Category: Perturbations

An epilogue for “The great Indian kitchen”

Outburst of a 26 year old Indian Girl.

I found her through books

“But as soon as I grew enough up, to be precise, as soon as I outgrew Enid Blyton, and began to comb through the enormous collection of English literature in the attic, I was face to face with exactly that.”

To make her laugh

1st November 2018

The other day I telephoned my grandmother. Thinking about this conversation later, a profound confusion in my head got reasons to quieten down.

When I turned back, to grab a quick last glimpse of my home, and grandparents through the back window of the giant SUV, laden with my luggage that could come up to my own height if stacked one on top of the other, my searching eyes settled on the folded palms and worried eyes of my grandmother.

Moments before stepping out of home, I had held her close and reassured her that Germany is not that far away. I heard Grandfather stifle a nervous laughter, posed in his typical Ardh-padmasan on the Diwan behind her, and I winked at him. I had not meant to give her a false information, nor did I (wrongly) presume that she doesn’t know her geography. My motivation in telling my grandmother that this country on a different continent is not so far away, is double fold. One was to calm her down in this time of parting, when she is drowning under a deluge of uncertainty about the slightest daily activity that I would have to carry out on my own in a new country. Second, was to convince the idea to myself, by voicing it out loud, thus somehow establishing it forcefully. Grandpa knew of the first reason, but I doubt if he had any clue about the latter.

Anyway, I couldn’t be too wrong, in today’s era of superb virtual connectivity. Grandma is certainly better off now. We know what I do when situations pop up. We know how I get my groceries. We know how I get my food. We know I am managing.

Explaining these to her one day over the phone, I had a unique experience. She would laugh out loud at some of the weird adventures I had to share. And I would get a sudden thrill at having being able to make her laugh. Through the conversation, I paid attention to the pattern of what makes her laugh. It happened when I put, even the simplest of ideas, with some amount of witticism. When I used some odd, awfully literary Malayalam word, which generally don’t creep into everyday conversations. She was enjoying my narration of the story, even if the story was routine. And I was enjoying the notion that I am amusing her with the story, in particular, bringing her to laughter once in a while.

Later, I realised that these telephonic conversations were teaching me a very important deal. That love lies, perhaps, in laughter. Forever a romantic soul in search of a definition for love, trying to decide what to call love, I was, here, getting a new avenue to explore for answers. When you feel the delight of being the reason for another’s laughter, another’s happiness, perhaps it is love that is at work. If you are able to laugh because of another, truthfully, with abandon, perhaps that is love at work. Because in the moments when you laugh, you can’t be anything but happy. And in the moments of laughter, there hides love.

Of red roses and weird pens

‘One look into the foggy depths of her eyes, at the mess of her dry, dirty brown hair, at her bare feet that must have burned on the tarred road since forever, in a moment, I was scrounging inside my purse for the right currency note.’

The Grandmother

Monday, 2 October 2017

Bengaluru City Central Railway station, on an average morning, waits for no one. It does not hesitate, not for a minute. It’s throbbing with activity, of passengers planning to board, purchasing tickets to make that possible, or having a cup of coffee getting ready for a long journey. Some people are making their way through the cheap pages of the Daily, or the glossy ones in a magazine, until their respective trains chug into the real world, and they bid each other farewell in that collective space of reading minds they had shared thus far. There is an enforced patience everywhere, in the waiting rooms, on benches, on the floor,where, deep in sleep, no one has realized that the day has begun. Some people are embarking on their journey, yet others are finally at their destination, looking forward to whatever it is that they have awaiting them in this city. There are ten platforms and a world of itself here in this giant of a railway station.

Despite the plethora of stories it had at offer, as I left the place, only one sight stayed on with me.

She caught my attention as I walked down the steps that lead to the subway. The staircase is divided into two halves using a railing, for facilitating the movement of people up and down. A sea of people go past each other on this staircase. People who do not have the time to think about anything else but themselves. About how their impending train journey is going to be, or how the city will treat them that day.

Amidst all this hustle, one soul remained still, sitting on the third step from the top, close to the leg of the railing. A lone figure of quietude, unnoticed by the rest of the world.

She was old and had an expressionless face. She wore a torn and dusty saree, that did not hide the frailty of her body. Her dark, skinny hands clung to the railing, but her mind seemed to have wandered off elsewhere. Her eyes were lost in some dream. It was certain that they weren’t focussed on the unceasing crowd of this railway station. And once I glanced at them, I couldn’t think of anything else for a very long time. What was it, that had captivated her mind right then?

