RSS

Tag Archives: city

In his shoes.

Read it on my TOI blog : Freeze Frame

 

I know now how he felt, all those years ago, when he looked up at the brick and mortar carcass that was slowly, day by day, taking the shape of his dreams. Now I know, because I find myself in his shoes.

Those were the days when he had less gray hair and generally more hair, toured the North Eastern parts of the country extensively on work, smoked cigarettes virtually non-stop and blew rings of smoke lazily into the air, much to the glee of my sister and me; those were the days when he had only one good reason to visit a by lane tucked away behind a labyrinth of lanes off the boi para of College Street – an old, dilapidated house that had been razed to the ground and a new house was slowly raising its head from the rubble much like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes of the past. This was our house. The house he was building.

I used to accompany him on many of his weekend trips to what would one day become our house, clutching on to his big finger as I hopped and ran to match my seven year old steps with his leonine strides. As we got closer to the house his steps would quicken. Finally, he would pick me up and cover the last two or three turns of the alleys that lay between us and the house, at a pace that I could not keep up with. Once there, he would turn into a very different person – almost like an impatient child who would overflowing with questions about his new toy. I remember him tugging at the iron rods clumped together to form the core of the pillars of the foundation (to check their strength, perhaps?); watched him as he ran his fingers through the cracks that had emerged on the freshly plastered walls with a look of disappointment writ large on his face; remember him peering closely at the veneer on the freshly polished doors and windows; and always remember asking myself why he chose to do so. Our visits were filled with many technical questions that I knew nothing about: slopes, inclines, thickness of the walls and strength; but behind all of these questions, the one question that I could sense was uppermost in his mind was the one I rarely heard him ask: “When will all this chaos be over and when will we get to move in?”

Our house stands tall today, with its balconies on the south face overlooking a park; the broad bay windows that let in the first rays of the morning sun standing tall and proud; and a big terrace and a narrow strip of land at the back dotted with his favourite plants and flowers. Today, my father lives with my mother in that house still, long after his two daughters, my sister and I, moved out in pursuit of our own lives.

And as our apartment is under renovation, I find myself in his shoes today. In the last four months not a day has gone by without me poking around the rubble amongst the broken walls, pile of bricks, bags of cement and stacks of plyboard. I stand there and gaze at the gaping holes that were once walls and see doors that I had so far dreamt about, look up at the cavern which used to sport a false ceiling that has been replaced with rafters, and Italian marble floors, which I believe would be better suited in hardwood. On one occasion, not so long ago, I remember the Bee and I didn’t talk to each other for three days because we could not agree on the colour of the walls in the study, he wanted a brooding midnight blue and I wanted a rusty red. On the fourth day we decided we both preferred Olive Green…

Now a lot of ground has been covered and the walls are getting their first coat of paint. I was there even today and passing by a mirror thought I caught a glimpse of my father even as I ran my hand over the fresh coat of paint, pointed out a few cracks to the masons, irritated the life out of the carpenter by asking far too many questions about the louvers I wanted and added some ‘innovative’ improvements to the bookcase they had already finished. I came away happy that my dream is slowly turning into reality.

Advertisements
 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Lumos

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Strange love : On the Agastya trail…

Agastya’s envy had then blurted out, he wished he had been Anglo-Indian, that he had Keith or Alan for a name, that he spoke English with their accent. – English August, Upamanyu Chatterjee.

In my first year of college, on a wintry evening I fell in love with  Agastya August Sen, a snob and a dopey stuck among the primitives of  Madna. August, who “spoke, thought and respired”  in English.  August who had to survive, no matter what. August, a lover of jazz and who read Marcus Aurelius. And ever since that day, ever since I was 17, I  kept looking for him in crowded buses, in metro stations, in Nandan, in Rabindra Sadan, at Rotaract meets, at the university campus – in a Kolkata bustling with people but none like August.

