Sunday, November 07, 2010

Sisters by Nature

This is the place where I stop for a breather. That jackass sena-pati and his other sainik friends charged and shouted till I had to run for my life. And although I have lived my donkey years full of health it is not fun being made to run for whatever is left of my life. This used to be a peaceful herd, a peaceful jungle, a peaceful world. But now things are changing. What is going on this jungle these days is too complicated for me to put my head around. Hainchoo hainchoo I laugh at myself. Put my head around. He-he-hainchoo. He-he-he-hainchoo. I must be getting old for a donkey. Since when do we donkeys start putting head around things? I am tired with my life saving effort. I should rest before the little ones come.

“Wake-up Gadha uncle, wake-up.” The children are here and they nudge me till I am out of my dreams. Little Jennies look so pretty. And stupid jacks will never get any better. The day has improved and it is quite for miles if my ears are to be believed. There is a slight breeze. I walk with the children to the allotted section, gadha-dham, on the pond to drink water. Some of the children also drink but most of them are impatient and can’t wait for me to start the story. I walk with the children to our usual place. It is tough for my old legs to climb the few steps to the platform but the tradition has to be kept. Children won’t have me tell the story standing next to them.

“Hainchoo hainchoo. Good evening little ones”. “Good evening gadha uncle” little Jennies call out. Jacks, I know, don’t care about the niceties these days. What kind of training the parents are giving to these boys? Anyways. I can’t improve them. But they do pay attention to the stories so I don’t mind their being gadhas.

“Uncle you promised the story of king rama and his temple last time” little Sita calls out. “No uncle, it was the story a man who eats the food of thousand cows” shouts Bihari. “That is an old one, we want to hear about the black king of a white jungle, the one who came to our jungle once” rains barkha. ‘Story of raja’ ‘story of rani’ ‘jaadu pari’ ‘bhoodi nani’ all demand their stories and soon a fight starts among the children.

Haaaiiiiiinnnnnnnnchoooo. And with my shout they all pay attention. “Today I will tell you a story about two sisters. Chitals. Hiranis. Chital Arundhati and Chital Taslima.” Children as always forget their demands and pick up their ears.

“Before I started telling stories standing on this raised platform and long before any of you little ones were born, this jungle and all the neighbouring jungles were one big jungle, ruled by a great great lion sitting far away in a cave and his jackals keeping a watch over all. And most of you have heard the story of how the animals of the jungle suffered and decided to pick their king from within and eventually this happened but the jungle was divided into different smaller jungles ruled by different lions and we are now in one of the larger sections of that jungle. We got our own lion king, a king who was good for our jungle. Arundhati was born in our part of the jungle during the reign of the first lion king. Taslima was born about the same time in another part ruled by another lion king.”

“But Gadha uncle you said story of two sisters. How are they sisters if they were born in different jungles?” Barkha is very sharp for a donkey. Sometimes I wonder how she ended up being a donkey. She should do a mare proud. “They are sisters not by birth but by the way of lives. They are sisters because they both told stories. They told stories of their jungles. They are sisters by their natures.” The little ones don’t seem convinced but as long as they get a story, they don’t mind.

“A long time passed after the birth of both the hiranis. The jungle in which Taslima was born was further divided as their lion king was not kind to one section of the jungle. The animals of the jungle with the help of the ruler of our jungle made their own lion the king. Taslima saw all this while growing up. One day in our jungle some wild cows attacked the tree under which pigs used to rest. Cows claimed that this place was a good grazing area for them and the pigs had taken it forcefully. You know there are more cows in our jungle than all the other jungles. Although the pigs were many and the jackals of king were there to protect the pigs, the cows succeeded in destroying the tree. This all happened in our jungle. But the pigs in other jungles got angry. The number of cows in Taslima’s jungle was very small and the pigs went on a rampage and killed many cows and destroyed many grazing areas of the cows. The lion king of that jungle was on the side of pigs. The pigs kept him in power. Taslima saw all this and was filled with pain and shame. And she started telling the story of this shame to all who will listen. Cows, hirans, pigs, jackals, goats, camels, fish, monkeys, rabbits, trees, grass, winds, sky, everyone who will listen. And they all cried after they listened to the story and some pigs were ashamed of what was done but they were too few in numbers. Taslima’s story reached the ears of the head of pigs. They were infuriated and they forced the lion king to issue a death penalty for shaming their jungle with her stories. The lion king agreed. But the hirans are very fast and can run to save their live. They can’t run far if lions attack but they can beat pack of jackals or pigs. Taslima ran to our jungle and our king was sympathetic and let her stay. She still stays in our jungle. Sometimes angry pigs on our side attack her but mostly her stay in our jungle has been peaceful, though she misses her jungle”.

The wind picks up. Some clouds have drifted across the sun. I feel the cold in my bones too easily these days. Little ones hardly notice. I have to take breathers in my stories. The little ones know I can’t speak too long without a little rest. Hainchooo, hainchoo. I bray myself back to the story. Have to finish before its gets too cold.

“Arundhati meanwhile grew to be a very beautiful, smart hirani. I saw her for the first time after her first big story was read. It was a beautiful story. About little ones and about loved ones and about loss and about growing up and about life of a God. I listened to the story and I almost sympathized with all animals of that story (I a gadha, imagine how moving that story must have been). You all will get to hear the story in time. And then I saw her. She was a hirani who was as good with looks as with her stories. And her voice had that intoxicating jingle to it. Her eyes were deep like ocean and I am ashamed to say this little ones but I was drowned in them”. Hehehainchoo hehehainchoo, little jacks giggle. Jennies all are so thoughtful. Pink-tail has even some water in her eyes. The jacks keep giggling and nudging each other. I bray them to silence and continue.

“So there she was, chital Arundhati. Her big story was read few years after Taslima’s. About the time our lion king burned big fires in the desert with help of chimpanzees and foxes. Something affected Arundhati. I am not sure what. But she changed and after her big story everyone waited to hear the next but she never told any other big story. She started working for improving the lives of all animals of our jungle. She would go and fight against the foxes who wanted to dry little fish ponds for the stones below, which were required for big fox bunkers. She raised her voice against other lion kings of big jungles and their foxes and jackals troubling small jungles. Sometimes she spoke about the cows and jackals of our jungle troubling weaker rabbits, squirrels, fishes and others. She spoke a lot. Our lion king was told by many cows to make her quiet. But our lion king with all his shortcomings has one good quality. The lion king tries to uphold the jungle law. All animals are allowed to make their noises and nobody can stop them or kill them just for being who they are. But there are many jackals like the sainiks who just attacked me, or the famous cow family, even in our jungle, who create trouble. But lion king does not say anything to them as well and tries to let the law takes it course. Then one day Arundhati got angry with so many things that she started talking against the lion king, against our jungle. She called lion king names, she used many big confusing words against our jungle. Even I was angry with her. But then I am a gadha after all, may not understand all that the smart hirani wanted to say.”

“And then it was this afternoon and I had to tell you a story. And I thought why not tell you about this”. “What happened next?” barkha demands. “Even I don’t know. The jungles are changing little ones. The lion king’s are not all powerful now. Even we gadhas have a say in many jungles. But some jungles are badly ruled and lion kings are put behind stone walls by jackals. The story of Taslima and Arundhati is not over yet. They are both in our jungle as I speak.” “Then why did you tell us this story”. “A story with no end, Gadha uncle is getting old”. Children always want an end to the story, mostly they want a perfect end. “There is no reason for why I told you this story. Maybe because I wanted to tell you that there is no such thing as a perfect jungle. Just as there is no perfect story. We have good jungles and bad jungles. It is all relative. And we all have a say, an opinion. But what I want you to remember is that before you pass a judgement on any jungle or even a story think about the alternative. What would you rather have? The jungle where Taslima lived or the jungle where Arundhati lived? There are always ways to improve but we improve by contributing, not only criticizing”

The jacks are already kicking each other. Few Jennies have turned their heads towards them. It wasn’t a story for the little ones. It wasn’t a story at all. “OK, I will tell a jaadu-pari story tomorrow”. Hainchoo hainchoo they shout in joy. They slowly ran hither and thither and I climb down the stairs to be a part of my jungle once again.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Vanishing Act

A friend’s girlfriend gifted him Haruki Murakami’s ‘The Elephant Vanishes’. What was she thinking? Maybe she did not mean to do ‘the act’ at the time. Maybe it was just a ‘good’ book being carefully selected for the guy of the moment. In any case, intentionally or not, planned or not, the vanishing act happened.

Personally, when it comes to ‘judging’ a book, when required to ‘comment’ on a book, I have got a very limited skill set. Qualifying a book as good or bad is hard task for me, providing a literary and critical review is still something that I can only do in my head. Whether the book is worth the time and effort of a person, in simple terms of yes or no, I can say with some certainty. But then again that will be my take on the book and generally the trend has been that there aren’t many takers of my takes (digressing to avoid the unavoidable thought that popped up just now and referring to the Supreme Court verdict – there will always be enough keepers for any ‘keep’ no matter whose ‘keep’, plus what about all the men who are kept? anyways…).

Coming back to books, let’s take, for example, Chetan Bhagat. He made himself ‘someone’ with five points. Infact got more than five points for the effort, which he deserved to an extent. So, I would say the book is worth the time and effort. Now, from there it all goes downhill (not that downhill is a bad direction all the time but for the Holy Ganges and Chetan Bhagat it seems to be the case). ‘One night’ was certainly not worth the night of effort I put. ‘3 mistakes of his life’ was my second mistake. However, the title of the second book seemed prophetic when I read his third mistake ‘2 states’. Did you notice these numbers in the titles of his books? I just did! Something to do with being an engineer? Maybe. In any case, what my ‘opinion’ on my senior’s oeuvre (to use the fancy word) would be – first book worth your time, other three – let them be his mistakes only.

