Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Touch-ed


This New Year, 10,510 kms away from home, I was surrounded by a mass of humanity which had welled up into this lane near the Sydney Opera House. People were inching forward, in anticipation of the world’s most famous fireworks and I was stuck somewhere in the middle.

I hate crowd. No, I hate crowds where genders mix. I feel uncomfortable with unknown men pushing and prodding me. The jostling, the lack of guard, just the lack of space makes me conscious, makes me want to be protected.

I come from a country where there is a ladies queue wherever I go, an exclusive ladies coach for women on trains and even in the church the women do not sit with the men. I am no sociologist and have no insight into the genesis of this distinction for women. In my humble opinions this distinction is not for the women, but for our men who cannot behave!

I would have been 13 or 14 years, just discovering teenage. It was a crowded bus. Me and my cousin had skipped the last class and travelled about 10 kms to catch the latest romantic flick that had wreak havoc on the box office. On our way back there were college guys on the bus. A truckload of them. We were dressed in our uniform- blue skirt, white shirt. Slowly I felt the pressure of people on my body, I kept moving to a corner, making as much way so that the crowd would ease on me. I dint realise when a circle of guys surrounded me. A numb shock overtook me when they lifted my skirt to hold my thigh. Luckily for me, my cousin wasn’t in shock. With a safety pin used to secure our rescue, she appeared by my side. She had poked all these guys away. I don’t know if they were annoyed by the poking or the attention she was drawing while she was doing it. They moved away, I am still in shock.

Over the years I have become smarter- I raise my voice, even my hand if I need to. I hold my bag in front of me to guard me or cross my hand in a kung-fu like position when I walk on crowded streets. I stare down men who ‘accidently’ touch me as they pass by. I have even slapped a guy who thought I was his pillow.

I have heard way too many scary incidents and the local media, and now even the international media, is mired with rape stories from my country. I know of a friend who complained about a group of guys who verbally assaulted her. The police accompanied her to where the guys were, asked her to slap the nosiest of them and then told her to let the case be. An FIR will lead to nothing apparently. I remember my friend was ecstatic, but is a slap enough to stop them?

This new year’s eve, when I walked through that crowd of thousands, where several ethnicities mingled with ease, where there were no separate queue for men and women, where there were no policing on the time of the day and the clothes you wore, there I realised that Men can behave. I let my hands down.

Under the thousand sparkling lights that burst on the firmament that night, I wished for a country where I can move freely. Where I am not always on guard, where the idiot on the road in his dirty shiny bike does not feel that brushing against my chest as he drives by is fun!

Till then, I will save my free walks for another geography and continue my kung-fu like stance on Indian streets.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

A thousand broken hues



Oh thee that are from here below,
Oh thee on whom this world is amiss,
Ye that live in monochromatic alleys,
Ye that are of closeted panorama

The beauty of ‘can’ is lost on thee
The wonder of possible, incomprehensible to thee

I am a blush, not white and black
I am many a hue, not one or two

For I can, hence I do
When I will, I sing the tune

I am the force I wish to be
I am the light that guides my inner being

Don’t hold me, or mollycoddle me
Don’t be stern on me, or use fetters of love

The juncture, the stretch, the interval is determined by me
I let you in, cause I want to share
Don’t exert on me, lest I stop to care

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Crossover

Youth brings with itself oblivion. The lack of premeditation, the joy of belonging only to the moment. I have heard many reminiscence that it its the time synonymous with living for them.

I remember the thick fog that night. That night when we trailed a lonely light from the bus ahead of us on the highway. When the journey was the essence and the destination, only an excuse.

Reckless we chased the illumination to spend the weekend in the hills.

It was the day before New Year's Eve. Four of us, on an impulse decided that the city was a cumbersome partner to welcome the New Year with. We invited more friends, called our regular cabbie and started off on a 250 kms long journey. Through the treacherous winter night we prodded ahead in the dense fog. We laughed and sang little caring that we almost fell off the road into a dark pit, saved in the nick of time by the alert and wakeful bus driver who was vicariously leading our pack.

Morning came and Lansdowne dawned on us. There amidst the suspended clouds we stood in awe at Nature's bounty. That small town with its pristine beauty welcomed us... We aimlessly wandered the streets, drove mules, savoured the many views of this Black Hill and even exchanged currency for what we believed was some authentic weed. We were startled when the weed turned out to be nothing but weed!

