Monday, August 23, 2010

On Fasting

Have you ever noticed how the mind and body react almost in the same manner to fasting or feasting? Both lead to extreme senses and make one wish that one had not fasted or feasted as much.
The day begins and the feeling of quiet descends on me just to escape as soon as I realize that in a fit of “purity”, I had promised myself that I would fast today. What ever made me think of such a thing? Was I not in my right mind? Well, the deed is done and I have only myself to blame. Not wanting to go back into thinking why I imposed this on myself, I tell myself that I will go on with the plan for as long as I can. It’s not that I will die if I don’t eat one day! So, let’s drink to that! Oops…ill fitting metaphor that.
I walked into the kitchen to get the breakfast and the lunch ready. And no, my resolve was not broken since I do not like the smell of food early in the morning anyway. So, I went about my way in the usual manner – humdrum way. Get the subzi out of the fridge, heat it in the microwave, get the dough, make the chapattis or no, let me make paranthas. And then, of course the tea had to be made. All that done, I headed to office and soon hunger pangs came up inside me. It was the time when we would have our usual morning cup of coffee. But I wasn’t going to fall for it. So, I stayed put and carried on with work. 11:00 am – still a long time to go for the official lunch hour. Hmm. But, how did I care for lunch today? I reminded myself of why I had decided to keep the fast and that got me going for some more time. The solitary apple in my bag called out to me and I rescued it from its mundane existence at around noon. Well, nirvana for one at least.
Call it Murphy’s Law or the Faster’s Fortune, but each time I’m trying to implement the oh-so-pure idea of fasting and likening myself to the Father of the Nation – no less, mind it! – I am besieged by talk of food alla round me. My well-meaning friends talk to me about their weekend lunch at Saravana Bhawan. The mouth waters, the nose starts to make out the aroma of steaming sambar and idlis. Poof…there goes that bubble. And then, I start craving for all possible yet impossible foodstuff – pizzas, biryani, magi, almond cake, Wenger’s tarts, blueberry cheesecake at The Big Chill…grrrr. No, I will not submit myself to such ‘material” pursuits and go on to bring my lemon tea to restore my sanity.
The eyes start to cloud and the head starts to feel heavy. All sounds are heightened and concentration goes haywire. I had once read a passage in Le Clezio’s Desert, which so beautifully described the day of fasting. He got all the feelings just right and it was a masterpiece.
But, the threshold is reached and I’m safely on the other side. I think it is sometime around 2:00 in the afternoon, when I am no longer imagining food paradise or thinking of what I can eat when and how much. It is for this phase of quiet that I fasted. This sense of accomplishment and peace of mind that almost always comes just after half the day of fasting is over is what makes the act of fasting act as a cleanser, a purifier. Fasting helps me feel fortified in a strange manner that I can do the impossible. I feel liberated if and when I prove to myself that I can undergo some pain and some trouble. It is a feeling of strength akin to the fierce rays of the sun just after a huge storm.
Is this my nirvana yet? :-)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Non-dit, Non-compris

Je ne sais ce qui se passe dans ma vie
Ma vie me étonne, m’échappe, me contrôle
Le contrôle me laisse sentir ma liberté
La liberté vient du corps à l’esprit
L’esprit de mon être m’entoure, m’arrache
L’arrachement est fort, il me jette
Jeter dans le monde, je commence encore
Le commencement me renouvelle, me renaît
La naissance est le début vire vers la fin
La fin qui vient après avoir traverse le chemin
Le chemin long et qui continue éternellement
Eternel est le voyage de se découvrir
La découverte de l’esprit, de la liberté, du contrôle
De la vie.

Commentaire - J'ai écris ce poème (?) en 2003-04. C’était quand j’étais au boulot et j’attendais un appel téléphonique. Je suis plus sur pourquoi je l’écris. Mais aujourd'hui il y a quelque chose qui m'a pousse de le mettre ici. Alors, c'est aujourd'hui que ce poème est né.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Cinnamon Powder - II: Bade Miyan

It is about 10 in the morning and it is a Sunday. My sister and I have just finished reading the horoscope section in the special Sunday supplement. Pa is outside tinkering with the car. Ma is in the kitchen trying to come up with the lunch menu. Soon enough, we hear the sound of a bicycle’s bell and we know it is Bade Miyan. My sister and I both leave the paper and step out into the back garden. We shout for Pa on our way and tell Ma too that Bade Miyan has come.

