Sunday, November 25, 2007

BMM, Bankruptcy and Sugarcane juice

What do you do when you have two BMM students, fifteen rupees between them and a very hot sun? ok, so now that I have given away the suspense of the story, you might not be interested but read anyway.
It was one ordinary day (by BMM standards) when I was at GPO, asking perfectly uninterested government officials for permission to shoot a documentary there.
Time: 1200 hours
Temperature: 38°C
Place: Road opposite Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus
I was with a friend, both of us extremely hungry, thirsty and tired, but still able to find strength to crib about the state of government offices. To refuel our system, we decided to eat something. We nervously emptied our pockets, wallets and other possible sites of monetary deposit. Present fiscal strength: Rs.15. minus the bus fare back to the station, Rs.5. Wonderful.
To our left stood the bright red-yellow McDonalds outlet. Commuters from CST trooped in joyfully and came out with higher cholesterols and lighter pockets. A kid with a little more than necessary puppy fat bounced out with a happy meal toy in one hand and a much harried parent in another. Nevertheless, the burgers seemed inviting………WAIT A MINUTE! Bad idea, and when you have just five rupees to spare, terrible idea!
To our right, a sugarcane juice stall stood in all its glory. All else disappeared as our eyes focussed on the stall. The din of the threshing machine was music to our ears. That the man tending it had different concepts of hygiene than us, did not matter. Now, only the road was between us and that glorious, wonderful glass of the golden elixir.
Both of us shared that one glass of sugarcane juice which ran down my throat like a flood in a desert, and within moments, it was gone. The juice was over! So was our money. Right next to it a man was selling nuts. Ah! Too expensive! We resigned to our fate, our poverty, our BMM!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

That night...

That night…
They stood on the water’s edge, together, alone, staring at the steel surface of the river. A sliver of the moon in the canvas above shone just enough for them to see each other although that wasn’t necessary.

That night…
The fire was dying out slowly, till only charred wood glowed steadily. A few last flames breathed their last. He diverted his attention from the still water to the restless flames. She watched him as he rekindled the fire. Within moments it was alive again. Now they both sat with each other, the fire between them.

That night…
The stars shined, smiled, as if whispering a little secret to the trees below. Neither of them spoke, yet volumes were said. Shadows danced on the barks of trees as they both stared at each other through moments of awkwardness. A comfortable awkwardness, a comfortable silence. All that had happened between them in the years before, all that was to happen in the future seemed insignificant. They forgot why they were in the middle of this forest, in the dead of the night, together, alone. That they were lost did not matter. They had found each other.

That night…
An insect innocently clambered up her foot and rested on her anklet. He watched, with a smile, as she toyed with it till it disappeared into the darkness and they were alone again.

That night…
All the jungle sounds seemed distant, muffled, unimportant. They could hear each other breathe.
It didn’t matter that they couldn’t see what lurked in the darkness beyond. They could see themselves in each other’s eyes.
They couldn’t feel the gravel of the river bed. They could feel each other’s presence.

All mysteries were solved. All questions answered, that night.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Back to School

I walked back to school today,
The same old road, the crooked way,
An empty building stared back at me,
Alone stood in the yard that enormous tree.

I see no teachers, no children at all,
Still quietly walk down the 4th floor hall.
At the end of the corridor is my class,
I sit on a bench and look through History’s glass.

I spent twelve years here, the best time of m life,
Learnt every emotion, experienced joy and strife.
I grew up here, within these walls,
Still, sitting here, again my childhood calls.

On that broken benches scribbled a love story,
Of young love budding in the S ♥ P,
Or maybe a boring, early morning lecture,
Made someone draw that nasty picture.

Suddenly I see the room come alive,
I’m with my old friends, I give a high-five.
That dog-eared book is lying in front of me,
A little note written on page 63.

On the black board emerge 12 years of learning,
A physics question paper, my stomach starts churning.
Studying all night, we cleared paper after paper,
With one nocturnal companion, the coffee-maker.

I remember my last day, a cold winter morning,
Filling out those diaries, that T-shirt signing.
I met all my teachers; to my heart they are dear,
We said goodbye, a brief hug, a silent tear.

A sudden noise somewhere, and out of my reverie I shook,
Walking out of the class, I turned to give one last look.
I leave a part of me inside, a part of my school I take.
On this grain of the past, a future I will make.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Return Trip

