Friday, December 31, 2004


Announcements in two languages.

An empty can of Mirindaaaaaaah lies on a blue seat. It's blue and grey all around actually. Airport colours.

Star News shows an afternoon programme on heroes. Well-dressed people read the Economic Times. Typically male, balding.

It is 15:53. Until the flight takes off, I sit around, writing this. What a strange place, the waiting lounge. A place you wait in on your way to somewhere. Like life giving you a breather. But the air is filled with restlessness. People speak of breaks, but no one likes the limbo of a waiting lounge. They need to be going somewhere soon. Remaining motionless does not come naturally to humans.

A hyperactive boy (3? 4?) wearing bright orange prances and his younger brother watches on in wonder.

Dad doesn't know about this trip. He will know later, after the trip. He'll be worried, and might ask me to not go. Friends were encouraging.

The TV is less loud now. But there's been two bulletins, and nothing about the Tsunami. The announcement voice is muffled. She goes on endlessly. On tv, there is more bad news. That's it. I'm going for a walk.

Prom night

What does prom night feel like, I wonder? I avoided my own because I was shy, and didn't know how to dance (still don't). Why is it such a big deal, I wonder? I'm beginning to wonder if it's because of the expectations, the possibility that anything can happen. Whether it's because it's a checkpoint in life. Why am I even thinking about prom night right now?!

Thursday, December 30, 2004

A morbid number

Bombay has an air of normalcy about it. The papers have articles describing what would happen if a Tsunami struck the city, how many people would die. It's all about numbers in the aftermath of any disaster. As the figure rises, higher and higher and higher, I begin to look at it purely as a number. And the higher it goes, the more its value. Then I have to pull myself back and go, "Waitasec, we're talking people here." Then the focus shifts to how the earthquake changed the map of the earth, how it forced the earth to lag for a fraction of a second, how far its effect was felt (Two died in South Africa).

Through it all, I wonder what I can do. I can go there. I want to go to Chennai. But what will I do there? I just booked a ticket for tomorrow evening and will be back on Tuesday morning. Will three days be enough? Where will I, wait, that's silly....there are too many people who don't know where they'll be staying. So it's okay, I guess.

They need many hands, I tell myself. The more, the better. There will be no epidemic. We get people back to some semblance of normality soon. I tell myself, but cannot believe it. Why? Is it because of the scale of the damage done? Do my own words ring hollow because I want to see the destruction myself? Is it an extension of the numbers that fascinate me? Or is it something I want to for others, do for myself? Finding myself through others?

I'm going anyway. I'll leave the thinking for later.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Got 'im!

A friend found his number. He does live in Borivali.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

If not now, when?

Somewhere in Borivali is an old man whose name I have written in my writing pad, but whose number I did not take because I was sceptical about his story. A story of him and many other freedom fighters who had not been paid 2000 rupees a month for several years by the government. He must be 85 now. I tried the directory to find his number, but the operator said no one by that name lived in the area. They're wrong. He lives there.

Today I saw a man give up his cushy job in the US to return to India and make a difference. It was the premise of a beautiful movie. The movie was based on fact. Two men built a dam by themselves to provide electricity to a village.

I'm 25, educated and single. If not now, when?

Monday, December 20, 2004

Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow

After work, a few friends and I unwound at a play. 'Aap ki Sonia' followed the same premise as 'Tumhari Amrita'. A correspondence between the protagonists unfolded before us. Letters bursting with despise were gradually replaced by puzzled milder ones, and then realisation and understanding before love and sorrow overwhelmed every other emotion. A man died and a daughter discovered an unknown mother before exploring her own depths to find herself. The curtains went down, but questions still held stage. Do humans require upheaval, I wondered, for great changes to take place? Or can they occur even when waters are still?

My waters were placid when I walked down for a sandwich. But fate, I suspect, conspires against an unwavering state of existence. I met someone on the way down. We spoke as old friends with fond memories do, trading stories of our lives, making up for vanished time. We both had known for years that only memories up to a certain point need be recollected - a custom we obeyed without question. But when she waved goodbye, a ripple disturbed the calm surface.

However, the waters run deep, and deep down flows a tumultuous current with no known path. Perhaps it is in our interest that there are no paths. Our lives are uncharted that way. But when, come to think of it, did a chart of life turn out to be accurate? So are we all floundering in a current where the pull is subtle yet powerful? And does this mean we should forfeit all hope and stop swimming?

ps. 'Tumhari Amrita' was better. The dialogue flowed well.

