirt that clung to her legs like second skin. She pulled it down at least twice in the short distance from the station to the cab. For an unguarded second or two she even dared to swallow, her bobbing Adam’s apple giving away her secret, it was a hot sticky evening, I’m sure her throat must have been parched with thirst, I know mine was.
I was completely fascinated, totally in awe of this might magnificent creature. My right hand shook with nervous excitement, it always does when I am thrilled. To me,
she was like a character that had stepped out of the pages of “Maximum City”, a miniscule part of the large, undignified so called underbelly of this gigantic city. She lived a dangerous, seductive, gripping life, amongst the pimps and the hookers and the druggies, the men and women that inhabit the streets of Bombay after they are abandoned by the civilized world. She lived a life that I wasn’t born into, a life that I had only experienced through books and movies. My middle class, suburban, Maharastrian upbringing has kept me somewhat sheltered from some of the harsher realities of life and this city.
For all the talk about crime, gangs, underworld, drugs, whores, pimps, cops, rapes and murders that is associated with this city, in all my years of living here I hadn’t met a single one of them…until now. Not that they didn’t exist, they are very much a part of the same city that I inhabit, breathing the very same air that I do, most probably drinking the very same germ infested municipality water, which I meticulously boil every morning, but for obvious reasons, under the very same smog polluted Bombay sky, we live such different lives that our paths never ever crossed.
In spite of the odds being against us ever meeting, here we were traveling in the same cab, to almost the same distance, but for very different reasons. I wanted to strike up a conversation, yet no words escaped my throat. For the first time in my life I felt truly intimidated by a person that was oblivious to my presence. She obviously had more pressing issues on her mind. My hunched, nervous self in the back seat held very little significance to her, I was just another unidentifiable face, which makes up this city that she would forget all too soon. To me she was Lady Bombay, grandiose and powerful cascading with sadness and neglect, at the brink of deterioration. This is what I had returned for.
In a diverse and varied city like Bombay, if one is thirsting for interesting encounters and reminiscing about long cab rides with transvestites four months later, you know there is a problem. Maybe I am just not all that fun, adventurous or interesting or maybe it is so that fun and adventure eludes me like the bubonic plague, whatever maybe the case, my mind is absolutely numb with boredom. People are just not built for stagnation, well not me anyway. This whole nine to five crap job, crap home, crap food, crap friends and crap relationships may actually appeal to someone but not me. I want to live a whirlwind life where one moment vastly differs from the next, providing a fresh perspective on the most mundane things. May I never, ever loose the power to see life just a little crocked, this I sincerely pray for?
Sometimes it is hard to see things skewed when everything is so damn straight around you. I wonder when my next, big adventure will begin, when Lady Bombay will once again shower upon me the blessing of an unexpected encounter, and well minus the fat cab fare.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

At the brink...

A lot can happen over a short period of time, the clock ticks at its own leisurely pace, making you ache with untold agony for a moment far better than today and yet the cruel hands of the chiming time-piece work at its own accord. You spend each day in humdrum monotony and yet before you know it a long span has passed before you, unknown to your conscious mind. You are somehow in the same place where you first started your frustrated contemplation, yet so much has changed, something’s more subtle than the rest, others enter your life like a force to reckon with.
I have been insanely busy with work, for the first time in a long time; I am actually satisfied in more ways than one. One of my life long dreams may just shape into a lucid reality and I am absolutely stunned and awed at my good fortune. I know that people actively work long and hard to get to a place that I am at. Every conscious moment and effort single handedly focused on his or her dreams and aspirations. I am not strong enough to possess that fierce determination, in fact I am rather frightened to exhibit or even contemplate such fervor. I float in an out of my dreams and nightmares, often lost in thought, spinning tales of a glorious satisfied existence, yet too weak to make it a stark reality. Yet here I am, at this very moment, at brink of a fantastic break that other would kill for. It almost seems unfair to those poor bastards that have tried so hard and yet struggle incessantly. I almost feel like I am unworthy of it, that the success and satisfaction that may come my way at the end of it all seems undeserved. I want to run away from it all, give up mid-way for a continued existence of mediocrity, believing that I don’t deserve better, yet every cell of my being throbs for it.
