Saturday, December 20, 2008

काला पाणि पार

I am going across (1/7th of) the seven seas. See you next year.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Freakishly Faithful - Chapter 5 : Flicker to Flame

Part 3
Our days in Anzarle were typically spent with early morning walks on the beach, a late morning dip in the sea followed by a refreshing and invigorating bath at the water-pump next to the well in the courtyard of the beach house, an afternoon siesta and trips to places of interest in the evenings. We especially liked to sit on a cliff high above the beach, a place we’d call the ‘Sunset Point’ and gaze at the setting sun, the myriad hues of the evening sky drifting in layers from crimson richness to ethereal blackness. We’d sit there in silence, each engaged in deep contemplation on God-knows-what, with the strong, salty sea-breeze providing a haunting score to our thoughts. As the end of our trip drew nearer, our conversations began to be tinged with melancholy at the thought that this perfect escape from the routine of our lives had to be so short-lived. But with the Rotaract year ahead, and with our new found camaraderie, we rejoiced at the thought that a new phase in our lives was due to begin, one we would engage in together.

I had carried my guitar with me on this trip. Seema and Nishita had both seen me play at Aarambh, and of course, Ruksana had been a part of the Orchestra. I figured that it would come in handy if we ever got bored. I had been working on a song for some time, trying to base it on my feelings about Maya and about life post our breakup. I’d gotten the first four lines down earlier, and the music of the song was more or less ready. But, the song being in Hindi, I was having trouble coming up with the lyrics (us Bongs are known for our Hindi deficiencies).

One afternoon the girls asked me to play something on my guitar. I dished out my favourite Euphoria numbers, and once I’d gotten them swinging, I decided to try my song on them. I played the song, singing the first 4 lines and humming the rest. They liked the sound of it. I explained that it’s a song on loving and losing, and that I was having trouble finishing it. Ruksana, in her playful manner, joked that maybe it would help if I thought about that girl I’d fallen for in school. I smiled away her little dig; by now the others new well enough that I’d had such feelings for Ruksana back in school. But the idea bore some merit. So when the girls went in for their afternoon nap, I sat with my guitar in hand, closed my eyes, and went back to someday in July 1998. And the course of my thoughts went something like this:-

