Thursday, December 3, 2009

That first time again

This was it. I had to do this. It has been a while, and I might sound like a horse, but I need to do this. For my self. For my peace of mind. For me to know, that I can do this. I squatted on the floor, placed my hands on my lap, straightened my back, closed my eyes and took a slow deep breath. As I breathed in I took in the ring of the electronic shruti. The amalgam of three basic notes. I separated them, unconsciously and chose my note. And synced my voice with the shruti and sang my first note after a long time. I felt my vocal cords vibrate and my voice surrounded me. I felt myself swaying as if I was swimming in the tone of my note. I was almost out of breath but I held on until the end. Then I took another slow deep breath. The silence was deafening. I sang the next note until my breath gave way. Then the third, and the fourth and the fifth. I was singing again.


A single drop of sweat ran down her temple and into the shallow cave under her jaw. The orange street light and the white light inside the bus reflected against that single line of sweat, accentuating her slender, oval face. An angry finger wiped it off clumsily. Little fringes of her hair stuck to her forehead, undisturbed by the rhythmic bobbing of her head. I couldn’t help being thankful for the humidity that day.

I was on my way back from work. On an impulse I had stopped for pani puri at the roadside chaat stall outside my office. Sairam’s stall was as usual swarming with young professionals refreshing themselves from a hard Monday’s work. I had to squeeze and push my way through to reach the panipuri wala. But I was in no hurry to leave. The traffic on the road didn’t encourage me to add my bike to it. I was rolling up my sleeves when the BEST bus came to a halt in front of the stall. It was so close to the pavement that the tires almost brushed against the concrete bricks. The bus was packed with the rush hour crowd. With every lurch of the bus, the crowd inside moved in inertia like a tribal dance.

She was a peculiar sight. I don’t know what was peculiar about her but there was something about her that caught my attention. She was seated in the front of the bus at a window seat. She had earphones on and an elbow stuck out of the window. She had long wavy hair that was tied in a pony tail at the nape of her neck. Tiny fringes of curly hair sprung out on her forehead. She was fair. There was a slight unconscious smile lingering on her lips. I couldn’t tell what her eyes looked like because they were hidden behind fat rimmed glasses. She was singing along with the music playing in her ears. I could see her only between a thickening layer of heads. But I saw that her eyes were shut, her head bobbed and her fingers tapped together in rhythm –

tap – tap tap – tap
tap – tap tap – tap

I suddenly lost my appetite. I asked for a glass of water instead. When the man gave it to me, I made my way out of the crowd around the stall. She had opened her eyes, and looked at the traffic jam ahead as if she had just noticed it. Silly girl, I said in my mind and shook my head as I poured some water into my cupped hand and splashed it across my face. I needed to cool my face badly. As I opened my eyes and looked up at the bus, still stationary. I noticed she was looking at me. She was longingly looking at the steel tumbler in my hand. Her eyes slowly shifted to my face and suddenly my face felt very hot. She looked at me with piteous eyes as if to ask something of me. A strange energy rose up in my stomach, past my chest. But as it reached my throat it came out in a sudden laugh.

I panicked. I knew that was the wrong reaction. And it wasn’t even what I wanted to do. I waited for her reaction. She looked at me one long second and giggled under her breath, a little embarrassed. I relaxed. The bus lurched further and suddenly I realized the bus was going to move. For the wildest second I considered getting on the bus. But I didn’t. And walked to my bike. And left.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Addiction

A low beep was heard at the end of the room. The silence that followed was tantalizing. They looked at each other. They both knew what it meant. The elder leapt at the sound and ran across the room to grab the coveted seat. The other was left groping at her dress in order to prevent the inevitable. It was a matter of seconds, everything was a blur. All they could see was the cursed seat. Then there was that music, that evil music that can enchant, enthrall and captivate. It lasts for not more than 5 seconds, but it is a clear sign of the pleasures that await as the computer comes alive.

The elder had long seated herself, while the younger stood by the seat sulking.

“Why must you always sit at the computer when I turn it on to do my work?”

The elder gives a gleeful laugh, “Because I’m addicted. Don’t you know that?”

“Mom, come on! Haven’t you played Solitaire enough already!”

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sunday Morning

“There's someone at the door.”

“I’ll get it. Don’t move. I’ll be right back.”

Early on a Sunday morning, fresh sun was streaming in through the open windows in the living room. It brightened up the whole house. The air was cool. She wanted to turn down the fan. Winter was on its way. Not yet, she thought, and pulled up the blanket around her. But sleep had left her. She stared blankly at the curtained window, tracing the yellow lines of the embroidered flowers on the red cloth. She could hear him talking to someone at the door. She wondered who it could be. What time was it? The clock was on the wall above her head. She would have to get up. She groped around the bed for her cell phone. She couldn’t find it. So she gave up and buried herself under the blanket again.