A car screeched to a halt outside the tall iron gates. Philip stepped out and walked in. He couldn’t walk as fast as he used to. There was a certain shortness of breath and a slight wheezing in his throat. Every few seconds, he drew in a long, painful breath. His body, once strong and muscular was now this and frail. Philip looked at the structure that stood before him. It was his first home.
The building must have been more than a hundred years old. The plaster had fallen off in many places showing the ugly rusted iron rods inside. Almost all the glass panes on the windows were broken. In the driveway, in place of his father’s car, slept a dog. The wrought iron balconies which had once been so beautiful were now old and rusted. The porch had been carpeted by leaves. He could hear the sea at the back of the house. The ancient rosewood doorframe was wrecked and the door was ajar.
Philip walked in to see what was left of the house. A few pieces of old broken furniture lay about. The floor was dusty and it was completely dark inside save the last few rays of the sinking sun which came in through the windows.
As he walked, the dust flew up, making him cough. He desperately looked for a place to sit. He found an old rickety chair and sat down to catch his breath. It was several minutes before he could regain control. Philip could feel the cancer growing inside his lungs. It had been three months now from that fateful day at the doctor’s office.
It was a cold white room full of instruments and papers and charts of human anatomy. All that had seemed to disappear the moment he heard the news. For the first few minutes he searched for a voice inside him. It seemed to have been lost somewhere. When he could finally talk, the only thing he could say was:
“How long is it going to be before I…?”
“We will keep the treatment going. There is always hope. The cancer is in the final stage but….”
“How much time?” interrupted Philip. He didn’t want to have any false hopes. He somehow knew what was coming his way.
“If the treatment fails…..four months…..six at the most.” said the doctor.
The treatment did fail. Philip’s state was deteriorating at an alarming rate. He probably wouldn’t live to see his 70th birthday in two month’s time. He had spent the last few months dividing his assets among his children. They did not know of his illness. He did not wish to tell them. There was no point to it.
The sudden creaking of the chair brought Philip back to the room he was sitting in. He saw his own name scratched out into the armrest. Suddenly a flood of memories came to him. He remembered sitting on the chair as a child, reading his books. Even then, the chair was rickety. He enjoyed imitating his grandfather by rocking the chair back and forth.
Life had changed a lot ever since. His father had been transferred to Bombay when Philip was just twelve. There wasn’t much to stay back for in the family home. He left the quiet life in Goa far behind. Philip went on to become an engineer. He made a big fortune for himself. Julie and the children were always there but he never gave them the attention they deserved. She died at forty. Even that didn’t make Philip spend more time with his children. There were enough governesses to look after them. Now, he didn’t blame them for settling in America and never giving him a second glance.
After all these years, in that ramshackle place, Philip’s heart was filled with regret. Maybe if he had been a more loving father, they would have been here with him. In the last few days of his life, he longed for the warmth of a family.
Sitting in that dusty old house, he could still smell his mother’s cake baking in the kitchen. There were still those classics playing on the gramophone by the window. His grandfather, on the rocking chair, would be reading out stories to him. For those few moments, he lived in a world he had left do far behind. A world he wanted to return to. And the house gave him the sense of security he needed.
Philip sat there for a few minutes, trying to relive his childhood. Then he got up and went to the back of the house. In the backyard, he saw the apple tree. As a child, he used to eat the apples that fell on the ground. He was too short to pick them from the tree. The ones on the ground were often rotten. He had, on his sixth birthday, tried to climb it but he had a very bad fall. He remembered telling the tree that he would grow taller by his next birthday. Then he would pick out the apples. The problem was that the tree also grew every year! Philip had never been able to catch up.
Over the years, this incident was lost somewhere in his memories. Now he looked at the skeleton of the tree before him. All the leaves had fallen and the bark was drying up. It was getting uprooted from the ground. The tree was dying. He smiled at the strange coincidence.
Philip strolled across the backyard and looked out to vast ocean beyond. The sun had set, leaving a faint glow on the sky. Another day in his life was over. Philip looked back at the seventy years of his life. He made money at the cost of his family. He neglected them when they needed him. And now when he was in need……he realised that however lonely he might have been in his life, he needed someone with him when he would be on his death bed.
He remembered all the PTA meetings he should have attended, all the cricket matches he missed. He rarely even had dinner at home. His children were strangers to him.
A silent tear rolled down his cheek. Then as if he was suddenly overcome by the feeling he had been suppressing for so long, Philip broke down. He crashed to the floor and sobbed for what seemed like an eternity. He wanted more time to apologise to his children. He wanted to live with them. He wanted to live. But it was too late now. He had lost. In spite of all his riches, he felt poor. The death before him had made him lonely and hollow inside.
He slowly gathered his strength and staggered back to the house. He had to go back to the hotel now.
Everyday Philip would come back to this house and just sat there thinking of the old days. Within a few weeks, Philip had to be admitted to the hospital. Even then, he would come there everyday with a ward boy.
Then, exactly two moths later, on his 70th birthday, Philip was on his death bed. The doctors forbade him to even move. He insisted, almost begged the doctors to let him go to the house. He told them to consider it his last wish. They agreed and made arrangements for him to go. On a wheelchair, Philip saw his home for the last time. Just as the sun was setting Philip closed his eyes. He gasped for a brief moment. The doctor accompanying him knew it was no use trying to revive him. Just then, there was a thud. The doctor went over to the backyard. The apple tree had completely uprooted and fallen to one side. Philip and his tree died together.

