23 June, 2009

The Pit Stop

The gull opened out its wings and glided into the sea breeze. The flight was as graceful as a swan and my eyes followed his flight completely fascinated. The wind ruffling my hair carried to the ears stray words of a song from a radio playing somewhere.

Der se leheron se kamal sambhale huey mun ka....
Jeevan taal me bhatak rahan re tera hansa....
O hansini, meri hansini, kahan ud chali....
Mere armanon ko, pankh lagaaakey, kahan ud chali...

Kishore Kumar, Zahreela Insaan, automatically the mind started processing the information. Is this a co-incidence or what… the flying bird, the song everything just fitted in? The wind died for a moment & the words bobbing on the ear tapered off. The bird too was now lost from sight. It’s a wonder how nature links up events and displays them for you. One only has to look with the eyes of the heart and mind. Both of whom always relaxed at this spot. I could see and feel better by just being here. There was a time in my life when one would find me sitting here, often. Offlate that had not happened. The spot though had not changed much and it still had the same effect on me. I looked on.

Some gulls were flying in pairs, skimming the waters and squawking loudly. They seemed like couples well into their marriages arguing and talking at the same time; almost human. There were human signs too. An endless stream of people were walking across to a monument right in the middle of the sea. From this distance the path used by them was not visible and they seemed to be walking on water. A smile tugged my lips as the gaze moved from across the sea & halted at the marble white monument. It was sitting right in the sea linked to the mainland by a thin rocky causeway. Those walking across, were devotees of the Saint (Pir) Haji Ali, the monument was the Dargah built and named for him. From here they looked like colorful ants crawling to a huge sugar mound. The mosque was sparkling white against the sky and horizon and did seem to be made up of white candy.

This monument is unique to Bombay (Mumbai now) and makes it a landmark to be preserved by the Archeological Society of India. I loved the sight and the spot where I sat now. It was not just the sea or the mosque or the signs of people and their faith but a seeming confluence of all spirits that converged at this spot. I had a curious sense of being very alive, every single time I sat here, like now, looking out facing the sea. The mosque was in my peripheral vision and was far enough to not have the huge crowd around me. It was the wrong side. When I turned the other way I could see the Annie Besant road and its traffic. Fast moving cars, interspaced with the crawling BEST buses and even some stray horse driven carriages and two wheelers zipping about. These were chased by enthusiastic mongrels on the road for some distance until they ran out of bark and breath. The manner in which these curs returned from their chase had the signs of victorious warriors coming home after a hard fought battle. For a while they sat with heaving chests and foamy lips and once the breathing returned to normal the yipping and chasing started again.

Beyond me in the shade on the same long winding promenade were the lovers. Not one pair but many, some couples clinched up in embraces so fierce that even the sea breeze wouldn’t pass through them; another sign of love and life. Nothing cooled their ardor, neither the stick wielding cops nor the unpredictable sea that in some moments of spite would lash out on the rocks and spray all with sparkling foam and brine. The sea reflected all the moods of those who passed by at different times of the day. The naughty saucy mood of the lovers in those mischievous splashes. To the passionate fervor of the devotees crossing in it’s bubbling. An icy calm and restlessness of the senior citizens who walked on the promenade with aids, to the friskiness of the urchins who jumped about playing on the rocks and jumping in to avoid the heat. The waves rose higher when the heavens split and couples fought , it was mystic how the sea sensed all the emotions around it and played them back, or was it the other way around? Had not quite figured that out yet.

From here have observed the sea in all its myriad moods from sunrise to sunset. This place has seen me over many moons, at times in company but largely alone. This was my space in this city, the one wherefrom I communed with the elements and restored my balance. It soothed and charged me up at the same time. Whether on my way to work or coming back from it, even the times when I simply passed it by, a sense of peaceful calm would settle over me. I have never been able to articulate exactly what the place meant. If one would still persist on an explanation then it was & is, a pit stop for refueling the soul just off the main track, a slight detour from destiny.

09 June, 2009

To Office....

