Tuesday, January 10, 2012
It was funny, sunny one moment and eerily cloudy the next. Seemed like the weather Gods were a confused lot that particular day. But that didn’t seem to bother Manu. His eyes were on the back pocket of the morbidly obese gentleman in a suit, which had an equally weighty wallet threatening to pop out any moment. He followed the man in an unhurried pace, as he moved ponderously down the pavement. This was to be one of those rare moments of fortuitous grace, where he didn’t have to do any actual work. Would the grace be granted quicker if he made the fat man run a little? Just when he was planning some clever trick to end this annoying wait, the man walked into an ugly looking building.
That’s where he saw her, sitting at the reception desk with the look of a beatified saint on her face, playing with her short, black hair and lost in a private reverie. The fat man was now standing at the coffee table in the reception area, reading a newspaper with his back towards them. The room was empty except for the three of them. Manu stood at the doorway, wondering if he should go ahead with his little crime. As if she had read his mind, she slowly averted her gaze towards him, without hesitation and without changing her posture. Her icy stare made Manu freeze in his spot. She sat there and he stood there, looking at each other for a few moments. Then suddenly, the frosty glaze in her sharp, black eyes thawed a little, releasing Manu from her hold. She now looked challengingly at him; a closer or longer observation would have revealed a mocking glint in her eyes, seeming to encourage him to go ahead with his petty diabolic deed. He wanted to go talk to her, and stealing the wallet now became an impediment. He wanted it done with, and she wanted it done. A few short steps, a swift and silent swish of his hand and the wallet was his. He walked over to her, carelessly placed his hands on the desk and waved the wallet in front of her beaming face. She was trying hard not to, but then she smiled a small, confident smile. He took her out that evening.
He would take her out every evening for the next two weeks. The ultimate purpose of their evenings was to relive the magic of the first time they met, to make it grander in scale and give it different situations and possibilities. The customary city park, movie or restaurant that preceded this climax didn’t compare in excitement or necessity. She’d point out a guy on the street, and he’d close in on him, to filch his wallet or steal his chain. Sometimes it was something as inane as discreetly slashing the guy’s arm, neck or whatever exposed part with a razor blade. The guy wouldn’t instantly notice of course, till a trickle of blood and a faint jab of pain gave away this impish act. She’d be delighted when Manu came back with the spoils of these little acts of bravado. She would giggle and clap her hands and seeing her happy made his head giddy with joy. But she wasn’t just happy; there was some other sinister emotion that lay hidden beneath that exuberance. A few days later he had given up on deciphering.
There’s something about her that makes you lay your soul bare at the altar of her conscience; letting her judge you, however she wanted. You would do it willingly, without dissent. Quiet on the outside, but on the inside having lengthy conversations with herself. You could see it on her face when she’s silent and not smiling - her eyebrows would twitch, knot, unknot, her lips would purse, twist, untwist. While they lay in his small bed in his single-room apartment every night after their little escapades, he’d curl up in her embrace and watch this silent performance on her face. He had never asked what she was thinking about.
Their devilish dalliance reached its crescent two days ago. After a quick meal at a roadside chaat shop they had followed a rich looking man to a desolate street; going by his urgent strides he presumably wanted to relieve himself. While she stayed back at the entrance to the street, Manu went behind him. In a flash he had the man pinned against a compound wall, with one arm locked tight under his jaw and the other frantically searching his pockets. This was to be his first rough encounter during his time with her. He kept throwing quick glances at her, as his heart swelled with pride over this display of masculine dexterity. She stood there, a murky shadow against the streetlight, a silent sentry keeping watch over this atrocity. He hadn’t been prepared for what was to happen next though. The man swung his elbow into Manu’s stomach, throwing him flat on his back. Humiliation rushed through his blood, head to toe; he wouldn’t dare look at her now. The damage had to be undone, quickly. He pulled out his trusty razor blade and sprung up. He drove the jagged knife repeatedly into the stunned man till he felt the humiliation drain out and onto the dirty ground. He walked back to her, panting and sweating, hoping the animal rage made him more appealing. Wide-eyed and jaw tight set she slowly reached out, took his hands into hers and lifted it close to her face. She turned them this way and that, letting the blood glisten in the streetlight like liquid ruby.
