Memories

10th May 2012

I am reading The Time Traveler’s Wife. It is the kind of read which has a slow but moving impact on the conscious. There is a certain weird sense of excitement mixed with a hint of sadness. The constantly changing dials of time leaves you with a certain sense of melancholy, stillness, of being stationery while everything else is moving in time and space.

If I could travel in time, I would perhaps go back to a sleepy summer morning of an early 2000, the time when responsibilities meant finishing the homework and fear meant being grounded in the evening for the previous evening’s wrongdoings. I would probably hide myself in one of the numerous attics of that old, small ancestral home and watch myself enter the place, all excited and happy about being in the ‘’big’’ city, Varanasi. The big city of Banaras offered so many luxuries which my sleepy little town of Sultanpur didn’t. There were fewer hours of powercut; there were better places to eat, and there was actually a building with a lift in it. There was the second channel on TV – DD Metro, which broadcasted soaps like Kundli, Kalash and the most awaited of them all – Kabhi Sautan Kabhi Saheli. As the 11 year old me would update myself of all the happenings from my cousins, in the attic I would watch and laugh at the absurdity of it, and think of watching Youtube clips of some of those shows.

I would probably come out of the attic on her sight- Dadi (my grandmother). But then would stop myself remembering that she was a heart patient, and then I would perhaps suffice myself only with the sight of an 11 year old me eating from her hands, and hiding my face in her lap if she tried to make me eat the lauki ki sabzi. Then I would watch her walk to the washbasin, with the little me holding her hand. As she would pass through the perennially accumulated pool of water , I would definitely jump down from the attic to stop her, only to remember that it would be two years later when that water would make her rest on the bed forever. And the helplessness, sheer futility of my being there would make me cry, perhaps.

I would like to sit in the small window, (which opened to a vast playground, full of people, and trees, and cows, and dogs) hidden behind the curtain, in the breaking hours of dawn, and watch Baba (my grandfather) wake me up forcibly as I pull my sheets higher and higher, and him never giving up in his efforts despite the disapproving looks from Dadi lying in her bed. And 5mins later, would follow Baba and myself in the narrow lanes of Banaras, as we set off for our morning dose of fresh, healthy air. A group of cows would approach, lost in their own paradise, and seeing the scared look on my face, I would try to tow them away, but Baba would already be there. Now both of me (s) would be equally excited on seeing that beautiful little temple outside the Sanskrit University Gate. The 12 year old me, because the road was so wide there, and the median was decorated with plants and designs, and it felt an achievement to stand there; and the 22 year old me because of seeing that temple after years, and with the knowledge that it was the temple where ‘Ganga’ in Ram teri Ganga Maili stays in the movie, and that would most probably bring to my mind the picture of a white saree clad Mandakini under the waterfall, and I would shake away the feeling disapprovingly with guilt.

Now there would be no point of hiding, with the hoards of people jogging away their morning blues in the lush green campus of the university. I would try to decipher the hymns which Baba always chants, but his voice would get lost in the temple bells, chirping of birds, and bhajans playing in the Shiv temple in vicinity.

Perhaps sensing my fatigue, Baba would ask me to go rest in the temple while he completed his rounds of ‘vyayam’. Then I would be confused where to go- with him or with me. I’d probably stop with myself, on the opposite side of the pillar, with shoulders back to back. I would try to listen to my thoughts, to know what was I thinking at that moment. Perhaps about the jalebi-samosa that Baba would get my on the way back, or the breakfast that Mummy would be cooking at home, or the Chutti-Chutti episode of last day, and praying to Shiv ji  that there is no power cut at that time.

And then our stomachs would grumble. Some things stay the same over years, and the bowel motion is one nasty little such thing. While I would prefer travelling back to my time, the little me would cling to Baba as he appears and in a very nonchalant manner, and brings a bottle full of water and directs me to an empty space guarded by shrubs. I would run, holding my belly tight.

And I too, would move back to my time, to avoid the sight, and the overwhelming power of memories. Will it make me happy that it was, or will it make me sad that it is not, is something I do not know. Such is the nature of memories, intriguing.

