Friday, December 29, 2006

It's that time...

... of year again. That time when I mumble my way through the brooding I have surrounded myself with and find no effective or efficient way to say goodbye.

I loathe and look forward to the period from Diwali to the 5th of January the most. I get contemplative around New Year anyway - stock taking and all nonsense - but two New Years just bloody tears it, don't you know!

It's been a strange year. I cannot, with any honesty, say that it's been a bad year. But neither has it been even acceptable. It's been educational. It's been difficult and wearing. And most importantly it's been, in some ways, empowering.

I've learned, grown, and I've experienced. I've faltered, been weak, and I've known self-doubt. I've felt mad in my head, laughed from my toes, and I've been a penguin. And through everything, I've been sustained primarily by the strength of two wonderful, wonderful men and the tolerance and affection of those I've neglected.

And it's been a year of two very important achievements.

One, that I've truly grown into an individual. I'm finally not part of a group, a herd. No more group cackling over men, jobs, and hair days. A process of evolution rather than eviction, now there is naught but individual relationships and no pressure.

Two, that I've finally learned patience. Or at least, I've learned how to let things come to me... to be instead of becoming. There are a number of people, I'm told, happy that I finally know the difference between silence and quietness.

I'm going to leave you with this wonderful little piece by Thomas Hood and hope like hell that you and I have a good one. :-)

And ye, who have met with Adversity's blast,
And been bow'd to the earth by its fury;
To whom the Twelve Months, that have recently pass'd
Were as harsh as a prejudiced jury -
Still, fill to the Future! and join in our chime,
The regrets of remembrance to cozen,
And having obtained a New Trial of Time,
Shout in hopes of a kindlier dozen.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Thought for the day

Resentment, I've discovered lately, tastes like a sewer that someone else is regurgitating up my throat, and swirling around my mouth like fine, single malt whiskey.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Bombay Evenings

Right then. I was tagged by Geetanjali aeons ago to list five favourite things in my city. Now, it hasn't taken this long merely because I am a gifted procrastinator. It's not that difficult either to choose one city/home or narrow favourites down, don't you know.

But somehow, somewhere, I'd ruled out too much. Sigh... back to the drafting board then, dearie. And somehow, somewhere, in the writing and thinking, eliminating and appending, something intriguing emerged.

I seem to enjoy Bombay most by late evening/night. This is, I think, strange because being in the city has never had any defined, cognizable purpose for me. Save being home.

For example, I savour Hyderabad most from the late afternoon to the late evening. Perhaps... because I've never been anything but a student in Hyderabad? The daylight was for class, chores, and assorted adventure. The night was when I'd return to the sanity of campus, tea, and a long, long walk.

Anyhow, to meander back to the tag at hand, hmm? This is, I think, the most accurate list of the things I miss the most in Bombay. It doesn't matter whether I am within the city or without.
  • The Carter Road promenade. The scene of much believing, bonding, booze... being. A rare place where the city, the sea, and the mangroves come together in glorious anomaly. I've forged some lovely bonds, renewed old ones, and been in the peace of myself here—smack in the middle of noisy Bandra.
  • Lemon Grass, Bandra. For dinner, conversation, and photography. I love the multifarious feel and tastes of this, my favourite restaurant. I’ve had insights into different cultures, cities, and people here. I’ve bullied the management (into serving other patrons faster) for a clear frame. Shockingly, I also have an unconditional invitation to annoy them again!
  • Café Mondegar. The rites of passage into adulthood—my first unchaperoned drink. A place adorned with mosaics of memories—Bombay, the jukebox, camaradrie, football matches, and space amidst all the jostling and noise. I'm not as much of a fan of Colaba as everyone else but I'd go across town to Mondy's to voluntarily drink beer and choose my own music.
  • Regal Cinema. From a time when an English movie was necessarily 30 kms away. I’ve always loved the ambience and architecture of this, my favourite theatre – much before I knew it was Art Deco. The dark wood, the ornate panelling, the bad seats, caramel popcorn, and my first movie date… Sigh! :-)
  • Watching/walking the ocean. It really doesn't matter where—the Queen's Necklace, Banganga crematorium, Juhu Beach, Rock Beach (Versova), Silver Beach (Juhu Scheme), or Madh Island. All my life, like him below, I’ve been all and nothing at so many sunsets. Today, with subdued regret, I miss every one… every day.
Marine Drive Evenings

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Monstrous fate, most unkind!

That's just it. I've been cheated. I was supposed to have a five-day holiday and a holiday is the furthest thing from what happened. Not one day of being, reading, sleeping, working on photos, or catching up with blogging, mailing. Instead, five days passed in a blur of KP duty.

I've also just found out that every (or almost every!) idiot on Earth's getting to do everything I want to do. While I must sit here, biding my time. Smiling sweetly. Pretending not to be seriously annoyed.