Bade Miyan is there dressed in his faded grey-blue Afghani suit with a black and white checkered chador around his shoulders. He fixes his cap a bit and smiles at us. His paan stained mouth and the missing front teeth just add to his charm. He asks after us and wants to know if we have been well. Both of us are too curious about what he has gotten us today and answer his questions hurriedly.

On his cycle, he carries a huge circular metallic container and it is there where our eyes are fixed. He’s waiting for Ma to arrive so that he can show his ware but both of us coax him to open the container and let us have a peek. Inside, there lie all types of fishes – big and small, familiar ones and strange ones. Both of us excitedly keep pointing out to each type and asking its name, just to forget the very next instant. This is Bade Miyan and his trade. He was our regular fishmonger for years. And that is a rarity in the part of Delhi that we lived in. Though we stayed near INA Market, one of the best markets in South Delhi, there was something extremely charming about having Bade Miyan come each Sunday to sell his fishes to us.

Ma has also come out now and so has Pa and while they are busy inspecting the quality (always impeccable) and the size of the fish they want, both of us are busy quizzing Bade Miyan about where he gets his fishes from, why some of them are small, why doesn’t he get us the beautiful orange ones and more. Bade Miyan would always answer us first and always with a smile, never tiring of our useless questions. He would smile and say “Gudiya, woh sunheri waali bhi laa dunga, lekin unhe sambhaal ke rakhna.” He meant the goldfish that most people keep as pets and which to us was something that we saw in films but never in Bade Miyan’s collection and so wondered why he didn’t get them. Of course, we were naïve enough to think that all kinds of fish could be found in Bade Miyan’s collection. He was our fish expert! No matter what kind of fish we bought and how much or how less for the entire week or the special lunch, Bade Miyan would always put in something extra into the basket, shyly saying “gudiya ke liye”. It was always something from his choicest ware – his best fish or the best shrimps or the best roe. Without fail, he would leave something for his gudiyas.

Summer vacations during school days were always something that all children looked forward to (and still do, I presume) and we were no different. Summer vacations meant long, lazy days filled with books and games and painting and people. Most of our summer holidays were spent either visiting Orissa or having our grandparents visit us in Delhi. We are a family that believes in good food on all occasions and the food gets even better when sharing it with people. All occasions are a reason to celebrate and out come the choicest recipes and all the masalas. Fish dishes have an important place in a family serious about their food the way we are! And this is best demonstrated by my Aju – the biggest fish fan ever! I specifically remember one particular summer Sunday when the house was almost quiet except the sound of the bell that Aju was ringing to wake up the good Gods during his daily puja. And suddenly, the path of the sound changed from the puja room to the backyard garden. My sister and I looked up from our Famous Fives and exchanged quizzical glances wondering what Aju was doing in the backyard garden with the puja bell still ringing! We ran out. And there was Aju still holding and actually ringing the puja bell while asking Bade Miyan if he had gotten any hilsi (cod fish but not really) or chungudi (prawns or shrimps) that day. We burst out laughing. Such was (is) Aju’s love for fish that he actually walked out of his puja oblivious to all things spiritual and walked mesmerized by the sound, smell, and anticipation of buying some good fish. While Bade Miyan merrily talked away to him and showed him the best hilsi, again completely oblivious of the ringing bell.

One day Bade Miyan’s smile made his eyes sparkle more than ever and as soon as my sister and I jumped out into the garden, he showed us a plastic bag with one small, black-grey fish in it – swimming and alive! It was to be our first (and last) pet! Both of us were extremely excited. We rushed in to tell Ma what Bade Miyan had got us. And soon it was a flurry of activities; Bade Miyan helped us release the fish from its temporary plastic home into a tub of water and advised us on what we could feed it. He reassured us that soon it would grow bigger. We became more scared of that than get reassured. And from then on, it would be a constant supervision of the fish. We reported that the fish looked sleepy, or wanted more food, or that the water should be changed and even contemplated giving it some ice-cold water. We reported that it had been swimming in the same direction for 3 hours and then reported that it had taken a U-turn. Bade Miyan’s gift still remains the only pet I have ever had and has given me very good memories.

