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.


Sukhdev Singh is milking a buffalo when I call him. We are speaking after a long gap. His voice carries the same cheerful energy I remember....