November 24, 2010

Random musings - my favorite past time

A friend and I bought journals the other day and like Camus, decided to write one interesting thing in there everyday. Just something we may notice about the world. Shortly afterwards, I came across a picture in the new scientist magazine - the link for it is and I thought to myself - isn't it interesting that these fish should turn into something that they fear?

So here's my first entry into the first journal I've kept since I was sixteen:

Over the passage of time, the flight or fight instinct has been ground into the very essence of all living things. It has ensured that choices are made logically, and programmed us to pick those battles, we know we can win. Another way of saying this is - It teaches us that we must be afraid and what it is that we should fear. It's that way throughout the food chain, indiscriminately working its way to the top.

Given that this is the most primitive of genome codings, one would imagine that the more evolved the animal, the greater its power to manipulate its primordial urges. Conversely, one could trust in nature's wisdom and accept that fear is around for good reason, because perhaps it is. Then again, lots of things that are here for good reason can be shown expendable for better ones.

We may for instance realise what Columbus was trying to prove all along - There is no running away from anything; The universe is structurally designed to ensure that you end up where you started from.

Given that the universe, the earth and even we are all made out of the same basic matter, it is not strange that everything - the physical, the ethereal and emotional follow the same cyclical format of existence. For example, our souls re-incarnate to complete a cycle even as  our bodies serve as vessels to start another and so on...

Similarly emotions follow their own circular paths. If you give out love, you receive it; on the other end of that spectrum, detest a man and he will hate you right back. In that sense, fear is a more narcissistic emotion or parasitical (If one were to look upon fear as an external stimuli, which I don't.) While it may affect one's periphery very much in the manner that the moon affects the tides, it boasts for its victim (or itself) an eternal gnawing.

If we cannot banish our fears, we are always prisoners to them; in one way or another. Some may end up their slaves, forever living our lives to the tune of their wishes. So it may happen that we will never see an acrophobe at the top of the Eiffel Tower. A boy who fell off his bicycle one too many times, will never know the thrill of straddling a Harley. A girl who saw Jaws too early in life will never know the pleasure of swimming in the open sea.

Then there are those who may attempt to take a French leave from their fears. This too, can be a counterproductive route to go down. Such people may find that the farther they run, the closer they are to where they begun.

People who are afraid to admit that they are not children anymore, may run amuck rather than plant roots. Responsibility may escaped through day dreams or drug addictions or even hedonistic excitements, but constantly seeking frontiers too takes its toll. One sees such people everywhere, eyes jaded and faces old.

Men who are afraid of being alone, may try to distract themselves with wealth, power and the women that come along with it. Waking up next to a stranger, or at best, a siren, is essentially being alone. Similarly a woman whose scared of being fooled or getting hurt, may find herself unable to see clear toward sincerity. She may alienate herself against any chances of being loved. In essence, for her, everyday is a fresh heartbreak.

I suppose the problem is atomic, we seem to be built to chase our own tails. Still, we have also proved ourselves to be voracious learners blessed with the capacity to grow beyound what we personally know.

Perhaps, given this, and also the eternal nature of this same passage of time that taught us to fear; we will hear the 'Whooop!' of  a man who sees the arial view of Paris for the first time (It really is fantastic.) We will see the ying and the yang united by contentment and trust. People everywhere may decide to confront themselves and embrace their fates.

We may find, given the intricate weave that is space and time, that once this happens,  ripples are felt far and wide.

It may happen that those who feared ridicule and prejudice will bring into the light, their special powers or that those who have long feared oppression will stand united and taste victory. The possibilities are infinite when there is no fear limiting the horizon.

November 17, 2010

Winter in Delhi

It’s a day in the city just like everywhere else. Only in cities, time’s an amateur marathon runner; It seems to be desperately trying to adhere to some pre-set pace, sometimes allowing excitement to add wind under its feet.

It is mid November weather in New Delhi. Winter is ready to take over everyone’s lives, and like a cold-hearted woman, she seduces you at first with promises of pleasure. So, for now, the air is fresh and the skies are mostly blue. The city thinks its stepped out of a cold shower.

During this time, the metropolitan people are more alive and more active. They do not wilt away into air-conditioned rooms and afternoon siestas like they did during a few weeks ago, during summer. The sun, rendered near redundant, is like the last king of a long and celebrated bloodline of stars.

Sporting baubles and boots are the pretty young maidens of his city. Moving from here to there, being everywhere, reaching nowhere. They pass a group of urchin children.

