Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Shyamala

One can not really remember the complete chain of thoughts that leads to a particular thought. Even immediately after you have had that aha-oho-hmmm moment the preceding thoughts are not that clear. One tries to make do with whatever one can make do. It was during the-job-is-done and no-more-coverall-now shower at Havilla Harmony, the shower during which one spends long time under hot water that one started wondering about the third person of the same, actually nearly same, name. One Shyamala is here, in the present and getting happyly engaged today. Best wishes to her. The second was Shyamali. Chronologically first though. During the few days spent on Yahoo chat in college one chatted with a girl named Shyamali. There were few emails exchanged, maybe two or three, over the course of next few years. She is in the US one guesses, somewhere, married and all. But it was the third person one was trying to remember. There was a third Shyamala somewhere down the memory lane. Why one was trying to remember one cannot really say. One just could not place the time and figure out the place. And one again guesses it was the hot water on head after two weeks that brought it home. Kakinada. KKD. First few days spent in that quite town on the east coast of India.

I had happyly (each time MS Word changes it back to happily (auto spell check or something; by the way correct spell options provided by Word for Shyamala are Shalala and Shamble) but since ‘In the pursuit of happyness’ I try to use ‘y’) landed in KKD. There was a need to get a new phone number. After first day in the base, our offices are mostly known as bases not that we are military, during which I got the letter from the company guy for address proof I headed out to get a new phone number. I had used Airtel at Pune, Hutch (now Vodafone) at Delhi and to be fair to the three major service providers in India at the time I had a plan of getting Idea number at KKD.

I was staying at Cozy Hotel which by the way is anything but cozy. I did not need to go far that day as Idea shop was nearby. After the usual enquiries I had a new phone number. “It will be activated by tomorrow afternoon” said the lady at the counter. KKD is in Andhra Pradesh and is a small coastal town. I had not seen many girls out of homes, in the market and who all were out were not very good looking, in the way a north Indian perceives good looking to be. This was the first girl who came close to those scales of perception and she stayed the only one for a long time. True, KKD is not a good place for checking out girls.

After another day at work and after trying my phone for nth time I was back at the Idea shop. “It is not working”. She called up someone who in turn called up someone and with a promise of another ‘Sir, tomorrow afternoon’ I was back in my very non-cozy room surfing all possible kind of Telugu channels in the world in an attempt to find one which I could understand. I guess that was the first day I watched f-TV for a long time. You do not need to understand the language for watching certain channels.

By next evening I had lost my cool and was ready to throw the idea of using Idea. She gave me that apologetic, non-welcoming smile as I showed my face in the shop for the third consecutive evening. But this time I was not going to leave the shop with tomorrow afternoon’s promise. Hence, she was made to work. After about an hour of calls she had my phone working. “Thank you”, I said and somehow miraculously managed, “what’s your good name, please?” “Shyamala”, she replied. That one chat with Shyamali Shah came handy, I guess too handy. “That means beautiful”. I have never known how to talk with a lady; even now I can make any situation awkward by being very obvious. She smiled and we said bye to each other. I thanked her and was out of the office in a world where I was connected with an ‘Idea’. An ‘Idea’ that can change a life. It rarely does.

After few days in Cozy I moved to the new staff house. There was a park close by with a small water pool, we preferred to call a lake, in the center and a tiled walking track and gravel running track around. I decided to walk away few pounds from the body. Every evening I would go for a walk, some time a run at the park. Some days I would have of company of either Tony or Gordon (before Xanadu came to KKD and became a permanent partner in the weight loosing mission which actually ended prematurely and unsuccessfully). One day while walking around the lake I saw a familiar face. It was nearly 3 months since I have seen the Idea lady, the day my phone finally started working. Like guys do, I pointed out the lady to Gordon, who was walking with me that day, and told her where I had seen her. We were walking in opposite direction of her. He is Scottish and probably did not realized that he was in quite a remote part of India when he suggested, “Go talk to her”. I conveyed my feelings with a shake of head. Probably the message was not conveyed or probably he choose to ignore is not clear to me. We continued our walk. Another round around the lake and we were about to cross her again when suddenly Gordon stopped right in front of her. And believe me he is quite a heavy guy and can block anyone’s way easily. I had no option. “Hi Shyamala” I blurted and it is the only part of what I said that evening that I remember. She said few things but the only part I remember clearly is “I am here with my parents. They are walking a little behind me”. By this time her parents must have covered the distance as she suddenly walked away.

I went to the lake garden many times after that over next year or so I was in KKD. She stopped coming or changed her time. Either way I did not see her again at the lake garden again.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Happy Birthday

Once again giving in to your memory dude. You have been around the corner all the while. I wonder when I will move on from our break-up. The kind of break-up which is not mutual, but deeply mutual. The kind of break-up from which there is no getting back together.

