Wednesday, December 29, 2010

That Walk Down My College

3rd December, 2010
0730 hours
Temperature: many degrees below normal

On this day, at that time and temperature, my ritualistic walk down the Jose de San Martin Marg was made a bit different. Mist was thin, not as blinding as it is at present. Breathing in the tender vapors floating around in the fog, I started walking. The sand bag bunker had always been there on the footpath- may be since the time Obama came to stay in a hotel right on the parallel road, or since the time of the glorious Commonwealth Games- I had never cared to as much as cast a second glance at it. With the concerns of VIP security eased, the bunker now sat as a perfunctory accessory on the footpath; someone had also taken away the upper few layers of sand bags. I did ponder for sometime what use stealing sand might serve. Still, it stood there as a vandalized, inutile accessory. Not quite. Someone was using it today. 

Cold is my nemesis. Yet, I like playing with it. That day, I was wearing four layers of clothes, including my dad's favorite sweater (I had fought for it in the morning), and my mother's overcoat. I had my hair open, pulled to cover my ears adequately, topped by a thick muffler, muffling my sense of smell and sound- it covered nearly three quarters of my face. My juniors, sometimes, fancifully tag me as a 'polar bear' because of my attire. Yet, a peculiarity was, I was wearing slippers. Only slippers, sans any socks. It was my style statement. I shiver and shudder in cold, my teeth clatter, and I scare people with my convulsive behavior. Yet, I don't wear socks. I hate wearing them. It defies all logic. My body is sensitive to cold in extreme amounts, and yet, i refuse to protect the most cold-sensitive part of my body. Ma says, half (or more) of my quivering would cease if I cover my feet adequately. But, there are certain things/practices, which one is senselessly, obdurately a follower of. 'Bad habits' we call them. Not wearing socks is not as bad a habit as picking one's nose, but in Delhi's torturous chill, subjecting my feet to that amount of chill, because of which they turn dry, and almost white with cold rashes, is definitely criminal.

Feeling the prickly chill attack my almost bare feet, I quickened my steps, only to be slowed down at the sight of that bunker. Very astonishingly, a human form manifested inside it. A huddled human form. It was a male. I could only see his back; his face was pressed between his knees. What I saw, made my heart sink for a moment. The only thing covering, or trying to cover his body was a plastic sheet. More appropriately, it was an assembly of see-through polythene bags, the ones now banned by our State Government, quite resourcefully tied together to cover some parts of his upper torso. Most of his lower back was bare- thats how far I could see. His form was shivering. I was shivering too, not of cold though. My effectively protected face might not have been able to feel the blowing winds; part of me had till now been enjoying them. He, definitely could not escape the agony inflicted by those very winds- the polythene bags waged a futile battle against them.

I slowed down, but I did not stop. My gaze fixed on that form, I moved past it. The last vision I have of him did not help. It would have been okay to remember having seen his back, to have remembered him as a faceless memory. If only he would have crouched a little longer, I would have been a lot more peaceful today. But he looked up, looked around. He looked scared. Or may be his expression only depicted his hapless and helpless state against the winter. I am not good with other descriptions, but I did have a brief eye contact with him. A very normal set of eyes. A slightly watery set of eyes. A needy set of eyes. 

I averted my gaze and walked on. I was trying to revive my numb mind. Honestly, I felt dumb. My human instinct told me, I should help. My mind questioned, 'how?'. Am I silly? How? I was wearing a burdensome weight of winter clothing, and I did not know 'how' to help? I stopped some twenty steps ahead. I thought again- what can I give him? I searched for newspapers in my bag-dunno for what reason- but I had none, no piece of stationary in fact.

I knew both my pieces of winter clothing were very expensive- prized by my mother and father. Were they more expensive than his well being? I could not answer. I did not know what to answer at home; how to answer at home. And so, on that lazy, sleepy winter morning, I walked ahead, with little tears in my eyes. Never have I been more annoyed with my tears- because today they did not depict helplessness. Today they projected uselessness, and shamelessness.