And yet, to emphasise again, this would be my take. Your take, opinion, view, perspective, thoughts, whatever we may call that may be different.

But we are moving away from the vanishing act. Before Chetan takes another para (all my sympathies are with him in regards to the ‘3 Idiots’ fiasco) let me get back. The object here was not to discuss any particular author or a book, it was to look behind the object of gifting a book and the vanishing act that is not foreseen, forethought, foreplanned (if that is a word!), etc. etc.

I know a guy who gifted two books to this girl he saw, went around, was friends with for a while. Let’s just say that it was me. That way we can look at it more closely. It was to be their (our, I should say) first meet and there was quite a build-up to the meeting. Not knowing what to buy (for some reason I was sure that one needed to get a gift) I opted for a safe option - get her a book (it would be a gift as well as some sort of statement that I am into books, if you know what I mean). But picking a book was not easy. It can’t be the ‘Love Story’, too obvious and the poor girl dies as well. It can’t be a thriller – it’s a gift for a girl. It can’t be a classic – too much of propriety involved there. It can’t be Wodehouse- no propriety there. It can’t be ‘Gone with the wind’ or ‘A Suitable Boy’ – come on who gifts someone they want to say they like or love or something of the sorts, over a 1000pages of such small font!! So after racking my brains for a long time I decided that the book has to be one that I have not read. The ones that I have read will always have something against them. So, out of the few books that I could recognize and had not read ‘Love in the time of cholera’ stood out. Haven’t you seen Serendipity? And Garcia was supposedly a ‘good’ writer.

Big Mistake. Never ever gift a book if you haven’t read it. Plus, if you think about it, even in Serendipity the-girl-who-gets-the-guy is not the one who gifts this book to him, it is the-girl-who-does-not-get-the-guy who gifts that book. But we don’t really pay that much thought when the things are going alright. It’s afterwards that we sometimes focus on our blind spots. The last word of book is something that I should have seen. ‘Forever’ is a tough promise to keep.

After spending half an hour on the treadmill thinking about this whole gift-a-book thing I am still not sure what book can make an ideal gift. At least if one is not sure where that particular relation is heading. There are many harmless ‘good’ books around. I know for sure many girls give many a harmless sort of gifts to keep the advances in a check and also not giving the poor fella a firm negative. Maybe guys do something similar as well but I am not sure their minds are that developed yet.

The second gift (book that my friend gifted) was the kind of book that makes for quite a harmless gift. Infact it works as a proper gift even if it is a meeting gift or parting gift. The title was something like “In the midst of a winter”. Story of some young boys playing baseball and there was a lot of snow involved in the story. I have long forgotten the story. But this was a book I had read before. It was a book about keeping faith. Now that is the kind of theme that’s OK. But how we can say that we want a harmless gift at the time, it’s the benefit of hindsight that isn’t such-much benefit after all.

Some library went bankrupt across the seas in some country. They auctioned the books. One container full of the books found its way on a ship bound for India. At the auction in Bombay a bookstore from Pune got the container load and these books were found one day on a Pune roadside. I remember three books that I bought (there may have been more). One of these was “In the midst of a winter”. Where is it now? Somewhere ‘in the midst of a winter’!

I read “Love in the Time of Cholera” long after life had moved on in more than one way. I think The Elephant Vanishes would have been a much suitable gift.

I sit on the top of the hill and look down into the elephant house where they have chained the elephant of hope. Its keeper is present there next to it, reality they call the keeper. As I sit there I see strange happenings that the town will hear about in the morning but not know how it happened. The thing that I will not share with anyone, afraid I won’t be believed. Till of course I find a reason to do so (maybe write a story about it). The elephant of hope is tied with a steel chain to the concrete post (as usual). Reality the keeper brings water for hope, puts some leaves on its side, the last rituals before its time to rest for the day. But as the elephant of hope drinks the water ‘the thing’ starts happening. I was thinking about her for some reason when I am brought out of the trance with what is happening down in the elephant house to hope. As if in a continuation of my thoughts of her, the elephant of hope starts diminishing in size. As hope shrinks the keeper of reality stands there adjusting the leaves as if nothing is out of the ordinary. And then it is done. Only the reality and the chain that had held hope was all that remained.

It was the vanishing act I could tell no one about.

PS: The Elephant Vanishes is a ‘good’ book and worth one’s time (in my opinion).

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Turkmenistan

An early morning flight more often than not implies a round-about mid-night wake-up alarm. And the company driver was stricter than one would find usually and deposited me at the airport at 2:30 for a 4:30 flight when in this airport a 4:00am check-in would have been well ahead of time. Most likely they fly a single digit number of flights from this airport in a whole day. As was the case I along with two other company employees found myself sitting in departure area with plenty of time to spare. I still had few chapters of David Copperfield on the other side of the bookmark and I was happy to busy myself while the two companions talked about the fishing gear they had purchased and were carrying with them on way to their respective homes.

It was a pleasant surprise to hear the driver exclaim ‘David Copperfield’ as I took the book out of my bag and started reading during one of the trips from office to the hotel. He followed that with “very good tricks, you learning?” At least that sounded like a question to me and not to be found wanting, although I was still in the early stages of the book, and not knowing that this David Copperfield will not be doing any tricks, the kind my driver was talking about, I smiled and just nodded. Another person in the office happened to know the author and commented at David Copperfield being very famous book of Charles Dickens. I was getting a little impressed with the local knowledge of Charles Dickens. Very unexpected for Ashgabat. Maybe it was just that the drivers had never seen a Sardar/Sikh before but they all wanted to make some conversation. Only problem was their limited vocabulary of English and my complete and utter ignorance of any of the languages they could speak. The book in my hands offered a one-two line conversation which kept them happy and which I did not mind. Maybe they all talked about this strange looking guy and also discussed the book as it was strange the way they all talked about it. But then I had it. This third guy made me suspicious that it was not the same David Copperfield they were talking about. “David Copperfield, very famous”. And that’s when I had to take help of the life-saving google and the mystery was solved.

It has been nearly three months since the last line on this article was written. The trip to Dubai seemed to have pushed the Turkmenistan entry really back in the pile of back-log. The article was to talk about “the crazy girl” and to some extent about the wanderlust of Punjabis. Yet, I only managed to get myself to the departure lounge and solve the mystery of David Copperfield. Any-what-how-ever, it is time.

It was a surprisingly cheap flight (USD19.00) from Ashgabat to some town close to Balkanabat. The three-months-delay side-effects. The names have slipped out of the, by nature very erratic, memory. Still. It was a two hour long flight. Decent planes. Alright service. Apparently a part of the propaganda of us being a very developed country was to allow the poor to fly. They could make a return trip (equivalent of Delhi-Bombay trip) costing equivalent of six kg of apples!!! Apparently, who need good food when the flights are subsidized? Anyways, after the flight the ride to Balkanabat was another two hours and one hardly crosses a living thing the whole way. It may be called a beautiful landscape if it was not so empty or maybe it was somewhat beautiful because it was so empty.

We reached Balkanabat and were soon close to the final destination, Schlumberger base (office, workshop, camp all in one enclosed area). I was in the state of being in and out of sleep, neither here nor there, by the time we reached close to the base. The driver made a sound which I heard as “the crazy girl”. I thought I saw a girl standing on the right side of the road. But, I was not very alert and after a few hundred yards or so we turned right and entered the company base.

It is an excellent place considering the out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere location. The camp (or living) area is very well maintained and a lot of water is wasted every morning and evening to keep the place green (the general landscape lacks the green element as well). Room, canteen, office, workshop, office, more workshop, more canteen, more room, some office again and on and on. Few days went by before I realized that I have not stepped out of the base. And another few days went by before I actually went out. In any case, one evening I did step out of the base.

The base is right next to the railway lines and as one steps out the railway station is visible about a mile straight ahead. It has a very Indian rural railway station look. Only the yellow signboard with station name seemed missing. And then there were cows crossing the lines, just to add to that feeling of recognition. So after giving a fair share of attention to the railway station and the cows and the surroundings in general I walked ahead and turned left. The company base is one side of the city. Rest of the city was now straight ahead and was flanked by a hill on the other side. Zoom to the max and click. One just can’t help being a tourist.

As I walked towards that mountain I passed many heaps of discarded metal, concrete and all sorts. Place looked like a junk yard. There were dogs on the road. Dogs with a GRRRRRR in their throats and sufficiently large bodies to make you look behind left or right every now and then. A guy sitting next to a door waved acknowledgement. I nod and move on. People here in this part have not seen many sardars. Their reactions vary from normal to highly abnormal. Girls giggle, sometime even laugh, boys try to keep a straight face but find it difficult and can’t help nudging their friends to catch a look of the specimen. Children start pointing at the funny fellow. The best or rather the worst has been a little boy of seven or eight turning back, finding a very different face in front of him, shrieked and ran to his mother. I try to keep a straight face through all but mostly I can’t help smiling, though many times this annoys me as well.

As I walked I realized that on the left side of the road, some distance ahead, there stood a girl. Slim, average height, long hair and with a very long chain in her hands which she was swinging around in circles. Coming nearer one could see that she was talking and being alone it meant she must be talking to herself. ‘The crazy girl’ I suddenly remembered. I tried not to look/stare in her direction and kept walking straight ahead. At the first round about I looked in all directions, found the roads to be too long to be conquered, and turned back. As I turned back I noticed the girl again. She had few dogs around her. Remembering the GRRRR I was a little apprehensive for the girl. But she seemed not to mind the dogs. They all looked quite peaceful near her. A little puppy was limping towards her. She (for some reason) took a break from the chain swinging and saw the puppy limp towards her. She walked forward and picked the puppy and went and sat on the roadside. After a minute or so, she let the puppy go, got up walked back to her place and started talking to herself and swinging the chain. I kept moving straight ahead and passed her. As I crossed the group of dogs I realized that little one that was limping was not limping anymore.