“You lying turd, you were out with Rita and told me that your grandmothers not well” she hissed. They were standing beside me on the bus stop and the volume wasn’t too gentle either. From the corner of my eye I could see a young well dressed pair on their way to work. But that boy’s day was off to a rocky start. He had been found out. Squirming he tried to explain, Lavina, do you believe this? Who told you? Never mind, who told me, Rakesh, I had been warned about you. It was only me being dumb and blind that I didn’t listen, you two timing scumbag. The girl was on a roll and I was finding it hard to control my mirth. Rakesh tried turning on the charm, Darling Lavina, you believe everything that’s told to you, am sure it must be that sneak Lalitha. She doesn’t like me and will do everything to malign my good name. “Good name” now she almost screamed, who do you think you are, Shahrukh Khan? My laugh clamped by the lips rolled into my tummy, it rumbled inside and the spare tyre around the waist jiggled.This was going to be tough for him thought I.

My morning certainly had begun well. The hour’s journey to office was monotonous at the best. Same old bored faces waiting for the 8.30 bus that was still five minutes away. There is this Sardarji, who I prayed for should never get to sit beside me. His quirk; every fifteen minutes something tickles the inside of his nose. This then is very industriously probed with the little fingers of either hand. The offending particle is brought out, peered at , rolled into a smooth ball and flicked. It can land anywhere and on anyone.I was literally a snake on that one unlucky day he was sitting next to me. Wriggling about like one, to avoid the trajectory of the nasal missile. My acrobatics worked though and it flew before my eyes out of the window. Then there is the Sindhi lady who invariably reaches the stop late. She boards the bus from the front door by waving to the driver. Huffing and puffing while effusively thanking the driver- now used to her timing, she elbows her way in. She is a kindly soul, ample in size and always polite when she steps on a foot or knocks somebody about. This too has a certain regularity. One day it had been my foot and even with thick leather shoes, felt that my toes would certainly break off. Then she gave her sweet smile and that wiped away my truly painful grimace. She was just clumsy or should we call it physically dis-co-ordinated? Its the sign of the times where it is not polite to call a blind man blind..do you get the point? BEST has separate seats for women now but I remember sharing a seat with her. Imagine sitting on the floor and have a bean bag dumped upon you.The rolls just accommodate themselves around your shape blocking all air circulation to the pores. Thats the way it is with her. Her Body Mass Index was a cause of serious concern for her seat sharing partner. But for her smile,some people are natural charmers.

Lavina was still at it, bristling with anger. Could picture her as a cat: A rather plump tabby with her fur rubbed the wrong way. Tail fat and straight up in the air, muscles all bunched up, hissing and spitting. I even almost heard a “yowll” as Rakesh tried to hold her hand. He yelped, she had scratched him. Now I sputtered. This guy sure didn’t know it and had tangled with the wrong girl this time. Hurt, he now looked straight ahead, maintaining a safe distance barely holding his dented pride together. This seemed to infuriate her even further but before she went completely ballistic the bus arrived and all of us filed in. This being the first stop , climbing in, located a window seat at the centre and occupied it. The one beside me remained empty and thankfully the Sardarji was ahead of me occupying the window on the opposite side. No missiles today, I was relieved. Lavina and Rakesh were immediately in front. Gosh, this was my lucky day; my entertainment channel was still on and had not been changed by the divine being who held the remote. He does have a tendency to flip channels at will, surprising all those who take him for granted. Just an idle thought as it flitted across my mind. The small battle was on, there was a six inches gap between the warring couple and no truce had been declared yet. Rakesh was manfully hanging on. Lavina was fixedly staring out of the window though the bus was still at the stop.

The conductor pulled on the stringed bell and the bus rolled to a start and stopped as the Sindhi lady ambled on huffing puffing and smiling. The only empty seat being next to me she settled in. I was crushed back against the window. At least my ride over the potholes was to be cushioned. It was much better than playing a moving target to nasal missiles. Thanking the one above, I resigned to the journey. The conductor clicked his punch for the tickets and Rakesh fishing out his wallet said “Two VT”. The conductor punched the tickets and returned the change. As he turned Lavina called him back and said "Ek VT". The battle had been stepped up to the next level. After his pride, it was the turn of his wallet to be hurt. Pointedly she folded the ticket exactly in the middle with sharpened nails and elaborately kept it in her purse to again look outside. For a moment he thought about asking her, then shrugging, he too fixedly stared straight ahead.