Throughout my first lecture at college, I kept praying for someone to help him out. Honestly, did I even have a right to pray? Or what chance did my prayer stand of being answered when I had acted so dumb? We cannot just shirk our responsibilities as a member of the society, or the planet to say the least, and then hope that God will take care of all.

Next day, along with a group of IEEE volunteers, I had to go to the UN house to give a presentation on Millennium Development Goals. I was supposed to speak on the first MDG- eradication of hunger and poverty. More specifically, 'reducing by half the proportion of people living below the global poverty line and suffering from hunger'. We gave a mighty good presentation. I was cherubic, and interactive and convincing in what I said there. 

But, when I came back home, I felt a tad hollow. That was because, in the morning, the footpath had been cleared of that bunker, which had just found a new purpose for existing there. The swiftness of it's removal was fantastic. I like to believe that the man hiding within it was relocated to one of the many shelters that the Delhi government has built for the destitutes. That does seem logical enough. The people who came to remove him could not have simply driven the barely clad man away. No way. He would have been safely moved to a shelter, given a blanket, some morsels to eat, and would have slept soundly. Or, would it have been otherwise? Would it have been the way I feared?

That spectacle still haunts me. Rightly so. At least in future I would know how to be quicker and more austere in my decision making. 

One more thing I wish for. When we look at the state of affairs around us, we , the moral ascetics, are dejected, often frustrated, ask questions, demand solutions. I wish, that really soon in life, I find myself in a position to crossover to the other side, and be the provider of 'answers'-an appreciator of good questions, but capable of providing better solutions.


PS- I have started wearing socks. It is amazing. I shiver less. I am able to enjoy the winter more now.

The Conference at UN House on 4th December, 2010, to mark the International Volunteer day.
Seen in the picture above is a team of IEEE volunteers giving a presentation on UN MDGs.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

An Engagement- Mills & Boon Style!

(It happened in Delhi, roughly a year ago. Part fiction, part reality)


She waited anxiously for the clock to strike twelve. "Today, I will reserve him for myself"- she thought to herself. She ran her fingers over the smooth, lustrous surface of the silver band, and conjured up happy images of the day to follow.


She clandestinely tip toed up the stairs. There he stood, his frame slightly blurred by the thin layer of fog which wafted through the distance between them. She moved closer, beguiled by the casual, easy manner in which he was reclining against the terrace railing. She gave him a gentle smile, which almost immediately conveyed a soft "happy birthday". He smiled back, acknowledging her wishes. It was then that her heart skipped a beat. His smile. Ethereal. His eyes. Dazzling. His sharp features. Irresistible. And his fair face. Resplendent in the soft glow of the moon.

She motioned closer, firmly locking her eyes on him. He slipped his arm in one swift moment around her waist, and pulled her closer. She let out a sigh. She was bare-feet. He pulled her up, made her climb on his shoes; he promised to protect her from everything that hurt her- cold definitely was one of them.  With one hand pressed on his chest, she slipped her other hand in his warm clasp. He could feel the ice-cold metal band pressed between their palms. Before he could inquire, she strengthened her grip on his hand, and pressed her cheek on his.

It was time now for him to let out a sigh. His grip on her waist tightened. The inquisitiveness evaporated in the fog, protecting them from any prying eyes. She withdrew, replacing the softness of her cheeks, with that of her lips. It was only a moment that she pressed her lips on his cheeks that she heard a faint sound coming from somewhere near. She broke free from his arms as a reflex. The chill felt unbearable as she once again touched the cold floor with her bare feet. She ran back downstairs, not looking back a moment. The craving in his eyes would have weakened her.

She closed the door of her room behind her. She was safely back; but the pace at which her heart was beating, it was definitely running back to him. She left the silver band with him. She had conveyed what she intended to. Had he understood?


She woke up rubbing her eyes. The smile on her face was instinctive. In that state of semi-consciousness, she knew something big was in store today, something was going to change; but what, she did not quite know. She let the pleasant disorder persist. She closed her eyes. She lived those memories again.

