Welcome home (Sanitarium)

Airports make me sick. Modern airports leave the walker-by with so many things to gape at, stare at and drool over, that one loses hold of the actual scene in hand. And before you know it you have lost a friend, and a companion, to miles of ocean between you. You have not waved that picture-perfect goodbye that you had practiced all week, you have not said those award worthy lines of parting and you have not smiled once all morning. The shops, the general ambiance, the artwork skewed all across, are very distracting. Someone please take a note, airports should henceforth be designed like hospitals; crisp white walls and dirty floors that ensure that your mind is hung on nothing other than the tragedy that lies ahead of you.

[….]

I was speeding down the highway, a sudden urgency to get back to my current camp. OK! for all those already pointing fingers at me, for being the road-rage consumed beef, I wasn’t driving anything above speed limits, its fast enough to get around in time. The recent loss of my sensible music had left me listening to “classic” rock from The City, whenever did Stayin’ Alive count as classic rock. Now, now, don’t get me wrong again. I love the Bee gees for their pop feel and Stayin’ Alive is unarguably one of the classics that catapulted a bunch of people into stardom, but I digress. So, back to my driving in to town and listening to some mind numbing music. I usually give myself the leeway of letting my thoughts out loose while driving back, especially now that I know the route and the bumps and exits like second trait. It was during one of those thought flooded moments, that I almost jumped off my seat. I must have definitely scared the driver behind me, with that little sway, but the rising moon, up ahead, was a beauty beyond words.

It was comic-book material, huge and crisp white, enhanced by the light blue of the sky. The craters were as clear as pictures in Science text books and the size definitely got me off guard. The moon hadn’t obviously grown in size over the last month, so it was clearly one of those sights I had never seen before. I had to put my camera to some better use right away. I followed the moon down the next half a mile, waiting for the next service area up ahead. I parked in unstated urgency, jumped off my car and frantically looked up above for that bright spot.

It was missing alright. The tree cover and the thick canopy din’t help much either, but I could not locate even the bright light in the sky. I looked around at other passengers, getting off their vehicles to get a drink. Had anybody else seen it at all? Was I hallucinating after all? It had been a tough weekend indeed. But I wasn’t that bad, especially not when I was driving. Right? I walked all across the perimeter of the service station, staring at all directions above me, waiting for that body to come to view.

Unknown to me then, a thick cloud cover had formed above the area, rain laden and dark. Heavy with all its material, it slowly sank closer to ground, engulfing any bright blue of the sky in its stocky grey. I got back on the road, disillusioned by my recent folly. I watched the last streak of blue give in to the rain clouds, and realized that I had seen the first few seconds of the moon rise, before clouds shrouded everything above and beyond.

The whole incident left me stunned and sad in more ways than one. It was like one of those sunrises I had woken up early to watch, only to be met by the thick, dull grey of the clouds. It was a feeling of meeting negatives at every turn we take, every act countered by a stronger, all encompassing force. I felt too mortals for words and rode the rest of my journey in a bewildered silence.

[…]

I slowly sneaked out of my room, bare foot, quickly aware of the wind chill. The drizzle had left the pavements still wet and that added to the wintry feel. I quietly sat down on the steps, snuggled up against the railings, and yet letting the wind freeze me out. There were too many things on my head and the running nose, with its splitting headache hadn’t helped much either. I sat there and stared out aimlessly at the dimly lit parking lot.

First day, two down. That much at least is progressing well enough. I need to keep off all that though. Will need to keep reminding myself of those days and then those other days and that person. That should be enough to fuel me forward steadily. Note to self: Check on how H is doing in this front. First day, twenty new. Decent start. But its time to realize that there are million others out there. So twenty at a time, on a regular basis in required. I verified that the piece of code works. Now I need to check other places where the similar issue exists. Will also need to make sure that the sheet is up to date. That post processing still lacks that one zing I am looking for. Need to start from scratch and check if I get there. Is it time to start P365 already? The weekend deadline is finally here. Don’t want to rush things in the last minute right. Will need to wait for the reviews, spruce up the last one and get going with the filing. Man ghazals make you very introspective!

I let out a deep sigh, collected the complete self together and walked back indoors. Rang the bell to my apartment, opened the door and locked it behind me.