I came out of the base in the evenings once or twice again and the girl was there. From a distance I could see that her company of dogs was always around. On the day I left for Ashgabat we left early in the morning. She was not there. The dogs were all sitting here and there sleeping, tails tucked in, drooling tongues, GRRRR in their throats.

And after few days, an early morning I found myself sitting in the departure lounge of Ashgabat airport waiting for my flight to Baku reading David Copperfield with two other Schlumberger colleagues on their ways home discussing the fishing gear they had recently bought. It must have been 30 minutes or so since I started reading that I was asked a question in a language I least expected for the place I was at. Generally, they say that Punjabis are found everywhere. I have tested this hypothesis and found that to an extent it was true but not always. For example in Baku in nearly six months the only sardar I have seen is when I look into the mirror. Same was true for Turkmenistan. No sardars here as well (apart from me of course). Hardly any Indians for that matter. Baku, though, does boast of some Indians. In any case hearing, “beta koi pani di botal hai” at Ashgabat airport was a surprise and I looked up from my book and found a sardarji standing next to me. An old man, with hardly any black in the beard, wearing a kurta pyjama and a distant look in eyes. He was asking for a water bottle, an empty one to be precise. It was early morning and it was his time for the bowel movements and in his world they need water afterwards, toilet papers don’t suffice. It was quite a request.

In ‘Tales from Ferozeshah Bagh’, Rohinton Mistry, tells a tale of an Indian who goes to Canada. This particular Indian finds it hard to “take a dump” on the western style commodes. He can only do it squatting. This leads to a lot of embarrassing situations and in the end he decides that he can’t become westernized as he can’t do it the west way and packs up everything and decides to go back to India. on the flight back (most likely before the flight takes off) he eats something which causes some stomach trouble and the toilet of the airplane didn’t allow him enough space to squat and in the end he, one way or the other, succeeds in doing it the west way. But by that time he is already on his way home.

Why I mention this here? No reason in particular. And I did not think this when the gentleman asked me for the bottle.

I did have a water bottle but it wasn’t empty and I did not want to give him the drinking water I had carried along. Had he been somewhat younger I would have just rubbished the request. But here was an old man, truly Punjabi and desi by nature. Travelling to or from some part of world where he clearly did not belong. What were his reasons? I do not know maybe even he himself don’t know. Maybe, just because it was ‘the thing’ these days. Going to Kaneda, Jurman, Amrika. The wanderlust doesn’t leave space for reasons.

I told him to wait and went to the canteen in the lounge, asked them for an empty bottle and the lady there was kind enough to fish one out of the heap of bottles in rubbish bin. This I passed onto the gentleman and he was on his way to ‘relieve the pressure’ from his life. ‘Bahar jana’. That is what we say back home. For both the things, taking a dump and travelling out of our country.

I looked around and found that the sardarji was not alone. I noticed a group of over twenty Punjabis, men, women, boys, girls, sitting in a corner. Turbans, flowing beards, Punjabi suits, duppatas. To avoid the usual situation of having to make a conversation with my own type I busied myself with the book and did not look left right up or back till my flight was announced.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Five Years

This entry in gone by Dickenson-Austen era may have been titled with use of word vanity or pride or any other near synonym. But I will just let it refer to the very obvious of titles and try to hide (or maybe not) the self indulgence of the entry in the lines instead. I may not have written this entry had it not been for the small email on the group and that got me thinking on doing a slightly larger version of ‘the thing’ and in the process get back to blog world after a reasonably long gap. Anyhow.

So, it’s been five years since I joined the current company I work for/with/at. 17th Oct 2005 (seniority date as they call it). The probability of this event at that time (when I was in prime of my job hopping days-10 months with Tata and six months with EVS) on the likelihood scale was ‘highly unlikely’. But then stranger things have happened. When writing that little email the main two things that I mentioned were the resignation letter around end 2008 (which for various reasons didn’t achieve the goal it was meant to but achieved one or two other ends including stock options (yeah more money), a transfer, etc. etc.) and the experience of writing a resignation letter (having worked on the draft for three months although in the end it ended up as a one liner, no point being all nice and complicated when resigning I thought, after all the hard work on various drafts). That experience came in handy when Shyamala showed me her resignation letter and which I found out did not say what she wanted to. So, re-writing her resignation letter ensured she did get what she wanted (a transfer to India). Apart from that resignation letter mostly it’s been an alright-OK relationship, these five years have been.

But these five years have had many many other highlights and lowlights. Considering the fact that the company and the job was dream job for most of IITians during the days of job hunting I think landing this job was in itself a highlight.

Five years is a long period. This blog started almost with this job. The first entry was written while travelling from Bombay to Kakinada for the first time. And if one thinks about it I did manage to stick around a company long enough to get a business card. Five continents and 14 countries (I have kept a count), countless places (obviously I have not kept a count), and nearly through a second passport (no need to keep a count) means that the tag of the globe trotter has been partly earned (though how much of these places I have been to have I actually seen is a totally different question, a globe-trotter may not essentially be a globe-explorer).

Mind clogs up, it draws a confused blank. When one would think its five years that one has to talk about and there should be enough to write about. People can write novels on an hour’s happenings. But I guess it’s still a long time before I can bring out the happenings of last five years as a memory. It will be ‘finding’ a memory when sufficient time has elapsed. Right now there is just too much of Schlumberger in the last five years and that’s not a very good sign if I sit here on a Sunday and write about the ‘big blue’.

Though I have to be thankful to the ‘big blue’ for very many things. And the first is my first air journey. They had paid for Delhi-Bombay round trip for the interview. It’s a totally different thing that by now it appears that I have had enough of economy class. The novelty wears off and it wears off faster if you have sufficiently long legs (or the flights are long, don’t get me started on what happens if legs and flights both are long). Then there are the wonders. Atop Eiffel and the Great Wall. And the best of all the sea, the oceans. Working in the middle of the monster is a thing in itself. Many a sunsets and sunrises surrounded by the lashing waves, pure unadulterated joy. Million moons on the surface of waters. The whale jumping out of the waters to do whatever she wanted to right there in front of your eyes.

“But in spite of the passage of many years and long wandering, the pull of the home remains. No exile can escape the malady of his tribe, that consumption of the soul.” Nehru’s words bring the lense of perspective in focus, or rather takes any focus away. Every wanderer at the end of the day, month, year, season, wanderlust, turns back (or perishes in the hope of getting back). Walking down the streets of Perth and avoiding a street which is not well lit, hoping to find someone to talk in Hindi/Punjabi at the office, having to explain that only salads is not what vegetarians eat to every other inquisitive idiot, having to explain to all American junkies that baseball is not really comparable to cricket, and the Latin Americans can’t really believe that any game can take longer than 90 minutes, and among a list which includes many other ridiculous questions (oh really, the hair stops increasing in length after a while!!!), all the tiny things and details bring home the fact that ‘home’ is faraway. Yet these are momentary lapses and unsavoury indulgences in nostalgia.

Let’s try to conclude in a cheerful way. Of course one should never let out the fact that a person’s life, to use the too often used word (is it?), sucks. Actually, ended up taking a break here. It’s a serious business. Coming up with some eureka moments. Plus I don’t want to run around naked. Ah. Naked reminds me of something. After watching a game of baseball (the Drillers, Tulsa, Oklahoma) and then an hour or two at some bowling alley we headed towards the destination where most of the company trainees head during their first trip to Tulsa. A strip club. You have to agree that definitely cheers one up. That and a visit to the Hooters. So, we are in the queue to enter the club (for some reason I keep typing clud!!!), we as in the six students and our class instructor (a lady, but nothing scandalous as I found out later, these strip clubs are visited by equal numbers of both sexes). So, we were in the queue and when it was my turn they refused me entry (as I was wearing a ‘head scarf’ according to the security). Well it was nothing new in the USofA to be discriminated for one reason or the other. But this guy had a different reason. He explained that there are local gangs with the identification being the color of head scarves and they have had trouble in the past so no entry till the head is covered with a scarf. Now that’s a shame. Isn’t it? Having come so close to the Big (and some were really big as I found out later) American Dream. Although a bit (actually a lot) disappointed I put up a brave act and told the guys to go ahead and not change their plan because of me. But the treat was on our instructor and she would not let a ‘head scarf’ ‘screw’ up the plans. One of the guys in the group had a baseball cap and she somehow convinced the security manager that as long as I keep the baseball cap on I was OK. Finally, I could live those few hours of my great American dream (though with a baseball cap on).

Having read Tolkien one just can’t help but quote the master every now and then. Here is hoping that he was right when he said ‘Not all who wander are lost’.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Talking Letters - 3

Baki/Baku,

It’s been a while we had a chat. Been rather inconsistent with writing. I have my reasons (excuses).

Few weeks ago the company magazine editor (for the Geomarket) sent an email asking for articles. They generally prefer few pictures with write ups and among their favourites is group of company employees going out and doing something not related to work. So wrote on the trip to Gobustan (plus few pictures). I am sure they will put it in the magazine unlike ‘the pipe story’ that must have been rather depressing. By the way, it is not all true. Had to change what happened with Tom to avoid safety guys coming after us. Poor fella actually broke through the mud volcano’s wall and was going down but for the two people standing on either side. According to him 'for an instant it felt bottomless'. That’s that.

The other article on time curve, well, it is rather about how you have been shot at various stages over last five months. But of course I did play with the photo sequence. The sequence as stated in the article differs from sequence the photos were shot. I just had the photos and made up the story. The rearranging of the photos doesn’t take the theme away. Still time will curve forward.

What I was thinking was that time may travel forward but the records of what happened in bygone times is how we know about past. And history as known to us is what the people recording those events chose to record. So time isn’t all powerful. We can record time upside down and all mixed up. But how does it matter to time how it is recorded, it doesn’t need to show off. Must be tired of itself anyway.

