Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Bargain

Malls were mushrooming uniformly across all the suburbs of Mumbai. I was one of the many Mumbaikars who had spent their Sunday evening in one such mall. Though I had gone to the mall without a shopping list I had returned with a few things in my bag.

After an evening spent browsing through various tags, labels and brands I was resuming back to my routine today. Like everyday my day began in a local train that would after an hour’s journey take me to my routine destination. My fellow travelers pushed, jumped, pulled, cursed to board the train and get a seat or a comfortable place to stand inside the crowded compartment.

I lacked that kind of motivation and preferred to board the train when the pushing-pulling exercise would get over. I had discovered and developed two hobbies while traveling in the local trains. The first one was standing at the compartment door and feeling the breezy wind on my face and the second one was eavesdropping on the myriad conversations that took place inside the compartment.

Today I was entertaining myself by observing and assessing my fellow travelers' activities. My eager eyes were grazing through the many faces in the compartment and were drawn to a face with a toothless smile. That old face belonged to a lady selling bags. I couldn’t help but look at her intently.

Women around me in the ladies compartment were too engrossed to notice the efforts this old lady was doing to make them look at her bags. Nothing could dishearten the smile and the positive vibes she was carrying with her. After some time my fellow travelers took some interest in the lady and her bags.

The well-dressed working women from Mumbai, faces glossed with the lipsticks, bodies draped in ironed saris and salwar suits.... After scrutinizing the bags to their satisfaction they would ask for the price of the bag. By now almost all of them knew the bag would cost them 10 Rs. and it was to be used when you go to buy vegetables.

Nothing could still discourage the smile and the old lady. She had pushed herself around the compartment, disturbed every group busy with the gossip talk, yet she was unsuccessful in selling a single bag. The powdered, prim proper face of the city women would lose its shape and the expression signified the shock, discontent, horror they felt after hearing the highly inflated price of that bag. The women would all of a sudden lose all interest in everything else and debate, plead, order, force this woman to reduce the price as it was just too out of reach for the shopaholic women to spend Rs. 10 on a not so useful bag.

My journey for today was coming to an end.. I could not look at the wrinkled face anymore, my eyes refused to meet those jet black eyes full of hope to win over everything even when more than half of the life had proved them wrong. Then I heard myself calling that old lady. I told her that I needed to buy a bag. The joy that she felt in showing me the different colours I could choose from and telling me that she had stitched every bag herself was making it impossible for me to hide the emotions that surfaced on my face. I picked up a red one for myself and gave her 10 Rs.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The World Beyond Her Eyes

I have known this woman for a long time now. Sometimes her heart beats faster than normal; sometimes she feels a lump in her throat and sometimes her eyes arrest my gaze as if for eternity. When I am looking at her eyes it seems as if they are an entranceway to some mystic world too different from the world I live in.

I don’t see her everyday. I see her only when I wish to take a stroll in her world. She is the only inhabitant of her world and I am her only guest. She always stands at a high peak looking at the expanse of her world below. Once I step inside this world through her eyes I can feel her every thought, every grain of her emotion.

When this connection is established, even with my eyes wide shut I can see her world clearly. The crowd and the innumerous conversations in my world were making me restless and I decided to make my trip to this woman’s world today. I closed my eyes as I stood next to her. There was a sudden rush of energy that eased my weak shapeless thoughts. I could feel something happen to my shoulders. Next moment I saw an eagle; strong winged floating in the sky of this world.

I was the eagle. Fearlessly cutting past the currents of the wind, feeling wind against every shred of my feather. The chaos of those conversations in my world stopped affecting me the moment I became that eagle in her world. There was an aura sheltering me. At this exact moment I could feel thousand different energies within me.
I was a wall tall ocean wave journeying in an ocean. I also was the small fish in the depths under this wave, though small it was giving me tons of zest. In her world I could become a freefalling waterfall, an ant, a wild running black horse, a leaf, a single raindrop or the rain pouring at it’s own accord. Whatever form my feeble thoughts acquired it always made me feel boundless and capable of doing and undoing the exact thing so unachievable in my world.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The White Handkerchief

The bag on my shoulder was little heavier that day; it was the weight of those new books I had purchased while strolling up and down some street in Colaba. The train took a breather for few seconds at some station allowing women to crowd the already crowded ladies compartment.

I adjusted the bag to hear some raised voices. Enquiringly I looked in their direction. Women were pointing fingers towards a kid. Like a battlefield the space was divided in two halves. A boy, 8-9yrs of age was the lone commuter on one half of the compartment and the other half was inadequate for the women pointing fingers at him.

What was the paranoia about? I was wondering, a stinky street kid is no object of awe for the local train commuters. I looked harder as the panic voices couldn’t tell me anything. Now I could see the lanky kid wearing those oversized torn clothes that made him look sickly.

