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Category Archives: Summer

And then, there was Facebook

The courtyard was tucked away at the end of the blind alley. As the hot summer sun would start to tilt westward, the forever familiar faces would appear in the neighbourhood windows, calling out  names, impatient to run out of the house. My name was also on that list, I now remember fondly, counted an equal among my peers. It was a mixed bunch, some of us tried to speak in Gujrati or Hindi to sound like  them while they  joked in Bengali. And by 4 o’clock in the afternoon the courtyard would be full of little voices laughing, joking, crying, fighting and more than anything running around with the wind in their hair. 

And soon with the change of season the equation in the camaraderie among the little boys and the little girls, who were now in their adolescence and early teens, started to change. The girls and I started to wear plaits, grew quieter, took to giggling and chatting more with the sisterhood on the terrace while the boys continued with their backslapping brotherhood and loud, rowdy ways. Once in a while the playful backpackers, would yank at the shy plaits in mischief, not quite ready to understand why they had replaced the giggly ponytails .

And before the raging hormones could take control over the mind or the heart, some of us had to move on to other parts of the city. The moving away changed a lot. I moved away from the warm comfort of the familiar faces and moved into a colder para  which offered more of acquaintances and less friends. Once the initial barrage of ‘we all miss you’ letters had died down, I settled down for the occasional birthday or seasons greetings. And after a while, they too became rare. Time had come  for the ‘blind alley and its gang’ to fade from my memory.

We have all gone through this phase when we trade one set of friends for another, retaining only the favourite few. These are the ones who we call, we keep in touch with and turn to both in despair and in glee. It happened to me as well, in some cases I was retained in address books and in others, I retained some of the old faces. So whether it was  a fight, a breakup or a crush, whether it was to share grief or joy or simply to fight we called each other or visited those close by. I accepted that with each move, from one alley to another, from school to college and then on to university, I would make new friends and while  some old friends would remain in my address book, some would fade.

The transition from an address book to the phonebook stored in a memory chip was not too difficult. And keeping in touch couldn’t get any better. Mobiles brought in a revolution  that changed how we would  ‘keep in touch’ henceforth. It suddenly brought back calling or texting to wish near and dear ones on various occasions into fashion. By this time I was also in another country, where mobile giants kept lowering call charges to kill competition. I spent hours creating messages for any given reason in any given season, birthdays, Diwali, Durga Puja, Christmas, New Year and I know some significant few still remember my fervour and as a result the deluge in their inbox.

But it was early 2007 when an email landed in my new Gmail inbox. “Come, join me on Facebook” it said, sent by a dear friend who I couldn’t refuse. Earlier I would stay away from  social networking sites, the likes of Orkut, because I found them a lonely place. Each name I had looked up returned the same message every time, “Sorry, the user you are looking for does not exist”.

Facebook was comforting in a strange way as I found a lot of  my friends, my compatriots, there. And one day I found a  curiously familiar face in my inbox with a question I had expected the least. The slightly balding, heavy-set face had a smile I knew from a forgotten time. He had left a message asking me where my plait had disappeared, a question relevent only if I was the same girl from the blind alley of his childhood. 

And soon my friends’ list on Facebook started to fill up with old, smiling faces from across the world. All were faces with whom I had common roots, in the alley, in school or college, at the University campus. Some went back to the cities I had moved on to with my new life, to coffee mornings in a desert city, to hours of Arabic lessons, long days spent at work or a group of knowledge seekers quizzing into the night.

Without the new revolution called social networking, these faces would have faded and would have been pushed to the dark alleys of the mind with the old ones. The freckled boy, who yanked at my plait and had once hit me with a deuce ball lived in Australia with a smiling wife and two pretty daughters with pony tails. One of my best friends from school, whose number i had misplaced and who never called back, was a research scholar at UCLA, California. The lady who got her Omani driving license at one go now lived in Zurich. My American friend from the Arabic lessons at Polyglot Institute had finally married his Phillipino girlfriend.

Smiling faces with perfect holiday albums and picture perfect lives gave me hope. Facebook helped me connect with that part of my life with which I had almost forgotten,  friends with whom I had lost hope to reestablish  contact. For nomads like us, like me, the fact that somebody from the past, distant or near, would remember, care to look up and connect gives a different high.