No, I was not obsessed, I walked into it with my eyes open. I knew he was a storybook character. But he was the closest I had come to a suitable boy who believed in being unapologetic about his love for the Queen’s language and being uncompromising  for what he loved. That was where  my love story started and ended. With my ‘perfectionist’ core , I too wanted to sound like a native of the tongue I acquired, just like August. And my Bong crux yearned the glory of a well spoken, well read,  well bred and all the other kinds of “well” ness (of  Bangla) that a well brought up Bengali should be. Besides that, I too, in many  ways, had started to feel  trapped, living life among a well fed, ‘fair of skin’, pedigreed tribe – who flourished by weighing and selling  gold and silver by the gms. This was my Madna,  in the heart of a city caught in yore, among a confluence of  baniyas, mostly from the western part of the country, converged along the central artery of the city over the last century, lost in  a milieu who refused to   perfect the art of their mother tongue, leave alone the Queen’s tongue.

You see  my parents’  foresight had put us, my sister and me, through the rigours of “English medium convent education”. And I suppose it must have been there where the arranged marriage happened, between the love for the languages and me.  The prolonged presence of the  two languages, English and Bengali, made them a crucial part of my life. Hours of Wren and Martin, verse after verse penned by Shelley, Keats, Byron,   pages of Shakespeare, Shaw, Maugham; and then attending Ms Gomes’ classes on the nuances of Bangla byakaran, bisheshwa, bisheshan, kriya, sarbanaam, sandhi, samas, krit pratyay, taddhit pratyay, reading  and appreciating Bonophool, Moumachhi, Satyendranath, Rabindranath, Saratchandra, Bankimchandra – phew! So by the end of it all,  the lack of  linguistic perfection in a person left something incomplete for me. And at times it even denied me the simpler pleasures of teenage and youth.

At 15 ,  I received my first love letter, from a ‘eligible in all respect’ boy from the English medium missionary school down the road from mine. But even with stars in my eyes I halted my reverie midway – three grammatical errors and five spelling mistakes! I know, I will sound like my fifth grade English teacher here, but can’t help it!  Mrs. Mandel would always say, “the search of perfection begins with detecting imperfection” and I may have had taken it too seriously. Ahem, you think so too?

All through college and university Agastya had the last laugh. A crush coupled with a few skipped heartbeats would inevitably be followed by a not so pleasant dawning of realisation that I was very much rooted in Madna. Love would quickly be replaced by the axiom  that my search for linguistic perfection was actually a wild goose chase as none would pass my “litmus” test in speaking,  writing or even thinking in  proper, grammatically correct forms of the languages they inherited or acquired.

The news syndication, was where my lofty pride of “walking, talking and breathing” English met the first reality check. I realized even I made grammatical errors, misspelt words and to quote my erstwhile editor, I was at times “a disaster”. In other words, lofty me was humbled. My Editor-in-chief  ran every piece of edit through her washer and dryer before it could be put to bed. Reducing beautifully crafted articles into shreds, at times with a pair of shears, was her forte and my nemesis. But the company of the enlightened veteran also ratified my belief that I was not paranoid, that  my Madna was real and Agastya was right.

Finally, a serendipitous  meeting and a couple of paeans of love later, I married a Brit  by birth Bee who also happened to be a pedigreed Bangali, but by accident.  He had been the only beacon of hope after my unrealistic love story with Agastya. The Bee was flesh and blood, had a commendable command over English and the same unapologetic fervour for the tongue (excuse me, his mother tongue, being born there and all that) so I lost no time in saying ‘yes’ to him. His Bengali was nothing to write home about, and here I made an exception, lest I thought I’d die a cantankerous spinster and also because I was sure it would correct itself under my supervision.

But …

To be continued …..

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

 
3 Comments

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

 

Tags: , , , ,

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!

 
2 Comments

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Of suburban dreams and a birthday…..

The road crosses the intersection and slopes down towards the sleepier part of the suburb, leaving behind the rushing traffic, the departmental store, the new apartments and the quaint restaurant at the corner with a breakfast menu. Yesterday we, the Bee and me, sat by the french window of the restaurant dreaming our usual dream of “higher aspirations” over tall cups of  “Long Americana” and breakfast, higher floors, higher purposes, higher goals et all.

It was shortly after the ‘rush to reach town’ had ebbed, so the intersection was quieter. The broad, empty stretches of the sidewalk, the sleepy suburb slowly waking up to the day, the rainwashed trees starting to glisten in the sun stealing in through the chinks of the sparse clouds…. I wanted that moment to stand still forever, wanted to go on sipping the fresh coffee forever, wanted to sit with the Bee and go on dreaming forever, wanted to just sit at that table by the window and stare  outside forever. It was the morning of my day and I wanted to soak in all that was around me and delay the day from ending quickly.