The murder came to light the next morning and found its way into the evening newspapers and idle chatter and gossip across town. The whole day was spent in silence in his apartment. That night, with the rain pounding on the single curtain-less window, a night-long merry-go-round of plans began. Somewhere between two and three am, logic gave way to fantasy and images of islands, yachts, drugs and mansions begin to swirl around in the cramped apartment. She had thoroughly enjoyed this part, suggesting one grand idea after the other amid fits of teary-eyed giggling. He had played along of course, while in the back of his mind he charted a solid escape route. Finally, when her fantasies trickled down to a subtly frilled version of logic, he told her what they were actually going to do. She was disinterested now. She lay on her back, on the bed, and analyzed the patterns formed by the paint peeling off the ceiling, vaguely catching snippets of his plan - Aunt’s place... next town… lovely backyard… decide city… settle down… babycorn soup… train journey… are you listening?... Richards park… six in the evening… Kanth… Staring, analyzing, nodding, eyes closing, nodding, she had fallen asleep, with the phrase ‘settle down’ swimming in her head, alphabets coming together in a dance. He lay down next to her, feeling safe and content, as the rain lulled him to sleep.
They woke up late the next morning, close to noon. She left saying she’d be back with her bags and would meet him at Richards Park as planned. He had things to do himself – inform Kanth, his trusted confidante in crime (personally and professionally) about his grand plan. How thrilled he’d be! And he wanted him to be a part of this defining moment in his life as well; he’d ask him to get the train tickets to the next town.
Evening came, quicker than usual, and Manu was now outside the Park, on the pavement, leaning against the latticed fence. The rains last night had been harsh, but had left behind a bitter-sweet aftermath – clean air, slushy roads, clearer minds and plans and a little apprehension. He realized he felt no remorse for that night, and was a little surprised that he felt smugly happy. Looking down at a large pool of muddy rain water next to him, he saw the evening sky reflected in it, with wispy orange tinted clouds sailing past in silent ceremony. As he stood there looking at that painting in motion he heard his name being called out from a distance. He didn’t look up. A second time now, louder and closer.
It was Kanth. He was now standing next to him, pulling out a cigarette from his pocket. They didn’t greet each other, for they knew and liked each other well.
“Have you got the tickets?”
“Oh yes. It was quite easy. There’s just one train and nobody goes there quite often. The train arrives at seven, leaves ten minutes later.”
Kanth handed him the tickets and leaned against the fence next to him.
“I met this girl at Brigade Dreams last night, Kanth. Quite something I should say! Unlike Anita that I mentioned to you last time.”
The tales of his amorous conquests kept Manu’s attention somewhat occupied, while in a distracted manner he slowly turned now and then to the left and squinted his eyes against the setting sun. She’s always on time. Not once in the past two weeks had she made him wait.
“Manu, it was perfect!”
“A little hesitant at first, but later, BAM! She fell in line, just like that!”
“If I saw her again, I’d kiss her feet and say ‘It was perfect!’. I didn’t say that then of course. I told her she was pathetic.”
As he listened to how a pair of heavily fortified lips were conquered with the slightest pressure and how a carefully timed sigh unlocked an unwilling tongue, he turned again, to see her walking down the footpath. The sunlight behind her framed her petite figure, a slender piece of sunset cloud drifting down to the earth, gliding towards him. He suddenly realized how diminutive she was, with a sort of fragility that did not match that mysterious strength inside. He liked this duality; it made her even more desirable.
He straightened up and nudged Kanth, “Ok, ok, she’s here. Go to the station and wait there”
“Hey! I want to see her! After all…”
“Yeah you can, at the station. Now, off!” Manu felt another new emotion – a vague pang of jealousy. Kanth walked away hesitantly, turning back now and then, hoping to catch a glimpse of her.