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Posted by on December 19, 2009 in humor, Kids, Memories, Summer, Uncategorized

 

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Dreams…

This is old wine in a new bottle. Its one of my favourites so I’m reposting it – Rose tinted glasses

I dreamed a dream in time gone by when hope was high and life worth living – Les Miserables

It was a dream. It was one of those dreams that puts the ever so restive soul to rest, a dream that gives a sense of roots to an ever searching soul, a dream that promises rain to the parched soul and a direction to the lost soul forever in search of its self.

Have you ever picked up a glass marble and held it up against the sun? Have you watched the colours of the marble  dripping through your fingers, rolling down your hand to scatter like drops of rainbow around your feet? My dream was just like that. Like a  green marble dripping the golden sunlight and then bursting into drops of translucent rainbow at my feet.

The last time I dreamt such a dream was in my childhood, on a summer evening  in a house bustling with people, as I sat in the balcony watching the evening darken into night. The cool summer breeze grazed through my hair, a heady wisp of  jasmine  lifted from the neatly woven strands precisely coiled into a heap on a  platter to allure the sleepy neighbourhood and half of a crescent moon hung in the sky. And I thought the dream would never end, that times would never change, that I would never depart and all would continue to be the way it was.  

But dreams are after all to be woken up from, and that happened when I grew up. The adult  understood that it was but a dream.

My prevailing dream had the same tranquil air. As if my weary soul had found the oasis it desired, as if my vagrant gypsy mind had found a home, my yearning for calm had found mooring in a placid harbour, as if a  friend had reached out to catch my tears and replace them with laughter.

 It was the same languorous evening slowly melting into the night, a soothing wind caressed my face as it swirled upwards from the rain-soaked grass, a night-bird flew past my window soulfully calling out to its mate and everything enticed me to linger a while longer. And every time I wanted to depart it became more real asking me to relent, urging me to stay and imploring me to believe that it would never end.

And then I woke up. It was time for the dream to pass. The rain it brought was to change into a dry, scorching day; the friend it promised was to become a stranger again; the chaos that I had lost for a moment was to return; the soul was again to become a nomad in the desert.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2009 in Memories, Summer, Uncategorized

 

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On cloud 32 in Maximum City

It was a late afternoon in June. The white Honda Civic was waiting for us at the lobby. R and I were supposed to take the car and reach Bandra West . At “4:30, sharp!” – was what the Bee (the British punctuality bug personified) had left us with in the morning.

It had been 7-days since we had arrived in Mumbai. The Bee’s new company had put us up at a lavish apartment, with the bedrooms and the drawing-room opening into balconies overlooking the Worli Seaface. Monsoon had just set in, so while the Bee was away, the sky, the Arabian Sea and its lashing waves kept R and me busy. I also tried to effectively engage the brat in some writing and arithmetic to cork her young greys cells from rusting with excessive televiewing.

This particular day was the first day of our house hunting in Mumbai (and no, we hadn’t fussed at all about shubh muhurat, tithi, nakhshtra – but coming to think of it now, may be we should have!).

The Bee, who had better knowledge about Mumbai (having been in and out of the city on countless occasions) ruled out the possibility of living in town (hold on!) if we didn’t like anything decent between Napeansea Road and Mahalaxmi or stretching it a little more, in Worli. Also out was living in a suburb like Chembur, which “is literally closer to Pune than Mumbai”. So we pinned our hopes on Bandra West and Pali Hill.

That afternoon, riding through the happy by lanes of Bandra, I felt more and more at home – like I had on my earlier visits. The bustling restaurants, rocking pubs, neat rows of haute couture outlets and designer galleries with a healthy sprinkling of art galleries and theatres – all  amply hinted at a  “hep & happening” suburban life and promised a robust social life. The sights, smells, sounds of Bandra had me spiralling downwards in love already, now I fell in love with the windows, balconies, doorways of Bandra as well. I made mental notes of names of apartment stories –  to urge the real estate broker to fetch us one.