Friday, December 17, 2004

The cluttered mind

As the train rattled towards Churchgate at 3:45 yesterday, I was inside, wondering what to ask the boy who had agreed to meet me today. I opened up a writing pad and wrote 'Parthiv' on the top of a page, and listed a bunch of random questions that I hoped were direct, yet did not sound inconsiderate. As Marine Lines went by and Wankhede Stadium loomed, it struck me that interviewing someone was like an interrogation of sorts. Both required a baring of the soul.

Parthiv was in room 26 at the Garware Clubhouse, a place of residence for visiting teams. On seeing me he wore a bemused look as he walked out and tentatively stretched out his right hand, keeping his dislocated left thumb well out of the way. I shook it. He was dressed in track pants and a loose-fitting t-shirt. Gujarat had suffered a heavy defeat earlier in the day.

Where can we talk, I asked. He said here would be fine. 'Here' was a dingy corridor where a young girl walked by aimlessly several times. We spoke about life on the fringes. He said he wanted to be back, even though the pressure was enormous. Not long ago, he was 17, playing for India for the very first time, and it was hard to find a person not moved by this cherub. Now, on the verge of his 20th birthday, he's out again, and doesn't know how to get back. He said he needed to score runs. I told him the issue was never with his ability to score runs. He didn't say much.

The man I met was unshaven, but it was more of a fashion statement than an element of sorrow. I asked about his game and plans in life. He answered, and said everything I thought he would. You could almost hear his mind tick, contemplating every step, every word that escaped his lips. This part of the world is cruel towards the forthright, and it was a fact that did not escape him. But I wanted to know more.

He likes movies, though I don't like what he does. He liked Aitraaz, a movie I thought should have been averted at the brain-storming stage. He didn't know that Aitraaz was based on the true story of an ostracised athelete. He wears glasses, but doesn't read. He likes coffee, and hangs out with friends. He hates being at home when tours aren't on, because, in his own words, "when you're this young, you want to get out of the house." The kid's normal.

Then I asked him about women. If he was white, he'd have turned pink. He put his knees together, swayed around, put one hand in his pocket and giggled, "I never notice these things." He sounded like he was 12 again! We laughed before I pressed on, "who are you trying to fool?! You're 20, and you say you haven't noticed women?" He giggles and lets on, "when I visited England for the first time, I didn't notice..." and he breaks into a broader smile. The man wasn't letting on anymore.

He was the first athlete I've spoken with. I wanted to know him better, and tell him that everything would be fine, that he would play for India once again. But you never get too close to your work, or one or the other will suffer. Some day we might meet again and speak as friends. But for now, I'll be known as the guy who got Parthiv to look like a 12 year old.

The day before that, as I sat in the car, an old man, probably pushing 85, walked by. He turned around and looked at me, and came closer. I rolled down the windows and asked whether he needed directions. It turns out he needed to go to Kala Ghoda. I was five minutes away from there. He hopped in, and we drove towards his destination. A conversation began, and it turned out he was a freedom fighter from Gujarat who now lived in Borivali with family. He was here to speak with the governement about his pension, which hadn't been paid since 1947 or thereabouts. He was owed 2000 rupees a month for over 40 years. Nearly a million rupees. He didn't say much, or ask for money. He stepped out of the car and walked into an alley. I wanted to stop him, and ask him for his phone number, and see if I could help in any way. But as he walked away I felt powerless. I was only a cricket writer, and getting involved meant really getting my hands dirty. Only later did I regret not asking him. I could have helped by doing something. Anything.

This city has taught me to think quickly, and on my feet, but it has also taught me to be sceptical and expect a trick every stage of the way. So when truth presented itself, and the time came for action, doubts sprung up. The old man wearing the khadi kurta walked away, leaving me to wonder why I didn't move a finger.

(Update: My mistake. His pension could not possibly be a million bucks. I forgot you get a pension only after retirement age, which is 55 or 60. Still, no pension for 20 or 22 years of your life....)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Driving around in life

After nine stright days at work, I finally have two off. They're right in the middle of the week - Wednesday and Thursday - but I can accept that. I'm relieved, more than overjoyed, because two days off in succession is a rare experience. It's not something I've felt often since university. I don't know what I'm going to do, though.

As a kid, the weekend was a pretty simple concept: you played till your toes stank. Now it's more complex. Is it called 'relaxation' and 'recharging' or 'simply a waste of time'? Will the world stop if I put my feet up for a while? Even worse, will my world come to a grinding halt? These questions had then been put on hold for two days. Thus, in an uber-relaxed frame of mind, I went out for dinner.

