Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Eggs and vegetables

It’s after weeks that I go to buy some vegetables from the old woman who sits around the corner with her baskets spread around her. She feigns surprise at seeing me after so long, and asks in her funny broken Hindi, “Arre, kya khaya itne din?

Now, maybe, she’s not genuinely interested in what I ate all these days; she is probably more concerned about whether I’m buying vegetables from somewhere else. But, she asks it with such a big grin that I have no option but to grin back.

After I paid, she drops a free lemon in the bag of vegetables. Well, this again might be her marketing trick, I assume, but it makes me happy, anyway. All I can think at that moment is I’m going to make a lemonade when I get home.

Next, I go to the small grocery shop from where I buy eggs. This grocer is a talkative man, and sometimes, when he’s in a good mood, he tells me how he went different places while he was serving in the Army; or how the prices of eggs have fallen because of Bird Flu scare; or how he once saw a reckless bike accident (he told this one when he saw a few scratches on my face). Well, he can be irritating at times; particularly when I’m in a hurry. But, some days, when I haven’t talked to anyone the whole day, his talks amuse me much.

Sigh!

I know. I know I am a boring person.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Some rain and a book

Several good things happened this weekend. I’ll mention two of them.

First, it rained. On Saturday evening came the first rain of the season, catching most of us unawares. I was riding home and was on the University Circle flyover when I saw the dense dark clouds looming large. The wind was catching speed, dry leaves were fluttering around, and everyone looked up at the sky and hurried up to reach their destinations before the rains started. I too sped up. It started drizzling while I was still on the road, but it was only after I reached home that the rains came down in torrents. Reaching home, I opened the windows wide, dragged a chair to the balcony, and sat with legs stretched on the railings, ready to watch the show.

Second, I read Ruskin Bond’s autobiography Scenes From a Writer’s Life, which I had been wanting to read, but couldn't find anywhere. Then, this weekend I got a call from Landmark Bookstore informing me that they have brought the book, for which I had put a requisition earlier. I bring the book home and finish it at one go (except for a few hours of sleep in between), which is rare because I’m generally a slow reader and I amble through a book for weeks and months. But, there’s something about Ruskin Bond’s prose that makes me read non-stop. And this book was no exception. I liked it right from the Dedication page, which reads ‘For you, my gentle reader’. (How can you not love a book which is dedicated to you?) Anyway, I had been familiar with most the events in Ruskin Bond’s life by virtue of my previous readings of his books, but as he says, ‘the autobiographical element is present in much of my work, but there is really more fiction than the reader may realize.’ So, when I read this book, bare of all the imagination and fiction he creates around him, his story looked more forlorn, more heartbreaking.

Indeed, after reading Scenes From a Writer’s Life you realize why V.S. Naipaul says, ‘I have read nothing like that from India or anywhere else. It's very simple. Everything is underplayed, and the truths of the book come rather slowly at you. He is writing about solitude, tremendous solitude. He himself doesn't say it. He leaves it all to you to pick up.

Friday, March 21, 2008

At NFAI

Summer afternoons are getting rather dull. And in the hope of livening up a little, on one of these particularly boring summer afternoons, I decided to pass my time watching a couple of films that were being screened at NFAI, as part of the Pune Film Treasures Festival. They had been showing films there for the last three days, but I somehow couldn’t catch up with any of them. There were two reasons, actually. First, I got to know about it pretty late. And second, I wasn’t really interested in the films they were showing. But as I said, when summer evenings get rather dull, you really want to do something. So, yesterday, I forced myself out of office and walked into a cozy nook of the NFAI auditorium quite ahead of time. The auditorium, with its rather cool interiors and dim lights, was very sleep-inducing, and I would really have dozed off had it not been some chattering ladies at my back, who kept talking till someone walked up the dais to introduce the film to be shown.

The first screening was Jean-Luc Godard’s Le M├ępris, which I found rather disappointing and baffling. Well, maybe it was my inability to understand the film, but I couldn’t really grasp what the film was trying to say.

The second film, Fritz Lang’s 1953 film noir The Big Heat, was much like a typical good vs. bad story, where an honest cop investigating a case goes a little too far and pays with his wife’s life. The Big Heat is a story of his vengeance. Gripping and fast-paced, it doesn’t waste a moment. Of course, I won’t call it a great film – the film feels rather simplistic and uni-dimensional – but it sure had the charm.

It was good fun.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Fragments

Once in a while there comes a book which opens the windows to the heart of its characters with such honesty and finesse that you don’t even realize how and when these characters leap from the pages and become real images, complete with their own voices, mannerisms, and eccentricities; their innermost thoughts lying before us, unwrapped of all the nice coverings.

Anjum Hasan’s debut novel Lunatic in My Head is one such book.

The book begins on a drizzly Shillong afternoon and goes on to traverse the lives of the three protagonists – Firdaus Ansari, the middle-aged college teacher who is trying to negotiate with her unwritten PhD thesis and a much younger fickle-minded tribal boyfriend, both unsuccessfully; Aman Moondy, the twenty-three-year-old who sees life through the music of Pink Floyd, is infatuated with Concordella, and is preparing to attempt IAS for the second time; and Sophie Das, the eight-year-old girl who realizes that “it was incumbent on her to lie, that the truth was often so shabby and unconvincing that she needed to embellish it merely in order to have something interesting to say.