Looks like me and you are not meant to bear each other for a long period. Your govt. has refused the work permit two times and is sitting on third application. So, I will be travelling around for next few months. Turkmenistan, Dubai. Heard Turkmens are no better either. Last two Indians from my company were refused visa, so let’s keep the fingers crossed. This was partly the reason why we decided to make a trip to Gobustan. Many from the group are in line of being refused their work permit, so making the most of whatever time people have here.

Otherwise it’s usual. Few Indians from Bombay office are here temporarily. First time in five months had a meal with someone at home. Usually it is me and NDTV 24X7 newsreaders (rather sensation and gossip creators, but apparently they are better of the entire lot when it comes to news!!).

Have started collecting photos of all the statues you have. There are heaps of these, I guess Russians (and now Azeris) like building statues of people, unlike Mayawati it is only one statue per person (but will have to dig the dirt on all the personalities so may leave that).

Let’s see if I last here few more months.
Omar Bouquet

Gobustan - Petroglyphs and Mud Volcanoes

It was over a casual conversation while sipping a drink at Fashion Café (Baku city center) that plans were made for a weekend trip to mud volcanoes. That was Sunday and I had forgotten about it till Nazli’s email on Wednesday afternoon asking for confirmation of numbers who will be joining for the trip. She had made a plan, organised a vehicle with the help of driving coordinator and the entire itinerary was well laid out in the email for the trip to Gobustan mud volcanoes. Of all the things, initiative for having fun is what most of us usually lack, on this occasion Nazli did not. I added my bit of idea of visiting the ancient rock paintings and she graciously added that to the plan and also found out that these are called petroglyphs (as her next email indicated).

Talking of initiative and energy, internet was well researched and about fifteen page handout was prepared for people to read and educate themselves. All Nazli. Well since Nazli did went all the way to take this trouble it was only fair I (and I hope others as well) should read it. Here is what I would have otherwise not known:
  • Azerbaijan and its Caspian coastline are home to nearly 400 mud volcanoes, more than half the total throughout the continents.
  • Mud volcanoes have a direct relationship with the presence of oil and gas fields.
  • A drilling accident offshore of Brunei in 1979 caused a mud volcano which took 20 relief wells and nearly 30 years to stop the eruption.
  • Gobustan rock art cultural landscape has more than 600,000 rock paintings, on average dating back 5,000-20,000 years (inscribed as a world heritage site in 2007).
  • These petroglyphs (rock paintings) were discovered by accident in 1930s by workers of a stone quarry.
Saturday came and with the last minute rush to get few water bottles from the canteen we were on the way, only five minutes behind Nazli’s schedule. The vehicle which has been organised for the trip was surprisingly better than the usual one’s we travel in daily to and fro from the base. Comfortable seats and seat belts that actually worked. Buckled up and off we went south of Baku towards Gobustan/Qobustan.

The highway runs parallel to Caspian for most part of the journey. I was on the other side of the vehicle and had a rail track running parallel to the road. We crossed many out-of-use carriages but never crossed a train on the way. Development or rather the developed world is slowly catching up on this side of Baku. There is an assortment of factories along the road. But for most part it seems a quiet landscape.

As we neared Gobustan driver had a chat with Nazli and decided that it was better if we see the petroglyphs first and then go to mud volcanoes. This saves some time on road seems to be the argument. We were glad that Nazli was along as none of other eight could speak the language. So off we went to petroglyphs. Few very rusty steel poles and not-so-very threatening fence and a lot of sheep welcomed us at the gates (supposedly as there wasn’t any real gate there) of the 4400 acre world heritage site and another five minutes of drive up the hills and we were there. Water bottles, check; cameras, check; we were off to watch history when suddenly the table under a rock caught attention and a group photo had to taken. Tripod out and two different cameras shot the moment. With nine pair of legs it is hard to maintain a single direction so it was after a little while that we managed to make our way to the MUSEUM. The lady made us pay three manat each and took two manat for every camera. The receipts for the two manats for cameras were never issued. The museum literally ended before it even started. Probably, they can do a better job at a world heritage site.

Soon we were climbing the rocks to find the ancient civilisation for ourselves (museum had not been much help). Over next 30 minutes or so we did find it along with many other things. The rock paintings included few animals, boats, a pregnant woman (more like a bunny!!) and assortment of various other shapes and sizes. I am no archaeologist and few minutes of rock staring were enough for me. The musical rocks (rocks used as musical instruments!!) were interesting and did produce some good musical sounds. Soon one by one we retired from petroglyph watching to generally stone and cliff and distant sea watching. Ionut in the meantime had found a group of 15 odd touring girls and was busy getting himself captured in their cameras. Making his own bit of history there I suppose.

Found a Toot there and tasted few little fruits straight of the branches. Nathan didn’t find these good but Emily did. And then we saw the desert rose. A lone shoot of a rose in the middle of lot of dead dry grass and three pink roses. But this was not all too encouraging to ensure that we stayed a bit longer. And we were on way to the next destination on time.

After a bumpy ride on the mud track the driver let us out and pointed upwards towards a track. The mud volcanoes were close and we could all smell the petroleum in the air. The short climb was soon over and we all beheld little cones mushrooming out on a little plateau. They were not much of volcanoes to be frank. We could walk right up to the volcanoes and in fact stand over some. To put in Nazli’s words these were “Cute”. And cute they were. Ranging from few inches to few feet in diameter at their mouths and from 5-10 meter height these mud volcanoes are possibly the friendliest type. They were burping there occasional gas burps, plump, plump, some small, some large enough to be caught on cameras. The place did revive some spirit with the feeling of a little adventure being accomplished.

We could actually make the volcanoes burp more by exerting a little pressure on the sides. In fact one actually stands on the dry exterior with the muddy interior still in fluid shape and that’s how the little pushes lead to more burps. There was a lot of slippery exterior as the mud overflowed to the sides. Slipping on these was easy and one had to be a little careful.

There was a little hill some distance away and soon Kennedy and I were on our way to that little lonely hill while others busied themselves with taking the pictures of little cute volcanoes. This was possibly the largest among the mud volcanoes at this place. Soon Tom joined us. The place was quiet and a lovely breeze was coming from the sea. Sun was out and it all made for a lovely day. Good time to be out.

Suddenly, the place where Tom was standing gave way or so we thought. He had slipped on mud. After the initial shock me and Kennedy (incidentally standing on either side of tom) grabbed his arms and pulled him up. After the initial little shock the laughter started. Finally the adventure that had been missing was here. Tom’s hand and one leg were covered with volcanic mud and so was his camera. According to him an attempt to capture the different patterns of the mud lead him what would eventually be a slip. Soon the others arrived and each had their share of laughter as did Tom. There was sufficient recreation of the event and plenty of the pictures taken of the mud covered Tom and recently christened mud volcano in Gobustan, Mt. Tom.

For 15 manat per head the trip was well worth it and thanks to Nazli’s efforts well organized. And that was that. A relatively short trip to Gobustan but fun nevertheless, especially at the expense of Tom. Driver was kind enough to let him in the vehicle in the mud covered condition. A towel was provided for him to put on the seat. And off we started the return journey.

The highway is well laid and the vehicle is moving on comfortably back to where the trip started. We just had some snacks in form of few Doritos and M&Ms each drowned down by water all kindly provided by Nazli. On hungry stomachs this feel like a delicacy and with tired legs and bodies the group slowly starts to doze off. After a while Kennedy looks around and finds most of the heads rolling onto sides. He smiles and closes his eyes. The Caspian looks clean here and an occasional group of swimmers can be seen on the uninterrupted length of the sea shore. Caspian almost looks beautiful. The light music on iPod, a steady speed of the vehicle on a smooth highway, the magnificence of Caspian and the tiredness in the legs and I also join the club of happily dozing heads shortly.

Three points on a time curve

It is early February and after looking around ten apartments in two days, apartment number 3 on the list is picked as a suitable abode for the near future. As usually happens when one moves into an apartment which has a view of the sea, you take out your camera and capture few moments. Freeze that particular second as it ticks by. The window of the bedroom is opened, the sea captured and as an afterthought I click the street below. Window closed and seconds tick by.
If someone asks me the postal address of the place where I live, I will not be able to tell from memory. In fact I won’t be able to tell the flat number I live in. It is not written at the house entrance and the one time I read the flat number and the address was in the SMS which Yana sent me after I had moved in and which I looked at only once while filling in a checklist for the apartment some time ago. I know it’s on seventh floor or rather floor number 7, you step out, turn right and the first door on left hand side. That’s the door the key which I have works in. The building is one of the four blue buildings on ‘sixth parallel’ as I learned after a little struggle with the taxi drivers. Natik helped me out with the parallel concept. That means now I know how to get to the place I have my lodgings at and since no post is ever coming my way here I may live next three four years, or whatever time I have to, here without the need to look at the address of the place.
The time moves on, as it has a bad habit of doing, and one day a snow-storm arrived, rather unannounced. The window was opened once again, this time to see the snow and the snow storm. First snow storm and first real-snow for me. Otherwise, first snow was a couple of weeks ago when I was still in the staff house. It was in Baku as well but it was just a little snow and not really as exciting as this big storm. And again the camera came out to click the city covered in white. And as an afterthought again I clicked the street corner down below. The window is closed and the time moves by.
From the blue buildings to ‘Mothercare’ it is about a 10-15 minutes walk. 15 if I start well ahead of time and can afford a royal stroll. I make it in 10 if required. The bus drivers have by now got used to my just-in-time approach and usually cut me a few seconds slack. Though one time one of them did say something in Azeri pointing at his watch and I pretended it was so hard to understand what he was saying and just smiled a guilty little smile and buckled up for the ride to the office. Buckled up, and sometimes eyes closed, till 10 Salyan Highway.

