19 November 2011

#Fiction : Chai Garam, Chai, Chai...

Before I opened my eyes, I could smell the fragrance of chai in the air. My auditory sensors slowly started functioning. I could hear a slight hub-ub over the usual sounds of the train. How early was it? Definitely past six. The chai-walas do not bother with sales until half past six usually. At times I envy them. Of course this jealousy is a product of my frame of mind in their style of life. But since it could be no other way, I have every right to envy them! Imagine what it would feel like to live their life. Oh how carefree I would be! No manager to report to, no deadlines to adhere to. If I managed extra sales on a particular day, I could simple spend the next in siesta without bothering to file a leave. I have curious fascination for simple life that bypasses the usual "grass is greener on the other side" psyche. I do not envy the higher society as much I do the lower echelons... Wait, how did I come to it? Ah... The time.

I could not hear much else. The train was surely still. A station most probably. But it was impossible to tell these days. The winters always bring a sense of lethargy in northern India. The foggy plains of the Ganges seem to induce a helplessness that the denizens welcome with gratitude. The day starts late and ends early. Blissfully short days spent wrapped in shawls and warming oneself at intervals in front of flaming bits of wood. Turning around to warm your freezing hind when you feel your front has had enough. Sipping steaming hot tea ...

Tea. The chai-walas are here. Must be half past six at least. What else could I hear? It is awfully peaceful in the upper berth of trains. Feels like a nook of your own if you are a regular of Indian Railways. But by nine, the passengers make sure that everyone is up, or at least irked enough to give up on any erstwhile held ambitions of peaceful sleep, no matter what nook of the train they found asylum in. So it was between six and nine. Hmmm... I opened an eye and looked at my watch. My grossly unspecific prediction held true. It was a quarter past seven. I turned over and wrapped my blanket tighter. I could sleep some more. Dream a bit of the fanciful impossibilities I usually did. Enjoy the coziness of the blanket I had warmed overnight with such dedication. I could sleep some more still.

But the power of an individual is grossly underestimated in this world. It has been individuals who have shaped the world. Individuals who have given humanity the most pleasant of memories. Individuals who have given it the most awful of scars. An individual holds such an unforeseen control over your life, your ambitions, your plans for the next thirty minutes. Specially if the individual happens to be selling masala lemon tea. In such a situation you disregard the fact that there will be more of the kind who will come by. More who will offer the same elixir as he. You just peep down, clear your throat, and in a voice heavy with the past night's inactivity, call out "Bhaiya, ek cup dena". The governor  of your will stops disinterestedly, pulls out a plastic cup from the stack that is hanging from his waist, and squeezes a quarter of a lemon into it. He then tilts a jar of masala. And then, he pours a dark red (almost black from afar) liquid into it. The lemon chai is ready, steaming hot. You pay the man from your pockets and bless him with your heart. And that is exactly what I did a couple of minutes after I had turned over in the blanket.

I sat up and held by tea with both hands as I shrunk into myself. It was cold outside the blanket and the cup felt delightfully warm in my hands. I looked at the steaming liquid for a while, blowing into it and enjoying the steam that hit my face in return. And then I took a sip. Suddenly it became very obvious that my blessings would never compare with the favour the chai-wala had done me. Seven in the cold morning of the north Indian winter, it is nothing short of altruism that would drive a man to providing his fellow men with a rejuvenating drink. Either that or poverty.

I looked around. Most people were still asleep. Now I could even distinguish a faint sound of snores which somehow had been lost in the background noise till now. The entire compartment was lit by a misty white glow pouring through the glass paned windows. I smiled within. But then, to understand my smug happiness one needs to be an ardent tea lover.

08 September 2011

From Sometime In The Recent Past

My interest in writing is somewhat weird. On occasions I suddenly find within myself an insane urge to write. And it is too momentary to pester me long enough to find a pen and paper to jot things down. Have felt such a strong urge after a long time. Long enough to have had me forget to bring along a notebook to record my fleeting thoughts. And my memory is truly despicable. I sometime think that my thoughts, if recorded, would have created an asylum for me. Words, lines, phrases : they just form in my head at times. Regrettably, my mercurial brain does not retain them.

I happen to be in Jamshedpur right now. In the middle of a somewhat odyssean "leave". Jamshedpur is still the same as it has always been. Time move excruciatingly slow here. One of the charms that has always mesmerised me as an infrequent visitor to this town. The denizens would, I suspect, vehemently differ in opinion.

