Friday, 24 March 2017

Svargadapi Gariyasi.....



A Hindu and a Muslim boarded the train.

The Muslim, Sarkari Babu
And old,
The Hindu, Soldier
And young.
One, white skull-cap on head,
The other, red threads on left wrist.

And then there was me-
One Mute, Part-Time Atheist, Voyeur.

The train groaned to a start.
Cellphones beeped, goodbyes were said:
As-Salaam-Aleykum, khairiyat, Khudaah Haafiz....
Pranaam, yeah OK, bye......

The coach was AC.
Yet a heaviness rose in the air
And then settled:
Hot, cloying.
Intervening.
And silence ruled
Dogmatic.

The world began flashing by:
The land framed in two Be-Tuf windows.
Cities, villages, stations;
Rivers, low hills and fields.....
Suddenly, the Soldier said,
'Our country is so green,'
More to himself than to anybody else.
Yet the Babu turned his head
Listening, eyes shining.
'The green of our country,'
The Soldier finished softly,
'Is the most beautiful.........!'

(I snorted inwards.
Huh!
What of the Amazonian emerald green?
Or
Of the Barrier's turquoise green?)

The train paused just then.

A flock of grey-blue animals pranced into view.
'Nilgai!' explained the sage Old Man.
'Really!!' smiled the delighted Young Man
'Have you seen the peacocks
When they descend in flocks?'
The Old Man queried, smiling.
'You know, the Peacock, our National Bird?
So beautiful.....'
The Young Man smiled back.
'Yes,
So beautiful!'

The train chugged to life again.
The two men gazed out at their Land
Framed in two Be-Tuf windows.
And in their eyes,
I saw it dance-
Clapton's Love-Light.............

(Have they turned up the AC?
I wondered.)
It was cool inside,
As if Basant
Had seeped in from outside.

And the clattering train sang to me-
जननी जन्मभूमिश्च
स्वर्गादपि गरीयसी.......!



Monday, 13 March 2017

Rambles on This Thing and That!

This one's going to be a real ramble, a true 'Of This and That'. What I mean is that this post doesn't have a subject, well at least not a uniform one. You see I'm travelling and when one travels by rail, and especially long-distance, it is sometimes rather tedious to pass time. And so to render my time less difficult, I've turned to composing a fresh post for my blog. But because I am unable to come up with an inspiring theme, I've decided, heck, let me just ramble on.......

And so while I haven't the faintest idea what I'm going to be typing about in the next hour or so, I'm pretty excited about it because though I've rarely been so 'agenda-less' while blogging, this new strange state promises to be adventurous; and of course I'm curious to see how it will all turn out in the end, literary-wise, my this midnight aimless prattle...

I am homeward bound with a short stop-over at Delhi. This morning my train has dropped us off at the Old Delhi station and this is a first for me. I usually travel on trains that terminate at the New Delhi station with which by now, post innumerable trips, I am quite familiar. In contrast, Old Delhi is a totally new experience. Sadly now, the enduring image Old Delhi railway station that has been imprinted on my brain is one of garbage, endless hoardes of it.
As the train slowly laboured its way over the Yamuna bridge, all I could see were the unending mountains of garbage lining both the banks and floating in the string of a drain that they say is our holy Yamuna.

I find myself pondering: one must never stop travelling by train for it keeps one grounded with the realities of our existence as a country. Moving around in the air-conditioned and disinfected comfort of airlines and airports, one is lulled into a false sense of 'all is well', of a shining India. And all it takes to dispel your rosy beliefs is a single train trip when you're rudely kicked awake to this horrendous reality.
Seeing that filth, I'm at first so horrified that I look away, trying to pretend that it doesn't exist. But then it draws my gaze back irrevocably, that filth, with a strange and scary hypnotic pull....and as I look in spite of my revulsion at the garabage, I find that its mostly all plastic. I marvel at the impossible amounts of plastic that we as a country use, wrappers, glasses, packets, plates, bottles, sheets and millions of other things that I am unable to enumerate. With no working/ workable recycling policy in place and our world famous non-existent sense of civic propriety, this scourge has clogged our rivers, encroached our roads and fumed our air.........
There is nothing I can do, I tell myself, self-importantly, exhaling loudly in the process and then stuff two PET water bottles into the overflowing garbage bin of the train coach....