India, Love

Love makes the world go round they say; though Copernicus might disagree. But what makes people go around the world is a question still devoid of a clear answer. Could it be the lack of love? Nay, that would be being an extremist, and in matters of country and family, we Indians are anyway ‘accused’ of being one. Anyway, what’s the big deal about people moving from one country to another, especially if the ‘from’ side of the globe is already overloaded with people?

Numbers never give the full picture, but they are quite an instrument to describe the magnitude of the picture. So when we observe that around 1,55,000 Indian students leave the country for either side of the Atlantic; around 1,70,000 professionals cross the Atlantic to grab a bite of the big Apple, with the Indians comprising a big 64% of the total H-1B approvals in the US, it is indeed a big deal. For a country where only 6.7% of the total literate population is able to formally enter a grad school or above; for a country which spends a fortune on a handful of its elite higher education institutions and their protégé, it indeed is a big loss. Hence the need of the inspiration to reduce this loss is more than ever. After all, why would someone with a sane mind choose the chaotic roads of a Chandni Chowk over a chic Manhattan lane to drive his Audi?

The answer is less complicated and less idealistic than it seems. I would stay here in my country and try to improve the state of things within my capacity, simply because it is mine, it is how I know life, and because I love my India. While this simple statement might seem pretentious to most of our ‘common people’ (Yes, somehow patriotism isn’t one of the good values that our good old families tend to nurture in us from childhood.) it actually isn’t. We actually judge ourselves a little too harsh on this, because the fact is; somewhere we all do love our country. Because loving it doesn’t mean sacrificing our lives or the good things for the nation anymore. This love manifests itself in simplistic forms such as the food, the dresses, the movies, the traditions, the overbearing and nagging mama mamis and chacha chachis, the crowd, the rickety rickshaws and all things that we cannot imagine our lives without, including a lot of things we can’t ever stop cribbing and whining about. It might sound contrasting but it isn’t really.

Loving the country isn’t really different from loving a person. Why do we love someone? It is certainly not because someone is perfect, has certain desirable qualities or fulfils our needs in the best possible way. It just happens because of the relation we share, because of the time we spend together, the memories we create, the lives we share and the connection we form. We love our loved ones with all their flaws. We realize, we accept and we grow to love their flaws as well, and at the same time trying to change them. The same relation we have with our country. We can judge it, we can ‘not like’ it at times or even often, but often we fail to realize that despite all this we love it, as it is ours, it is us! Anyone who has spent even a couple of months abroad will vouch for it. The desirable qualities of the first world infatuate us, but eventually it wanes out and what we miss is that connection, that understanding, that familiarity. That familiarity- of celebrating festivals along with the never ending trail of relatives; of attending the family weddings and dancing crazy to the inane bollywood numbers; of eating roadside puchka or vada pav; of waking up to temple bells and the taste of samosa and jalebi; of the faces that get concerned over a single sign of sickness we display; of the mismanagement, the chaos, all that is wrong with the system and of the newly found and emerging hope, that change is round the corner. Now which relationship doesn’t involve change? More often than not, it is for the better! 

So, yes I want to stay here and change the state of things, though it isn’t the only or the main reason. In fact there is no reason; for, love requires no reason, hatred does. Love just is, and in the process it takes us through some beautiful changes, the one that our country is looking for. Maybe I won’t be able to see the change, but then that wasn’t a precondition. For the greater good, being selfless, contributing to the nation building- all these terms might sound coming out of some big heroic act but they are born out of sheer love.

 Copernicus may rejoice, purists may sulk, but even driving the Audi wouldn’t be that much of a pleasure without the wide eyed looks, applauding comments and the children running and chasing it in the walled city!

 

Page 221 of my 300 page autobiography…

This is my response for a question I came across in an application form. Q: You just finished writing your 300 page autobiography. Submit the page no. 221 in not more than 300 words.