But young we were, so we laughed and continued aimlessly. We stuck conversations with passers-by, learned of history and property squabbles over evening tea with a family in their big disputed house on the hill. Relishing each moment and not planning for the next.

The weekend rolled by and after much posing and pausing we started our return. The Innova was buzzing with our energy. The spreads were rolled out and cards laid out. The journey began.

I dint realise when I went off to sleep, I remember the laughter in the car, the 'whose bluff is better' faces and then I remember the car screeching to a loud halt. Our car swirled to avoid what lay ahead. We could have been a compass which just completed its circle. The car stopped and through a haze of fear I lifted my eyes. Dreading each moment of the sight to come.

The spread-out road towered with green on both sides had white fumes going up into the air and beneath, the black road has trickles of red. There was a minute's pause when nothing moved. That minute of frozen images- a tractor that was still suspended in air and a man who gravity pulled faster at lay spawn in the green path adjacent to the road, his body in a series of shivers reminded me of a fish in air. A little ahead, right in line of our sight was a van and a crushed man. The steering looked crushed into that man.

The moment melted, crowds swelled up, the localities, my co-passengers, other travelers all appeared. Suddenly there was much activity, cars came and people were lifted and carried, to safer places I hope. Police, a man who someone said was the local politician and other responsible people came and cleared the crowd. We were asked to leave.

Back in Delhi, for many months this was a story we recounted to friends. Thanked God that we were not one of the vehicles in the accident, blamed the slippery roads and the cruel curves. What we never told anyone was that the gore, the glimpse of transient life and the fickleness with which all can change made many of us crossover.


Crossover from careless to careful, from being to thinking and in some ways young to older. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Hemmed


One of the greatest needs I feel constantly, all the time, is the need to belong. I don’t like being the outsider, I don’t think of myself as the recluse. I cherish inclusion and celebrate threads of common history, myth of origin and descent and shared cultures. My childhood and much of my adult life has been a voyage across cities, people and belongings. From one Army station to another, from field to peace areas. Across the wondrous journeys I took as part of this nomadic life, a strong string that gave me a sense of belonging was my territorial association and a sense of group solidarity with my nation. I lived in India all my life, I traveled across India and wherever I was, however far or near, I always belonged to India.

The first time I traveled abroad, the joy of now being the world explorer was in so many ways overshadowed by my feeling of not belonging. The sense of alienation was real, the fear of the unknown so pronounced and I precariously tread that new country lest I break a law unknown, let I hurt a sentiment unknown.

I absorb and relish each experience I have had in a different land, within and outside my country. I am richer with the understanding of such cultural, geographic and religious diversity that this world has. But home for me is still India.

Partly because of my exposures on account of my Army upbringing, partly because of the media and partly because of all the literature I had chanced upon, my understanding of Pakistan was always of a place where women were subjugated and men where honing their skills at weaponry. I knew of them as a team we wanted to beat at cricket, a country where killing and dying was the norm and a country which occasionally caused great discomfort to its neighbours. Ajmal Kasab dint help the cause and after reading ‘The Siege’ I wrote them off as a militant camp.

My first brush with Pakistan was when I went to Wagah. With much anticipation and excitement, content post experiencing Punjabi hospitality and food, I made my way to the Wagah border. I hadn’t planned my trip and hence dint have any special passes. I decided I will go early to join the commoners queue. I kept a 3 hour buffer to ensure that getting in is not a hassle, today was my last day at Amritsar and I dint want to take any chances and miss the much famed ‘lowering the flags’ ceremony. I reached the gate to realise that all of mankind had descended to see the ceremony and after much pushing and prodding, the unfair onslaught of the angry sun and understanding the etymology of the term ‘cattle class’ I witnessed the ceremony and looked across to Pakistan. Nothing spectacular, just like India.

Then one day, as I was surfing through channels I came across Fawad Khan and Sanam Saeed telling me that ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’, I got hooked and without any forewarning Pakistani dramas made their way into my heart. I came back home day after day to stories from across the frontiers, to stories of people whose dreams and ambitions, emotions and cultural beliefs, whose clothes and contours were so like mine. I through this vicarious medium was introduced to a world out there which I had so easily dismissed. Their mellifluous language, strong characters, family units all struck the right chord with me. Through their stories they won me over and made me realise that while we are separated by a hem, we still are the same people.

Within my country and outside my country, there live people who wake up day after day in the hope of bettering their lives, people who laugh and cry at the same things we do and people who may speak different dialects and tongues, but eventually speak with heart. It is a small realisation, one that has come to me at the cost of great many sacrifices my husband made by letting dramas run over football matches, but one that I am glad I came across.