Life's often unfair, I told a dear friend the other night. But really, what's so unreasonable about these things happening to a person? Among many, many, many others, of course.
  • Road tripping from Panjim to Kanyakumari with endless rolls of Fuji Superia 100.
  • Experiencing the Rann of Kutch at sunset.
  • Spending a month in the North East of India.
  • An art historian taking me on a tour of Le Louvre.
  • An architect walking me around New York, Morocco, Damascus, and Florence.
  • Lunch with Umberto Eco.
  • Dinner with Gordon Ramsey - at his own restaurant.
  • Breakfast with Jonathan Stroud.
  • Days spent with Steve McCurry.
  • The first violinist of a string quartet explaining chamber music to me - in Vienna.
  • The only real musician I know teaching me how to sing.
  • Front row seats at U2, Marc Cohn, and Tori Amos concerts.
  • Chris Cornell singing Ave Maria for me - live.
  • Learning the nuances of the Gregorian chant.
  • Backpacking across Europe participating in every festival on the way.
  • The Master Blender at Glenfiddich teaching me how to be one.
  • Talking with a socialist/marxist Catholic priest about the Holy See.
  • Eating the perfect paella in Barcelona.
  • A pint of Guiness built by a handsome Irishman quoting Yeats - in Dublin.
  • Being taught how to Samba on the streets of Rio de Janeiro - during Carnival.
  • Desperately wanting to be in New York City. This second.
  • A conversation in flawless Latin about the Song of Solomon.
And now that I've made a list of it, it seems even more unfair that I haven't got to do any of this. That's just it - I want out and I want my money back. Sigh...

And oh? Any smart ones about why any of the famous people on this list would do these things for me? Well, the answers are simple. One, I don't want anything from them - no personal gain except the pleasure of picking their minds. Two, I'm worth their time. :-)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Season's Greetings!

*Clears throat importantly; Muzak starts*

E Vestigio wishes all its readers a very happy Diwolly and New Year!


*Muzak ends!*

Now that I have that out my campy, cheesy way, allow me to wish you and yours a very, very happy Diwali! I hope you have a wonderful holiday surrounded by those you love.

It's been a lovely start to the festive season. I've giggled madly through Diwali pooja and been chided for being a chocoglutton - as if there were such a thing! I've shared chocolates with colleagues and realised that they really are a good bunch.

I've also incited rebellion - bunking work on Monday - with a number of them! *evil laugh*

I've begun making preparations for 25 of my relations descending upon us for dinner. In a very peverse way, I am enjoying the thought of cooking - but just not for them. Pray for me and my sanity on Monday, won't you?

Pièce de résistance? I'm going to watch Don and the firecrackers at Marine Drive as well. How else does one enjoy Diwali with a five day weekend? Seems, I think, a good way to start the New Year, eh? :-)

Well then, Saal Mubarak, my dears. May the year ahead be full of every benediction that you deserve and, more importantly, desire.

Image courtesy my colleague, Shreyas.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


It's been a year now and I'm still wondering if they did it deliberately.

It is easier to exonerate him. Neither he nor I knew or understood - neither us nor you and I. We were merely two years of assuaging my desperation to be loved. And my hunger to be the Saviour... I was unable to make my own faith true.

But her? Wasn't she my soul sister? Didn't she understand me best? Value me most? I wonder now if she was laughing at me... all those times I confided in her. When I gave her things that didn't belong to her?

In the remnants of cigarette smoke and relationships, was there mocking talk of my naiveté? Or perhaps, my stupidity? Were the two of them, lying in each other's arms, laughing? I know that all the others were. Even the ones I didn't know. For all that time, that's what they did.

How can this be trust?

So much I didn’t say. Not a word about the humiliating incisiveness from outsiders who had no right. Or even a breath about the silent, insidious calling cards of deceit and guilt? Instead, I sewed all my questions into a diaphanous dress that made me ugly.

For tears unnumbered, I created new apologies everyday for feeling... thinking... believing... begging to be wrong. I should have asked the questions... if only to be the the bigger person. Then perhaps, I would not have been left in the dark. Regret is a wick I secreted into a paper latern to light the way out.

These were pictures I'd composed. One of a lover, a husband, a father. The other a friend, a sister, an aunt. The first was a truth made illusion by insensate confirmation. The second was a lie given shape by the weakness of my own hands. I can now only be grateful that I did not release the shutter then.

Once, I left you on a mountain, under a fathoming grief. I tied you in a handkerchief to be opened today. Today, the grief and the handkerchief have both crumbled to ash. And yet, I stand here naked, negotiating with a fractured present to bury a bit of a broken past.

Instead, in the killing fields of my own dreams, I bury myself.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The View from Saturday

Saturday is a fine, fine day, don't you know. I mean, how can it not be when you spend all day doing three things you enjoy most: reading, eating, and photography.

It begins by haring across town to the British Library to be able to spend at least one hundred minutes of wonderful self-indulgence, and I also get to be a geeky student again. Then it's one of two things: a movie or photography. If it's a movie, the time I leave the cinema determines whether my camera runs away with me first or dinner does. Whatever the order, the meal usually has only one address - Crystal Restaurant near Wilson College on Marine Drive.

In a hyper-expensive city like Bombay, Crystal is a boisterous, rundown place that serves vegetarian food at prices hardly credible. Where else in Bombay could you order 14 butter rotis, 2 plates of rajmah, 1 plate of aloo jeera, 2 bowls of kheer, and 1 bottle of water and pay only 175? And to say the food is merely superlative is to insult it. I think it's the best North Indian food you will eat - outside a home... or a dhaba in Amritsar, I'm told.

I studied not very far from Crystal and ate away my undergraduate years there. Those days I loved it because I was perenially penurious and Crystal was great food really cheap. Today, I love it because not only is the food great but everyone's equal - no reservations, no special treatment. Everyone wants a table, no one's willing to wait in line. The waiters don't always know your name but they smile genuinely. No culinary flatulence while "discussing the order."

