Monthly Archives: November 2010

two left feet

“Furthermore, in English, the expression “To have two left feet” refers to clumsiness in the domains of football or dancing.” – (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

As a kid, I never tried my hands at either Football or Dance. Somehow they never seemed to fascinate me enough. You can call me clumsy at both. You can say that I have two left feet.

In fact, I remember, there was a time when I hated myself because I could not participate in the excited conversations about the latest happenings in the Football world. I neither had the knowledge nor the expertise of the game to make any comments whatsoever. So I kept mum and cursed myself. I still do not have much idea about the game and I still find myself dumbstruck when someone starts a conversation with “Dude, you into Football?” But I had made my peace with this particular side of me. I had explained it to myself that I need not know or understand everything in the world.

With dance, it was rather easy. Most of my friends who are into dancing find me too geeky or bookish to discuss the nuances of this form of art with me. So I am spared the horror of trying to understand when people talk about the finer aspects of various forms of dance or compare two dancers and their native styles when actually I do not. Everything seemed to work perfectly fine for the first twenty-two autumns of my life. I had been successful in evading situations where I had to face my clumsiness either by dexterity or by wit.

However, this autumn, things turned a bit topsy-turvy. In a dance fest, which marks a popular auspicious nine-day period in the Hindu calendar, while I was trying my best to emulate all the dance steps that I had seen in my life (or at least get close to emulating them), having been caught in a situation where I had to dance and not been able to evade it with my dexterity or wit, a girl, somewhere in the age group of 10-12, approached me with the question that kind of left me dumbstruck. The question being

“Can you teach me how to do Dandiya?”

I am sure I could have handled it better had I been hit by the Tsunami. I, who had probably never ever moved his feet to any kind of music in the world, was being asked to teach a 12 year old on how to dance – that too, a synchronized folk dance where a possible wrong move can be as worse as being hit by a stick, 30 centimeters in length with a force that is directly proportional to the enthusiasm of the fellow dancer. I did not know what to tell her. Walking away would be rude, telling her I did not know how to dance would definitely make her think that I was lying, she being completely convinced that I am an expert in this form of dance, and telling her that I would teach her would be preposterous.

I told her, to be on the safe side, “I do not know much.” She quickly retorted back “Tell me what ever you know.” Damn! Didn’t I tell you that kids these days are getting real smart?

We tried around a little; me conjuring up steps from nowhere and she trying to mimic them as a disciplined student. After sometime, we both gave up; I from conjuring up weird steps and she from trying to believe that they were actual dance steps. And that was the end to my stint as a dance teacher. For a moment as I walked back, I felt a lot of eyes on me and it felt real special. Not that things would change much, not that I had suddenly metamorphosized into a good dancer, just that I had deceived those people into believing that I was a good dancer and thus was living my short moment of glory – the kind of glory that I had never experienced before and in all probability will never experience again.

In retrospection, I am, any day, a better writer than a dancer but I never had anyone approach me to learn Creative Writing. But the irony of it, I have been approached to teach how to dance. Life’s strange isn’t it?

Did I hear anyone talking about Football? Bring it on baby! Two left feet, my foot!

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the call

This article was published in The Viewspaper

My life as a doctor had been pretty satisfying. I thought I was happy. And then, I received that weird phone call on a Sunday afternoon.

I was in my study cleaning up all the junk that had got accumulated over the week. The week had been a very relaxed one. I had only three people visit me. The first two were of no mention but the third one was a very peculiar case. I very distinctly remember him though I have never seen him around in this part of the town.

He was not sick. In fact he was there because he believed that I was not well and that I need help from a doctor. I was really annoyed then but now the thought of it amused me. I walked to the other side of the table trying to fathom the reason behind his audacity. It was precisely then that I noticed a strange object lurking behind the cushion of the chair. It was a cell-phone!

It had my name on it though I do not remember having ever seen it before. Even before I could figure anything out, the phone started ringing. Not knowing what else to do, I picked it up.

“Hello there.”

“Who is this?”I enquired.

“Well I am also a doctor, you see, albeit a very different kind.”

“What do you want?” I was getting suspicious.

“It is not me. It is you who are not well, doctor”

“What’s all this?” Though I did not want to admit, he seemed to be completely in control of things and I did not quite like that.