“Its 3 AM. I thought they were going to stay over.”

“What a mess! Come help me clean up.”

“It can wait.”

She smiled at the memory of how his voice tickled her ear. She turned over and closed her eyes. She felt his fingers run down her spine, her skin tingled. She felt him blow a strand of hair away from her face. She took a deep breath in. Last night was the best. She heard the door close in the hall. He was coming. They had slept may be an hour ago. But she didn’t feel sleepy. She felt restless. She wanted to get up and do something. But her body wouldn’t move.

“Bloody milk man. 7 AM on a Sunday! Do these people have no scruples?”

She sat up on the bed, “I’m not sleepy. Do you want some coffee?”

“Arey! You haven’t slept at all last night. Come, get some sleep.”

She didn’t want to resist when his hands pulled her down on the bed. His hands automatically circled her waist and her legs automatically intertwined with his.

“You have to call mom.”

“Shut up” he whispered back.

“We should wake up before noon, I’m not sure when your parents said they were going to come.”

“Will you please shut up and go to sleep?”

The temple bells were ringing for the morning aarti. The sun was trying to peep through the curtains that were fluttering in the wind. She breathed in the comfort and closed her eyes.

“Shall we just order for lunch? I don’t want to cook.”


“I hope my parents won’t land before 4 or something. This place is a mess.”


“Last night, the guys were just...”


He looked over at her face, “You’re asleep aren’t you?”


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Home is where the Heart is

The wind was beginning to blow and the air was getting cooler. So, I picked up my sweater and took some money in order to buy coffee. On my way out I looked out the window to check if there was light enough outside to read. It was about 7 pm/ 19 hours and the sun was just beginning to kiss the trees good bye. I quickly made my way out of the dorm, bought a cup of coffee from the kiosk and headed for the little park next to my dorm that had been teasing my imagination for a while. It was a quiet little place, unkempt and ignored. Nobody seemed to go there. I saw a couple of rabbits hopping around nibbling. I tried to approach them but they ran away. So I left them alone.

I found a seat perfectly situated in the corner of the park but with decent sunlight still streaming in from the gaps in the trees. I took out my book and began to read. A little while later I felt a sudden movement under the bench, when I looked behind it was one of the rabbits that had just brushed past my legs. I was amazed. Within just a few minutes the rabbits had gotten used to my presence so much that they didn’t mind hopping past me. I couldn’t help smiling to myself as I sipped my coffee and went to my book.

I felt comfortable. The air was getting chillier by the minute and the light was quietly fading out, but I felt comfortable. As if, I was one of the bushes in the corner, or one of the rabbits. It smelt of damp earth. With the taste of strong German coffee swirling in my Indian mouth, the soft warmth it brought inside me against the chilly wind around me, it felt like home.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dead Branches

He was sitting on a pile of bricks in a corner, while the others were busy making arrangements for the night. Today, this was their home. A thin wall divided their world from the noisy railway station behind. The make-shift tent with two staffs and a large black plastic sheet was now put up. The woman dragged a small portable stove and some utensils under the tent and began to prepare dinner. A man joined her under the tent and began stitching a tear in his pant.

Trains kept passing by, ruffling the plastic sheet. It created a huge racket but nobody seemed to notice it. He sat on the pile of bricks because every time a local train passed, it made the wind rush over him. It made his long brown curls fly back. It thrilled him. There was a pile of dead branches that lay ahead. He noticed that if he could get on top of those branches he would almost be able to touch the trains that pass by. He jumped off his seat and walked towards the branches. The tar road under his bare feet was hot in the afternoon sun. Nobody saw him walk up to the branches. He made sure he did not catch their attention.

He gripped the nearest branch and shook it. Satisfied with its strength, he reached out for another branch a little further up. He looked towards the man and the woman. They were not looking. He gingerly placed a foot on a thick twig. It bent a little under the weight of his leg but he didn’t notice. He picked up the other leg and was about to place it on one of the branches, when suddenly the twig gave way and his leg got caught among the branches. In a state of panic he let both his hands go and fell backwards on the ground. He felt the twig cut open his skin and he saw the blood oozing out. Before the sense of pain could set in, he felt a cold chill run up his spine. He couldn’t open his eyes because of the sun blazing above him and the searing pain from his leg made it difficult to breathe. Both his legs were up in the air. One stuck between the branches and the other dangling over another branch.