I wait at the reception of the Aramgah as Other Half clears the bill with the reception staff. The receptionist, a young man has his little son sitting next to him. I can understand: its Holi and with his Dad on duty, the little one is probably keeping him company on this festive day. He must be around nine or ten, hair cropped close in the a la Virat Kohli (sans the beard of course), Holi colours tinging his face and hair yellow and pink. He is fooling around with TV remote. On the flat screen, Madhuri and Anil Kapoor dance around trees but neither this eighties music nor these eighties stars or their eighties Neeta Lulla getup interests the little boy.You can see that he is terribly terribly bored.
In the meantime, bill cleared, Other Half and me move to the exit. There is a swing door and as he hauls our heavy suitcases out, I wait, the lighter strolley by my side and another heavy suitcase in front of me. I guess I'm standing at an awkward point, obstructing the exit. I become vaguely aware that there's someone behind me who is trying to move out and I'm impeding his way. But I'm helpless as the heavy suitcases block any movement on my part. Good manners would have meant that he excuse himself but good manners is missing. All he does is just attempt to push through. I feel guilty but there's not much I can do at that moment. The man pushes again, a little rudely maybe this time when Other Half ( cyrrently on short fuse) admonishes him. Its just a matter of few seconds till our luggage is towed out of the way and the doorway freed. The man could have waited but he is a hurry. The exit cleared he now hurries out. I wait for Other Half to return, because the red suitcase is too heavy for me to lift.
I'm still standing behind the swing door, when the little boy swoops by. He pushes the swing door and moves out. I pay scant attention till I suddenly become aware of him holding the swing door open from the outside, a shy smile on his face. Stupidly I wonder why and then realise with a jolt that the little fella is holding the door open for me! I'm bowled over and only manage to give him the biggest smile I can conjure up.
But we're running late and so hurry out, lugging our three suitcases. As my autorickshaw speeds its way down the Holi emptied Delhi roads, I realise -Oh ho, I never said Thank You to my chivalrous little Virat Kohli......

We have two humongous sized suitcases and a third smaller strolley and though Other Half happily coolies the former, I waddle uncomfortably behind him with the latter, purse on left shoulder and orange shopping bag on right. Totally encumbered thus, I'm not particularly graceful or nimble right at this moment and when a stray dog crosses my path, I admonish it out loud. Since I have almost collided with it, my balance is disturbed and I pause to readjust my burdens, trying to align their CGs better. Suddenly I feel a gentle nudge at my left flank. I dismiss it as one from my shopping bag and scramble after Other Half. But I can feel people giving me curious looks and I myself feel a nudge once again. I stop, wondering, and look back. It's another stray and the moment I face him, he gives me a typical doggy salute, front paws bowed, head bent at an ingratiating angle. I'm delighted and notwithstanding the amused looks of Old Delhi bystanders, I give a loud 'Hellooo Baby!!!' to the dog.
And then as I walk away, I wonder at how uncannily these creatures sense a kindred soul......How do they know? I ask myself. Is it because unconsciously I radiate some kind of vibe in canine-frequency that the dog can sense or is it something equally inexplicable and complicated that tells these completely stranger dogs that I may be a friend? Who knows and who can tell, I marvel. But that canine creature with little help from tiny Virat Kohli has made my day and so I ramble on, happily..........



Saturday, 11 March 2017

Of Angels and Things



Let’s talk about angels today. No, not the winged kinds, but of the ones in disguise or in fancy dress (if you will), of the ones with neither wings nor haloes...of the ones ordinary, mortal and very like our own selves.

Why suddenly angels, you might ask. It’s not that I’ve not written of them before (you may like to refer to ‘Khronicles of Kaloo II’ and ‘Hitchhiking in Hooghly’) but today’s story has a slightly different flavour to it, being I feel, coated with a thin veneer of the Mysterious.