“Well you can disconnect the call right away or go on. All that I can promise is that if you go on, you will not regret it. You are a man of science, doctor. Can you take a leap of faith with me?”

I did not know what to say except that I could not bring myself to keep the phone down.

“I will take your silence as a yes. I have only one question. Is there something you are hiding from yourself, doctor? It could be anything – a fear that you have never faced, a truth that you have never come to terms with.”

“No”

“Be honest, doctor. You should not lie to the person who is treating you. ”

I considered. I reconsidered and after a full two minutes of silence said “Even if I had one, why would I tell you?”

“Well, for the next few minutes, forget that you are on the phone. Just close your eyes and open your heart out. You will do yourself a lot of good if you do as I say.”

I closed my eyes and blurted out. I do not know what made me trust him. Maybe it was his voice. Or maybe I just needed an excuse to speak it out.

“I never wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to travel. I wanted to write about all the places that I would see, all the people that I would be with, all the things that I would do. I wanted to write a travelogue. But somehow, life just dragged me along. I was told to be afraid of the fact that I might be left behind in the race of life. And so I feared it. I am a doctor as a result of that fear, neither because I love medicine nor because I had always wished to be one.”

“Very well doctor. Do you feel better now?”

“Yeah I do.”

“Tomorrow morning, look for a mail that will give you a list of people who have the same unfulfilled dream as yours. Feel free to talk to them and if possible try and see if you guys can work something out.”

I did not know what to say. I was too dumbstruck.

“And now, can you do me a small favor, consider this as a fees for the treatment I just met you?”

“What do you want?” I asked him.

“Nothing much” he replied “I just want you to go to a distant place where no one knows you, look for a person who is not happy with what he is doing. Pay him a visit. Tell him that he will get well soon and discreetly drop this cell phone at his place before the next Sunday afternoon.

I will give him a call. Thanks for your time, doctor. Take care.”

aiyyo-dhya issue!

This article was selected as the Best Letter to the Editor by The Week.

The verdict is out. The Indian Judiciary has finally decided to give the 60-year old case a rest. It must have been a very nostalgic moment for them, having had to let go of a case that is as old as the Indian Republic. I am sure they would have felt like losing a family member. Come to think of it, the average life expectancy of an Indian is 64.7 years (as per Wikipedia), a shade more than the time taken by the Judiciary to give their verdict.

And what a historical decision it is! After detailed brain storming, many judicial fights, investigation committee reports, ASI reports, a communal riot that threatened to break the unity of the nation, thousands of lives and destruction of property worth millions in rupees and much more in emotion, the court has finally decided that the best way to settle a dispute between the three parties vying for the same land is to divide the land in 3 parts and give one third of it to each. Smart! (My mom used to do that when I and my sister fought over the last Dairy Milk chocolate.)

So we have one part of the land with the Ram Lalla group, one part with the Sunni Waqf Board and one part with Nirmohi Akhara. (It appeared strange to me that a group calling themselves NIRMOHI Akhara was actually fighting a judicial case for a piece of land. Talk of being Nirmohi!). Phew. It beats me to fathom what took them so long to arrive at this decision though. 1 divided by 3, if you were to divide equally, was 1/3rd even 60 years ago.

Mythology of Shree Ram, as has been narrated to me by my grandmother, has it that Maryada Purushottam Ram was the person who let go of his rights to the crown to honor his father’s wishes. And here we have 20th century followers of Ram who cannot let go of a small piece of land. Ram was known to be just even while dealing with his enemy and here we have 20th century followers of Ram who do not think a tad before chopping of his brethren’s head. Ram was known for the respect he had towards women, even of the lowest social caste and here we have 20th century followers of Ram raping and molesting at will. I am pretty sure, if Ram would have been alive today, he would be ashamed that he took birth at that place. No wonder his kingdom was Ram Rajya and we are still a developing nation!!

We are a country that was waiting with bated breath about the communal response after a judicial verdict and we call ourselves secular. We are a country where the entire economic machine was shut down for half a day for fear of public retribution and we think we are free. We are a country where people locked themselves up at noon for fear of being murdered and stood guard for fear of their houses and shops being burnt and we think we are a democracy.