I do not remember wishing you a birthday wish all the time we were together. One of mine is close to yours (it still is a confusion that which is the correct date, mother keeps on changing her memory every year to suit what kind of person I should be, whether born in katte or the lunar month before that and many other reasons). VOLVOVIRGO did convey the message very loud and clear but I was not the kind of person who remembered dob’s easily. Maybe I did wish you sometime. How does that matter anyways?

But now I do remember and I guess many people do. Some remember the date all the while others are helped by orkut. Strange isn’t it. You still live on in orkut. Your email ids I guess must have been stopped by various providers for no activity over two years but junta keeps your orkut profile alive. Some send those scraps which go to everyone’s account and hence you also get them, some remember you the day you were born, some the day you went away and there are some who remember you in between when something reminds them of you. But for time being you are alive in many hearts and very alive in orkut. By the way dude, uncle aunty did not like your “About me” from the profile. I wish that your account stays forever, that orkut does not delete it. At least there would be something to remind people of you when the memories start failing us. Every Sept 10 there will be "you" under birthday’s for all that log-on.

I wasn’t checking out orkut today, though. It is blocked here offshore for some reason. Something else reminded me of you today and then I remembered its 10th Sept. Your birthday. Here is wishing you a very fantastic of the birthdays.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Ganpati Bappa

I do not know much history about my religion, though I have read Sikh History books during the school years, am son of very religious parents and to top that have recently read Khushwant Singh’s “History of Sikhs”, both volumes, front page to last page. This was a Hindu festival, Ganesh Chaturathi, hence I would not expect myself to know much about the history, facts and myths of the occasion. For me it was the festival when whole of the Bombay came out on the roads with drums and bands dancing. Everyone carrying their own God, poor man’s small clay god, rich man’s gigantic gold plated metal god and millions of other shapes an sizes, all out on the road undertaking the journey before the man submerged the God in all its glory under the water, turn his back on the God till the next year, when it was again time to sing and dance to the tunes of Ganpati Bappa Morya.

Today I was not on any Bombay road or beach or lake. It was a senior colleague’s home in Australia. The gathering was small, no bands or drums and neither the God was to be submerged in the water. It is a tedious process getting permission from the authorities here for a procession and nearly impossible to submerge a God in the water. They don’t believe that God’s can cure the damage done to the environment by submerging a God in the water. A small gathering was allowed was a surprise in itself.

Ganpati Bappa was decorated with the same zeal and devotion as any on those Bombay roads. The prayers were being sung, occasionally with the helps of booklets. I could catch few words every now and then but mostly I contributed to the music with the clapping. A kid walked back and started playing with the cushions on the sofa next to the wall I was leaning against. Ganpati Bappa was himself a very notorious child (little bit of what I have heard about the history helps every now and then) and I thought why not play with the God in his best avatar, a child. I got myself busy with gathering all the cushions for the child. There were seven in total after cleaning all the chairs around. The kid had a little hesitation believing that I wanted to play with him and so was slightly cautious at the start, but after few of my attempts to help him with whatever he wanted to achieve he involved me in his games happily. I do have a way with kids (within an hour there would be 10 of them running wild around me). He found a ball and we were jumping the ball up and down the stairs of the cushions. Now he wanted to hide under the cushions. He lay very still when I had completely covered him. His little brother was watching all the action on the sofa from his father’s shoulder. He freed himself from his father’s hold, walked close to the sofa, and very carefully removed the cushions starting from the feet to the head, uncovering his hidden brother. He too wanted to hide under the cushions. Their father saw this. End of my game with the Gods.

The prayers were over by this time and it was time to eat the prasad “blessed food”. After having my share of it, which by the way was too little for a very delicious combination of items I was on my way to find little M and play with her. It took a lot of persuasion on my part that I have something for her and only after the chocolate was in her hands did she believe me. Suddenly many kids came into the room and I was playing footrace with them. You have to touch a person’s feet with yours and then that person runs and tries to touch someone else’s. It was fun. The kids were having a blast and I was out of my breath after few minutes. Where do we get this energy when we are young? We are tireless in those carefree years. Slowly the parents started leaving and hence the kids started leaving too. I would be the last one standing if the players only left with the parents and I would be standing there for really long if I waited for mine. I called the game off and the kids amid minor protests ran away to find someone else to play with or find some other game.