The car halted bringing my daze back to consciousness. Our first stop for the evening was ‘Sunflower building’, the wiry broker in a much worn shirt and trouser and a worldly-wise smile told us. I had already started to walk into the large-ish wrought iron gate with a uniformed gate man whose hand was also in mid-air in a salute to greet me.

“Madam, this way please.” The hand in mid-air dropped back to its earlier position of guarding the gates from intruders as I gazed past the gate into an innocuous alley. The apology to a sunflower, Sunflower (building) stood hidden from sunlight (permanently) in a dark alley between two large condominiums. Have you heard the sound of your hopes crashing around you like broken glass? Well, I’m sure everybody standing around me that day did! The three of us looked in utter disbelief at each other and then in unison at the broker.

The Channel V “brought to you Bai”, oops, the  wiry, worldly-wise broker couldn’t have hurled the reality back at us any better than “Itna paise me itnaich milega!”

Suddenly the multinational HRA seemed a pittance and we rode  on the fastest slide down from feeling  “upper middle class NRIs” to “lower middle class Mumbaikars” in the shortest span of time.

Yeh pahela wala haiNaya TDR building, niche char mala bangla tha, upar se pillar dal ke bara mal banaya pichhlasaal”

“Are rest of the buildings you are showing us today the same?’ I dared to ask.

Itna paise me aisaich milega.”

“Pali Hill?’

Itna paise me aisaich milega.”

By the time evening came to an end we had wizened with the ways of the Maximum City:

We could, with the HRA we were proud of only a day ago, live in a 850 sq. ft flat in Bandra, or a TDR building, or in rundown apartments assigned to MPs in Worli!

Living in South Mumbai, that is between Cuff Parade and Malabar Hills meant paying a rent of anything between 3 lakhs and 5 lakhs. “CEO log bahut raheta udhar?”

The rentals seemed to dip slightly between Mahalaxmi and Prabhadevi – a “reasonable hai” amount between 2.5 lakhs and 3.5 lakhs. That takes one to Bandra, and Bandra being Bandra was hopeful to fetch anything between 1.5 lakhs and 3 lakhs depending on the super built up area, not the carpet area!

By the time we reached the outer perimeter of Khar and almost crossed into Santacruz, the rentals seemed to have come within the outer fringes of the HRA. So why not Khar?

Khar had wonderful houses with an old worldly charm, renowned neighbourhood schools, a brimming Sindhi population and … erm … and thus vegetarian housing societies (!) where a whiff of anything that moved before it got cooked called for an eviction notice.

And we didn’t want to chase the goose down the Western Express highway from Santacruz past JVPD all the way to Andheri, Goregaon, Kandivili. So we switched expressways and started looking in Chembur, along the Eastern express highway. Between Worli and Chembur? No!

Chembur – the heartland of Tamilians in Mumbai. Green, quiet, some predominant Sindhi societies but also some good old Bangali societies (so we could have continued being carnivores), it promised fish markets selling Bangali fish and “true blue” Bangali vegetables like “Mocha” and “Thor” – so why did we move away from Chembur? The neighbourhood boasted of a fine educational institution which shut its window on my face (literally!) after bawling out a tirade of “no admissions available now!”.

And ever since that seemed to predominate our search. Looking for a school before we found a house. “But what will happen if we do secure the admission in a decent school and do not get a decent accommodation in the vicinity?”, we wondered aloud – the egg and chicken game was in play already.

I admit that we were also difficult to please. We wanted a 3 BHK of 1700 sq. ft, preferably on a higher floor, balconies, good view outside the window and not shanties, preferably in a new building, a big lift for the packers to deliver our belongings (which lay sealed in a container on the other shore of the Arabian Sea, waiting for an address) with ease and least damage.

And we made unreasonable demands – walking into a house fitted with wardrobes, we wanted them removed to fit in ours, in a house that had purple and yellow “designer” walls we demanded pearly white walls, a house that came complete with bare CFLs jutting out from sockets in ceilings and walls we wanted them to be covered with shades, we wanted our paintings up on bare walls, in short “sonar pathorbati” – loosely meaning a marble bowl of gold. Baffling!

