Wednesday, July 29

Longfellow Serenade

Dear reader,

A conversation in a buzzing bar over a mug of beer got me thinking on today's theme; the writing of a letter. As with many of the shared contemplations I've had, we spoke about it for the sake of the flowing idea, the peculiarly gentle glee in being able to use what have commonly been referred to as 'big words' in actual conversation without having the threat of perplexity hanging in the air. Perhaps you have & enjoy these moments yourself. Mayhaps, you have debated the same theme ?

Nonetheless, I often ponder upon the march of time & technology that has left me regarding life with some ambiguity. I appreciate technology & how it has made living easier on many levels. I do not hanker for the b/w television nor for a computer with 16 MB RAM & the large floppy disk. I thank the heavens for air-conditioning & the photocopier. I use the internet a lot. The Dark Ages or in India's case, the years up to the 1990's, had their moment in the sun. But like a handful of people I know (know, I said. There's probably a boatload of you lot out there), there are some things I miss for their ability to remind me that I was a child once. Those large, box-type knobby radios for one. That delightful telephone with the rotating dial pad for another. Not having experienced a childhood that even remotely resembled either the Blyton or Wodehouse varieties, I'm not struck by a sense of nostalgia when I reminisce about those years. But I am at a loss to explain why the ticker feels a little hollow and the shoulders a tad more weary when I catch a glimpse of memorabilia that has quietly faded away.

I want to ask you - can you remember the last personal letter you wrote ? Not typed. Think back to crisp white notepads with those reddish-maroon ruled lines. To a certain nervousness... or was it hesitancy... as you sharpened the pencil or filled the pen with Camel blue ink. That metallic smell wafting out of the ink bottle or that of the wood shavings. Perhaps you unconsciously stuck the tip of your tongue out as you began to give life to those blank spaces, telling your story to someone else. Someone who meant enough for you to write them. To eventually feeling a slight pain in your hand, only to find that you've written over five pages of vivid yet tragicomically ordinary descriptions. To being confused about whether to end with 'yours faithfully, yours truly, yours sincerely, love...' and having to look up letter writing in the Wren & Martin.

To worrying about whether you've attached the right amount of postage ?

When was the last time you received an envelope with sheets of writing addressed to you ? Perhaps the writer liked using scented paper. Perhaps they included photographs. Perhaps they knew you were something of a philatelist & attached exotic stamps ? When did a sheet of paper start with 'Dear (your name)', meaning it was for you & you alone, letting you delight in a rare fragment of privacy in a public home.

I write to no one because I do not know their exact address. I no longer read names of funny sounding streets & cities and dream about what these places would be like. There is no longer any need for me to look in the mail box.

One moves with the times, but the tendrils of the past often reach out and brush up against memory. Against an aching longing. Against a loss of identity.

Not having written a letter to anyone in years, I find that I have written one to you. Not in the way I wanted to but perhaps with more affection than other avenues would allow.

With warm regards,

Me.

Song for the moment: Video killed the radio star - Buggles

Wednesday, July 22

Everlong

In the greater scheme of things, 3 years probably means very little. When you find yourself mentally rewinding through the last 3 years however, perhaps the burden of time hangs heavier. Why has this come up ?

Not being around for the last 3 monsoon seasons, I'd almost forgotten why we're obsessed with the rains. Those who care enough have a check list of things to experience, gleefully cross off items one by one. Gastronomically, there's a bounty of items that's tied to our memories of rain. मक्का, चाय, भजिया, पकोडे, समोसे, दोसा-साम्बार ... the list of steaming hot tangy & spicy food that seduces the palate through the length & breath of India in the rain is quite likely endless.

If you are from Pune however, there's something you may just have experienced in your teens and college years. And are quite likely hankering for now, as you stare at the glinting droplets of water, the gentle roar of rain and the emerald newness of the leaves. I refer to biking in the rain.

Yes, I know you grinned.

The memory of riding your bike in the rain is something you will never forget... especially if you are from Pune, since biking is something we just do. Like eating or sleeping. Going to college in rain meant either that you wanted to get to Fergusson and spend the rest of the day drinking chai and hanging around campus or F.C road or that you... well... heck, you just wanted to get out of the house. For years, I did the commute on my Kinetic Honda.

Now, those of you in the know are aware of the Kinetic's reputation in the rain. The wheels seem to develop a mind of their own & agree with the brakes that the rider's life is rather boring and must be made umm... interesting. You've either personally experienced or seen the infamous Kinetic-skid. A bike skid is nothing nice, but Punekars & especially Kinetic owners have become rather phlegmatic about it. A greenhorn, properly horrified, will comment on how unsafe the roads are in the rains only to be greeted with a look that is quizzical or scornful. Quite likely, the greenhorn will be told that they have no idea what they're talking about and to desist before someone makes pointedly sarcastic remarks on intelligence and the lack of it. There's a method to us & our madness, you see.

I've missed the last 3 monsoons for a variety of reasons. I've missed my bike. Now I live in Bombay, where the rain culture is something else altogether. I like that too. Yet...

I'm in Pune on work. It's raining. I have to navigate quite a stretch of the NH-4 for this work.

I know my bike. I know what it's capable of. I know to respect it's qualities & limitations.
अंदाज़ it's called I believe.