221                                                            Part 5: Delhi, Dreams, and Reality

 

..Okay then, Castle 9 it is!” she said, as I went inside the Rajiv Chowk Metro Station. She left with Subhash for her car, with that characteristic glint in her eyes and a sense of assurance on her face, which always made me want to keep staring at her forever. Smriti and Subhash, typical South Delhi folks, were my companions in exploration of the city, and I loved them and our times together.

After 22 years in small-towns, my first stay in a Metropolitan was proving to be as enchanting and dream-like as I had imagined it to be. Malls, Metro, Underpasses, high-rises, theatres, clubs, still had me wide eyed despite 3 months of stay. Though gradually, and increasingly, there were phases of disillusionment, fuelled by the other side that I was witnessing in my job at the construction site. After the initial inhibitions, Chandu  had probably realized that I was not the ‘saahab’ type, and had moved to ‘Bhaiya’ instead. I did my bit too, by sharing lunch and going out for snacks with him. But there were moments when the differences became too obvious, making me feel guilty, if only for the injustice that the situation blatantly exhibited. His rugged clothes;  torn shoes;  parched skin,  and more than everything, the responsibilities and uncertainty of the future that no one else could take care of, all at that young age, made me and my problems seem insignificant. That day, as I gave him instructions, a kid, no more than 6, came walking with a bucket-full of water, followed by a heavily pregnant woman carrying bricks on her head. ‘’Amma’’, Chandu smiled at her.

 

My phone beeped – ‘Aargh! Missed the opening credits, crazy traffic out there. My life sucks 😥 !!” – Smriti’s message read.

Cassette Classics

 

This is one of my favourite times, or perhaps the most favourite, of all the ‘my times’ that I am able to afford. It is something which makes me look forward to the home visits even more.

 

(Dil me jo baatein hain, hothon pe laao na, Aao na aao na…)

 

The sun is about to disappear, and the clouds are trying to capture the last few traces of light remaining. Lazy on my bed, I stare purposelessly and endlessly out of the balcony, which opens to some beautiful greens and blues. Sadhna Sargam’s honey-dew soaked voice echoes across the room, given the distorted sound quality of the radio. It is some 17 years old (the radio). It seems almost a lifetime, well almost half a decade less than mine. It has been with me ever since I can remember. Earlier it was a cassette player, and  was called ‘tape’. It would always give me company during my lunch after coming home from school in the noon, disturbing mom’s daily routine of the daily soap ‘Kahaani Saat Pheron Ki’. Buying the audio cassette of every other movie was my biggest obsession, and was not at all appreciated , but after some debate and telling-offs, I’d usually get my way. As a result, in a few years I had accumulated a trunk full of cassettes.

 

(Aasmaan, tera mera hua, khwab ki tarah dhuan,  dhuan…)

 

Then suddenly, they became obsolete. Apparently, the world had  advanced, moved to compact discs  and we got a new CD player. The ”tape” in the car was also replaced with a CD player. My huge pile of cassettes now stared at me, almost accusingly. Meanwhile, we shifted home, and despite unwillingness of Mom, I carried the entire trunk of cassettes with me to the new place. The CD phase could never really get me, neither did it last long, I think.

 

(Chaayi hai…betaabi…meri jaan, bataa main kya karu…)

 

The last cassette I bought was Saawariya, in 2007, which accidently was sold away with the car, and I had made a big hue and cry about it, but didn’t get a new one. The ”tape” had remained quiet for some time then, with the internet and  downloads picking up and cassettes and tapes being replaced by the iPods and mobiles. Though somehow, they never quite managed to give me that joy and satisfaction of buying a cassette, of carefully removing the plastic cover and discovering the huge poster and stills of movie inside. The cassette player remained silent and alone for some time, until the rise of radio, the F.M. channels. I was leaving my home for college, and that was the day when the first FM channel was launched in the city. The cassette player was cleaned, and rechristened as Radio that day, though I could barely get 2 hours of it.

