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The Present October 9, 2009

Posted by K in Fiction.
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The silver wrapping paper lay like a rejected nightmare in the dustbin. What was Koli to do with it? Ma had told her, take no gifts, we are not beggars, but how could she resist? When the uncle came on his scooter and asked her to confirm the name that lay on the tag, her eyes shone with the promise of what she knew lay in there. The basket.

He lifted the lid, and gingerly drew out a cylindrical container, gift wrapped and shiny. She knew she should have said no, and then delivered the speech Maman had made her practise, but the crackle of the wrapping paper was too much. In a daze she brought the packet in. She wanted to see what lay inside, but decided to postpone the moment so she could share it with her mother.

Maman was not like other mothers, and she had not brought up Koli like other children. Her life had been a battle and she was preparing to send her daughter in as her second. Maman didn’t have long to live, which made her long to live even more fiercely. Koli knew the doctors had found a cyst in her mother’s brain, but she was as yet too young to grasp the full implication of the find.

Maman was alone in the world, physically and emotionally. No, not quite alone; she had Koli. All the same, Maman was alone.

When she came back with a daughter, hushed voices and whispered conversations followed her. When she found a job, the hushed conversations increased. She never gave an account of Koli or her past life, and eventually the whispers became a part of the background noise. Much like the drone and chug-chug of a washing machine, as you sat down to eat, or watch television.

Maman was not that old, but her youthful features stood at odds with her grave demeanour. Koli would tell the neighbours how Maman joked that she was an eighty year old stuck in the body of a twenty seven year old person. Ofcourse they never believed her; Maman couldn’t joke.

Koli wished her mother would go to school parties like other mothers, but from a very young age she understood that Maman was different. Sometimes she would ask her mother questions, but nobody ever knew the answers because Koli wouldn’t share.

Maman hated the festival season. Too many people pretending to be what they were not, spending money on unnecessary things. If there was one thing Maman hated, it was spending on unnecessary trifles. Money was hard enough to come by without blowing it up on things that often lasted only an hour.

Diwalis were the worst. Maman had no friends, she told Koli. And only gifts given by friends are worth keeping. You know then that the gifts were picked especially for you, with nothing but your happiness in mind.

Maman would pause then, her eyes lost in thought. But, she would add soon enough, I have no friends, Koli; so don’t you ever accept any gift. Koli knew Maman hated the time when the next-door aunty had wrapped her old aqua-guard and gifted it to her mother because she had upgraded to a newer system. Maman had gone deathly still. For two days she sat at home looking like someone had skinned her alive. Koli had quietly hidden the gift and slowly Maman had become her usual self.

Now Koli looked at the silver wrapping paper and trembled. Unable to bear the wait, she had ripped off the first layer to find another wrapping paper with a card on it. Koli did not dare proceed further.

When Maman came in, Koli’s eyes went involuntarily to the dustbin, but Maman’s eyes were fixed on the cylindrical package. She glanced at Koli, and slowly approached it. The card seemed to pierce her concentration; she couldn’t look away. With an uncertain hand she plucked it off the surface and began to read it. Koli’s eyes anxiously searched her mother’s face, but Maman’s eyes were un-readable. She took the package to her room, and for the first time in Koli’s memory, she locked the door to keep herself in.

Koli never found out what was in the package, but Maman took her shopping. For the first time in her life, Koli heard her mother encouraging her to buy fanciful things. Maman’s eyes no longer looked like a shop with downed shutters, and sometimes Koli was sure she saw the shadowy image of a person in there. Maman had changed, Koli knew, but it was hard to figure out how. She would still scold if Koli threw a tantrum for a toy; they would still read wonderful stories at bedtime. No, it was something else. Maman suddenly looked as if she were not alone; when she looked into the horizon, she was looking at a far-away image of herself. And Maman had a friend, Koli was pretty sure of that. The mirror image of her inside, reflected from a distance. Piercing beams of light bouncing off, creating a connection, stronger for its absence. Maman was still Maman, but one day the kitchen wall was suddenly seen to sport an old, weathered aqua-guard.

“Will you come with me, Koli?” Maman asked, smiling. “It is time I thanked aunty for her present.”

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I.D. September 30, 2009

Posted by K in Fiction.
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It was dry and dusty, but the compartment did not smell of summer.

On seat numbers seventy four and seventy five two bald men played cards. On the upper berths lay two young army recruits whispering into their phones. By the windows, in perfect symmetry, sat two women, face to face. They weren’t looking at each other; that would have been too familiar too soon. One attempted to dream about the passing countryside. The other read the slightly stale news of the day. Eventually, though, each began stealing frequent glances at the other, till conversation became inevitable.