She had known him since she was sixteen- at the threshold of womanhood. A tryst on an enchanting evening, and that one defining moment when she, without a care in the world held his hand and danced, changed a lot for her. She had been bold and protected; she now wanted to expose her weaknesses to him. She had always led in life; she now simply wished to follow. She had been afraid of all these feelings, she now wanted to risk the lethal.

And all this when she did not even know the spelling of his name!
A month and ten days later, she risked the question. At that time, she could not recall his physical image to brain. Today, three and half years later, she can recognize him by his smell.

Today, she will take care of the remaining fears she had in her heart. "We can't be together for long", she mulled, "But our own commitment, we'll make firmer". She wanted to cement their bond till a point of no return. She believed in rituals; and so she selected the simplest, and more meaningful to assert- "I'm here to stay. I'm your's for life".

They met in the heart of the city, and this time could exchange hugs and wishes more openly. He had a curious smile on his lips, and she knew what he meant when he said-"It's my birthday, and I want to buy you a gift". He dragged her into a shop selling silver, and after trying several, bought that one ring, which made her humble fingers look royal. She could not contain her smile. She wondered what the passers-by must be thinking; but she knew her smile made her look pretty. So, hand-in-hand, away they went.

It was now time for rituals.
Rings: Selected, bought.
Dress Code: Winter Casuals.
Witnesses: Not required.
Venue: Big Problem! Where? No idea. What to do? They walked, and mulled, and walked, and mulled, and eventually got tired. They were treading on the grandest road in the capital, connecting the India Gate with the magnificent President's House. Lutyen's architecture is a beholder's delight! Finally, when they could walk no more, they sat down on a foot path, right in front of India Gate. Cars were whizzing past at brilliant speeds. "This is it!" -she exclaimed. "What can be a better place to engrave in our memories forever?" True. They were against the most majestic backdrop that this city could provide- Grandiose architectural wonders; almost invisible sun, its balmy rays cascading down the layers of mist, right in their direction; and the two of them, lost amid a crowd of pedestrians and vehicles, yet secure in their place beneath the sun.

Now was the time to solemnize. They prepared to slip the rings. Wait. Ring finger, but which hand? They shared a moment of humor when they both took out their handsets, and tried to understand tradition from the point of view of technology. With 'engagement+rituals' as the key words, they went through numerous search results, all in contradiction to each other. They looked at each other, shared a hearty laugh, and then, decided to trust their instincts.

First she, then him.

Holding hands had never been more special.

They headed home in an auto, a luxurious ride, given their humble backgrounds. She chatted incessantly. He, like always, was the patient listener. Their clasp did not break for a second. Yes, they did spend a moment or two just looking at those intertwined hands, wondering how long will this dream last. Then, they averted their gaze. In their hearts was a brief fear. This fear, they refused to share with each other.

May be nothing had changed. May be, a lot had.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Little Guzaarish

It's after ages I have gotten back to writing. I kept my habit of scribbling diary daily, but my computer broke down around a month back, and so, I was bereft of even the sight of my blog. I missed it. Even if I don't write pretty, at least the blog does look pretty, and I missed it for that. I missed it for the familiar warmth I feel when I go through all the previous entries, see all my mistakes, but am only too lazy to correct them. I just like enjoying the feel of those moments life once bestowed on me, now archived here, which made me so glad to have been alive and living them.

There is nothing I have on my mind that I may write about; but I feel like writing. The only apt thing seems to be a synopsis of what my life was like this past month that I was away. There was a lot that I could have written about. The past month, I experienced few of the most hurtful and sad moments ever- the sadder thought was, when I looked around, I could find no one, who might have been in a position to elevate me from the lows that I was traversing. Every one seemed at a distance. When I tried to pour out my heart's grief, everyone seemed to be alien. People held my hand, people understood, but the next day when I expected them to be around without me calling out, they were absent.

These were people I called friends. My loved friends. My best friends. These were the very people whose moods I had tolerated, but who could not tolerate mine. I felt like throwing tantrums, acting insensible, but was flat denied. I cried at night, I wailed silently, muffling my own voice, lest my parents hear. I had too much to cope up with, and I could cope up with nothing.