 

(Alvida, alvida, meri raahein kehti hain, alvidaa…)

 

Ever since, the radio has been my best companion at home, for the few days that I get to spend here. Cousins, friends, didi, all have gradually moved away, into lives of their own, which rarely coincide with mine. The evenings which were spent in animated discussions, games, laughs earlier have been replaced with the ones filled with music, and solitude, a lone me lying on my bed and staring out of my balcony into the greens below and blues above, which is turning into black gradually, acquiring myriad colors in the process.

 

(In sawaalon ke banaye hue bandhan se nikal chal…)

 

Time really flies, or no, it just apparates. It is a very stupid thought alright, but I often feel as if I’ve already seen too much. Not too much of ups and downs or highs and lows, but just life. So many memories, of so many places, people are all the time brewing in my mind, and never ever enough to saturate. Maybe I am just not able to get over them, to move with times, but how can I ever do that? Having lived in 8 cities, each a different world, a different phase, with different set of people, places and perceptions, everything has become a metaphor of something and reminds me of some distant long lost memory, of a phase, of  a moment lived through. Even without the Dumbledore’s pensieve, I keep wandering through my memories.

 

( Neele neele ambar par, chand jab chaaye, humko tarsaaye…)

 

Wings or not, it really has some pace, and that is almost scary, but also relieving at the same time. First term at the new college is already over. Just the other moment, I was standing on the terrace of my flat, staring down from the 11th floor onto the roads of the metropolis, planning the future, or perhaps planning to plan the future. Just the other moment, I was walking on the seaside, mesmerised by the beautiful hills on one side, the anxious waves swayed by the soft winds on the other, and the  beautiful drive way on the other; and just the other moment, all of this is past. Gone, forever.

 

It is scary. Every moment now feels very ‘momentary’, where you know that it will pass in a blink. The moments will all connect to form a lifetime, and then I will have the entire life to look back on. Wonder how will I deal with all the memories then, if at all.  The whole life will pass away, like this song which I  want to keep listening  forever,

 

(…Ik fasaanaa bane, abhi na banaa to fir kabhi nahi kabhi nahi…)

 

but every song has to end. Every phase has to pass. But what about those which pass without going through every page, without completing all the stories! I’ll never know.

 

It is relieving. Every moment now feels very ‘momentary’, where you know that it will pass in a blink. In the moments of despair and phases of hopelessness, this is the single thought that steers you clear out of such times. Just let go, as you know it is a matter of  a few blinks.

 

(…main thehra rahaa zameen chalne lagi…)

 

Living in the past is definitely not what they would call a ‘healthy living’. As if I could help that. The radio is playing the ‘Cassette Classics’, and I keep losing myself through times, across years, places and people. I still have a cassette preserved in the drawer. (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai) The rest didn’t survive through times- distributed, destroyed, donated or just vanished. But don’t feel like playing it. The radio must have lost that skill, and the cassette must have lost some music too. The reel could get entangled, and you could never be sure if it can be untangled. The CDs could get scratched too, and the downloads can get corrupted, iPods and mobiles damaged, or just lost.  It is the music which keeps going on. The song echoes across times, the music lives forever.

 

(…Zindagi ke safar me guzar jaate hain jo mukaam, fir nahi aate…)

 

Love lives forever.

 

 

 

To beginnings, and hope…

Twilight is a weird time, one which evokes a sense of peace and restlessness at the same time. It is not really a pleasant time, but yet we find ourselves attached to it in a submissive kind of way. It never fails to induce a sense of soul being stirred. The sun is almost there, almost not there, and so is the moon. The light is little, yet sufficient for some, and not for some. You don’t really know whether to switch on the lights or not. It kind of is reflective of your mood, if low, sad, in a shell of your thoughts – then you probably won’t put on the lights, and instead put on some radio channel playing old songs, and open the doors of your balcony, and stare endlessly in the sky, which is showing all the possible combination of colours. The birds have already returned to their nests, except for some long lost ones, on their way back.