A little over a month into this quest for the Holy Grail, we came to a new turn, the 2000 sq. ft guesthouse on the 12th floor facing the Arabian Sea, very politely pointed out that our stay was nearing its expiry, the company only stipulated for a month. In most cases, they also pointed out, the employees find a house, car and school in this one month. We were sure that this held true for simpler folks with simpler demands…

On one of those days, riding through a busy street in town, the nomadic life seemed unbearable. I wanted to be there, in the midst of life, where there was so much happening – Kala Ghoda, Fort, Colaba, Leopold, Sterling, Tea Centre,  – I wanted it all. We were approaching the Mahalaxmi Race Course by then, a steel and glass tower showered fire from a welder and I looked skyward in an earnest prayer, wishing for the impossible to happen in Maximum City. I desired for a home nestled in the clouds, overlooking a wide expanse of water, with enough space to hold us along with our tables, chairs, sofas, beds, pots, pans, books and greens. To this absurd wish list I added the wishes of a decent neighbourhood, a good school for R, a park, a promise of ‘life worth living’  with enough shopping and dining (hmmm…) a corner bookshop and of course a respectable gentry, phooof!

And one of those days, after the packers had left, the dust had settled and I had sent the Li’l R off to her school, I finally put my feet up and sipped my coffee. Then it struck me! We had landed ourselves a 32nd floor perch, an enviable address, with a wonderful view of the lakes in the hills (of course one has to crane the neck out at a 33 degrees angle from the extreme right hand corner of the drawing-room french window) and a handful of shopping and dining. But in my impossible list which was just made possible (by some universal conspiracy) I had forgotten to mention two essential elements of everyday life  – “a house in town” which was “near work”! Silly me! How I wish I  had wished with a little more foresight!

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2009 in city, humor, Mumbai, Summer, window

 

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the face in the window

old window

Have you ever been on a bridge that runs past a house with many windows? Did you notice one particular window, only  half ajar, while the closed shutter hid the pain and the darkness within?  Did it have the hint of a curtain, once floral and bright , now dusty and faded by the western sun? Did the walls have their erstwhile glory peeling to reveal the stark, rude present and was a young Peepul starting to take control over the parapet beneath?

Was it a summer afternoon mellowing into evening? A balmy wind must have lifted a wisp of the fragrant Chameli you bought from the little boy at the last crossroad and it made you look out at the distance, at  the house, at the window. Did you see a face at that window?

Did the face look gently at you and then look away? The eyes – were they forlorn, looking out at the distant sun setting, maybe? And after you had crossed and continued, did you wonder about the face?  The aging, once beautiful face, did it have a story?

Did you keep wondering what her thoughts were, whether she sat there every evening, looking out, looking at the rush of life flowing by her window?

I have seen so many of these faces, in some of the aging cities I have visited or lived in.  A  face in a window, from a bridge or from the street looking up to admire an old house or maybe from another window across the street. Always from a distance. Everytime the  face looked the same to me. A picture of life halted, waiting to pick up the threads, maybe. Or maybe left behind to wait by her window for her future to come calling. But  always, before the story could unfold, before the face could reveal more, I had passed on.


 
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Posted by on July 19, 2009 in city, Life, mansion, Memories, Summer, window

 

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It’s yesterday once more…..

night

The cursor hovered over the  ‘Log Out’  briefly and  quickly moved  over to the ‘Go Online’ link.

‘One last time’ I thought.

‘But it’s 12:15 a.m.’ said the mind.

‘Just one more try’ I told myself. ‘Tomorrow is Sunday.’

And there it was, the single illuminous green dot beside the name I sought.

And before I could ‘Go Offline’ the name came alive with ” Hello beautiful!”

But there was no turning back now, nimble fingers had already typed “Hey!” in response.

And before the head could harness the heart it was 12:40 a.m. and I waited with bated breath.

“I’m dialling….” said the last incoming line on the chat window.

The house was silent, apart from my heartbeat, the rustle of the leaves on the tree outside my window, a radio playing an old hindi song somewhere and a ticking clock. And just to prove how thick the silence was, the shriek of the telephone sheared it into pieces, making me jump.

I wrenched it off the cradle  before it aroused the two souls living under the same roof.

“Hello Mrs. Ghosh!” said the voice from 18 years ago, bridging a couple of continents and more than a couple of seas between us.