I realized then that the women were staring at a white handkerchief in the kid’s hand. Mumbai had few days ago witnessed a series of bomb blasts in local trains. But I was sure the all-famous Mumbaikar spirit would not surrender logic so easily to imagine explosives in a kerchief held by that fragile hand.

When my muddled mind was struggling to make sense of it all, the kid opened the white handkerchief & took it to his nose. A groomed, neatly dressed school kid using a kerchief to wipe his nose would have been a mundane sight. But seeing this urchin do the same was unusual and what followed was shocking. He took a deep breath in that handkerchief, his facial muscles flexed in excitement as he pulled the handkerchief away from his nose.

I was no stranger to the worldly horrors. There were too many newspapers in Mumbai gallantly breaking news of drug trafficking, murder, scams.. the list is never-ending. But to actually witness a kid so young demonstrate the horrendous reality was nightmarish.

Numb and frozen my thoughts were. Then suddenly a shrill piercing voice broke the trance. A lady had gathered guts to trespass into the kid’s half. Middle-aged and possibly a mother of 1-2, her motherly instinct wasn’t ready to give up on the kid. She was trying to stop the kid from smelling the white powder in that white handkerchief again. Empty eyed the kid stared at her. I wished I could snatch the kerchief and fling it out of the train but I was glued to the ground.

The train was slowing down to welcome some more women to witness the dread. As the women were struggling to get in… the kid dissolved in that crowd.

Monday, September 04, 2006

I am a Painter

I am a painter
White paper
Facing me
Colours staring eagerly

The brush seems alive
Paints my thoughts
An easy stroke here
A hurried stroke there

Like a graceful dancer
Explores the canvas
Step after step

Colours like refugees
Lifted from their bottles
Discover the undiscovered space

Like the first colony of men
Formation so unknown
Now reside on my paper.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A boy who took Photographs

Personality tests intrigue me a lot; give me a chance to introspect and make me face questions I forget to ask myself in the hustle bustle of routine life. Yesterday I received one such personality test through an email. I ticked all the answers and then convinced my younger brother to take the same test. After a little grumbling he agreed and I started asking him questions. He walked leisurely up and down the room answering. For almost all the questions I knew what to mark but I was letting him take the questions. After a lot of questions that questioned him whether he was messy, interactive, sociable etc. came this question. “Are you intellectual?” the question said. Instinctively my brother said no.

I asked him to reconsider his answer, but he was surprised that I was actually asking him to do so. I asked him to explain how could he be so sure of himself. He stopped pacing the room came closer to me and said, “I am not intellectual because I take photographs”.

Later I couldn’t decide whether it was the question or my brother’s reply that baffled me more. The word ‘intellectual’ like a stone in a placid lake formed several ripples in my thought pool. I did not remember the dictionary meaning of the word and wasn’t interested in recollecting it either. I was questioning my understanding of the word.

My brother had further explained that as he wasn’t scholarly in math and sciences he wasn’t intelligent. World has seen Thomas Alva Edison and also has seen Wladimir Baranoff-Rossine. Who is a true intellectual, a science scholar or a boy who takes photographs? I do not know how the world defines the word intellectual.

A degree in Fine Arts with photography as a special subject was my brother’s chosen course unlike many of his friends who took up different engineering courses, few took up medicine as their subject. While his friends were busy learning varied computer languages, my brother spend time experimenting with his camera.

Are the artists and the scientists similar or are they two polar ends? Artists are creative and intuitive. But if I got to compare them I would say the way a computer engineer or a doctor performs his task is very similar to the way an artist operates.

To write a computer code too a person needs an equally intuitive mind and has to think creatively. Like a photographer has to learn fundamentals of camera’s various functionalities any other science faculty also grasps the basics. There is no career where a person can be dispassionate and still be an intellectual.

After a lot of brain racking I defined the word ‘intellectual’ for myself. Intellectual for me is any individual who chooses a career that he is passionate about and creatively adds value to it. May it be a heart specialist or a kathakali dancer if every performance leaves a unique mark of the performer it means he applied his intellect.

There was this particular teacher I will never forget, there is this particular dentist whom I choose to go to, I still preserve the painting -my acquaintance’s creation which he gave me many years back. I now realize intellectuals are there in any and every field of work. No two people can duplicate their performances what ever is the nature of profession. Every individual has some characteristics that he lends to the profession and thus is unique in his performance.

But like those mice that followed the hypnotic tunes of piped piper, people blindly pursue careers. Then are born the stereotypes like the one that says only the sciences require application of intellect. At the end of this dialogue with myself and later with my brother I could convince him and myself that a boy who takes photographs is very much an intellectual.