Cars and Cameras

Moving cameras inside moving cars,  I pass by lights. Many lights. I click pictures. I check. 

Okay. 

Cars and cameras on phones fascinate me to no end. I am riding shotgun, I am jobless, I am thinking of how the ocean is a sink. I am thinking of how the time is 7:00 in the evening and the sun refuses to set. I am thinking of the noise from the backseat. I hope no one is choking. I am too absorbed to care. If they do, they’ll stop the car. I hope they don’t stop the car.

I turn sideways. I look at the steering. It looked so limiting. In front of me was the careless spread of the sky and the steering was taking me into it. How very un romantic. 

I realise, our days are such. We have a sensory ocean to jump into and ropes and technicians to make the jump easier. Easy, is the keyword. Take it easy. 

I ease off. I switch my camera off and drift to sleep.

Drift to a sensory ocean I so romantically hold dear, but hey, ropes and all. Can’t get too hurt,  can’t get a scare. Let’s control life. One inch lowered at a time. I wake up after five hours. 

Dissenters, dissenting

Hyderabad feels like the inside of an old, damp house now. These monsoons behave like my father. Unyielding, they rain on, and I blink at the rain, giving it the same treatment I give my father, The silent treatment. Both do not care.In this glorious weather, there is a discussion about ‘ Democrats & Dissenters’ By Ramchandra Guha. I tap the screen. I was “Going” to the event now. Facebook showed thunderstorms in the weather forecast for the day in the event timings. I blinked twice at the screen. Silent Treatment.

At Vidyaranya Highschool.

I am now at the venue, with Anoora. I am surprised to find Ramchandra Guha, in front of building. I imagined at least a 100 feet distance between me and him, conditioned as I am, by the VIP culture.He was drinking chai, signing books and making polite conservations. He looked taller in real life and infinitely more charismatic.

We went in. Rows of biscuit colored plastic chairs, an eerie yellow light and scary big windows caught my fancy. I will like this show . A few people already were seated. We took our pick of the seats, aisle and view considered and Anoora selfishly picked the better one out of the two. The hall filled out slowly and Guha walked in.

I was spoilt by Jigi to not go into something with expectations. Now, it is so strong, I don’t even watch trailers before entering into the cinema hall. Though the man speaking in front of me was an intellectual through and through, I sat expecting nothing. I didn’t love the man and I wasn’t planning on falling in love this awful monsoon season. But by the end of it, I left the hall a little infatuated and a lot more annoyed at being that. 

He started his speech with quotes about India, which drew cheers from the audience at all the wrong places. I disagreed with all of it, except for the parts where the essence was to consider places as thinking muses.

In the speech that followed, his love for sociology as a tool to explain and understand society was very apparent. His book was a collection of essays and he broke it down essay by essay, carefully avoiding any and all spoilers. But, discussion at times trumped strategy and he had to divulge the why and what of it. 

One such lovely instance was when he spoke of a topic closest to my being, The lack of conservative intellectuals in India, now. That was when, I loosened up and starting nodding to his arguments. I found a stream of thought where I was as passionate as he was and there is no better audience than a passionate one, who has no idea about the mechanics of the topic. I was that. I was the raving lunatic. I was the perfect listener for as long as he spoke of conservative itellectualism. 

 The speaker too was very passionate and passion, gets one thirsty. The man drank a lot of water, and he did it so gracefully, one would think he planned it to happen, at that pause in the speech, in that fashion, and only so many times. Was the fruit print paper cup also planned? I hope not, it was a terrible looking cup.

 I admired the nonchalance with which he addressed the public, which was a healthy mix of self awareness and arrogance, but, what he spoke of, made so much sense, was such a ride, you would forgive him for not being the humblest guy on the Earth.

 

His speech ended and now, there was a Q and A session with an editor of a publication whose name I do not recollect. It was a very lackluster session and the questioner was putting a damp blanket on the atmosphere. I do not like humidity. I endured one, looked at Anoora, we both agreed to leave. Still, we waited for one more question. Nope, the questioner just wasn’t brilliant enough to exploit the best out of Guha there. We decided and made a soundless exit out of the hall.