Sometimes we love with nothing more than hope.

Sometimes we cry with everything except tears.

In the end that’s all there is: love and its duty, sorrow and its truth.

In the end that’s all we have: to hold on tight, until the dawn.

– Shantaram.

India Calling…

I would’ve safely assumed it to be me dreaming, about all my favorites together in the same fantasy, had I not known better. A recent tragedy left Switch, DShah and me shopping all weekend, something that took us across seas and to a world we had grown up in. And yet, so close home.

Edison, New Jersey, should be called Little India or something more desi, Edisonpur or Edisonabad maybe. It beats and breathes the lives of  the countless Indians who migrated to greener pastures back in the flourishing days. It symbolizes man’s quest to find home around any surrounding that he is thrust into, and if not successful at that, the drive to create it.

The glistening jewelers, with brilliant creations adoring their window showcases, line both sides of the strip. Eateries flaunt their melange of sweets and savories; sugar cane juice made to perfection, complete with the ginger pieces and pinch of spice, is worth every last drink. The pan shops have everything from calcutta sada to the stuffed meetha. If you woke up from a slumber and found yourself amidst these saree shops and salons, you would have a strange familiarity of waking up in a suburb in Mumbai. The ben-jis and babus, saree or kurta clad and conversing in fluent, authentic gujarati wouldn’t help much in judging your bearings either. I could have sworn this little town was the sister of some lost town had a sister in Modi-land.

The jewelery market here is bountiful with wings spanning into gold ornaments, raw gold and a dozen precious stones. Every visitor travelling back home stocks up on these goodies, a ‘loss-proof’ investment I hear. Not only do the adroit jewelers make sure you buy three times your intended purchase, but they provide unsolicited advice on handling Indian Customs as well (pun intended!). Make sure to keep your ears open when those special jewels rain down. With a strict cash-only policy, it is definitely a world in itself.

But none of these stores and the shopping came close in satisfaction quotient to what a foodie derived from the numerous options here. The Saravanaa Bhavan here, one of the four in the country, and many across the world, is a mouth watering treat for any lover of South Indian food. We found ourselves wanting to order at least four items from each page of the colorful menu. A true to its roots sambar vadai and bona fide mini idly were the perfect start for our lunch. For the main course, between us we managed to order a mysore masala dosai, adai aviyal and kara dosai. The special meals were the typical home made feast, thorough to the point of having the mango chutney and appalams.

The climax was the genuine filter coffee, nursed to perfection in their stainless steel tumbler and davara ;) I don’t know what it is between us South Indians and Coffee. Tea is always the travel drink, the compromise you force yourself to, when you don’t have the luxury of home made filter coffee. But coffee is the drink of the kings, OK, I can argue with you for an hour on that one.

I still debate the actual source of the flavor; I know it’s somewhere in space between the coffee powder, that strong chicory, that filter that gets passed down generations and the davara-tumbler. The aroma that floods the vicinity, the minute the hot water starts to seep through the freshly ground powder, is out of this world in all senses. Contrary to the now-hyped latte or cappuccino’s smooth and delicate froth, the filter coffee has a rusty, bubbled froth. No coffee is complete without that froth, balanced precariously, an inch beyond the tumbler top. The trick lies in pouring the coffee from the highest point your hands can reach. And it is this little white dream that separates the tea from the coffee, the luxurious from the mundane.

The filter coffees in hotels added all the glitz and the glamor within these basic requirements; the inverted-tumbler-trick is still my favorite. Sitting miles and years away, thinking about our visits to Annapoorna and picturing God mix the sugar and coffee in his slick movements, I emptied the coffee into the dabara and peeped in, anticipating the ingeniously placed extra serving of sugar down there. I was expecting too much after all.

The meal had been etched in memory for days to come; the adai aviyal after two long years was not going to be let go off that soon, was it?

The touching finale was the rain drenched dandiya in JC. While we stood, tucked under the comfort of the shades, and gorged on the bhel puris , the hundreds of staunch Gujaratis went around the circle, with ritual-like dedication, making the drizzle all too trivial. Dames dressed in flowery dresses danced about, while their better halves tried being up to the expectations in more senses than one. The sheer mix of ages in that group astounded me; old women, jackets over their saree to beat the cold, danced about not missing a step. The entire scene, the whole day, had been too mystic to be real,  and yet thousands of eyes had blinked through it.