“Where are you going?”

“Home.”

“I see. I am coming from home.”

“Ah.”

“Strange, isn’t it? We are always either coming or going.”

“One can never be stationary.”

“Unless you’re very rich,” agreed the other.

“But even then.”

“They move their wealth around.”

“Or themselves, to commune with their riches.”

“New cars, houses, friends.”

“Investments, stocks, profits.”

“Not so still after all.”

“No, except for Collector Cama.”

“Collector Cama doesn’t count.”

“No.”

They paused to fish into their purses to pay for tea.

“So what do you do?”

“I work.”

“Me too! I repair computers.”

“I see.”

“I don’t dismantle and reassemble them…”

“No.”

“That is another department.”

“Yes.”

“I repair the damage people do to it. Reformatting crashed systems. Sometimes even deleting traces of, you know, porn sites visited.”

“That must be embarrassing.”

“Not really. It is they who are embarrassed. I don’t ask for it, but they always pay me extra for those jobs. Hush money, I call it.”

Both women giggled over their tea.

“Where do you work?”

“Oh, several places. Mostly peoples homes.”

“Oh, what do you do?”

“I just told you. I work in peoples homes. I cook, clean and garden. Sometimes I take care of children; it depends.”

“I don’t think I quite understand… What are you? I mean, what do you do?”

“I do domestic work. I am a domestic worker.”

The tea cup halted on its way to the other woman’s lips. The countryside crawled by in the pause that followed.

“You are a servant?”

“As much as you are.”

“I am not a servant!”

The domestic worker smiled.

There was no more tea left to drink, and no passing vendor to afford the opportunity to engage one’s hands and eyes.

The army recruits clicked off their phones as Vodafone went out of reach. The bald men were inspecting various parts of their anatomies. The women inspected the outdoors. Eventually the computer fixer glanced at the domestic worker.

“They let you go off?” she asked.

“Like an egg, you mean?” grinned the domestic worker.

“No. You know…take a holiday to go home.”

“Why, yes. It is in my contract.”

“You have a contract??”

“Yes. For two years. It contains my work profile, hours of duty, pay, leave, bonus. Medical benefit. Travel allowance.”

“You mean to say that your employers give you all that?!”

“Yes they do, but don’t get shocked; they are not so big on charity. It is a rule, where I work… All employers have to provide certain facilities and conditions of work.”

“Do they treat you well?”

“I don’t know; I never really pay much attention to them. I go in, do my job, and leave.”

“Do you like them?”

“Some are nice. We don’t socialise though.”

“No, ofcourse not. You come and go in different circles.”

The domestic worker nodded. “We come and go in different circles. The circles move too though. Sometimes, who knows, maybe they even intersect.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know,” she smiled.

They sat back and watched the fields run past, sometimes green, sometimes fallow.

“Moonghphali!” announced the peanut seller. Following him was a woman with a clipboard and an identity card.

“Ticket, please.”

The army chaps took out theirs. The bald men produced theirs. The computer fixer and the domestic worker fished out e-tickets. The ticket collector ticked off names, and asked for IDs. Both women fished in their purses for pieces of identification and value for peanuts.

Cracking open shells, they lay back comfortably against the seats.

“That was my union ID card, if you’ve been wondering. It works for official purposes,” said the domestic worker.

“Oh,” said the computer fixer, only slightly embarrassed at having been caught out.

The journey was now quite a few hours old. It was time for dinner, and dinners are always terrible on trains. It is advisable to stick to light refreshments. Or fruits, maybe, if one were so inclined. The occupants of seat numbers seventy through seventy five were undecided about their meal. Finally, one bought a dinner (young army recruit; one veg. Biryani), two chose bread and omelette (one bald man and the computer fixer; fifteen rupees a plate). The remaining three decided to subsist on tea and sugar and trust the offerings at the next station (Junction: Vadodara). As the station approached, the domestic worker got up and stretched.

“One can’t ever be stationary,” she said.

“No,” agreed the computer fixer.

PPP: Pre-Puja Post September 22, 2009

Posted by K in Uncategorized.
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You see, I will not be home this Puja. I will be in Chennai. I am already in Chennai. And I hate trains. And depressing hostel rooms.

Puja has sadly become an intrinsic part of me. I will miss it if I do not indulge in it, and moreover, it will be the first time in years, if not my entire life, that I will be doing NOTHING for puja. Last year I was in Bombay (and hence missed the Delhi Puja), but the BARC colony had a pandal full of Bangalis and lots of Bangali bhojan. This year I am in Chennai. I have no doubt the migratory bongs will put up a show here and there, and I shall begin the pre-puja hunt for Bengali ghettos. Just kidding, that’s CR Park ;P
I had no intention of abandoning my dinner of curd, chips, and apple and grappo fizz to write a puja post. However, there was a comment by somebody on an old puja post (circa 2006 ;P), objecting to my use of ‘weepy’ for Rabindra Sangeet. And words to the effect that I didn’t know ‘the culture’.

