In a world of text messages, WhatsApp, 280 characters, snap chats and emails, I feel like a long handwritten letter.
I find myself being pushed out of sleep, deep at night,
A faint cry of time, an abandoned dream, a lost star.
Pulling the quilt over my head, I remind myself to breathe,
In ones, twos and threes.
A song I learnt long back, a decade and a half between the times,
The rhythm and words difficult to roll over my tongue,
A particular antara always managed to throw me off,
When I sang, I ran out of breath midway.
Every night I listened to my music teacher sing, on a cassette, in an old walkman,
Rewinding the tape with my fingers and letting the shruti flow.
Late one night at the ninth attempt, I figured her trick.
One sharp breath in the beginning and to pause at the right places,
The music magically took over, and she let her heart sing.
When I feel overwhelmed, I sing this song, to breathe easier.
A few years back while studying I realised that no amount of cramming could help me,
The concepts flew over my head and all I wanted to do was, raise my hands and walk away.
Which is what I did.
I shut the books, made myself a tall glass of chai and looked out of the balcony,
Watched the traffic make its way through the narrow arterial lane,
Tiny marigold flowers, bright orange and yellow resting against the lazy creepers,
The sun set in all its glory, calling the birds and bread winners alike.
And for once, in a long time I slept, for fourteen hours straight.
I woke up in the morning and thought to myself, what was the worse that would happen if I fail?
I walked out in the balcony with the question, to breathe in some air and sunshine, and the question answered itself,
A moment of surreal clarity amidst chaos.
There was a time when the pain was much to bear,
I can’t quantify the time, sometimes it seems like yesterday and during others, a previous lifetime,
One that reddened my eyes, choked my throat, brought tears and anger bubbling right beneath my skin.
Everytime I felt I couldn’t, I would remind myself to breathe and repeat,
This too shall pass.
A stab turned to sear, slowly became a dull throb and now is blue and numb.
And that’s okay, for maybe time heals all.
There are perks of landing a job, financial independence, the idea of working on a challenge, which can be frustrating as well as incredibly satisfying, prospects of meeting new people on the job and the tons of learning.
But now, I also look forward to my ride back home. Off late I’ve been commuting long distances and along with the terribly long time that it takes, safe to say it pulls all of my purse strings hence in order to be slightly economical, I’ve been taking the Ola share (This, I repeat isn’t a promotional post. Just my feelings out here and for those who don’t know what Ola is, think of it as India’s Uber that also gives you the facility of sharing your ride)
Over the course of a few weeks, I’ve met incredibly interesting people, some who light up your face like an Old man whom I shared my ride with. He’s 65, retired but still wants to work, and not out of necessity but because that is what he’s learnt all of his life, to be resourceful, use his time. So he works with a ton of NGOs, teaches his neighbourhood kids and blesses and wishes good morning in the most incredible manner.
Which got me thinking, why don’t we wish each other like we would when we were a couple of five year olds? Loud good mornings, bright smiles, hugs that envelops you. Why the sullen, back to work, waiting for a weekend ones?
And then there are others who’ll just break your heart. I spent an hour and a half with a woman who silently sobbed while talking to her better half/almost at that stage person. Wiping an endless stream of tears with the back of her hand, hiccups, stammering, red eyes and a runny nose. All I could offer her were water and tissues.
Then there are others who are part time poets/models stuck in a corporate job; ones who’ll talk about politics and the issue with Kashmiri pandits; Women who’ll giggle and share their love of your favourite actor; some who’ll brood and not talk to you but suddenly owe you two rupees of their cab fare and look guilty; who talk about their jobs; talk about their love, a royal enfield that crashed and is recovering at a garage and all that is left of it is its helmet that they carry as a remembrance; figure out the business strategy of companies; drivers who’ll complain of faulty GPS routes, traffic, the times they got conned, a bit of their life.
These conversations are strangely liberating, you have no expectations out of people, and no pre conceived notions. Every ride is like drawing a card from a pile, you don’t know who you’ll bump into today, what you’ll stumble upon.
All of us are maybe just a bunch of stories, some long gone and a lot others waiting to happen.
Last week I was in another city, much different than the place where I live in. Truth be told most cities are the same, -ish maybe. The same wide long roads, a bunch of malls stacked together with the high end brands sporting massive billboards, in all colours plain, simple text and a woman looking into the distance, crowded railway stations and one massive university campus.