As an aside, I must admit that the prices at Crystal have gone up since 1998 - the rajmah was 20 bucks to the 25 it is now. :-)

The photography? Where shall I start? This is St Thomas Cathedral in Fort, Bombay. Here, I was regaled by a constable telling me about how a student of JJ College was taking photographs near the CID headquarters and was promptly taken in as some manner of spy!

He stayed talking to me for nearly two hours. Time punctuated only by him explaining to other cops on his own beat and others that I was this worthy young woman who was doing no harm - only photographing "aamchi Mumbai."

St Thomas Cathedral, Bombay

This is the front entrance of the Institute of Science, Bombay. One of my most fun photography jaunts ever. Imagine long exposure shots - about 10-14 secs - with my subjects moving all over the place after I released the shutter!

The Institute of Science, Bombay

The epiphany for the night: Saturdays keep me sane.

The title is borrowed, I admit. Surely - but slowly - more on that later.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

My Kingdom...

... for every crappy evening after work to end like this one.

Innocuously enough, after a horrid and lonely day at work, I was on my way home. Last evening was the first day of immersion for Ganapati and the traffic is usually enough to curdle your marrow. I believe it was an act of God that after leaving work by 19:40, by about 20:35, I was almost home.

Along with the downwind of drying fish, only Ganapati immersions can make one almost regret living close to the sea. Would you believe that it took over 40 minutes to go about 1.5 kms? I would have walked home if there'd been enough room to get off the rickshaw. But as it happens, I'm damn glad I didn't because in my concentrated effort to get home, I'd have missed the show.

And would have had a poorer life for it, I assure you.

Now, if you've lived in India for even a nanosecond, you know that by no means of the imagination is the music played in an immersion procession lounge, house, hip-hop, Bollywood numbers (no people, it's not even that!), or "hard rock." So imagine my stunned amusement when I come across three different groups of people doing:
  1. A hip-hop groove - complete with the finger waving and dipping in the air.
  2. Pub/lounge bar/disco-type gyrations – a la Aishwarya Rai in Kajra Re to a nankhatai, Bollywood brass band sound!
  3. Head banging - nope, not making a mistake here. I've seen enough people head bang in my life to know what this dude was doing.
Now either Ganapati's gone hip or at 26, I'm just plain old!

Understand that I am not being bitchy or nasty about these people. I fully admire and understand the enthusiasm with which these people were participating in the festival. I probably would not be able to do the same. But the sheer incongruity of these dances with the music, the occasion, and the other celebrants was too much fun not to laugh my head off!

The head banger was the best - he was the crowd-watching finale. Initially, he was merely walking along with a procession till they were stopped in traffic. Amidst the dancing, he began a slow nod to the music. And as the music grew more frenzied, with growing fascination I watched him bend half-over and begin a full-blown head banging number! Rage against the Machine in concert with Ganesha - woohoo!

Every one in a five foot radius stopped dead to stare. I think that was what made him stop dead as well. Unfortunately, my rickshaw moved forward right then and I lost sight of my head banger friend. I kept looking back for him but I think he'd melted into the throng. More's the pity because I don't think I've laughed like that in a while. Long, liberating, and stomach-deep laughter - of the simpler pleasures of this flawed life.

Thank the Lord that "these are the days when anything goes." :-)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

By way...

... of a tale of silence, this is my story.

Now, it didn't take me over four weeks from getting to Coorg to start my vacation. It would then proceed that it can't possibly take me that much time to tell the tale either. Why then, sweet Christ, the unbearable daftness of being? Of all the loads of crock that I can give both myself and you, there seem to me only three that really count.

Firstly, the processing lab has consistently screwed up the negative scans an astounding THREE times in a row. Logically, this is hardly credible because these guys are among the best in Bombay and they've not bungled a single roll thus far. This time, when the scan is perfect, the image dimensions make a exquisite image look repulsive. When the scan is out, then I want to disown the image anyway! Pray for me - I gave all six rolls back to the lab yesterday.

Secondly, my mum was operated on for multiple fractures a few weeks ago. I suppose championship is genetic because only my mum could have slipped down two stairs (not flights) and ended up with multiple fractures and a dislocation! She is now recuperating nicely, but for me, juggling between work and home is not easy. I must admit, this is more arduous as a 26 year-old working person than as a student.

Thirdly, I've been trying to figure out if I should shut down E Vestigio. I have come to doubt myself and my abilities. Words are more and more punishing to whisper into creation; baring myself more difficult than ever; and the need to be rather than become more desperate than I've ever known. For days, I'd be making notes on one draft after another, unable to complete any one. My endurance and adaptabilty are not what they used to be, I fear.

I should add that these reasons are in no order of priority — simply because, for me, they've been the Brazilian, the lesbian, and the socialite.

I am back, I think. I won't stop blogging but I don't want to proclaim non-dereliction of my duties this post onward either. I don't know where/how the next few months will go. Nor do I know how often I'll be able to post. Ergo, I will hold my peace. The Lord knows I've made too many post, mail, and phone call promises to make a single more.

Before I go, my thanks are due in no small measure to a certain tyrannical friend/reviewer who, for over a month, danced bloody hell on my head. Swore up a storm at me too! Verily, I doubt this would have been posted if not for him. :-)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Coorg Chronicles - Chapter I

It is 22:20 on the 3rd of June when S and I arrive at Kempe Gowda Bus Station (a.k.a Majestic Bus Depot), in the heart of Bangalore. It's cold, it's wet, the weather is glorious - and I am throughly annoyed. Why, you ask?