 

It was raining. We sit in the car, and the most terrifying sound, wakes me up. The car beside us got a little ouchie as we pulled out of the parking. We do a ritual of “ What can we do” elaborately in front of the driver, in the safety of the car, and leave a distressed driver behind us, who was crafting stories to tell his “Memsaab” about the scratch on the front bumper of the car. Your cat did it memsaab, yes memsaab, you do have a cat. 

Noise.

What worries me? Hmm let’s see. People succumbing worries me. 

People succumbing, weak kneed, slack jawed, limp faced. Your fall has no purpose, no where to end, to reason to begin. You fall, because it’s fun to fall. Because it’s easy to fall. Beacause if you fall, you do not have to answer your conscience. Your conscience will see you falling into the yawning abyss, it will try finding reason in your eyes. But, you are mad. Madness knows no reason. So though, you are looking at the bluest sky of the year, your  conscience only finds cloudy black pools staring back at it. 
It mutters a distasteful scorn and returns. You are still falling. 

You are now alone, falling. How long has it been? A year? Two? A day? A second? Do you still remember to count? It’s just you and me now. You can be honest. What is being honest? Hello! Yes, you dozed off. No, it’s okay. I think so  too. It must have been all your lifetime. 
Relax. We will be at this for a while. Your conscience is now dead. Yes, it was a quiet funeral. Your mother was the gravest mourner. Get it? Haha. Sigh. 

So, it’s just you and me. How does it feel to finally meet me? You cannot hide your face forever. I am not that bad. There, that wasn’t too hard was it? Oh you are crying!

Mirrors have the toughest life man. Tch. 

* The sound of bones breaking, a devastating scream and the lost sound of a broken mirror* 

Mockery of the heathen gods

There are a few things in life, deemed romantic by a majority of the population. And then there are, half asleep, groggy eyes, silently watching with a half smirk on their lips with the taste of bile at the back of their throat, this romance.  I was one of them.  I hated the romance woven around rains. It was like seeing the kid you hated in the finest pink gown at your birthday party. Who invited you?  No, I don’t want your gift.

 The splash wasn’t a good sound, it was a death knell. The thunder was undeniably the true death knell and the smell of earth when it rained was the equivalent of the elixir like voices of cannibalistic sea nymphs. Yes, I have no reservations when it comes to expressing just how much rain ruins my life and it has earned me a lover and a few enemies.

But, one day, I met rain not in the school hallway with her miniskirt too high to be ugly anymore. I spied her from a distance as she sat alone, on the steps, braiding her hair deliberately, reading the fine print at the back of a hand cream. I caught rain in its element and the story follows.

 

I look back upon that day like it’s from five years ago and not five days ago.  The feel good factor about that day is so strong, according to my memory, there has to be thick insulation of nostalgia to it.  So, I let it trick me into it.  Somehow, what I was wearing in a moment becomes an important part of how well I remember that day or through which lens I remember that day. I wore a luxurious silk dress and rightly so, a thin; but noticeable varnish of luxury taints the otherwise pure memory.

I sit down opposite to the man I have missed terribly in these two months and the delicious smell of baked cheese wafts up from the ground floor dominoes kitchen. First bite into the cheeseburst pizza, I turn into a very confusing audio file.  I moan, I yell, I chirp and I almost sing.  Molten cheese is a pain to eat, quite literally and I never had a cheese burst pizza before that.

The man in front of me shrugs and continues eating.

In all this cholesterol championship finals, it started raining outside.  We were sitting next to a ceiling to floor glass window on the first floor. It wasn’t a brightly lit street. The streetlights were perched too high to illuminate anything but the shops and the traffic compensated. So the rain fell in many colors on a background of black and when it hit concrete, the city resisted it, with a tiny splash. A hundred thousand resistances like that, made up a pretty war scene. I took a picture. 

We were done with the intense talk and the intense pizza love; the rain too, had taken a break. The plan was to hail different taxis from there to our respective sleeping alcoves. But the talk was far from over and we had already started walking. To stop a walk is one of the most tasteless things to do. So, we decided to walk till his college from where I would take a taxi back to my hotel.  Agreed. The walk slowed to a more romantic pace, knowing there was a distance to cover.

It started to rain. Both of us hated rain with a passion but, we still walked. He held my hand over wide puddles, I held on to him when traffic skidded. Our talk had reached a crescendo as we turned onto the very desolate stretch of road, by which his college loomed. Ancient trees arched the wide road and the buildings on either side were high and walled. 