So this story is from about ten years back. I was then working in a small town in Assam and was to catch a late night train home from its capital Guwahati. Other Half was halfway round the globe and I was at that point of time, alone. To reach Guwahati from my town, it usually took the better part of three hours and so that afternoon I caught a local bus that promised to drop me off at the Guwahati railway station in less than three hours. But there was for some reason, a roadblock en route and we were delayed by nearly three hours. So when the bus finally entered the city, night had already set in. I was not very familiar with Guwahati and to compound the problem, the bus, making a detour had extruded us at a bus stand which was totally unfamiliar to me. It was now nearly ten pm and when I alighted I realised with a jolt that I had no idea which part of Guwahati I was in, where the railway station was and also that my current location was completely devoid of law abiding citizens. The only denizens visible seemed to be petty riff raff, some giving me such leering once-overs that my heart began thudding in foreboding. When I asked some one where the station was, he pointed a drunken finger vaguely at a general direction somewhere beyond my head that gave no useful answer to my query. And adding to my growing discomfiture was the grim reality that not a single public conveyance was to be seen, neither cycle rickshaws nor autorickshaws nor for that matter, minibuses. I had two pieces of heavy luggage with me and hence in no position to start trekking. So I waited, hoping against hope for a rickshaw to appear. Slowly my neighbourhood emptied as the passengers of the bus departed, mostly on foot or on two wheelers of friends and relatives and the night silence deepened. Even the riffraff seemed to have withdrawn into the darkness, as if waiting and watching in the shadows, ambush-like. I was now effectively stranded with two pieces of heavy luggage and the looming possibility of missing my train home. On the brink of a panicked breakdown, I suddenly heard a lilting voice,

“Heyyyyy...........”

I looked behind and then above. A spectacled woman was sitting atop a cycle rickshaw beckoning me.

“Going to the railway station?”  She asked, pointing at my suitcases.

I nodded.

“You can come with me.” She said, squeezing her plump self to one side of the seat.

For a few seconds I was transfixed with surprise at the suddenness of her appearance and of her offer. It seemed almost miraculous. Then the instinct for survival kicked in. Without any further hesitation or unnecessary questions, I hauled my suitcases up to the flat rest at her feet and was just clambering up, when I noticed that there was another creature occupying the space to the woman’s other side. I stopped in mid clamber for there didn’t seem to be much space left for me with two occupants already sitting on the narrow seat. 

Realising the problem, the woman gestured to the creature next to her,

“You sit on the rickshawallah’s seat.”

The creature complied without a murmur of dissent.

The woman shifted laterally, patting the now expanded space next to her. “Come, come.”

I completed my clamber and sat down. The rickshawallah, till now watching our antics silently gave a worried glance at his usurped seat. The woman realising the problem, cajoled in her liting voice,

“Bhaiyya, station to pichhe hi hai, zyaada door nahin...chaliye naa.......”

The rickshawallah it appeared, simply melted.

And so we  chaloed, us women on the seat with around four and half pieces of luggage, the creature sitting opposite us on the rickshaw wallah’s seat and the rickshawallah himself pedalling vigorously, his entire body bobbing up and down as he cycled.

It was only now, safely ensconced in my chariot and destination bound, that I turned my attention to the two people with me. Since she was sitting opposite I got a good glimpse of the ‘creature’ person whose gender I had been till now unable to decipher. Now when I finally got a good look at her, I realised that she was just a young woman, probably only a teen, with short cropped hair, androgynous attire and totally cherubic.

The plump woman beside me explained,
“My sister. She’s studying in college here at Guwahati.”

 I smiled at them both.

“Thank you.” I told her.

She gestured dismissively. “Oh ho, it’s nothing.”

Fair with tiny, slanting eyes and straight hair tied in a stylishly careless knot behind her head, she was of course, from somewhere in the North East. Comfortably plump with thick black framed spectacles, she appeared to be of my own age and judging from her used-to-being-in-charge demeanour, the sole guardian of her little sister.

The railway station as she had correctly pointed out to our rickshaw-wallah, was just round the corner and in no time we were there. Spotting the familiar footbridge and the usual hustle-bustle of an Indian railway station, I felt waves and waves of relief flood my innards.

“Thank you so much.” I said again.

She helped me down with my suitcases.

Seeing her keep sitting at her perch, I asked,
“And you?”

“Oh, we’ll be going to my sister's PG!”

“You’re not going to catch a train ?”

“No, no!” She laughed.

I was overwhelmed. She had taken a detour simply to drop me off safely at the station!

I put out my hand to shake hers. “Thank you.”