The particular thought that launched me into a frenzied search for a parchment was the agarbatti fuming in front of me. A fuming agarbatti has always intrigued me. The misty fumes rise up as the agarbatti is slowly consumed. They form abstract patterns for the mind to cling to. White ribbons materialising out of nowhere, swaying tantalizingly for a mere second before dispersing violently into nothingness. Absorbed into the vastness around itself. The fumes dance with the gentle blow of the fan dangling from the ceiling.
Forming mysterious symbols to convey arcane messages. I look on as if under a spell. My uninitiated mind trying to decipher the hidden spirituality in them. It seems that by just looking at this stupendous display of art I can find a peace in me. The fretful human turmoils in my head and heart are allayed for a bit. For a moment I feel their sway.
     They beckon me.
     I join them in their trance. 
     They flirt with my thoughts.
     With them, I dance.

And then suddenly the real world pulls me out. Callously. And I feel like writing it all down. And so I do.

11 August 2011

Guilty, As Charged

Long lost are the dreams,
that I once dearly held.
Dreams that inhabited my callow mind
and into ambitions eventually swelled.

Vanished have those ambitions
over the years of diurnal trite.
Now there dwells a void,
a nothingness, a mock to my plight.

But they return to haunt me sometimes
and accuse me with rancorous objection.
Abusing me for abandoning them,
laughing at my abject dereliction.

But I plough on, hoping,
hanging by threads, ever so mere.
Someday I shall avenge my forlorn dreams;
till then, I persevere.

07 August 2011

Chuk Chuk Gaadi

I feel like writing something today. A feeling that has resurfaced after quite some time. I will probably start with a couple of simple incidents that took place today as I started on my journey back to the ferstering city - Hyderabad (more on this later). So the train was late and I was at the station early. Something that does not usually happen but I guess K got tired of my bantering and analyzing her needs. So I wait in the shade for the train, which obliges with an appearance a few minutes prior to its scheduled departure. Of course it started 10 minutes late, but then everyone is in a rush. They always are in this country.

I stood outside the bogie after I was done with finding a place for my luggage. My co-passengers in the same compartment as I did not seem comely. So I thought I would much rather wait out on the platform for the train to oblige us once again with some movement. Since there were no pretty faces on the platform either, I gazed around indiscriminately. People following and sweet talking to the TTE in order to get seats upgraded to the AC compartments probably. Some seeking a confirmation of their waiting list status. Too many people seeking to travel hassle-free in a country that grants the priviledge to only a chosen few. The few that have planned the trip way ahead in time. You cannot just travel impulsively. Tsk tsk. That is no way to travel in India. "Get organised you filthy bastards!" seems to be the didactic taunt of the Indian railways.

As the perpetual hubbub on the platform ensued, I looked to the signal. It had changed from the forbidding red to an acquiesing yellow. The train would start any minute now. My apprehentions seemed to be shared by the family right in front of me. A middle aged couple with a late teens or a twenty'ish son. He reverently bent to touch his parents' feet. Seeking their permission and blessing to leave. Something that Indians still value. Or is it more out of a sense of formality? Either way, it was pleasing to see the boy make the gesture. The parents granted their permission, unwillingly, as it seemed to me. In all possibility, the parents were seeing their son off as he left them to attend school or work in a far off place. The father was the first to grant his blessing. A bespectacled man, with a lavish moustache, a little stout, which, in our country, means that he was well off and NOT that he was averse to excercising. Appearance matters. He put his arms around his son, drawing him closer into a hug. A prolonged hug which seemed to express his reluctance in watching his son go. He did not seem a man in habit of showing his emotions openly, especially to his son for whom he might have maintained an emotionally arcane image all through the years (of course none of this was deciperable from such small an incident, but I am speaking of the most probable scenario according to me). The son clearly was surprised at his father allowing himself a vent for his emotions. He hugged him back in a slightly confused surprise and smiled and avoided making eye contact with his father as the display of affection ended. He quickly turned to his mother who pulled his head down and kissed his forehead. This seemed more natural to the boy and he was smiling comfortably now. The mother kept saying something to her son. I was not near enough to hear the words but it does not take much to guess what they might have been. The usual motherly concerns about taking care of oneself, guidance regarding train travel, a gentle reminder to keep them informed of his arrival in Hyderabad as soon as the train stopped at the station, etcetra.