“Hi, this is a pleasant surprise ! A veritable blast from the past!”

“And what a past it was! How is your present?”

Once again, I was sitting at  the same desk, in the same class room, taking down the same Pythagoras Theorem with same Reynold’s 045 carbure tip, when the same voice spoke to me, “Mind if I sit next to you?” And that summer besides the desk we also shared our friends, laughters, heartbreaks, pains, dreams and all things 16.

For the next hour and half  I sat there touching my yesterday, listening  to the voice from yesterday and wondering about our yesterday.

Did she sound mellowed? Did she just say “romance resides only in novellas, not in real life”? Did her laughter sound strained? She, who was a rebel, with her unruly curls held back in a plait, her infectious, almost impish laughter brightening up an otherwise sombre Geography lesson, her nicknames for the XIIth grade teachers, everything came back to me in a deluge – also her rendition of  “I’ll say a little prayer for you..”.

After all these years, I surprised myself. I remembered nearly everything about her, every little detail.  And so did she. She remembered I was pathetic at singing but good at dramatics. She said I read a lot but mostly boring books. And she said I had a beautiful smile and remembered a boy who waited for me outside the school gates every Friday afternoon.

The moody midnight breeze brought in a whiff of  the fragrentKamini, blooming in the dark of the night. She had long disconnected the call and had gone back to her present. I was sitting in my present, in a house lost in slumber, dreaming of tomorrow. But the rear window to my past remained open, connected with my yesterday.

 

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the floor was coloured red

The other day I happened to walk into a conversation among strangers about something I must have  loved for a long time. I didn’t realize it till the mention of it brought back memories in rushes.

I remember spending countless days rolling on that red floor of  yore, my lazy summer afternoons with Satyjit, Sharadindu, Sunil, Shirshendu. On afternoons, when it would be dark and cloudy or even rainy, I’d curl up on the dark  mahogany four poster bed and watch the rain find it’s way through the chinks of the shutters on the window, roll down the ledge and make watery designs on the red floor. Or on a fast disappearing winter afternoon, the coloured glass pattern in the arch above the window would cast longer shadows on the floor and I would sit mesmerized by the changing hues of the red.

Then came the time when I was walking, running, lounging  on the mosaic of colours bordered with green in our new house. The house had window seats in  green mosaic and I would spend long afternoons pondering over Maugham or just stare out at the sky with  Joan Baez  and  ‘Hey Jesse, it’s lonely ….. come home’ or have the floor strewn with paper, paint, brushes while I  took flights of fantasy.

And one day  in my red Benarasi, I crossed over a threshold, on to a pristine white alabaster floor leaving behind a trail of footprints in red alta .  A new ‘I’ came into being, a new relationship dawned, relating me to many more and   breathed  life into a sprite.

Life moved on to  different cities, different mosaics and terrazzos, on to various shades of alabaster and granite, in barsatis, in shiggat (Arabic for ‘apartment’), in penthouses. But never again did I come across the red of that floor of yore. Not that I yearned for it, but somehow all my memories of my girlhood would have that touch of red.

Now in the eve of my life,  I  tread on my mosaic, a red mosaic , a red from my childhood, a seamless wonder that the adult seems to have clung on to all  this while.

mosaic Picture courtesy: mosaicartsource.wordpress.com

 

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Flame of the forest

That summer the Krishnachura broke into flames for the first time, right outside my window to the world. It was a scorching red blooming on the scrawny young sprigs that had started to reach for the skies, nestled among the luscious green of the fresh burst of leaves. The contrast of the red and the green against the decaying wooden lattice of the adjoining terrace mesmerized me for many summers till I moved onto other cities, to other distant lands. But the image of the flame tree stayed with me.

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Here and now, this summer, Rimi and I walked down a garden path tucked away between the compound walls of two neighbouring buildings. It was a longer walk, but  promised abundant shade from the overgrown branches of the tall trees along the path. Looking up I spotted the first hints of red among the entwined branches above.

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Last night it rained all night . Today morning while I took my usual detour, I found myself standing on a path flowered with the flame of the forest, fallen like rain with the rain last night.

I couldn’t tether the child in me, for once I didn’t want to. I returned with my hands full.

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