I saw pot holed roads and got bitten by mosquitoes; drank genuine filter coffee and ate fresh vadu maanga. Would they let me miss home at all?

The idealized past, A teaser

This is one of those posts lying in my iTouch Notes, as a draft, for a really long time now. I remember the day I started it and the snow storm that had hit us the previous night. It was the first time in months that our car had to be ploughed free of snow and it was the first time that there were only the two of us, instead of the usual crowd. Quite a workout, it had been, and sweating-it-out always gets me thinking.

If you have followed my posts at all, or have sat through any of my conversations (God bless you few), you would recall my reminisces from the past, those F1 races, and midnight walks. If both those statements are untrue, fret not, they are definitely going to be in one of the upcoming posts. Till then, sit tight, read on and remember, Michael Schumacher ruled F1, in the times mentioned in this post. Oh wait, he still rules, doesn’t he? Light at the end of the tunnel, here.

We had spent an complete hour sweating it out together. We had pushed each other into it and we were in it together after all. As we alternated between watching and shoving around, we realized how little we knew of each other, how little it really mattered and yet how we were forced into being the strangers we were then. Job done, sweat wiped out, we walked back to the house; car free from all the snow we had just shoveled out.

As we sat by the window, gazing into the ocean ahead, a steaming soup bowl to warm our frosted fingers, I remembered the times that had been. Earlier in the day I had bumped into something that made total sense now: The notion of a satisfactory future for a lot of us is, in fact, a return to the idealized past.

The ideal past where we spent the weekends lying on the house floor, God and H in stowe, fighting and fisting over the latest moto racing result, while the Goddess pitched in with the hot and spicy counterparts. That ideal time where we spent the nights racing each other in our walks around the airport. The past where we ran back into the hostel as the gates shut behind us, brimming at the turn of the evening, and the respite that those trips had from the hell within. The moments where, after having panted an hour or two uphill, we lay in the grass up there, letting the wind chill the sweat away and listening to verses from a saint who claimed that ‘nothing else matters’.

I still see images of a past where the house was a hullaboo, with tempers rising and egos getting flustered. The days when a lone tear was shed, to soothe a crying heart. The nights spent in dreamless sleep. The times when the volcanic outburst let all the entertainment to the hours going by.

Yes, the ideal past.

Homeward bound

I’m sitting in the railway station.
Got a ticket for my destination.
On a tour of one-night stands, my suitcase and guitar in hand.
And ev’ry stop is neatly planned, for a poet and a one-man band.
Homeward bound,
I wish I was, Homeward bound,
Home where my thought’s escaping,
Home where my music’s playing,
Home where my love lies waiting
Silently for me.

No, there was no love; there was no silent waiting, there was no… But wait! I had it all wrong. What I was heading to was not ‘home’. It was not even in the vicinity of being close to home : ) That explained there being no love and no silent waiting. It was a room, me living in that room, a few rooms around this room, a person living in those rooms around this room, it was an arrangement. Far from home!

It’s surprising, that this is the first time in the last few months that I’ve really taken a moment to sit and analyse the situation. When exactly was it, that it had stopped being home? When ideas took different tracks? When priorities in each rooms’ life chnaged? When the split in thoughts meant a split in interests and the being? When each ego available was working on means of ruling over the other? Or somewhere between the realization that it was a mere arrangement and the comprehension that it would not last for long in the same frame of mind?

Either ways, things had taken a turn for the wrong side; each today made me pray harder, to never see such a day again. I had taken it on me to make amends, and a slow process that it turned out to be, was squeezing all the energy out of me. It is indeed tough, to stay strong and stay mean. No wonder we are the ‘social’ animal. We’d rather want ourselves to fit into the cliche, and have the world think good of us, than choose the untrodden path.

So, while I live each day, one step closer to a changed me, about to breath my own life, I turn the volume up to the highest, sing out at the loudest and cry out to heaven the hardest.

