Tuesday, September 30

Life is a long song

Can you imagine us
Years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange
To be seventy.
Old friends,
Memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fears

-
Simon and Garfunkel

I cannot say whether I will make 70.
I do not know whether friendships last that long, in this day and age.
But life is for the living and memories, good & bad, will teach us... make us smile at the most inappropriate times and leave us wondering how ancient scars can still hurt sometimes.

To step forward, I look back... and without effort (and thankfully, no grief), this exercise effortlessly conjures up countless images. Heaven help us if our respective folks ever found out how three greenhorns actually made their way on motorcycles from Pune to Panaji... or somewhere in the vicinity. And back, of course.

See, the thing with being a greenhorn is that most knowledge is theoretical and quite a bit of the bravado is churning furiously with apprehension. And when it came to this motorcycle trip, we showed that inexperience by packing enough luggage to comfortably stay in Goa for 3 months. Trouble was, our not-so-creaky backs would be hauling those bags. Enough said, methinks.

Only 2 other people in the world truly know why that trip was special. 2 out of 6.6 billion. Can't get any more exclusive than that so I will not bore you with descriptions that you will not really relate to anyway. Here are a few things I remember, regardless...

Watching the world unfold as the sun rose steadily... it promised to be a beautiful day.

Stopping the bikes in the middle of absolutely nowhere on our way to Kolhapur. Not a soul in sight in either direction as we gratefully parked under the shade of the trees for a minute's rest. Suddenly, out of that absolutely nowhere I mentioned, a chap selling kulfi pops up and is duly in business.

Admiring the greenery and road conditions as we made our way to Ratnagiri from Kolhapur. Yes, Ratnagiri. Yes, we were supposed to be heading to Goa. Yes, we were going the wrong way. Took our collective subconscious about 3 hours to realize our mistake.

Watching the same sun set over the hills... I even remember the time; 6:46 pm. Then seeing a sign that said 'Panaji - 750 km and having our hearts join the sun in the sinking manoeuvre.

Pitch dark highway. The only things we could see were silhouttes of trees on both sides of the road. The only thing we did want to see was the solitary headlight of the motorcycle behind us.

See, it's pointless to go on about it here.

Anyway, on the morrow, 2 of the 3 are meeting up in Kolhapur to reride that first wild shindig. We are 5 years older, slightly more phlegmatic but not really pragmatic.

Like I said earlier, if nothing else, more memories will be chalked up. That's about the least we can ask for.

In tipping our hats to the third rider, who sang it repeatedly on that trip...

Song for the moment: Wherever I may roam - Metallica

Saturday, September 27

Enough Space

Imagine if you will, a strip of greyish tarmac 34 * 18 yards in dimension. One side of this area is taken up by metal gates. Facing them, on the other side is a large, oft-painted water tank. This being India, time and again the wall of that tank has had a set of three lines scratched or painted onto it. Buildings tower over the remaining two sides of this area. If at any point in your life you have played cricket in Kumar Classics Housing Society, your mind's eye will have conjured up an image of the pitch.

Kumar Classics or KC for short, is one of the older societies in Aundh. At some point of time in the misty past (or about 20 years, give or take), KC was the first set of buildings you would see if you were making your way from Bombay to Pune. Only a blind man could miss it because the buildings were painted in an interesting combination of pink and white. Keeping with the trend of the 80's, the builders did not make any provisions for a club-house, pool or any of the other la-di-da amenities being desperately hawked today. There were a few patches of land that might or might not pass off as the 'garden area' but KC gave you the unmistakable impression that it was a society for people who would rather reside than live.

Kids, being the resourcful lot that they are (or rather were... I get the feeling dumbness is no longer a malady and has taken on the proportions of a full-blown epidemic where tiny-tots are concerned. But that's another story), did not let the lack of any specific playing area deter them. We simply went ahead and designated suitable empty spaces in the society for various sports. Ergo, the space between G & H buildings was reserved for 5-a-side football or games of cricket with very few people. The area between C2 and D buildings took on the role of our tennis court. The parking lot of C2 was used for baseball. That between C1 and C2, the badminton court. The last available space, between the B and C1 buildings, we used for cricket.

