Sunday, April 24, 2011

Wish You Were Here*

My brother left for the US yesterday night, most probably for good i.e. to settle down. The last time he’d left for the US, probably for good, too, was four years ago. I was twenty one and I was there, I remember, at the Airport to see him off. No overbearing sadness had come over me. At the airport, as my brother made his way inside the doors beyond which we non-passengers were not allowed, my parents started shuffling here and there, away from where we had all been standing, trying to catch one more glimpse of him through the glass wall if they could. And then one more; and then one more, if they could. A portion of the long glassed wall along the circumference of the airport terminal was thickly filmed, which was where I chose to go, looking vainly at myself in the glass, marvelling inside at my long locks, thinking highly of how I looked in the particular pair of jeans and tee I had worn that day. When you’re twenty one, you don’t need to actually be good-looking to be obsessed about how you look. I wasn’t to see my brother until three years later, but that didn’t seem to inform me how stomping hurriedly to catch a couple more glimpses of him walking to this queue and that while pushing his trolley, could make any profound, positive difference.

I came home and read the first one-fifth of Catch-22, possibly for the sixth or seventh time. I was yet to finish reading the whole book even once.

An year ago, he came back on what he thought was a three-week vacation. Visa humdrum meant he had to in stead stay for a year. First he was pissed with the US, but later for the most part he was just pissed with India, an irritation that stemmed from his belief in the unforgiving nature of India’s socioeconomy for someone who was both a mediocre student, academically, and was not the possessor of familial wealth enough to start setting up, or even support him through setting up, a business of his own. We had some heated debates, my brother and I, over this subject, in all of which, I, although the less enterprising and entrepreneurial of the two, would firmly stand up for India’s great opportunities for its people, stand up for India’s great progress, India’s great democracy and above all, India’s great culture°. Very firmly. Even though inside, every now and then something he said would weaken my conviction in my stance. Anyway, these debates weren’t making any difference to our lives, let alone to India.

Three months ago I moved to Bombay. Three weeks later he came over because he thought – rightly – that I can’t manage myself living by myself. He was here for five days during which, every day, when I left for office he left for getting me things – cot, almirah, study table, hammer and nails, chairs, pillows, laptop accessories and much more – pretty unglamourous things all in all. It made me feel small inside that I worked, paid frankly more than I thought I worked commensurately for¹ , in a comfortable air-conditioned environ, on a cushioned, reclining, swivel chair, and he worked for me, thanklessly², walking whole days in the harsh, humid heat on the uneven streets of Bhandup, Kanjurmarg and Ghatkopar.

Last night he boarded his flight in Delhi while I was at work in my office in Bombay. It was a Saturday, and I was there for a specific if not special purpose, which meant that I was the only person in the office, empty cubicles all around me till as far as the wall on all four sides. After every two odd hours I’d call him, building up a stoic coolness in my voice, and say ‘how’s it going’, if the ‘packing’s all done?’, ‘hey so many people home to see you off, you’re so popular!’ and the like. People were home aplenty, and these phone-calls all lasted less than a minute each. Laden with background noise of cousins and aunts and uncles these calls were not exactly what I had wanted them to be. Or needed them to be.

Each time after I’d hang up, tears welled up in my eyes but did not fall. I was sad that he was going now, and as against most other feelings³ we casually call sadness, this was actually sadness, in its unadulterated form, the kind you cannot rationalise. For why should I be sad when this is what he’d wanted, and this is what I’d wanted for him? In that case, it would have been disappointment masquerading as sadness, not sadness. It isn’t even as if he’d be worse off without me, that I’m in a worry about. It isn’t even as if I’d be in any way harmed by his being in US that I’d be insecure about. I was just sad this time, no more, no less. There was no scope for analysis. Except that there was important work waiting on the screen in front of me that probably needed some.

Wish you’d have stayed here in India a bit more, Bhai.

*This is pretty much my most personal post of the undisguised type by a long shot, and naturally I have mixed feelings, apprehensions about posting it. But I'm emboldened by the fact that the blog is not known to many people. But more importantly, I'm motivated by the thought that when I look back on my blog many years later, I'll find this post here and feel better about the world.

°The last part really turning him off; he saw the culture as full of myriad hypocrisies stacked together clumsily, one trying to hide the other.

