You know the Thought Experiments. This is the back of the envelope.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Of Summer, Home and Holi

Blame it on the last day of February. Or on my significant other, who mentioned the Flame of the Forest as he spoke to me from a train from Ranchi to Jamshedpur this morning. On the way the sunlight dapples the freshly-laundered linen that I hung to dry an hour ago. On the impossible combination of exhilaration and mild panic that still tends to swirl around the back of my head at this time of the year - the kind that can originate only in partly-covered syllabuses. Or on the quiet but sure signs - bright green little shoots sticking out of crevices, a bluer-than-blue sky, Holi - that legendary harbinger of all things spring and summer...or the feeling of newness that everything is imbued with.

I'm a child of the elements, I like to think. The seasons are my best friends. Delhi winters. Mumbai monsoons. Calcuttan autumns - those sublime days of the Sharadotsav. But summer and spring? Summer and spring, in my head, belong to my hometown and all the places around it. I'm probably not alone in this - these are seasons we end up linking with home, most of us.

There's something about the way the world starts to look and feel around Holi. Everything a little warmer, the sun a little brighter. I'm a 90s kid - I'm from the generation that spent entire summer vacations with a dozen cousins and massive amounts of imagination for company. I grew up sticky-fingered from eating ice candies, and making jug after colossal jug of Rasna. I pretended to be asleep when assorted aunts scolded us into bed every May afternoon, and sneaked ice-cold water out of the refrigerator when we were forbidden to drink any, immediately after we came in from a sweaty game of catch or badminton. I took the exam time-table down dutifully, as soon as it was put up. I made schedules and plans and looked at past years' question papers. Like most kids from the East, I discovered that I studied best in the morning - playing with your friends in the evening tires you, and a 5:45 a.m. sunrise means your room will steadily get brighter and warmer even as you determinedly hit the Snooze button. I was your classic nerd - I dreaded and enjoyed taking my ICSE and ISC exams - and funnily enough, the first picture that springs to mind when I remember Mom or Dad driving me to school for each paper is the clean, crisp, summery look that the colony roads wore. Those roads were lined with trees - gulmohar, amaltas, some purple-flowered variety I never learned the name of - and those trees bloomed in all their glory every March and April. It looked so beautiful - all of it - that I'd momentarily forget all about my paper, inhale deeply and break into a big grin.

I'm part of the old-fashioned lot that hung damp bedsheets at their doors and windows in Rez, hoping that would temper some of the blistering heat that the Delhi wind blew in tirelessly from July to September. I'm from the generation that would willingly cart an armload of readings and a bottle of water all the way into Main Corr, just to find a shady little nook to curl up and study in. Our classrooms were not air-conditioned (yes, yes, I'll give you New Age kids some time to recover from the shock), so we strategically chose places under the long-stemmed ceiling fans. And to this day, my answer to summer heat is a lot of nimbu pani, old faded cotton tees, and three showers a day. So all you kids who have more technologically-advanced solutions - more power to you, I say.

And now, excuse me while I go make some Rasna.

Coming back to spring and Holi - well, if you're clued-in enough, you'll know when they're around the corner. Don't ask me how - you just will. It's in the air, literally. I like Holi. I like the absolute abandon with with it is played, I like all the planning and plotting and strategizing involved - I love all the colour and I'd kill for Holi food. (I'm serious - I would.) I haven't played Holi in a while now - not enough company - but each Holi from my childhood and all my Holis from College are special. Those memories are among the things that make these places what they are to me - and that is why, all these years later, too, I find myself yearning for family, friends and food around this time.

Which is why this beautiful time of year is a particularly hard one to be away from home at. You have to see the place to believe it - it's almost as if the land spruces itself up for the festival, and the ensuing summer. The trees are abloom, the sky is clear, the air smells crisp and slightly smoky from the stacks of leaves that are piled up and burned away at regular intervals; the sun is hot but not completely unforgiving (not yet, at least), the hedges and walkways are lush - and the stars are visible at night. Mango trees are covered with flowers, wood apples are beginning to ripen and spring gets ready to make way for the Indian summer in all its raging glory. Local vendors start putting up imaginatively-worded ads for gulaal and such - and if you can get past the questionable grammar, they are actually pretty interesting. Summer frocks and Bubblegummers on little girls, all the boys finally freed of their jumpers, local newspapers beginning to talk about the impending exam season...all signs of a fresh year just beginning to settle in.