I think the only person to whom this decision has done any good is Suresh Kalmadi who finally, is off the news. I am sure he was definitely not enjoying the media spot-light on him or on the Common Wealth Games. As for the others, I think the common Indian has moved beyond this whole Mandir-Masjid thing or he has stopped bothering himself about it. Let’s face it. The last 60 years of governance has hardly mitigated any of his problems and he is still fighting the same issues that he was during independence. And that is a quiet signal to all those who are claiming that they are fighting this battle on his behest: 60 years is good enough. Just finish it off, whatever it is.

Yes, the verdict is out. And there has hardly been any communal tension that has followed the verdict. The country is heaving a sigh of relief. But a few questions remain unanswered – not because they are not important but because no one seems to have asked them. And in those questions lie the defeated purpose of the whole litigation process of the Indian Judiciary in particular and the Indian Democracy in general.

Wait, did I hear someone say that they are going to the Supreme Court? And there we are, 60 years and nowhere.

pied piper!

I am sure every one of you knows who I am. Yeah, the guy you read about in your picture book, when you were small, with a weird dressing sense, a conical hat, holding a pipe, playing a tune or the other. I am that guy whom you feared when you were a kid, the guy whose existence you doubted when you were old enough, the guy whom you mocked at when you were a teenager, and the guy whom you used to threaten little kids with, when you finally grew out of me. I do not know what you think of me – mysterious, bad, evil, dangerous, wicked (the use of only negative adjectives is intentional) – I only know that there is hardly anyone in the world who thinks good about me or looks up to me or wants to be friends with me. I do not blame anyone. The way that people have portrayed me over the years, it is but natural for you to assume that I am the villain (in fact, our thinking has become so narrow, that we need to classify people as heroes or villains to either appreciate or reprimand them. We have never ever understood people as individuals, beyond the definition of heroes or villains). The only thing that hurts me is that no one actually tried to understand me; ever. True, I never cared to justify, but I would have liked if anyone had cared to find out my point of view before listening to what everyone else had to say and definitely before judging me.

I never grew up in the city and hence could never learn the various nuances of ‘civilization’ that people in the city were so particular about (sometimes I wonder, who gave the right to a few people to devise ways as to how you should conduct yourself and then boss over the world by passing these self designed rules as manners or etiquettes?). Why cannot some people understand this simple fact that different people grow up in different environments and thus are bound to be different? Why do they have to bulldoze every bit of difference and create zombies that are identical to them in every respect? I had a poor sense of dressing, had old fashioned, multi-colored over-coats and hats and my manners were not very refined by the city standards (which by the way, as per my observation, is hypocrisy at its best) but at least I was true to myself and conducted myself with grace. Now about how many people in your city can you say this? And moreover, as a species, have we not still identified something better to judge people with than their clothing?

I was a simple guy and all I cared for in this world was the music that I made with my pipe. In fact, that was the only thing I was good at and the only thing I cared about. I did not do that for anyone or for any specific reason except that I liked doing it. My music was innocent, my music was beautiful! My music never had a purpose, and yet it had a sense of fulfillment! And then some people from the city figured out that my music was magical. And as the word spread, they started liking it. They convinced me to take my music beyond the confined domains of a mere hobby that had no future (and anything that does not make a profit, does not make sense in the city. Ever heard of something called a brothel?) to something that can be more productive. They gave my music a purpose, they used it to drive their worries away (every rat that jumped of the cliff that day, represented one less worry for the people and one more murder for my music) and in the process they very carefully stole its innocence away, very carefully stripped it of its beauty.

And then, when they had found what they were seeking, when all their worries were gone, they conveniently declared themselves done with me and my music. My music was no more magical. It was then, that I realized, that it was never ever about my music or the magic that it had. It was always about finding a means to reach the destination. Unfortunately, in this case, my music was the one that got them there. And I had foolishly fallen into the trap and traded off the innocence of my music with the blood of hundreds of thousands of rats in lure that my music was magical and it would be wrong to disappoint people who believed that the magic in my music was their only savior. Bloody hypocrites, I tell you, these people who live in the city!

That night, as I sat all alone, going through all the events that had resulted in me having lost all my confidence in what at one time was the most beautiful thing that I knew of, I realized my foolishness at having trusted these people. I tried hard to find a way to redeem myself, to get back to those old days when my music was innocent and my life was simple. But what was done could not be undone. And then it did hit me like a flash – the only path of my redemption, the only way I could do something that would correct all the wrong that I had done so far by misusing the magic in my music.