Though some would probably never find their way back, you realize that, fearing you might end up being one of those. Sadness and disappointment are easy air to catch this time, with the surroundings all seeming to be trying to hold on to the last few moments of light left, to cling on to the scarce amount of day remaining, before the darkness dawns; which ultimately will, you know that. Sadness and pleasure are opposites, but sometimes opposites co-exist, and this is one such time. Sadistic pleasure, or whatever be it called, sometimes, the thought of being sad fills you with strange sense of pleasure which you cannot explain even to yourself.

This time has always had different contexts, though with same shades of connotations. When the days were spent at school, twilight would be an alarm, a warning, that playtime was about to end, to pack up from the grounds, to wrap up the remaining rounds. When the days were spent at office, it marked the onset of that feeling of impatience, of looking again and again at the dials of clock hoping a quick exit, realizing somewhere deep though that it will only be possible after every single trace of light has been engulfed by the night. There was one place, however, where twilight never registered itself, it seemingly merged itself into the day and the night, where the realization never occurred that night was the absence of light, rather it was just a light with different colour, different shade, a day consisted only of the day and night, and no twilight. It was college.

And I am going there again, to a college, to those classrooms, to those lecture halls, back to where I belong. I have got another chance, to re-live those wonderful memories, or rather re-create them, renovate them, and add some wonderful details to them. Or maybe it is a chance to do what I could not do that first time, and always wanted to; or to correct what went wrong the first time, to keep the last time as a template and plan this time so that nothing goes wrong, nothing goes against my heart, against my thoughts. For a moment, and more, I thought of listing down all what I think should not have been done , all what I erred, in the four years of college gone by, and to stay on guard this time, to stay alert, not to let go, and not to repeat the mistakes again. But as I began to remember them all, and lost myself again in those memories, it came to me that making mistakes is perhaps the most humane thing, the one which leads to real emotions, real relationships , bonds, and the memories we cherish. We might believe otherwise, but we don’t really have control on how we manage the matters of heart, and perhaps I will make the same mistakes again, or  maybe different ones, but with new people, new place, new world, even the same old mistakes will teach me something new, will make for wonderful memories, I believe that.

I feel like being on Platform 9 and three quarters, waiting for my Hogwarts Express, whose whistles are already in the air, and it is just a matter of moments before I set out for a new journey. After an year in the real world, in the world of muggles, of people who believe only in sanity and conventions, and discard magic of all kinds, of love, of faith, of dreams, of miracles, I am heading back to my world of magic, a world of freedom. It might be a different place, a different world, and different people this time, but it will still be college, it will still be magic. To my Hogwarts, to X.L.R.I. , to Jamshedpur, here I come!

…And even those lost birds, the ones who could never find their way back, they’d build their new homes, I believe that.

…….

It’s not feeling quite right, though the stars are on tonight…

An airplane passes through the stars. It is easy to confuse it with a twinkling star, a shooting star, but nights and nights of sky gazing teach you the difference, and of all the things, you start predicting the direction that a plane will take, and believing that from the 11th floor terrace, you have a much better view of the stars, the moon than from the lower grounds. That thought is strangely comforting, and substantiated by the view of the world down and all around you. Some buildings rise higher, and some lower than yours, but none reach even remotely close to the flying machine in the sky, it always remains a distant dream.  The high rising towers all complement the stars in the sky with their blinking lights, and the few vehicles on the road appear as tiny as the plane in the sky, and both seem to be in no hurry to reach their destination, in sync with the stillness and silence of night.

The last night- well, for now, for a few years, long enough for things and people to change, to remain not as I know of them, as I am leaving them. Partings are always awkward, with all their uncertainty and not knowing when would be the next time air. If you’ve already been through times high and low, moods good and bad, phases happy and sad with the people, then there is a sense of assurance, a belief, of the strength of the bond, of your place in their life, of staying in touch, of meeting again. But what about those relations, which were yet in their nascent stage, those stories which had just begun, and on a very happy and promising note, which still managed to fill your heart with joy every time a new page was added. But suddenly, leaving all the pages blank, you fear you’ve reached straight at the last page.