¹Which is, unlike most private-sector employees, something I’ve always felt. Although at the same time I don’t think I earn as much as I’d ideally wanted to have been earning at this stage. And that this is no contradiction, let me add.

²In the larger scheme of things, that is; not because I wasn’t thankful.

³Like disappointment, ego-crashing, failure, hopelessness, worry, insecurity, dejection – which are all distinct, independent feelings I think we mistake for sadness. For example, when a whiz comes second in a class, it’s not sadness that he feels as we normally presume, it’s actually ego-crashing. It can also be understood by considering that what we often consider happiness (such as a public achievement, like winning a hurdle race), is just an ego-boost; much more transitory than actual happiness. Five days later, you end runners-up in another race, and all that show of happy-dent-white jaw is gone.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Yesterday morning, I whistled and Papa said don't. But I've just learned it, how to whistle. Raghu whistles all the time and his father laughs and sings and whistles along. Papa says it's bad. I ask him how and he just repeats that it's bad and looks at me with a look that says it's really really really bad, so I believe him. But I believe him only for the next fifteen minutes, after which I'm again all 'why is it bad why' in my head. It's such a pain. Yesterday when Raghu was whistling I told him it's bad, and he just laughed loud. He said if it were bad his dad would surely have told him. Right, right, I thought, and we both whistled to the tune of 'If you're happy and you know it clap your hands'. We're so good at it, both of us. He is a little better, Raghavendra. We've named him Whistlendra in the class. It's so much fun. I think it is. Sudeep and Upasana too. But I am going to make sure I don't whistle when I walk to the bus-stop in the mornings with Papa. Ever since I've learned it it's just become impossible to stop. I'm whistling in the bus, in the recess, in the playground, in the music period, and to tell you a little secret, even in the SST period, but there less loudly than usual, because she'd get really hyper and call my dad school and then he'll be really mad. Ok, he won't be mad, but still. Ever since I'd fallen off the rickshaw and cut a huge bad wound and caught an infection so they had to cut the thing off, or amputate as Dr.Salve says, my dad has never scolded me for anything. He behaves as if it were his fault. I don't even feel in any way incapable or in pain now, for a long time. As for being caught whistling by SST ma'am, and being complained about to dad, and him being called to school, and informed about how I'm not behaving: I wouldn't mind it even if he were to get mad, but that he'll also maybe be embarrassed, and I don't want that at all. It's really not such a big deal to stop, I think. I will.

Yesterday was a sad day. Sad and beautiful, my dad wrote in his diary. My dad doesn't know that I know he writes a diary, so obviously he doesn't know that I know where his diary is. So obviously he doesn't know that I read it. Sometimes I think that he'll get mad when he comes to know, but then I think he won't be mad at me no matter what. But then I think he will be, in this case. And then again I think he won't be, and it goes on like this. So for a lot of days I kept going crazy tossing between both possibilities all the time, but of late I've realized that there's no point to all this fretting and that I should go on reading them because I love to. And so far, in a way, I don't with confirmation know whether it's even a bad thing to do. Only after I get caught and my dad discusses matters with me, and specifically tells me that it’s a bad thing can I really know for sure and certain if it's even a bad thing in the first place to be reading his diaries, right?

“An amazing and sad and beautiful, beautiful day. Miss you a lot today.” he has written, to be precise. And he didn’t write anything more yesterday, which is rather unlike him, for all his daily diary entries seem to be longer than my English textbook’s stories, so much so that almost every day I find myself leaving them midway even though I’ve never found any of them boring me. But I think that I’ll never find reading anyone’s diary boring, whoever the person, however written, whatever described.

Omg I’m still on the subject of diaries. So yesterday was quite a day, if you know what I mean. Raghu and I were, what else, whistling. And joking and shouting. In the bus on our way back. This is when I’d told him it’s bad, whistling, and he had laughed and .. all that I told you earlier about. My brother was sitting on the window seat, and then I in the middle, and then Raghu next to the aisle. He kept looking out of the window, my brother. His name is Vartmaan and he’s really not like me, like he’s not always hollering and whistling and laughing to other people’s annoyance, like Raghu and I do. But today the way he kept looking out of the window -- with no regard or attention to our awesome frolic inches away from him -- he seemed a man who knew something no one else does. Morpheus. Not really, but sort of. “His silence was unsettling even by his own silent, unsettling standards” my English teacher would say, that sucker for alliteration.

