Days on Fast forward

Before you knew it, months flew off from 2016, and here we are, in August, already.

A lot of new things happened, some for the best, some heartbreaking. College ended, faculty retired, there was a lot of nostalgia. In the meanwhile, almost as if a parallel story was running, I got selected into one of the premier institutes in the country, met a whole bunch of people from completely different backgrounds and upbringing than mine. I wish I could write about each person here at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences; each one is a reservoir of stories, told and untold.

What is happening is essentially a rediscovering of self, or as they like to call it here, unlearning and re-learning. I’ve been placed in a disability setting for fieldwork with a great partner, hence learning here happens on multiple levels. People constantly surprise you, you get bombarded with assignments, and then there are a dozen other activities happening, you wait eagerly for a respite…but before you know it, it’s fieldwork day again! In between, birthdays, celebrations, outings, outbursts, sickness all happen, but they are never the defining parts of the bigger picture. Before you know, it’s ‘tomorrow’ already. The fast forward here will wind up, in 2 years. In the meanwhile, the winds here will blow upon us, shaping, changing, informing, forging new bonds.

So far, so good.

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Rain Rain Go Away?

For all the native Mumbaikars, as well as for those who’ve been staying here awhile, there is nothing new about the rains holding Mumbai to ransom. It’s a usual occurrence, year after year, rains coming in late, lashing out in all its fury, causing havoc. Mumbai’s lifeline – the Mumbai locals, come to a standstill at the first glimpses of what goes on to become a heavy outpour.

We are used to it now. We romanticise it, even. Along with all the cluck-clucking of tongues lamenting the poor civic structure, we do enjoy having to stay at home from work owing to the heavy rains. The season of kanda-bhajji, and chai by the window, indeed.

While there are a lot of us who are currently enjoying being in the cosy interiors of our homes, my thoughts stray to those who aren’t that lucky. A deeper thought to it brings up the question of whether the said ‘unlucky ones’ ‘choose’ to be that way –  by way of not offering resistance to what life has given them. I speak about the hundreds of people in Mumbai who stay in makeshift homes – in temporary houses floating in the debris, or under tents made of tarpaulin, held up by bamboo. Or worse, in boxes under bridges at railway stations – a friend once mentioned a particular family-of-seven who live like that at Bhandup station. 5 kids, no income, and an addition every year, I wonder how they get by. They’d barely have enough to feed all the hungry mouths even on a sunny day…

Just yesterday, as I was getting down at my station while coming back home, I saw a male child, barely 2 years old, laughing away in delight – a happy, gurgling sound that believed in the security of the present. Eyes sparkling, he played with his sibling covered in nothing but a tattered shirt as his beggar mother gossiped her time away with another lady. To the child, the world was perfect – an unknown amazement that held many promises. How I wish we could give that dream to every child in our society.

On a bleak, dreary rainy day, the laughter echoes in my ears.

#BengaluruDiaries

The summer of 2015, I’d been on a visit to Bengaluru, and I’ve to say that the city is, in many ways just the same as Mumbai is.
On a busy Monday evening, when you would expect the streets and markets to be relatively empty, and the city peaceful – it’s just about the opposite! Streets filled neck-to-neck with people that come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, colours and ethnicities – all of them ‘Bangaloreans’, Kannadigas or otherwise. Temples stand shoulder to shoulder with hardware stores, stationery stores wrestle for visibility with those selling adornments – accessories like trinkets, bangles, necklaces, earrings. Lingerie stalls jut shamelessly out of the footpaths onto the roads, and the Gods are well taken care of and appeased in many a roadside shrine.

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The people here are largely just as filthy as those in Mumbai, with plastic litter jostling for walking space with the pedestrians.
At Chickpet, the wholesale silk haven of Bengaluru, dresses and drapes in all shapes and sizes are variously displayed. Ganigarpet is the place for all kinds of gift-items and other nitty-gritty. Avenue Road is just off Ganigarpet – all by-lanes here appear to be similar – it’s like a maze with crisscrossing roads everywhere with excessive wares on display!