“Didi, paise dedo, didi. Bhook lagi hai, didi. Khaana khaana hai. Sukhi rahogey; shaadi hogi… sundar didi.” Such lies fall out — literally— from the mouths of babes who long ago learned deceit is survival skill.

A longhaired beauty teases one of the children. “What if I’m already married? You’re saying divorce ho jayega is wale se? Phir doosri shaadi? Touba touba!”  Toothy smiles on both sides testify to them enjoying the banter. She is too young to be married — only sixteen. The kids aren’t hungry either — they ate from a nearby dhaaba an hour ago. Harmless as the dishonesties are, the girls extend no alms. Neither beggar nor brat is any better for it.

The children will eventually find themselves a sucker. Some day the girls will meet a person who genuinely needs a hand. The question is, who will recognize the truth then? To be fair, naivety, through no fault of its own, is easier to spot than sincerity.
Eye on target, the children run around their mark. Before he knows it, he is parting with his small change. Men are easier to fool than women, some studies say. The urchins could help verify these results.

The sucker — the mark — will then go about his day with a chest swollen with good intentions and pride at fulfilling them. He opens a few doors here, smile a bit more than usual there. No sense in breaking a streak, he thinks to himself. Eventually he will be on his way home, joyful heart near busting and he may find his wallet gone. Streaks find a way to get broke.

On days it is not too smoggy, people will visit the older parts of the city. Old buildings, filled with loud and confused people moving through crazy and colourful things. If one was following society as a person, this is Indian culture in its tweens.

There's old men smoking beedis and spitting out paan. A man with a beard till his knees is driving around two young boys in his cycle-rikshaw. They talk incessantly; are boisterous and cheerful. The tired old man is none of these.  Yet, his mind is full with thoughts of a young wife waiting in their jhuggi with a cup of rice and watery lentils.

Old ladies bustle about picking up diamonds and dreams for their daughters. Haggling, screaming, pouting are the accepted mannerisms here. Still, no one would dare push a woman around. They are content to stare from a distance. It’s unclear which is the better way.

The sun may like shining on the Red Fort on such days. It bathes in warmth the road that leads up to the majestic structure. Here a mosque, a temple and a church reside side by side on these roads — as do the temple-goers, the 5am-crooners and the bible-readers. Because it gets around, the sun sees that a more socially mature city remains in uproar about a mosque being built near its churches and schools.
As time speeds along, it becomes the moon’s turn to watch over the city. It wrestles with shadows to indulge in voyeurism.

If the moon is sentient, it may be thinking that we’re all pretty fucking pathetic. Millions of us crammed up in a tiny little space ball and still living in fear of being alone. Here is the moon, singular since time immemorial and not a single droplet to be found. Now that is what you call proud. Or maybe, just like all the pretty girls, the moon’s all cried out.

November 01, 2010

Kasar Devi

There are some holidays you go for that are planned. I mean day one, sight seeing, break for lunch, visit to the park planned and then there are some, where you buy your ticket as you board your train and find your next bed, when it’s time.
I suppose there’s a school of thought that says the first kind of holiday helps you make the most of your time. When you reach Kasar Devi though, it hits you is that time isn't running anywhere.
It’s the kind of place that doesn’t dole out its time to you in tiny rations. The people have plenty and share it with the same pleasure a self reproaching heir would his wealth. Though perhaps not with the same guilt, because here everyone’s time is their own.
I met a few people here and the impression I got was that everybody is a character, or rather everyone I met had character. It wasn’t always beautiful or benevolent, unless of course you consider any sort of a strong will beautiful. A lot of people do that. 

The owner of the guest house where I stayed was a character too. In the same way that all hosts are I think. He laughed with us and then turned around to bark orders so that we wouldn’t have to. By we, I don’t mean any particular group. He ran the place in such a way that everyone came in separately but left together. To every guest, he was a friend indeed and with him, they shared their weed. (sorry, couldn’t resist)
Because I’ve never been one, I think its a skill to be a good host. It requires magnanimity of soul and a real tolerance for people. To a good host, nobody’s uninvited and everyone is the life of the party. It’s a heavy crown, in my opinion and he wore it well.

