Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Musty Love- 35 Years Old

Mike is a graceful old man. He is somewhere on the wrong side of fifty, fifty-five, sixty may be, but he looked dapper the last, and the only time I met him. Their was something very genuine about his persona, something very amicable. And something which still makes me think about him, almost ten days after the gentle, old, British man sought some help from me to take a trip down his memory lane.

In the early hours of the day, I sat with two of my friends besides the huge rain-washed window, at the Janpath McDonalds- having the distinction of being one of the few serving a very English Breakfast Menu, in addition to the usual burgers and fries. While I have been talked many a times into eating the wonderful and healthy pancakes, served exclusively between 7:00 and 11:00 am everyday, I have preferred to stick to my obsession with the not-so-healthy Hash Browns in stead. If gluttony were a legal crime, I do not know how many non-bailable prison terms I would have already served by now.

So, while I nibbled on what I had promised to be my last hash brown of the day, and spoke in loud volumes about the way I saw my future unfold, a bespectacled English gentleman came and knelt right beside my chair, scaring me a little. He had a map of Delhi in one of his hand, a black ball pen in the other, and a very simple question  on his lips- "Do you know English?"

Given my infatuation with the language and an incorrigible urge to show it off on every given opportunity, I eagerly nodded my head. It was as if he exhaled in relief. Yes, you can find many English language savvy passersby as you walk around in Cannaught Place or any adjoining area, but at 10:00 am in the morning, even a place supposed to be as busy as McDonald's is practically empty. Beautifully deserted, is how I like to put it. And it was in this quietude that I had a five minute short, fond conversation with him.

Mike wanted to know where he was on the map he had in his hand. After studying it for some ten second, me and my friends could point out exactly where he was, where we all were- at the intersection of the Janpath Road and the Tolstoy Marg. In an exaggerated happy emotion, he made a mark on the map and confirmed the route the would lead him to the Inner Circle of CP. He got the route right. I further offered to guide him to his exact destination, but sadly, he did not have any.

"Where do you exactly want to go? May be I can tell you the route." I offered. A second later I realized that the genial Englishman was still sitting on his knees, and in a apologetic gesture, me and my friends offered him to join us on our table. He refused, then obliged, and gave us a glimpse into his itinerary for the next hour. Clad in a simple cotton shirt, with a rich smile on his face, and morning redness on his cheerfully white cheeks, he told us that this was only his second visit to India. The last one had been "35 years ago"! I  distinctly remember the self found incredulity with which he emphasized on the numeral. He was not simply vacationing, he was rediscovering a few things. He wanted to visit the heart of CP to check if it lent him a musty feel, or if with time, it had paced ahead to unrecognizable limits.

This much information is enough to allure a hopeless romantic like me. "So, what all do  you remember of CP?", I asked, the animatedly inquisitive me. "Not much", he replied, "but when I last visited, I bought a skirt for my fiancee, from one of the little shops." His words were accompanied with animated gestures-- it was as if he was trying to explain to us what a skirt is. His hands informed us that it is a garment tied at the waist, and the one he bought extended all the way to the ankles of the wearer. I smiled at his simplicity. He wanted to see if he could still locate that shop.

"So, did you go back and marry your fiancee?" My queries continued. "Oh yes!", he replied with an expression which conveyed the futility of my inquiry. He gestured at his ring, and then to a female sitting right behind me, "That is my daughter". I looked back to find a girl a little older than me, engaged in a discussion with two elderly people- a man and a woman. At first, I felt compelled to assume that the elderly lady was Mike's consort, but the way she locked her arms with the other man, they both clearly seemed to be a couple. So Mike was on a visit to India, after some 35 years, with his daughter and some friends (or may be relatives) as travel companions, and not his wife. I felt disappointed. I wanted to see the lady who caused instant alacrity in the eyes of her husband even after 35 years of companionship.

We wished him luck for his journey ahead. He, with a grace characteristic of English people, thanked us and took our leave. My gaze followed him as he moved from our table to his own, had a brief discussion over the huge Delhi map with his companions, picked up his belongings, and headed for the exit, and on his little walk towards a place he picked up a gift for his fiancee from, some 35 years ago. Something made my heart feel heavy as my mind registered the last image of his, walking away with his arm around his daughter's shoulders. He seemed to be romantic; he was a romantic. But he did not have his better half for company. Why was she not with him? I kept wondering. I could conjure ten reasons of her absence, none of them a happy one.