On the walk from the blue buildings to Mothercare I have made few unspoken-to-acquaintances. Taxi drivers waiting for their respective passengers at the corner next to blue buildings, seven in the morning every day. The cleaning ladies on the street with their scarves saving them from the dust which they freely distribute to one and all who dare to cross by, I have to make a run when I cross. The meat shop guys getting ready to execute various bulls and lambs in the way that would make the kill suitable to eat for the people with faith (or without). The three old ladies walking their leisurely walk in the opposite direction (lately there have been only two). One young lady walking her rapid quick pace, the old man just finishing his cup of tea and getting ready to open his shop (I have now started nodding a greeting to him), and various other not so mobile acquaintances including trees, houses, streets and roads. Ten to fifteen minutes of the morning, everyday.

Most of the beings (living and not so living) age in one simple straight line with time. Trees do get old but they have a habit of making it seem different. They are on the trail of time and on journey to death, but they have a habit to grow young and old every year in cycles. Grey, dark, green, gold. Naked, covered (in green and in white of snow if the nature wants so). Full of bounty, empty and dry as desert. They have their way of beating the straight line of time. Or maybe time has put them in this curve of going in circles while moving on a straight line.
It is nearly five months since I moved into this home. Every now and then the window has been opened again. To let the Sun in. To let the air in. Once, uninvited, few flies came in as well which I had to, late at night, chase to stop all the ‘peeennnpeeennn’ in the room. The window opens more often on Sundays and so it was that the knob was turned today and after soaking in the view and taking few deep breaths of what I will have to say was ‘fresh air’ I looked down towards the street. And for the first time I took out the camera to specifically shoot the corner of the street.

They say if you have two points you can draw a straight line. But time hardly travels in straight line and even though today I captured the third point, only time knows if this point will find a place on this particular straight line.

Monday, May 03, 2010

A Magical Realm

People don’t really get out of the place with magical wands in their hands and spells on their lips, they are not really wizards by the time they pass out, neither the place is reached by entering into a quarter of a platform but the place is no less magical than the Hogwarts, if a comparison can be made. One thing which can’t be helped but said is that the people who go in are special just like they are when they are selected for Hogwarts but unlike most leaving Hogwarts the souls that leave this realm are of questionable variety. Yet it’s a place worth all its perils.

There must be dark arts and magic at work there. Habshi is sure of that now. For how else can he not see the darkness that day. Then again a ten year old has not the best defense against the dark arts.

Getting down at DC chowk they hailed a rickshaw. It was not much of a chowk. But in that city that was best available option for a chowk so they called it one and the DC lived close by, hence DC chowk. Mother haggled with a rickshawalah and got the price to whatever was good enough to be paid in 1991. As the rickshaw pulled away from the chowk towards the pink-walled-silver-gate realm, a magical realm Habshi thinks now, of Sainik School Kapurthala, the sounds of the world faded. Calm descended onto the world. Habshi was too young to know about the calms before the storms, of raising guard against the unknown charms, of staying alert to the stabs at the heart and he let the fascination take him and sweep him.

That gate for sure was possessed, the gate and the extension of it towards left side as the rickshaw approached from the DC chowk, the extension facing the thandi sadak. It wasn’t thandi enough to give you a chill. It was thandi if you knew how the magic worked. Habshi only ten and too young to understand and his mother too eager to meet her elder one hardly paying any heed to the magic around. The food was getting cold and to linger too long near the thandi sadak didn’t seem such a good idea. The rickshawalah was paid his due at the gate and they pushed forward.

Habshi could not take his eyes from all the heads that were jammed in the grills of the gate and the arms that slowly raised themselves to point at the regular flow of rickshaws coming towards the gate. The arms would point, some of those will withdraw back and the body that particular arm belonged to will run to the gate with extended arms to hug and be hugged. And the space that was created in the grills was momentary before another head got there and before another set of arms showed. The gate and its extension of grills were alive.

Once inside the silence, the magic, took over. Habshi (who was not yet christened with the name) walked as in a trance. The first look on the palace stabbed deep inside and that’s what stayed with him. Amid the spreading of the chaddar, all the talk on all the things and, all the devouring of the food the palace stayed in front of eyes. The magic was everywhere to be seen. It was a place full of people, hundreds of them and yet it was quite. All the talk ended in nothing. In the presence or rather the absence of that magical being the hubble-bubble of life never fell on ears. And then it was time to leave. The parent’s day was over. Rubbish thrown away, the panjiris and morabbas secreted away to hostels, twenty-thirty rupees transferred from mother’s hands into the pockets of brother, the chaddar folded back and slowly but surely Habshi and his mother stepped out of that magical realm.

That is the nature of this beast. When it hunts it transforms into a beauty and attracts its preys. Then the particular prey that it feels is most suited for the kill is selected. Sometimes it captures a herd. Like an artist the beast works on the captives for years. Some it breaks and some it makes. It can break them in an instant or take years. It teases them and sometimes let them make or break themselves. The captives see the deep fall in front but turn a blind eye and instead stare at the beautiful peaks and keep marching. As is the nature of this beast, it lets some fall and it lets some climb.

The journey back home was over in a jiffy. He reached home. The feeling of being stretched to another place took over and throwing away whatever was close by Habshi declared he will only study in the school with the palace and nowhere else. Now he can say it was the dark arts at work in that magical realm that spoke through him. He was among those chosen to be a prey, to tread the paths of glory ridden illusion of peaks and reality of the pest infested valleys.

And rest as they say is history. Rest is seven years, a number 3969, a nickname Habshi, three houses. Rest as they say are memories. You can make them as grand, romaticise and tell tales of whatever length and caliber but Habshi knows how many times and how close he came to a steep fall. In the end the beast let him be, he had swallowed him but not finding the meat to its taste spat him out. Habshi was a wiser man once he stood up on his feet after that exit. Thandi sadak, as he walked that day towards the DC chowk, was as chilling as reality generally is. Seven years of enchantment were over.

Jis Lahore Nahi Vekhya

Lunch hour at Perth office is a time for a short walk along Hay Street and a choice of various food types from among the hundreds of tiny, not-so-tiny and not-tiny-at-all places. I usually hunt for Indian, vegetarian game. Maya Masala downstairs has been shut down (their food was not good anyways), Kebabs and NYC have been visited over the week, so it was time for a stroll down the street towards other veg-game places. The Great Indian Curries (no worries!!) was closed even before I left Perth eight months ago. There are various other Indian places on the street close by but those can be classified under high-end-game areas, so it was a walk to the Hay St Mall food court, to Thali.

Walking down the street I made my usual one minute stop at the Elizabeth’s second hand bookshop. A table outside the door carries two dollars and 4.95 dollars collection. It used to be one dollar and two dollars a year ago. This, to me, is the only place with affordable books in Perth. If your mind works with a conversion to Indian rupees calculator whenever you buy something, you can’t buy a 30-40 dollar book which it costs here on average. And mine works just like that. No luck today with the books and I move on.

Perth is one of the cities, an example of the now growing trend, where Chinese outnumber Indians. Chinese are competing Indians in the global race of ruling the foreign cities. Perth it seems has over a million of them infact if your nose works fine you will smell the Chinese all around, I mean the food. Lots of Chinese places and their usual variants which I as a general rule stay away from, they don’t believe in veg-game it seems. There is no shortage of junk food here in Perth as well. The McDonalds and KFCs along with their many brothers and sisters (Red Roosters, Hungary Jacks, Burger Kings, and various other names that one doesn’t care to remember) rule the streets. On a thought I decide it’s been a long time since I had had some junk-game and to get some today. Baku hardly affords such options so I steer myself to the junk section of the jungle and go looking for some junk-veg-game. One of the places has a veg burger.

The line at the junk-game-places is usually longer than the others. I get in one. To me it is such an easy place to order anything. All you have to say is this-combo-please or that-combo-please, yet all these Chinese folk in front can make it a special affair. I think on principal they can’t do anything without making it an occasion. After all the Chinese people are satisfied with what they want it’s my turn. I say one veg combo, medium, no ice (please) and ‘Navi’ relays the order into microphone and I let the next person place his order (guess he was Chinese as well). Amid my attention on all the Chinese around and following Navi’s movements on the other side of the counter I forget to get the receipt (only remember it when I am back inside the office), so these ten dollars which I am entitled to claim from company will have to be made up in some Indian way, some sacrifice observing hindi-chini kinship.

One thing that very rarely happens in this place is someone asking for a veg burger or at least that’s what I think after nearly ten minutes when I am still waiting and by now getting tired of staring at Navi. Even she is restless by a sardar staring at her (so shamelessly I must add). I am trying to make out the name. It could be Navdeep or Navpreet or Navleen or Navjot or any of the other Nav+++’s. But it definitely is a Punjabi name. When finally a veg burger is ready the guy on next counter picks that up and hands to the only other veg-game-hunter around who incidentally has just placed his order. Navi nearly has a heart attack and tells the fella in no mean terms that I have been waiting (and staring at her) for ten minutes. The other guy is Punjabi as well and Navi’s message in Punjabi confirms my assumption in the guess-a-name game. Maybe it’s just Navi. But Navi Kaur sounds funny. Anyways the next burger makes an appearance much quicker and with an apologetic smile (and a thank God countenance) Navi hands me the meal and I find myself a place.

“Main Hindi bol lete hoon” someone shouts in the background. I turn my head around to see a sardarji sitting with a girl. It was the girl who was speaking, a little too loudly. After a short interval she continues “old movies are good. I like. I like Hindi movies. Dilip Kumar, Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachan.” “Meena Kumari” sardarji adds. “Yes, my mom also likes Dilip Kumar, Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachan, Meena Kumari.” Then it is quite for a while. Now the ears are all trained onto the direction of conversation, waiting for the next act. She says something on Punjabi that wasn’t very audible but it gets sardarji started. “Very proud of our people, very proud of our culture, very proud of our lands, very proud of our language, very proud of our religion, very proud of our country”. There must have been few more very prouds and some repetitions as well. Finally, he takes a breather. But there he is back again, “Manmohan Singh, you know? Prime Minister is a Sikh as well.” There are few lines which he says in a little lower volume which are more on the lines of “Manmohan Singh is the best economist ever”. Then he rests his case.