She was walking towards him with a carelessness that only extremely confident people seemed to possess – side-stepping puddles of water, languidly scanning the traffic on the street, clasping her hands behind her back, swinging them, clasping them again. Not once did she look in his direction. And she did not have any bags. She had somehow wound her way towards him, almost by accident. He wanted to hug her, but then settled for the warmest smile he could beam. It was quickly murdered in cold blood by her expressionless face.
“I’ve informed the police”
Manu stared into her face, waiting for her eyes to light up and her lips to stretch into that self-assured grin which came to his mind whenever he heard her name or said it to himself. But she stood there, vacant, right hand clasping left wrist, right forefinger carelessly tugging at a sacred thread on her wrist. Once, twice… in a rhythm now.
“I gave them your address. I told them we’re meeting here. I told them where we are… where we were to go.”
In his head, Manu’s first reaction was to lean back against the fence and let it take his weight along with a heaviness that had descended over him. But her empty stare dissuaded him from showing any emotion, willed him into going numb. A car horn began to blare next to them on the street, a death knell that traveled through Manu’s head, filling up the vacuum that had suddenly revealed itself, with sound.
He realized he had to say something; in the right tone. Angry preferably, but the best that he could conjure up was a cross between scared and hurt.
“Why did you do it?”
She wavered her stare a little and turned back to face him. She held him with her eyes, strangling him, choking him. He couldn’t say anything more.
“It had to stop somewhere… you know. I had enough.”
Confusion whirled in reels inside his head, and he felt like a child who had lost his father at the fair.
“I don’t get it, everything was going fine!”
She closed her eyes for three full seconds. When she opened them they were softer, with a faint glow that threatened to not last for long.
“Yes, but things can’t remain that way… for good. I don’t want to live in a world created by you, for me.”
“Don’t ask for further explanations. Just go try and save yourself. You’ve shown enough promise that you can. If you cannot, thank you… for everything I guess”
With that she turned around and proceeded to cross the street, looking to the left and then to the right. He watched her, silently, as she performed this small act of trying to safeguard her life; while she had shattered his own. It then suddenly occurred to him, like a tapaswi attaining nirvana on the mount that is what she had been doing all along - safeguarding and shattering.
She looked back one last time at him, for the final chapter in her memory book – him standing there with his shoulders stooped, gazing at the traffic. Satisfied with the image she looked ahead and walked on a little faster, lighter, with a buzzy feeling in her gut. She was headed towards her workplace. She thought of her desk, her phone and her entry book and felt a strange satisfaction she knew wouldn’t last. But there was the excitement of waiting to learn if he indeed managed to escape. Moreover, the interrogations and inquiries would ensure a steady flurry of activity for the next few weeks. Those two week worth memories though, they’d be summoned again and again to redeem her. When the phone on her desk stared back, threatening to break the silence at any moment. When she looked across at the street and couldn’t find anyone interesting to build a story around. When she took out her entry book to read the names and couldn’t find anyone interesting to build a story around there either. They’d be recalled till they grew trite, weary and dog-eared with the constant dragging back from the past. They should last her a good few months. Then she’d look out again, for the next experience, the next sacrifice.
Praying Mantis Laila.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Etched and carved
Each line and curve,
As from nature’s breast
Hard stone, soft touch
Soft tone, hard lust
What’s outside belies within
The unseen sheen
Of rusted truth.
In a stone-dead grip.
Outside, fluid lines
Inside, frozen minds
Layer on layer
Each lava level cools
Till the hot core
With cold, cold cold.
Friday, October 15, 2010
A strand of hair
A flake of skin
A chip of nail
The spark within
Elements of my being
That stand to fade
If I don’t hold on
If I don’t forbade
I kick, I scream
I yell, I dream
I trip, I fall
I bear it all
The skin, the hair
The nail, the bod
Tools of play
In the hand of God
The spark within
Is by all means mine
To nurture and save
From wrath divine
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
It was another Sunday, probably the only day in the week when I know what I'd be doing, with room for very little change; and it almost always begins with going to church with the parents. On some Sundays this ritual is weirdly automated – wake up, wash up, dress up, go to the church, mumble, fumble, sit down, stand up, mumble, fumble and get back home. But on some Sundays all this is infused with a vague sense of religious fervour, probably brought about because I happen to have some important work lined up for the week which only providence can get me through, or the previous night I stumbled across a distant memory of unquestioning, innocuous faith as a child. Today, my mind was pristinely empty and I was all set to play the role of a catholic automaton.