It wasn’t until the woman came to examine the scene that he realized that he was screaming his lungs out. He had never felt such pain in all of his five years of life. He held his hands up hoping his mother would taking him into her arms and make the pain go away. Instead she pulled him up by one hand and disentangled his leg from the twigs with the other. Once he was on his feet, she slapped him hard across his face and yelled at him for making mischief. She then left him to tend to his wound and went back under the plastic sheet.

The child learnt an important lesson that day: Never cry for help if you get in to trouble.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Truth

The string tied to her index finger,
She draws it out of the spool at her will.
She loops it, folds it, stretches it, breaks it,
Then fastens it again to her finger.

I came and she placed me gently
On the wobbly string.
I wobbled. Adjusted. Made my niche,
And then, grew too big for the string.

Now I stand beside her,
Plucking the string she preserves,
Pulling the string from her,
Forcing my will upon it.

And yet the string is not mine
Nor hers, we both know.
But it lies there between us,
Forcing us to hurt each other.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Just Another Day

Rickshaw-walas can be a rather entertaining bunch of people when you are in need of a mood-lift. They drive around their little bug-like vehicles and stop at the wave of a hand and like to think of themselves as the kings of the road. Andheri station is one of those places were they do tend to assume a certain kind of authority. Commuters don’t tell the rickshaw-walas where to go; they go where the rickshaw-wala takes them.

Now, after a killing shopping excursion in Colaba, when one is made to stand in a crowded train from Churchgate to Andheri, one is entitled to be grumpy and have a strong desire to rest the rear end wherever possible. So, when a rickshaw-wala standing right outside the station readily accepts to take you to your destination, you will only thank good heavens for the little mercies He grants.

So here I was walking out of Andheri station, tired as hell with sore feet and having to go to Prithvi Theatre for yet another errand. And there I see a rickshaw-wala waiting for me; who doesn’t hesitate to take me to my destination. I waste no time in bundling into the rickshaw. Rickshaw-wala also sits, turns to me and asks if I could wait for a little while so he can get another passenger. This has now become a common practice in Andheri station, by the way. Now, I know it is rather unlikely that someone who wanted to go to Juhu would be at Andheri station because it is closer to Vile Parle (why was I there? I took a fast train so that I need stand for a smaller time period).

So I tell the rickshaw-wala, “haan haan, theek hai theek hai as long as you let me sit in your rickshaw.” Now, we are waiting for another passenger and to pass the time he asks if I’m an actress because I want to go to Prithvi. I said, ‘No no. I’m only going there to meet someone.”

I don’t think he heard what I said, because he next tells me his brother is also into script writing. “TV ke liye likhta hai. Voh SAB TV hai na? Uske saare shows ke liye mera bhai hi likhta hai.”

I admit it. I’m a sucker for rickshaw stories these days and a brother of a television script writer, who drives rickshaw really caught my attention.

“You know? My sister-in-law – bhai ki biwi… she is a reporter. She comes on TV as that journalist hota hai na? All this News channels na? She comes in them.”

I asked him in Hindi, “Saare News channels ke liye kaam karti hai?”

He insists on speaking in his version of the English language, “Yes! (eyes pop out and lips take on a grave downward curve) She reporter for all.”

I nod, imitating the grave downward curve of the lips. At this point, a couple of younger colleagues of his looked in to the rickshaw and asked him what he was doing.

“Just waiting for somebody else who wants to go to Prithvi Theatre” he replies in Hindi. The two smile at him and look at me with caution in their eyes. They turn to themselves and say ‘Buddha fir shuru ho gaya.’ I smiled.

“I also sing”, he popped. This caught my interest again. “You hear name of Asan some-thing-or-other? Your genrashun don’t know. Ask your mother father” gives me a pitiable look and continues, “You hear movie, Paras Mani?” I shake my head. “Gana toh suna hoga, ‘Hasta hua noorani chehra…’?” Who hasn’t heard ‘Hasta hua noorani Chehra…’! I got very excited.

“My father write that song. He was big song writer in Bollywood.”

It didn’t matter whether he was saying the truth or not. In a city like ours, it is, after all, possible that the son of a song writer, brother of a script-writer and brother-in-law of a TV reporter, could be a rickshaw-wala. I humoured him on. He looked like a middle-aged man with an incredible imagination. He had few teeth, all of which had deep dark paan stains on them. His speech was a little slurred which I attributed to the lack of adequate number of teeth.

It had been a good 10 minutes waiting for another passenger, so I told him to start the rickshaw. He was kind enough to inform me that the ride will be costly and that I wouldn’t be able to bear it entirely. I insisted on going and said I don’t mind paying. He started the rickshaw and we crawled through the heavy rush-hour traffic.