There was a long gap after that, which I used for a good effect to bite through the pile of chips and burger. After a while I had to turn my head to check if my lunch time story was still around. They were. The girl was writing something on paper. A little while later the voices were back in action. “Aap bolenge wo jis Punjab nahi dekheya…” A pause and then she remembered it, “jis Punjab nahi dekheya wo paida nahi hua. In Punjabi, please say it”. The gentleman was happy, it seems, to have aroused some Punjabi spirit. He obliged. “Jis Punjab nahi vekheya oh jameyah nahi”.

It was with few friends in Bombay that I went to see this play at Prithvi. The pimary object was to visit Prithvi, sit there for a while and if possible catch a play. We were on time for the play and in luck with the tickets so watched which I could surely say was a very good performance. The story of a women left behind in Lahore in a huge ancestral haveli during partition, found there by the new owners after they move in, the old lady adamant on staying there, slowly but surely loved and liked by the family and neighbours and mohalla, there were the usual hardcore fundamentalists villains but in the end, as in most of our tales, good always win over the evil. The play was well directed, acted and presented. Jis Lahore nahi vekhya, oh jameya nahi.

It’s time for the walk back to office. I throw the trash into bin. Sardarji is gone and the girl is also next to the trash bin. Some things can’t be helped and with me it’s more of a case very many times. I have to feed this urge of spreading the gyan. “I could not help but overhear your conversation. It’s not jis-Punjab-nahi-vekhya, it is jis-Lahore-nahi-vekhya, oh-jameya-nahi”. And suddenly it dawned on her and she goes, “Ohh yes, now I remember it”. I am not sure of the origins of the proverb but have a feeling that it talks of the glory days of Lahore (and Punjab). It refers to Lahore when it was the center of the true Punjab, the land of five rivers when it had five flowing through it. So I did defend the Sardarji by putting forward the Punjab and Lahore case. And then I was on my way.

As I stepped out I heard the lady call “You from Lahore?” I let her catch up and replied, “No the other side of the border, from Punjab in India”. Apparently she wants to clear few things and as we walk to the crossing she goes on, “I lived in Lahore for ten years when I was young and just now I remembered where I picked up this saying.” I again apologised for butting in but told her that she was shouting in there in her attempt to speak Hindi and I could not help but overhear. “The old man had hearing problem” she said, “that’s why I had to shout plus I was writing on paper as well to talk to him”. So that explains both the shouting and the occasional silences.

It was red lights at the crossing. She didn’t look Indian and her English was anything but Australian and she didn’t seem Australian either. “Where are you from?” “Afghanistan”. The pedestrian lights went green and with the flow of humans I turned right as she turned left.

Paranormal Activity

If I wasn’t me, if it wasn’t the belief that I am who I am, if it wasn’t the physical presence of me in the mirror, a grown up almost thirty year old (or young if you are older, what can I say) I could very well.. well what can I say... what craziness!! A normal evening with a plenty of paranormal activity.

The airport roof has suddenly developed a leak and is pouring drops of water at a rapid pace onto the plastic container, hurriedly found by a janitor, tuptuptuptuptup. It is only a minor addition to the sounds my hyper sensitive ears are suddenly catching out of nowhere since last night. Things unheard unnoticed before, are ringing bells and making me jump all over.

After delaying as much as possible and making the office hours as long as I could, it being a Friday evening and people in Perth are hardly found in office after 4:30, even Alan helped kill an hour by suggesting some socialising in the bar downstairs and the racket that the Aussie bars make drowned in its maddening roar the sounds the ears were picking up and after the inevitable could be delayed no longer I was back in the hotel room around 1930hrs.

I shut the door and hesitated a little before putting on the safety chain. Bulb on dining table was on. It usually isn’t. The AC was alive and breathing. Not the regular unnoticed prrrrrrrrrwhrrrrrrrrrr in the background it was a hurtful moan of someone in pain. Steps upstairs, right above where I was standing. The steps moved onto the roof of the bedroom as I entered mine. I put in some clothes in the washing machine and gave it a life, just to drown the sounds of the room. For a while it helped. Time to put the pot on the heater and enjoy a cup of tea. Within few minutes the sounds from washing machine started calling me. Peeeeeeeeeeeeeennnnnnnnnnnnn whistles someone outside the door in the alleyway. The boiling water hissed at me. I hurriedly added sugar and tea leaves to calm its hunger. Switched on the exhaust in the toilet to add another sound to drown the existing sounds, switched on the laptop and played, of all songs, a Himesh Reshamiya song. All an attempt to ensure the individual sounds lose their individuality and let the heart beat get back to normal. Even it, the heart, was beginning to have a sound of its own.

For a while the noise coming out of the nose of the singer helped divert the attention from the other sounds. Gulped down a cup of tea in relative peace (not silence) and afterwards did the dishes. The water swirling and finding its way to the centre of the wash basin roars, burps air at me. Amid the racket of washing machine, toilet exhaust, songs on laptop, an episode of Two and a half men on TV, I pack up. Packing is followed by eating the leftover meal from yesterday. No plans of cooking tonight. And suddenly I find myself out of all the chores to divert my attention. A drop of sweat travels down the spine and I jump to face whatever has come. It is time to bring back some normalcy.

I pick up a book and walk out of the room. A shadow walks past the door as I open it. I close the door behind me hurriedly and walk to the elevator. Stand in front of the elevators for a while before realising I am yet to hit the button. And when eventually the elevator doors open and swallow me the elevator stands still. Refusing to travel down, to ground floor, to a place where there are others, human and normal. Then I notice that none of the buttons on the elevator brains is glowing. I press G and it moves down. The doors of the elevator open to the reception and a warm breath of air greets me with the normal sounds of fellow human beings. I crash onto the lobby sofa. There are three stories left in the book. The bookmark takes me to “Cat Within”. The story has its own paranormal activity, I remember from the TV episode. I skip it and read the last two.

It all started when Sanya copied few movies onto my hard drive. Have watched few over the last week. On Wednesday evening started watching Paranormal Activity. Had to leave it by the time it reaches half way mark and watched some animation movie to calm the nerves and sleep. Planned to finish Paranormal Activity next day evening. Next day, due to some task or the other in the office the daylight disappears by the time I get back. Watched the movie anyways. By the time I am done with the movie paranormal activities had already started in my hotel room.
All these normal routine sounds that have been ignored by the ears till date start reaching my hearing system, the drums are over charged with the excitement. Washing face becomes a challenge. I am standing at an angle to the washbasin, not ready to present my back to the unknown. The angle helps watching out for whoever is about to strike. Didn’t bend my face over the basin, wash the face standing with head up and back straight, can’t risk the blow coming from above either. Was it the lights flickering on and off or me just covering my eyes with towel while drying the face?

Alone in a hotel room, with not much to occupy the thoughts, watching this movie was not such a good idea. In a company it may have been fun, but all alone a person gets too involved with the characters of a book, if well written, or a movie, if well made. And this one is for sure made very well.

Finished watching the movie around eleven in the night, tried to sleep, tossed and turned and listened and felt all the paranormal activity in my room, the sleep never came. The spirits or demons of the movie have suddenly entered this hotel room. When sleep deserts me for more than an hour, I switch on the light and make a phone call home (have to use the time somehow and it’s a good diversion). That kills about fifteen minutes. Another attempt at sleep ends with another phone call, this time accounting for another hour. Another attempt, no sleep and I just give up. Switch on the light and let the paranormal be. Sometimes soon after the tiredness must have taken over as I wake up to my six o’clock alarm. And then I found myself in the office and the sounds of daily work in office have no paranormal ring to them.

Things are normal only till I get back to the hotel and step inside the room.

Finished the last two stories from the book. The watch tells me it will only be two hours wait at the airport so I decide to get a taxi a little early. Leo texts saying the flight is delayed by an hour. I know the fellow who didn’t let Micah get away when he had time is trying to keep me here. I am not falling for the trap and am off to airport an hour ahead of the planned two-hour-wait-at-airport schedule. Let’s hope the demons/ghosts and everything paranormal in this room finds a new place over the weekend I am in Sydney.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

That Moment

It is another of those evenings. It is dark outside, clouds hanging by since afternoon, just like that without blowing away and without pouring down, a drop here and a drop there, every other second, a calculated rate, maximising their lives the clouds hanging onto their passing existence. It was another of those days that comes and passes by, that came and went, unnoticed and without noticing.

It is a different bus, not the usual one with comfortable seats, but an old Merc mini that must have carried school children or may be still does. The seats are all cramped and the half an hour ride gives one all sort of aches. No power nap in these seats. The front seat is empty and before long I have pulled open the side door. I hop on the seat by the driver, the only seat where it is comfortable to stretch legs on this mini. Slam the door shut and put on the seat belt, the latter being a condition of employment all signed when joining Schlumberger. Pull-hop-slam-buckle up. Ready for a ride. Few minutes later it is 5:15 in the evening and the driver puts the wheels in motion.

Putting the head next to the window I let the tiredness drain into the metal. It’s comforting, the metal, the mini (with cramped uncomfortable seats at the back), the hold of the seat belt, the slow motion of the mini (still within the company speed limit of 15kmphr inside the premises boundaries, till it hits the highway), all is comforting, the untiring metal takes the tiredness away and sends weights across the eyelids, weights that bring in rest and calm. About 20 yards ahead on the right the cat lurks, next to the exit. A big black giant of a cat, restless in the evening, this evening, just by the corner. The driver hits the radio button gaining my attention for a fraction of the second. It is the usual. Some Russian/Azeri RJ with some English hop/pop/hip/pip/hap/rap. We are at the exit of the company complex. A right, down the narrow stretch for a hundred yards and another right will put us on the road to the city. The black cat is sitting next to the security post on the left. Driver nods and waves a farewell and good night to the security guard, who acknowledges with equivalent gestures and we are on our way. I am half asleep already.