Why do you think I lured all the children away, the next day? Come to think of it, I could as well have lured all the people in the city and could have made them jump off the cliff. But that would not have erased my guilt – it would have only added to the blood that I already had on my hand.

I lured only the children away, because in them I saw the hope of starting a new world, a world free from all the vices that this city had, a world where they would grow up doing things that they loved to do without justification or a perfect explanation. I did not kill them; instead I gave them a life. At the least, if not anything else, I could teach them how to play the pipe. I shudder to think what the city would have taught them anyways!

I am sorry for the three kids who could not come – one was crippled, the other was a deaf and the third a blind – I pity them. I wonder what kind of men they would have grown up into, in that city. As for the others, they are fine. They have grown into wonderful gentle men and beautiful ladies and it feels really nice to see them so joyful, lively and happy. A few of them, in fact, have turned into amazing pipers. The people of the city should get a chance to hear them once.

They love me! And I love them! And they have been the greatest reward for the magic in my music!

Now the big question that you all want an answer to: “Where did you and the kids mysteriously disappear that day? “ Well, precisely to nowhere. We are right there among you people – in the form of your watchmen, in the form of the old shopkeeper whom you buy ration from and who always has a story no matter what, in the form of the kids that scream as they play cricket in your neighborhood, in the form of the beautiful girl who lives next door and gives you a smile as you pass her everyday – only that you people cannot see us or realize who we are unless you decide to throw that blanket of hypocrisy that the ‘civilized’ city has put on you that has not only blinded you but also has clouded your understanding. All you got to do is wake up one morning; remove those elite spectacles that were gifted to you by the city, and look around. You will find us all, eagerly waiting for you to discover us.

You think that this is a fairy tale? Well then at the next occasion, whether you have previously played an instrument or not, just pick up a pipe and play. Listen carefully to the sounds that you make. Initially they will appear as irritating noise. Do not give up. Keep playing till you can feel the music. (Do not worry. People around you, will still think it is noise. Ignore them.) And when you do, just let it talk to you. It will tell you the same story as I just did!

Take my word for it! Try it once!

Ever since I was a kid, I have always been fascinated by this guy – The Pied Piper! He has something about him; I have always loved and though I have never heard his music, have always been lured by his fictional image.

This post, however, is not about him. It is about all the real life Pied Pipers that I have known. There are many and this one is for all you guys!

a study in the airport

Sitting at the airport and observing people around can be a lot of fun. No, I do not do that for a living (Thank God). I just happen to be in a situation where I am supposed to spend the whole day in Kolkatta Airport having arrived there from my hometown in the morning for a flight that is scheduled late in the evening. Not that I had an option but now that I have arrived and have nothing else to do, except flip through the pages of the ‘City Of Joy’ and ogle at the heavily made up air hostesses (Always believed Bengali girls are cute. Just got it confirmed.) who walk up and down once in a while, I decide to observe the multitude of people around me, each unique in their own little way but nevertheless can be classified into some group or the other as has been duly compiled below.

So here are the findings from yours truly:

‘Busy As A Bee’ Types:

They come with an air of urgency, rushing through the things at hand without a minute to spare. Looking at them from a distance, as they run through all the procedures at the airport, makes you feel as if the whole world owes its functioning to them. Typically in a business suite, these people create an aura as they come and go. It appears as if they are the only ones who in the world of cheap flights still hold on to the sanctity of the fact that air travel should be availed only when it is really urgent (or when the company pays for it!)

‘I Am Confused’ Types:

Then there are some who have the continuous ‘I-AM-CONFUSED’ look on their face (I am classifying them as a different group from the ‘First Time Fliers’ because there are some who are always confused, irrespective of the number of times they have flown before.) You will find them at every counter, with that same perplexed look, trying to understand what has suddenly come to take over them.

They make multiple rounds of each counter, missing a thing or two in each, only to come back later and complete them. They are also the ones who keep poking people around (read the beautiful air hostesses) with a question or two every time they are expected to do something. Sometimes I have a sinister feeling that this ignorance is just an alibi to talk to all those beautiful females around. I mean at the baggage counter how do you even come up with something like “Are you going to send it in the same aero-plane as mine?” “No. Obviously not. We have a chartered flight that will carry your luggage for you, sir, while you can travel with the rest of our passengers!” Uuhh.”