‘A daily ritual, observed religiously for years and years, seemed unfamiliar today. The usual precursors to the ritual were present well enough: the strange, contradictory combination of a monotonous, yet crest and trough like speech of the science teacher (who, in this particular case, only ever sounded fun while describing vectors, because she'd always say in her south Indian accent, "Vector Oh Yay" indicating vector OA), the weary sighs of my co-sufferers, the occasional, yet increasingly frequent yawns and the equally occasional, yet equally increasingly frequent churns of empty stomachs. The glances at my wristwatch were reflexive, intuitive even. Over a decade of expectation unfailingly made an imagined dopplerised bell ring in my head, even before the actual one echoed through the air, a clarion call of salvation for the hungry and bored. Lunch recess was here, as it had been all these years, again. But what was wrong? What was the dampener of the joyous gasp at freedom?
I saw it as the others began walking out of the class. What was this? Who were these people? What the hell were they wearing? Don't they look at themselves in the mirror in those, those hideous shades??? How can they bear to... My thoughts trailed off as I looked down at myself; peach shirt, ugly brown trousers, the letters VB embroidered onto the breast pocket, brown socks, tan shoes!! Not leather, but plastic, all-bloody-weather!!! Where was my white shirt, the white trousers, the white socks, the black shoes?? The navy blue tie with the Marian insignia pinned thereon?? What happened to the paint on the walls?? Shit, what happened to the walls??!!
Oh yeah, right... This isn't my school... No, wait a minute, this is my school, it just isn't my… No, no, no... Right, I got it! This is my school, now! It's not these people or the walls that are strange… Here, I'm the stranger…
That's what it was, wasn't it? It was yet another lunch break, but it wasn't a familiar lunch break. I wasn't going to charge down the marble staircase into the senior assembly hall, and start munching on the usual rolls from my tiffin box while chatting with Manik and Adnan, or showing my face to Drumeel so that I could be in one of the teams for the usual lunch-time football match. Nope, today I was going to climb down a narrow flight of stairs onto what is known as a 'Quadrangle' and walk onto a playground with two football goal-posts at either end and a most detestable, incredulity inspiring, enthusiasm rogering, scorn raising, and, to put it in plain English, completely fucked up "no playing in the lunch break" rule!!!!! Yup, this was my unknown, unfamiliar reality. No wonder it didn't feel right.
New school, new guy, day 2. It was the first time I'd put on the school uniform, And the sight of all the brown clothing (and red hair bands on the chicks… Goddamit, chicks!!!! [I was in a non-co-ed school before this. This is not an exclamation of joy, but one of agony {feels freaky to be stared at but so many unknown women because you're the new guy}]) made me feel weird as hell! Having been in one school for the better part of my academic life had made me thoroughly institutionalised. I wasn't quite used to being stared and pointed at like a circus freak!! But it was a position I'd resigned myself to accept. I mean what the heck, makes it easier to get to know people when they're curious enough to come to you as if you were a museum piece or something. Although it gets a little fucked up when they talk to you like you're dyslexic.
I grabbed my tiffin box and walked down the stairs after most of my class-mates had already gone. I did what I usually did when I had to eat lunch without Manik and Adnan around, by walking on the “play”ground, munching on the rolls. Once again, in my mind, I cursed my present situation. What the fuck kind of school banned playing on the playground??? Who the hell were these weird kids eating their lunches, sitting on the playground!!!!!! From post to post, sitting on mats in circles of various sizes, groups of students eating lunch, chatting away like they were in a goddamned banquet hall. Bloody hell, this was a football ground for Christ's sake!!
And then it happened... It was the single, most inexplicable thing... It was a voice, I know it was a voice... But there was something ethereal to it, like nothing I'd heard before... If you can imagine yourself to be an emaciated skeleton with your skin clinging onto the bones, and dehydrated to the point where your liver and kidneys begin to push against your body, and in that state you hear the gentle gush of a waterfall into a brook marking the entrance to Shangri la, you might understand what I felt in the few moments that it took me to turn around and face the source of the sound. The vision was blinding… No, actually that's not what it was. There was an implosion of light, 120 degrees of visible area suddenly contracted into one concentrated space, and in that space there was only her... Nothing else existed, nothing else got through. It was only that space, only her, her eyes, her face, her smile, and her voice... A voice that made every part of me quiver (perhaps, I fear, too visibly), yet one that numbed me to a point where the sound seemed distant, hauntingly enchanting, like the strains of the Siren's lute. Her smile was a constant through her speech, and her pearly white teeth flashed at me every now and then, teasing me like some infernal will-o'-the-wisp. "Hi, I'm Ruksana. You must be the new boy..." That and the rest of her words flowed out of her lips like the most symmetrically tantalising poetry! There was no question of resistance, no time to put up a guard… The cherub with the bow flitted around me, laughing joyfully as he shot arrow after arrow at me, piercing into my heart as incessantly and determinedly as a deranged battering ram.
For once, for the first time, and unquestionably at the first sight, I was in love...’

I opened my eyes with a start. It had been years since I had thought of that moment, and all of a sudden something that had lain asleep deep within me stirred ever so slightly. I knew I had to disregard it, and the guitar in my mind gently reminded me of the object of the reminiscences. I began playing my song, and after I’d finished the first four lines, the words just came to me –

Woh pehli baar jab tumne mujhse baatein kit hi,
Aisa laga ki aasmaan se Pari aa giri thi,
Un gehri aankhon mein ek sharaarat si dikhi thi,
Woh sunehri muskaan dekh meri sansein tham gayi thi

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Freakishly Faithful - Chapter 5 : Flicker to Flame

This one may seem somewhat chauvinistic, but what can one do? :)
Part 2
Anzarle is a sleepy little fishing village in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. The approach route is tedious but scenic for the city slicker; a grueling bus ride from Pune through lovely countryside to a place called Dapoli in a State Transport Bus (famously and ubiquitously known in Maharashtra as the ‘Lal Dabba’), followed by a sweaty and hardly fragrant drive in an overcrowded Tempo Trax from the Bus Stand to something of a very small port, and finally a suitably relaxed and gently swaying ferry ride across a short expanse of backwater to the first stretch of beach in Anzarle. The entire journey, which may take no more than 5 hours without mishap, seems like an odyssey, and can be an excellent way to get to know ones’ traveling companions. Or so I gathered as I heaved bag after bag from our little ferry boat onto the beach while Ruksana, Seema and Nishita (names changed) jumped off the boat and stretched their weary bodies languidly, with appropriate sound effects.