The loading and unloading of human passengers continued till the bus was packed with hardly any standing room now. The atmosphere though had a cheer brought about by the cackle and giggles of four school girls in uniforms on their way to school. Each one booked her half-ticket separately while chattering continuously. Neither did they pause for breath nor did they run out of a topic for discussion. From, Ruma Teachers petticoat which was tied higher than her sari at the back, to the latest in the life of Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor, to how ones neighbors didn’t go and vote but marked their fingers with store-bought indelible markers, to the surprise history test given by Charulata madam. Their chirping would be incessant till they got down. Two mechanics got on board with their tool kits in large slung bags. Almost immediately they got into an argument with the conductor. He wanted them to buy separate tickets for their luggage. They refused, pointing towards the various laptops carried by executives not being charged. “Gareeb ko hi looto (fleece us poor guys)” was their refrain. If their tools of the trade are not charged, then why should our tools be charged separately? They had a point and they prevailed, with the conductor giving up.

The bus approached Dadar TT. With roughly half of the journey completed a section of the bus had emptied out and new passengers climbed on. Some air started circulating again. Deena Lalwani is it really you? A shrill voice was heard close by my seat. Before I could realize, the lady next to me had turned squashing me, till I almost was a part of the bus frame. I gasped for air, and she loudly said "Hi Pheroza how are you, must be how many now, 17 years? A bespectacled thin lady wearing a top and a skirt with an old frame perched on her nose had inched forward. Rather than suffer the squeeze, I got up and offered Pheroza the seat next to Deena. I started breathing again and the crease on my Van Heusen shirt sprang back to smoothness again. Thank you Sir, said Pheroza as she slid in next to Deena who managed to shuffle all of six and a half inches inside. Obviously for the spindly friend this was enough space and their chatter began. Back to being a standee, I stretched my legs and slung my bag back on to my shoulder. Equally suddenly I found myself falling forward. Sesame oil flavored hair was right up my nose from the head of the man standing ahead. The bus had screeched to a sudden stop. The driver having slammed on the brakes. Swearing in fluent Hindustani, he invoked the mother of the offending interloper. The one who had cut across the bus. I gathered myself and wiped traces of the oil from my nose. Yikes…he seemed to have used almost half a bottle for his hair. Compounded with not having a bath for a minimum three days. My nose keeps good time, sometimes better than my watch. The smell had a curious inflection of being hybridized because of age, sweat and dandruff. My life spared from the squeeze of Deena Lalwani’s bulk, was again perilously close to being lost ; this time to noxious vapors. I could even trace his roots to Uttar Pradesh from the odor to almost mapping his district. It can read maps too!!! An additional feature of my nose that I had stumbled on to, right then. I stepped a few paces back and safely inserted another gentleman between us. Luckily sesame-oil-head got down at the next stop. The air was split with the din of a wedding band as we passed Lalbaug a textile residential area. A group of boys was practicing its beats. The Indian version of “Come September, a pernnial favorite, was being clanged & rehearsed with a passion. Could be that there was an evening wedding event performance in store for the band boys. With nowhere to practice given their choc-o-block full locality, the road was being put to good use.

We were near Mohammed Ali road now and the bakery shops were sending out their wonderful baking smells. I could see out of the window the neatly paper wrapped Nankhatai’s and Khari biscuits on display, being purchased. My mouth watered but the moving wheels and the ticking clock would not allow me the luxury of getting down. Like every day, I wistfully watched them go past. A seat got empty and I sat down again. This time diagonally opposite to a man who had a business paper open in front of him. He may have had the noble intention of reading it when he boarded. Now he was fast asleep behind it. His head on his neighbors shoulder the pages fluttering in the open window. A voice spoke in my ear "This country I tell you is going to the dogs". The words came from the old gentleman sitting beside me. He was looking out from the window. We could see the potholed roads, the perennial construction , many make-shift shops being operated, and some street urchins peeing on the road. It certainly was a sad sight and being so near the oldest business district too, could relate to the pathos in his voice. The change he may have seen his beloved Bombay go through was seemingly painful. I felt the same most days. Being used to this now, it had ceased bothering me as much.

Within a few minutes another turn was taken and the bus passed a fish market opposite a neo gothic structure of what is the famous Crawford market. The market building was not visible and the bus turned on towards the business district of VT. The magnificent VT station and opposite it the “White Lady of Bori Bunder" that housed "The Times of India-Group of Newspapers", and the Bombay Municipal Corporation building, classic structures all, flashed across.

One by one people were getting up to alight. Some faces resigned, some gearing up for the day, the smiling Deena and the twiggy Pheroza, the missile man Sardarji , I and the warring couple of Lavina & Rakesh. Two gentlemen were still sleeping. One actually with his mouth open and snoring. The conductor nudged them awake.

