Monday, September 26, 2011

Finger prints and soggy letters

It feels surreal that time can be compacted through mental space despite physical distances. You wake up in Delhi and go to bed in Mumbai. Its been a year, it feels like ages, yet it feels like just yesterday , that I was here. The city seems to have turned timeless, like a constant frame through which people come and go like ants. The heart of Mumbai lies in the contrived domestic space which becomes the starting point for extrusions and explosions , that make the outside of the city the site of such an infusion of energy.

The Gateway lies desolate. It doesn’t hog the light it deserves. Somehow, it seems like its grown aged and no longer interested in bearing mast for its city. The swarms of middle class Sunday crowd seem parasitic to the place. Each little world, a closed decadent cuccoon, trapped within the boundaries of the camera lens, which seems to be the sole witness and jury to the fact of their existence.They try to break free by riding on silver painted neon lit horse carriages. Try to escape the ground that they are so wary of, yet, the ride is momentary in its effect. The horses always bring them back to the same point where they started.

She gets lost in the city. Her feet always need to move. Never on a standstill, they are automatically drawn towards the sea. Marine drive is Mumbai’s threshold into dreamspace. It marks an edge to a human constrained living and an extended threshold into the infinite sea beyond. It is the stage where the city distances itself from you and offers itself for your insatiate gaze. The urban proscenium sells the city to its customers who come willingly to be hypnotized by this edge.

Shards of memory are strewn all over the city like little horcruxes. Figments of images, clinging onto crumbling concrete. The cellotaped apartments , seem to have lost the will to renew. The concrete dark and old , weeps and cries all over the suburbs. The patched up cracks on the dilapidated apartments grow like algae, like ugly magnifications of the dark thorns tucked within the minds of the domestic beings within.

I find myself taller, larger. The city is a child, looking up at me , tugging at the hem of my shirt,leaving behind grimy finger prints and soggy letters.

Mumbai, August 2011

Monday, September 12, 2011

Remembering My dearest Ajju

( I am reposting this writeup i had written two years ago , having added a few more memories to the picture. Happy Birthday to my dearest Ajju ) That afternoon comes back to me , when I went and sat by him on his bed and had a nap in his lap as his soft wrinkled hands patted my head. That vacation , I had got my walkman player, and Ajju’s favourite Marathi natya sangeeth cassettes, which he used to listen to , from earphones. Every time, the earphone fell out of an ear, he used to call out, ‘Gonti!..” and I used to run to him and plug him back into his musical world. This was the first vacation I was spending in Gokarna alone. Having waved goodbye to papa , who left me with dear little grandma and grandpa, tears streamed down my eyes, as we sat in the verandah and darkness fell. Ajju would love listening to bhajans I sang. My voice choked as I sang ‘dehi dehi sharade, gnyaanam dehi sarvade’, but soon it was fine, and I no longer felt frightened. Except now and then, when I came across a dark threatening corner or lightless room in the vast house, especially after sunset. I had never felt happier to greet the morning and the sun, as I did then.
It was the last vacation I could spend with Ajju, because, on the November 14th early at two in the morning, we all had to say goodbye to Ajju. That year we (the family) stayed back after the funeral ceremonies , during karthik poornima. And we went to the Deepotsava that happens every year in the Kotiteertha, the sacred tank.

It was magical as hundreds of lamps reflected in the water along with a bright moon who seemed lost in all the celebration, and fireworks lit up the sky effusive with joy. It seemed a fitting goodbye to our dear grandpa. Last week, when I was back in Gokarna on my usual visit, I stayed back an extra day hoping to catch the Deepotsava on karthik poornima. But it is never like that first time, is it? However hard one tries to re-live past moments, it is never the same. Each time is a new time.

When I was there this time , I dug into the shelf in the study, which was full of books ( as is any shelf in our house) ; but this one almirah had a special taboo attached to it. Once long ago, I had ventured to open this very cupboard, and to my horror, there a was a tiny rat inside which ran right up my arm and jumping off my shoulder, scurried away victoriously! I was in a state of hysteria , as I ran and locked myself in my room and refused to come out , till the maid came and consoled me saying that she had taken care of it and it was safe to come out now. Later , the poor creature was a subject of my sympathy and I even wrote a small verse on it.

