Thursday, February 19, 2009

Parting Musings

This, today, is the last of my functional days at this office. As I sit writing this, I see that my neighbour has a stomach-aching inkling that I am whiling time away. He gives me an oblique jeering glance and smiles economically to himself with the air of a veteran who has done it all, or at least, seen it all. I tell myself I am well justified in it; and 'is it not that my stipend is lesser than his salary by an amount equal to his salary', I soothe my dawning self-consciousness and recline defiantly, limbs stretched out, on my spring-laden cushiony chair. He raises his eyebrow for an infinitesimal moment but I somehow catch it, and pull the lever of my chair down. Now it is sufficiently low-slung for these partitions to ensure that I am out of his range of view. Emboldened by invisibility, I do a quick swivelling movement even as the chair's spindle creaks, and just as I am about to face the desk again after two complete rotations, uncap the pen and drag it on to the register like a landing airplane and start writing in cursive italics at once. There is a bit of Rajanikanth in every chairbound apprentice, I tell you.

* * * * * * * * *

My corner in the office overlooks a wall-sized lemony-yellow windowpane, Saint Gobain I guess. The window overlooks a spate of scenes, but my corner only overlooks the window and a tree just outside it, thanks to the many obstructing cubicles in between. The yellow tinted glass-pane makes me see a splendid sunset-hour evening-sky every hour of the day; and on one occasion too many I've made a fool of myself by running expectantly to the window and peeking out of the abetting porthole only to stand the glare of a harsh sun. But I marvel at this stained glass anyhow, and chew over getting myself a pair of yellow shades, but heck, they look a tad too gaudy, don't they?

In any case, when I cast my eyes over the entire place from the window today, I noticed that there stood a girl at the groundnut-hawker's, instead of that grumpy forty-something who hasn't smiled once in the last forty days. She isn't, as one can tell, exactly a stunner, but too good to be that hairy horror's daughter all the same. 'But who else could she be anyway, his daughter she is, she is', I tried warding off my cheap suspicions. Every now and then, a customer would appear, assess the items, but leave without buying a trifle. 'I love groundnuts', I condition myself and quietly sneak out of the office. Down at the stall, I take a closer look at her - she isn't as good from here as from a distance, but there's a certain piquant, tangy thing about her which, if the products had, they would have been worth buying for double the amount. Street-smartness oozes out of her voice, and it occurs to me that the Basanti in Sholay could well have been one of her followers. I taste a bit of everything enquiringly and finally settle down on fried grams and a sweet peanut slice. I had barely begun haggling, and she had barely begun resisting, when suddenly the eyesore, her dad, appeared out of nowhere, and with an expression as severe as Ajay Devgan in a romantic scene, asked me to take it or leave it. Probably he understood, discerning old fellow, that my eyes didn't speak of a man discouraged by prices.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Perspectives, on Valentine's

The roads nubile blush with roses red, yellow and pink;
They all today lead to galas, and at gaping pavements wink
That Love, the solemn fogey, may be your ally of ages,
But today's hero, its cousin, isn't agreeable at your wages.

A romantic remonstrance of made-up complaints,
A prince peps a florid trance, and a princess faints
A scene ; some public display, which curiously
Froths fervour, makes men, love furiously.

Eyes toiling out of the windows of old feral buses
Withdrawing themselves slowly back, as it rushes,
They turn down passively to the lying peanut peels,
Then stick out one last time, adsorbing how it feels.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pen on Paper

There is a certain pleasure in writing with pen on paper, doubly delightful if it is an old-world ink-pen - like it is right now, that the most advanced, sleek and artfully designed keyboards cannot, for the life of them, offer. Writing on paper, I am a little bit on my toes, because there is no software to help point out to me those intrusive grammatical errors which, by their mere creeping in, can make a delicately imagined, lovingly cast, and secretly revelled-in piece of life abruptly seem an eyesore. This post is none of that so I hope I can safely take the liberty. And anyway, I've been long out of touch with the observance of strict grammar, ever since it failed to help matters where it was supposed to. So much for something so trivial.