The Waiting Room

“Waiting Room” said the dusty old sign on the railway platform. Kishor Dutta, his wife Suman, with the baby, and seven-year-old Ashu got of the train. They were coming to Mumbai for the first time.
“What does that sign say Daddy?” he asked.
“It’s the waiting room.”
“Why are we going there? What do people do in a waiting room?”
“People wait there. Don’t ask silly questions Ashu!” said his mother. She was annoyed with the baby who had been crying continuously for the past fifteen minutes.
“We have to wait for your uncle to come. He’ll take us to his house.” said Kishor. “It’s by the sea” he quickly added, to cheer up his son who was slightly upset at his mother’s scolding.
Ashu had never seen the sea before, except for in books. He really wanted to play in the sand. His uncle had often told him about the wonderful beaches in the city. He had butterflies in his stomach. He dreamt of running bare foot in the sand. He didn’t know what it would feel like but he knew it would be very nice. He would build a sand castle just like the one in his story book. Ashu couldn’t wait for his uncle to come and take him to dreamland.
“Do people always come if you wait for them in the waiting room?”
“I guess so.” replied Kishor.
Ashu was fascinated by the waiting room. He had heard so much about Mumbai that every little thing related to Mumbai had him mesmerised. He stared at the walls with peeling paint, the wooden benches, the tile missing in the floor, the dusty fan. He was completely transfixed. A coolie was bickering with a passenger outside. He didn’t understand the language very well but he found it interesting. He would tell his friends back home about every second he spent here.
“Wipe your hands and face Ashu. Then we can all eat the food I packed from home.” said Suman.
“Oh!” said Ashu, snapping out of his reverie.
“My hands are already clean. Why is the baby still crying Mummy?”
“I think she’s hungry too. I’ll go to the Ladies Room. You wait for us here with Daddy and finish your food.”
Suman left with the baby. Ashu sat there next to his father. He was just too excited to eat.
“Are you hungry son?” asked Kishor
“No Daddy. I don’t like the fish curry Mummy packed.”
“You’ll have to eat it anyway. I think she will take a while in the ladies room. Should I get you a candy from that shop there in the meantime?
“Yes Daddy. I would really like that. Could you get me the yellow one?” said Ashu looking at the shop through the window.
“All right then. You wait here for me. I don’t want you getting lost in the crowd there. Don’t go anywhere son. Mind the bags. I’ll be back in a moment.” saying that, Kishor left.
Ashu could see his father from the window. He contemplated for a moment going and asking his father to get the green candy instead. He dropped the idea when he saw his mother coming from the other end of the platform with the baby. She appeared to be telling Kishor not to ruin Ashu’s appetite by giving him a candy. At a distance Ashu heard the sound of a train entering the platform. Then there was a bloodcurdling scream.
Two trains arrived on the platform at the same time. On the same track. Within moments the platform was smouldering. The candy shop was blown to bits. The dented blue metal of the train dangled repulsively. There was smoke everywhere. People everywhere were either groaning in acute pain or lay terrifyingly silent.
It happened only a few metres away from the Waiting Room but, to Ashu the thundering sound that shook the walls around him seemed very distant. As if it was muffled. He couldn’t hear the screams that surrounded him. He couldn’t see the devastated platform. All he saw was his family. Amidst the debris, lay his mother, the baby and his father with a yellow candy in his hand. The baby didn’t cry any more. Ashu forgot everything he had been dreaming about only moments ago. The big city wasn’t so fascinating any more. He didn’t want to go to the seaside. There were no butterflies in his stomach. He didn’t even want a candy.
Ashu sank back on his seat. “This can’t be happening.” he thought. “I just imagined that! How could this happen?” he spent the first few moments in denial. Gradually, as the terrible sounds outside grew louder, Ashu accepted that the explosion was real.
“Maybe they aren’t hurt. Daddy and Mummy and the baby will come in anytime now. I’ll just wait for them here.” he thought. “People always come if you wait for them in the waiting room.” Ashu sat there for a long time. He didn’t know how long. Then he saw a familiar face. His uncle had finally arrived.
“There you are! Thank Heavens! I have been looking everywhere for you! Come, my child. You have been through enough today. Come with me.”
“No uncle. I have to wait for Mummy and Daddy and the baby. The asked me to wait for them here.”
“I’m afraid they won’t come. They have gone away. You have to come with me.”
“I don’t think you understand uncle. Daddy said that people always come if you wait for them in the Waiting Room.”

Why I Write

I write to vent myself. I write to escape from my surroundings and create a new world. I write so that I can make my own rules. I write to express myself. I write to see a clear picture of my thoughts. I write about things I can’t talk about. I write to understand people. I write so that I am understood. I write to control my thoughts. I write to set them free. I write to feel emotions. I write to be immune. I write for myself and for others. I write to overcome my fears. I write to fall in love with the words, and the tale they tell. I write for creating characters I want to see in the world. I write to reach somewhere else in space and time. I write so that I know where I am. I write because my I like the sound of the pen scratching on paper and the silence in between. I write to channel my inspiration, or maybe I don’t. I write so that I never forget my experiences. I write so that I forget them. I write like I’m listening to an obscure song, or like I’m with my pets. I write like I’m crying, or laughing out loud. I write to relax. I write when I’m relaxed. I write to exercise my brain, and my heart. I write for fun. I write.