Those incomplete stories are the ones which are causing me the sadness. This night, as much as I try not to, is making me imagine what colors the future would have shown had I not to leave suddenly, what if I had known that I have only 9 months in the capital! Would I’ve restrained myself from anything, anyone, or rushed into anything, anyone, I know not. ‘What if?’ is usually a rhetorical question, without any logical answer, and I’ve realized that with time. But that doesn’t stop the question from spurting in the mind.

Jaane kya baat hai, jaane kya baat hai… Neend nahi aati , badi lambi raat hai…

 

Musings…

The train just crossed Ghaziabad station. It did not stop there, just slowed down, as if giving some kind of second chance to those who had taken off on the wrong tracks. Life rarely offers such second chances, yet it is so much like this train.

I love writing in transit, be it a flight, a train or the metro. (Our roads generally do not allow me that luxury) Its tough to put the actual feelings in words, but I guess its got something to do with the sweeping visuals, which are like so many worlds, so many stories, moments, and the emotions they evoke within- of being just one of so many, of diminishing self importance, of realization, that we believe ourselves and our problems to be of higher magnitude than they are, and that there are infinite ‘us’ everywhere, trying to get some advantage of that unknown imaginary power.

Writing, anyway, for me is like a recording tape, to safeguard my memories, my feelings, my reactions. To be able to recall how I felt at that particular moment, what were my doubts, problems, dilemma, at a particular moment, a phase, a transition. I fear losing my memories. What if after all these years, I don’t remember that feeling, of first love, of the first kiss, of heart break, of insecurities, of accomplishments, of longing, of craving, of life. It will be such a terrible waste of everything. Of those drops of rain, those swoosh of leaves, those waters gone dry, everything which had once become a metaphor, a synonym, for things as varied as a rejected proposal to an accepted admission. Events we anyway remember, but the feeling, the moment, the moments, are what I want to cherish, for always, ever. I can not imagine how it will feel, at the ripe old age of 70, to open my diaries and read about the first time I discovered sex, the first time I felt love, and all the things of life. They would probably make me laugh (maybe an oh-i-was-so-stupid laugh.). I can’t imagine; I don’t want to. Or maybe I would die before reaching that age, and my kids will get to read my life. I hope they will not judge me, and…

Ude…khule aasmaan me khwabon ke parindey,

Ohooo, kya pataa, jaanaa hai kahan…

Yes, I‘ve never quite known that, unlike this train, though both of us have rarely had a smooth or as-was-planned ride. The rickety-ricket sound after some time gets a little too familiar, forcing me to put on the earphones.

Na main samjhaa, Na main jaanaa…

Yes, best things in life have happened accidently to me, mostly when I was not craving for them, while the mishaps have almost always hinted their arrival, though mostly I have been too naive to detect them. I can’t decide if love falls in the first or second category. But either way, some things just effect you too much, and in an irreparable way, to judge them as good or bad. Five months ago, a similar journey, on the same tracks, was perhaps the longest of my life. I had to give up my job, my first ever job, and my self-respect, all within a couple of days, and was going back to I knew not what. December 2011 was perhaps the coldest of my life, mystified by the added chill of uncertainty, not knowing what lay ahead, I could be numb a moment, and then explain myself, regain a soul, and spend some peaceful moments, and then again back to forgetting the explanation. But happiness finds its way through all the circumstances, I realized, even if it came from awkward situations like watching The Dirty Picture in a multiplex with your parents.

And today, this journey amazes me. How the tables have turned! The fortune has rained on me, and still the world feels the same. And thank God for that. I remember reading somewhere, that happiest is he who can make himself feel the same in the good and bad of times. i so agree.

The train just passed by a station called ‘Maripat’. I remember the station from the journey in december, when it had a little hut outside the single tin shed and a dysfunctional toilet and a room (which constituted the station!). It is the same even now. The toilet seems functional now though. The little hut near the tracks vibrates as the train vrooms along, causing the little chickens to flutter around in a fury, and a little boy running amok to catch them.

Paate hum hain Zindagi ek baar, kyu na karein hum use pyaar..!