Time to leave. Good byes to the hosts, good byes to the kids. While waiting for my company I talked with another little girl who called herself “the angriest tiger” followed with a cute growl and pawing motion of the fingers. She was wearing a bindi but maintained that it was not a bindi but a dot made with her mother’s eyeliner. When addressed as a kid, she protested that she is a child not a kid. According to her and her friend supporting her on the issue a kid is only a child of a goat. I did not argue. My English was always poor.

PS: On the walk back I was told a secret. It is really not the kind of thing which one should keep as a secret. How many things we have in life to be happy about? Still I will honor the pact and will keep it as a secret till it’s no more. I will lose this memory for the time being. Will go finding it later.

The Ephemeral Vigil

"We must realise and be ever conscious of the fact that life is fugacious and ephemeral." This is how the usage of fugacious is presented in the AWAD entry. I look up for ephemeral in wordweb dictionary (which I recently installed at a suggestion from K).
Short-lived, here today and gone tomorrow.
It reminds me of Ugly. I try to shake the thought away. I look at the date of the AWAD email. Its 15th of August. I am thinking I should have checked my email earlier and read this. Maybe I would have felt something was about to happen, maybe I was about to see the usage of the word in the real world. Then it comes to, it is 15th of august 2008. It has been two years. Reading the email on time would not have changed anything that happened. The email is two years late. I wish I could be mad at Anu Garg for being two years too late.

As if he knew someone was going to blame him. He has answered the accusation in the same entry. A THOUGHT FOR TODAY: The conscience of the world is so guilty…. Yes, it is the guilty conscience that keeps me reminding of the incident but there isn’t much that I can do to wash away this guilt. I think it is for this reason I have started looking further back in the time to memories that are pleasant that do not remind me of the things I want to forget. The events that I know changed me a little, may be more, but the events that changed the lives of many around me and in worse ways and at some level I was to blame for those happenings. These are the events I try to forget, to run away from. I could have affected the events, if not fully, in certain small significant ways. Who knows what could have transpired after, but anything would have been better than what it is today. May be I am just being a fanatic and thinking it all wrong but I guess the heaviness in the heart says that it must have been better, somewhat better, but for me.

I try to think of the times I was young, just to keep away from those significant events, but every time I try I fail.

It was after the call from his cousin S and when everyone had rushed on bikes to the hospital. There were six of us with two bikes. With some apprehension we could decide on the second driver that night. I rode the bike as fast as I could, hoping against hope that what she has just said was not true. I knew the route Ugly would have taken for home. We got out of the Shushant Lok, turned right and started towards the Metro Mall. The road was pitch dark. I always used to slow down on this part of the road but today I could not. Even in the dark we, against our wishes and fighting our fears, could make out the white which we did not want to. The car has been moved and was parked on the side of the road. The front right was all crushed. At the first glance all were aware that it was hard to survive that accident if you were in the driver’s seat. We were all scared to speak up this at the moment. Somehow without a word being spoken we moved on further to find the hospital where they had taken Ugly. Every body had a general idea of the hospital’s direction. I do not remember who was guiding me but after five minutes of most difficult driving I had ever done we reached the hospital. I do not remember the name of the hospital. It was named after someone is all I have remembrance of. We ran in as fast as we could. Running fast still in hope of holding his spirit back, preventing it from departing. It was too late.
I remember staying awake all night on many occasions. However, I had never stood a guard of the dead before. A dead friend. We were all there outside the hospital. The hospital authorities wanted to get rid of the body. Someone argued and somehow managed to keep the body there. Ice blocks were arranged to preserve the body. Preserve it so that parents can find there dead son in an unspoiled condition. Relatives were informed, friends were called. Many came, saw, some mourned, some were silent, some stayed, and some went back. Everyone had an opinion, everyone had a different observation of the dead, everyone had a new way to explain the injuries, everyone had the same questions for us (who were with him the last), we had no answers for anyone, everyone had a judgment to pass, an accusation to make, a sympathy to give and some of them had a tear to shed.

Sometime during the vigil I remembered calling Saurabh. Me and Saurabh were with Ugly at his last meal. Ugly has called him and said that he was bringing a present. I was wondering what is going on when he rang the door bell and hid behind the wall. Only when Saurabh said that this is the gift, pointing at me, I realized what Ugly was upto. It was a long time since I had last met Saurabh. It was to be the last gift of his life. Saurabh was as shocked on hearing what I had to say as every friend will be in coming few days. But he was more composed when he arrived. He knew better about what was to be said and what was to be done. I think his presence there was a comfort, at least for me.

At some point in the night V arrived at hospital. She did not have the courage to go and have a look at Ugly. “No. Not him. Not in a road accident. He was such a safe driver.” She refused to believe he was gone. Probably the best way to console yourself. Deny the dead the right to be. A was trying to console her as best as he could. I thought of saying something to her but even in death propriety demanded not to say something to a girl I had never met before. In the days that followed I remember wishing her the best for the future.