Well, primarily because S, beloved soulmate and now favourite travel-mate has me trekking over and under smelly, slovenly, sleazy archways, carrying a heavy bag and my tripod, searching for cigarettes. Even when I smile sweetly at a conductor and ask where to buy them AND receive accurate directions, S still knows better - having gone to Majestic twice in three years in Bangalore. Never mind, I tell myself, as we buy smokes at the conductor-directed tea stall. This, too, shall pass.

Back at Majestic and we're trying to figure out where platform 7 is to board the "luxury bus" that will take us to Coorg. We locate the platform and S now goes about the business of being a man - finding the right bus. I am both nettled and amused by his telling me "Stand here, on the side, and wait. I'll find out about the bus - don't go anywhere!" But I decide not to argue and stand quietly in my corner because this is going to pass, remember?

Oh alright, alright! In all fairness, S means extremely well since about 5 different men have tried to rub up against me in the 200 foot walk from the entrance to the platform. Bombay or Bangalore, street harassment doesn't seem to change, now does it?

In short order, settled into the bus and beginning to unwind, I am impatiently waiting to toast our trip with a dose of Avomin each, being motion sick as both S and I are. At 23:05, we are now officially on holiday. On our way to Gonicoppal and then Kutta, South Coorg. To five self-indulgent days of pork curry and homemade wine. To rain, coffee estates, and the middle of nowhere. To serious quality time with S and clearing up head space - for the both of us.

The first crater on the "highway" reels me out of my soothing soliloquy. I close my eyes and attempt sleep, and finally settle into an uneasy, fitful dozing which the rain imitates. I close the window only to nearly break it open five minutes later. The fetid breath and sweat of 35 other people necessitates braving the rain and cold all night. No matter. I'll be in Coorg soon.

All of sudden, it is 05:00 and we get off, bleary-eyed, at Gonicoppal Bus Stand. S, standing surrounded by me and the luggage, is on the phone with the taxi driver, Dharamaja. He informs S that we got off 35 kilometers too early and we should now take another bus to Kutta. It seems we were to get to Gonicoppal and inform Dharamaja to expect us in 90 minutes. Informing him did not involve getting off at Gonicoppal. Small detail, I presume.

Now usually, I'm not at my best even at 11:00 if I've just woken up. At 05:00, after a bad night and faced with championship like this, I'm not likely to be anybody's best friend. S, knowing this, is smiling at me almost coquettishly in an attempt to placate me. But he doesn't need to. I smile (!), climb into the main hall and sit down to wait... and watch a town wake up.

I am still taking it in when the 06:40 bus arrives. S and I clamber on and find ourselves a seat . I place S's bag between us on the seat and S just stares. Apparently his bag was taking up the place of another person and he'd be damned if he'd just watch. I try reason - if someone needs to sit, we'll put the bag into the rack. Or bitchy and tired as I am, we'll let them stand.

But no! The bag must go and it must go now. Fine. With little further ado or ceremony the bag is dumped onto the rack and S and I are now taking in the road to Manchalli, where we must get off. Unfortunately, I don't remember very much because I kept nodding off. The snatches I see look like the South India I encountered in Kerala with huge white-washed houses with red tile roofs.

I finally wake in Manchalli because Dharamaja stops our bus in the middle of the road to ask if "Datta" was on board. That's us! Now what happens next is priceless. The offending bag, relegated to the rack? S lifts it off only to find that it is soaked through. The rack, you see, had a layer of standing water, which S neglected to check on. It is all I can do not to howl triumphantly but I settle for a smug smile.

It is only a three kilometer ride to the Chilligeri Estate Home Stay. But it is a ride through mile upon mile of paddy fields steeped in water and tract upon tract of terraced agriculture stretched out in all directions. The only word to describe this place is green - and not just beautiful. I smile as the fact that I'm truly on holiday sinks in.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Of Firsts

This is my first post ever. On vacation. Since I started E Vestigio, I've been on three vacations but I haven't had a first birthday on any of them yet. That's what makes this post different.

One year.

I didn't think I'd make it this long. I've been writing since I was eleven - journals, letters, short stories, botched attempts at poetry, and little scraps of nothing at all. And I've never sustained anything beyond a few months. But through all the Houdini acts, I've somehow always known that I'd get back to the Drafts folder. And that, for me, is an entirely different experience.

It's been a year since I began to...
... learn how to speak in a new voice.
... understand myself through my writing.
... see everything old and known through new eyes - my camera.
... share my world so intensely.

It's also been a year (or nearly) since I've known incredibly special and generous people who did not once give up on me - no matter how many failed promises to post or mail.

These are people....
... whose friendship means more than "bits and bytes on a screen."
... who mean wonderful memories at Lemon Grass and Oh! Calcutta in Bombay and the German Bakery and Aloha in Pune.
... whose imaginations have allowed me non sequitur and dream journeys into the arts of expression and writing.
... who have taught me how to understand people and reached out to me despite time-zones and personal restrictions.

How can my words begin to be enough? I can but say thank you. Such an inadequate phrase, though.

The word cloud, which I've been meaning to try for a while, seems a good way to celebrate E Vestigio. The wonderful thing about the cloud is that it seems a state of mind - like this blog. The one that I created when Geetanjali posted hers was quite different and I think that's quite wonderful. :-)

Courtesy Snapshirts

Before I go, I'd like your opinion on how to write about my trip to Coorg. Should I deal with it daywise or "as-a-whole? Please to advise. As always, many thanks!