Nearly ten minutes later, a nasty pothole in the road shakes me out of the lazy sleep. This driver has taken the route through the hills, the new highway, not the usual short way around the hills next to the sea. This route is longer but calmer on most days. The driver keeps the vehicle at company’s maximum allowed speed of 80 kmphr (he has signed few conditions of employment as well) but that is not good enough to keep the others on the road behind. Yet, he being the driver of this city (where all drivers are apparently crazy), he drives on left, next to the divider on the road, in the supposedly fast lane. Others have to do the honours and overtake as they wish. No one minds the trouble here. They all are giving their fair share of troubles to others anyways.

I am looking at the dog-shaped hillock in the middle of the lake. It is quite a fascinating piece of rock, carved by rains and seasons in an almost perfect face of a dog, a kind of old and seasoned looking mongrel. A side of the hillock lights up, shining with a natural brilliance.

The driver hits the breaks. He is virtually standing on the brakes. By the time I look straight the steel rods on the trailer in front are two-three meters away. Another second, maybe. Maybe less.

A toddler falling on a heater or a stove (the details are hazy). A fall from the roof top, a fractured bone and a dislocated shoulder (there was pain but he got up, slid into the bed and moaning groaning slept through the night). The cries that stopped the entire market when that desi hakeem tried to put the shoulder back in its socket. An attempt to get one point for Aravali ending up in a twisted ankle (on the other side of both the pole and the vault). Later the ball flying from the hockey stick of an angry forward of some team made it a twisted ankle and a hairline fracture.

A smooth first ride (to the city) on the scooter. A crash into a building on the way back from the city. Spoiled groceries, a crushed big-toe and a lost big-toe nail. A doctor pulling out the other big-toe nail years later (while talking to his wife who is digging into the eyes of some poor soul on the next operating table). Mem letting go of the scooter handle after being surprised by an unnoticed pothole in the streets of Moga. A motorcycle at 100+ on road from Mansa to Sanam, lost control but stayed on wheels. Mostly safe, always surviving.

Father, mother, sister, brother, few wanted relations, plenty unwanted, many friends, few good friends, some lost friends, some forgotten friends, a love on the sidewalks. A first school, a second school, an only college, a first job, a second job, the last job. Kabirpur, Sultanpur Lodhi, Kapurthala, Chandigarh, Delhi, Pune, Bombay, Perth, flight to Dubai and to Baku, a taxi ride to Salyan highway. A day spent like any other. An evening like any other. A pull-hop-slam-buckle up. The cat walking across from the right to left as gracefully as a tiger. The pothole and a bump. The rock in the lake such perfectly carved, the trailer overtakes the Merc mini like all the others. The sad and slow clouds bursting apart to give a blow to the mountains. That natural brilliance on the dog-rock. The bolt of lightning hitting up ahead on the roads. A push on a break in panic up ahead on the road. Many breaks behind it. The thunder following the bolt, drowning all sounds. The trailer in front out of motion that instant, a dead stop. The driver standing on the brakes of Merc mini. Steel rods two three meters ahead of the comfortable seat. A well fastened seat-belt. A second, maybe. Maybe less.

Does life flashes by in that last moment? Do we remember the pains and joys and loved ones and hated ones and forgive and ask for forgiveness in those last moments? Maybe, if we are lucky and go peacefully lying discarded by old age and neglect. Maybe. Maybe if you are on US1549 and plan your crash on Hudson maybe you have time and then you get a second chance, maybe you are among the blessed ones. Not many are blessed. Hollywood hardly happens in reality.

A pull-hop-slam-buckle up. Nap-bump-rock-bolt-thunder-brakes. He has about half a second to go. And half a second is only half a second long. His last words are lost in the noise of skidding tyres and crashing vehicles and breaking glass and ending lives. He watches the rods come. His last thoughts are forming the words that he will say. He could not complete what he wanted to say. “Oh Shiiiii…”. Half second is over.

Crash. Pain. Lots of pain. Angels and demons. Fatal system error. Shut down.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Talking Letters - 2

Dear Baku,

When the driving coordinator tells you the bus will pick you up at Majakia, when the drivers tell you the pick-up is from Majakia, you go looking for Majakia. It’s a good thing that there are other colleagues who wait at that bus stop. And once you know where that place is you know where you need to go the next day, every day. But still one keeps looking for Majakia. Just to make sure. Few days pass. You haven’t found it yet. You go to the driving coordinator’s office for some work and read the bus schedule and, hence, a name on the board. Next morning there is no difficulty locating ‘mothercare’. Acha majak kiya. Khoob maja kiya. mothercare. Majakiya.

On ‘five parallel’ just behind the building where I stay there is a meat shop. Early morning (when I cross) they, on few days, have a bull there. They are in the process of making it one big piece of beef. But what bloody crude way? They tie the legs with four ropes at four distant poles and that’s about it, out come the blades. Where are your butcheries?

You know my views on the beauty of the women that walk your streets. The more I say the less it seems. What about the men? Let’s talk about their stupidity. Was it just to compensate for the extra portion of beauty in one half, the other half had to lose out on their share of brains? At least half of the men just stand in front of their buildings all day long. Doing what? You should know better. This is what they do in the flights. They are sitting, all calm and ready for the flight to take off. As the stewardess’ are in their seats the smart guys take out their phones. As we hit the runways they are texting, talking on the phones and stay on phone till the signal let them be. And same story while landing. As the lights are switched off for landing the phones are out. And as the wheels touch the runaway half of them are out of their seats trying to get their luggage from overhead cabins and running towards the door. Poor stewardesses have to shout through the PA, on an occasion in fact one left her seat and started pushing these four time bigger men back into their seats. And those who are not running to find their luggage when the wheels touch the gravel, just when they feel that they can’t crash now and are safe they let out the breath they have held for last three hours since we took off, breathe some air in and start clapping. Pilots would love to come here. Rarely are they applauded anywhere else. I guess it’s not the men’s fault. Staying among your beauties it’s not that hard to lose whatever mind you have in the first place.

By the way, I thought Baki was your girlfriend’s name. But that’s what they call you in your language.

Found about the lucky child who got some 20,000 Azeri Manats this Novruz. Lucky fella, nine millionth citizen of your country. Well planned sex can bear some good results.

The girl who sits opposite in the office shares her name with the first lady. Mekhriban, Mehriban. One with k and one without, though it’s silent. Karan Johar would like that. Grateful, that’s what Mekhriban said mekhriban means. Well I am not sure about others but I am grateful that every time I look up from my laptop screen there is a beautiful face to behold. There will be a break from that routine now. I am off to Perth for a month. Keep the beauties safe and I will be back by the time spring turns into summers. They tell me summers give the fairer sex here a better chance to express themselves. We shall see.

Time to cook some dinner my friend.

Narayan Desai (T)

Monday, April 05, 2010

such person such zone

Return to sender, address unknown.
No such person, no such zone.

Sing it.

Return to sender, address unknown.
No such person, no such zone.

A half burned cigarette. That knock on the door.
With a little more heart, with a little more start.

Return to senderr, address unknownnnnnn.
No such personn, no such zo----ne.

A long ride, two riders, a horse, a seat belt.
Sing it for yourself and sing it for the love.

Return to sender, address unknown.
No such person, no such zone.

Accepted gift. Discarded beef in kitchen sink.
Sing it as a whole and sing it for your soul.

Return to sender, address unknown.
No such person, no such zone.

Conscience of a man. That fountain pool. Few lost coins.
Sing it for the sender, sing it for the address, sing it for that person, and sing it for that zone.

Return to sender, address unknown.
No such person, no such zone.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Nightmares

It was the final presentation for their final year project. They (he and his project partner, MK) had wrapped up the project somehow, not so accurately and not with the correct means but good enough to print and present. Now he was standing between the library and main building waiting for MK. It was slightly odd the way things were happening since he left the hostel for this presentation. He had fallen and nearly rolled down the road after crossing the SAC roundabout and just about managed to come up the incline with all his energy spent by the time he had crossed the sick bay. After a struggle he had reached here and was now waiting for MK. The hard bound, gold embossed final project report was like a weight in his hands. It was pulling him down. The weight was growing with every passing moment till he could no longer bear it. He had to sit down. Walking towards wind tunnel he sat on the side of the computer centre and let the weight fall beside him. There wasn’t much relief. That feeling of being dragged down by that black and golden weight remained.

Usually sitting here was a breather worth the value if not more than the missed lectures but today the place was not healing him. He didn’t get better, the feeling of tiredness in his mind and the feeling of numbness and heaviness in the body grew. Surprisingly, there was no air blowing, not a slight breeze through the wind tunnel. The usual humdrum of life didn’t reach his ears. People were walking by carrying there black and gold weights in their hands and they were all carrying heavy weights, the bodies were being dragged along at the expense of all possible efforts. It was quiet. A quiet full of heaviness, of gravity exceeding the gravity. Things were moving but not with freewill.

Finally, MK appeared at his side. He seemed refreshed. Had two coffees in his hands. Four rupees each to carry them through the final lap of this race. He handed sardar a cup of coffee and sat down and when the recently married girl from their batch crossed, with chooda and hina still gracing her arms, MK had something to talk on for next ten minutes. MK spoke but the sound seemed far away from sardar. He could hear the voice but in strange whispers. Like a bad transmission. Slow, shrieky, sharp, and sad. After a while MK did remember that they were yet to go through the slides and immediately picked up the slides and started proving to the world that this is how the world can run engines better, not even one percent convinced himself. And then it was time.