Bade Miyan would come regularly but there were days when he came but his smile was missing and when his eyes looked darker. Those were the days when he worried and fretted about what his sons would become and if his grandchildren would be taken care of. His biggest worry was if anyone would continue in this smelly and difficult fish business after him. He was a man who was passionate and proud of his work but the times were a-changing and none of his sons wanted to continue in the fish trade. They were ashamed of it and wanted to instead diversify to working as mechanics or at tailor shops. All this pained Bade Miyan and he would lament to Pa and Ma that “ab bacchhe to bade ho gaye hain, jo unhe pasand hai wahi karenge lekin is kaam mein jo sukun hai woh kahin aur kahan milega unhe”. Bade Miyan’s worries were not without reason; he was a simple man who considered the fish as almost sacred and gave it the respect that one gives to the thing that lets you live your life. This was the only trade he knew and this was the only trade that he could teach his children, which would guarantee them prosperity. I think he was also scared that if the fishes were to leave his house, it would be inauspicious. However, life did change and none of his children took up the trade. Soon, Bade Miyan became too old and too ill to come on each Sunday. And soon, these days turned into years when Bade Miyan did not come. We worried about him and his family and worried more on days when there was news of communal riots in some parts of the cities. Though these incidents were few and far between, each such incident threatened us with the possibility of Bade Miyan getting hurt. We never got any news about him since he was a wanderer and we could go to no one to ask about him. Soon enough Sundays became mundane and the lazy warmth of childhood gave way to the impatient youth. Life went on.

After many years, a man came on a moped and stopped at the gate of our backyard garden. He blew the horn of the moped and called out for Dr. Sahab, my father. It was Bade Miyan’s grandson who had come to sell fish...

Friday, May 07, 2010

"Dealing with it!"

It is kind of sad when people drift away or apart. And such a phase happens with all at various times of their life. Circumstances change and people change with them. For what is the worth of a person if he or she is not adapting to the changing circumstance or situation?

As we go in life, we meet people who seem to color your world in those bright brilliant fairy-tale colors...but unfortunately, all of this comes with a timer. Sooner or later, the lights go out, the color fades, the music stops and a new circumstance comes into being. And then, once again, the warrior puts on fresh paint and gears up for the new things that will come on his or her way and how it will be dealt with.

"Dealt with" seems like a strange word to use for something that should ideally be lived. We say we are dealing with things, with work, with home, with life! Why are we dealing with it and do we realize that when we are dealing with it, those moments are actually being lived? That is what life is about and that was made clear a long time back by many philosophers - life has to be lived and it is never smooth. So, then why do the dark clouds always seem to hover around? Why not accept it and move on?

All these are of course words. Simple words. When it comes to feeling sad or low or hurt or unwanted or disliked, these words don't do anything. They simply sit there waiting for you to get back in the mood when you can see them and understand them. All by yourself.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cinnamon Powder - I

I had been thinking of writing a series on people whom I have had the chance to meet and interact with and who have left an impression on me. These are stories of everyday life but I am reminded of these people from time to time. And since they keep coming back to me, I thought of sharing their stories and mine too.

The reason I wanted to call this series ‘Cinnamon Powder’ was because having shared some moments of my life with these people has added that extra flavor à la adding a sprinkling of cinnamon powder to a dish and thus, adding that extra hint of magical flavor. I hope it finds an echo in you.