If you happen to be following one such person in a queue, rest assure by the time you have boarded the plane you would have complete understanding of the whole aviation machinery that is in place. Incidentally, I had none.

‘First Time Fliers’ Types:

They also belong to the ‘I Am Confused’ category but as mentioned above some of them remain in that category beyond their first flying experience. Also, ‘First Time Fliers’ have certain other characteristics that are worth mentioning.

For one, each one of them is under the mortal fear that the plane is going to crash. I mean, when you are so sure, why board the plane at all? Then there are the various last minute Pujas that they do and the rituals that they carry out to ensure that the former does not happen. And last but not the least, the relief that you see on their face when the plane finally lands. (The smile says it all. It is as if they had just carried out a lunar mission successfully.)

You would usually find them hanging around at counters, a little more than required, inquisitively looking around at the various things that are happening. You will also find them amazed at little things throughout the journey from how the security at the check-in works to the clouds that are visible through the window once the plane takes off.

‘I Know You Are Looking At Me’ Types:

This is a very interesting class of people (seen in all walks of life but very clearly observable in the airport.) They have this habit of doing something or the other that would catch the attention of the people around. In fact, they enjoy all the eye balls on them.

So you can find people who have that extra air of sophistication as they walk, throw that fake accent as they talk, type something very loudly on the keyboard, talk business on the phone so much so that it appears all the business deals are actually done in the airport.

A section of the Airport Authorities (ground staff or otherwise) also belong to this group and you can easily make them out. Watch out for the loud taps as the girl in red walks in front of you, or listen to the animated conversation that they have, loud enough to be audible to the people around and silent enough for them to make any sense out of it and you will understand what I mean.

‘I Am More Interested In Your Affairs’ Types:

This classification was initially not planned but was introduced later to include the girl sitting next to me who has been peeking at my monitor, right since I switched my computer on. I have caught her twice staring at my screen; trying to make sense of what I was typing. But after that coy smile that says ‘I am sorry. I peeped into your screen by mistake’ she gets back to what she has been doing; unabashed.

I am sure she has read the whole article by now. In fact, I am deliberately typing this part so that she reads it and may be then the point will get conveyed. (The one that I have failed to convey through my looks!)

‘Lost In Their Own World’ Types:

And let’s not forget all those who are happily lost in their own world. Ipods (I am sure it keeps more people busy than any other god-damn thing in the world), cell phones, a nice book, an interesting conversation, a nice article – they would find something or the other that would keep them busy and occupied no matter how long they have to wait at the airport or what people around them have been doing or trying to do.

That I guess covers them all.

And there comes the announcement. I got to rush. The girl in red has already called out my name and I must say she looks beautiful enough to be ignored.

So as of now, it is bye bye Kolkatta from the Mute Spectator!

ten minutes

The alarm rang. He picked up the phone, dismissed the alarm and flopped back to bed.

In another ten minutes, she would come, smelling of jasmine (He always hated jasmines. But somehow it smelt good on her) and pull him out of the bed. He would loathe around and flop back, just to see her at her affectionate best, asking him to go and get ready for the office. He would resist till she gave him that coy look, that expressionless look that said a lot. He would then drag himself out of the bed, kiss her and move on. And the day would begin!

He slept there on the bed waiting for the ten minutes to pass. He slept there on the bed waiting for the fragrance of jasmine to take over him. He slept there on the bed waiting for the best few minutes of his day to come. He could never have enough of her. Never ever.

*******************************************************************************

She did hear the clock chime as it struck 8. She gave it a momentary glance just to confirm it was 8. She knew it was 8. Always did. But still she confirmed it every day. She hated waking him up before time. He looked good when he is asleep.

She had only ten minutes to dry her hair with the towel, rush to the kitchen, put water on the heater for the coffee, take a quick glance in the mirror just to see if she looked fine and then scamper to the bedroom. She would then sit beside him on the bed, put her hand on his hair and ask him to get up with a lot of coyness and an animated anger in her voice hoping that he does not. She would wait for him to resist a bit and then increase her voice, faked anger lost in a sea of affection, and pull him out. He would still not buzz from the bed. She would then give him that angry, exasperated look that she was sure he would take notice and cannot resist. He would then wake up, kiss her and move on. And the day would begin!

