Monday, January 23, 2006

The best part about staying alone is that you experience what it is to be free – you can actually see that the choices you have are quite equivalent, and that it's you alone who will choose, which gives you a sense of absolute power, total control over your life. What that means is that you can be as whimsical as you want; you can do without a second thought or a qualm what would be frowned upon at home or in a hostel.

Case in point was the evening of this Friday, one on which I, suddenly, on a whim, told myself that I would gift myself an evening of pursuit of impulses and fancies without questioning, without any sort of preconception or prior planning whatsoever, suspending deliberately all strategic thought. Just for the heck of it, just like that.

It kinda kicks you to know you're going to astonish even yourself. It's a beautiful way of loving yourself, this surprising yourself – keeping from yourself what you'll be doing the next hour, or even the next minute, and deciding what is to be done with an instant of time when you get to that instant, and not anytime before.

It does, of course, help that I am in the possession of a steed, whose presence makes them journeys pleasurable that are for most people interludes between more significant events.

So I began - just ambling around with steed. I kept going, every once in a while deciding to change direction rather suddenly – it was amusing to see that random a series of acts, it'd seem loony to you – it was that arbitrary, the paths I took through the evening intertwining in a strange patternless, empirical, capricious zigzag.

Passed home, went cityward, turned off the highway towards this township where pedestrians crowded the road sufficiently to force me onto 2 nd gear throughout – which was just as well, because I'd have missed seeing what was around if I'd gone any faster. Kept going, turning, taking detours at random until, to my surprise, I reached this place I frequent often – place called Bhel Chowk, one whose name, when uttered in Hindi sounds rather suspiciously like an abusive term – you, gentle reader, being in possession of sufficient quantities of perversion, will be left to figure the said insult out.

If you've extricated yourself, dear reader, I was at Bhel Chowk, around which considerable hovering was done, and upon reaching another intersection, my whim ordained that I go back towards the township I came from. Unquestioning obedience being the only ground rule for an evening of complete freedom, orders were duly followed.

The corner of my eye pounced upon a glimpse of the word 'Bhel' in paint, and compelled the rest of me to direct my attention thitherward. The next command – dinner time. It was a stall, for a change from the gazillion gaadis I'd been patronizing so far. Basement. Front desk harbouring young couple who handled sale of packed mixtures and chips. Backstage – their grandmom making those chaats. And *I* thought I'd seen it all. Three dishes – sev, tikki and pani puri. Dinner done. At least for the time being.

Had this ugly cramp as I tried to start the steed. Ugh. Limped off steed. Hobbling, somehow managed to place stand underneath steed. Clutched hamstring and almost lay down on the road – the piercing pain that tore its way through me made me feel so terribly lonely, so enormously helpless, so massively insignificant and incapable, I couldn't believe it was me.

In our most joyous and most agonizing moments, we're all alone – no one else can come close to really knowing or fathoming us. Before my eyes appeared my worst fears, everything that could possibly go wrong, everything that had, driving me relentlessly towards a state of inexplicable panic. It was a state of discontinuity, one frightening simply because it managed to exist. Solitude and loneliness are sometimes much closer to each other than we think. Perhaps we're never really free. However, the hamstring eased up, the smoke cleared, the steed being the Muse that dissipated these thoughts and brought in a supply of fresh air.

Went past Bhel chowk(pronounced appropriately, of course), fiddled around streets, lolled around in first gear going through trafficless lanes, glancing at times at them houses. At one point it struck me that I'd never ever looked at my own house that way – with this weird wistful expression of wonder, of love – in fact, I'd deliberately avoided going back to houses, streets of my past when I'd revisited those cities.

A couple of sharp turns, then down a couple of desolate roads, telling me that I was some distance away from the main roads, by now my sense of direction rather distorted by the repeated random turns. Across a bridge over a drain – slowed down enough to pluck a glance at the glare of the streetlights in the shimmering dark water riddled with wrinkles. Dead end. About turn, pick the other road. Followed the twirling road, hadn't a choice. Up a steep incline next.