‘The culture’ will soon become a favourite phrase of mine, quite like ‘for the people and buy the people’. The former because of its immense weight and the latter because, well, some rediff message board commentator just plain hit the nail on the head, however accidentally 😛

Talking of rediff message boards, I was quite surprised to see the reader comments on the Jet Pilots agitation stories. I was expecting the tone to be pro-management, going by earlier responses to labour unrest, but there were pro-labour sentiments being articulated quite intelligently. It was fascinating to see this, because of the changing attitude to labour rights in these daaa-stardly times. The Indian middle class has been anti-union since the boom time.

I must say the Pilots did their job well. And Capt. Sam Thomas cut quite a dashing figure, too 😉 I would seriously urge those interested to dig out the CNN-IBN interview by Karan Thapar of Capt. Sam Thomas and the gentleman from the Jet Management (Dutt?). It is a fine piece of work.

And now *I* am off to work. More updates during Puja if I manage to locate local festivities.

In a metro September 6, 2009

Posted by K in Fiction.
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Man 1, clutching a briefcase on his lap.
Man 2, staring at Man 1.

Man 1 (edging away from Man 2) :Aap zara us taraf dekhiye. Mujhe kyon dekhe jaa rahe hain?
(Why are you staring at me? Please look away)
Man 2: Kyon? Dekhna mana hai?
(Why? One is not allowed to look?)

Man 1 (edgily): Dekhiye, mai us tara ka aadmi nahi hoon…
(See here, I’m not that kind of a man…)

Man 2: Matlab aapko dekhna mana hai?
(Meaning you’re the sort one isn’t allowed to look at?)

Man 1: Haan, us tara ke aadmi mujhe dekh nahi sakte hai. Mai mana karta hoon.
(Yes, I forbid those type of people to look at me.)

Man 2: Hm. (switching to English) By ‘us tara’ you mean homosexuals.

Man 1 (startled): Er, yes, look, I…

Man 2: You think just because I looked at you I was a homosexual. Fine, lets imagine a scenario where I was homosexual.
(pauses)
What makes you think I would have picked you…to stare at I mean…

Man 1: Er…

Man 2: Because you have a briefcase on your lap? Because you wear Wrinkle-Free? Because your mummy told you that you are her han’some lil boy?

Man 1: Look…

Man 2: Staring makes you uncomfortable, does it? Why do you stare, then? Why were you staring at that girl over there? I saw you, and thought I’d see how well you take your own shit.

(Announcement over the metro station. Man 2’s station has come)

Man 2(getting up): Oh and by the way, I am homosexual. Just so you know.

August 24, 2009

Posted by K in Nonsense.
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Once upon a time
There was an atom
Until it exploded
And was no more.

August 22, 2009

Posted by K in Fiction.
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The little mouse clung to the underside of the pavement, tiny arms curled about its head, crying ‘No more! No more! It looked with fear at the phone forever tied to its tail, and whimpered again, no more! no more!

Beside it, on the rusty bench by the bus stand, sat an old man, too full of memories fresh and old. No more! he cried, as haunted eyes misted over and his bald head glinted with sweat.

No more! cried the lad, not yet seventeen, wearily accepting seven rupees from a passenger. Stretching before him, condemned rides up and down the city, stolen moments of youth, a cup of tea and hurried pav bhaji.

In front of the hospital, the bus stops, and there is always somebody who gets off. Not rich enough to buy life, not poor enough to stay away. Smells of sharp instruments and futile rubber tubes. An atmosphere so heavy that the sprightliest thought chokes on itself. Gloom and rigor mortis rise like a hideous vapour seeking to consume all in its path. Lonely halls, where private grief is a joke, and the illusion of being the special one is shattered the moment the bed beside fills up. Grieving family, made sour with anxiety. Of illness that pervades the being, and harried doctors and nurses. No more! he cries, beside the bed of his mother who has been dying for years.

She sees the cry, and pursing her lips, just this once, wishes to cancel her rounds, and flee home. But she cannot, she cannot withdraw from the beds and halls, and she must go home to find a daughter and a son, and a husband, all perfectly nice, all perfectly trying. Day after day, year after year, of waking up at the crack of dawn to send her children away, cheerfully, fixing breakfast, heading to work, and coming back to finish odds and ends, till it is again a late night, and the forthcoming dawn, an endless cycle. She wishes, no more!

