Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Auto ride

There was no obvious reason why I wanted to go out like that – without bothering to change my dress, without halting a moment to see if I was leaving everything all right behind me, without telling anyone. No looking for the child, no locking the door, nothing.

The auto came, and I just left grabbing the tiny purse. I glanced at my kurta, it was faded and old. It would have bothered me once, but did not today.

I muttered something to the driver. He was an old man with tired eyes, the face I have seen before in the stories I wrote. He had the same towel thrown across his shoulders, and he wiped sweat from his face with it and covered his mouth with it when he coughed. Just as I had written.

My mobile beeped and I noticed that the battery was running low. I wondered how much longer it would beep, how long it had been beeping. Not much longer, I thought. The beep connected the real world with the unreal.

I swayed when the auto turned to the left and went down the slope. The slope from twenty years ago. The old buildings and discoloured walls. But I did not look up from my phone. 

When I did, I said good-naturedly, “Oh, this is not where I wanted to go.” Good-naturedly was important because I did not want to upset him. But his reply was grumpy, a snort of complaint that I did not tell him when he made the turn off the road.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I wasn’t looking.” I smiled and spoke in a friendly way, hoping to ease his annoyance. He paid no heed. He was doing a job, he would have to go home and take rest after it was done. A long rest.

He turned the auto around. I glimpsed his face, tired and drawn and haggard, all words that mean pretty much the same but appearing different on the lines of his face. With perhaps a touch of boredom on it as well. It was not as though he loved driving an auto or it had been his ambition in life.

We climbed back up the slope and went on our way. It was not raining at the moment but it had been. Both sides of the road were submerged. We were on a path across the river. There could be no road for all I cared. The mobile continued to beep. Something like a boat appeared in the distance on the water. This monsoon was severe than usual. How could monsoon be severe? Summer is severe, not monsoon. Harsh, perhaps. But the water was real, or as real as in a meaningless dream.

A little ahead, I panicked and wanted to get out of the auto. I wondered what I was doing. I was a mess. I think I bent double and clutched my stomach and retched. There was no one anywhere so I did not try to hold it in. Nothing came out but retching sounds.

I straightened. The confusion had not cleared, but the water was gone. A bus came towards where I was standing. When it came very close, I realised that it had been approaching in reverse. I waited, unmoving, uncaring, wondering if it would reverse far enough to throw me down. It stopped a little away from me and a girl stepped out. She was wearing very colourful clothes as though she had been at a performance. Dance or something. Too colourful though not fluorescent, but loud and full of flowery designs. She swirled and twisted as though she was still dancing.

The auto driver sat there smoking, paying no attention to anything. He was within himself, lost long ago and never revived. He had drowned and survived, he had lived and died, his outside was now inside. As I looked at him, I saw the water of the monsoon behind him.

“Let’s go home,” I said.

Friday, January 8, 2016

At the Crossroads

Much could have been achieved;
Not much has been done.

The path unwalked was taken
The oath has been forgotten.

Tonight, at the crossroads,
The questions hover above.

The Where, the Why, the What.
The answers, still at large.

Retreat is not a choice, when
Ahead lies destiny...

An oasis or a mirage-
At least, something in sight!

Each step takes me away
From the comfort of my home

The Where, the Why, the What-
The haunting day and night.

Monday, December 21, 2015

December panic

I don't know if I am the only person in the world with this weird illness. But so it appears. I call it the December panic - scientific name: Year End panic - and when it hits me, I begin panicking about everything as though time is running out. Well, time is indeed running out (and how), but there is no clear evidence it is running faster than it usually is, so I myself don't know what is the cause for the agitation.

As you can see, I can be very reasonable and logical about things, but as you can also see, it does no good.

This thing - this illness - makes its appearance around the 15th of December and you find me at the corner of my room waving my hands up and down in sheer terror.
Of What, you ask. Of the End of the year, I say.

This happens every December. (I had analysed it a few years ago. Read Caught Unawares Again.)

I don't know whence it came and wherefore it exists, but so it is. It progresses quickly. There is no sign or symptom when December is born and the rest of the world prepares for "the holidays".

(Read here about another weird illness of mine: ATM Phobia. Yes, I am a sick, old woman.)

This year also it started around the 15th - but I had been too terrified to actually blog about it.

It is as though the deadline (for whatever) is on the 31st December. I suppose after a lifetime of facing deadlines - from homework to exams to bedtimes to playtime to dinner time to reading time to TV time to life-and-death matters like software delivery - this is to be expected.

The strange thing is that (and I assume it is very 'human') when I have more work to do, the more I am interested in doing something else, so that I can panic and panic to my heart's content. (If I finish all the work, the panic will go, right? I love to panic. It's complicated.)

