Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The First Encounter:

It was almost 2 decades ago. 1989. I had just finished my 10th Boards. I was happy, considering that I had started preparing for my exams only a month ago and the fact that I had completely forgotten about ‘Civics’ in my ‘History and Civics’ paper. My father then announced his plan to take us on a vacation - to Kashmir. The paradise Kashmir…of the Bollywood fame before Bollywood shifted westwards to London, Switzerland, America and now Germany. This was to be my first (grown-up) long distance travel and I was ecstatic.

News about extremism was just trickling in and we decided to take the chance. Our backup plan in case of trouble was to go to Rajasthan. I was shivering with excitement when the small IA Boeing finally took off from Delhi. After a few hours, the Himalayas came into view like stretches of grey and white crumpled sheets and the shadow of our plane riding on those undulating landscape below. The pilot announced the temperature to be 8 degrees in Srinagar…which was an unexpected blast of freezing air as we came out from the plane.

The airport was empty as we booked a cab from the tourist office there…a blue ambassador with a middle aged and a very helpful driver. It was mid-April and the tourist season had not yet started, so the roads and the city were completely deserted. Dry poplars and barren chinars lined the lanes. All the houseboats were docked at one side on the Dal lake. The air was crisp and the mountains a deep blue. The driver took us everywhere…all around Srinagar, half way to Sonmarg as the roads were blocked by snow and to Gulmarg where I and my over-enthusiastic sledge driver threw snowballs at my mom and sis.

I learnt a few Kashmiri words (now I remember only treyesh or water and Jaylum or Jhelum), ogled at the very handsome Kashmiri guys, marveled at the way they carried angithis inside the thick overall to keep themselves warm, gaped at the beautiful, happy faces of the women all around, walked the empty roads with my father in the piercing cold evenings and had the most delicious lamb pieces skewered and roasted on charcoal served with red hot chilli dip.

It was a happy, peaceful and breathtakingly beautiful place even in the cold, dry month of April. Even the talks in the city about how the Indian government was not helping them and how they felt more Pakistani than Indians did not dissipate that all-encompassing serenity. It all seemed other worldly – something which will never take shape.

It was my first tryst with the Himalayas. On our way back, when my father asked me about the trip, I told him I preferred the Sea to the mountains! Little did I know the future, mine or the state’s.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Past Few Days….:

45 degrees in the city, 49.5 degrees in the airport, the house feels like a pressure cooker, outside its like a blast furnace, nights are like the blast furnace has just been switched off, hot water from the tap in the morning, boiling water from the tap at noon, sweat dripping from the folds of the elbow, knee and neck, face itching constantly, my medicated gel toothpaste is now melted and watery, soaked clothes, umpteen baths, roads are empty, a 40km stretch covered in record 1 hr 15 minutes.

I don’t want to think about the stray dogs and cows outside. I can’t look at the kids selling books and car shades at the traffic signal even at noon.

I choose to ignore.


I have been listening to the song “koi fariyaad” on my comp again and again hypnotized by these lines.

Jaagte jaagte ek umr kati ho jaise
Jaan baaki hai magar saas ruki ho jaise

Ek lamhe mein simat aaya hai sadiyon ka safar

Zindagi tej bahut tej chali ho jaise


An incident keeps coming back to my mind again and again. It was almost 10 years back. I had just stepped into the professional world and life had a pinkish hue to it. I used to take a chartered bus at 8, take the window seat and promptly go off to sleep as office was some 35kms away.

That particular day when I got up in the bus, I saw that my window seat was already taken…by a woman in her mid thirties (almost the same age as I am today). She looked different from the others who were the typical gossipy “mera husband na..” variety. So I took the seat next to her. The radio was on and playing some very lovely old Hindi numbers. I looked at the woman. She had her head rested on the window and staring unfocused at the world going by outside, completely lost in her thoughts while the songs played on. Her face was completely composed, but tears rolled down silently from her sad eyes. Once in a while she would pick up her white handkerchief and dab at her eyes. She never turned away from the window.

I kept looking at her thinking what could have possibly led to this. An uncaring husband, a love lost, family problems, dreams unrealized? I wanted to shake her and tell her to stop crying, that it’s not worth it, that there is so much more to life.

Now after 10 years more of life and at that same age as her, I remember her tears. If I meet her now, I can look in her eyes and tell her – I Know.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Bombay Blues:

Life and luck is westwards…so they say. Hence I decided to try my luck there too. Couple of weeks ago, I found myself in Mumbai, ready to take on the city and explore life there. Not as a tourist or a professional visiting the city on work. Those were safe times and days….but this time as a beginner.

The sights and smell were familiar but everything else seemed different now. Too many people, chaos and organized confusion, crazy traffic jams, narrow roads, buildings without verandahs, sweat pouring down your neck, and the pace. People are perpetually in a hurry, rushing and rushing – to the station, to the shops, to offices, to home. I didn’t see a single person just stand and enjoy a moment anywhere. People are helpful, very much so….that’s in their blood…in the city’s soul. But that doesn’t mean that they are necessarily friendly. Nobody has the time. If you ask them for direction, they will just lift a hand and point and not even look up from what they are doing. When I persisted, I got a strange look but always got help. A nod, a jerk of the head, a finger pointing is all they have the time for. Even a chai-wallah on a footpath near Churchgate. I don’t blame them…that’s what life is all about here.

I am a seasoned traveler, and I easily melt into any city’s culture….or so I had thought. Mumbai shook me up, tossed and threw me around like a rag doll, physically and emotionally. I experienced everything in the city. I traveled by autos, local buses and AC buses, I took the local train; traveled on the western line and the central too. I traveled in the slow (super slow) and the fast as well, in the general ladies compartment and the first class too. I traveled in the morning, afternoon, evening and nights. From Nariman Point to Powai. From Malad to Juhu.

I went to a fishing village in Andheri where hundreds of fishermen and women sell thousands of fish. Gold laden women shouting for attention, brightly coloured boats lined up at the shore, crows having a field day with all the goodies around….it was a strange and a very fascinating sight.

I went to a typical Maharashtrian village on the way to Ahmednagar, set against the strangely shaped hills of the Shayadri. Stretches of red earth, a long winding road and then the misty hills in the distance….I could just imagine how beautiful it would look when the rains came down. Stopping at a small dhaba for a yummy bada pao and ‘full’ chai was a good way to start a day.

I went to the Gymkhana Club, I went for a morning walk near the Powai Lake, I watched Chini Kum in a creased Capri and top because nobody cares, I went to Hawaiian Shack for an impromptu party with my friend and her friends (lovely music!), I had mangoes and cream (not the famed strawberries and cream at Haji Ali thou), spicy konkan food, and lot of prawns.

And then one day the first (pre) monsoon rain fell cold and hard after a particularly muggy day. I was standing near the door of a fast to Andheri at 8.30 in the night feeling the wind and rain on my hair and arms. The drops reflected off the lights of an oncoming local and the girls in that first class compartment squealed with joy. And when I saw the lights and the wet city-line passing by, I finally felt at peace - a part of this crazy city.

But whether the city accepts me and lets me live there is still to be seen.