Now, the rain was steady and strong and the road was deserted. It was 10 in the night, we were wet to the bone, and I still had to hail a taxi to get back to the hotel. Only one obnoxiously priced taxi was available in the area then, and reluctantly, I took it. The driver would take fifteen more minutes to reach our spot.

Fifteen minutes of waiting when no one dares speak, is an experience worth paying for. I paid for it with a week’s of ill health. The experience started with unrest and wonder at the inconvenience of rain and as the minutes deepened to a five minute wait, I resigned and lost my posture, swerving slightly to his side and hearing, actually listening to the roar of the rain. Seven minutes into the wait, I wrapped my thin, wrinkled fingers around his arm and widened my eyes to a much greater downpour. It was golden, it was alone and it did not care. 

Ten minutes into the wait, I felt my heart beat very loudly against my chest. The rain was getting under my nerves, It rained entirely too much and too loud for me to ignore it. I was forced to acknowledge it and it looked beautiful and sounded like a love song. My love song. Fourteenth minute into the wait, I was maddened with fear. The rain wasn’t stopping, the clock was ticking and my brain couldn’t stop noticing heavenly tinges around the edges of my madness in the rain. One more minute and I would be one of those romantics who weave romances around rain.  In time, two lifesaving lights pierce through the hypnosis and I wave a relieved goodbye and get into the car. The windows were appropriately fogged and restored a sense of normalcy towards rain in me, slowly. It still made lives dreadful.

There will always be a little part of me that will like rain. For those fifteen minutes, I was a slave to its beauty, in a way I will always bow to it a little, like a faithful servant to his queen, even after she is made to wear the scarlet letter.

Walks melt distance

Bonds between people play out over a lifetime of their own.  They fall prey to neglect and rust and when traversed after three years, I did not expect it to carry us over to the other side, like a strong bridge on a mellow river. I expected it to creak, to sway and to threaten to give away. Instead, it hardly seemed touched by time and Olivia and I enjoyed the walk.

The Appointment

I call her shamelessly out of the blue and ask her if she can meet me. According to her, I was in another state, a thirteen hour train journey away and I was asking her if I could walk to where she lived. She sounded angry and on the edge over the phone, still she granted us audience. Jigi and I were going to meet Olivia, the girl I haven’t met since school.

The walk .

Chennai is very humid and the evening was just around the corner when we started walking. I wore a chiffon dress which clung to me for dear life after 20 steps and as the walk progressed, the dress and I became one. Jigi was sweating in his own glory beside me, his’ is another story.  He speaks to me like nothing is amiss, his face is a playground of anguish and sweat and I look at him in absolute horror as he smiles and almost looks like he would burst like an overripe fruit with delight. His nonchalance to the humidity was annoying me.

“Look at you, you’re drenched”, I tell him, hoping for some kind of acknowledgement from him towards the absolute horror of the weather.

“Ah”, he nods, “This is me now..” , he says and continues to lecture me on encroachment of lands.

I still was very conscious of wallowing in my own sweat, in spite of, or maybe, more so because everybody else seemed to be enjoying the city sunset. I came prepared for an evening of strolls under arched ancient trees. I did not sign up for the “Experience the true Chennai” tour. I got one anyway and I wasn’t happy about it.

The walk – Part II

Olivia suggested meeting in the allegedly subsidized Café Coffee day outlet inside her campus. I found it too suffocating to sit inside glass door-ed, dimly lit corporate coffee house. Chocolate wasn’t on my mind, a very long scrubbing session, a tryst with hot water and soap, a sensual dialogue with shampoo was what I had in mind. Soap bubbles drifted across my field of imaginary vision as Olivia came walking toward us, as the last of the bubbles popped, I was hugging Olivia. Her long hair was freshly washed and I wished for my shower more passionately.

I introduced Jigi to Olivia and we start walking the lush campus of IIT Madras. It was quiet and cut off from the outside world. There was life inside which thrived at an entirely different frequency than the life outside. It was a high tension, low voiced, complacent environment where according to Jigi, the rivers would flow unabashed due to encroachments and where I sensed, thoughts would flow a very retarded course due to a lack of judgement. 

Deformation of thoughts would come naturally, where silence meets knowledge of a thriving business beyond the compound walls.