That patch of land was destined for cricket. From the water tank, we measured out 22 yards and found that we still had enough space left over for even the most ambitious, Thommo-type runups. Of course, the presence of cars and house windows was a problem. Every day, without fail, irate aunties and raging uncles would beseech or threaten us to stop putting their property at risk. We would nod our heads, despondently slink away and then resume play after a respectful period of time had passed... generally about 20 minutes. To curb the pinch-hitters amongst our motley group, we came up with strict rules of play. The ball hitting the buildings, 1st floor and up, was out. Hitting a car directly was out. Hitting outside the gates was either out or a 6, depending on how adventurous we were feeling. If by now you are wondering exactly where we managed to get our runs from, all I can say is, you had to have been here to understand.

Many summers and Diwali vacations were devoted to playing cricket on that pitch. Evenings, weekends, the odd national holiday... each instance saw us congregate without fail and play. Long-suffering residents in the vicinity marked the passage of months and years by cringing at the increasingly colourful cusses that emanated from that spot. Often passers-by would find only 2 people playing... honing skills by faithfully taking turns at bat and bowl. A certain left-hander and I spent many an hour just playing and talking, caught up in both the discussion of ideas and the emotions associated with a bad ball bowled, a beautiful hit or the deception of the bat with that perfect Jaffa.

Some moments and memories are frozen in time; watching a 6 being hit where the ball arched over the 4 floors of C1... hitting the winning run off the last ball in near-darkness and having that incredulous joy flood over limbs knowing you have pulled off the impossible... scoring 3 runs to win on a pitch where 3s are unheard of... bowling that perfect leg-spinner to pick up the one wicket that mattered...

Those were just my personal memories and I know that others, many of whom have moved out of KC, out of the city and out of the country, will have their own precious moments. Childhood was not easy... home-life was not easy... school was not easy... but in those fervent times on the pitch, yelling ourselves hoarse, we forgot everything else. And played the game.

The years are drifting by and we have grown up and moved on. Our cricket pitch, our tennis & badminton courts, our baseball field... stand empty and forlorn. If we strain our imaginations, perhaps we can hear the echoes... of victory cheers and anguished howls of defeat. And sometimes, no imagination is needed because a passer-by stops by the gate to see two scruffy-looking men in their late 20s spend a Saturday morning revisiting the past. The two men look at it differently...

They never left.

Song for the moment: Carry on my wayward son - Kansas

Wednesday, September 24

Let it be

After a few days of hanging around at home and in Aundh, I ventured past University Circle (yes, yes, you may not see a circle, but screw your objections) today. I wish I had not.

9 months after leaving, I come back to find more changes in Pune. Now, honestly, I'm okay with change. It's natural and in some cases needed. But the pace here is ruthless, relentless and has claimed some victims that leave me with a dull ache in the vicinity of the old ticker. I could and can do nothing about it so there's no use flailing arms or bitching. At the most, a cursory tsk-tsk.

It's almost as surreal when I visited my school yesterday. In more ways than one, I went back. Nothing like talking to your teachers from Std. 5 to ensure that you feel 12 again. The really odd part is snapping out of the self-induced hypnosis or whathaveyou to realize that you are discussing your future (theoritical) marriage plans... with someone with whom the only previous discussion you can recall concerned topics from geography and your appaling disciplinary record in class.

I wonder though... in 25 years time, when I want to sit at Roopali with friends and reminisce, will Roopali (never mind the places we would be referring to) be around ? How much of our past will have faded away, to live only in cerebral nooks and crannies ?

Every time I see yet another familiar landmark gone, I cannot help but think that some part of me has faded away as well... lost forever to change. Almost like the laughter, the tears and the conversations never happened.

Maybe I am glorifying the memories... but right now, everything is bittersweet and there's no escaping it.

Returning from Deccan, I crossed University circle and hit Ganeshkhind road. Revved up the Kinetic and streaked through the traffic, instinctively knowing where some dip in the tarmac needed to be avoided and revelling in feeling the wind on my face the rushing speed of the bike.