Her sister had now re-occupied the seat vacated by me and the rickshaw wallah fearing for his kursi, immediately reclaimed it and began to furiously pedal away. Watching them fade into the night, I suddenly remembered:-

“ Heyy,” I shouted. “Didn’t get your name.”

“Kim...........!” her lilting reply was lost in the din of the night time traffic.

Kim!!!! 

Gratitude welled up my throat. I knew I would not forget her. Suddenly, I wished to know her better, this kind, angel-like Kim.

But you see, the entire North East is full of Kims, thousands of them, of both genders. Even as I wished to know her, I knew that there was no earthly way that I could have ever searched her out, this Kim. Even today, with such fast and furiously efficient Social Media, I still know that without her surname, her address or any other identifying information, this Kim is lost to me.

But then you know, I don’t really need to search her out. I had already said my thanks to her. I know she would not want anything more from me. 

What is more important is that this little story of mine be told, for others to know, for two main reasons. Firstly, because in today’s atmosphere of increasing xenophobia, my story of Kim is a living, breathing proof of the innate niceness of our countrymen from the North East. 

And secondly because it reinforces my Alice like belief in guardian angels, creatures who emerge like magic out of thin air to stand firmly by your side when you are cornered against a tight spot. Oh yes I know, the politically correct thing to say for such situations is that one should be strong enough to solve one’s own problems without waiting for the Divine to intervene (you know- ‘God helps those who help themselves’ and all that), but personally for me, if a friendly, angelic Kim does pop in now and then out of the blue to steer me out of soups, then I am all for it, political correctness be damned.

PS: And as for the 'Mysterious' bit, I sometimes still wonder- 
Where did she emerge from, this Kim and her sister, suddenly in that deserted night, complete with such an accommodating rickshaw-wallah......??? It was sort of surreal, you know, that she had actually seemed to conjure herself out of nothingness................ a bit like Cinderella’s fairy Godmother, all mysterious, magical and মায়াবী........

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

BUGGED!

Many, many years back, right at the start of my career, I was working in a hospital somewhere deep in the heart of the North-East. The hospital was tiny, with a smattering of staff; but it was busy and challenging and I loved working there. My remote posting was also made easier by this fun friend I had made there, a pretty dentist  K who was working alongside me in the same hospital; and us being the only two single young women, quite naturally we were also sharing a room. Very soon my vivacious room mate met a dashing young man, fell in love and quickly got married. Of course, once married, she shifted home but we continued to remain good friends, her affable husband joining our little gang and even today, I can recall many a pleasant evening spent together over bowls of buttery Maggi, chilled Coke and deliciously gross B-grade Hollywood horror flicks on VCR.

One night, at around half past eleven, I received a sudden call from my friend, "Aibee, N has  a severe ear ache....Could you suggest something for it?"

I am usually loathed to prescribe medicines on telephonic consultation but it was a cold night and my friend seemed reluctant to leave the warmth of her cottage and come to the hospital for a face-to-face consult. So I relented, advised a painkiller and after telling her that she should bring N to me first thing in the morning the next day, I burrowed back into my warm quilt.

Next morning at around seven my friend was on the telephone again, her voice frantic:
"Aibee, could you see him now? N's writhing with pain!!!"

I rushed to the hospital. The duo were already waiting for me there. The normally always smiling N looked kind of beaten by the pain and only managed a wry "Hi!"

He explained to me that the pain was intermittent, occurring irregularly with completely pain free intervals but when it happened, the agony was excruciating.

I sat N on the patient stool and began examining his ear canal with my auroscope. I was so fixated on examining his eardrum, thinking an infection and impending rupture probably being a cause for his pain, that at first I failed to spot it. But his ear drum was in an immaculate condition, healthy grey-pink, reflecting my auroscope light in a perfect text book cone. I was a bit foxed now, wondering about the cause of his pain and it was only as I began withdrawing my instrument from N's ear canal, that I spotted it. Typical blackish brown oval humped body ......

"Its a bedbug!!!!! I screamed at N.
"N, its a bed bug........."
It took some time for the thing to sink into both my friends.
"A bed bug????"
 They looked at me blankly.
"Yup".
I began giggling, losing the serious doctor mask I usually wear when I'm working:
"N, तेरे कान में खटमल है......"