The bus halted and all of us filed out. This happened just as a tidal wave of humanity swept out of VT station. A few trains may have docked in simultaneously. Our trickle from the bus almost seemed like a tiny tributary, to the ocean of this mass. The ocean swallowed the tributary seamlessly. The unique identities of the bus passengers quickly merged into the mass. They would regain it again tomorrow morning at the bus stop.

The general pattern of the undending cycle in the day of the commuting employed never varied; Breaking only at the retirement of an individual or a visit from the grim reaper. The cycle of a metropolis in motion. I walked on ahead to my office through the churning ocean, a tiny drop...

01 June, 2009

Footprints - III - The Destination

Footprints - I

Footprints - II - The Journey

Jon said she, no plans and no agenda’s right? We shall zig and zag across Goa. He was just getting the balance of the machine and her weight behind him. Now he also felt the nature of her spirit. He was rather amazed at how a high society dame had blown apart the constraints around her and so easily was reaching out and chipping his as well. Turn right said she and he turned right, with nothing to lose and an adventure to gain he just obeyed. The roads were narrow tar but well maintained and he found himself running past the green and the sea that could be seen through the gaps in the foliage. She just held on. The traffic was sparse and they passed the turn to Agauada and came on to Porvorim crossing the Mandovi to reach Panjim. The city was a bustle and the traffic deepened but nobody paid any attention to them. Tourists were a normal sight here and the people were mighty friendly especially to the currency, he realistically thought to himself. She shifted her weight and they wobbled a bit as she laughingly apologized. It’s just that my BBC had stopped. He turned around and said BBC? What has that venerable news station got to do with your movement? Oh she squealed “My Bum’s Blood Circulation –BBC had stopped and he just spluttered with laughter. Oh you hadn’t heard this? She kept on laughing.

It was just around sometime between ten and eleven and as we passed Raibander the mark of the Portuguese settlement became more and more prominent in the lay of the houses. It was quaint and serenely beautiful the sight of sunlight hitting on the panes and creating a glow. He wished for a camera but then he hadn't intended to retain any proof of this journey, it was to be just a memory only for him and he had pig headedly kept it at home. Now he regretted it. Doesn’t it make for a pretty picture Jon, she whispered from behind and he marveled at her ability to zone in on his thoughts.

The road broke out around the turn into a large empty space. On each side of the road they sighted a very large structure, excellently maintained. She said "this is a must see for everyone". It was the Basilica Bom Jesus on the right and the Museum on the other. He spotted a parking lot and put the Vespa on its stand and picking up his knapsack they casually walked in to the cool precincts of the church.

This church had the body of St Francis Xavier embalmed in a majestic silver coffin. The respect with which the coffin was housed belied the blood of the inquisition and the violent path taken by some of the apostles of the faith to spread it. History has been full of strife and conquests and religion did not fall behind. He was agnostic yet was impressed by the magnificence of the structure and its land. He was wonderstruck at the irony in the situation. The monk Francis Xavier violently spreading religion here attained sainthood while the hippies who largely preached peace and love came to be looked at with suspicion & were even reviled. When he voiced his bohemian thought to her she seriously answered. Yes it certainly is funny this way of the world. The church in its bid to preserve its power over rulers and monarchy, was a fiefdom in itself. Exactly thought he. It is power that held a sway, whether it came from the Sword of the Conqueror, The Pulpit of religion or the Coffers of commerce. Power demanded monuments in its glorification and he decided to drop his line of thought as too morbid inside a place-religious. They strolled across to the museum which he found more to his taste and enjoyed the exhibits. Leisurely they looked around without a care and he too was totally engaged. She as his guide was knowledgeably detailing the meaning/history of each exhibit from her memory as she recalled it from past visits.