We kept the vigil whole night and most of the next day. Ugly’s parents were in Shimla when the accident happened and they reached Gurgaon late in the afternoon. Whole day we stood there. Some went back for a while to do whatever they had to. Most of us just stood there. I went in the room where they had kept Ugly one or two times. To see how he was doing. To give him company before he was turned into ashes and dust. That night he looked beautiful. More beautiful then he ever looked before. He had a radiance, a serene glow about his face.

Sometime before his parents arrived I felt water in my eyes. I had held on for a long time. There were many who had broken at the sight of his dead body and there are many who held on during everything. I moved away from the crowd and in the corner of the road looked up and let the tears fall. I hated God at that moment but asked Him to keep Ugly well.

It has been over two years now. Every now and then the memories come back. Things would have been different if that night had been different but that’s the way life is. Vogacious. Ephemeral. What’s left behind is memories. Thanks Anu. For the new word, for the old memories.

Finding Memories

Memories. What we live on, what we survive on and some romantics even build themselves on. Memories are with one all the time and present themselves at various places in various forms bringing joy, tears, laughter, smiles and all kind of emotions. We do not go looking for memories, they are there and they stay there till the incidence becomes a coincidence and the train of thoughts take you there or the past flies to the present for the rendezvous.

I do not know how it happens but we do not remember everything that has happened to us. Certain incidents stay with us and most of it is lost. There are people who pen down there memories, people who write journals of everyday life and have their memories tucked away safely in nice leather bounded books to refer to whenever they feel like. Some are even lucky, like Dumbledore, they have pensieve to save their thoughts in and look at them whenever they wish. Fancy, not even need to write them. Isn’t it fun being a fictional character with all the mysterious powers.

But there are most of us who don’t pen down our lives in journals and live on what stays with us. And life moves on. Why would someone go looking for memories? Go finding memories. I have stumbled on to write something many times and each time I have this memory that I end up writing about. However, I wondered what all I remember and how far back can I trace my existence to. Hence the quest for finding memories. Just another whim. I get few every now and then. Let’s see how long can I survive this one and save it from becoming another memory. Even if doesn’t survive, next time I will have another memory to write about. Half glass full, that’s the way they taught us for SSB, the way I am yet to learn.

Where does one start? The very beginning. From the conception. That’s kind of tough on your memories. I don’t recollect anything from my own memory of first few years of my life. I have been told of certain incidents but that becomes part of memories of the time I was told about them.

If I make a timeline of memories there will be few particular periods to divide it on. First phase will be before I joined Sanink School, then 7 years at SSK, a year in chadigarh , four years in college and subsequently three jobs bringing me to the present. All have a different set of stories, a different flavor of memories associated. Most of what happened in the later stages is clear in the web of memories. What is very hazy is all that happened in the first eleven years of the life. One remembers many incidents but there isn’t a sequence which can be associated with these. Somewhere in those years lies the secret to where one is heading to, if there is somewhere one is meant to end up.

Ruskin bond remembers his early years very well. He has his grandfather’s tales, his father’s anecdotes, the world’s wars, a country’s fight for independence and many incidents that remind him of all these years, reminds him of all the details. He has a wall as his ally, the wall on which he now sits and thinks about and later on write. I have not found a wall still but I try to think and I have not found anything still but the quest for the end, the quest to lead oneself somewhere is on.
The earliest I remember is somewhere when I was around 6-7 years. It’s the 88 floods in Punjab and events just before and around it. In fact most of my initial memories are built around the rides to the school in the town and TV. Yes, television. However, if one works really hard, one can come out with many things from that time. We did not own a TV for a long time, till dad got the Canon (smallest possible black and white screen, what was it like 10”). The first TV in the village was probably at the neighbors, at the least the first I saw, the one with the collapsible gate in front of the TV screen, and then it was a TV at Sukhdev uncle’s home. What I remember most about those TVs is the beating that we siblings got on all the way back home when dad came looking for us. It was the carefree world we lived in those days. Getting ready for the future, in an environment where father tried to keep us disciplined as much as possible, which was quite uncertain for the three kids who were to hold the key to many thousands believing in healthy education of children. But that is getting way ahead of time. And ahead of myself. One is yet to jump in the past and try to bring some jewels, some moments that will help one find out if there is anything to be found out. A memory that defines one.

PRELUDE TO A RIOT

The cover of Annie Zaidi’s ‘prelude to a riot’ carries in red letters – ‘A white-hot novel about today’s India.’ White hot! Hotter than red-...