But N was not amused in the least. He looked back at me with a highly offended look that said plainly, 'How can you even think that I would be harbouring in MY ear, of all God's creatures great and a small, a BEDBUG ??????'

I would have laughed again but my amusement was cut short by a sudden contortion of N's face, a contortion of deep agony.

He looked at me and said hoarsely, "Its hurting again!"

As I inserted the auroscope back into his ear, I saw a red flush spread rapidly over the right side poor N's face and neck and I realised how terrible the pain must be.
I peeked into the instrument, trying to locate the scumbag of a bedbug when something fluttered against my right thumb.

I jerked my hand out, looked and to my amused horror, found that scumbag bedbug waving his/her feelers at me from the top of my thumb.You see, the bedbug had climbed out of N's ears on the back of my auroscope! Imagine the cheek!!!!!

Reflexly, I shrugged my hand and the little fellow toppled off onto the ground and disappeared into the depths of the OPD linoleum... Though K gave a short half-hearted chase but it was futile and the nocturnal vampire was never to be seen again.

When I checked back on N's ear canal, I found a few bleeding spots with a bit of ooze: fang marks of the tiny Dracula. It was then that I realised why N's pain was episodic: it happened when our bug bit into the skin of his ear canal and  it ceased the moment the fellow stopped biting. I prescribed N some antibiotics as prophylaxis against any possible infection alonwith a painkiller and after much ribbing about the bug in his ear, I let him free.

The story doesn't end there.

About a month later, one evening K landed up in my OPD with a sheepish grin on her face:
"Aibee, I think I've got a bug in my ear..."
I was too flabbergasted to even giggle.
"What, you too?" I was almost disbelieving.
"Its fluttering inside my ear!" she justified, a trifle apologetically.

And so it was time once again for my auroscope. But thankfully, this time it was only a little mosquito that we drowned very easily with some paraffin and tweezed the corpse out.

Well, many years have passed since then and N and K are now a happy family with the addition of a son, a K Junior. We've kept touch off and on but I've never really gotten to ask them if K Junior too has a story to tell- of being bugged in the ear like his Ma and his Pa................!


Monday, 6 March 2017

बार बार vs barbers

In the Armed Forces, we carry out medical examinations for cooks and barbers every month to exclude infectious diseases that they may pass on through the food they handle or in the case of barbers, through the practice of their trade. Now, the medical examination of cooks requires a stool test while that for barbers entails a general examination to rule out infectious diseases, mainly of the skin. No stool test is required for them.

Recently, cooks have  been renamed 'Chefs' and barbers renamed 'Dressers', though most staff still refer to them as cooks and barbers.

Generally there's a rush in the OPD and that day about 15 - 20 such staff landed up at my clinic for their monthly medical examinations.

I was that day, for some unrelated reason, in a not-so-benign mood. Anyway when these boys queued up before me, as a matter of routine procedure, I asked them for their stool examination reports.

One of them replied in a heavily accented tongue, "Madam,  बार बार.....!"

 "What do you mean 'बार बार'? I declared incensed, "Don't you know,  जितना बार medical examination होगा ,  utna बार stool test करना पड़ेगा......"

Our fauji boys are the sweetest, blessed with infinite patience.

The chap said again, with the same unfazed humility, "Madam, बार बार।"

But Madam was in the foulest of moods and in no frame of mind to listen, pause and ponder.

"Nonsense!" I declared. "I don't care kitna 'बार', bring your stool test report; only then will I declare you fit."

The rejoinder was again very gentle, tinged with an enviably patient understanding of their Madam's bad mood,
"Madam, बार बार!"

I was going to erupt into another outburst, when my medical assistant, well accustomed to Madam's hoity-toity-high-horse moods decided it was time to intervene.
He stepped forward and said  firmly, "Madam, BARBER, dresser!!!!!!"

Realization hit me right in the solar plexus, throwing me unceremoniously off my high horse.

Of course, BARBER and not बार बार!!!!

While the poor fellow was trying to tell me that he was a barber and hence that the damned stool test was not required, I had misconstrued, thinking he was simply being cheeky by retorting that getting a stool test done 'बार बार' was a waste....

My bloated ego well and truly punctured, I then completed their examination in a sheepish pin-drop silence.