She must be imagining what her daughter was doing right then. Would she have left for office? Would her husband be asking for his fourth cup of tea in the morning, and simultaneously applying oil onto his hair preparing for the bath? Would her son in law be pouring over the newspaper, with sheets spread wide on the floor? Would her granddaughter be getting ready for school, plaiting her long her and tying it with a blue ribbon? What would her other daughter be doing right now? She is a teacher, it’s almost time for her to leave for school, and she must be running around the house filling her lunch box and water bottle. Was her grandson still in bed, planning to skip breakfast and sleep some more? Would her baby great grandson have woken up by now? Would he be wailing for his morning bottle of milk? And where was her other granddaughter? Oh yes, she went to Bangalore yesterday night. She would have reached Bengaluru Central Railway Station by now. Would she be able to find her way well in that big city…?

Panic cast its distressing shadow over the chain of my thoughts and I shook myself out of it as soon as I realized what was going on. This old woman, sitting on the stairs, had taken on the face and form of my own Grandmother. If existence was a phenomenon emanating from or centred about a focal point, this thought had set mine into flames. I had to pause to calm my inner world and convince it that Ammamma is fine. I had to conjure up an image of her in her Mundu and Veshti with a Thorthu wrapped around her long, ivory shaded hair, wet from a bath. I had to see her in the home she had nurtured on her own, plucking out the weeds in her garden or tending to the spinach cultivation. I by some means, had to see that smile and the ringing laughter, which has never been and can never be replaced by another for the rest of my time.

The same fate that had left this old woman uncared and unwanted here, in the dusk of her life as someones wife, someone’s mother, someone’s grandmother, could have easily tossed its dice and fallen upon a person you call your own. As for this grandma, sitting motionless, staring into a non-existent future, I wonder if there really is someone, who had, out of choice, or out of having no choice, committed the sin of pushing her into isolation in a brutally cold world. And if it hasn’t already, I envisage the focal point of that someone dissolving into nothingness.

All in a morning

I had not been wearing my spectacles. So the world was a blurry entity, the edges of objects all dissolved. Upstairs, in one of the bedrooms, on the bed I saw a silhouette that I can recognize even in profound confusion; that of a book. So there is a new book in this house, albeit rented from a library, and I have not yet been alerted to its presence? I was not as much angry at this prospect, than amused at the thought that books come like the compartments of a train, like the succession of seasons, into my life. It was only last night, around eleven, that I had closed Mohsin Hamid’s ‘Reluctant Fundamentalist’. I turn a back page and there! A new front page beckons me! But unlike seasons, which are of only four flavours, each book comes with a palate of its own. A new author, with his own principles about how he wishes to exploit the language he chooses to express in. A new group of characters whom I have never met before, set in a brand new place. Now this part thrills me the most. Last book, I was transiting between Lahore and Manhattan. I was in Lahore for the first time. Before this, I was in Alaska for a while, but that journey was left incomplete because Jon Krakauer’s ‘Into the wild’ did not belong to me, and I had to unexpectedly leave the place where the owner of this book makes life.
Anyway, as I went closer to the bed, I got a better view of the book. A Prussian Blue cover page. It is a coincidence that this shade has been steadily seeping into my day to day life for a while now. Several conversations, several chains of thought, several connections have been influenced by Prussian Blue. And so it was easy for me to imagine the level of the pigment inside me pull me closer to this object, of the same shade, wanting more of itself. (Coincidentally, there is a full moon on the cover page of this book. But that makes sense, because Prussian blue is the shade of the midnight.)
Neel Mukherjee’s ‘The lives of others’. I vaguely remembered reading about this book and wanting to read it. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, 2014. Yes. That was why, and that was when. It has finally settled in my palms now. Excitement arises in me, there is a considerable probability that this entire book may be set in..I turn the book to its back, ‘Calcutta, 1967’. It has been long, terribly painfully long since I’ve been to Calcutta.
On the way downstairs, I stopped, and perched abruptly at some random step, read the backside as well as all other unimportant details of the book. Then I picked my mug of morning coffee and sat down on my reading chair and turned to the front page. It is Bengal, indeed. But it is 1966. And it is a famine.
Severe anguish was spreading through me with each line. A farmer is returning empty handed from a landlord to his family that has not eaten for 7 days. My coffee is getting cold. But I can not pick it up and sip on it as if it was the most natural thing to do, while this frail man is contemplating on killing his three little children and ending his own life to save everyone from the wrath of hunger. I see it on the screen in front of my eyes; a father becoming an animal as he heinously slashes the neck of each of the plantling he had himself grown and nourished, and killing himself by consuming pesticide. At the end of this prologue, an obscurely familiar sickness returns to me. I trace it back to 2013, when I was in Dominique Lapierre’s Calcutta.
I turn towards the mug. The still surface of my coffee stares back at me. This piece of writing has affected me enough to leave me crippled for minutes, unable to touch a delicious cup of my favourite liquid.
At present, life is uncertain. Life is full of confused people and confusing circumstances. At a transition stage like this, I should be working hard on making my next footing a reality. A stable one. Is this a good time to sit reading? To hell with it! When is it ever a wrong time to start reading? In Calcutta.