I don’t quite understand him, Vartmaan. His life consists of, I think, acting subservient to hot girls and therefore often getting snubbed by them, while taking the ones who’re not hot for granted and saying them things he wouldn't to hot girls, basically being himself, and then getting snubbed by them too. And then being sad about the whole messy scheme of things and unable, I guess, to mingle with us kiddies. He doesn’t find our jokes funny, which confirms to me that he really must be a grown-up. Or adolescent. What’s the difference anyway. He says it’s a different world altogether in the senior school but that he can’t explain to me how. I know for a fact that our subject, Science, gets divided into three components physics, chemistry and biology, each of them bigger than our whole Science subject. And that SST will be divided into History, Geography and Civics, of which History alone is said to be bigger than all our present class 5 subjects combined. Said to be so not just by him but all his friends too. Even Dad seems not to disagree about it. But I doubt that that’s what he’s referring to when he calls it a different world.

He kept striking the seat ahead with his middle finger in a way we strike the striker while playing carom. And kept humming a low pitched English song. And intermittently writing something on his mobile phone. Which seems to be his most favourite pastime ever since Dad got him a mobile phone early this year. He didn’t look sad, but every time I noticed him in a small breath stolen between our raucous laughter and antics, he seemed to notice me looking at him and immediately looked back away out into the roads, as if consciously trying to keep me at bay. Don’t entertain me, I’m not entertaining you. Something like that. I couldn’t have guessed what awaited us, and I have a faint feeling now that he could.

When we got home we saw something that literally blew our heads away. Honda Activa!! Hotter than all the girls Bhai loses sleep over. I can’t tell you how awesome it looked. You’d be thinking ‘just like all other new Honda Activas, you jackass’, but no, it was prettier. The bike was there on the porch, a tilak under its headlight. Tenant’s maybe. And then we walked in and Dad was there to open the door, leave taken from his office. Now something’s the matter, I started to think. But he just opened the door and went straight back in nonchalantly after a brief “hey wash your hands kids, and remember to hang your uniforms properly in the almirah”, a novel in his hands, two of his fingers inserted into a particular page near the beginning as he held it. Now there I saw a cake on the table. It might not surprise my school mates as much to see a cake at home but at our place a cake means someone’s birthday at home. But it was no one’s. And just as we get close to the cake, glitter and ribbons all fall over our heads from a bag on the ceiling fan I hadn’t yet noticed, through a lever-and-pinion mechanism he’d got installed, maybe that morning itself, for such special-effects, and which he was operating from his hiding place inside the kitchen next to his room. Then he appeared in a flash and jumped happily while saying “Vartmaan’s Activa’s finally here!!” cheerily and loudly, especially the word ‘here’. He doesn’t usually act this youthful enthusiastic way, our Dad. I felt full of feelings that I couldn’t name.

Though now I think I could have, and should have, used the opportunity to whistle in front of him and he wouldn’t have minded.

This had been on the cards for a long time, I think. Ever since Rajat had got one last summer, my brother had been after my dad to get him one too, a Honda Activa. Rajat’s this guy in our tuition centre who has a big belly, and whose arms can’t help hanging away from him at an angle when he walks, because there’s so much fat on his chest-sides. He’s boastful of his Parker Pens, his swiss knife, his Activa of course, about that he smokes Marlboro, about his Dad’s three cars, about that he travels in Aeroplanes. I’m sure not even air-hostesses smile at him. He’s already ballooned to the point of bursting, but he still wouldn’t stop it, Rajat the boaster. But my brother doesn’t understand. He just had to get the bike, he wouldn’t have it any other way. My dad said he’d just got him the mobile phone, but no, he wouldn’t have it any other way. They say wisdom comes with age. What a myth. He’s more than five years older than I.

Then my dad came up with this bright idea up all parents’ sleeves. He promised my brother that he’d get him what he wanted if he scored eighty percent marks in his class Eleventh, first term exams. To tell you the truth, I’d felt vaguely wronged when I got to know of this arrangement, having got A+’s and A’s all my school life, and not having been offered great rewards at mediocre successes like these. And as much as my brother wanted the bike, I’m not very sure that the lure of it pushed him any harder towards getting higher, better marks. He seemed much the same to me and soon I got over my earlier vague sense of being wronged when I realized it was unlikely he’d get that far. But sometimes I did think how out of the world it would be if he did somehow get 85 or something and earned the Activa. I both wanted and didn’t want him to get it.