Only after a little distance did I noticed that he had not pulled the meter down. And only after I asked him to pull it down did he care to mention that his meter was was not working and that however long it takes, I may pay him Rs. 50 for the ride. The ease and confidence with which he seemed to state this and all his eccentricities before, should have put me on alert. But I was still nursing my sore feet and Rs. 50 in the kind of traffic we were in seemed like a steal to me. So I agreed.

He was a very good driver. He knew how to weave his way between large vehicles and cleverly change lanes to get ahead. He even managed to avoid a verbal battle with a rather burly and short-tempered young man in another rickshaw. Half way to my destination I realized he had had two large bottles of water in the rickshaw filled to the brim at the beginning of the ride which where both half empty by now. And I also noticed the impossible angle he stretched to, to take swigs from the bottle. But it was not until he asked me for the third time where it was that I wanted to go, that I realized that there was something wrong. Then he began to take me in the wrong direction and told me I am wrong when I gave him the right direction. He did realize he was going the wrong way and corrected himself. He then looked back at me and laughed and only then did I realize that the man was drunk.

I calmed myself and then I calmly told him, with a dry throat, to please stop the rickshaw. He said, “But this is not Prithvi Theatre.” I said, “Don’t worry. Just drop me here and I will go on my own.”

He took offense, stopped the rickshaw, turned to me and said, “No no baby, I know the way. I will drop you.”

I said, “No no uncle, here is your Rs.30 for bringing me this far now I’m going to get off.”

“Paise ki baath nahi hai, beta. Mein chhod doonga. Paise nahi chahiye.”

I placed the Rs. 30 on the seat, got off the rickshaw and said, “Agli baar thoda kam piyoge toh achha hoga” and walked off. I crossed the road and started walking. But I noticed that son of song writer of ‘Hasta Hua Noorani Chehra’ was taking a U-turn to follow me. My hasta hua chehra lost all its noor and I ran to the nearest corner and hid myself. The rickshaw-wala drove past me, waited for a few minutes at the corner of the road and then rode away. Only then did I come out of my hiding place. There was a shorter way to my destination from where I was and so I walked the rest of the way.

Ever since this encounter, there has only been one thing eating in to my peace of mind. Who after all is the song writer for the song ‘Hasta hua noorani chehra…’? It is a great song.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

There was a slight chill in the air. A light breeze kept tugging at her dress. The concrete bench at the park felt colder and harder. It was a small park that not many knew of. There was an old couple sitting at another end of the park watching their three grandchildren play in the grass. A boy was walking his dog and a man who sold chana chor garam on the streets was sitting in a corner and counting his day’s earning. She sat at her bench looking at them, her mind somewhere else. Somewhere, in a restaurant, her mind saw him again. He was staring in to the eyes of someone else and he had the smile that used to be reserved for her. They were holding hands.

Her greatest fears had been realized: she felt nothing.

She walked away from the restaurant, feeling nothing. And now here she was, sitting in the park. Why did she feel nothing? The peaceful atmosphere teased her temples. They tortured her ears with happy sounds. She pinched herself, to make herself cry. But her eyes remained dry. She became angry with herself. The wind screamed in her ears. It felt stronger than a storm. She hated herself. She got up with a start and stomped her way towards the gates. She fixedly gazed in to the far distance and told herself that she was lying to herself and him. There was obviously no love between them. She marched along the road and suddenly stopped dead in her track.

“Where are you going? I was just coming to meet you at the park.”

She stuttered and walked a few steps back. She couldn’t think. The world had come to a full-stop. She looked at the woman with him; the same one from the restaurant. She did not know what to do.

“I came to the restaurant” was all she could manage to say.

“You did? What were you doing there?”

“Someone told me they saw you there and I thought I’d come there instead of waiting for you at the park”

“Yeah, we were at the restaurant. Didn’t you see us?”

She didn’t know what to say. He didn’t even seem to care that she had found them!

“Well, we were sitting in a corner. So it’s no wonder you didn’t. Anyway, this is my cousin, Shaila. Shaila, this is my girlfriend, Prachi”

Prachi could barely stretch her hands and shake Shaila’s. She wondered if Shaila noticed how sweaty her hands were or how her legs were shaking. She was sure she was blushing. She couldn’t stop herself from laughing.

“What happened? Why are you laughing?”

“Nothing…” She turned to Shaila and said, “It’s good to meet you.”

Shaila did not miss the embarrassment on her face. She tossed her head to one side and replied, “You’re not the jealous type, are you?”

Prachi blushed again and buried her face in her hands. It is only then that she felt the little drops of tears hanging from her eye lids.