It hit me with its suddenness as much as its brilliance – I abruptly found myself at an elevation, a perch upon a hill. One side of the vacant road had apartments, the other had, well, nothing. That side was a balcony view – darkness yawning immediately underneath, but a carpet of the twinkling city lights stretching away, scattered across the horizon. Not absolute, not complete, without a pattern or design, yet the randomness, their sporadicness making their infinite stretch one that would be endless in variety just as well.

Not continuously or finely spread but haphazardly, randomly, at varying distances and distribution, the yellow incandescence of the metropolis an attempt at mirroring the white dots that glowed upstairs. Sometimes in clumps, occasionally in clusters, some others all by themselves in proud solitude, but always twinkling, glimmering, glistening, winking. Not stale or stagnant with constant light, but full of the life, change and volition that the constant on-off of the flickers indicated. Not loud so as to intrude upon the comforting darkness where I stood, yet exuding a kindness, a benevolence by whose glow my spirit warmed itself.

I stood in the darkness, the steed turned off, watching this great tapestry of sparks dying and coming alive every moment, looking at the rest of the city that stretched away before me.

From nowhere a streak of white whizzed into the darkness immediately below me – the tubelights within a train that went flashing by, gliding away noiselessly in the silence, as the train stretched on and on, a vision that made me grin, smile uncontrollably. As the white stripe faded away into the expanse, the darkness and silence fell softly, gently back in place, ensconcing me in a warm, tender hug.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The rite thing

My office buses, those devoted, faithful machines reach office an hour before office hours begin. Why, you ask? To be on the safer side, declaimeth them official directives – to make allowance for possible delays. Thoughtful, very, yes.

 

Of course, we employees absolutely love groggily wading out of bed at ungodly hours in order to stand   shivering (but at attention nevertheless) at the bus stop, as long as it is for the sake of that dear old company of ours, that company unto whose surf-dom we are bonded. Loyalty. Faithfulness. Please name some other such virtues and add here. Work verily maketh us free.

 

Our only regret is that we get to do this only five times a week, but we understand - running buses 7 days a week would drive the company bankrupt (at 1100 bucks a month per head, bus fares form the largest source of the company's revenue).

 

A decided advantage, then, of being in possession of a steed is the needlessness of having to wait for these office buses. That, of course, to spare them poor old buses the burden of having to ferry one more individual. Anything, anything at all for the greater common good.

 

The joy of being in the advantageous position indicated in the previous paragraph multiplies considerably when you see that the quantum of work you have is so minuscule that no one really cares if you arrive an hour late and go an hour early.

 

Unfortunately, as with all silver linings, there's a cloud here too. The problem, then, is that there's a power cut a 7 30 every morning. What that means is – even if a concerned employee chooses to spare them buses by traveling by his own steed at 10 am, he still has to bathe while the water is hot – the groggily-wading-out-of-bed-routines that characterized those bus-days wouldn't change at all.

 

Or so it would appear to they that dare not to think beyond. That spirit of scientific inquiry, that self same spirit that led one of my ancestors to not only rub two stones together just to be able to burn his own hand, but also to actually think of giving it that wholly appropriate name – fire, that self same spirit that lived on in me was stoked, and I applied myself entirely to the problem at hand.

 

To be truly scientific demands that all assumptions be discarded, that there be a total suspension of disbelief. From this knowledge, then, it was one step of logical reasoning to realizing that that ritual which I had assumed to be the cornerstone of the problem – the bath, wasn't essential at all.

 

Now, now, dear reader, will you please dislodge your hand from your nose? You'll suffocate. Cleanliness, godliness et al, yessireee. I'm not that uncouth, mind you, to avoid bathing altogether. If only to preserve memories of hallowed rituals that were once undertaken, I resolved, then, to perform this rite called bathing once a year. If for no other reason, why, I'm a driver now and not a cleaner.

 

May I, gentle reader, having suitably enlightened you, take leave now? That most holy ritual – the annual bath beckons. Amen.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Footbored

Footboard travel, as the more perceptive of you will have been enlightened, can be injurious. To be precise, jaanleva, in the words of the announcer at Dadar, whose words of advice on the subject I managed to salvage out of the cacophony prevalent on the platform.