But last week took me to heaven and back, I stayed at the home of a complete stranger, 4 girls shared a flat and I, a day and a half. For the first time in weeks managed to wake up without the innate dread of reading the same books, instead I woke up to a cup of hot chai, warmer conversations, buttered garlic bread and the comfort of a bed, blanket and cold marble tiles.
Dragging myself awake, I spent the day watching sex and the city, its brilliance and relevance, of how a decade and a half later too these women are ones that I have always loved, cried when they did, laughed along and ooh-ed and aah-ed over cosmopolitans and sex. Gobbled down a plate of hot maggi for lunch, took a nice long warm bath, and went out for a walk in the neighbourhood complex. Followed by salt, lime and green apple vodka, dinner and stories, the next day’s headache hangover of hurrying for a train, dashing through the platform like a headless chicken and finding myself back with Jem and Scout of, ‘To kill a mockingbird’.
On some streets you never walk the entire way, like bookmarks, dog eared pages, memories of a favorite dress on a good day hanging in your closet, or that tiny divine amount of body mist that still lies at the bottom of a bottle, living another day, waiting to take you back in time.
On the streets of Pune, I resisted myself from walking up the hill road, those long broad streets with ice cream parlors and restaurants lining it and watched the road curve and disappear, book marking it to make sure I come back, another day and walk the stretch. The chill in the air, scoops of swiss chocolate icecream, a borrowed red windbreaker, rumi’s poems and incomplete love stories.
Leaving tiny crumbles of my heart along the way I hope to find my way back, in the maze of lanes that cross a railway crossing and walk right into a vegetable market, the familiar sounds, rishkas on the street and mouth-watering beguni in Calcutta, Of a road that boasts shops and cars alike yet turns a corner into the Sunday second hand book market in Hyderabad, Of massive fields of green, a lake or two, bridges, towns and people speeding away as the train runs on clock, sharing seats with toddlers who have taken a fancy to my white hair clip, PhD students poring over their research papers, absent minded baritone singers, loud debates on politics and Bollywood over dip chai and lays.
Just when you think you have found yourself, you bump into another part of your being that you never knew existed, in new friends, places, winding roads, strangers, that makes me wonder.
Do you get lost or found in translation?
On summer evenings, I’d venture out, with a shawl draped across my shoulders, few nankhatais, half crumbled in my palm and walk to the ghats. Sorcery knows no name better suited than evenings spent with a ghat.
Surreal how the noise of hawkers selling jhaal muri and khelana , young lovers stealing precious seconds, women who offer diyas and flowers to Ganga, priests chanting hymns and azaan from the mosque across the street fill the air.
The naukara majhi’s hoarse voice declaring his last call for a ride across the river, scuttering of people with their office satchels slung across their chest and vegetable bags weighing them down, the loud incessant chiming of bells, washes over you. A sense of calm in all the chaos that this world is.
I have spent hours listening to the river sometimes murmur, at times gurgle and burble while it brushes past the stairs leading into the river, creaking of the boat when anchored to the shore, tipping from one edge to the other, ripples that clang against the metal chains, the smell of salt and a concoction of camphor, incense and coconut unfurl.
A cold breeze caresses my arms and I pull the shawl closer, nibbling on the biscuits and looking across the river, for as far as I can see. A blurred bridge on the farthest end, dense forest on the opposite bank and in the midst the river, in all her might, a dozen boats sailing against her currents, in a fight to reach the shore.
Busy bodies walk by the side of me, drooping shoulders wanting to rest their backs. Few pause and mutter, a silent prayer or an unfulfilled wish, rishkas line in anticipation of passengers, pedlars enticing children with spinning tops and paper windmills.
The sky changes her colours, blazing yellows and bright oranges, she paints into blues and violets, grey with a streak of vermillion, the moon peaks out to make an appearance and the sun sets. I wait at her banks, till all I can see are the dark trees swaying and lights flickering across the other end.
Sweeping the crumbs off my palms, I walk down the stairs, curl my fingers around the ripples of the river. Like a mother, ever protecting and always watching over, I take her blessings, sprinkle water over my head and walk back, knowing that some memories beat within, like a second heart.