It's funny how it's the little things that mean the most - the small details that remind you how far you are from home, and still keep you close to it. It's funny how, when you spot a pack of Rasna in your neighborhood store, you drop everything else to pick it up. It's funny how, even as an adult, you look half-guiltily around to make sure no one is looking when you glug chilled water first thing after a couple of hours in the sun. Maybe we don't ever really, fully grow up. And thank God for that.

Image courtesy Google

Sunday, July 14, 2013

40 days

For the last 40 days, I have been breathing deeper, more effortlessly. I let things surprise me, entertain me, shock me, anger me, make me laugh. I say things when I want to, wording them the way they occur to me. I laugh openly, endlessly, till the laughter runs its course. I let the rain soak me, and I let my feet run. I step into puddles when I want to, I pirouette around them when I don't. I jostle, and let myself be jostled. I allow myself to mutter rude things when I want to, I let myself gush when I want to. When there's something I'd like someone to know, I tell them. I don't shy away from compliments. I feel fully scared when I am scared, I feel fully awestruck when I am awed, I let myself be caught off-guard, I let myself be taken unawares, I allow myself more wide-eyed wonder than I ever have. I try whatever I want to try, I explore whatever calls out to me. I stick my head out of car windows, I lean out of moving trains. I throw my arms open for hugs to the Sea-Link, the expressways, the skywalks. I hurt like crazy when I am hurt; I sing like a lunatic when I want to sing...and I feel so happy when I am happy that I have to make a physical effort to keep my heart from exploding. In the last 40 days, I have become

I build my own castles in the air. I live in my own la-la land. I wake up with a new bright idea every day. I have begun to allow myself to feel more sorry for myself at not finding a window seat, than I do when a presentation bombs. I adopt and discard a hundred musings at will. I think about everything, and about nothing at all. I have stopped caring whether I am in line with the rest of the world - and I never really cared whether they were in line with me - so basically, I don't care at all. When the world rushes by me at the doors of a local, and all I want to do is smile into the breeze and the rain, I don't remind myself of the crowd around any longer. When I want to hold my hand out to the breakers at Marine Drive, I no longer feel the need to check if anyone's looking. When I find something adorable or hilarious, I chuckle. I let my mirth laugh itself out to its heart's content.

I am no longer afraid to love - not afraid to think about it, not afraid to talk about it, not afraid to express it. I no longer believe that drawing lines and staying guarded will protect me. I let myself love, I let myself go crazy about things, I form attachments without thinking twice. I love so much it hurts - and then I love some more. I'm not afraid to have my heart broken, I am not afraid of the effort it will take to put it back together. I am not afraid to dream. I am no longer unsure of how I will pick up broken pieces. I am no longer afraid of their entirety when they come true. I live in the moment - I know no other way any more.

I talk before thinking. I think a lot, and sometimes not at all. I do exactly as I please. I do ludicrous, ridiculous things. I take leaps of faith all the time. I draw up bucket lists every second minute, and then diligently go about ticking things off. I have begun to live like there is no tomorrow, I have begun to believe, and I am not afraid to be happy. Oh, I cry too - it's not like I don't. I cry like a baby. I let myself go. I let go. I've begun to discard baggage, I've begun to travel extra-light. I let bright lights blind me, I let colours fill up my peripheral vision, I let sounds travel directly to my senses. I filter nothing. I let it all in, raw, unprocessed, and I let myself be coloured happy. I feel.

My thresholds have become lower - so low, in fact, that they don't exist anymore. I used to have walls - they've vanished from under my nose. I have no idea what became of them, and I don't care. I'm raw, defenceless, vulnerable now.

I have never felt stronger, richer or happier.

I have never felt so much. I have never lived so much. I'm in love with the city. I have never been so free.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Set Free

I'm told I may as well enjoy the rush while it lasts. The fatigue, the long hours and the madness - I'm told it gets to you after some time. If it does, this is the first place I'll say it...but till then, it would be criminal not to celebrate the rain, or the exhilaration of footboard travel on a local.

It rains anytime it pleases. Literally. It's brilliant. Sometimes, the sky darkens and it becomes perceptibly cooler; then there's a mild shower, which steadily gives way to a glorious downpour. At other times, you're suddenly, casually told by the unmistakable patter of raindrops, or a spattered windshield or windowpane. The rain has a mind of its own, in a city with a mind of its own - a city that becomes a willing character in your story. What more could you possibly ask?

And if you haven't felt the breeze in your face as you perch at the doors of a local thundering through western or suburban Mumbai, you haven't lived. It's liberating beyond belief - and the freshness of it never dies. It's the kind that sets you free, the sort that obligingly hands you bricks for your own little castle in the air.