Here, I met a Swedish woman, she sounds like the Godfather. Her throat is ailing and so she weezes her words at you. Still, every word hits you with an authority fit for a Drill Sergeant. She’s been here before so she knows every trick the Devi has up her sleeve. She notices and immediately corrects the slightest of slights and jogs your hoodwinking conscience awake. She notices the briefest of exchanges as well, and the tiniest of sparks. To her, no one is invisible.
I met a child who looks like a pixie but instead of prancing about in the forest, he works in the village all day long. Then he comes to work in the guest house at night and here, everyone teases him about being lazy. He’s got no shoes but his eyes sparkle and he laughs at the people who deride him undeservedly.
I met a beautiful old man, who told me he was lucky to keep his youth. He added right after that he meant mentally and spiritually and not just physically. He told me about past and present lovers  and because I wonder, as I think a lot of women wonder, I asked him, ‘So when do men grow out of the phase where they chase a million women?’ 
I don’t ask this question a lot but I’ve asked it some so I do have comparisons enough to say that I liked his answer, almost the best.  He said (No drum roll please, because the best things in life are simple), ‘They stop when they realise it takes more out of you than it gives you.’ He’s just a guy who lives in a village, makes music and watches movies, but I thought that was pretty well observed. 
I also thought it was sad (for women) that men come to this realisation as late as he admittedly did because then they’re only pretty for another fifteen years (on the max). It reminded me of Malay Bakawali flowers that bloom briefly and only once before they wilt. If you replace bloom with enlightenment, maybe that describes all of us, so I shouldn’t be so stately with my feminist pride parade. 

In general, pride is a dangerous thing. It sneaks up on you and makes you alienate everyone who loves you. Its got a voice as smooth as honey too, so you mistake it for its more charitable cousins such as justice or righteousness. 
Speaking of which, I met another man who is incredibly talented and just as full of pride about it. He does what he pleases with his art and says what he pleases with his words. There was no censorship about him, so even minor causes are colored red across his face. Though, I think he would say, ‘there are no minor causes.’ and perhaps he might be right. 
I met two young boys. One is beautiful and so disappointed with himself that he looks at the stars for some release. Another, you may never notice in the kind of place where time has a blackberry. He’s disappointed too, but at the world and so he’s looking for a way to change it. Maybe because you have more time to think here, but it occurred to me that the concept of beauty deserves a re-haul. 
Not that either activity is good or bad. The stars are just stars and the world will never change. I don’t think they need to realize this just yet though, like I said they’re young, we should let them enjoy it while they can.
On my way out, I met a taxi driver. By which I mean, he drove me to the station. This is a four hour drive and he was my radio through all of it. He was estranged from his family when he was six and drifted around a lot of places till he settled near Kasar Devi. He likes his drink and kept offering to stop for one. He also liked Punjabis so he listened to me when I said I’d be too scared to sit in a car if the driver was drinking. He never insisted too much and listened to reason almost immediately. It’s good when you hold the purse strings. 
Another thing he liked doing was observing people and he told me that one must observe every minute detail. Some people, he said, look at life through a telescope. Always thinking about how it looks from a distance, how it should be or could be and worrying about the ideal. 
It doesn’t seem to bring them much joy so he decided to try it the other way. He looks at life up close. So when he sees foreign children cliquing together, he understands that they feel less safe than the people around them. Or when an Army wife takes on an illicit affair, he sees that she’s lonely and has needs.
Sounds like a creepy conversation for a Taxi guy to be having with a woman passenger but I didn’t feel unsafe. Maybe its because when I asked for a quote for the taxi ride, he gave me an amount that was (surprisingly) fair. If you’re honest in business... who said that?  was it Jeffery Archer? 
Maybe it's because  your brain is oxygen deprived or perhaps its that everyone moves too slowly to try anything untoward, but you tend to trust people here. Not in the stupid, unconditional way but in a smart, worldly way that acknowledges everyones’ shortcomings and doesn’t give them the opportunity to transgress. In that way, the Swedish woman is most in tune with her environment. 
There were times that I didn’t stop talking and times I went days without saying a word. Both were wonderful times because neither were lonely. It felt like achieving verbal balance. 
I’ve been back a day now and maybe the fact that I haven’t stopped smiling is a co-incidence or maybe it was just a much needed break from the city. Or maybe I’m just happy that for a few days, I didn’t have to kill time or waste it and neither did I feel that it was running away and trying to abandon me somehow. 
More so, till its very last breathe, I felt like the time in Kasar Devi was on my side and even as I was leaving, I knew I could always come back. Not just in the ‘I could make my way back’ sense. Perhaps I should say, you leave thinking ‘well, I’ll always be welcome here.’ In that sense, Kasar Devi is like a sincere and serene woman who knows without doubt that she’s loved.