Monday, May 29, 2006


This time I've really done it, haven't I? *deep sigh*

One month. One whole month without a single syllable, or an unbroken word, or any whisper of a post. The misery of the situation is that, after my last silence, I worked on four posts. All of which are in varying degrees of completion and every one something I feel strongly about. And yet, there they remain. Unfinished. *deeper sigh*

The past month's been wretched. In 30 working days, I've claimed "late-sitting" commuting expenses for 20 of them. For the ten days I managed to get away early (read 20:00), I've either had a visiting friend to entertain, important visits to make, or other work to catch up with.

Not a hope of weekends either. If prolonged sleep deprivation happens, I turn into an ill-tempered, snarling banshee. Or alternatively, in the other extreme, a zombie. And somehow, all my work never gets over in merely a few hours. Proved amply by my tailor actually taking a full five minutes to recognise me this Saturday past.

Yet Saturday also convinced me that life is, indeed, trundling back to normal. I bought a pair of gorgeous sandals and loads of film for a trip to Coorg and Bangalore next week. I watched The Da Vinci Code - and rued not leching like a woman crazed at Hugh Jackman in X3: The Final Stand.

I stuffed myself at Crystal, near Wilson College on Marine Drive. There is no place in Punjab that makes better rajma and kheer than this rundown, chaotic little place where everyone is equal and no one knows what "standing in line" means! I am willing to bet on it. I also held a camera after what is certainly too long, the fruit of which you see here.

This is Marine Drive, outside the NCPA Towers. It wasn't quite sunset but a good frame nonetheless, I believe.

The Watcher

My favourite part of Saturday has to be the friend who insisted on mollycoddling me all day - only because he wanted me to stop being quiet. Apparently, my being less than voluble is a problem and "weird." :-)

I finished up the day reading a book that began:

It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression "As pretty as an airport."

An extraordinary day by the past month and a half. I can only live in the hope of it remaining so.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Dusk, in the shadows

The scene is set in the mid-late evening, in a shadowed room. As one enters, a large teak wardrobe dominates the left corner and ancient, faded posters of movies and holidays spray the white-washed walls with a nostalgia that doesn't quite fit. That's all, though. No other signs of residence - except on the far right.

An almost childish bed stakes its claim under the large, bay windows. On the white sheets is a lap desk - the kind that the family accountant used while calculating the clan's checks and balances for fifty years. Undulating movements on the bed produce feet from under the desk while a book is laid above, accompanied by the gentle rasp of a fountain pen.

I don't write as much - or as well - as I'd like to and I don't know why. Nor do I have one defensible reason. I find myself willing words to come, and continue staring at the page. Like now. Staring... blank... empty...

The commute from experience to expression is like a jet plane on some days and a toy train on others. But the thrill of pushing and pulling a sentence into shape never changes. The thrill of writing something something I think is terribly witty. And does it really matter if anyone else thinks so... or not?

There is a special pleasure in articulating something out loud. And on paper, it has such a tangible, physical shape. But the words are disquieted... wandering... hesitant. I long to speak the words closest to me... until the swell overwhelms all things... until they cease to be and a new time-space unfolds.

It won't happen. Failing to speak of that which is raw is my greatest shortcoming. To expose and examine the sores behind wet bandages. How long will I apologize? Be someone I'm not? I run... to hide behind different words that fall just short of meaning. Sometimes, they escape in a fugitive flash, only to remain unsaid.

Someday, I'll know the words. That's when I'll write. To speak. To listen. To share. To seek. To meet new-ness. To understand yesterday. To savour today. To anticipate tomorrow. To meet myself. To be the one I wa....

"Are you coming then?"

"Where are you going?"

"I don't know yet... the coffee shop or the pub. Depends. Are you coming?"

The pen sighs, sliding back into darkness, its journey now ended. The book is tucked under a wayward pillow as feet are withdrawn from under the lap desk and put into sandals on the floor. A click sounds in the isolation of the room. In five minutes, you wouldn't have known anyone had been there.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


I have half a mind to sit quietly in one corner. It's been well over a week, the wonderful weather in Bombay has vanished faster than beer on a hot afternoon and this post is now entirely irrelevant. I mean, there's really no point now in going on about how the weather was so perfect or that this time, the rain, light as it was, didn't bring slushy roads and maddening traffic jams in its wake.

No point either in waxing on about the rain also bringing overcast weather - the sort where you want to curl up under a blanket. With either a pizza, or a cup of tinned tomato soup, or a bowl of moong ka dal and rice. (I have funny rainy day comfort foods - what can I say?) One of those days when you put on some Miles and leaf your way through a book all day. In the evening, you catch up with friends, clean and roll their weed, while drinking gently into that good night.

I always mean to post every three or four days and if it isn't a tyrannical reviewer or my own sloth that prevents it, there's something else that requires my attention exactly then. And once it's done, my point and the post are usually immaterial. And that, my dears, is the fate of most posts in the Drafts folder.

But perhaps this once, both me and the post shall make an exception because of the overcast weather which brought such wonderful lighting for photography, even in the middle of the day when light is usually harsh. At the risk of stupendous immodesty, I don't believe I've ever shot as well as these and only on a few other occasions, enjoyed myself that much!