The train honked its horns and jerked into motion. People gather at the gates to shout goodbyes to the ones that came to see them off. Others trying to get into the moving train (something that seems to amuse Indians and thrill them to no end - jumping on and off moving vehicles). I was one of them. The gates are the most happening areas when a train sets into motion. All sorts of activities ensue a train's departure. People rushing out after having seen the actual passengers off. Mostly there are multiple people seeing a single passenger off, but then man is a social being. Is he not? Then there are people jumping on the train in the bogie closest at hand. Cursing the ones that come in their way and balancing the food items that they have just bought off the vendors. Then there are people who feel it absolutely necessary to keep saying goodbye to their family and friends till the moment they are visible. They will keep shouting goodbyes and waving their hands wit an exuberance that ironically seems to say that they are glad to be getting away from each other. Then there are people who stand there just to observe these oddities. They just look at the faces of the people belonging to the aforementioned categories and amuse themselves. On occasion, they make eye contact with others of their kind and both instantly realise the other's frivolous intent. They quickly look away as if condemning one another for using such trite ways to amuse themselves and continue searching the other faces.

In time the crowd gradually cleared off the gates ere the train gains celerity and begins its monotonic motions and cadence. I felt like it was the right time to sleep. Of course it is always the right time to sleep in a train. Always. A train journey is the most potent soporiphic agent in my humble opinion. I quickly spread out my sheets and engaged myself in a few hours of sincere sleep only to be left sleepless in the wee hours of the night, typing away into my laptop.

18 March 2011

For The Love Of Rock, And All That Jazz...

Music has been on my mind of late. For the love of the gods of melodies, for the appeasement of the sires of tunes, I have been reverently and passionately listening to the blessed ones sing and play. This is not to say that I had not been listening to artists in the past. I have been doing so for more than 5 years now. Listening to different genres of music, being introduced to new bands in rooms hazy with smoke, spending lazy afternoons discovering new ones on my own; all these have been inculcated in me now. But there had been something very amiss of recent and it took me surprisingly long to figure out what it was.

My first rendezvouses with music were in quite early years. For as long as I can remember, I had been surrounded by it in its various forms. Be it D's casettes of the latest songs (with "jhankar beats"!), or M's collection of oldies, or even the occasional "Ace Of The Base" that I heard when BM came to visit; I heard them all, enjoyed them all. Perhaps I never really biased myself to a particular kind of music. Or perhaps I was never given an option to do so. It continued thus.

My real infatuation with music grew its roots when I came to Delhi. I used to spend afternoons with DDJ. A man whose intellect I still hold in awe, but was too young back then to understand. It was on those afternoons that Indian classical went in through my ears and spread itself out over my brain cells. Numbing it to everything else in the world. I could sense being lost to the music. And then there were the Buddha Bar casettes that DC bought me. Oh! How I loved the fusion! How it all fascinated me! And then there were the usual boy bands, Limp Bizkit, ITv and the like with FB. Bryan Adams, Creed, Def Leppard, a bit of Gn'R, and I could tell then that my infatuation was meant to be more.

Then I came to college. It was here that music really swept me off my feet. I fell in love with her. Rock, metal, trance, techno, ghazals, punk, country, blues, jazz... I heard it all, glutting my aural. It kept me company, it gave me a purpose. I belonged to music entirely for the five years. Led Zepplin, RATM, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the flower power era, Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, British punk. I was taken with a backward current of time and enjoyed surfing the endless oceans.

And then when I moved out of college, I never worried about things changing. I patted the hard disk that had my hard earned collection, smiled inwardly and gaily walked to face the unknown. But sadly, I was mistaken. And how horribly was I mistaken! The chemistry between music and me that I had so taken for granted was gone. Not that I did not love her. I did. But there was something amiss. I could not bear its company for long. Even its infrequent hours were getting tiresome. I tried to force myself into being faithful. But I just could not!

It was then that it struck me. The problem was not between music and I. It was without. I had naively assumed that we were a couple. But looking back, I could see that it was never so! We always needed others to keep us happily together. Twisted, but true. The joys of music were always enjoyed by me when I could share her with someone. Make someone notice the nuances that I had chanced into discovering or appreciating his way of looking at her. And the more peers there were, the merrier I was. And so I started sharing. People started sharing in return. I looked for more and more people to share and my love for music regained its former proportion. And then bypassed those limits.

Music is a refuge that can be relied upon. It is always there, independent of the amount of attention you shower on it. Independent of the way that you left it last. It waits. Faithfully. For you to come back to it. To resume the affair exactly where you unceremoniously ended it. Never questioning. Never doubting. It is enough that you returned.