Wanting more than not wanting, that is.

Three days ago, results for the first term were declared in our school. Let’s not dwell over my results, I’d just tell you in short that they were capital A Amazing, my marks. My brother though fared not as well as I’d have liked him to, or as Dad would have liked him to, or as he’d have liked himself to. He’d got sixty eight. I was a bit sad about that. Like for a day and a half. That’s as long as I normally can be sad about a single thing. How my brother felt, and my Dad – I’m sorry but I really don’t know. They must not have been thrilled about it either, but as a ten year old writer that’s as much insight I can give you about others’ feelings. I really don’t know how they felt inside, though what I can tell you is that, I felt pretty terrible about not being able to feel, or even guess, how they’d be feeling about it. Perhaps it’s not a big deal after all, but sadly enough I was not sure about that either.

So basically the point I’m trying to drive home here is that it was a big surprise – the Activa that Dad had anyway got for him. Bhai, who of late had been pretty economical with his smiles, couldn’t control his beaming, all teeth and jaw smile. You could see excitement all over his face, eyes so joyed with disbelief that you’d think Shin Chan won the Nobel prize for Physics. Dad was … again, I’m so sorry readers, I cannot explain. I see a tree full of fruits, I love the tree, its fruits and its shade, I always want it to be there, I’d be really sad without the tree, but how the tree feels at any point I’m far too ignorant about. Did that make any sense?

Then Dad and he made each other eat the cake. And made me eat the cake, and rubbed cream on my cheeks, you know, the usual cake fun. No pictures were clicked, maybe because we were so completely absorbed in the present we couldn’t get out of it enough at that time to anticipate how dearly we’d reflect on it when it becomes the past. Now you’re thinking this sentence is not from a ten year old writing. This is. I’ve copied it from somewhere. Briefly, they left to get ice-cream, my brother and Dad, on the new bike. Meanwhile I rang Raghu up and shared the good news. Bragged, for once.

In the evening, Bhai left for his tuition classes on the bike. He would meet Rajat there, on his older, maybe less advanced model. I wished I could see for myself how it would all turn out, the scene, but I’d quit going to the tuition classes a couple of months after I’d joined when I’d met with my accident. I never started going back again as Dad and I both agreed I didn’t really need the formality. I waited at home to listen to the anecdote when Bhai comes back.

At the time he was expected to be back, Dad was waiting for him outside the house, sitting on his scooter. I fancied them having a race, brother and father, from my windowside study table on which I draw pictures of these old people whom news channels are always after. The ministers and statesmen and all. Yesterday, as Dad sat on the scooter outside, the wind giving his shirt many turbulent wrinkles, I was drawing him. Probably the need for recording the day had emerged by now. My sketch was interrupted when he suddenly stood up, smiling wide, waving his hand. In 20 seconds Bhai was in my view too, the two of them talking, same height, similar features, Dad’s smile much bigger though than my brother’s.

Dad saw that the bike was much soiled. Like an enthusiastic kid who has just got a new bike as a prize for his efforts, Dad cleaned the stains off the Activa with a duster, and asked him, my brother, to sit besides him for a ride. I quickly ran out to the porch to see dad flying it into the green horizon. A little dangerously even, like an adolescent maverick.

It was the happiest of all the days I remembered. I was doing my homework when they came back. We had dinner, and chatted, all three of us, about moviestars and cricketers and the programs I love to watch on TV. Then we went to sleep in our rooms, only no sleep met our eyes. My brother and I sleep in one room. As I pretended to sleep, I could hear sobs from the adjacent bed, my brother’s. What?!

My brother was sobbing uncontrollably. I asked him what happened, but he wouldn’t answer. I said I’d call Dad, which he was sure I wouldn’t, and said nothing in reply. He just sobbed, and sobbed. Tell me what’s going on, I demanded. “You’re a very good boy, Guddu.” he said. “That I am”, I said matter-of-factly, “but why are you all sappy”. No answer, again, but he did calm down in a while and went to sleep soon after. I don’t quite know what our relationship as brothers was, or how we were as compared to how other brothers are. Anyway, whatever we were we are not anymore.

