Saturday, December 10, 2011

Happiness is a Leech

13th Aug, 2011

Incessant rain! It’s been like this for the last seven days. I watch the water gurgling down the spout near my window. I hear it drumming on the cast iron lid of the water reservoir. I see it bouncing off the waxed leaves of the pui shak (Basella alba). I hear mommy shouting in the kitchen, “The huge marsh rat is here again! How will I chase it off? Its home is under water.” I feel happy that I have a home that is warm and dry, well at least some parts of it.

I get out for the bank. Today’s the last date to pay my EMI. My mom calls me lazy. Papa calls me a procrastinator. My wife asks me the repetitive question again, “Why do you always wait for the last date?” I try not to answer my “first date” and just utter a “hmmm” coupled with a foolish smile that translates to “Well, you know me? Right?” I feel happy that she loves me and tries to cover my faults with extra work/worry on her part.

I wade out into the street. The huge potholes are hidden under the slushy brown water. Children wrapped in colourful raincoats with characteristic backpack bulges, trudge their ways to school. Crows that couldn’t find shelter sit helplessly on electric wires, shaking off the water from their feathers every other minute. At the street crossing, vegetable sellers display their wares on blue plastic sheets. Wet potatoes, slices of arums, leafy vegetables that look greener and fresher as the rain patters on them. Outside the blue plastic zone, the mud is marked with shoe prints of various sizes and shapes, bicycle treads, tent-peg holes where the elderly people have dug the sharp ends of their parasols, while bending down to buy. I feel happy to see that life goes on, as always.

At the bank, the manager calls me in for a chat. He offers me tea. The tea arrives in a little brown china cup on a white saucer that also holds a pair of perforated salted biscuits. An elderly lady – a pensioner walks in, still dripping. She takes the chair beside me and wants to discuss something with the manager. I offer her my cup of tea. Hesitantly she agrees to take it. The manager looks at me with an expression that says, “that was the last cuppa; the support bearer just went out you saw.” Fifteen minutes later, my task done, I venture out. As I unfurl my umbrella and take a final look at the bank, the elderly lady smiles and waves at me. I feel happy that my transactions in the bank count more in smiles than money.

I get down at my bus stop and take out my cell phone from under the plastic wrap. I call mom, “Have you finished with your shopping for fish? Shall I wait here and help you carry your bag?” She says she’s already home and Ms. Paul of the B-block has carried her bag through the potholed street. She asks me how far from home I am so that she can put the tea to brew. I feel happy that we have fish, and tea, and neighbors who care.

As I wade back, I see a man in a red raincoat on a motorbike. His raincoat bulges in all directions though he doesn’t have any back packs. I feel happy that I’m not as fat as he is.

A gas delivery boy has stopped his tricycle-van and stands under the sunshade of someone’s garage to wait out the shower. He has a transparent plastic bag covering his head that can only help in a drizzle. I hear him humming a classical song, “Mora sainya moh se boley na...” (My beloved doesn’t talk to me...). I feel happy that my wife always keeps talking to me and I sometimes have to ask her to keep quiet, poor soul.

I get home and hang my dripping parasol on the railing. Uncle serves me tea. As we sit together around the table, I feel an itch on my shin. I discover a three-inch long, beautifully striped leech feasting on my blood. I pull it out and throw it out of the window. As blood drips down towards my foot, I feel happy. Happy to see that my blood is red, warm, and flows like a cute little river.

Well, happiness doesn’t need a reason. It’s a reason by itself!

The Check Dam

"I threw a pebble in a brook
And watched the ripples run away
And they never made a sound.
And the leaves that are green turned to brown,
And they wither with the wind,
And they crumble in your hand." - Simon & Garfunkel: Leaves that are green

26th Nov, 2011

If you have ever been to the villages, where they grow paddy, you might know what a check dam is. Its purpose is to hold back water, where it is needed. Does that mean these dams never breach, or even overflow? Oh yeah! They do. But people are always ready for the patch crafts.