So, well, after mustering courage , I opened it this time . Happy to see no moving tails or black beings inside. I found a whole range of books on culture, Leninism, Marxism, and the likes, which were from the local library. And each of them had markings in pencil , made by Ajju when he found certain passages or points which were notable. And after long I felt I was in touch with him. I was reading the same passages, that he had read many years ago, and wondering what thoughts must have arisen in his mind then. The very awareness of this idea gave me an immense sense of peace. The signs one leaves behind, signs that remind us of a healthy living thinking mind, signs that give you solace when you need it, signs that give hope when you are in despair. Finding those books, inspired a new zeal , a new feeling of awareness and a bright feeling of joy at the very prospect of discovering things that are waiting to be .

One summer vacation , we had a digital camcorder with us. So I decided to record an interview with Ajju. I was in the sixth grade, a shy girl who wouldn’t talk. So , my father prompted me . I reluctantly asked . The question was ‘Do you still think there is no God?’ and I vaguely remember him giving an amused smile. I was amused at the unlikely moment , as these words tumbled out of my mouth, although fed by my father; perhaps, his curiosity found a voice in me. For me, then, Ajju came closest to the divine. And with his presence, there was always a ubiquitous sense of spiritual stability. He would sit out there on his easy chair, in the verandah and absorb us into him. More than a few times, with us children playing cricket in the courtyard, hitting bouncers now and then, he sportingly absorbed and ducked away tennis balls, too , which would bounce across his easy chair!

I hear him tapping my head with his tender frail hands , slender long fingers, saying ‘gontipor toh’ ( ‘that’s my little gonti’) , and tapping on the harmonium keys with nonchalant confidence. I hear his stories in his grainy voice. Every afternoon, I would sit adamantly in front of him , sinking into one of the easy chairs , my legs and hands dangling out like crab limbs, and waiting for him to start. And he would start, ‘Once upon a time , there was a king ( a raaaya )..’ ; always a raaya , with the occasional fisherman or farmer He was like a perennial fountain of stories for me. From him , I knew why the sea was salty, because a princess in some faraway castle had cried her heart out and her tears had turned into the ocean.

He would tell me to concentrate only on the subjects I like in school, saying the rest will take care of themselves. Once, he had told me how minds are like good conductors and bad conductors, some minds take time to grasp knowledge, but have a great capacity to retain once learnt, while some others grasp quickly but let go of the knowledge as quickly. And that had put me into a very troubled state of dilemma , later that day , as to which kind I belonged to.

I have memories of him walking up and down our front yard , in our old house , which still had its katanjan ( wooden trellises) and the tiled roof that let into the mysteriously dark kitchen a snatch of a morning ray through a glazed gap. Up and down the frontyard smelling of freshly shining cowdung, he walked, his walking stick, making a graceful gate of tip tap , in tune with his feet. This was when he no longer went out to the beach to take his legendary walking trail all the way up to Rudrapaada. I have heard from people, he would walk for phenomenal distances; he would walk everywhere, and that he would walk and read a book in his hand at the same time! I like to think that I’ve got the taste of walking and reading from him.

Another random summer memory is when we had just reached Gokarna after a long bus journey from Mumbai( since we lived there then). My brother and me were very small. Before entering the house, we spotted Pashupathi, the neighbourhood boy, who was few years elder to my brother and his good friend, sitting on the katte next door. Excitedly , my brother waved and greeted him. Instead, Pashupathi just turned his back to us and went into his house. That perplexed me and my brother. Like an offended pampered child, I went and told this to Ajju. Instead of consoling me, he asked me to be patient, and give the boy some time to come around. We had come from the city, and maybe he felt left out seeing us. I hadn’t quite understood, why, Ajju had taken his side then. Now looking back, I see. Every time, we ‘city kids’ , hopped in for vacationing, there would be a phase of diffidence that Pashupathi, would be overcome with , perhaps arising from the fact that he lived in a small town. And then, after a few days, once he sensed that nothing had changed, and we were all still the same, he would get back to playing with us like usual. I feel grateful that Ajju took his side, that day. Pashupathi has grown up now, and comes everyday to our house to read the morning newspaper and now and then teach my grandma how to press the numbers in her mobile phone.

All the letters he wrote to us, me and my brother, are safe with me . Spontaneous limericks on us and advise on how we should read a lot , learn music, not fight, study well, and not worry much about subjects I dint like. In every letter, he never failed to say a little sorry for his handwriting, which he considered illegible. His handwriting in fact was like a mysterious codec to me , evolving in its own speed and design to become a script that could be read by a select few. Now I see my father’s writing follows the same trend. The explanation he gives is that the mind thinks faster than the hand’s capacity to catch up.

I have known my grandfather as a grand daughter , but there is also the need to know him completely through his mind, through his ideas, through his writings. He seems an ocean. I am yet to learn to swim so I could delve into it. Remembering and missing my dearest Ajju , as he completes a hundred years of multitude.