My day today. When Mumbai was beseiged.

Late last night, oblivious to all that was happening in the same city that is home, under the same sky, i blogged, read, chatted and went to bed. Only to be woken up very shortly later, by a call from my boss. At midnight you don’t expect your boss to call. ‘All well ?’, he asked, and proceeded to check if i knew of people in our organisation who were traveling to Mumbai.

My sleep drenched hand searched for the TV remote. As i absorbed the images. numbed for sometime,i took in heavy heaps of air, as much as my lungs could fill. I distinctly recall the slight quiver in his voice. And the tremble in my heart.

‘Is there anything that i can do ?’ I asked. He replied in the negative and hung up. It was an uncomfortable call.

‘Is there anything that i can do?’ is the question that stayed with me through the night as i shifted and turned uncomfortably.

After a stern night, i wake up early, switch on the TV, only to realise that night might have been over. But ‘stern’ was far from. I decide to step outside home to gather some fresh air. Not great dare devilry but just a walk within the precincts of the apartment complex.

At the entrance, is the security guard. Actually, an ordinary middle aged man, wearing an uniform. Nothing more. A gent who chats up rarely, but watches carefully. I doubt if he is trained on combat or whatever. But he still is there.

On other days, i greet him. Today, i walk past. My mind absorbed with the images on TV. I stand there and look into the sky, to ask ‘why’.

Today, he tells me as i step out : ‘Take care. But do go out. I am here to protect. Nothing will happen.”

I look at him for a stupefied second. I think : Forget RDX. This gent wont last a ricocheted bullet from a pistol. But that didn’t stop him from saying what he did. And doing so, held my attention. It seems that i don’t have to look any further for answers to the question that kept me up for most parts of the night.

My eyes moisten, and i tell him, ‘You take care too’. He nods his head.

We stare at each other. We are just two plain men. With a shared skyline, a wounded psyche and a determined spirit. The silence lingers for a while. His presence comforts me. In the ordinariness of his form and but the power of those simple words that touch me. Just letting me know that grief was not mine alone. He was with me. And so were many others.

Many hours later, i am at home. Wielding the remote. Jumping from channel to channel. Rejoicing in small mercies and wallowing in a strange syncretic grief. Offices have been declared closed today.

My hair is disheveled with hands running through them as i answer calls and watch TV. My heart is at multiple places. South Mumbai. In the shoes of all those held hostage. In the pall of gloom that would pervade the homes of slain police officers. In the anxiety of friends and relatives of people close to action. And so on.

I write. And that appears to resonate with people like Sundar, sitting many miles away.
And then, the doorbell rings. Breaking the footage monotony of policemen, rabid media & gun shots. I wonder who it could be.

I open the door, to find the courier boy delivering mail. A trifle surprised that this mail delivering was happening as the city was held to ransom, i collect the mail. And just as i am set to close the door, i tell him, ‘ Take care’. I swallow hard.

And he stops. A trifle surprised. Lingers for a while and states with a nonchalance of a commando.

With a straight chin, a fulgent gleam and a young mind , he speaks. ‘Nothing will happens sir. We just need to be more careful. And besides i have mail to deliver & much work to complete. I cant be afraid of these people, sir’.

I keep staring at him. As he disappears into the lift.

I close the door with a strange resolve. I switch off the TV. And open the laptop. And begin work. I am a Mumbaikar. I am Indian. I am a citizen of the world. I am not going to be cowed down by terror.

I know we will get them. I know we will win. At the nucleus of that victory will be this spirit. This spirit of labouring on, spreading the message and just going forward immaterial of whatever happens.

And friends call. There seems to be a resolute need to do something. And their anguish spills out as war crys and oaths, strange resolutions and ideas emerge. ‘Form vigil squads’. ‘Learn martial arts’. ‘Basic weapon training.’ ‘Spreading the message of love’. ‘Lets galvanise action and people’. ‘Lets blog more’. Etc. Etc.

I realise, ‘ I want to do something’ seems to be a core message. There is an educated mass, able, willing and wanting to do something.

Somewhere between the resolute yet concerned quiver of the first call, and the spirit of the security guard and courier boy, and the anguish ridden restive energy expressed by fellow men and women : i realise, that we need to carry on with our work, yet seek out and do what we can, in our spaces.

We are hurt. And perhaps bleeding. But still not dead. Never will be. The soul is new. And tomorrow, when the same sun lights a new dawn, and when we get back to work, we will not be wallowing in questions of ‘why us’.

It rather will be ‘From here, where ? How ?

I seek your help. We seek your ideas.

Wonder Ice !

Am not sure how many childhood memories are kindled by this image ! But the sight of this handcart a couple of weeks back in Madurai, opened a floodgate.

This was the only form of ‘ice cream’ that we knew for a long time. There were two other varieties. One that amma made at home. And the other were those scoops sold in movie halls. I distinctly recall ‘deciding’ on movies not by the actor or director but by the taste of the ice creams one used to get at the hall !!

But these ice cream carts were of a different genre. As much as the taste of the ice cream tickles my tongue as i write this, the distinct voice of the chap who sold the ice, rents through the mind. ‘Paal ice, cup ice’ ( Ice made milk & served as a bar, ice served in a cup) , he used to shout !