Anjum Hasan’s observation is sharp and her understanding of people and place is through. But more than anything else, I liked Lunatic in My Head for its language. Be it when Amanon the bed with its clean sheet smelling of detergent… lay on his side crying, his tears running across the bridge of his nose and down the side of his face into one of his ears”; or when Firdausoccasionally look up from her reading and stare at the wall, trying to form a sentence or two in her head, but then inevitably dismiss it as weak and unoriginal, and continue with her reading”; or when Sophie, punished by her teacher to stand at the rear of the classroom, “stood at her new position in silence, flaking off the plaster from the wall with her thumbnail”, I paused many a times while reading, overwhelmed by the images portrayed.

I think this is where fiction triumphs – despite all the disclaimers, we know that the book, taken as a whole, might be an act of imagination, but when broken down to fragments, each piece is a reflection of our own lives.

And Anjum Hasan has collected these fragments with much care and has given us a wonderful book.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Wayward

You are sick of this idleness. You want to do something. Maybe, write something. And, whatever it is, you want to do it now. Yes, now.

All you do in a day is go for a 9-to-5 job and cook your dinner. Okay, there’s some amount of TV and books as well. But that’s pretty much it. Sometimes, when you lie idle and keep staring into the ceiling, too many weird thoughts come to your mind, and you realize, with a sigh, that your mind has indeed become a devil’s workshop.

You pause here. Hmm, you have begun well, but now what. How to take it forward?

You look around. You try to gather your thoughts. You remember that you’ve recently read an article where the author has warned, “Writing Fiction is not for the faint-hearted. The mortality rate is higher than that of Test pilots.”

But you are not to be deterred by such warnings, of course. Writers are a funny breed of people, you know, they love to say funny things. Not to take them too seriously. After all, the above-mentioned author, by the end of the essay, advises, ‘Never listen to older writers.’

Well, that’s all fine – these writers and their funny quotes. What annoys you, however, is that all these unnecessary readings that you do, affects you adversely, and pulls your thoughts to multiple directions, muddling you further.

Oh, see where you began, and where you’ve reached! It’s always like this, you realize – the thing you begin with, end up as something utterly unrecognizable, as if by some magic.

You give too much liberty to your thoughts, you realize. You are too lazy and lenient to achieve anything, leave alone writing.

You pause here again. A few minutes later, you find yourself counting how many paragraphs you’ve written – eight already! Not bad.

Suddenly, you feel content and happy. You don’t want to calculate where you began and where you have reached.

You’re a hopeless piece, no doubt, but you don’t care.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The stalker

She stops walking suddenly.

My heart skips a beat.

“Shit!” I mutter with disgust and quickly hide my face behind the long strips of gutkha pouches hanging down from the roadside paan shop.

Why does she stop like this today? Could she sense that I was following her? Did I make any mistake? She did seem to be walking a little self-consciously for the last few minutes – too many thoughts come to me simultaneously.

I wait with bated breath; my heart thumps vigorously. What if she walks up to me now and confronts me?

I peep at her – she is bending down and taking off the shoe from her left leg.

I freeze like I’ve seen something ominous. I almost feel like fainting. My head goes blank. Is she actually going to charge towards me with that shoe in her hand? Well, doesn’t seem plausible, but how can one be sure.

I peep again – she now stands on one leg (the shoeless leg bent slightly above ground). I eagerly wait for her next movement. She takes a few seconds to balance herself first. Then she upturns the shoe in her hand and shakes it. A pebble drops off.

Ha! that's it then.

By the time I've recovered, I see her walk away again.

I take a few seconds to decide and then ask the panwallah, "One Navy Cut."

I light the cigarette and watch her walk away.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

March-ing

Almost a week into March, and I've not come up with a post. Not that it’s absolutely important or something (it’s just a self-gratifying exercise, as I’ve admitted before). It makes no difference anywhere, anyway. And most probably, barring a couple of people, nobody will even notice if I stop this blog today. Which is justified because I cannot claim that anybody might gain anything by reading this blog. There are better things to read and better things to do in this world than to come here and read my ramblings. But if you still come here to read, you’ve got patience!

But anyway, I think I make a post because it makes me happy. That’s the simplest reason. I cannot straightway tell what makes me happy, though. Maybe I get a faint feeling of accomplishing something when I put up a new post. I know it’s silly to think that way – writing a stupid post and comparing it to accomplishing something. But how can I help if I feel just that way? Silly me.

Oh, too much rambling already. Okay, now for the actual post – which, by the way, is nothing but a bulleted list of stray thoughts (you’re familiar with it by now, I suppose).

  • I see people going places. To different parts of the world. To places faraway and unknown. I admire them. (Maybe, slightly jealous too.) I too wish to go away like them. But all I do is sit alone and dream.
  • I come home early and stand on the balcony. It’s dusk and the children are shouting and running in the smallish park outside. In the gathering darkness, their shouts of joy fill up my empty apartment.
  • I get the news of a death. He wasn’t someone I knew personally but Sheelabhadra was an author I liked to read. Incidentally, when I got the news, I was reading one his books, which I picked on my recent visit to my home town .
  • I see a change of season taking place. The days are hotter now; the wind is drier and dustier. Walking home in the evening I think of rains. It's not yet time for rain, of course. Pre-monsoon storms are still about a month away. But in my mind, I make it a point to see when the first rain arrives.