The parents and I hurried into the church lest we be left standing for one whole hour. That will effectively eliminate the sitting-standing routine though, but then we wouldn't have a place to kneel. We managed to get ourselves a vacant pew and sat down smugly, without looking left or right; and from the corner of our eyes, began examining the gathering. It was a motley group - grand old Anglo-Indian ladies smothered in cheap perfume and rhinestone chokers, bawdy teenagers dressed in low-waist jeans, with tussled hair and a 'I don't know what I'm doing here' look on their faces, elegant middle-aged women who were carefully studying the other women around, bored men who kept glancing at their watches every twenty seconds, and of course, weepy, whiny kids who enjoyed hearing their cries echo through the pillared aisles of the church. Except for the children's intermittent screams, the church was eerily quiet – close to five hundred people sitting in ceremonious silence, waiting for that imminent toll of the bell that would signal all of us to rise.
Also, we were waiting for her.
She always came in late, well after everyone has found some corner in the church to sit or stand. She came in late probably because she knew no one would take HER usual place, which was the main aisle seat in the seventh pew from the altar. Moreover, she liked walking in when the entrance hymn began, majestically down the carpeted aisle, in a feeble attempt to mimic the bridal march. As I sat there looking up at the ceiling, the altar bells chimed, sarees and gowns rustled, and we all stood up in unison... The grand piano blared, falsetto voices rang out in shrill perfection and the entrance hymn began... As if on cue, everyone seated on either sides of the main aisle slightly moved their heads to watch her walking in... She was a wee bit late, but she walked in nevertheless...
My mother always insisted that she must be around seventy, but I sternly refused to believe that just because she had lustrous, curly black hair that fell softly around her wrinkled, brown face. No, I also refused to believe that it could be a wig. Today, she had tucked in an assortment of dying garden flowers of various colours in her hair. In her arms she carried a large bouquet of fading pink bougainvillea flowers, palm leaves, spider plant leaves and a few balsam plant stems. She wore a sleeveless pink gown that revealed her shriveled and weak arms. Her dress actually glittered in the morning light that streamed in through the stained glass windows. A red nike cap in place of a tiara completed her bridal attire.
She straggled over to her seat nonchalantly and stood in place just as the last notes of the hymn rang out. The priest then said something, the congregation responded in a monotone and sat down hurriedly. But she knelt, with her arms spread out in front of her, looking towards the heavens. A few dried flowers twirled to the floor from her ancient bouquet as she gently swayed back and forth. As usual, everyone ignored her and went on with the service, singing songs and mouthing responses. But all the while she knelt there, with her eyes closed in a feverish trance as she mumbled some incomprehensible prayer. Then it was time for the sermon, a time when (mostly) the priest admonished the parish for making the sunday mass nothing but a religious obligation, and a time when most of people who were seated settled down for a light snooze and the people who were standing settled into a relaxed pose to daydream. But of course, there were the ones who paid rapt attention and there were the ones who just chose to say their own prayers while the priest carried on with his harangue. What did I do? Well, I do one thing or the other every week. And what did SHE do? She took out a small notebook and a pen from some secret crevasse in her chest and began writing down everything that the priest was saying- an old-school Catholic practice- as she knelt all the while. She would look up now and then to smile at people around her; that's surprising too, for most people in the church preferred to keep Christian goodwill to themselves. The service thus went on with an undercurrent of religious and spiritual disconnect, salvaged by the sincerity and honesty of a few genuine souls... like her...