I was on my way to town to collect my transcripts, return books to the library, and watch a film perhaps. I do not wish to make the beauty of the day trite, ergo, I am going to let these images speak in their own voice. A couple of things though. These images are in chronological order and none of them has been touched up for the colours or improved in composition - among the reasons I am so proud of them. :-)

Behind the Sun

Into the Sun

35 Miles to Memphis

The Gates of Heaven


I can only be grateful that A was kind enough to let me monopolise his camera (since I had been stupid enough to forget mine) and patiently pull over wherever I asked - even if we were in the middle of the Western Express Highway, doing 70 kmph! The mercies, I tell you, of being driven by a fellow photographer. :-)

There are, of course, some more here.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

To be Counted

I wasn't sure if I'd make this post.

When Ash first posted about it, I thought I'd participate in the Blank Noise Project blogathon. Six days later, there was a test to get familiar with, bugs to fix and close in the module I am working on, an SOP to finish. "There'll be other voices giving this better articulation than I can ever dream of. I can read if not write, right?" I reasoned with the twinge of regret early this morning.

My rickshaw ride to work this morning changed that. Posting this is quite bloody important to me now.

Eleven a.m and I asked a rickshaw driver if he'd go to Powai. He agreed and I started into the rickshaw. Casually he leaned back, with his elbow extending out abnormally, to put the meter down, ensuring that he would brush my breasts while doing so. Having had this happen before, I didn't get into the rickshaw but instead completely lost it. I asked him what he was trying to do.

"Nothing, Madam. I was only putting the meter down." Right. The pitch of my voice began to rise as I called him a liar and launched into a rant, and the security guards of my building came closer to see what the noise was. The rickshaw driver looked distinctly cornered and started muttering that I was misunderstanding him. I turned around, disgusted. And violated.

This is only one of many times. How many times has some man I've not had the courage to look in the eye pressed an erection against me in a crowd or a bus? How many times has some old pervert tried to stroke the side of my breast in the two or three inches between the window and the seat of a bus? Or "bumped" into me at a train station or crowded lifestyle store?

Or shall I recount the time I was eight years old, in grade three and getting out of my classroom? Some guy, whose face I can't even remember, stepped in my path and grabbed my vagina through my uniform. I stumbled, fell, and started crying. He was gone before anyone else could see him. A teacher passing by heard me, came to help and made sure I got home. I did not know then why I felt so terrified. But I do now.

Perhaps I could tell you about the time a female friend and I were going to her house for tuitions. We could not have been more than ten or eleven years old. This young man, not more than eighteen, came up to us and asked for directions, holding a piece of paper and his erect penis in his hand. Or perhaps the middle-aged men, sitting in cars with the windows rolled down outside school and masturbating?

Do you know - this is the first time I've ever spoken about these things publicly. My family, not even my brother, still does not know they've happened to me.

When do I stop letting people do this to me? When do I stop being a victim? Every claim I've made to independence, dignity, and other "noble ideals" is worth nothing if I don't live it. I've just realised that I am not as empancipated as I've told myself I am. Time to change that, I think. Time to turn around and slap the guy in the next rick who, at a red light, thinks he can make all the comments he wants, watching me smoke. This post is the first step forward.

I have, for a long time, thought that what this country needs more than anything else is a large-scale sense of social awareness. It is not enough for, or the sole responsibilty of, too few people to say and do something about the abuse and injustice against too many, especially women - of all castes, creeds, and social strata - in India.

All too easy to complain about the state of this country. When do you start making a difference? It doesn't have to be something very big. Something as simple as a post on your blog will do. You live here. Stand up and be counted.

I intend to be.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Indian Railways v/s Extempore

Indian Railways does not wish me to take photographs of my journey or, for that matter, even have a decent one. Five years and too many trips have worn this statement into the sleepers and a heartbreaking, empirical truth. I am going to, however, leave aside the whining about my co-passengers and perorate on the "photographys" instead.

Photography is difficult usually, but at an average speed of 60 kmph, I think it's a kiss from impossible - especially if you are a rookie. By the time you've composed your frame and adjusted the light settings, the subject is so long gone that you wonder if you dreamed it.

Should you have, by some act of God and foresight, managed to get your shot in focus, framed and adjusted, it's a certainty that you are going to be fighting off the compartment door, which has nothing - I repeat, NOTHING - to hold it in place. So while you may have a perfect shot, you'll also be dead. Like while I was taking this shot, the door came swinging shut, blithe as you please.

The Seven Lakes
There I was - holding onto the railing with one hand and my camera with the other, praying for dear life. A kindly old gent, on his way back from the bathroom, grabbed hold of me and held the door open. He had disturbing, ickily wet hands but I don't think I'm in a postition to complain, yes? :-)

Few things match the unmitigated championship of the tap on my shoulder mid-frame from the extra-loud and hearty man who asks if I am taking photographys. No, but I'll let you into the secret - am scuba diving; please don't tell the fish.

Shady Afternoons
He well could have ruined this shot. Two farmers/labourers sitting down to what could be either a late lunch or just a moment's reprieve from the unforgiving sun, relentless humidity and back-breaking field work.

As with every train journey I take, it never fails to astonish me what a beautiful country we live in. And this has been my reaction for as long as I can remember. Sheer joy physically bubbles inwardly and makes me want to break into an altogether off-key and solely un-listenable-to rendition of "The Sound Of Music."

Landscape-wise, passing through Andhra Pradesh is so different from my ride through Kerala a few years ago. Kerala is like a watery, green explosion. Everywhere you look, there's a verdance so lush and plentiful. And yes, numberless bridges over lakes, ponds and the backwaters to cross. It also has what I think of as a darksome energy - something roiling, hiding in that luxuriance. I am not sure if it is negative or not, but exist it does.