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There are sellers of all kinds of things here – jackfruit, bhel, mangoes, more mangoes, paan, sweetmeats and savouries, guava, and other fruits, (stalls selling) sugarcane juice, and the apparent South Indian favourite – sweet corn!
Excessive vehicles were a sight in this marketplace too, continuing the impression of Bengaluru as a city with too many vehicles. I say excessive not because of the lack of people to own/drive them, but because they are all out in a grandiose display everywhere you look. The result is a watery-eyes, stifled-breath, kerchief-on-face kind of pollution. The residents don’t seem to mind, though! The climate is pleasant here – how, marred by all this pollution remains a mystery to me! (Hint: maybe because there are more number of trees here.)
All in all, the city is an ordered chaos, and totally lives up to its reputation of being a metropolis, replete with wide roads, a booming real estate, and blotches of greenery right in the middle of it….you just get swept into the way things are!

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A day by the sea

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The beach. The rocks. The fine sand and gravel beneath the feet. The feel of sand slipping away from under the soles, that of sand getting washed away with water. The sound of the waves. The gurgling of the sea…the sun beating down on the bodies, mellow, sometimes a bit harsh.

The ‘feel’ of listening to the nature, the wind and the water playing a merry game between themselves, unbeknownst to the people splashing about at the water’s edge, unbeknownst to the kids flying colourful kites, swaying their little, lithe bodies as the kite dances to the winds’ music…unbeknownst, to us who break into a smile watching the waves’ display, watching the kids’ play, sifting through our fingers, fine grains of sand, smooth, yet coarse, simple, but holding the secrets of time… I wonder what the rocks by the sea shore would say, if they are gifted the power of expression, the kind which is understood by humans. They lie, silent witness to the happenings of the world around them. They know the birds that circle them, they know the scents that the winds bring to them. They know the stories of the oceans as they all meet, they hear, quietly, the secrets of the people adoring the sea face, their desires, ambitions, shortcomings, failures, and perhaps smile to themselves, as they know that the people, as their worries, will be lost in eternity, and one day, cease to be.

The damp but firm rocks, barriers against the unforgiving sea, collude the ocean itself. Beckoning, yet mysterious, protective yet capable of unleashing terror, holding in its belly the years long gone by; hundreds of years that have been, and the hundreds that will be.

Looking at the vast expanse of water, and the sky above, the clouds, moving towards the meeting point, the horizon, thoughts cease, and the mind falls into a pattern of enjoying what was before nothing existed. Perhaps the horizon isn’t a limitation, perhaps it is only what we can see, versus what actually is. The sea, the sky, the fine grains of sand – inspirations, always.

That Innocent Morning…

It was a cheerful day that dawned. The chirpy, windy morning did not betray the events that were to unfold later that day. Children walked to school grumbling about the heavy homework, office goers cursed the crowds in the local trains, a few bitched about their bosses, happy to be away from prying ears, grannies discussed the latest twist in the daily soap, grandpas remembered the generation that once was…. All in all, it was an uneventful morning, or at least, as uneventful as mornings can be.

Evening. A whoosh of relief wiped across the mass of humanity as it worked towards winding up the day, as it made its way back home. Soon a son would meet his mother, lover counted minutes before he would be joined by his girl, a husband would meet his better half, a child awaited the warm, love-filled embrace of his mother.  Everyone worked towards reaching one common goal. The day was in perfect synchrony with plans.

And then the night unleashed terror. Bullets flew. Heartbeats quickened. More bullets flew, a grenade or two ripped. Ripped lives apart, dashed hopes, caused many a tear to be shed.

Lives were lost, it matters not how many. Some quick thinking, a lot of action, invaluable sacrifices. Still, the drama continued for about 60 hours.

Mumbai is a city that has a reputation of never slowing down. But that fateful day, heads drooped, and the mind, not fully registering the impact of what had happened, gave no more directions. Time stood still, as the city united to weep and pray for the ones lost.

The son never returned home, the husband lost his wife, and the child would never get the much needed embrace now. The lovers watched in horror and shock, and desperation made them walk on a path to a better tomorrow. It was on this day, five years ago, that it all started