Jigi and Olivia get along well.  Olivia is the perfect tour guide. She guides us through the campus, as much as she tells us about her life there and her devious plans to marry a professor, so she could live on the campus. She doesn’t know which one, and a good part of me is scared to admit, she doesn’t care which one.

Olivia and I exchange very intimate eye contact now and then as Jigi says something funny or witty. This was two girls, acknowledging and assenting, evaluating and accepting, finally, nodding a silent and decisive  “yes” to the evolution from adolescence to early adulthood that we missed witnessing in each other. It was a rewarding experience.

The walk was a long one.

The dehydration was taking its toll and we stop for supplies. I buy guava juice, Jigi grabs the chance to have something else other than sambar and buys himself a puff and Olivia gets entrusted with extra strong coffee, thanks to Jigi. That man is a person of habit like I have never seen anyone be. Olivia texted me about the coffee two days after the walk, telling me how she won’t ever forget someone ordering something that they like for a person they just met.  She likes him.

By the time we reach the other side of the gate, the talk isn’t exhausted. Olivia hugs me real tight again and we wave our goodbyes. Jigi and I had another 30 minutes of walking to do through winding lanes, in chunky heels. There was a festival afoot that day. The loudspeakers played a very pleasing song, very loudly in Tamil and we passed by smoldering fires, heaps of flowers, women dressed for a coronation at 8 in the night and streetlight after streetlight, we reach the desolate stretch of  Jigi’s college.

The night life of his college milled around the tea shop, as I bid him goodbye and got into the taxi.  I watched him walk to the tea shop, becoming one among the many aspiring journalists, among a cloud of cigarette smoke.

 

 

First flights. 

I remember my first flight vividly. I boarded the plane not through an aero bridge, the tube like, grey, boring way of getting into flights.  I got on the plane, as the doors hissed open and the stairs fell at my feet, like a heroine, I stepped onto the first step. Aero bridges now put me off. I have always liked the machine air of a plane chasing me till I stepped inside the cabin.

It was five in the evening, and eveything around me was lit in those happy, Sunny, single tone Colours wax crayons used to be come in.

Kingfisher airlines was known for their very pretty air hostesses and for domestic air travel that wasn’t “Air India” .I shamelessly gawked at each one of them. My mind was screaming “They’re only people.” But my eyes refused to look away from the impeccable ness they were. My shirt was XL and too tight. A few of them smiled down on me, benevolently and I grinned back, like a perfect idiot. 

When the flight took off, sunlight streamed in. I say ” streamed” , because it was so beautiful, it filled the vivid red cabin to a memorable scarlet. I look back to see if my father noticed that.Hesmiled at me. He didn’t notice anything. I don’t return the smile and go back to gluing my nose to the window.

This was also the era of digital cameras. Where a 10 megapixel camera was all the excuse you needed to switch to “macro” mode and embark on a disturbing course where all the pictures you took, involved lying down. Buttons. Rugs. Idli. Anything, with an excuse of a texture to it  was brutalised. One such camera, I owned too. I took so many dirty pictures of the sun, the clouds, the sky. The heavens must have issued blatant indecency warrants against me. Like pornography for instance.
I walk/ tumble across the aisle and reach my father and show him the pictures. He is disgusted and worried about my future as a citizen,still, he tells me I am an artist. I roll back happily to my seat and click more pictures. If I would have listened better, I could have heard my parents sighing. 

I get down from the flight, the happiest fat kid in town. 

Today, I write this, sitting next to my colleague who has boarded a plane for the first time. When it took off, the generally genial person in him was gone. He lit up. All adjectives and grammar were lost to him. The city of chennai hung like an expensive tapestry off an ancient wall, as the flight tilted. He looks at me. 

” Lighting…… ” , he says  and looks out of the window again and before my face could lose the smile, he turns back and says ” Super!”. I haven’t stopped smiling, we are about to land now and the city of Hyderabad makes its grand entrance. 

“Zeenath”, he says and points at the window. He hasn’t regained his grammar or vocabularily yet. I crane my neck and look. The city of Hyderabad looks like scattered pearls and peices of gold. Nizam’s fortune.  We descend. My colleague will definitely have to do something tomorrow about his neck pain. The person refuses to look away from the window for even a second, except  to point at more lights and exclaim. 

Home, at last, the familiar Telugu fills my heart with ease and my head with a numb indifference I missed, trying to decipher Tamil in chennai.