Having seen emotions juggled with and relations dallied with, I have always been attracted towards real time, enduring, subtle tales of love. Not just love, but respectful, warm, and blissful companionships. People my age are tired of being with a person after a year or two. Not all, but many are often knowingly unaware of the selflessness which beautifies mutual existence. An overtly strong sense of individualism is the death of relationships. Barring a few cherished exceptions, I think it has largely become an anachronism to keep aside personal pursuits and lend time to the thoughts and happiness of people we claim we love. Even these musings have now acquired a musty odour.

To find that one person who could become cause of  your very existence must be special. Sitting around in CP, I observe a lot of couples, holding hands, snuggling, smiling- but in very few have I observed a comfort and faith which communicated their enduring togetherness.I look for it, because I desire it for myself. My most cherished desire. Stories like that of Mike reinforce faith. His' is not just about togetherness, but prized togetherness. His' is about love. Love, nascent like dew drops. Love, serene like still water. Love, serenading like sylvan sounds. Love, impregnable like a weather beaten wall. And love, enduring through all the seasons of life.

My love, for all the love in this world. I don't know of a thing as worthy as itself to live for. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Partial Victor

Neendon ke sandookon mein, 
Kabhi sone ke sapne the, 
Aaj Peetal ke tukdon ko mohtaaj rehti hoon

"Its been long since I felt like a winner. Tomorrow, I want that to change."

There is a song for every occasion, they say. This less known song was on my lips most of the time as I attempted to stoically wait for what could turn out to be the biggest dejection for me in my recent life history. Had that happened, I would have had no option but to turn stoic. I would have been impassive, may be. If I don't fool myself at all, I know I would have been depressed. For sometime at least.

The rays, they did manage to find me :)
However, for once, Providence ruled in my favour. After showing me some despondent scenarios, it chose the most perfect time to resuscitate my confidence, to at least partially make me feel like a winner. The ecstasy for having cleared the first major level towards the realization of one of my two most important dreams in life is indescribable. It lasted for two full days- the excitement, the restlessness, the smiles, the congratulations, the revived expectations, the disbelief. Now, things have sobered down. For good.

The last bit of my twitter profile's mini bio data describes me as 'an aspiring bureaucrat'. I've crossed first of the three hurdles towards becoming one. People have seen me past two years digging into newspapers, coloring crazy bits of information in about five journals a week, starting a full fledged debate at the slightest of provocation on almost any issue, carrying three times the book load with me around everywhere I go, and almost leading the life of a noctambulist. All this, without compromising on any of my other interests or involvements. Fortunately for me, all the diligence reaped due dividends. And now, with a bright smile on my face, and bright expectations in my heart, I am looking forward to battling with the next hurdle.

However, everyone has not been as lucky as me. Becoming a Civil Servant is the ultimate dream of many people, it being touted as the best job which grants you almost everything- power, prestige and pay. But for some people, becoming a Civil Servant has meaning beyond these three. Clearing UPSC is all they have lived for, all they know they want to live for. The drive at times is so much, that they leave a lot behind- their families, academic pursuits and even well placed and stable jobs. From my perspective, its madness. From theirs', its devotion. There are many of my fellow 'aspiring bureaucrats' who have not been able to jump over this first hurdle; but there is just one, whose inability to clear through the first round hurts me as much as my own failure. She was an inspiration for all of the people in my coaching centre- a vivacious figure and a very eager learner- who would keep everyone engaged with her numerous doubts. Her urge and capacity to learn was unmatchable. And she had taken a break from a partially unsuccessful marriage to give life to the only dream she had ever known of. 

I wonder what plans God has for her in mind; hasn't she already suffered her share of ordeals? Did she not deserve this little victory more than me? Will He make her try once again? I don't know. I would never know. But I know he sent her into my life as a lesson. Dreaming is not an end in itself. A dream which once you are convinced about, has to be relentlessly pursued. On the way to winning the ultimate war, there are several smaller battles which need to be won. And my way is to go one battle at a time. That is only as much as I can plan, albeit, without losing sight of the ultimate Prize. Also, what has to be borne in one's mind is a sense of balance- neither excessive ecstasy at small triumphs, nor insurmountable depression at failures. Triumphs and failures are mere experiences, something to live through and learn from. 

A tiny battle has been won. More than being an end, it was a milestone which shows me how much of the path is still to be covered. I might be feeling bright, but I do not want to lose the sobriety. For some weird reason, totally incomprehensible to me, I am still humming this song..and this is definitely not the song for this occasion. It is just on my lips. And I guess its there to remind of the times things went wrong, and I could not cope up. In an attempt to cauterize, I ended up being burnt, and bruised, and lost faith in some of my dreams.