Khan Market waale Sardarji

I was introduced to the world of cars by one of my uncles and this was furthered by my father. Uncle B stayed with us for a very long time and had a definite influence on me and my sister’s choice of books, music, and cars. He would bring home car magazines and we would spend hours leafing through the glossy pages looking at pictures of Mercedes, Alfa Romeos, BMWs, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis. Looking at them and weaving dreams around them…

I had never known a time when my family didn’t have a car and have very fond memories of the first car I ever knew – the Ambassador. Well, having said that, we would take the car for its maintenance or repairs to a particular mechanic in the Khan Market area. I know that the name conjures up images of beautiful, well-lit shops selling the best of best in that markedly understated sophisticated sense and how could it possibly have a car repair shop there!! Well, I allude to a place opposite Khan Market, a piece of land owned by Khushwant Singh’s family, I believe. This car repair shop was in the alleys behind a charitable hospital run by the gurudwara trust.

In this grime filled, blackened alley with its various sounds of spanners and welding instruments was a small garage turned into a small shack by Sardarji. We would always find Sardarji there and he would ask after the health of my grandfather, my Uncle B, his family and we would do the same. Dad would ask about his family and his sons. After this was done, he would ask Dad to start the car and leave it on for some time, while he heard the engine of the dear old Amby purr. Within less than five minutes of listening to this sound, he would say what was wrong with the car and why it was giving us trouble. That was all!! And he was always right about the problem. He was like a doctor who feels the patient’s pulse and can guess on what is bothering the patient. Sardarji was exactly like that – he would listen to the sound of the engine and then tell us what the problem was with Amby. Then, he would ask for some tools to be brought forth by some of the young assistants who always milled around him or else would step into his shack where we would be sitting. In that shack, he had an ancient faded green refrigerator which he used as an almirah for his tools. J. From there, he would take the appropriate tools and get on with working on the car. There were times when the bottom of the car needed to be examined or repaired. I remember even at the age of 60 or more, Sardarji would do this task himself. I was always amazed with his knowledge and his dexterity. I would watch spell bound as he would pull at something, tighten something, add some oil somewhere, and then wipe his hands on a rag and then ask Dad to start the car. The look on his face when the engine would roar to life was that of immense satisfaction and pleasure. Now comes my favorite part. :-)

After the work was done, it would be time to savor the tea that Sardarji would offer to all the people present there at that time. Sardarji would make this tea himself and it remains one of the best teas I’ve ever had. This tea making process was an elaborate procedure, which started by giving money to one of the youngsters there to get milk – full cream milk. Then, he would light his stove in the very same shack which housed odds and ends, car parts, the green refrigerator, another refrigerator for cold water, a table fan, some papers, and chairs fashioned out of old car seats. All the things in this shack were in the same shade of grey – covered with the grease and grime of auto parts. The stove would be lit and a huge degchi would be placed on it. Sardarji would then cut open the packets of full cream milk and pour them into the degchi. Yes – it was tea made with full cream milk and no water! He would then cover the degchi and let the milk boil. From a shelf, he would pull out a small newspaper pudiya and would then place this on top of the degchi. Then, using a stone, he would proceed to crush the contents of this pudiya – chhoti elaichi, laung, kali mirch (just a few), and maybe some other spices. Once, this was done, he would put in the crushed spice powder into the boiling milk, add lots of sugar, and add lots of chai patti, which was a mixture of leaf tea and tea granules. While he was doing this, a small crowd of little children would gather around him. People who worked in other similar auto parts shops in the same alley would also come over. Everyone would gather around the small shack. The conversation would include the weather, the political situation in the country, and of course cars. In that area, there were times when one could spot a vintage car or two that had come there for Sardarji’s expert treatment. Sardarji would himself pour out the tea into glasses for all the people present there. No matter how many people were there, they would all get tea.

The taste of the tea would be sweetened further by the love of this old, mild mechanic. The evening would become mellow; the heat of the May sun would begin to diminish, the sound of prayers would drift in from a nearby gurudwara, and the aroma of the sweet tea would fill the air, and the conversations would become a slow humming of sounds.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

I won't see this till the next season

Here is more from a person who is dreading the approaching summer in Delhi and is mourning the beautiful winter days gone by...

These are a few of the things that I will not see or feel when summer is here. :).