Perhaps some day I'll take to it again. I never say never; I am a coward; or is that being human? Mortal, gullible .. insecure : ah, coward it is. I'll take to it again when I find the need for a higher financial platform too pressing, for they are the only dependable means to it that I know of. And let's be fair, most of what I understand of life and living, is due to these run-of-the-mill entrance exams. They are great objective teachers, other than, of course, being objective-type tests. Unlike the archetypal pedagogue, they let you be. Unlike the archetypal pedagogue again, they make you ask questions. Unlike him again, they are sympathetically understanding of your silent responses. But like them, they make sure that you are not the same after them as you were before; you are more. Also like them, they are looked at by the pupils predominantly with a feeling of a well-known type of fear vigorously muddled with a not so well-known type of contempt, and yes, how could I forget that, that occasional awe.

My first brush with this world was when I was midway in my eleventh class. Due, somehow, to something the kind guys liked in me, I was offered their preparatory course for a pittance of a fee - a nominal eight thousand for an year and a half. I vainly wished that they took the full forty from my folks, and later on quietly slipped the thirty-two in my hands, so that I would go back home and give back that money while proudly exclaiming "I earned it, Mummy!" With the same end-result, God could have made it a thousand times more thrilling, but he likes the mundane.

Once there, I was exposed to a group of three apparently-deprived youngsters whose lives until then, it seemed, consisted only of days wasted in playing with punctured tyres - rolling them around with some stick and running alongside. Humane pretensions kept aside, the words on a father's paycheque are invariably written on the face of his sixteen year old son. And their faces told, or screamed, that the words weren't quite heavy. Newly here from their village somewhere in Bihar, they looked exactly the kind of young lads that modern, sophisticated girls would look at, from a distance of course, with disdain, and turn about hoping not to be looked back at by them. Their teeth had the red of bricks by years of guthka, pimples sat themselves in awkward positions at every corner of their faces, clothes were just good enough to venture out of a shell, bottomed by hawaii chappals. They, however, anyhow, anyway, at the end of the day, eventually, were superhuman wizards. When I would be struggling to begin to make sense of the questions, they shot back with the answers - with a sense of victory; with a tinge of, if I may add, vengeance on the world. And then I was no dumb bimbo either; on the contrary, I hardly believed until then that a pair of a head and a spinal cord existed on this planet that could work as swiftly as mine. Of course, every such mirage fast evaporated, incondensibly. They were everything I was not - carefree, loud, cocky; despite all the odds that lay against them. The next thing I knew was that I wanted to be with them. Then I squandered the year with them, in things that can politely be put as unsuitable - I didn't know that while I was craving for looking into them they had been craving for looking into something else. Obviously, I, constrained by the foolproof middle-class conditioning of temperance, never went the distance as they did. At the end of the journey when each of them was deep in debt, they were still astoundingly unperturbed, as though they had seen a life from where it was impossible to get worse.

It was the final mock test, after which there was only to be the real one, when the best among these best, took the question paper, sat in the exam hall for ten minutes flapping his feet wildly all the while, and in a sudden moment rose up and left. I thought he must have had some seriously troublesome thing bothering him; and after fifteen restless minutes I submitted my answer sheet and left too, I knew no answers either, but that's another story, for another post. Outside, in stark contrast, he was lounging around as if he had all the time in the world and he would much rather be preoccupied if that was an option.

Bewildered, I began, "You, Piyush, you, it is you who stood up; no duffer gets up before half an hour, and you know it's you. What happened to the whiz who had taken admission here?"

"Forget about it, I was wasting time inside; I knew not many answers, and those that I knew wouldn't have scored for me a bumper." Nothing ever sparked any contemplative emotion in him; not at least the emotion you expected to spark.

"Why did you even come for it if you were so unconcerned?", my curiosity was seamless.

"If I didn't appear, a letter would have reached my home that I missed the test, and you know the kind of dressing-down I'd get from my Dad then?", retorted he.

"And wouldn't you get a dressing down for the seven-on-hundred or nine-on-hundred or whatever that you'll get now, and which, too, would be reported to your Dad?"

" No. He can't get a seven-on-hundred on this test himself, I bet. Ha ha ha" he answered hysterically.

And in a few days it was the time for which we were all there in the first place. While some of my human, ordinary friends went on to make records, none of these three ended up exactly in heaven. It was their destiny, there's no other answer that I would take, it was their destiny, just as it was their fathers'.