The roads had been repaired recently, and the yellow sidelines and white dashed lane-dividers were a pleasantly surprising new addition. It could mean the beginning of lane discipline in Bombay. As I waited at a red light, a woman wearing a tattered saree approached and raised an outstretched palm outside my window. If I don't look at her, she'll go away, I thought. She had my attention when she tapped at the window, leaving smudge marks on the squeaky-clean window with every tap.

It always happens. In one way or another, for all the precautions you take, for everything you prepare, there's a virus in the system of Mumbai that will, in its own little way, make you question what you're doing. Not in a malicious way, but in a straightforward one, asking, "did you prepare for this eventuality"? It makes you feel helpless, small, and philosophical. I wonder if all big cities make people feel this way.

At dinner, the conversation veered towards money in cricket, and money in cricket writing. Big difference. The guest suggested Singapore, where he lived. His three kids nodded. Ofcourse they would. They were homesick. He had had a tough time starting a venture in India, but had finally understood how it all took place.

"Stay here for twenty years, and it'll take five off your life." he said. His solution included a relocation to Perth. Or Singapore. Whichever helped make life more comfortable. A red lobster, tentacles and all, appeared between us. In India, he continued, I would work like a donkey for half the standard international wage.

It's true, there's no money here. I thought of all the reasons I wanted to be in bombay, and money wasn't one. Love, culture, freedom to do whatever I want, and the small matter that cricket had a massive following here were reasons. Then there was something else as well. Something that woman did when she smudged the windows. With each dull knock at the window, she told me that my contentment was an illusion. It was nice to know that.

The guest said he'd wait for my reply.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

A wall of drama

Today was beautiful. A cool wind blew through my side of town - not the kind of breeze an air conditioner could give you in a movie theater. So I decided Ocean's Twelve could wait. Instead, I drove to Prithvi Theater.

It was crowded, but calm. Trees stood between occupied low wooden tables with stone tops and matching stools and orange square lanterns and triangular flags that bore a resemblance to prayer leafs hung off branches...all signs of the earth and its beliefs. When you need a hug, come here.

Theater posters of decades past were reprinted on giant vinyl strips that covered a giant wall. What did these posters mean back then? Were they advertisements? And in their new glossy form, were their earlier meanings lost? I wonder because, as a mass they are colourful, but seem forced together to create a hollow image of culture and history (I have to find out how old this place is). The imagery's all there, but where's the texture?

However, since design is objective, I stopped wondering, and pulled out a book. I had reached pg. 43 of 'Transmission' when the lights went out, prompting a scream from the 28-odd year-old woman at the next table. Her pretty friend twittered in the dark, "It's perfect for someone on their first date."

A friend and I took it all in. We sat, watched people go by, and sipped on Irish coffee. Light from a nearby block of apartments reflected off the vinyl-covered wall of drama. Beneath it, people stood by in a state of readiness, awaiting the resumption of their interrupted play. Around us, waiters flit between demands, nodding yes or no to orders for food that required electricity.

The darkness was now comforting. It cocooned the theater. Everyone in it shared this darkness. We could barely see one another, but spoke in voices more assured than when the lights were on.

Green channel

Where is home? Could it be the city I grew up in, or the megapolis I studied in and became an 'adult' in, or is it where I live and work now? I've wondered for five years. It began when my countrymen asked me which city I came from, since we all sought common interests so we didn't remember how far from home we all were. My city, the city I grew up in, was in another country. We ate the same food, we spoke the same language, but we could not think the same way.

Listening to them, I realised my life was one of comfort, and so I began to question my fortune. I later realised how fortunate I was but by then, like a nervous outbreak on prom night, another question had arisen - where was I from? It wasn't New York, or Dubai, or Bombay.

As a few years passed the intensity of this pull to everywhere and nowhere in particular waned. I had other things to do. I had moved to a different country, where I worked during the day, met someone after work, and spent the rest of the day speaking with her. Like everything, she came to pass. And suddenly, the question arose once more, with more violence. Where am I from? Where is home? I thought - and think - this in a literal sense. If I am not here to stay, what holds me here? Is it sentiment or the death of a wandering spirit?

It's odd. I cannot understand myself, but I try to comprehend life in my adopted home. As a result, I learn less about the man I am, and more about how I react to my new environment. All it teaches me is how to coexist with the inhabitants of this city.