Like the endless, endless waves of sound, dark turmoil twisted her mind, till she stayed at home, and slept to keep the demons away. No more!

And the mouse stayed right there, under the pavement, a fearful eye still on its tail, keeping the old man unconscious company

August 20, 2009

Posted by K in Uncategorized.
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I’ve been out of commission for a week without really having a proper reason for being out of commission. An external malady having an internal expression. Rather than the other way around.

Some weeks ago I came across articles damning bloggers who damn people. And how you can be prosecuted for starting ‘I hate my President’ or even ‘I hate the RSS’ clubs online (on ORKUT for heaven’s sake!). And that poor fellow who criticised Barkha Dutt’s style of journalism and nearly got taken to the cleaners- that was the most shocking (hit me for a link if google is not behaving itself). So essentially, you have to limit your expression, and even more so if yours is a well-read blog. How chinese of us*.

I’ve been hit with a sudden craving for creative writing courses. I’ve been looking for interesting programmes both within India and abroad. I’ve had limited results so far. (If anybody reading this knows of anything that is potentially exciting, do leave me a link 🙂 )

And that will be all folks. (The Art mela at Pragati Mela looks to be exciting, by the way.)

This blog will be re-structured soon. Less of the casual flippancy and more of Writing. Training the mind and all that. I give myself a deadline of end August. Goodbye till then.

*Gagging of online expression. Ofcourse, it isn’t only China that monitors online content.

August 10, 2009

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The foolish mosquito was trying to suck blood off a mousambi seed. Throughout my breakfast, I kept looking at its futile endeavour. Feeling curious, I nudged a fleshy remainder of the mousambi at it, to see if it did anything to it, but it did not.

The foolish girl was trying to make a mosquito believe that mousambi was blood. But it wasn’t, was it? Typical of humans.

The foolish invisible entity was trying to coin a new wise saying.

Guess they all failed, huh.

July 29, 2009

Posted by K in Uncategorized.
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I don’t like the Delhi metro so much anymore. A few months back, I thought it was the next best thing to heaven. But Delhi becomes so much like Mumbai on the metro. The mad scramble to work. Middle aged men crowding the point at which they estimate the doorway will come to stop, and literally running inside, a wild jump to grab the one seat they see available (never mind that there are other seats empty and there are other briefcase toting, balding office-goers, all leaping in a synchronised, perverse act of desperation). People sitting face to face and not knowing where to look(I thoroughly dislike the seating system. Would have preferred a vertical alignment, never mind that standing space would be reduced). People requesting you to adjust, the indignity of resting the edge of your bottom on the rim of the seat. The animal instinct that doesn’t want to let you share your seat the one day you DO manage to grab one. The annoyingly smooth voices making announcement after condescending announcement. Why on earth should you evict people for playing music, on tinny speakers of mobile phones, on the train? How can you make ‘quarrelling’ a punishable offense? Why should ‘squatting’ be liable to a fine of 200 bucks? Why should people travel like cattle just because it is the metro? What makes you think it is okay to flash the fact that the metro big brother is watching you all the time while you travel (it’s a chilling shot-a pair of eyes filling the screen, scanning left and right)? The stench of Authority is so strong every time I set foot on the metro that I could just scream.

And let us not even go into the exploitation of construction workers by the DMRC.

Another thing that is increasingly making me sick to the pit of my stomach, is the latest airtel ad campaign. I know the meaning of the word ‘despair’ when I see a connection scheme being targeted so vulgarly at children, how old can they be, 8?9?, being portrayed on billboards, television schemes. This is somehow so much worse than the targeting of kids for items like toothpaste, junk food. I think even clothes pale in comparison. It is not just the concept of independant phone conversations that they are selling, but everything else that goes with it. I sincerely hope that I’m being an absolute fool and that I have missed some detail that will make this disgusting piece of work more acceptable.

June 14, 2009

Posted by K in Uncategorized.
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Monalisa thought she smelt leaking gas, so she went to the kitchen and lit a match. Monalisa(her parent was a fan) had time to utter a mildly surprised, oh, before the flame was snatched out of her hand. Ah, I was right, she thought to herself, watching the flames curl around her.

Just as the last bit of her turned to ash, she blinked her eyes and woke up.

“Welcome to Heaven” said a disembodied voice.

“Ah, but I am an atheist”, said she (now nameless, owing to death).

“Yes I know,” said the disembodied voice (no thunder bolts of lightening, very, very frightening. Just a woosh sound).

And Monalisa (just so you know who I am referring to) woke up to find she was now —- . The Grandmother was a fan.

The disembodied voice clicked off google and had a giggle.