And as for my damaged ego, it was quite some time before it healed since this incident.

Friday, 17 February 2017

BOSS: A Short Story

I fell in love, immediately, irrevocably. Considering that I had just ended a relationship and had run away from it all to this little village-town tucked into the bosom of the Dhauladhars, this falling in love was unexpected and uncharacteristic, given my current frame of mind. But standing there right under that huge, old leafless tree and looking up at the blue sky, framed between the silhouettes of the branches now rendered even a deeper jewelled blue , I caught a glimpse of the snow topped mountain brilliantly incandescent in the noon day sun and I fell in love, with this quaint but beautiful place.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Of Martyrs and Memorials........

The stone-walled structure stands at a prominent street corner. At dusk, it is lit from its two opposite edges by yellow neon lights that turn the pale peachy hue of the stones to a friendly warm orange. It's a memorial to a fallen soldier, a very simple structure really, unassuming and without ostentation. There is no bust, no Eternal Flame, no Weapon and Helmet, just two marble plaques, one inscribed in English, the other in Hindi. It is very old, almost as old as I am and the story it tells is even older, from a time during the birth of this country. Those times had been bloody I know, neighbour pitched against neighbour, brother hurled against brother. The birth pangs of our country had been excruciating, something we all know very well. Much has been written and spoken about those terrible times, a shameful, horrifying blight on the pages of our history. Around nearly that same time, another drama had played itself out in the northern most part of our country, in that paradise on earth called Kashmir. Its a story few are aware of for it finds no place in school textbooks, in films, in soaps on TV or in its daily raucous debates. This is a story of the heroic exploits of a handful of Indian Army soldiers and in the annals of Indian military history it occupies a proud and important place. This orange tone stone wall memorial celebrates a soldier hero from this very battle, a soldier who was martyred therein. 



I stop and read the plaque. He must have been young, the Hero for it is always the young who die in battles. The piece describing his exploit is brief and it takes me hardly a minute to complete reading. My remaining evening walk beckons but I stand for a few moments before the memorial. No, it isn't that I am paying any ritualistic respect, it's simply that I find myself thinking: thinking how lonely this little stone memorial seems to be. No one stops here, though it sits on a busy and prominent thoroughfare: neither the children laughing and skipping down to their badminton and squash games, nor the  women rushing through their evening walks, not the men cycling along or whizzing past in their fast cars to wherever it is that they have to reach. I have stopped, true, but that doesn't count for I am just an Alice and I have nothing better to do. 

I return to my walk and as I trudge up the hill road, my breath coming in laboured gasps, I think of how when things do not affect us directly, forgetting comes very easy and when things do not concern us, not knowing comes easier. And then there is the harsh reality of our violent times where every day brings new martyrs and new heroes and then, old heroes such as this Soldier of the Orange Memorial fade into Time's dusty archives, memories of his valour blunted, his glory dulled. I feel a little sad but then how does my feeling matter in the greater scheme of things, I ask myself pessimistically, clambering up the hill.

At another time, I find myself walking down that same road but instead of dusk, it's near dawn now. I pass by the memorial. In the morning it's a different sight: a stray dog snoozes on the little parapet by its side. On seeing me stop, for some unknown reason, it gives me a doggy salute, fore legs bowed, tail curved in an elegant concave. A few mynahs flutter around busily as an entire flock of bright green parrots with long graceful tails sweep down and sit on the stone wall, chattering importantly in their parrot tongue. The rays of the dawn sun fall on the peach stones, turning them fiery orange. A squirrel scampers down the tree trunk behind and rushes up the stone wall, it's tail flicking up and down. The snow on the mountains high above catches the sun's rays and shines a bright pinkish orange, making me wish that I had brought my camera along to capture it. My friend the brown dog steps off its perch and stands next to me, tail wagging. In that pink gold light of dawn, we stand together before the memorial, dog and woman, watching the squirrel, the parrots, the mynahs and the sun play happy games over the orange stones. 

A car suddenly passes by us in a rushed whoosh and my reverie is broken. I take leave of the dog and return to my walking, huffing and puffing once again up that steep slope. But this time I feel happier for it seems to me in my Alice brain, that though some may have forgotten, at least there are some in this Land who perhaps haven't..............!