Saturday, November 27

Grin and bear it

When people have a work week as torrid as mine, they probably spend Friday evening quaffing back a few cold ones with friends. When people have a social network as empty as mine, they probably spend the same Friday evening parked in front of the telly, making old man Mallya richer by a few shekels. I chose to inflict on myself the dubious pleasure of another 5 hour long commute to Pune.

These journeys are boring at best and intensely frustrating at worst, both scenarios being at the mercy of Bombay's relentless traffic. Trying to doze off and failing miserably, I spend my time wondering why I couldn't be sitting next to an attractive & chatty bird rather than the usual rotund bloke blaring away on the cell phone. Last night, I was handed the golden ticket of strange journeys. Here's how things unfolded.

I was slumped in my seat, morosely pondering on the fact that I've received 6 separate wedding invitations from friends, inviting me to be a part of the joy, jollity and song on various days from November to late January. Matrimonial messages are funny things. Not in the "haha" way, but in the way one tends to view them over time. A couple of years ago, receiving one from a contemporary would leave me feeling happy for the couple and marvelling at how quickly time passes. Now, when all 6 of them are from people younger than me, I can't help but think that my relationship record is like old Mother Hubbard's cupboard - bare. Sure, being thought of as slightly misanthropic is edgy in college and definitely contributed to the solo status, but that was years ago and I'd like to think the grumpiness has toned itself down a bit. And any one of you wanting to quote Darwin, can stay out of this.

So like I was saying, joy to the world. At that point, the passage lights in the bus had been switched off but it wasn't totally dark. This didn't seem to deter the couple sitting in the seats ahead of me, for they began to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to each other with admirable purpose. Paramedics and lifeguards could have learned something, is all I'm saying. And whatever your sentiments on the issue of public displays of affection are, one has to admire the guy's cojones because by the time the bus passed through one of those tunnels, he'd seemingly moved on to 2nd base.

Before you go all judgemental and hastily accuse anyone of voyeurism, I gave the window and the outside world my fullest attention.When my neck began to creak and protest, I closed my eyes, plugged in the earphones and dozed off. I guess the love birds must have eventually run out of callisthenics (or air). When my stop arrived, the pyrotechnics had ceased.

But the universe really is taking the mickey out of me.

Song for the moment: Waiting for the sun - The Doors

Saturday, November 6

Between the lines

Presently reading 'In Xanadu' by William Darymple, I am seized by a familiar feeling. It is the same emotion that swirls around when I'm reading Vikram Seth or Pico Iyer; awe. While their mastery over words and talent for evocative description is undisputed, I find myself revering their courage.

'From Heaven's Lake' details Seth's travels from Nanking to New Delhi, via Tibet. Iyer visits and writes about some truly secluded places in 'Falling off the map', including Bhutan and North Korea. The book I'm reading now follows Darymple tracing Marco Polo's steps from Jerusalem to Peking.

Yes, they write well. What separates them as the great writers from the rest (and in my book, making them courageous) is their incredible spirit of ethnography. Think about it; both Seth and Darymple could have been easily satisfied by wanting to just complete their degrees (both were at university when they went on travels that formed the source of the books). Iyer, already an acknowledged writer and teacher, could have continued writing about airports, about disconnect and the balance of his three cultural heritages. And yet, each of these men did so much more. In doing so, or rather choosing to do so, they took the first steps on the path to lives extraordinary.

Anyone seeking to emulate the above authors' journeys today, cannot. It is that simple and that stark. The world, already hostile when their callow feet and curious eyes swept through the melange of lands, is now a far more forbidding place. Even bureaucratic miracles would not suffice in order to obtain official permission to visit many of the countries on the list, never mind actually making one's way through them.

Therein lies the great pity, you see. If it were a question of convenience, one could perhaps be shamed into labouring harder to circumvent them. But, rather than convenience or lack thereof, it is an issue of probability. To realise, as one is immersed in vivid, exotic accounts of unfamiliar people and places, that the land under one's feet is becoming more xenophobic, divided and barricaded with every passing day...

It fatigues at a faraway spiritual level.

Song for the moment: The dangling conversation - Simon & Garfunkel