Through these shared stories I keep going back to, I have realised that belonging is not defined by boundaries but by being able to accept with no boundaries.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Lonely in the crowd


I stand in d middle of a multitude,
Many stand close-by, some further away
I stand immersed in the voices, hues and odours of millions,
Some stronger, some fainter

I walk a bit, I jog some, sometimes I sprint
I find companions along the way; the walkers, the joggers and the sprinters

I see, I feel, I perceive
And each sense builds the inner me
I laugh, I cry, I am joyous and I weep
Many come along the way and co-inhabit many a moments,
Many come along the way and give soul to my cheer and grief;
Some touch me, some fondle me, some smirk at me and some shirk me

But I keep moving
Like the criss-crossed lines of the rail
I keep living
Intermingled with all in the crowd, alone all along

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Power of Words


The Power of Words

“I tell you, on the day of judgement people will give account for every careless word they speak”           Matthew 12:36


Words are such funny things. The right words cheer you up and the wrong word kills a thousand dreams.

According to the Global Language Monitor, the number of words in the English language is 1,025,109.8. I wonder what the .8th word is, a word that all want to say but seldom find the courage to? Anyways, without digressing, so they also say that every 98 minutes a new word is created. Hence potentially atleast 14 words can get added in our vocabulary every single day. But what are the words we want to add and which are the words we are better off without.

A couple of Sundays ago, I decided to go to the famous Mount Mary Church in Bandra. Popular fable tell me that this church is visited by over 10 million devotees and pilgrims annually. Many of the pilgrims attest to the miraculous power of the Virgin Mary. This shrine attracts people from all faiths and the road that leads to this church is filled with ‘faith’ sellers. Their wares complete with rosaries and offertories shaped as homes, babies and even limbs, each depicting the burdens and the desires in the minds of the pilgrims who come here.

I bought candles, covered my head and walked into the church where a service was in progress. Quietly, I sat down at the first available place and held my head low, partly in reverence, partly to hide the embarrassment of disturbing a service. As I settled, gathered a prayer book I noticed that this service was like none I have ever been to. There was a priest religiously leading the service and there 10 steps to his right was a lady who hung on to every single word that came from the leader and diligently, through the magic woven by her hands breathed meaning to these words for the 50 odd silent audience. I glanced around and soon realised that I was in the midst of a congregation that was deaf and dumb.

I slowly kept my prayer book aside and started observing my fellow believers who calmly participated. There was a harmony to their responses, a synchrony in the hand movements, a peace and joy in their understanding and a silence which only spoke of peace. I had never gone through an experience so moving, yet so tranquil. I sat there thanking God for all that he had blessed this world with. All the words he has given me and wishing that I would chose them better as they are a privilege given to me, not an entitlement.

Soon after the words ‘for this is My body of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ I realised the communion had begun. In single file, the assembled got up to partake of the bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Not a single word spoken and yet so much was exchanged.

Suddenly the calm and peace was disturbed by a loud voice. I turned to see a lady who embodied the “gorgeous mother of evil”1 from Revelations. She was the cattle herder, the virtue upholder, the dutiful Christian who assumed the role of the janitor. She was shooing away non - Christians from the holy altar, she was the barricade between them and salvation, the body and blood. She was emphatic and determined- ‘No non-Christian will partake in the body and blood’. She howled and with her rough callous hands physically stopped people ‘Are you a Christian? Please go back, this is only for Christians”.

In a moment the peace was shattered. The tranquillity of the service, the oneness with God, the feeling of all-encompassing love, an afterlife where invisible boundaries do not discriminate, a father who does not favour the ‘blessed with words’ over the ones ‘without words’ all seized to be relevant in that moment where with the wrong words and worse motives we had an assumed disciple policing the walkway to heaven. I felt like the spirit left that gathering that very minute and now we were just mere people, riled with our earthly flaws.

With those words that lady took away from me the peace that morning offered. But for the non-Christian pilgrims, I wonder if she took away some part of their faith and purpose.
 
1 Revelation 17 : 3-5 Then he carried me away in spirit into the desert. There I saw a woman riding upon a scarlet animal, covered with blasphemous titles and having seven heads and ten horns. The woman herself was dressed in purple and scarlet, glittering with gold, jewels and pearls. In her hand she held a golden cup full of the earth’s filthiness and her own foul impurity.