Streets of Secunderabad 

Low lying houses with large airy verandahs, behind low iron gates. A burst of bougainvillea against the whitewashed walls, spilling. The colour of crushed Indian  rose. The colour of blood mixed in gold. In tufts, in bunches, in surprises. The yards lie swept, resting under the shade of Gulmohar trees. The trees are in full bloom.  Against the overcast sky of the city, the warm red petals seem to house the sun in their tendril like veins. Now and then, a breeze rustles the calm and sends a few red petals flying into the wind, to fall lightly in the swept yards, beginning the day’s decay. 

” Look!!!”, I said, pointing out of the car’s window. 

He looks out and without turning back to face me, asks what I was pointing at. 

” That. Looks good” I say, pointing at the rows and rows of trees and vines bursting with blossoms against the monsoon sky, as if to asset summer one last time. 

” I used to live here” , he says and his face takes on an expression between the happiness of revisiting old homes and the pain of knowing it’s only a visit. 

We reach our destination. We were meeting my friends for coffee and breakfast and we were the first to arrive. I look up to see the   cozy place tucked into an old house. It looked inviting. I take a step in that direction when he stops me.

” Take a walk with me” , he says, pointing to the other direction. 

” why? “, I ask. 

” Look”, he says. 

I see a wide Secunderabad street, lonely and lovely, running brown and quiet, it was perfect to walk on it’s banks. We walk, in the shade of bougainvillea, Gulmohar trees, and the dark clouds that promised an evening rain. 

The ashes from his cigarette fall crumbling onto the piles of leaves raked in, to the sides of the street. One cigarette later, we climbed the stairs to the coffee place, picking the seat farthest from the morning crowd, beside a window that overlooked the street. We didn’t look out of the window.     Time just ripened to a comfortable lull from there on, with a game of cards and three sandwiches thrown in the mix. 

Drumbeat

Silence rules us. We abide by its palm pressed tightly against our mouths. A breathtaking morning is felt, not laid out neatly like tarot cards, in handpicked cherry like sentences. A freshly laid tar road, ambushed by the autumn shedding is taken in, not talked of.

But a change of season is too tempting to let go of without at least once, half swinging, sneakily to the drum beats of the heralding song.  Winter is here and the moon lingers, the sun behaves like a caffeine addict. It rises grumbling, slowly and by noon, with coffee in its system it rains down anxiety on my city.  The winter sun stings, we scurry off to cold walls, in dug out sweaters.

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.

 

 

When the coffee shops are asleep.

White, thoroughly sieved through a fine mesh of pale clouds, sunlight filtered hot and comfortable through the car windows, as we went up and down Banjara Hills Rd no 2., as she stretched like a cat beside me on the passenger side and said , “ This Sunday is so Sunday”.

Pratha was right. This Sunday felt like a Sunday description in an old book with words like “ pinafore” and “sweet temperament”

The awakening

I was wriggling like a very snug worm under my comforter, when my phone rang. It was Pratha.

“Heeeeeeeey, Ssup? “ Says I

“ I just wanted to give you  a wake up call” ,Says she

I mumble a series of words, broken bits.

“Are we still meeting” ,she asks.  I snap out of my reverie and say

“ Do we have to do this today?”

“ Yes, wake up. Don’t be lazy” , she says

I grunt a “okay “and get up, get dressed and admire last night’s eyeliner’s superb artwork around my eyes. I looked like someone raccoons would worship and sacrifice baby raccoons for.

I pick her up and we park, where pratha directed me. It was where her father generally parked.  With that little throw of a twig to yesteryear, there was no stopping her. She slipped into nostalgia so suddenly and completely, I had to sit at the surface and wait for her to resurface.

The walk

It was a crisp, sunny morning. A textbook pleasant day. We walked the route she generally walked with her father, stopping to take pictures of grass, stopping so much, it’s a miracle we ever came out of the park.She spoke of her grandfather’s bungalow, I spoke of my grandmother’s bungalow. We discovered both the bungalows had similar courtyards and wells and trees and I found out, that she used to feed cows through iron gates and that cows can devour a mango like an industrial peeler.

The rest of the walk, we clicked pictures of bugs, we spotted two grown men poking a small snake, we spoke of the park’s infamous corners and how one shouldn’t be too surprised if two half naked people jump out of a bush, or three. But that is largely dependent.

By the end of the walk, we were craving something cold down our throats. I spied a tap dripping cold water on  the mud floor. There was no one to judge me if I just went and had a drink. Pratha doesn’t count. But, bouts of diarrhea and skyrocketing temperatures have taught me better than that, so I close my eyes and make haste., fighting temptation, winning over the evil of milling bacteria.

Back in the car, We were tired and thirsty as we discussed the merits of barefoot driving, as I removed my socks and shoes, under the warm gaze of pratha, who approved of the habit with such intensity, I felt honoured. The merits, we decided included putting people off. I am happy with that arrangement.

The breakfast

We head out to this place called “Dosa house” that pratha has spoken about more fondly that she speaks about people and feelings. She was right. The dosa was spot on. We ordered pomegranate juice, and it was the best juice I had in ages! It was just the right amount of cold, the right amount of bitter and sweet, and the right shade of pink, plus it came with a pink straw.  I slurped, as we discussed people we didn’t like, all the while, she kept slipping in and out of somewhere. She was so lazy to talk, to reply, to say yes, to agree, to say no, she just wanted to eat her cheese dosa and drink her juice and just be happy that I was there with her. So her conversation was part shrug, part speech, part slurp and part silent absent nodding.

  I was thoroughly enjoying her laziness. It was just the purest expression of “ Can I please not talk, can you please still stay and lets have a great time” and I was more than ready to give her what she wanted. I was liking the morning too much to really zone it out, completely with incessant chatter.

We paid the happy bill of three hundred rupees.

Jigi’s mother always said three hundred is my limit for spending without throwing a tantrum. She couldn’t have been more right. Three hundred rupees is the happiest total.

I dropped her off at her place, glad that I didn’t cancel the plan and rang up Chennai.  Jigi and I spoke more on where I left it with Pratha, he was just up after a nap and was a very good listener. I prattled, car prattled and I reach home, acutely aware of my instagram responsibility of posting pretty pictures of grass in another hour or so. 

This Sunday was traditionally glorious. Like a very pretty omelet. Thoughts on pretty omlettes is another rant.