But, leaving those thoughts behind, getting down to task now. I have thanked in person every single friend/teacher/acquaintance who helped me through- whether by sharing notes, or by simply showing confidence. If anyone be left out, I am sorry for being careless. Thank you. It is one of the most significant events of my life, and irrespective of what happens in future, I won't forget the ecstasy I felt when I finally felt like a winner. Partially though.

"A dream of glory
Wishing to hope
Nervous to hope
Nonetheless, I hope.
I'll wade through, I'll cope."

(Plagiarized  from my own work- A Table For Two - copied and tampered with)

Wondering, with a merry heart.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I Belong

August 15th, 2011
Happy Birthday, India!

 Today was the most beautiful morning of the season to wake up to. I won't get poetic uselessly. It was not as if the air carried a whiff of freedom with itself, or that the first breathe I inhaled made me feel romantically attached to the land I was born in. It was simply a beautiful morning. I was wrapped up head to toe in my bed sheet, shivering as I woke up. A scene similar from last year greeted me. As I stepped into the wet balcony, bare-feet, the sight of a rain-washed street was the first to be registered at the back of my head. However, this time, there were add ons. I could hear the faint rhythm of drums from somewhere in the distance, making the otherwise quiet and lazy morning come alive for sometime. I was imagining, quite creatively, teenagers splashed with colors of the tricolor, dancing away to celebrate the 65th year of our freedom. My reverie was broken by the shrill voices of excited kids running right over my head, on my terrace, their attention fixated on the kites they had been flying since, I reckon, the moment the rain gods showed mercy. How did I miss it? Now that I looked up at the sky, I could not see many, but at least some kites. A celebration of our glorious Independence Day is incomplete without the ritualistic kite flying. I was happy that the rains had not spoilt the fun, and the custom. They had, rather, added to the day.

I am a die hard patriot. Having said that, I will confess to being a buffoon, and not exactly knowing what does being a patriot mean. I feel irrevocable attached to my country, and don't have notions of ever wanting to venture out. I am filled with, not violent anger, but some rage at least, when I see things going wrong and people doing wrong to my country. But do I concretely do anything about it? I am not sure. In a discussion with cynics, I always end up taking my country's side, sometimes adamantly, sometimes foolishly. But the moment I get time to reflect on what those cynics had to say, I find much truth and reason in their thoughts which can be easily labeled as 'anti-India'. I keep on my toes, doing my bit for the community, whenever I get a chance. In college, I got more than my share of chances to do good, be good, make a difference. But was that enough? And now that I am out, will I get such chances still? I'll have to work harder than just hum some patriotic tunes, and feel an intense attachment to this country I so pride upon.

I have never celebrated the Independence Day, except for a day or two in advance when I was in school and in college. Last night, however, there was a little family gathering, which, by chance, got extended to the north of 0000 hours. The first scene that I recalled as soon as the Independence Day officially began was that of a mad crowd of people outside a liquor shop in Uttam Nagar, hoarding for the Dry Day that is today. They were uncountable, and uncontrollable. I was left pondering if liquor was to be their means of celebrating our independence, or it was simply a need and a fetish they could not let go off even for a single day. Back at the family gathering, I was asked to sing. I wanted to sing something patriotic, given the time and the occasion, but the hesitance and the disapproval among the younger ones at my choice of song was more than palpable. The elders of the family intervened. Few stories were exchanged. We sang Saare Jahaan Se Achchha in a chorus. My elder relatives re-lived their college days. The nods and smiles as we fumbled on the lyrics and corrected ourselves was heart warming. This is one of the many songs we should know, must know- not for showing off, but to teach to our younger generations, to let them feel the vigor which comes with singing these songs in a chorus and absorbing the lyrics. My mother, father and many other elders have lived through the war years, the China and the Pakistan wars. A few more stories were shared. I was asked to sing again. And then, I hummed these lines-

"Thi khoon se lathpath kaya, 
Phir bhi bandook utha ke, 
Dus Dus ko ek ne mara
Phir gir gaye hosh ganva ke,
Jab ant samay aaya toh,
Keh gaye ke ab marte hain,
Khush rehna desh ke pyaaron,
Ab hum toh safar karte hain"

An epochal composition, this song resides in all of our hearts. No matter how many times I sing it over, it can never sound mundane to me. It mesmerizes me. However, the lines which echoed in my head on my way home, with cool breeze lashing against my face, as my car sped on a deserted road were these-