Casually as a bunch of tourists approached & she taking his hand moved outside. It was getting to be high noon. They found a small café restaurant in Velha Goa ( Old Goa ) and settled on iced tea as starters. They ordered long tall glasses with a slice of lemon. As he settled in the cane chair and stretched his legs under the table, he encountered another pair,hers. Impishly smiling she said "Isn't it too early in the day to play footsie Jon darling?" He broke up and looking at her laughing he said sorry. "No you aren’t" said she in a clipped accent faked and exaggerated for the moment, "you are enjoying toying with the lovely legs of an English lady when you sense an opportunity, you rogue." He burst out and they laughed for a long time. She laid a paw on his palm on the table and said seriously, you seem so much lighter when you laugh. You do smile a lot but are too tightly wound to laugh, just let go. It was true, her observation. Nodding, he placed his other palm on hers and said "With you around me I won’t have that problem would I ?" Never said she. Tell me about Percy asked he and it was as if a shutter rolled down her face completely shutting it. Then coming to a decision she nodded and said here goes, but never again, ok? Neighbors grew up together, he was my brother’s friend and parochially everyone assumed that we were together when I went out with him once or twice. He suffers from verbal diarrhea and a constipation of ideas. Then, when he brought out a ring, I put my foot down and came away here. I could not imagine spending my life with someone who would talk nineteen to a dozen and yet say nothing. That’s what I like about you she said frankly. It’s quite weird that not knowing you more than 24 hours, can relate to you like an old friend. You must be some part of me broken away at birth, luckily I found you before I got too old.

This is fate said she and I was leaning towards her line of thought. Fate has conspired that you must be here when I ran away to put a lost soul like you in my path. Sipping the tea in the cool shadows of the verandah of the hotel he felt a spell of magic being weaved around them with her words. Just imagine said she, two Britons from nearly the same social strata (I am snobbish, she said with a broad wink, had you a different accent may have walked on after taking the light) bumping into each other at Anjuna – Goa. Have you heard it happening before? Well he had, but he kept his own counsel at it as he was sucked into a vortex of feelings never experienced. She had ordered tuna fish sandwiches with French fries as she said that too much curry would make her want to hurry. Then she walked up to the reception and booked a room for the afternoon there such that they could chill out in peace.

She went in and dumped in their luggage and came out as our order was being placed.

They talked a while of this and that as the food and the sun made them drowsy and he admired her foresight. Then he saw the room and it was not the last word in luxury with peeling paint a fan and a double bed. He was too drowsy to contemplate and just plonked himself and dozed off. He felt her crawl beside him and lie down.

Somewhere in the mid-afternoon his eyes opened to find her staring at him with her head on the crook and she smiled and said u sleep so deeply and all the creases are wiped off on your face. He too sensed that it had been a long time he had slept so fitfully but could not confess that he had dreamt kissing her and half smiled at the thought. She just leaned and did exactly that, he was so waiting for this and found his arms around her. They had been building towards it slowly but surely and now it had them consumed. It was feverish their frenzy in dispensing off with each others clothes and in that hurry rolling falling of the bed but geting back on. Laughing and excited the hidden connect that had lead to their being thrown together achieved its climax in a tangle of arms and legs. They just lay staring at each other and someplace he felt complete. Is this what his search was all about, a soulmate? He wasn’t sure yet and leaned to kiss her again. She said Jon someplace somebody has made us for each other. He felt himself smiling foolishly and she said you freshen up first as pulling on a sleeveless bunyan lying on the bed with her upper class derriere winking at the ceiling.

They moved out. She got on the two-wheeler clinging to him and pointed the way back. "We have a long drive ahead as we are now headed back and beyond Anjuna to Tiracol for the sunset. This drive back was different as she spooned into his back. Acquaintances, to friends and now lovers he just wondered where were they heading to ultimately. He felt happy and the sense of déjà vu was total. They passed Waga, Wagator, Anjuna and came across the pristine distant beach of Arambol across which was the ferry leading to the Tiracol Fort.

This was now a heritage hotel and the view as they reached was fantastic. The sun was still some distance up. They parked and freshened up to take the tables on the forecourt. Frome here they could see far and beyond. The sun in the sky, the horseshoe of the clean sands of Arambol, the merging of the waters of the river Tiracol into the Arabian Sea. They ordered Beers and settled to munch salted cashews, he could not let go of her hand even sitting down.

They walked down to the sandy ledge as the sun dipped down the horizon, he just found himself asking her, Peggy would you consent to seeing all the sunsets of my life ahead with me and the sunrises and all in between?

His voice was husky and unsure and all he could see were the twin blue grey flecked eyes of hers as they misted and nodded. His heart filled up with a joy and knew that never again would he feel lost as long as she kept that hand in his. Their arms about each other’s waist as they walked up to their table, he saw the footprints left on the sand. Two pairs together going forward in time.