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Just a random rambling on rain

I had started writing this post right in the middle of a miserable Mumbai monsoon morning, with a silent prayer on my lips for a ray of sunlight. And, as if in answer to my prayer, the sky looked less gray and more blue with moody white clouds floating carelessly in from the horizon in no rush to rain and I promptly abandoned the post. But, as it is with the misleading Mumbai monsoon, by evening the sky was back to being completely gray and clouds pregnant with their carriage waited patiently for a cue to begin their downpour.

After my camera had captured this view outside my window,  I thought I should pen this late monsoon post; about the torrid love-hate relationship between the rain and me. Three monsoons ago, an early monsoon day in Maximum City saw us alight from a flight that had flown us in from an arid, desert city. My Facebook status for the occasion had read, “Finally in the city that is rainy and green”. Why did I go so ‘over the top’ with my Facebook update? Well, read on…

My earliest impressions of the monsoon date back to the city of Job Charnock, where rubber boats are often deployed to rescue people stranded on rooftops in the lower lying parts of the city; and where I spent many a rainy afternoon setting sail paper boats in the alley outside our house that remained perpetually water-logged during the monsoons. I remember in carefree days there was no greater joy than dancing in the first monsoon showers or wading through the abundant rivulets and streams to and from my way to school – which returned to being roads only after the monsoons were over. Being such a creature of habit, I had accepted rain as an integral part of life, that there would be the occasional thunder-showers that would clean up the grime and the dust and set the earth aglow; that a random maze of pot-holes would soon dot the face of the streets soon after the showers came leading to incessant traffic jams; that houses and walls would soon take on a fresh greenish hue with the onset of the rains; and that our clothes and books would start to smell musty; and that children would snivel, sneeze and complain and yet not give up the slightest chance of playing or getting wet in the rain.

I had spent the decade prior to this in a somewhat rainless exile between the arid city at the foothills of the Aravalli and a desert city in the outer fringes of the Rub al Khali ( The Empty Quarter ). In the Rajdhani, at the foothills of the Aravalli, the monsoon or the Varsha rhitu is not a prominent season on the seasonal calendar and a whimsical rain fall soon gives way to autumn. The desert city, where we nested for the later half of the decade, has only one prominent season on the calendar, Al Sa’if (summer).

In my exile in the Rajdhani, I suddenly found that a lot of the known and the ordinary had gone missing from my life, rain being one of them. Like all fellow creatures of habit, the loss became a misery over time. Thus in rememberance of the rain that had left my life, I fondly named my daughter Rimjhim, the music of the rains, while I waited for the scorching Dilli summer months to peter into rain. In the desert city, things were extreme, it barely rained a few days in the year. Thus any form of rain was celebrated by going ‘Wadi bashing’ – driving through rivulets that trickled along dry river beds. I secretly wished for some divine intervention to lift this ban from my life and return me to some place where it rained.

So it was natural that when I did arrive at Maximum city, the craving for rain had been at an extreme. That year’s monsoon went unnoticed as I had other inconsequential things like finding a house, getting school admission for the 8-going-on-9, settling in etc. to keep me distracted. I did admire the gray Arabian Sea and the stormy sky gushing and pouring in a gusto from the Worli Seaface house that we spent that monsoon in. And the following year, in spite of the meteorological department going berserk and issuing warning after warning of a repeat of a deluge similar to 2006, rain played truant.  Soon I had joined the rest in tweeting about the missing Mumbai monsoon.

Which brings me to the year that is. And that is where lies the misery of a different kind. For the rain-starved me the decade long rationing of rain had brought in a craving for the rain, true, but it had altered something in me as well. I had, somewhere down the line, grown less benevolent and the romantic was hard hit by reality. This year’s monsoon has been surplus. The rains have filled up the lakes, the incessant streams have eroded the hills, the drumming droplets have eaten into the asphalt and have left behind, to quote a friend, ‘moon-craters’ on the Mumbai streets, the damp air has left a trail of musty smell in clothes and an abundant growth of fungus on all things cane, wood, fabric, and paper.The joy ride into town or anywhere else within or without the city boundaries reminds one of the joys of riding the metaphorical ‘bail gaadi‘.

Does that mean that I don’t love the rains any more? Of course, I do. From my perch, my lofty window on the 32nd floor, or through the high glass windows of the cafe down the road with a book in hand sipping a cup of espresso, or even from the car window as it whooshes through puddles while dodging ‘moon-craters’ of all shapes and sizes – nestled in dry comfort.

Read it on my TOI blog : Freeze Frame

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Posted by on September 24, 2010 in 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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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.

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

 

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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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Unconditional Love

Had one of the most profound conversations with my 8-year-old last evening. 

It is one of the sultrier Mumbai evenings. Another day gone in waiting for the illusive monsoon. The Bee’s  back from his buzzing hive post a busy day, a  two and half hours of drive back to happy Mumbai suburbia, with a rusty neck and a creaky back. He has  “Fragile, handle with care” written all over him. The tiny R and the adult M keep out of his way till he’s managed to scrub off every bit of grime and sweat with the special sea salt body wash meant also to soothe frayed nerves.

Almost civilised, by his own submission, he is now ready to mingle with the two women of the house. Half an hour goes down well with  Camomile tea flowing and M and R taking turns at beating the Bee at Domino. R quickly retorts, after winning the third time in a row, “Well, what can  I say, I’m a fast learner!”  She, incidentally, learnt the ropes  the same evening!

Time the enemy! The Bee’s clock’s ticking and before long the ” Brit to the core” aura announces “It’s 9:00 already, why aren’t we having dinner?  Tiddliwink, aren’t you supposed to be in bed by 9:30?”

With that the evening reverie draws to a close and I waddle off to dish out the final meal of the day, the only one that all must sit down and enjoy together.

It’s a simple meal and with the 8-year-old  eager- beaver laying the table, serving the meal is a breeze. I take pride in dishing out the exotic Mughlai keema I’d fished out of a woman’s weekly of yesteryear and am ready to fish for the compliments as a reward of my toil.

The meal should have gone rather uneventfully. I have already started R off with her dinner before I serve out ours. She takes a couple of detours on her plate before she attacks the keema, the Bee alights to join her.

She looks directly into my eyes and asks “Can I say something?”

Generally our dinnertime conversation is breezy, so I relent.

“Ma, how will you feel if Bau and I praise something you have cooked?”

“Elated, of course!” I am overjoyed. The Mughlai keema can now become one of the standard dinner fares!

“What if we don’t tell you that it tastes horrible?  Instead, we eat it and praise it and then ask you to cook it again?”

“Well, I would think you love me too much to hurt my feelings. And it’s your unconditional love for me that makes you praise it and ask for more !” I can almost hear my heart sinking.

The sprite returns an impish smile, “I’d love to have your Mughlai keema everyday!”

I taste some, and some more to make sure it tasted the way I thought it tasted and a third attempt confirmed my fears. I’m sure the Mughals loved to salt their food while cooking.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2009 in humor, Kids, Life, Love, Uncategorized, Women

 

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