Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Packing up"

Over the last 1-2 years, I have been working on some other things, chasing other pleasures. With my eyes firmly turned away, this blog has kind of gathered dust. I started this blog almost 6 years ago, when I had first stepped out of the door, hoping to record, what I believe would be, stories worth talking about. But just like everything else, stories get old too, and this blog lost that bit of charm for me.

After a whirlwind 2 years, spent mostly on dance floors all across Europe in the throes of an unrestrained swing-dancing obsession, its time again for some reflection. Time to get in touch with that inner voice again. And to write.

I'll be moving to my other website, and start a writing section there. If anybody is actually reading this post, why not just click along, and join me there!

And to blogspot, farewell! "And thanks for all the fish."

Friday, September 14, 2012

Raja Babu Taxi Driver

The phone buzzes into life. It must be the taxi. I say my goodbyes, pick-up my rucksack and walk down the three flights of stairs to the white Ambassdor, glinting ghost-like under the street light. It is 4 am.

I shove my bag into the back of the car, and the driver throws the car into a convulsive ignition. We weave our way haltingly through the neighbourhood. At this hour of the night, the inner streets are filled with vacant cars, lined together like chess pieces. The inside of the taxi itself is faintly illuminated from the LED-beset figure of Hanuman, and a quick glance reveals "NO SMOKING" stickers gawking at me from eight different spots in the car.

Once on the highway, we are surrounded by trucks hurtling down at a velocity much higher than the measly 40km/h they are allowed. Rajindra, or Raja Babu as he cajoles me into calling him, honks a couple of times to make the truck ahead of us move aside, but is dismissed, as the truck roars on. These heavily loaded inter-state trucks are not allowed inside the city during daytime. In the night, Raja Babu says, they rule the roads.

Raja Babu turns out to be an extremely effusive guy.He is in mid-thirties, a bit stocky, and in his own words, someone who tries to keep everybody happy. Just after a few cursory words, he decides that the ice is broken, and melts into narrating his life, about how he ended up driving a taxi. He talks about the extraordinary feats he has accomplished, like the time when he drove all the way from Mumbai to Delhi within 1.5 days. He asks me about my job, my reasons to visit Kolkata. Despite my grogginess, I try to keep up my end of the conversation and tell him about my long-held dream of taking a road trip on a truck ever since I read Adventures of Rusty. He is amused, laughs and promises he will arrange one, and drive the truck himself.

We flash past South Delhi, while Raja babu is teaching me how to swear in vernacular languages. Outside, the architectural outlines transform dramatically, from the incoherent, fractured quarters in Lajpat Nagar, to the imposing AIIMS buildings shrouded in a thin veil of darkness with families sleeping outside the fenced walls, to the utility stores of Yusuf Sarai blinking at us with their neon lights, as I struggle with the one in Tamil. Raja babu meanders towards the time he met Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's grandson who informed him, his voice dropping to a whisper as his eyes gleam, making eye contact with mine in the rear view mirror, that he managed to find his way to Germany where he lived out the rest of his years. At 4.30 am in the morning, Raja babu is undoubtedly the most legally entertaining thing in Delhi.

The peace outside feels a bit ethereal as I think Delhi looks incomplete without its people, the human tapestry that fills through every edge and corner of this metropolis. It's the part I have learnt to love, hate and finally accept and ache for. Though I wonder if, after four years of life overseas, it's just a fond memory of a city that I am holding on to, with sepia-toned streets and its stories colored with selective nostalgia. Sensing a lull, Raja Babu tells me that he had a bottle (of liquor) before coming to pick me. The reverie is broken, but so is the quiet, as he breaks into a chortle at my credulity. He insists he was joking. I laugh uncomfortably.

I ask Raja babu if he is married. He replies "twice!" and for some reason, I laugh out, something I regret moments later when he tells me about the part of his life he tries not to dwell upon. I have touched a nerve somewhere, as Raja babu recounts growing up without a father, losing his first wife and his unborn child and all the work troubles that made up roughly what was his life. He turns philosophical when I offer my sympathies, professing that maybe its the sense of divine irony that's the source of his levity.

After this disclosure, silence follows. There is nothing we could say to lighten or match the gravity of this disclosure. We pull into the airport. I pay him and take his number in case I need a ride in the future. I give him a hug and tell him to be happy. The words sound empty and rushed but he knows what I mean and returns a tired smile as I turn to walk into the airport.

In another world, Raja babu keeps on driving into the dawn, knitting together narratives, me confiding in him between his tales, our white Ambassador enveloped by this city that now exists mostly in my dreams, as its million inhabitants with their million stories colliding, coalescing and spinning themselves into existence, wake up in a Delhi of their own.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

All We Are

When I was a small kid, I was in awe of my grandparents, for one main reason - my parents were not the boss with them. Their ability of talking back without getting sent to their rooms was almost God-like. Equally impressive was my grandfather's ability to conjure incredible tales of his adventures, like the time he came across a 10m long cobra or when he went to a village and drove away a tiger which had been terrorising the locals and stealing away the cattle. These tales brought too much pleasure to our credulous minds, and put us to bed tired, dreaming of lives that had been lived and those that were yet to be.

Eventually, I started to wake up to a bigger world, and the corner my grandparents occupied began to shrink. My trysts with love, hate, desire and ambition led me to unfamiliar paths, while everything known was gradually left behind. And all this time, my grandparents also grew and while I discovered my zest for life, they lost theirs. The once free flowing conversations had now thinned down to a trickle of words, and when I left for Europe, distances grew not just in miles.