When I was eleven, I used to visit a neighbor’s apartment to watch a TV series called “Johny Socco and his flying robot”. We had plenty powercuts, termed as load-shedding, those days. On summer evenings, these powercuts invariably resulted in people flocking out of their houses to the nearby park for strolls and chitchats. On one such “load-shedding” evening, the neighbor’s daughter expressed her wish to hold my hand while we walked together in the adolescent darkness. Check dam! I stopped visiting their apartment even while I could hear Johny Socco command his flying robot to destroy the evil forces. Wish I could go back and apologize to the girl and to Johny Socco.

I never looked my age. The velvety sideburns that you see in my pictures today have appeared after my 27th year of existence. Till then I could boast about a God-gifted French cut (A carefully trimmed moustache and goatee modeled after some random Frenchman!).

In school, I was perhaps the only boy who never had a “girlfriend” though there were plenty girls among my friends. And mind you, that too with a deadly combo of being the second boy, a poet, a music composer, and a snake handler. Blame my dimpled baby face. Or was it my lack of being my age?

In the Botany major undergrads, we were 13 girls and only two boys. In those days even a gang of half a dozen girls would want a “gent” to accompany them while going out for shopping or watching a movie, probably due to security concerns. While the other boy in my class looked gent enough, I still had that karate kid look. And to get over the problem, one of the girls would volunteer with her eyebrow pencil for the noble task of darkening my moustache. And another would wait with a tiny vial of mascara (or was it eye liner?) for the final touch.

Nowadays, I hear the term “delayed milestones”. It refers to developmental delays in children, like delayed walking, talking etc. No, I was not a case of delayed milestone. I started doodling at a very tender age and had my first poem composed at two and half (my father wrote it down for me). At three I was ritually incepted into writing, in front of the Goddess’s alter. At five I was speaking my second language, English and at nine my third language Hindi. I guess the check dam appeared much later. At 21 I started learning French, but couldn’t go beyond “Bon jour” and “Mercy”.

Most of my friends have already got their scalps bald and cheeks sagged, while some have accumulated so much facial weight that recognizing them needs quite an effort. But people tell me that I look the same.

Now, why am I talking about all these? The fact is I visited my childhood place today. It’s the place where my father used to work. We had our staff quarters there. We also had a bank from where my father drew his salary. Now, he had to visit the bank today, like every other pensioner here needs, to show his face and get a “Live” certificate. I offered to accompany him to the bank.

Going to a place where you grew up is always sweet, though a bit painful. The Clerodendrum hedges looked ill-maintained. Thapa, the Nepalese guard’s son, who accompanied me in most of my monsoon fishing expeditions looks like a sad old man now. Pinu dada, the “Kabir Bedi” looking Casanova of yesteryears, walked along the bank of the lake with a fat woman, who he introduced as his wife. His beards have been sheared off, probably because they had greyed. Babita’s brother, the toddler who accompanied her when she came to our house for her tuitions is now the counterperson at the cooperative stores. Pavel’s father, a recent pensioner, is thinking of his son’s marriage. The neighbor’s daughter, I hear, is now a mother of two, and amusingly the older one is a son of eleven years. Will he miss going to a neighbor’s house to watch a TV series?

At the bank, a young lady stood in line in front of us, talking to the teller in English accented Bengali. When she turned round, I recognized her as Ajit da’s daughter. I remember seeing her in her mother’s arms when she used to come to the football field to watch her husband play with us.

Outside, the familiar Swarna champa tree spreads its shadow on the half-bald lawn. I feel an irresistible urge to climb up the tree, but refrain. Here, I discover a truth. Lawns and hedges look their age, while the Swarna champa does not. Another case of check dam.

A fruit vendor with his pushcart sells red ripe “Ber” and golden yellow Carambola fruits. A bunch of children gather around him. I too get in. My dad smiles.

Back home, I stand at the mirror. A close look reveals a few grey strands in my moustache. A strange kind of happiness envelopes me. While the world runs after hair dyes and anti-wrinkle lotions, I’m happy to age. Sometime, the check dam needs to overflow or even breach. Should I pick up the pair of trimming scissors, for a patch craft!