रहबर राहे मौहब्बत रह न जाना राह में
लज्जत-ऐ-सेहरा नवर्दी दूरिये-मंजिल में है

ऐ शहीदे-मुल्को-मिल्लत मैं तेरे ऊपर निसार
अब तेरी हिम्मत का चर्चा ग़ैर की महफिल में है

खींच कर लाई है सब को कत्ल होने की उम्मींद,
आशिकों का जमघट आज कूंचे-ऐ-कातिल में है ।

These are three of my favorite verses from perhaps the best patriotic poem ever written. I've recited these at the conclusion of numerous Independence Day functions in school and college. They induce a vigor which lurks in my heart till much longer. Right now, they make me want to fight towards a freedom, which rids the society of prejudices, antiquated traditions, opportunism, hypocrisy and corruption. Yes, corruption too. I do not know if I will go and be physically present to lend my support to the movement which our generation is fortunate for being a testimony to. It is not merely a chance for us to be a part of something good, but the most favorable opportunity to raise our voice against the hydra headed monster hell bent upon sucking the last of resources from our economy, and for once take responsibility on our own shoulders for heralding a change. I do not know if I will at all be able to lend visible support to the movement. But the lights of my home will remain off, at least in a show of mute solidarity to the cause. This is my country being debated about. And if today I cannot show that I belong to it, I do not know when will another chance come my way. 

Jai Hind!



Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Friends Again?

I do not remember exactly where it all started. My misfortune, however, lies in the fact that I remember precisely where it ended, how it ended. I felt miserable, asked too many questions- the answer to none was forthcoming.

Vision 1- Chirpy and casual, she would break the ice between some forty odd people by screaming a deafening, yet pleasant "Hi". Part of her attention would be deflected towards me, and after she moved on with a flowy gait to a next group of people, I remember being extraordinarily happy in my heart.

Vision 2- Fair, short and sweet, she sat like a sincere student with a purpose, eagerly eyeing me as I entered the small room. She was a competitor. She smiled. I smiled back, with a remarkable warmth in my heart. Stress of competition evaporated in that one moment.

Vision 3- First photo session. Group hugs. Cheesy messages. Eager letters. Class bunks. Medical Room. Copious tears. Tightest hugs. More photo sessions. Birthday surprises. Fake anger. Coaxing and cajoling. Montage. A photo montage.

This montage of not just images, but emotions, which makes me warm and happy right now, was ripped apart sometime back. How? It is quite a story, but quite a personal story. So, why do I write about it? I do, because the key actors from the three visions just cameback to piece the montage together. It looks pretty now. Majestic, in fact. And all the tears that had thus far been wantonly suppressed are now flowing out with vindictiveness. They're proven right. They're telling me- Bonds are fragile. Most of them. Not all of them. These ones were not. We told you.

Things between friends go awry all the time. Most unfortunate are the times when they go awry because one of them forgets to care. Forgets to care, but wants to care. Things get further complicated when the other person involved is a hyperbole of touchy, like myself. Sentimentality has its boons, as well as its banes. The blessings include an acute sensitivity to the thoughts and feelings of others. The banes include an acute and exaggerated sensitivity to the emotions and ideas of oneself. A combination of the two leads to a desire, easily transformed into actions, to care for the loved ones, and, expectations, many a times grossly defeated.

What I have tried to put into words in the above para is a rather laconical account of the cornucopia of thoughts flashing through my mind, making me live back few experiences which I would much rather forget. A long time, as I began to lose faith in everything fair and good, I kept on floating like a hollow vessel. Life seemed convenient. Don't care, don't expect to be cared back. Sounds simple, doesn't it?

But it is not simple. It can never be. Loving people, having bonds to hold close and rely upon, having friends who extend as a family- these are the essentials which make life beautiful, which infuse life in life. I have had such friends, who made life splendid for me, and then disappeared for a while. Only for a while. Now, I hear knocks into the door of my world again (Knocks more like unexpected rings on my cellphone). It a homecoming of sorts. The closeness is being welcomed again. The faith is being reignited. Whatever were the feels I thought I had gotten over, just like that last visit to college, are forcing their way again into not just my heart, but my being. I am feeling loved and blessed again.

And the hug- the grand and special hug- its as tangible as anything real. My two friends from college are hugging me again. We're hugging each other. And life seems bright once again. "Sunshine"- Did I tell you both that this is the sobriquet my journals recognize you with?

I don't want to be a bad person. I am not one, just a little distant. Lets cover the distances. This time I ask. What say? "Friends Again?"