For instance, right now I have about ten emails with red-stars waiting for me (oh, I flag them with red stars just to make sure I begin the day with a panic attack) and instead of attending to them, here I am adding finishing touches to this blog. Now if you will please excuse me, I need to go to my corner of the room and panic in peace.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Life, as it sometimes is.

Stuck in the cogwheel
That's forgotten to spin.
"Without" a life,
That's why I'm upset.

Everyone just whooshes past.
I'm filled with dread
About the time that's flying by

The minutes and hours
The days and weeks
That are lost to me
While I am just...here, waiting.

Waiting for what?
That's the strangest thing.

But I tremble 
At the possibilities...
I tremble, lest my desires
Bring forth a deluge.

And why should I fear?
For desires never harmed anyone,
Ever. Only actions do.

And actions are as alien to me
As is now life itself.

Friday, December 4, 2015

നിങ്ങളെന്നെ മലയാളിയാക്കി

സ്കൂളില്‍ പഠിക്കുന്ന കാലത്ത് കേരളമെന്നു കേട്ടാല്‍ അഭിമാനം കൊണ്ടു ഞെളിപിരി കൊള്ളുകയോ മലയാളമെന്നു കേട്ടാല്‍ രക്തം തിളച്ചുമറിയുകയോ ഒന്നും ചെയ്തിട്ടുള്ളതായി ഓര്‍ക്കുന്നില്ല. മലയാളം പഠിക്കുന്നതും കേള്‍ക്കുന്നതും വായിക്കുന്നതും പറയുന്നതും ഒരു വശത്തു കൂടി കടന്നു പോയി എന്നേയുള്ളൂ.

കേരളത്തില്‍ നിന്നു പുറത്തു വന്നില്ലായിരുന്നെങ്കില്‍ അങ്ങനെ ഒരു വികാരവും എനിക്കുണ്ടാവാന്‍ സാധ്യതയുണ്ടെന്നും തോന്നുന്നില്ല. കേരളത്തില്‍ എന്‍റെ കൂടെ പഠിച്ചിരുന്ന വടക്കേ ഇന്ത്യക്കാര്‍ മര്യാദയ്ക്ക് മലയാളം വാക്കുകള്‍ രണ്ടു-മൂന്നെണ്ണം പഠിച്ചു സന്തോഷമായി ജീവിച്ചു. അല്ലാതെ ഞങ്ങളെ ചൊറിയാനൊന്നും വന്നിട്ടില്ല.

ആദ്യമായി "മല്ലു" കഥകള്‍ കേള്‍ക്കുന്നത് ജോലിക്കു കയറിയതിനു ശേഷമാണെന്നു തോന്നുന്നു. ഒരു കൂട്ടുകാരി തന്‍റെ കൂടെയുള്ള വടക്കന്‍റെ കഥ പറഞ്ഞു. മലയാളികളെ കളിയാക്കാനുള്ള തന്ത്രവുമായി ഇറങ്ങിയതാണത്രേ ആ ചേട്ടന്‍. മലയാളത്തില്‍ 'z' ശബ്ദം ഇല്ലാത്തതു കൊണ്ട് മലയാളികള്‍ 'zoo'-നു 'soo' എന്നാണ് പറയുന്നത് എന്നായിരുന്നു അദ്ദേഹത്തിന്‍റെ കണ്ടുപിടുത്തം. അതു തെളിയിക്കാന്‍ ഒരു മലയാളിയോട് ആ വാക്ക് പറയാന്‍ അദ്ദേഹം പറഞ്ഞു. മിടുക്കിയായ ആ മലയാളി 'ജൂ' എന്നു പറഞ്ഞു. ഹിന്ദിക്കാര്‍ sabzi-ക്കു സബ്ജി, zindagi യ്ക്കു ജിന്ദഗി എന്നൊക്കെ പറയുന്ന കാര്യം നമുക്കറിയാമല്ലോ. വടക്കന്‍ ചൂളിപ്പോയി എന്നാണ് കഥ.

ബാംഗ്ലൂറില്‍ വച്ച്, ഒരിക്കല്‍ എന്‍റെ കൂടെ ജോലി ചെയ്തിരുന്ന ഒരു വടക്കേ ഇന്ത്യന്‍ മലയാളി (എന്നു വച്ചാല്‍ നോര്‍ത്തില്‍ ജനിച്ചു വളര്‍ന്ന മലയാളി) യുടെ മുന്നില്‍ വച്ച് ഞാന്‍ ഹിന്ദി പറയാനിടയായി. ഏതോ മറുഭാഷക്കാരനോടായിരുന്നു സംഭാഷണം. ലാലേട്ടന്‍റെ ഹൂം ഹൈ ഹോ പ്രശ്നങ്ങള്‍ എന്നെയും സ്ഥിരമായി അലട്ടാറുണ്ട്. മലയാളികള്‍ ഹിന്ദി പറയുമ്പോള്‍ സൗത്ത് ഇന്ത്യന്‍ ആക്സന്‍റ് ആണെന്ന് ആ മലയാളി സഹപ്രവര്‍ത്തകന്‍ അല്പം പുച്ഛത്തോടെ പ്രസ്താവിച്ചു. മലയാളിയായ എന്‍റെ ഹിന്ദിക്ക് അല്പം ആക്സന്‍റ് ആയതു സ്വാഭാവികം, മലയാളിയായ നിന്‍റെ മലയാളത്തിന് എന്തിനാണ് ഇത്രയും ഹിന്ദി ആക്സന്‍റ് എന്നു ഞാന്‍ തിരിച്ചു ചോദിച്ചു.