MK got up and moved towards the wind tunnel. Sardar tried to pick up the black and gold weight but it seemed an effort. He struggled but could not. He tried to raise himself but the weight dragged him down. MK looked back after reaching wind tunnel and found sardar sitting where he had left him. He walked back with a concern on his face. When he was discussing the slides he had seen sardar distracted as if something was troubling his head. When MK got to him sardar raised his arm and MK pulled him up. MK picked up the final report and slides and they started walking.

The gust of wind threw him off his feet, sending him down on his fours. It had caught him unawares after such a windless day, yet the world around him was unaffected. When he got grip of himself he saw everyone else moving on, as if nothing had happened. MK stood by surprised but with an extended arm to raise him up once again. He was saying something. But it was distant. Sardar could not hear him. It should have worried him, he should have told MK that something was wrong but they had to do this. Finish this last hurdle. He was more alert for wind this time. He held on to MK’s arm. As he stepped under the wind tunnel the blow hit him again. He gripped MK’s arm harder, half hidden behind him. Nobody else seemed to notice the wind. MK continued to move forward and slowly sardar dragged himself out of the wind tunnel and out of the wind and then they were climbing the stairs next to engines lab. The presentation was next to department head’s office, first floor, second block.

They had reached the room and were waiting for the group ahead of them to finish. Another five minutes to go before their turn. Their project guide came and gave his final advice and encouragement. Why was it so quiet? Even when their guide talked sardar felt the world quiet, the guide’s voice was not like MK’s voice. It was not distant. It existed somewhere but it did not come to existence through sardar’s ears. Sardar could notice how the words were forming from the guide’s mouth, his lips were curling and giving the words shapes for sardar. He felt afraid. He should tell them, tell MK and his guide something was wrong, but what? And they had to get this project through today, if not tomorrow maybe too late. The apparatus didn’t work and they were lucky the evaluators had not come to check and confirm their experimental readings. Everyone had believed them with their results. So far. He had to do it and it had to be done now.

And then the door to the presentation room opened. Two of his batch mates came out with blood dripping from their eyes. They had wings of birds in their hands, wings bound in black and black embossed in gold. And then came a white man with a black name and red horns and then came short man with long tail, and there came a fat man with thin legs and there was a tiny little thin lady professor with her hair touching the floor and then came the sound of children crying and there came the sound of girls laughing and then came the sound of hammers and horns and there was a horse and elephant and birds and the door was still only opening and all wanted to come out and all wanted to come to him. The girl with choora and hina on her arms, the recently married batch mate crossed by and he felt MK’s pull on his arm. They were getting late and the professors inside the room were looking at him and the door was open and MK had setup the slides and he could see the title of their project and their names on the white sheet. And the rest of them, all of them that he had just heard and seen had left and it was him and MK and professors and slides and projector, and black and gold weight. MK gave another pull on his arm and slowly they moved in. The door closed on them, on him.

MK started speaking. It was the same shrill in his voice, a distant cry. Eeeeennnggggiiiinnnnnnnnee. DDDDDiiiiiiiiieeeeeessssssseeelllllllllllllllllllllll. The words reached sardar and caught him and shook him, trying to wake him from the slumber he was falling into. MK continued on, as was the plan he went ahead with the first ten slides. Ten as sardar could see the slides come and go. With every changing slide he wanted to say one, say two, say three and count till his turn came, say those words so that he can find the sound of his words, listen to them but nothing came and then it was ten on the projector and ten in his head and he knew that he had to find words and somehow speak them and tell the professors all about his project. Now it was eleven. MK moved aside. He was looking at him. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, and ten. It was eleven now. He had counted the numbers of the passing slides in his head. He had tried to say the words to find his voice. He had tried but the tongue did not lift from the bottom, never twisted, didn’t touch the top of month, the lips didn’t find the shape they were meant to find, the air did not turn into the waves of sound it was meant to be and none of the eardrums felt the words that were to make them turn and turn and turn and thus make them part of the sharing, of the forming and of the listening, hearing, fading away of the sounds. And it was eleven and MK had moved aside and sardar had to say something. Something. Engine, diesel, piston, area, efficiency. Something. Direct, indirect, air, fuel, intake, combustion, power, exhaust. Something. Say say say say something. One two three four five six seven eight nine ten. The seconds were coming and seconds were going. Seconds that don’t need tongues and lips and sound and ears to make and break themselves. The seconds were ticking, he could hear the ticks in his head, clear and distinct. No shrillness in ticking, it was a clear sound, one, two, three, all formed individually with unique identities. And then it was eleven. And then the slide on the projector was for him. And then it was eleven, the passing second. And then it was a minute.
Ssssssppppppeeeeeaaaaaakkkkkkkk. Along with the ticking of seconds he could hear a sound. It was saying ssssssspppppppeeeeeeaaaaaaakkkkkkk. A command, an appeal, a request, a threat. Ssssssspppppppeeeeeaaaaakkkkkkkk. He raised his head. MK’s lips were forming that sound. There was it, in his eyes, the anger, frustration, surprise, and fear. Sardar knew he had to lift himself out of this weight, the weight of the golden words, the weight of the winds, the weight of the sounds, and the weight of existence. He was in the corner. He gathered all his remaining energy and tried to make his tongue move. All he could do was look MK in the eyes and make his head move. A negative. That was all he had in him. A nod, a nod in negative. The nod saying he can’t do it, the nod saying it’s you or nobody, the nod saying help him, the nod saying that it’s only MK who can open those closed doors. And then his head fell. And then MK took over.
It was eleven and then twelve and shortly it was twenty and then it was the end, the end of the presentation. There were questions which MK answered, the professors had looked concerned but the department head made them move on. This has to be finished. And then the others appeared. With their projects and slides, and black and golden books. MK in his slow forming words told sardar that he has to answer few questions on the project only then the evaluation of the project will finish. Only then yyyoooouuuuuu will pass. And people kept coming in and going out through the closed door. The door never opened but they kept coming in and going out. Then it was over, the last of the presentations. It was time for him to answer the questions.

MK helped him up, and he was standing next to the projector. One of the professors said something and MK put a slide up. The professor’s lips moved. Here was it. The question for sardar, to take him through to the finish line. He had to catch the question and walk along with his answer to the finish line and then that would be it. He would be a graduate. End of the race. The professor looked at him. He tried the same lip movement again. Probably repeating the question for him. Sardar could not hear him and MK didn’t repeat the question for him else he might have heard it, slowly word by shrieking word and he could not tell this to MK and he could not find his voice and then they started leaving, one by one, all the professors were gone. His guide came to him and said something. He had a worried look in his eyes but those eyes seemed to say I tried, I did, and I have done so much already to keep you in this college, can’t help you get out of it, this you will have to do. It was his eyes and then the eyes were not there. His guide went out through the closed doors. MK was still there. Collecting the slides and the remains of the project. And then the dark took over.

As life came back to sardar’s limbs he tried to move. MK was still there trying to raise him to his feet and to take him to the hostel. He lifted him and moved towards the door. Sardar saw that the door was closed but MK kept moving. Sardar wanted to tell him that open the door first, you are walking into a closed door. The words never came to him and MK kept walking through the closed door. He was half out, completely out and as sardar reached the door MK felt the impact. Sardar was lying on the floor. He had hit something and fell. MK could not understand. He went back inside and tried to drag sardar out but he could not, sardar’s body did not cross the door. It has been a tough day on him and he was also beginning to feel the tiredness. He sat for a while on one of the chairs in the room and then he went to look for some food and help.

It was dark. Seconds turned into minutes, minutes into hours. Sardar lay there. The evening dissolved into night and night gave way to day. The day turned into night again and so on it continued for him. As the day would rise he could see the light come in through the door slits, through windows and with night the dark would take him in. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months, he lost conscious, came back to it and lost it again. Yet the words for help never came to his lips. He was lying in the corner of the room, behind the closed doors. He could not move and he could not shout and the help never came. There were attempts to open the door. Some distant sounds reached him every now and then. He had felt that there was someone trying to open that door, sound of friends initially, probably sound of someone from his family later on but the doors never opened. The cycle of dark and light kept on and May turned into June and June turned into July.

July was the month he was to join his job. He was trying to say that someone should help him, let him out he had to join the job, he had to travel to another city, his days in this place are over. The help never came. It was mid of July and the corridors outside starting teaming with life. His shouts never came out of his throat. Noone came inside the closed doors. It was end of July. He was to get his first pay-cheque from the job he would have joined, the salary that was much needed. He cried but the tears never came, he needed the salary. His family needed it. He had the responsibilities of the loans to be paid back, of the tuition fees and the admission forms required but the words, the tears, the cries had all deserted him. August came and yet he lay there. Then there was the second weekend of the August. There was that weekend arriving, an unusual Friday passing, a Friday with more life than usual. All his batch and all the staff were out there rehearsing for the big event and then the light went out of the doors and it was night. Darkness.

The light from the windows woke him. He was alive but how and why he didn’t know. The light came to him today just like it had done every day for last three months. It was a weekend, the quiet and calm life of a weekend morning. And then he heard the bells. He heard the bells clearly. Unlike the sounds he had heard these last few months. The bell’s ringing was clearer. The ship was reaching an island. They had reached their destination. A batch of passengers was ready to disembark after their long journey. He was meant to be one of them, member of that cruise that lasted four years, he was meant to be a part of the celebrations. It was their graduation day. The graduation bells were ringing. They were calling him to life.

The bells went on. Unlike the graduation bells which sounded only for a minute, these bells went on. Then he saw the light, the bright glow of the light coming through the white curtains and glass panes. His eyes slowly took in the place and his ears heard clearly. A fire engine was close by and the lights of the city were coming in through the window. He was where he had slept, on the same bed and inside the same four walls where he has been sleeping for last three months. He came back slowly to his existence. Slowly the light glowing from the curtained glasses and glow of the city brought him back to the real world of quiet and emptiness, of an existence which he wasn’t sure off. He looked around and the door was closed. He was still behind a closed door.

He could not decide which of the nightmares was worse.

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-...