The beach house was a little 3 roomed cottage with a delicious rustic charm. The only signs of modernity lay in the solitary black and white television set in one of the rooms, an ancient refrigerator fortunately in working condition, the electric lights of the household and a powerful electric water pump meant to draw up water from a well in the courtyard on the hind side of the cottage. Beyond the cottage stretched what is known as a wada (a large garden) in which grew all kinds of trees, principally coconut, mango, jackfruit and papaya. The wada stretched for about 25 yards from the cottage to a wooden fence with a gate, and beyond lay the beach and the ocean (well, the Arabian Sea really). The inhabitants of the cottage were a quiet little family consisting of the caretaker, his wife, one son and two daughters.

Our first night in the cottage was rather entertaining in an unexpected manner. We had one of the rooms to ourselves, with mattresses laid on the floor and table fans all around the perimeter, serving to provide us some relief from the sultry atmosphere as well as from a cloud of assorted insects. My companions had carried some reading material, but the same being mostly restricted to several issues of Cosmopolitan magazines, I felt somewhat shy to join them in their researches (there, I said it!). I contented myself to reading an Archie and Pals double digest in low speed. Fortunately, the girls had decided to take full advantage of the fact that I was the lone male in the equation, a situation which they (erroneously) expected would make me uncomfortable. Their discreet and sporadic whispered communication between themselves notwithstanding, I presently became aware of their plan of exploiting the wolf-sheep role reversal. A roguish grin and slight nod from Ruksana signaled that the games were about to being.

Seema rolled the dice first. “Bikram,” she said in her Basanti-being-playful tone, “We’re just going to talk of some things about women. You don’t mind, na?” Ah, so that was to be the entertainment for the evening!

“Hey, no hassles. Go ahead,” I replied, as the realization of where this promised to go sunk in like a gentle high.

What followed made up for any slight disappointment I may have felt for not reading those Cosmos myself. The three ladies most graciously began to read aloud the Cosmo version of the Agony Aunt section, which is like reading a graphically detailed set of FAQs to bad porn. If this was their idea of scandalizing me, they weren’t doing the best job. I gamely pretended not to notice their recitations for the most part, but one or two glances at them conveyed to them, to their evident delight, that my interest had been aroused (I know it’s unbelievable, but no puns intended!).

But unfortunately, their nefarious plan at evoking a titillated blush out of me encountered an unexpected roadblock. I have found it quite the engaging past-time in acquainting and familiarizing myself with the workings of the female anatomy (I figured that if I can’t understand their minds, I should focus on their bodies, which are at least initially more interesting). It appeared that the girls didn’t share my interest. When it came to Nishita’s turn to join the fun, she began reading aloud the next giggle-worthy question, but trailed off midway, evidently confused with the reference of the anatomical portion therein contained. Seema and Ruksana leaned over and found themselves similarly confounded, and began guessing at what a “ruptured hymen” (my apologies) could possibly mean. I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity at some payback!

I then proceeded into a lengthy discourse on female sexuality that, I feel certain, might have made Alfred Kinsey smile approvingly. Presently, my somewhat clinical descriptions of such rather embarrassing subjects caused some delicate ruddy tinting of the girls’ faces, most notably their ears. The discussion would be almost somber if their increasingly shy reactions hadn’t sent me rolling on the floor!

A couple of weeks later, Seema was to write me a flattering testimonial in a social networking website, describing me as “just a book in his own self.”