Finally the mass was over. The choir sang 'Go the mass is ended, children of the Lord'... Most of the congregation must have secretly hummed that song with relief. Everyone filed out of the church in a hurry, shuffling and gently shoving, trying to make a civil but quick exit after hastily crossing themselves and curtsying towards the altar. But she still stood at her place, grabbing hold of any hand she could in the crowd, shaking it and warmly mouthing a 'Thank you, good bye, have a nice Sunday', through a toothless grin. Most of people would get mighty embarrassed by this and try to wriggle out of her feeble grip, while others would indulge her and wish her back. This time, as I shuffled past her she got hold of my hand too, I smiled and caught her eye... Her eyes shone with a frankness and joy that was rare... her hand, as she held mine, was warm and comforting... Suddenly I was angry, hurt and confused... How could she be so happy? What gave her the right to such bliss when everyone around her called her a lunatic, laughed at her and sniggered behind her back? But when she opened her mouth to wish me, I involuntarily smiled and wished her back... I squeezed her hand earnestly and walked away in a hurry...
I stepped out of the church with a strange sense of satisfaction and peace. And realization dawned – for there among a group of pretenders, was one soul that knew what being true to oneself meant... But sadly, she was an outsider... She was Christ's own bride...
Monday, September 7, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I hate to admit that there have been not quite many blog-worthy incidents in my life for sometime now, but what happened today just left me aghast. Ok, considering that I have been harping about how other people are the not-so-good ones, going by my previous posts, you might expect this one to be the same. But NO! This time it’s ME :(
I did something unwittingly that has been at the back of my mind, ever so slyly pricking my conscience and questioning my supposed humane demeanor; something which I did in the name of trying to be ‘practical’ and ‘worldly-wise’ and not get swindled. Here’s what happened…
My building manager called a few of us and told us that our drain was clogged and we needed to get someone to do the dirty work of unclogging it (Yes there are people who actually get down into the **it to clear it). Since most people had to head to work and college and I (along with a few other seedy building characters) were the only ones who were left, I volunteered to get the job done. (Come on! Those seedy characters would only land up in deeper **it, so to speak). I had to head to one of the corporation centers, get a BBMP cleaner, watch over him and see that he does the job properly and then bargain a proper wage for the job. Sounded pretty simple.
Now when it comes to bargaining, I SUCK at it. But I thought I had been getting away saying that a lot of times and did not want to let the thought obstruct my ‘sense of duty’ right now. So I waited till the work was done, all the while making up the ‘negotiation’ conversation in my mind, plotting to get the best ‘deal’. The waiting was hell…
Ok, he’s taking too long; does that mean he’ll ask for more????... The stick’s not helping in clearing the debris completely so OMG he’s shoving his hand into the drain to clean it!! Now he’s DEFINITELY going to ask for more!!! (At this point I feel a LITTLE bad for him, but no, the negotiation ordeal needs much more thought)
I make the first move; I go over and casually say…
“Ok, looks like the work’s almost done. How much?”
He thinks and mutters
No way!!! The manager just gave me three fifty!! What will he think of me if I tell him I was not so tactful and managed to save only fifty bucks! I pitch the age old bargainer’s line
“What? The other cleaner who came last week took only one twenty”
He does not listen, goes to the road to tie up the long bamboo sticks. I just turn to look at something for an instant and I hear a cry. It’s the cleaner. He’s writhing on the ground with fits.
I react - Ho ho ho, I know this trick! A nice way to swindle more money out of me – the darned sympathy trick! He’ll probably be alright in a minute, walk up to me and say that the noxious gases from the drain caused this and I had to pay him more! No way am I going to fall for this!
So I just stand there and not do anything. People gather. Somebody from the building runs to him with the iron rod he used to open the drain. I move closer lest the people think I’m some sort of hard hearted ass. I keep wondering what the fuss is all about, all the while waiting for the guy to get over with his act. I am more worried about the money.
Finally he becomes still. I wait. He gets up groggily, looks around not knowing what to do. Ok ok ask damn it! I know how to deal with you! He goes back to tying his sticks. But an old man from my building stops him, thrusts a cup of coffee in his hand and makes him sit down. Ok, so now he gets more money AND coffee. He finishes drinking it, throws the plastic cup and begins to walk away. Where is this dude going??? I call out to him…
“Hey! Your money”
I only take a hundred rupee note and ten five buck notes, and slowly thrust it into his hand, wondering if he still had energy to bargain after wasting it on that little skit of his.