വടക്കേ ഇന്ത്യക്കാരെക്കാളും മലയാളികള്‍ തന്നെയാണ് നമ്മുടെ ആക്സന്‍റും മറ്റു കാര്യങ്ങളും കളിയാക്കാന്‍ വരാറ് എന്നു പിന്നീട് മനസ്സിലായി. അത്യാവശ്യം കാര്യം മനസ്സിലാക്കാനും ജീവിച്ചു പോകാനും മാത്രമല്ലേ പൊതുവേ അന്യഭാഷയുടെ ആവശ്യം. ഓരോ പ്രാവശ്യവും 'മല്ലു ആക്സന്‍റ്' എന്നു മലയാളികള്‍ തന്നെ കളിയാക്കുമ്പോള്‍, "അതിപ്പോ ഞാന്‍ മലയാളിയല്ലേ, എനിക്കു ഹിന്ദിക്കാരന്‍റെ ആക്സന്‍റ് വരുമോ? ഹിന്ദിക്കാരന് മലയാളം മലയാളിയെപ്പോലെ പറയാന്‍ പറ്റുമോ? പോട്ടെ, മലയാളിയായ നിങ്ങളെന്താ മലയാളം ഹിന്ദിയില്‍ പറയുന്നത്?" എന്നൊക്കെ തിരിച്ചു ചോദിക്കാനാണ് സന്തോഷം.

അങ്ങനെ, സുഹൃത്തുക്കളെ, നിങ്ങളെന്നെ മലയാളി എന്നു വിളിച്ചു കളിയാക്കുകയും "അപമാനി"ക്കുകയും ചെയ്തില്ലായിരുന്നെങ്കില്‍ ഞാനിന്ന് ഒരു യഥാര്‍ത്ഥ മലയാളി ആകുകയില്ലായിരുന്നു.

(Disclaimer: ലോകത്തില്‍ പലതരം മലയാളികളും ഹിന്ദിക്കാരും മറ്റു ഭാഷക്കാരും  ഉണ്ടെന്നും ഇതവരുടെയെല്ലാം കാര്യം അല്ലെന്നും എന്‍റെയും ഞാന്‍ കണ്ടിട്ടുള്ള ചിലരുടെയും മാത്രം കാര്യമാണെന്നും ഈയവസരത്തില്‍ വ്യക്തമാക്കാന്‍ ആഗ്രഹിക്കുന്നു. )

(Disclaimer 2: ബാംഗ്ലൂരില്‍ വളര്‍ന്നു വരുന്ന എന്‍റെ പുത്രന്‍ അത്യാവശ്യം ആക്സെന്‍റോടെയാണ് മലയാളം പറയുന്നതെന്നും, കുറച്ചു നാള്‍ കഴിഞ്ഞ് ആരും കാണാതെ ഈ ബ്ലോഗ്‌ ഡിലീറ്റ് ചെയ്യേണ്ടി വരുമെന്നും ഞാന്‍ മനസ്സിലാക്കുന്നു.)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The art of falling in love with a writer

 *Replace 'he' with 'she' as required

It’s his first book. You pick it up only because it was recommended. You read the back cover. Writing is not his first love.  You’re sceptical of first time writers, especially ones who haven’t been killing themselves to perfect the art of writing. You look at the name of the publisher. Not a bad one. So he has been able to convince them. Interesting. You read the foreword. He has been promoted by big names. He had connections. People who could put in a good word for him here or there. Your scepticism only increases.

The author’s bio details his professional life. A few bare facts listed without emotion.

Page 1. You aren’t greatly impressed. You could almost sense the author’s hands shake as he wrote the first line. There is a jitter, an uncertainty. Can I really do this?-type. You smirk and continue.

It is a memoir. You let out a chuckle on page 2. He is funny. Sort of. At least he knows how to laugh at himself.

You don’t realise you have crossed twenty pages. That was smooth and engrossing. Not a writer, huh? Some writer must have polished it for him, naturally. But who cares? Why do you try to justify the good writing? Of course someone would have edited it. Every good writer needs a great editor. This is a good read. Period. Don't let your writer-reader head work more than necessary.