Veni. Vidi. Vici.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Chapter 5 - RCPG 1 - Flicker to Flame

Dear readers. I apologise for not have posted anything in a while. My head was pretty messed up over the terror attacks in Bombay. No, no one I know was hurt, but I felt horrible just the same. Finally, after my head's cleared somewhat, I've started on this once again. RCPG was to orginally be Chapter 3 in my original essays that I'd starte writing as a goodbye gift for Karan some years back. But that was before I decided to overhaul the whole damn thing and start posting it on my blog. In those old writings, I'd stopped at Chapter 3. I won't stop this time :)

Part 1

She can kill with a smile
She can wound with her eyes
She can ruin your faith with her casual lies
And she only reveals what she wants you to see
She hides like a child but
She’s always a woman to me
She’s always a woman to me” – Billy Joel

I’m here. This is it,” I thought, standing outside the green bamboo gates. The security guard eyed me curiously, but I didn’t make a move. A kaleidoscope of memories had assailed my consciousness, some happy, some sad, some vitriolic. But the dominant thought was that of a promise, one I’d made to myself as an angry teenager standing in the same spot over 4 years earlier, that I would never walk through those gates again. The sentiment had long since lain dead and buried, and so it should have remained until that moment, when Fate shoved a shovel into my head and exhumed it all. Logic and emotion were playing a tug-o-war in my mind, and my inert body and a small degree of false pride hung in the balance.

It’s been more than four years since I last met her properly,” I thought, “I’m not pissed off anymore. So what’s the problem?

I promised never to go in there, that’s what,” came the reply.

Yeah. But that was different. I was being dumb and unfair.”

Maybe so, but I had good reason.”

What reason? That I lo… felt for her but could never have her? So what? She’s not even relevant in that sense anymore. I loved Maya after that, didn’t I?

But she was my first love, have I really gotten over her? Plus, I’ve only recently broken up with Maya. This is dangerous.”

Oh, please, she’s history! First love… blah!

The raging debate in my head was suddenly interrupted by a voice, “Bikram! Hiii!! Come in ya, why’re you just standing there?”

The images cleared, and I saw Ruksana flashing her trademark smile at me. But something was different. Not in her, but in me. I had been mildly apprehensive at the prospect of spending time with her alone, when she’d asked me to come over to her place a couple of hours back. That apprehension had since been growing. But now that she was in front of me, I felt… nothing. That was pretty encouraging, really!

“Hey,” I replied, “I was just thinking about how long it’s been since I was last here.”

“Join the Rotaract Club and you can make a habit of coming here,” she said cheerily.

I chuckled as I walked through those bamboo gates, thinking how the idea of such a “habit” might have appealed to me back in school. We went into her room, and she spent the next hour telling me about the Rotaract Club of Pune Ganeshkhind. The dynamics were something like this –

1. She was to be the President, and I a Director on her Board of Directors. That would make her the woman behind the wheel (battle of the sexes alert!).

2. An ingenious marketing strategy - “You’ve done so many things in college ya,” she said to me, “all your debates and things. You play the guitar and sing. If you’re in the Club, so many young people will know that there are achievers like you who are of their age! It will be really motivational for them.”

3. A position of supposedly high importance – I was to be the Director for Professional Development, which is apparently the most important avenue in the Rotaract.

4. A call for suggestions for the Director for the avenue of Club Service, supposedly the one who has to maintain the fun element of the Club (Karan Singh received a call from me 2 minutes later)

We talked about what kind of projects I might take up as a Director, and then of MUNA and Aarambh and presently our conversation veered towards old times. I’d once written her a particularly vicious hate mail, and she seemed to love to make me keep apologizing for it. School days were discussed, old friends, funny incidents, strange happenings, Aminesh (her former boyfriend and my former best friend), and others. Finally, as it drew close to calling it a night, she asked me if I’d like to join her and a couple of her friends for a trip to her beach house in a little village in the Ratnagiri district. Her friends were to be in the Board of Directors of the Club too, and it would be a great way to break the ice between them and me. True that I hadn’t spent that kind of time with Ruksana before, and that we had hardly resumed contact long enough to warrant a getaway together. But there were some definite, inescapable pros to her proposition – The beach, the waves, the breeze, the sunsets, the beach house, three women, and me.

The holidays this summer promised to be rather interesting…