I am, therefore, being very afraid. Brrr. Such like non-English expressions. I did, therefore, resolve to defeat fate in the nefarious designs it concocts by eschewing the act of footboard travel. I proceeded to acquire for myself a bike, oddly, ironically enough – on the 6th of January, exactly 12 years later, to the day.

It was a sudden decision, one due mainly to the influx of a considerable quantity of capital in a single night. That was in a quiz, let me hasten to add, lest you, in your infinite perversion, proceed to make incorrect assumptions.

This new steed, then, would render train journeys, and consequently footboard travels unnecessary. Maybe not obliterate the practice altogether, but minimize it significantly.

Or so I thought. Considerable moisture, unfortunately, was precipitated upon the plans that were hatched in the preceding days.

“Sir, please don’t cross 40kmph until you’ve traveled 1000km.”

I put on my most nonchalant-unruffled-man-who-doesn’t-have-to-try-too-hard manner, ”I’ll try. Not crossing 140 is rather difficult, but I’ll manage.”

Ha.

“Forty, sir. Not a hundred and.”

“Eh? FORTY? What the hell is the use of a bike if you cant even cross 40? I’d rather walk.”

Silence.

“I wont do it. What’ll you do?”

“Please show up for engine repairs every fortnight then.”

A light glowed somewhere. A wily smile planted itself upon my face. Surely a 850 km trip in a general south-easterly direction would eat up these 1000km double quick. One such trip next month had already been planned during the design of air castles in the preceding days – indeed, long distance riding was a major reason for the acquisition of the steed.

The guy, unfortunately for me, was psychic.

“And sir, no long distance rides either for a 1000km.”

Mental note - order guillotine for use on guy.


“On pain of repairs, I presume?”

He nodded, glad that I understood.

Silence.

I was called away to affix my signature on 37 different pieces of paper. It was a while before I returned.

“Why sir, you’re planning to go to your town on this bike sometime?”

“Yes. Been thinking of.”

“How far is it?”

“850”

“850? You wont do it in a day.”

The nonchalant-unruffled-man-who-doesn’t-have-to-try-too-hard mask came on again(it’s tiresome how often I’ve to do this:).

“Duh? That’s 14 hours. 6 am to 8 pm. Elementary, my dear. What son, do your math properly.”

“You might actually manage to go 60kmph for 14 hours without getting friendly with a lorry, I don’t doubt that at all.”, he mentioned with this air of a spiritually superior sage who is trying really hard not to pity the ignorant sinner who’s come to him.

Silence. I knew what was coming.

“Your engine’ll blow up if you try driving continuously that long.”

“That, presumably, is why it’s called an internal combustion engine?”, I helpfully elucidated.

Without paying the least heed, he continued in his sagely-advice mode ,”Rest your bike every couple of hours. Don’t go continuously all the way. I’d tell you to take two days if you’re trying 850.”

BAH.

Soon enough, more lights went out. I had, during the painstaking construction of air palaces in the preceding days, observed, to my considerable delight, that the chart that indicated the toll to be paid on the express highway to Mumbai didn’t mention two wheelers at all. I wouldn’t have to shell out toll. Free. Free at last, and that sort.

Only to find out today that bikes aren’t allowed onto the express highway in the first place.

From that piece of knowledge, it was one small step to realizing that the road due south east was a part of the self same express highway.

Ostracized. Damn. Why, oh, why? Bikes don’t hurt no flies.

The road less taken it will be then. Hah. The management jargon spouting people at office will be quite proud of me. I think I should add words like challenge, motivation, quality and proactive somewhere here just as well.

***

The moment I reached home with the bike, I was mobbed by the young women residing on my street.

“Kya style maarta hai.” typified the comments that followed. Modesty prevents me from describing how impressed they aLL were.

We proceeded to converse upon the nature of life, universe and everything, until them young women were summoned back home. Homework, as one particular mom indicated. When young women are six years old, they haven’t much of a choice. I sent them on their way with the rejoinder ,”Do homework. It builds character.”