Tonight I’ll sing my songs again,
I’ll play the game and pretend.
But all my words come back to me, in shades of mediocrity
Like emptiness in harmony, I need someone to comfort me.
Homeward bound,
I wish I was, Homeward bound,
Home where my thought’s escaping,
Home where my music’s playing,
Home where my love lies waiting
Silently for me.

Silently for me.

Cliched… yet… Nostalgic….

It was a thought that struck at a weird moment..but i sat wondering…have i ever come across a synonym for ‘nostalgia’…? Was a tough squeeze…hit the aisles of google..to find out meanings like…’longing,yearning’..’homesickness’…? not quite an impact like ‘nostalgia’ itself….

Sure go back in time…a long time back..when wearing frilled and lacy frocks was okay…it was not an issue to get boys back home after school….when you dint think twice before stopping the local ice cream man for a native bite of ecstasy…It was a time when you needed just a tear to get your way…it was then when beating your sis up red and blue was totally ok…

I remember very little of times in the pink city…except that guy whom i made friends with, with no idea of the language he spoke…and of my dad comin back home all pink and wet one day, after a blast at holi…then there was that whole bunch of kites in the attic that got me interested for their mere colour and the vibrance that came along…vaguely remember one curfew that left us sittin at home with no school to worry about….

Then there was the move back home…a life amidst family….yeah we flew back i know…my first flight…but i remember none of that…
coz recently when i sat on that plane after nearly 18 long yrs…i felt like a kid on her first flight onboard…eagerly stared out of the window…and continued doin that till all the skyscrapers seemed miniscule…and eventually succumed to a blanket of white…then there was the pleasure of looking at the sun from the same level…it was a new sun..staring back at me…and that rush down your lungs when the plane travels the runway…woah..!!

Coming back to the stay at home…there was all that singing in that little school…arraying at the ground for prayer every morning…and remember that fish shop in the same road..from where we flooded the tank in our house with those lovely ones…Then i remember those drills in school that we prepared so rigorously for…to go off to the main branch..with starched white clothes..and crispy white shoes…to act smart with those kids…always won in that i know…

I remember hiding from that mad man who lived on the corner where the road turned…felt an urge to prove oneself courageous by looking into his house every time we passed that way..Then there was that outburst of excitement every time i heard the quiet thump of dads yezdi as it turned into the street…recollect playing the bully…forming the favorite groups every summer vacation…remember those weird in house plays that we put…with family playing audience and cheering for every crap we put up…oh..those summer vacations with cousins were fun…with all those back biting and ear pulling…miss them….

Till date i feel the move to hitech city was destined…to move away from all that politicing…but then it had its own memories too…the wait for holidays to welcome cousins home…and take them around the city…and then there is school…the place i learnt to live..remember runnin out at 5 when school closed…running out to waiting junk sellers….there was always that craving to buy everything out from the canteen…when all those rich kids dined there every other day…and for us it used to be a blessing to get enough money for that..morning assembly was a pain…roasting in the hot sun…with kids around fallin unconscious every other day and waiting to be able to do that ever….

Oh i remember that first cycle…it was a weird one running on four wheels…trying to hold me on….there was the embarrasing attempt to hide from classmates when i took that to school the first time..I used to chain it to the tree by the canteen i remember..Then was the move to a bigger one..Felt good with a nice big one..remember exploring a lot of the neighbourhood on it..with harini tugging at the back at times…Kept it till i left college..it took me up and down those dirty college streets…a winner it was….

I totally recollect that little house on the 2nd floor where we grew up…Still see it in my dreams…we eventually outgrew it…and shifted to that house in “layout”…Thats where we actually turned little adults…grew up to being children no longer…Dont remember doing any studying when there…coz i used to be tired for gods all day…going down two buses to that school on the other side of the town…gettin there was a different story all together…then there was that phase of being a misfit…and still finding some great friends…boy..!!

Yeah I remember a lot of that too..then i remember moving out…to college…to adolescence…to freedom….whatever….

hmmmm…Its always at a point where you have nothing else to do but write blogs that you seriously get thinking…and the past floods into you…and you manage to write crap…like how i have successfully managed to do right now…

If you’ve managed to read this far..then your as jobless as i am, i understand…Long live thee….