I'm on the road... the rain is drumming against my helmet and I can see very little. Just a blur of the vehicles... the spaces between them. I can feel the droplets like needle points against my chest. I open the throttle... gently. Let the bike get used to the splendidness of the road. Steadily increase speed. There's a slight gap in the visor & I can hear the whistle of the wind. I cut my way through the vehicles & it feels like they are standing still. The speedometer needle indicates that the speed has hit 70 kmph.

The moment happens.

Framed between sky & earth,
Embraced by the rain,
I am alone.
I am soaring.

Song for the moment: Original Fire - Audioslave

Tuesday, July 7

Man in the box

Reader, I type this post with a strong control of my considerable command over invective. Amravati, that odious spit of land in north Maharashtra was visited again this weekend. That's right, this weekend. The district coordinator for our project there, a creature who quite likely is channelling Judas, Benedict Arnold & any other traitor you'd choose, specified the weekend for ISO analysis. The last week was no picnic at work either, so my mood on Friday evening as I awaited the train at Dadar was one of thunderstorm proportions. Not helping my mood any was the ISO consultant.

A boatload of people either hate or love their jobs. But I have not yet met anyone who's job is his philosophy and vice versa. Except for the ISO dude. This specimen has to be met to be believed. I say met because by sight he probably resembles some jolly Santa in his middle age. You know, before the white hair, ho-hos and the reindeer... Once this dude starts talking however, stopping him is impossible. Believe me, I've tried. It's like trying to stop a break in the Khadakwasla dam with cellotape. Now, while no one will ever accuse me of above-average cranial activity, even I understood early on that I should not, under any and I mean ANY circumstance give this guy a chance to start preaching. I mean, if you think you could be dying, die. Don't ask this windbag for help. He qualifies as the reference to 'a fate worse than death'. Even so, being careful to the point of petrification, a man needs to breathe. Or move. During which time, some slight suggestion of sound may escape from you. That's all he needs to start off blabbering about how he knows the best method to do this, achieve that and whatnot. I'm just waiting for the day when this personage accosts some random unfortunate in the men's room and instructs him on how best to answer nature's call. Or perhaps break wind.

Anyway, my strategy when I've to accompany the town crier is to take a load of books, my mp3 player & enough batteries to comfortably power a city for 3 days. The moment we're on the train, I plug in the earphones, whip out the book and pointedly ignore him. Even this does not stop him tooting his horn every now and then, mind you. On this trip however, ISO-man, the dastardly district coordinator & Amravati itself came together to leave me... well, you know what they say - जब किस्मत ही गांडू, तोह क्या करेगा पंडू ?

First off, it was the weekend. Having to travel all night on Friday when I could have been otherwise employed was bad enough, but the fun does not end there. You see, to get to Amravati city and beyond, one has to hop off at a plague-spot called Badnera Junction. At 5:30 am. After which, a very sleepy, increasingly despondent blogger has to make it through the day listening to the coordinator spin tall tales about his efficient work & have ISO-dude counter him with suggestions about how to better himself. It's like the argumentative chess game from hell. The only difference being that in a chess game, both players have sort of a 50 - 50 chance of winning. But ISO-man is the Deep Blue in human avatar, so no ordinary mortal stands a chance. Someone hearing-defficient maybe, but no one else.

After 2 days of this brouhaha, if people were pious, truthful and all that, they'd admit that precious little actually got done. IF. We make our way back to Badnera Junction on Sunday evening & I don't know... the fates were trying to indicate that the fun wasn't over, I guess. Because it rained... poured like the rain of our dreams, venting nature's fury on an indifferent earth, accompanied by dark-grey skies & lightning bolts. I tell you, if a voice announced that the crack-o-doom and judgement day was upon us, I would have believed it. ISO-guy would no doubt have some ideas for nature on how to achieve a 'quality' Pralay, but that should surprise none of you by now. So, accompanied by this band-baaja, we get dropped off at the station at 8:00 pm, well in time for the 8:45 pm Samarasta 'Super-fast' express. Just as we're getting to the platform, a voice, which will probably haunt my dreams for years to come, announced prettily that the train would be late by 2 hours. I suppose it should have occured to someone to enquire against which snail the train's speed was being touted.

I reached for the earphones & book before she'd completed the announcement.

2 hours later, the same voice announces purposefully that the train is now delayed by 3:30 hours. I give up on the earphones & other paraphernalia and begin to pace. The stray dogs on the platform begin to give me looks of pity. Or scorn, I don't know... it was around 12:30 am. At about 12:45, just as I begin to draw in a deep breath to really let rip into life, the universe & everything else (to borrow a phrase), the train sneaks in, shamefacedly & shifty-eyed. At this juncture, I was ready to discover that Bogie A2 had been left back at Howrah & that we'd have to travel in the pantry car.

I reach Kurla around noon the next day, attempt to find a rickshaw & make the next blunder. I agree to share the rickshaw with ISO-man, a decision akin to allowing Bluebeard to commandeer your rowboat. About halfway to Santacruz, I gave up & began to contemplate an afterlife where I'd never have to run into anyone who's heard of ISO standards. Or at least, this pontificator. Who knows... perhaps he's dreaming of instructing the dudes up and downstairs on how to achieve efficiency.

Pah !!

Oh and just to round things off, a migraine came a-visiting yesterday evening.

Song for the moment: Sound of Silence - Simon & Garfunkel