He takes the money, does not count it, does not even look at it, thrusts it into his pocket, totters towards the sticks, ties them up haphazardly and walks away groggily. As he leaves I notice a bruise on his foot, he's bleeding. He must have grazed himself while having those convulsions. That’s when I realized that…
He was not pretending… he did get fits.
I am too disgusted to notice at that moment that I did indeed get the better deal after all.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
I recently watched one of those Soap dramas disguised as news stories on TV 9. This time it had to do with good old Shivajinagar. However, the channel thought otherwise and engaged in one full hour of ‘area-bashing’ where they hurled insult after insult aimed at this quaint locality. The energetic hustle and bustle was ‘suffocating dirt’; the hundred-year old streets were ‘pathetic’ and the age-old landmarks were ‘ugly’. Yes, I agree the place is a little messy, but these guys went about the whole thing as if they were associates from the London School of Aesthetics!
Anyways, this post has to do with a totally different experience set in the busy streets of Shivajinagar. A bizarre experience that somehow seemed to undo all the ‘un-sophistication’ about the place that that inane channel purported -
I was in a hurry, as usual, to get where I wanted to go; head down, determined and with a firm stride, criss-crossing all those roadside stalls on Shivajinagar. Then suddenly this guy came in my way and I ran into him. To quickly get away with the embarrassment I mouthed a sullen sorry as I quickly glanced at him – very old grey T-shirt and jeans that were torn and dirty, unkempt hair and grubby hands and feet. Looked like a middle-aged man who could probably look smart if clean. No shoes. I expected him to throw sour kannada slang at me and I mentally prepared myself with my own set of half-baked kannada sentences and words. I was pleasantly surprised as he said in perfect English – (Ok we’ll name him Grubs for convenience)
Grubs (smiling) – “Would you please show me the way to Bellary Road?”
Me –“Well…um… I don’t know exactly, why don’t you ask these other people?”
I point to a bunch of guys who were smoking beedis and chatting away animatedly in kannada.
Grubs – “Oh I did. They don’t seem to know. I’m Alan by the way. What’s your name?”
Ok where exactly is this heading to? I begin to form a vague outline of the whole scenario in my head. I know what he’s going to head towards…
Me – “Well I’m Jacob…”
Grubs – “Good, good. Where do you stay Jacob?”
Ok that’s it, stop it right there. What if this dude’s part of an underworld gang that deals in selling kidneys of young men! Don’t tell him where you stay dude! But…
Me – “I stay in Fraser Town”
Grubs – “I beg your pardon?”
Grubs – “I stay in the Railway Station. I had a fight with my dad and he threw me out.”
I thought it too inappropriate to ask ‘City or Cantonment?’ so I decided against it.
Me – “Oh”
Grubs – “Can you spare me some money Jacob? Just…”
Ah ha! I knew it all along! There it came finally, in chaste, Anglo-Indian English!
Me – “No, no, no… I’m broke, and I’m going home for food and drink”
That’s exactly what I said! Word to word… Ha ha, ‘going home for food and drink’!
Grubs – “Just six rupees, I can buy a samosa. I’m very hungry you see”
Me – “I told you I’m broke…”
Well of course I had SIX RUPEES on me! But I wasn’t going to give in to this man. Unbeknownst to us, both of us were getting into a bargain for charity…
Grubs – “Ok two rupees. I can buy a cup of chai. Living in Bangalore has become so expensive…”
Ok now I had to relent or it would mean a sharp jab to my ego, and freshly fermented guilt; all on account of a paltry sum of two rupees.
Me – “Ok here”
Grubs (taking the money) – “Thank you, thank you so much. Pray for me”
There, he HAD to say that in the end. Well all I could do was hope the guy had his cup of hot chai (or who knows what he wished to do with it. Not that it matters what you do with two rupees anyways), as I walked on wondering which station I’d pick if dad threw ME out…