A week back, I was overtaken with extreme fatigue. I wanted to give up everything, everyone. I still wanted to have that one person who could understand me unconditionally, and love me without any questions; yet at the same time I wanted to bury myself somewhere out of everyone's sight. I wanted to hide just beneath my bed, where I knew everything was in reach, but I was elusive. I did for once want to escape. I wanted to make people feel my loss. Then I was scared. What if no one did feel any loss? What if everyone continued the way they always did? What if I was simply a nobody in everyone's life?

I sank back a moment. I kept my phone away, not wanting to expect any angel's call any longer. I looked at the sky. I looked at the darkness around me. I looked at my hands, the contours faintly tangible in the darkness. I forced myself to smile. What came out was a contemptuous half laughter.

I had no one to talk to. There were few just a phone call away, but these were the people almost on the verge of exhaustion- there own lives were too much to handle. I have no idea what caused the metamorphosis, but in some time, I realized,  I started reflecting on all the happy, rich, successful moments from the past month. The vicissitudes of life I was never able to cope up with, and was used to giving into the easiest emotion accessible to me. The pain, the cauterization, in that context, I reckon, was necessary. It is, for everyone.

Today, I am even. Not just calm, but happy. I know not till when will this excitement, this smile at seeing little things bloom around me last, but am living it. The very people, whom I had made morose a few days back, are smiling at my antics today. They are very much with me, beside me. My silence they might not have been able to understand, but they sing with me, they laugh with me, they dance with me, they rejoice with me- life becomes a party full of mirth.

Not caring a dime for the reviews, around three weeks back, I went ahead to see Guzaarish. For free! Contacts with the manager helped. May be thats where it started. To me, it was a more than amazing movie. The whole of second half I cried, when the director had succeeded in firmly establishing a relationship between the protagonist and the audience. But that is not relevant. What is relevant is a subtle transformation I underwent during the course of the movie. This is what I wrote in my diary the same day-

"From the very beginning, I wanted to be Sofia's (Aishwarya's) character- a lover who loves, cares, gives selflessly. Her intrepid dedication inspired me. Then, one scene changed it all. Sofia, all battered (by her husband), but finally triumphant (in breaking free from the shackles imposed by a drunkard, abusive husband), returns to her job- returns to take care of Ethan, her employer. It is in this state, when she is visibly bruised- devastated- she offers Ethan his last escape. She could simply not think of anything, but to take care of her master, who she knows can give nothing to her. It was at that moment, I wanted to be the 'loved', and not the 'lover'. 
A few moonlit moments when you are made to feel special, selflessly loved are okay. In a long standing relationship, it is endurance, perseverance and keeping the innocence alive that matters. Also, what matters is exercising rights and fulfilling unspoken duties. Sofia was an embodiment of all these. Yes, she looked stunning, but more stunning were the easy, palpable emotions she essayed. I would have wanted to be her; but I am tired."
The crux is- I wanted to be pampered. For no reason. I was sick of being what I always am. My closest friend in college has given me one of the best compliments in life- " Saumya, I know when I have no one left in this world, I can simply fall back on you. Thats the most amazing thing about having you as a friend." This statement of hers further saddened me, for I could not find anyone who could fit this description for me. I wanted to be pampered till I got sick of being pampered, but no one seemed to be willing to do it.

So finally, I gave up. I often quote-" To be stupid, selfish and healthy are the three requirements of happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost". Ha! Today I am back to being the happy, ever smiling girl I used to be a month or two back. I don't just feel happy on surface- my smiles and laughs are not accessories to display to others. I genuinely feel happy at heart. Sometimes I feel demented for the way i locate secret smiles in the most sad and bitter moments, and spread them to everyone in my vicinity. Then my confabulations yield to me that dementia is obviously a by product of the state I am dragging myself into.

Anyway. Some of my friends reprimand me for being the way I am. Some are plain irritated of me. Some of them, at least a minimum few, are in love with me for being myself. I'll continue being this way for some more time at least (this one is specially for you Mittal), for just when I had planned to give up, I read this in the newspaper-

"You cannot live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you."- John Wooden