Monday, October 13

Love and Happiness

The year was 1950. Having missed a prestigious Government position in Delhi by the proverbial hair's breath, a 24 year old youth from the south of India began to look for work elsewhere. In this land, destinies were & are made in Bombay. Fate decreed that this boy, called K, had been gallivanting around the backwaters long enough and directed him to the city caressed by the Arabian Sea.

Once he'd begun to work, his family wanted to check off the next thing on the list - a bride. K bluntly told his father that he was not interested in an arranged marriage, practically scandalizing everyone in the vicinity and a few ancestors for good measure. Predictably enough, his wishes were ignored and the hunt for a suitable girl began in earnest, culminating in a small town in Tamil Nadu. K was tersely informed about his upcoming nuptials and although furious, he acquiesced. Which should come as no surprise, really, as young men and women do so even today.

The bride-to-be was 20ish... birth records were not exactly reliable in pre-Independence India and much less so in the villages and towns. It was K's good fortune that she was a real looker... and a very capable cook. Having lost her mother at an early age, A had shouldered the responsibilities of house and home and done so ably.

Some time in April 1953, the wedding took place and the Iyer family, totalling 2, made their way back to the heat and humidity of Bombay. They made an interesting pair; him with his bright hazel eyes, sternly disciplined approach & brusque manner and her with the classical good looks and shy demeanour hiding a core of stubbornness and determination. Although he had agreed to the marriage, K vowed not to speak to his father and did not do so till the birth of his first child a year later.

In April 2008, A realized that she had been married for 55 years. She had lived in Bombay for 55 years. Always a delicate looking woman, the passage of time had seen that change into frailty. She looked tired, as elders are wont to do but it was her eyes that spoke volumes about the depth of her weariness. Mother to 3 and grandmother to 5, she had seen, heard and experienced a lot in the 5 decades gone by and the conflicts and tragedies had taken their toll. At times she felt that the almighty was singling her out for misfortune and this confused her... was she not sincerely devout ? Had she not prayed selflessly for her family's well-being, putting herself last ? What more could she do ?

Through the years, K had been there, her husband, providing unflinching support... but even he was mortal after all. At first, there were only murmurs from family... he had begun to make mistakes in keeping his daily accounts... he was misplacing things more often than could be attributed to absent-mindedness... he could not remember things and events that had taken place less than an hour ago... and it went on and on, his memory deteriorating steadily. His eyes, once bright with wit and intelligence, now looked worried and unsure. He withdrew from most conversations, preferring to focus on the wall-clock... the one thing that answered his unspoken questions with unerring accuracy. Without passing judgement.

The two of them bickered constantly; she because of her frustration at the world and he because the world was now a strange and unfriendly place. Family members could and did do very little because both K and A were still fiercely independent in many respects. On rare occasions, an ancient look flashed in their eyes. A look that still left one cowering. Their first-born grandson, about the same age as when his grandfather had been married, sometimes wondered how they stood each other. He was from a more cynical generation; as nonchalant about marriage as he was about the possibility of divorce & he wondered whether there was any vestige left of the feelings K and A would have had for each other all those years ago. Did they even think of concepts like anniversaries and celebrations ?

One afternoon, the grandfather and grandson were playing cards, while the grandmother was making coffee in the kitchen. The grandfather looked at the cards in his hand, paused and looked again... not at the cards, but around the room, making sure no one else was within earshot.

In his perfect Tamil... in a low voice, K told his grandson, " She is the only person I have... I cannot live without her". He then smiled and went back to looking at the cards.

There was silence in the kitchen... A, who had just been about to enter the room with the coffee, stood still. And also smiled.

Song for the moment: Here comes the sun - The Beatles

Monday, October 6

Celebration Day

Inevitably, your statement elicits the question 'why' accompanied by looks ranging from puzzlement to horror. You think about it. Sincerely ponder on the whole gamut; possible reasons, theories, answers, clever retorts...

You seriously consider replying with 'Because', pause (wisely, in this day and age) & then gently shake your head and stay mute, hoping that the zen-like expression on your face will suffice as an answer, explanation or whatever else. If they had to ask, then nothing you could say would ever satisfy. Ergo, you silently thank your guardian angel that no real melodrama ensued.

Kshitij and I left from home at 6:20 am, knowing we had a long ride ahead. There was a hint of anxiety in the air because the most important component of this trip (apart from ourselves) was the motorbike... the TVS Star DLX that had never been further than Lonavala, a distance of about 50 km from Pune. On the 1st of October 2008, the very same bike was going to be ridden roughly 470 km... to Goa.

It was Ashish's idea that I meet him in Kolhapur and that he & I continue onward from there to Panaji. It was my idea to not tell him that Kshitij was also going to be coming along and it was Kshitij's idea that we might as well bike it. Everyone was having great ideas, as it were. Ashish, being an experienced biker & on a Bullet to boot, made it all the way from Bangalore to Kolhapur by about 10:00 am, still under the impression that I was plodding along by bus. He may also have been helped in that impression by the thoughtful hourly messages I was sending him describing the non-existent bus driver's antics. This was Kshitij's first long-distance bike trip and I will take this opportunity to tip my helmet to his riding skills and stamina.

The NH 4 is a delightfully well-constructed road, although its ease and proximity to small villages and towns does take the edge of the solitary motorbiker mystique, somewhat. Besides, after about 12 hours of riding, only the fanatic would be put off by the comfort of the NH 4. At 11:45 am, turning off the highway into the Loksatta Gates and into Kolhapur, my cell-phone began to ring. Knowing it may have been a by now rather irate Ashish on the line, I chose to ignore it. Spotting him standing by the side of the road with a less than welcoming expression on his face may also have played a part, I don't know. He looked quite puzzled when a TVS Star DLX stopped next to him and the guy riding pillion jumped off, greeting him very cheerfully. Puzzled, because that pillion rider was expected to be hopping off a bus, not a bike.

The expression on his face was priceless as he realized that not only had I not reached by bus, but that Kshitij had also come along. And we'd done so by motorbike. Questions may have followed, but 'why' was not one of them. See, like I said before, if you have to ask...

Ashish will not.

Gagan Bhavda Ghat
From Kolhapur, we rode onward to Panaji via the Gagan Bhavda Ghat. We made it to the border by 5:50 pm and with a whoop of joy, crossed into Goa about 10 minutes later. It had rained earlier that afternoon and so, 3 pleasantly exhausted guys on motorbikes skimmed across the road to Calangute. I had the luxury of being able to look around and am therefore able to describe the following scene:

The sun sinking rapidly, the western sky was awash in golden evening light. A fading rainbow framed the horizon to the east. The air seemed heavy with the promise of some indescribably delicious joy as our tired eyes were soothed by the combination of dark-red earth & emerald-green hills.

K & A

Welcome to Goa...

Song for the moment:
Holiday - Greenday