When the cold wind makes me gasp for breath
Cold, cold fingers even when holding a hot glass of tea
Fitting into your sports shoes with two pairs of socks
Lovely, warm-colored socks a-plenty
Walking barefoot on the namdaa carpet
Feeling the cold water splash on your face and just take away all the heat in a second!
Smart, well-dressed men in exquisite cuts of midnight blue pin-striped suits
Long coated, open-haired, smartly-turned out women with the quintessential high boots
(PS: Very much the fashion flavor this time in Delhi. The height of the boots varied ...)
Pakoras and chai every evening!
Chanel's Eternity
Lakme's starshine gloss
European checks woollen mufflers in beige and black and grey
Silken stoles in lavender and wine red and dark blue

Do share yours.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Winter days are going away....

Already the sun seems to shine too bright. Already the mist seems to have disappeared. Already the tea feels too hot...

We've had a lovely winter here in Delhi this year and I think such a winter has come in quite a long time.

Trees disappear into the fog
Those lights look like they are beckoning me
...Asking me to tread the unknown path?
A path where the mist hangs close to you and the branches touch you
I see the smoke rising...
Is it from the huge pan of lovely ginger tea?
Is it from the beedi that the rickshaw-walla has just lighted?
Is it the voice within burning away in mediocrity?
Is it just the mist trying on a new form?

Ah...nice ginger tea in a glass, yummy mathris
And another theory to be articulated and shared
Will the modern man ever be truly liberated?
Will Bach be appreciated?
Do the Santros always become accomplices in crime?

Winter evenings, the lovely fragrance of those unnamed flowers
Tea and warm woolen hands
Comfortable black socks and colorful traditional shawls
Even red is nice to the eyes
And even four is not a crowd

I will miss you winter mornings and winter nights
and all the time in between on these long winter days.

Do come back again with all your promise of all things beautiful

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Happy Republic Day!

Today is 26 Jan of the year 2010, and yes - i know - to most of us it is a welcome break in the middle of the week! What bliss!
Yet, what I wanted to talk about was the Republic Day and all that the word means to me. As a child, I always used to wonder as to why we have more fun activities and colorful pageants on the Republic Day, while in contrast, the Independence Day is quite a dry affair. I think that realization dawned on me today. Let me share the pearls of wisdom :). Though independence is important, we wouldn't know what to do with it unless we had our rules and laws and our constitution. And that is why being a Republic needs more strength than being a free country. It is only with a sense of purpose and an even greater sense of responsibility that we can really be free. So, I guess that decides it for me.
After a long time, I woke up early enough to watch the entire parade on TV. And better, I also watched that everlasting, timeless piece of heaven (which they call music) - the shehnai recital by Ustad Bismillah Khan. No words can describe that beautiful melody that the great man could create! I sat enthralled. And it brought back old memories...
I also watched quite a few of the nationalist campaigns a la Bharatbala creations! There is so much beauty and strength in those audio-visuals. All done to such a perfection that each person feels integrated with the the larger idea of India. Again, I remember that these campaigns used to be aired on National TV very often and each one of us would know the song by rote, even when we didn't understand the language.
Today was a nice, perfect Delhi winter morning with all the fog creating a beautiful aura around the Rajpath and India Gate. When they showed shots of the Amar Jawan Jyoti and the image of the reversed rifle crowned with a soldier's helmet came up, it all looked so beautiful, so poignant.
That was my favorite moment of the celebrations - the two minutes of silence for all those people who fight and defend our country and who are no more human than me or you. But, i guess they are super-human. There has to be some power in them - be it a voice in the head or a belief or a tradition - some power that pushes these people into the armed forces where they know that they will face dangers and ward off "evil" for the common man and woman. Isn't that selfless?
Another bit about the Republic Day celebrations that always moves me is when they announce the winners of the Ashok Chakra or the Bravery awards. It makes me feel so humble ...I know that they did what I can never. Such is the spirit that moves me!
There is so much to see - the forces marching past, the daredevil riders, the flypast, the dancers, the schoolchildren, the tableaux....all of it makes for such a beautiful way to celebrate not only the existence of our nation, but it's very identity!
Happy Republic Day to all of you!