She waited for this moment everyday – to see him sleeping on the bed, to be close enough to feel his breath, to tell him the same lines again and again in an animated voice, to drag him out of the bed although all that she ever wanted was to cuddle up to him as he slept, to close her eyes as he kissed her. She could never have enough of him. Never ever.

******************************************************************************

The ten minutes passed.

He woke up and went towards the kitchen, picked up the water heater and fiddled with it trying to decipher the intricacies that were involved in making a cup of coffee.

She was not of the morning coffee types. She liked it in the evening with a few salted biscuits. She sat there on the bed reading a story from the newspaper about how a young couple had eloped to get married. She laughed at their foolishness.

Locked in their respective cupboards was a piece of paper that they had both signed. It gave them the license to do what they will, to do what is close to their hearts without any restriction what so ever. Wait, did it?

They had nothing to do with each other, ever again. Never ever.

i just seemed to know

I do not understand what people refer to as love. Never did.

For me it was always an abstraction that I could never fathom, a feeling I could never explain. Whatever little knowledge I had of the same was all because of the numerous Bollywood movies that I grew up with. For reasons that I do not know, I always believed that I will be able to find love in some walk of my topsy-turvy life. I knew the destination. I knew how to get there. How difficult can it be?

And then I met her.

Nothing special happened. Violins did not start playing, a back-ground music did not take over me, and junior artists did not appear out of no-where shaking a leg with me. In fact, I do not even know the exact moment when the realization hit me that this girl over there is the one.

I just seemed to know.

I just seemed to know from the way she sits next to me listening to all the non sense that I have got to say with an attention that could put an ace shooter to shame, the way her eyes follow every movement of mine, the way she finds an odd stupid joke to giggle at. (Let me tell you, considering the fact that I am a chatter-box, it takes a lot of patience to listen to me. People usually get bored or get frustrated with my continuous blabbering.)

I just seemed to know from the wide grin that comes across my face every time I see her name flashing on my cell phone screen (and I am sure it happens at the other end as well), the way the whole world stops for a second as I browse through her SMS or pick her call, the way our cell phone conversations dwindle for hours without each saying the other anything significant, the way IDEA and Airtel people would be grinning having claimed two more innocent souls into the vicious circle of nonsense-talks-that-cost-a-fortune at the end of the month.

I just seemed to know from the amount of effort that she put in designing my birthday gift, the beauty with which each word was fit into the poem she wrote for me, the glee on her face as I cut my birthday cake. I just seemed to know from the fact that I could bring myself to go to a jewelers’ shop for the first time in life, stand and look at many similar looking chains, pretend that I understood which ear rings would match with the selected chain, and listen to the continuous talks of the sales guy who had an opinion and an information about every piece that he had without asking him to keep quiet, all the time thinking about the smile that would cross her face when I give it to her.

I just seemed to know from the way she keeps singing those wonderful old songs as we go on long drives on my bike, with a coy look on her face when our eyes meet, without a care in the world. I do not understand songs much (have never been the music kind) but it feels awesome to see her do so.

I just seemed to know from the way I miss her when she is not around, the way I keep remembering previous chats, the way the moments that I have spent with her keep coming back together with a deep sense of longing for those times to happen again.

I just seemed to know from the way she holds my hand, the way it feels perfect, the way it feels complete. I just seemed to know from the way she said YES when I asked her the question, the way a smile flashed across her face immediately, the way two drops of tear suddenly took over that smile, the way she tried to hide them, the way she looked at me after that – a long, piercing, continuous gaze that had no expressions.

I just seemed to know from the way she has changed my life, the way she has stood beside me as I narrated her stories from my past, the way she has been there holding onto me as few old problems got over and some fresh ones came, the way she has reinforced my belief on the goodness of mankind, the way she made me realize that it is better to face the truth than run away from it.

I just seemed to know.

Seven days old into my new found world, I am still trying to figure out if all that I have been going through put together would qualify as love. I do not know the answer yet. But there’s one thing I have realized. Contrary to my belief, I never found love. Love discovered me instead. I always knew the destination. Love gave me a purpose. I always knew how to get there. Love told me how not to.

May be, I do not understand what people refer to as love. But then, never will.