Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Morning Blues

It’s Sunday morning. 11 A.M. Amir gets up, all groggy.

He totters to the door, in search of the newspaper, the only possible excuse he can think of to leave the bed. But it’s the 27th day of January, and as if the world had stopped functioning at all the previous day, there is no news to be found at the bottom of the door.

He unlatches the thing, but there is no milk packet left outside either. Seemingly, the cows and the doodhwala too had ceased to function in deference to our secular, sovereign republic. There won’t be any newspaper or tea today, thinks Amir, and feels like falling on to the bed again.

He switches on the TV, but its morning time, and they have nothing to show but old, stale news of yesterday, old, stale repeat telecast of yesterday’s game show, and the old, stale highlights of yesterday’s match, where India lost by more runs than they actually scored.

Cigarettes!, thinks Amir. There has to be a cigarette somewhere. He jumps for his jeans, but is heartbroken to find no packet there. He remembers distinctly that there was a packet, and there were at least a couple of cigarettes remaining. He runs to the living room, looking on top of the desk, on the sofa, on the divan, on the TV. But there is nothing. He goes back to his bedroom, searches all over again, keen, desperate eyes dying to be sated. But there is nothing.

What a torrid start to the day, thinks Amir, and lies down on the bed again, looking at the ceiling. No tea, no newspaper, no TV, no cigarettes – nothing at all.

Then, in a sudden surge of inspiration, he gets up, runs to his jacket lying on the chair alongside his bed. After all, that’s where he had left the cigarettes last night. He pats on the under pocket, and is overjoyed to find the thing after his heart, relieved to find his saviour.

There is just one cigarette left, but one should be enough for now.

He slides open the matchbox.

There is just one match left, but one should be enough for now.

He strikes fire with that solitary promise of relief, and brings it closer to the cigarette held in his mouth.

The promise burns with promise at first, then starts to die out slowly. Like a dying man - half hopeful, half believing - desperately trying to hold on to life, Amir hurries the thing to the tip of his cigarette. But only a part of the tip catches fire. He sucks frantically at the other end, still hopeful, still believing. But the all-too-obvious happens.

The foul taste of half-burned tobacco in his mouth is the icing on the cake.

It’s Sunday morning. 11:20 A.M. Amir goes to bed, all fed up.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Sums & Differences

‘Sum me up’, she said, excited and afraid at the same time.

Amir looked at her, as if for the first time, trying to find meaning in her face, her hands, her hair.

And then he spoke.

‘You see it’s impossible for me to do that. Everything that I would say about you can never be more than half of what I really mean. And if I really think about it, it’s not for me to say what you really are, because what I think I know about you might just be 0.0000000000000001 % of what you actually are. Of what you actually are.’

Silence. 11 seconds. Of the uneasy type.

‘So I might as well say nothing. Nothing – that’s 0.0000000000000000 %. You see it doesn’t matter if you have 1 or 0 at the end, if you have 20 0’s preceding it. After the decimal point, I mean. I hope you see that.’

Silence. 9 seconds. Of the uneasy type.

‘Do you?’

She didn’t.

She didn’t answer. Nevertheless, Amir had successfully negotiated the challenge.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Temple

Overnight Rain. Mud. Temple. Outside. Corner. Amir. Standing.

Question: Why is Amir standing in front of the temple?

A) Amir loves standing in the mud.

B) Amir regards this as the garden spot of the city. He is just drinking in the view.

C) Amir is a sleepwalker. He doesn’t know. He is just sleeping. He is just walking.

D) Amir is bored.

Correct Answer: D

Amir is bored. Why? Because there is nothing to do. Nothing to do! He is waiting for the aarti to begin. And finish. There is quite some time left before it did, and his parents, intensely devout that they are, are determined not to leave the temple without having witnessed it.

So, escaping the repeated insistence of his father to sit with them inside, he came out for a walk.

Question: Then why is he standing?
Answer: He soon found that the stroll wasn’t quite a good idea – the monsoons were on, the road was muddy, with puddles aplenty. So finally, without any options left to consider, he decided to stand at a corner and look.

But look at what?

Question: Describe the scene in front of Amir.
Answer: The place outside the temple is crowded. It is evening; time for the aarti, and therefore people are flocking in, smelling of their undiminishing, unshakeable faith in religion. There is the smell of incense too, coming from the shops on his right and left, selling just about everything you might associate with worship – coconuts (for prasad), cloth (for the Gods to wear), specially perfumed agarbattis to simply take away, etc etc etc.

And yes, they are also selling what might be called religious memorabilia – small artefacts, paintings of Krishna and Radha, even watches with Krishna playing his beloved flute on the dial - which devoted followers can buy to remind themselves of their devotion, and foreigners can take away to show off to their folk back home.

“Hey Barney, what do you have there?!”

“Oh I got that from Indyeah. It’s a Krishnay-Radder painting, one of the Hindu gods, quite a character. And that’s his wife… no no… mistress… na… girlfriend… well, something of that sort.”

“Fuckin’ Beautiful Man!”

“Yeah. Exotic! Heh heh.”

There are many foreigners to be seen here, not in the clothes Amir would associate with them, but in saffron, with brown beads worn in a mala, dressed just like sadhus, the sort he’d seen in the movie Hare Rama Hare Krishna – long blonde hair, one chilam in the mouth, one in hand, doped to the bone, singing bhajans as if they really meant it.

Harry-Om-Harry! Harry-Om-Harry!

Face white white. Clothes saffron. So that if you gave them a green turban, they would look like the tiranga ulta. The tri-colour inverted. Ha ha!

There are some which are in their usual attire – tourists – looking like something out of a Woodland advertisement. Bottle green jackets, khakis, brown mountaineer shoes. There are a couple standing in front of the shops, enraptured by the sight of an infant eating bread crumbs, picking them up from the ground itself.

“Rick, look at that!”

“Yeah…got it”, says Rick, clicking on his state-of-the-art camera (Canon EOS1. 10 megapixels. 10X Zoom. Wow.), with a triumphant look on his face, glad to have his Indyeah! - and her blood-sister Poverty - on film.

The crowds slowly thicken. Twenty minutes pass. Amir can hear the bells ringing from the temple. The aarti has begun. He heads back.

Question: How does Amir feel?

A) Amir is relieved. The wait is over.

B) Amir is angry with himself; he missed the start of the aarti!

C) Amir is sad. It was fascinating looking at the crowd around him.

D) We can’t say. We don’t know. Amir is a sleepwalker.