Right then, at that moment, I could not help it... I grinned. For the past and for the present.

The future can sort itself out.

Song for the moment: Raindrops keep falling on my head - B. J Thomas

Wednesday, September 17

Ride the lightning

The closer I get to leaving, the stronger the urge becomes to bitch-slap a few noted worthies in the vicinity... as a last hurrah. For good measure, colourful comic-songs to provide the perfect background score....

Life, I tell you...

Song for the moment: If wishes were horses - Spin Doctors

Friday, September 12

My one and only love

I honestly never thought this day would come.

I've thought of a 100 ways to start this post. To say just that one sentence. Words will not come and I'll take that as a blessing because there is nothing to say. Not any more.

To those who know me... or if not me, then my obsessive 10-year journey to this day.

The Amati Kraslich Alto Saxophone

Song for the moment: Dream On - Aerosmith

Wednesday, September 10

One foot out the door

I've lived away from home for a little over 2 years now. In that time, I've come across in interesting type of non-resident Punekar. Without fail, 99 % of this mob, on discovering our common bond, will switch to Marathi from whatever language they were attempting to slaughter. They will then proceed to badmouth all and sundry in the vicinity. Gradually, the chatter will begin to noticeably lose steam. Enthusiasm will be replaced by uncertainty. Eyes will proceed to narrow at the less-than-satisfactory quality of Marathi being intermittently offered by moi'. Questions concerning heritage will be bandied about and the hiss of indrawn breaths will rent the air when no relation to long-departed Maratha worthies on my side is evinced. The social death knell will most likely be the discovery that I speak Tamil.

Further events will depend on how vindictive I'm feeling at the time. I confess that I do sympatize with this lot. After all, they can hardly be blamed for the fact that their ancestors' sexual proclivities favoured the local beasts of burden. One cannot fight one's genes, no ? When I read the dailies and see articles devoted to MNS rhetoric and activity, especially in Pune... well, let us just say that the rest of this post is dedicated to the remaining 1 %.

"I am going home". I say these words to myself a few times a day; sometimes out loud, sometimes not and often the words and individual letters dance around in my head of their own accord. I should be happy. I am happy. But it's not the happiness I felt in December 2007. I could not encapsulate that joy into words even if I were a good writer.

Yes, I know... it cannot be the same as last time. But, I'm going home to Pune & I know I should feel something more. I've brought it down to one of two possibilities. Uno - I've begun to accept the fact that I will be coming back home only on holiday for some time to come. Dos - I look at myself & and wonder how much I have achieved or changed for the better since the last time I said goodbye.

Those of us, who have loved the city and left, take with us something that is intensely personal and buried deep. Something the ravages of time cannot touch. We need that 'something' because there will be moments; as we attend lectures in classrooms, or whilst pretending to work in offices, maybe even while hanging around in unnamed pubs or walking unknown streets... a thousand places in a million cities. The moment will always preceded by something innocuous. The ghost of an image, a haunting scent, a tantalizing aftertaste, a dying note... and we will not be able to help it. Our heads will tilt just a fraction. An unfathomable gleam will drift across our eyes. The hint of an upward curl will appear at the corner of our mouths. Time will be of no consequence. We will be dreaming of home.

Of black road and blue sky, sepia-stained scenes of people & places... private moments locked in defining images that we cannot remember capturing but hold on to, regardless. A helpless sigh will escape. A numbing tiredness will threaten to overwhelm. The reverie will fade like the last delicious vestige of sleep on a late winter afternoon. Then we will grin.

Because something will not have changed... will never change.

And with that thought in mind, we will go on living.

I'm still unsure of my feelings, but hey... I'm going home.

Song for the moment: Everybody's Talkin' - Harry Nilsson

Tuesday, September 9

New kid in town

It was a lovely evening... and standing across the road from the Independence Monument, he wished it had not been.