Flipping more and more pages. It is a small-ish book. And it is funny. In some places, uncontrollably so. A little spiced up, perhaps. But again, who cares, as long as it is not over-done. You go back to the author’s bio. Who is he?

He calls himself lucky. I was there at the right place at the right time. I was the only one who got the chance. This repeats, and your innate intolerance lifts its hairy head. Surely he was not the only one, there were others? You remember the time when you overheard someone say, “No one could calm the screaming infant for hours. Then I came, gently touched his arm and he quieted down within seconds.” Yeah, right.

But this one? He is sincere and modest. He really believes it. You’re curious again; you go back to the bio. What are you looking for? Something between the lines. There’s nothing.

He is kind to the other characters in the memoir. Even when they misbehave, he stops short of abusing them. Is it real? Or a writer’s need to appear politically correct? You sense a gap. There is a slight rounding of the edges.

You close the book. The journey's over. But you're still there, out on the road. And you're smiling.

You’ve been there. Not exactly, but somewhere nearby. You've been hearing his thoughts. You're seeing the world through his eyes. You're inside. Yes, you know who he is. You have been reading between the lines, from the moment you picked up the book.

And you wonder, you wonder…

Saturday, November 7, 2015

An exercise in Murphy's Law

First it was the rain.

Come to think of it, there is almost always a root cause that sets the whole Murphy's Law mechanism in motion.

I booked a cab as usual. The last time I had booked one, we had reached fifteen minutes early. You know Ola, they always have a car two minutes away from my place. Always. But not this time. The rain, as I said. And the cabs began to vanish right before my eyes, from the app. Finally, I find one fourteen minutes away. Fourteen minutes. We'll be late by a couple of minutes, but that's okay, I thought.

After ten minutes, I can still see the cab driver ten minutes away on the app. I call him up. "Rain, Madam!" he says. "Traffic! Rain! I'm coming."

My son is becoming restless. He will be late for his football coaching. We watch the car progress inch by inch through the highway (through the tracking option in the app). Finally he is here. Ten minutes for the coaching to start. "We're going to be very late," I said to my son. I have an inkling that we're going to be very very late. He wriggled his hands and made a complaining face.

The distance to the destination - eight-ish kilometres - can be covered in fifteen minutes, on a clear and sunny day with no chance of meatballs. Apart from a fair amount of traffic, there is a railway gate and a handful of traffic signals on the way. On normal days, one of these will delay us by five minutes. One of these, mind you. You now know which way the story is headed.

The rain is quite intense as we get into the car. We begin to crawl forward. There are vehicles everywhere. One wonders whether they all fell from the sky with the rain. The first traffic signal is red. Of course.

The railway gate is closed. Naturally.

When the gate is opened, there is the usual mad rush to beat everyone to the other side. One decent truck driver has placed himself diagonally across the gate. He came from the perpendicular road and had to make a 90 degree to enter the railway gate, but got stuck at 45. With cars on all sides, a BMTC bus's nose almost touching his butt, a scooter scampering through the gaps, there is no way he can. No one can move unless this guy evaporates into thin air.

My son and I watch this deadlock in exasperation. The coaching must have begun now. He has tears in his eyes. He hates being late. He looks at me as if I am to blame.

The truck driver and the car facing him engage in a dance. We're right behind this car. The car dude finally gives in and reverses. He takes himself to one side, out of the way. Did I tell you we were stranded right on top of the railway tracks, between the two gates, all this time? A train or an engine that decided to take an evening stroll through the tracks would have really added colour to the scene.

There is a gap where the car was. The truck inches forward, and other vehicles squeeze in. Everyone ignores the car which had given way. He is stuck by the side and would not be able to move until the madness is over.

Finally all is well and the truck makes its turn, the car dude swears never to drive again on a rainy day (among other things), and we continue on our paths.

The rain gets heavier and the road is flooded. We reach the next traffic junction. I see green light from a distance. When we approach, it turns to red. The countdown begins at 120. We stare at it in disbelief. "Sometimes, everything that can go wrong, will," I said wisely to my son. He did not seem very impressed or comforted.

The longest two minutes passed. I expected a traffic light malfunction or something else that would delay us another ten minutes. Wonder why that didn't happen.

We crawl (wade?) in the rain and reach twenty minutes past the time. By then we both have attained a Zen level of calm. My son is just relieved that we made it before the coaching is over.

As I pay the driver and get out, I look up at the sky. It promises another episode one hour later, when it is time to return home.

Monday, November 2, 2015

An ode to futile dreams

They come in, unbidden
Like advices, unsolicited,

Making the impossible
Appear real...

At nights they
work their magic

Weaving hope
Into our secret desires

Painting the daybreak
With promising colours

Splashing some shades
into our fantasies

Those cruel, false,
impractical dreams...