More, later.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The First Rush

He braked, even though she hadn't hailed the rick. So she walked up, less than desultory, and asked, "Kurla?"

The rain doesn't let up here. It's a benediction, a blind, a dogged, overconfident presence, a mug of black coffee, a pinch of opium. The lights, they never fully die either. The daylight fades slowly, languorously. The streetlights never sleep. It's a seamless handing over of wakefulness, a faceless but purposeful series of movements - like a heart beating quietly, rhythmically. The light follows its own rhythm, as does the rain, the drops beating a little tattoo on awnings, windowsills and umbrellas.

"Yes", he replied. She got in, remembered that she had missed a crucial question, realised that it might be too late already, but decided to ask it anyway.

"Meter se chaloge?"

The city recorded its highest June rainfall in a decade last Monday. Nothing moved. Anything that did quoted astronomical prices in exchange. Some might even say it was the city's way to equilibrium. Life otherwise comes packaged in a split bun here, with chutney and fried, salted green chillies if you feel like it, all for ten bucks. Life calls out to you from under brightly-painted facades and from makeshift stalls, where it sizzles on a hot tawa in a cloud of smoke. The smoke is aromatic and smells of cumin and mustard and bay leaves and curry leaves and garlic. The smoke mingles with the rain, and they beat a tattoo together on your umbrella. Plop, plop, plop-plop-plop, plop.

"Bilkul". And then she looked up in surprise. Two syllables, and no hauteur, no hurt pride, no resignation, no businesslike briskness. Just an answer to a question. A simple, confident answer to a regular, hurried, part-suspicious question.

It is mostly the shoes which bear the brunt of the weather. The colour is the first to fade, relenting slowly, unwillingly, bravely to the assault by muddy water. Shoes that have served long and well, and deserve the dignity of the shelf - shoes whose long history of faithfulness keeps them from acquiring said dignity. Nobody ever stops to think this, but the shoes and the rain are intimately related. The shoes make the rain manageable, even fun. Splash. Plop-plop. Splash.

It is nearly ten. Kurla is still lit up like a Christmas tree. Smoky smells of frying green chillies and splitting mustard hang from doorways and in shop windows. Shiny garments embellished with sequins are still hung up, like tinsel on the Christmas tree. Bikes, cars, bicycles, pushcarts. A fluorescence that has settled comfortably into nooks and crannies. A day being wrapped up, like this morning's newspaper. Another night slipping effortlessly into the split bun. Chutney, anyone?

Curiosity tumbles out even as the currency is being counted for the 28-buck ride. This is a terrible hassle, this counting currency in fickle light. Everything should be pigeonholed into Smartcards and coupons - like train rides are. Train rides on the Central Line, or the Western, near the doors - are they points of entry? Exit? - with the breeze and the rain blowing past madly. Breeze chasing rain, rain chasing breeze - hard to tell which. They chase each other into her hair, over her eyelids, into the crook of her elbow and the nape of her neck. Buildings blur themselves obediently. Foliage follows. And the train rushes over the tracks. Rhythmically, purposefully. Clackety-clack. A four-stage crescendo, followed by a subdued double thud. Tek-tek-tek-tack. Four-minute nirvana in faded shoes that have learned the curves of the soles of her feet, with the rain and the breeze and the blur and the dependable, consistent rhythm of 400 tonnes of steel on weather-beaten iron.

So she glared Curiosity back into its place, asking him at the same time as she handed him a 50-rupee note, "Do you live here? Why did you agree to bring me here at this time of day - don't you have to return the rick to the owner of the fleet?"

The rain and the breeze play games elsewhere too. Marine Lines, for instance, where, during high tide, the waves build themselves a trampoline. She saw that today. For all its madness, the rain is the meeker cousin of the sea. Brash and brazen, the sea built itself up and came boldly forward with a swagger- stay if you dare, or run! - and crashed on the breakers, drenching her from head to toe. Taken - every which way -  by surprise, she took a while to breathe again, and when she did, she tasted salt on her lips. Raw, unbroken salt. Between the rain and the sea, she melted, dissolved and came together again. Washed, scrubbed clean, with salt on her lips and her skin. Touched by the elements in the bold, intimate, no-permission-needed-none-asked manner of a lover.

"Ladies first", he said. "I live in BKC", and he handed her twenty bucks in change. "I was done for the day and going home, but then I saw you waiting for the bus. You were alone, and it is almost ten. Here, you forgot two rupees."