He had hoped for lousy weather... anything that Nature could and often had thrown at him, from broiling 40 degree heat & sapping humidity to a bone-drenching torrential downpour. Anything except what it was now... late evening sun painting the sky golden and a gentle breeze that wafted in from the Bassac River on the horizon. Unbearable weather would have made leaving bearable, but the Fates were being their usual sadistic self.

Rivulets of cars, motorbikes and cycle-rickshaws made their way past him toward Sisowath Quay and the Riverside. He became hypnotized by their monotonous rhythm, became one with the bikes weaving through the line of Lexus' & Toyotas, barely shaving past them. He'd been here 5 months, a drop in the the ocean, but it felt like a lifetime. His thougths wandered back to a similar evening in April, in another city, on another continent. In another world, it seemed.

He was meeting with his Graduate Adviser and the mostly one-sided conversation concerned a decision he'd need to make very soon. He ranted about destiny, forks in the road, choices & consequences and every other damn-all metaphor and simile he could think of. Beating around the bush and making a hash of it. His adviser's chair faced the window and she pensively watched the the early evening bumper-to-bumper traffic crawling on University Boulevard toward the interstate. He went on... he wanted sympathy. He needed help. He needed advice.

He needed the decision made for him.

She interrupted his diatribe with one sentence. "Trust your instincts". Three simple words that he needed to hear but not what he wanted to. He shrugged... he was out of words. She was right; it was his choice alone. His eyes met his adviser's and he smiled because the decision was made. It had been made for quite a while.

A blaring horn snapped him out of his reverie. 10 minutes had slipped by. Independence Monument was now lit up for the night and for the nth time he absently muttered something about the striking effect of plain white light on blood-red stone. To no one in particular, of course. That had been the price he'd paid for being who he was, where he was... alone in a very real sense for the first time in his life. Although he'd fought it for a while, the vicious combination of insomnia and silence had eventually forced him to stop running and face his demons. For too long he'd manage to evade them with the help of a 'birds of a feather...' attitude, booze and false bonhomie.

The city had stripped him of company and the beginning of a double chin had curbed his drinking somewhat. Bonhomie had not really stood a chance. He'd begun to ask questions of himself... hard questions that he was unable to answer to his own satisfaction. He accepted that. It was better than living lies. Disappointingly perhaps, there was no dramatic change because of his self-dissection. No epiphany. That sort of thing was for the movies, accompanied no doubt, by a rousing and soul-stirring musical score. No such convenience in his life, real life, where the only music was contributed by the selection on his laptop. 'Dil dhoondta hai, phir wahi, fursat ke raat-din' was a very moving song and all that but it did not have any sort of ridiculous galvanizing effect. He'd continue to live but he would try to make changes. Before it was too late.

As he made his way on to Rue Pasteur from Sihanouk Boulevard, a man walking past him gave a smile of recognition. For an instant it left him nonplussed and then he smiled back and waved. The wave was returned and they moved on. The idea that his barber had recognized him on the street made him smile.

No longer a tourist.

He was one of a million. Chuckling to himself whenever he saw firangs being ripped off by the taxi-drivers... bargaining in rudimentary Khmer over the price of fruit... knowing that even the daily rains kept to a schedule.

He lived here. He belonged.

And he was leaving.

Song for the moment: Lily was here - Dave Steward feat. Candy Dulfer

Tuesday, September 2

New way home

Naturally, I'm counting down.

17 days to go.

Then I pack my bags, say my goodbyes to people and places and begin the drudgery of airport-hopping & thumb-twiddling at transit lounges.

Drowsily stare at the orange-yellow glow struggling to make it's presence felt through the smog.

Stretch my legs, yawn & stumble across the downward-sloping gangway.

Imagine it a fraction of a second before I smell it - phenyl.

Feet involuntarily move faster as the babble of languages, none of them English, wash over me.

Pray that I can spot my bags on the conveyor belt.

Brood about the prospect of the corpulent Customs chaps hassling me without reason.

Grin uncontrollably as I step out into the sultry night air of Bombay.

India.

Again.

Song for the moment: Baker Street - Gerry Rafferty