In the morning today I saw Rajat escaping the school walls to go to Priya, the multiplex he’s always bunking and going to with his gang. Apparently, his dad has got him a car now, a beautiful, white car, into which he promptly dived and scooted around at mad, bad speed. A Honda Jazz. Till two days back, they made me want to whistle.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Opening Paragraph to a long experimental Short Story I wrote when I was unemployed¹

They were tired all of them and their shoulders all hung like the hangers we hang our clothes on. The stale smell of fallen beer pervaded the room. I am not talking about a certain, particular day. I am talking about everyday, right after noons, which in their world played the part of mornings. Let me continue. There were two actual ashtrays and a textbook doubling up as one, but there were no cigarettes anymore in the room to be smoked, only dead butts. Everyday at 1 PM, let me repeat. The glass window amplified greatly in hotness the hot sunrays beaming into the room and forming a distorted rhombic yellow on the floor into which they by turns all of them inserted their inward-sinking heads. They gleaned some kind of pleasure from the frankly harsh and intolerable heat seeping into them, their eyes, their malfunctioning noses. They fashioned themselves one with nature when they did such things, like imagining themselves a battered rock out of a volcanic eruption now resting in an undiscovered desert. Their throats swelled from cigarettes and alcohol disturbed their bowels and they thought they were somehow now one with nature, whatever being one with nature means. Probably they empathized with the similarly sad state nature is in now, but I'm not so sure about that. Anyway they were not all nature and sun and moon and trance. Some CDs lay strewn towards the laptop which in turn had been flapped open a little too much, at 130 degrees or something, as though they would climb up the wall and sit next to lizards to watch what they thought was a great movie. They were always watching what they thought were great movies. They were all for the most part living in a movie themselves, one which they thought great too. Great in a non-commercial, classic, cult, arcane, acclaimed, misunderstood sense, let me specify. That they were messed up and far from ideal and that the people they disliked² disliked them gave them the willies they truly adored. That while Orson in the next room got ready and bathed in perfume and tucked his shirt in and sung a sweet soft tune and winked at them as he passed their room while walking into a day full of painless although meaningless gestures and nothings gave them a feeling of spiritual superiority that as hard as I may try I cannot explain to you since to truly understand that part you've got to be one of them, like I am.


¹Now I mostly only write emails followed by Regards Name Designation.
²which happened not to exclude a lot of people.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Still Photography

Description of the face of Sandarbh Narayan
His face is what people call heavy, just as he himself is. A toddler's fingertip may take an eternity to start from his forehead and touch every square inch of his face until it reaches his firmly hanging chin. His brows the wings of a seagull guard his deep-seated, little brown eyes. On their own, his eyes are a picture of calmness; a calmness that's less an absence of worry than an absence of hysteria. But alongside those wide protective maternal brows, you think those eyes are just overconfident - lazily overconfident. His smile - childlike in its instant gleeful appearance at insignificant little things which when you grow old you stop finding funny - almost inches towards dimples but not quite forming them. What are formed instead are two symmetric depressions wrought with shadows; like two wet fingers had been tapped on and removed from a pudding the shape of his face. The said shadows are smudged by his stubble that's always three days old and never two or four. Its sepia tone almost belies the laze and calm of his eyes, because it makes you wonder if he bleaches it. His nose is straight, not blunt, not pointed, just right, and symmetric, almost too good to be placed on a face that can be described as heavy. His skin is soft, unmarred by what's called ageing but gently tanned nonetheless by pimples that once were; almost making him look a realist wax statue of himself.

Another Description of the face of Sandarbh Narayan
Chubby but with good features. Like Rishi Kapoor the colour of brown bread.

Yet Another Description of the face of Sandarbh Narayan
Fourteen inches from the top of his skull to the crest of his chin, all the colour of a rat washed with Fair and Lovely. A nose angled at seventy degrees from the ground when he's standing, and slanting at forty degrees on each side from the septum. The eyebrows are the shape of the symbol made by the key that's just on the left of the keyboard's tilda. The ears stick their neck out, as if he has grown up overhearing discreet conversations. Smiles like a true cute fool.