Although the opportunity was unexpected, I have struggled with it, spending every waking moment shaping a tale that may metamorphoses into a spectacle that may bring unfathomable joy or great shame. Right now I almost disregard the consequences of my actions, they almost seem irrelevant, the process excites it, it gives me the confidence that I have lacked for a while. I know for sure, that I am capable nurturing my desire for story telling, whether it is something that the whole world may marvel some day, or a few indistinct scrawls that may remain hidden in an aging note book away from prying eyes of the world is secondary. I have the capacity to write, that’s good enough for me, at least for now.
Maybe one of the reasons I am so afraid is somewhere deep down within I feel like I don’t really deserve to be happy. Be it love, life or career. I have enough skeletons hidden in my closet that make me shudder in my quietest moments. Acts of intolerable cruelty exhibited on my part under a façade of goodness. For all my lack of faith in God and the universe, I am a firm believer in Karma. Whatever I do be it good or bad is going to affect my existence, in this life. I fear that I have cashed out on my karmic balance and all that remains ahead is great darkness. Every time I close my eyes I can almost imagine being alone forever, it’s frightening and yet somehow comfortable, it’s as if I have almost accepted its inevitability. It’s my punishment for abandoning dad when he got sick, instead of sitting by his bedside and comforting him in his moments of excruciating pain, I selfishly ran away in the arms of “H” to seek my own solace and peace, unsuccessfully. At the end of it all, I managed to ruin two relationships, one that mattered the most and the other that mattered significantly. I was so caught up in my own grief and misery that I failed to notice the misery that I had caused to those around me. Mom was at her bravest, never giving up hope, doing the best that she could to keep him alive, I did not contribute one bit to ease her suffering. I don’t even know what “Mits” was going through, I never bothered to ask, I always thought she was too young to fully comprehend that her father was slowly dying. After all she was only 12, do children really understand these things at such a tender age? I wouldn’t know, I honestly can’t remember what it were like to be 12 once. I was so glad when he moved in with grandma; it was a relief not to have him around all the time, always so angry and melancholy. I was guilty at my relief but glad he was out of sight, yet he always lingered in my mind, still does, after all these years.
I wasn’t there when he died, college has whisked me away to America, I remember walking into my dorm after my uncle gave me the news, I forced a few tears out of me, it seemed like the right thing to do. I felt hollow and empty; my roommate “L” gazed at my ashen face and immediately knew something was wrong; I shed a few more tears as I told her the news. We went to Joe’s room to seek distraction; I stayed for a while but couldn’t sit around for long. I stumbled to the swing outside Adam tower and sat there for a long time, slightly swinging back and forth, my mind completely numb. I walked to the library around midnight, the campus was deserted, I stood in front of the giant gothic entrance admiring the magnificence of its structure in the hue of the tungsten lights. I crawled into bed fifteen minutes later, after setting my alarm clock for my seven thirty class. It was the longest walk that I have ever taken in my life.
I don’t think I ever properly grieved for my father, yet I grieve for him every single day. When I sit across a cute guy at the café, I turn the other way because I don’t feel like I deserve to be attractive to someone else, when I fail to peruse the men that show interest because I don’t think I deserve to ever be loved, when I occasionally kiss my best friend who does not love me, I feel like unrequited love is all I should ever get, when I loose a job or an assignment and meet with failure professionally I almost see it as divine justice. Sometimes I wish so desperately to have just a few more moments with him, just so that I could tell him how much I love him and how incredibly sorry I am.
When I occasionally hear stories of how miserable he was with grandma how she slowly but surely zapped his morale and will to live, I simmer with anger, yet back then I didn’t so much as bat an eyelash in question or protest when he left, relieved that he was out of here.
I am so damn close to almost getting what I want; I am scared that things will fuck up because of my past mistakes, I will once again be punished for my cruelty.
I wish so desperately to know that I am forgiven, that he still loves me, that I deserve all the happiness and success in spite of the errors of my ways, a few answers that I will never get.