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Prelude

I have to rush now - boarding for my flight has begun and I really don't want airline personnel to hunt me down here in the food court - but I have a LOT to tell you about this trip. It was perfect - right from the way the inspiration hit me, down to this last line I'm keying in before I find my boarding pass (I know I have it somewhere in my bag) and run to Gate 16. I'm not looking forward to seeing Delhi disappear from above the clouds - but it has to be done, and so I will do it. I will come back though, if it's the last thing I do. Bye - and I'll write to you from Kolkata.

The Post from Departures, IGI - T3 (there had to be one)

On my first evening here, I was walking around CP with a friend, and I remember looking around the Inner Circle and telling him I really, really liked this place. Later, as we walked to get some dinner, I voiced what I have known all this time. 

I love this city an irrational amount. It doesn't make sense to me how passionately I feel about it - and honestly, I have stopped trying to look for reasons. I love it - what else is there to say?

I came back to Delhi after three years. Less than three years, actually, but my last two visits didn't really qualify as visits - I barely got to spend any time with the city. The last time I was here, I broke my heart in more ways than one. There was even a phase, somewhere between then and now, when I had given up on being able to return. Not stopped loving Delhi - never stopped loving Delhi - but begun to despair about the chance to come back.

In the last three years, I have spent a lot of time in several other cities, mostly Mumbai and Kolkata. They're beautiful places. Kolkata is steeped in culture and old-world charm, and Mumbai is historically beautiful - if you get what I mean - and breathtakingly modern at the same time. Kolkata is like a tattered, dog-eared book of verses, with notes in the margins of its pages. Mumbai is all bright lights, curving flyovers and expressways and feisty sea. It's a lot like the bhelpuri served on its streets and its beaches - a little bit of everything, bright, colourful, tangy and full of surprises. And between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., it is nothing short of seductive.

But Delhi...oh, Delhi.

Oh, Delhi.

I slip into its warm, teasing embrace without knowing it. I don't know what to make of its sights and sounds and colours and moods - I know them with the intimacy that only incontrovertible love can bring, and they still awe and inspire me. Delhi makes me happy. Yes, Delhi is poetry and madness and passion and love and identity and challenge to me - but it makes me happy the way nothing else ever has. Happy, plain and simple.   I realise now that when  I left Delhi in 2010, I left a little bit of myself behind - and it wasn't intentional. When is it ever? Delhi is where I found myself. They say falling in love makes you learn as much about yourself as about the other person. True, I think. I learned about Delhi and myself in equal measure. I unconsciously imbibed some of its traits. It made me a stronger person, it taught me never to be afraid to express myself. Above all, Delhi taught me to dream, to have bright, absurd ideas, and to believe that anything, anything is possible. It taught me to love uninhibitedly and passionately, it taught me to love without fearing rejection and pain - because it taught me that you can move past those things in time. It taught me to be honest, fearless and impulsive. I turned into me, here. And Delhi loved me back. So when I moved out, I found some part of me missing, and I knew that Delhi had claimed some of me for good. I didn't bother claiming it back. I didn't want to. I wanted some of me to stay here.

And that is why I keep returning here. All the time, emotionally. As often as I can manage it, physically. I'm complete here. Delhi also taught me to go with the flow - and I have no clue where the flow is headed with me. It doesn't matter, though. There's some of me here, and even if the rest of me becomes untraceable, I'll know where to come back and graft myself a new soul.

Friday, March 8, 2013


March. The season of change. Time for spring, time for taxes, time for exams.

I've always loved this month. It's my month. Till a few years ago, I thought it felt mine because my birthday came at the end of it, and I had something to look forward to all month. But it feels the same now, just in a different way. I think birthdays are good, but I've moved past being especially excited about mine. March is still a favourite, though.

I've written about March before. I love this time of year too much to keep from talking about it every chance I get.

I realised it was March last week, when a sliver of sunlight awoke me at the same time that I inhaled morning air with a tinge of woodsmoke in it. I opened my eyes to a lot of green, some sky blue and a little gold at my window...and suddenly, panic gripped me with cold fingers. I know this feeling - bliss mixed hopelessly with panic. This is the feeling I awoke to every March morning between 2004 and 2007. University exams always began in the first week of April. It sounds terrible, maybe, but the sheer extremeness of the feeling is delicious, and if I were given a chance to do it all again, I would in a heartbeat.

March is beautiful, whether in Delhi or here in Calcutta. It is the same - cool mornings that brighten into intense afternoons and blend into relaxed, comfortable evenings. Something about this month spells new beginnings like nothing else can. I can't think of another month that I always wake up in such a good mood in - it is near-impossible not to love a March morning, no matter how early or late you make it.

I've been thinking about returning to my blog for months. Yet, it happened only last week. It wasn't planned that way. It's just March.