Andhra Pradesh is all rock, plain, and undulating field. It is all predominant yellows and browns with afterthought green and does make for difficult photography. Andhra Pradesh has a hardier landscape - one that is unforgiving and severe. There seems to me a transparency I do not associate with Kerala. This is not a comment on the people, you understand, as much as the "physical environs" of these states. I am not sure if this even makes sense.

I've not been to very many places in India, but in my meagre travels, the unmitigated beauty of terrain like the image below always, quite simply and tritely, takes my breath away. No matter what state it is.

Fields of Gold - Too!
It also makes me want to kick myself for not being a travel writer or doing something that pays me to travel. Because at this point, I can't think of anything else I'd rather do with my life. Wouldn't you too?

Since I was at the train door afternoon onward, the chances of my getting a sunset shot were decent, I'd say. And indubitably, as the wind turned and the sun began to sink, the crazy compartment door or the annoying co-passengers didn't matter. There was just me and my frame in a moment that can only be described as delicious. I hope you like this. :-)

By the Light of the Setting Sun

Postscript: Should you want to see some more of the train ride, here you go.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I am back - again!

And right ashamed I am too, seeing how I have whimpered into silence. I've been meaning to give this post a wee bit of time but a wicked, wicked reviewer (yes my dear, this means you!) and my own prodigious sloth have contrived to delay this post. But no more, yes?

Before all else about Hyderabad, I should like it to be noted that on neither of my train rides were there encounters of the bizarre kind with my tribe. Nope, non, de nada! No Gujarati people - men, women, or children - giving me any grief about being a disgrace to the name Gujarati.

However, both experiences leave me with the lurking suspicion that the source of my trauma may just have shifted from my community to the Telugu. But I am going to hold the jury out on that one - just until my next trip.

Hyderabad was... as I remembered it in the winter. Dry and swinging desperately from hazy, searing days to crisp, frozen nights. The main roads stretching out into curves, trees and the distinct realization that Hyderabad was, for the first time in five years, a distant home. I don't know if it was something taken away, or something I've had to leave behind or mayhap... a bit of both.

But this trip was about more - so much more.

It was about...
... copious quantities of beef biryani, bangles, and girlie conversations.
... stupefying encounters in the University Admin block and the Department of English.
... indulgent smiles at the Charminar and the unmitigated beauty of the University campus.
... as the elder sibling liked to tell me, "becoming an adult" and my unbearable lightness of being.
... and lastly but most importantly, an astonishing four rolls of film!

As always, many stories to tell and even more post-promises to keep. See you at my next, yes? :-)

Friday, February 03, 2006

Sub: Leave of Absence

Dear Reader,

I would like to request leave of absence for a week - from the 4th of February till the 12th of February 2006. I know I promised you there would be no more dereliction of duty (and interest) but circumstances conspire to make me journey to Hyderabad.

My Masters' application package needs documents which can only be provided by the Department of English, University of Hyderabad. These, of course, could be procured in absentia but being the government institution that the university is, I must personally ensure that my application does not need to fear the Ides of March.

I also have some other matters that require my urgent attention. I must admit that I am apprehensive about this trip. And yet hopeful of resolving everything and returning with a lighter sense of being than the past few months. Please hope things work out.

In conclusion, I promise to come back in one piece, without falling into the lake on campus at sunset, trying to get a good angle. Or get myself killed in the Old City, photographing the Charminar or Laad Bazaar. With your permission, I will not, at this moment, explain what these places are. I should like those images to speak for themselves and request your patience. I also promise to miss you with every mouthful of biryani.

Thank you for approving my leave,


Sunday, January 29, 2006

Of Drying Fish

Among the million things I did last month was to "show" the friend of a very dear friend, Bombay. Her name is Holly: a chirpy-warm person and great fun to hang out with - willing to be dragged up and down, checking stuff out! She's also a Fulbright scholar, in India for the first time and was working at the Met. I'd give an eye-teeth to do that - sigh!

We met up in Bandra and after a very leisurely and enjoyable lunch at Lemon Grass, the Carter Road promenade it was, to get drenched in the indolent, late afternoon sun. Mea culpa, I must admit. We didn't go there simply because the promenade is gorgeous. Ever since the last time I had seen the bombil, or Bombay Duck, drying at the koliwada at the northern end of Carter Road, my shutter-button-happy finger had been dying to go back.

You see, in Bombay, I've lived all my life by the sea. Well, most of all my life. Our new home is the only one I've not looked out onto endless expanse of ocean from at least one of the windows. I've grown up with the smell of bombil drying, rising up from the koliwada, offending the nostrils. Only this stench, beside the smell of burning rubber at Kalyan station at four in the morning, will get me smiling like one crazed because my city, my home, approaches.

Wondering what a koliwada is? Allow me. The original inhabitants of Bombay are the kolis, a community of deep-sea fishermen and a koliwada is their settlement along the shore. Mumbai, the official name of Bombay, originates from Mumbadevi, the patron goddess of the kolis, enshrined to this day in Dongri. A number of well-known areas also owe their names to the original koli versions. For example, Kolbhat is what we know and love as Colaba. :-)

A koliwada is usually a bustling and colourful place, replete with the sounds, smells and business of the sea. Bombay used to have six "great koliwadas" of which, none survive in their erstwhile glory. The growth and spread of urbania has pushed the kolis into increasingly smaller spaces, now seen only at places like Backbay Reclamation, Mahim, Bandra, Khar, Bassien and Madh Island. If it wasn't for a number of landmark Supreme Court rulings protecting the fishermen's rights in the 1960s, they'd have nowhere to call home.