The reverie was halted abruptly, a call was buzzing silently for me on my phone. I could have ignored the phone, but not this call.

“Feels like yesterday, when you were looking at me with those new eyes as I held you for the first time and here I’m wishing you on your birthday again!” effused the most familiar voice of my life, my Ma. “Happy Birthday!”

The same day in the afternoon I walked down another road of the same suburb leading to another intersection. This intersection at this time of the day remained chaotic. As I waited among the milieu of mothers, fathers, grandparents, drivers, maids of all shapes and sizes waiting for the children to run out, a soft tug at my hand made me turn. She stood there  with an angelic smile lighting up her eyes. There lay on her little outstretched hand a birthday card, made with pages torn from her exercise book, with red and pink hearts, a tiny poem and “Dear Mumpa, happy birthday!” written in it.

Calla-Green-White-feat

The evening brought a drizzle, a cake with a single candle, a group of friends, a bundle of wishes and a much delayed ending to the day.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on July 29, 2009 in city, Life, Love

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Gali ke mod pe suna sa koi darwaza…

There was a gentle rain falling outside. The incessant caress of the water had washed away every speck of dirt from each leaf, each blade, every flower. The roads, once covered in the dry summer dust, had soaked in the rain and was now wet. The old houses wore a drenched look, gathering moss on the eroded walls, ferns bursting out of the cracks and crevices.

Inside it was damp, dark and dusty from unuse. The closed cupboards reeked of mothballs, the rotting wood peeled out of its polished surface, the walls bulged and bloated in places thanks to the humidity in the air.  The restive soul wanted a breath of the fresh, wet air, heavy with an unknown fragrance from an unknown white flower blooming in the wet bush outside the door. He did not belong to this city anymore. But it rained the same way from where he came.  And that was why he wanted to be outside, under the drizzle, letting it’s cool touch remind him of home. He was not particularly homesick, but the rains made him nostalgic.

But he was also not new to this city. He had once lived in this alley with the decaying houses, from his first day till when he became a successful engineer.  The doors in the alleyway reminded him of the many faces behind them. There was a man who listened to the radio very late into the night at no. 3A, the lady in 4/1/B was a widow with four children, the house with the unusually purple Bougainvillia creeping up it’s walls used to be the home of one of his best friends who had since moved to the Middle East. He wondered how many of those faces were still a part of the decaying houses behind those doors of the alley that ended at his door.

cobbled alley

It was only yesterday, when he stood in front of this door, he had felt a happy lost feeling. Lost in the alleys of his childhood, his house tucked away in the older part of the city with the chaos of life around him. And then his gaze had turned to the green door next to his door, a special door from his boyhood. The fragrance of heena from the freshly washed hair, the clinking of thin, gold bangles, an array of colourful chunnis, the dark kohl lined, almond eyes darting coy looks and then quickly looking away if he happened to look.  He remembered  a  bashful encounter on a Holi morning – the only time when he happened to caress the blushing, warm, softness of the cheek , with her sporting a disobedient plait playfully pushed back where it belonged – an image from his eager boyhood.

But the man had not come back to reclaim unrequitted love. They never had a love story. He had found love in another city, in another girl. She had been married to a banker in a relatively newer part of the city.  He had another purpose today to have returned here thus.

He walked out into the small opening outside his door where the unknown bush grew the unknown white flowers with a heavy, sweet scent. Turning around, he looked up at the facade that was a pale shade of yellow many monsoons ago with broad parapets and arched windows. The window on the second floor was his, with his table and chair by it and his world of books, music, kites and football. The table and chair are now housed in his home with some other memories, the rest gathered dust and grew mouldy behind the closed door of this house.

Then with a shrug he turned the brass key in the latch. This would be the last time he would step into this house again.

But at a later date, the house will don a fresh coat of paint, the windows will be thrown open to the southern wind, there would be new curtains in the old fashioned windows, there would be new footsteps on the stairs climbing up and down. A  new love story would perhaps bloom with another girl next door. With that promise to his past he handed over the keys to the man who stood outside under a black umbrella holding a cheque to his name.

 He climbed into the waiting car at the end of the alley, rolled up the glass and took one last look at the house  before it went out of sight forever.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on July 25, 2009 in city, Life, Love, Memories, Romance

 

Tags: , , , , , ,