Last year, the miles maxed out when they both passed away. I was left clutching some scattered strands of memories from my life in India, and was soothed by anything familiar - a whiff of masala on the street, a punjabi song playing in a discotheque. And now with that bout of homesickness subsiding, in a way, the cycle is complete. Now I, like the protagonist in my grandfather's stories, is out here looking for my place in this strange world, living my own tales to tell. And I hope to make them just as incredible.

They say that we are greater than the sum of our parts. Some parts define us, while others just hover around the periphery, touching our lives in little, invisible ways. These medley of parts, big and small, is all we are. We thank the bigger parts often. Here is a thanks to the little ones. Thank you Nana and Nani. I will remember you.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


पीपल के एक पेड़ पे
थी नन्ही सी इक caterpillar
सिमटी सी उसकी ज़िन्दगी थी
अपने रेशमी कोष की गर्माहट में

फिर एक सुबह टूटा ककून
गिरा पर्दा पलकों से
चौंधया गयी आँखें उसकी
सूरज की तीखी धूप से

नज़रें घुमायीं तो दिखा एक जहां
अनजाना अज्ञात सा
घबराई caterpillar लगी कराहने
बचपन का वो गर्भ जब बिछड़ा

पाँव कुछ बड़े तो हुआ एहसास
एक नए हल्केपन का
पंखो का फड़फड़ाना लगा कुछ
उन पहले कदमो जैसा

लेने लगी है उड़ान वो अब
पर उसके सूरज से सुनहरे और रंगीन
बड़ चली है caterpillar आसमां की तरफ
छोटी पड़ गयी है अब यह ज़मीं ...

Friday, October 8, 2010

Delhi Diaries: Bus journeys

"Atleast take an autorickshaw", mom yells. A bit despairingly.

"I'll see", I murmur and lunge out of the house quickly. We both know I won't.

Now no longer possessing the stomach of steel, a reputation effectively washed away during the numerous trips to the WC on my first day here, it was my only chance to prove that after spending two years in Netherlands, I still had it in me to go through the grind and the rigour this city demands from its commoner. And as the bus (or TB as I like to call it) rolled to a halt at the bus stop, with its jam-packed interiors and audibly vibrating metal structure, TB just wreaked of redemption, albeit a slightly fetid kind.

Traveling by public transport is my way of reconnecting with Delhi, for whatever brief time I had here. A crowded bus/metro is one of the few places where total strangers forget about their personal space and commute together. We lament about politicians and Dravid's form, and share those interesting anecdotes about the time we ran into a celebrity (or the celebrity ran into you, as you mischievously emphasize). We allow others to stand in on our ongoing conversation and feet. We curse the same potholes, and welcome that same breeze of fresh air sneaking in through the window as the bus finds a clear stretch of road. For that duration of journey, its more than a group of individuals that travels. A communal mass with shared concerns and similar destinations.

And travel we did. From Mayur Vihar to CP to Dwarka to Gurgaon, and all the way back. Six hours of small talk, gossip and day-to-day insights into current events and life in general - my contribution to the white noise emanating from all the parallel conversations. And during these six hours, nobody assumed I lived abroad. For once the questions did not concern the Dutch weather and Amsterdam's night-life. And for that fraction of a day, I was a part of them, a face among kindred faces, moving under the same steel-and-glass canopy. 40 km/h max.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Graduate

As a child, I remember watching the night sky for hours (rather hour, sigh...early bedtimes), and knew that one day I would become an astronaut and see the extremes of the universe unaided by a telescope. Every distant light twinkled with opportunity and every passing night brought me one-day closer to my dream.

As fate had it, this dream was soon dashed by the realities of growing up in a middle class family and less than 20/20 vision. And this September, I grew up to become an electrical engineer.

A proud engineer, I may add, as not only did he bust his chops over two continents, but also wrestle past a potential IAS officer, step over a could-be investment banker (a crappy one at that I think) and draw over the faint outlines of a writer/photographer and a social worker. Some of them false-starts, others just hobbies not taken seriously.

But is it true, that our lives have that one definitive calling, that one trail where every step feels right? The moments of clarity preached by the Karate kid's and Wake-up Sid's, which wear off by the time you reach the car and start complaining about the overpriced popcorn, are they really as true as they seem for those few minutes? Or are we just victims of oversimplification, and between the jack of all trades and master of one art, we might just have a few more options.

The next 4 years of PhD feel like a beginning of a journey of a different kind of "self-realization" like they say, as the electrical engineer tries to navigate past the self-doubts and arranged marriage, to test himself across a vast range of skill-sets and determine if an electrical engineer is all he is meant to be. He also plans to build some of those triceps they keep talking about. People will smirk, "another one of those lofty day-dreamers" they will say before going on to comment on his tiny eyes and how they are always closed in pictures. And he will stay firm. Because he knows no better.

But before that, its time to get wasted with drinking binges and affectionate females. After all, I just graduated.

Friday, September 25, 2009

How weird is it...

You wake up with panic written all over your face, as you stare at the alarm clock which failed to go off after you snoozed it the 10th time. You are clearly gonna get a stink-eye from your manager when, being a lowly intern, you reach the office an hour later than everyone else. You rush through the ablutions, and are running on the street with hair still unkempt and shirt still untucked, when you discover, rather untimely, that you are not as fit as you thought you were. And while you wait for the bus which is 5 mins late (a lot by Dutch standards), your ipod chooses the very moment you finish setting up the playlist, as its time of demise. You curse a bit in Hindi, realise that the lunch your roommate prepared for you is sitting back at home, and curse a bit more. You board the bus, and as you pay from your ever-thinning wallet and move on, a pretty dutch girl smiles at you...

and your day is made.