When you first approach the Bandra koliwada, rack upon rack of drying bombil assault the nose. But once you've gotten past that, you begin to see how beautiful the red-white fish look against the flush of the retreating sun. You have to appreciate the effort going into cleaning and putting the fish out to dry because that's one fish that smells up a storm. You also had to admire the efficient, disciplined way in which the racks are set up and the various dried fish sorted for sale and export.

On the Rack

Note: I am firmly of the opinion that where there are fish to be had, there you will find a feast of crows. These, I believe, were waiting to swoop in for the kill once the fisherwomen had moved away. I fully accept that this may be the hypothesis of a suspicious mind.

Feast of Crows

A little further down were the aforementioned fisherwomen, cleaning out shrimp. I moved closer to capture them going about their business with a stunning economy of movement. When they noticed me, the usual questions about which newspaper/magazine I worked for and the self-conscious smiles came but their hands didn't stop - not for a second.

So there I was, composing my shot when I caught a couple of sentences in Gujarati - and nearly dropped my camera. To my utter shock, these women were not kolis but my brethren from Gujarat. Now, it's not that Gujarat doesn't have its indigenous community of fishermen but drying fish in Bandra, these ladies are a long way from "home." I switched to my broken Gujarati and we were off!

A few families from their village had apparently moved to Bombay a couple of generations ago - between 35-40 years ago - from Kuchchh. They had come to the city of dreams to realise their own. Being outsiders in a community so far removed from their own cannot have been easy and indeed, it didn't seem to be because they were quite unwilling to talk about it. And they still spoke of Gujarat as their gaam. The word is translated as village but I do believe home would be far more accurate. And yet, Bombay is still home. Strange as it is, I understand that.

After a long conversation, they told me I could take more photos if I wished. One them even posed for me! She had the loveliest smile - tired but warm as the noonday sun. Unfortunately, the light on that one didn't do her justice thus I will not post it. However, in the photo below she's the lady in the brown saree, half-obscured by the tray of cascading shrimp.

Work with Me

This last photo? Well, Holly and I walked down from the dying yard to the rocks on the beach - I use the word loosely, I should like you to know. I turned around to see, in the center of all the drying rack, this crow perched on a pole, the king of all he surveyed. I quite liked it. I hope you do too.

Of All I Survey

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

And about the New Year

I have not been lazy. Nor have I given up blogging. I swear. Solemnly. I have been sitting here, in front of my computer, contemplating my nails. Torn between posting on the end of the year, simply carrying on with one of the few posts I've been mulling over, or finally, catching my breath a bit.

For all my quiet - oh alright, not-so-quiet, then - murmurs of disgruntlement about a lack of friends and things to do, the past five weeks (or so) have been replete with exactly these. And my cup ran over and spilled down the front of my life, I think. All of a sudden, I've had too much to do and Christ, after that first fitting, I think my tailor's given up hope of seeing me again!

Everyone, and I mean everyone, was down from wherever in world (and India) they are. As a result, I have taken more long lunches at work, skipped work by 19:00 sharp, and gone to Bandra more times in the past month than in the past two years! I must admit to being a little bewildered because despite the complaining, I have gotten used to being on my own - with fewer than a few people around.

I have gotten used to a drink, dinner or a movie being events occuring when the moon is aligned with something that I can't quite identify. My multi-tasking skills aren't what they used to be, I fear, because I am now, officially, exhausted. Not to say that I minded the rushing about but I seem unable to keep pace. Grown soft in the teeth, I was told by an insolent young pup!

These five weeks have to be the best for what seems a very, very long time. I met some very old and dear friends - put up with tantrums, threw some of my own and knew that everything was definitely okay. I finally put a face and physical personality to a friend, and one of the greatest poets I'll ever read, in an afternoon of chocolate sepia conversations. I gloried in peculiar, unexpected conversations at Crossword and leisurely lunches over photography, sunsets and nostalgia.

My camera and I saw one of my closest friends get married and are now secure in the fact that we have ammunition forever! My one profound observation: there are few things as joyous and heartwarming as watching two people, who so evidently want to be together, getting married. And oh? Get off, all those thinking "Ah yes, prime example of a sentimental fool!" :-)

I also made some friends I hope to see a lot more of. I know this is long overdue but I am not going to talk about it now because I do believe these encounters deserve their own post. And I do promise not to forget about this post, the way I have other post-promises I've made.

There is one that deserves special mention. One for whom I waited two years to come back from the US. My best friend; a man who, despite his impatience, is the most wonderful man. The past couple of years have been life-altering for the both of us and before he arrived, I wondered what being around each other again would be like.

All my speculation could not have done this justice. These threads were the same but different... steadying, mature and stronger than ever. I feel rested, certainly recharged enough to take on the next few months. It's going to be a very long two years if I do not do what I must in October.

On a completely different note, the only thing that has not taken a backseat is photography. The photograph below is of a dear friend, patient ear, and indulgent partner in photographic adventures, A, against a sunset at Marine Drive. He had just taken his shot and was coming back when I took this one. It is, indubitably, one of my absolute favourites! Ever.