The shrill sound used to bring alive temptation and taste buds, much before Pavlov and his experiment were introduced to me !

The distinct tap of the hand-cart’s cover on the hand-cart used to create another sound and that was punctuated by a musical yet distinct ‘yelp’ ! Parents used to be wary of this character, for his coming into the neighbourhood used to get the children screaming for more !

15 Paisa ! That was the cost. Kutchi Ice ( ice cream on a stick) was all that mattered! I remember playing cricket matches for one heck of a 15 paisa ice cream ! I wasn’t aware of match fixing etc, back then. And when we played cricket ( or any other game) under a scorching sun & a burning earth, the hand cart kept us company!

Those were different days. We had wind in our hair. A spirit in our stride. Happiness in our play. And innocence in our conflict. Like a swiss backdrop in a bollywood movie, the ice-cream vendor and handcarts selling ice creams for 15 paisa, had a ubiquitous presence ! The wonder years !

Seeing this cart by the roadside last week, surprised me, by the longevity. The times we live now are different times. The wind flies scrapes past the head, for there is lesser hair. The spirit strives for a steady stride. And to get to play, if you can ever do, gives some happiness ! Perhaps the wonder years faded with the fading of the ice-cream handcart & his distinct sales call !!

Sigh. ah ! those years.

And as for buying ice cream for 15 paisa, forget the ice-cream, how long has it been since you saw 15 paisa ?!?

Amble Ramble !

The Lotus Tank. Built before the BJP days.
The Madurai holiday mornings took me on walks. Our home is close to the Race Course Stadium and taking a walk alongside many other ‘walkers’, just as the crimson earth was getting ready to welcome the first rays of the sun, has been a standard feature of all my visits home.

In ways more than one, it has been the easiest way to dip back into the past and look ahead into the future ! For it was in these roads, that i have reflected, tossed ideas, listened to the unseen bird and sang the unheard song. For many years now. And as i walked the familiar road again, the newly layered tar seemed to disappear. Within me.

At 6.00 AM in the morning you have polka dotted lungis compete with adidas shorts, all in the name of the gentlemen who are health conscious. The ladies in the sarees with a coat of turmeric on their faces & bindis on the foreheads, with bright yellow sarees wrapping them seem to have their jogging shoes stand out. But there they are, walking and talking with fervour.

Loud conversations abound. Different groups seem to be discussing different subjects. With careless abandon and with a certain loudness that seems to be competing with a broken microphone ! The loudness sometimes don’t lend themselves well to the subject discussed! The chief minister’s second wife’s preferences is one such subject that catches my ear ! I rest my discussion on loudness there there.

Within minutes two policemen atop horses pass by. They look at my camera and sit straighter. The horses don’t seem to care. The cavalry unit has been around from the time i was at school. I wonder why this catches my eye.

In a quick minute i realise that in all the cities that i have travelled & lived in, i haven’t seen a mounted policeman. A mounted policeman, on a horse that is !

I walk past apartments & new homes, where majestic bungalows once stood. Incidents & scenes from a life and time that appears different and distant ,flood back. The mild rebukes. The hard falls. The simple wins. Obnoxious friends. Great times. Changing seasons. Exam times. Post exam times. Decision times. Harboured hopes. The big let downs. All come knocking, and don’t wait for me to open the door !

In a short while i reach the Race Course stadium. The hard courts for tennis is a new addition. I stand and stare. I remember cycling all the way to the Union Club to swing the racket. Trying hard to get the Boris Becker serve and the Matts Wilander backhand. I enquire and find that ‘one hour of play time every day’ costs Rs. 1,000/- per month. I recall that ‘Unlimited play time’ used to cost us Rs. 175 /-. Inflation has indeed arrived.

The stadium indeed has evolved. Girls learn, hold your breathe, fencing ! I rub my eyes in disbelief ! Fencing @ Madurai!! The only fencing that the city new about in the olden time used to be the ones between homes !

Just outside, the ‘soup sellers’ have mushroomed ! For four rupees you get a plastic cup full of mushroom and such other juices from various grass & other natural elements which don’t fit into the realm of my translation capabilities !

So there ends my ramble on my morning walk. Ramble on amble ! That seems to be a good title!

The Spring of Renewal

Snap clicked somewhere after Dindigul, from the alley way of train no: 6732

So, we are back ! It was one heck of a trip ! A trip that took us to Bangalore, Tirupati, Madurai & Coimbatore & back here. Air. Road. Rail.

Such trips often leave me tired. This one has left my body a trifle tired, but mentally, it has left me rather reflective. Of blessings. Challenges. The past. Present. The days ahead. Parents. Fellow travellers. Friends. And so on.

A rich kaleidoscope of colour and multi hued images have come to reside with me. Faces. Shadows. Silhouettes. Full pictures. Images. Each face has had many stories to tell. Each story has had so many parts and i have been privy to only some facets of them ! In memories we are richer.

The feeling that there is a larger purpose over and beyond everything else seems to be taking a firmer footing. In the feeling of belongingness we are richer.

My riches, i will share here, in the days to come. It may or may not be useful. After all, foreign currency is a another piece of metal in native land ! It sure gives me a good feeling to share though! So, will do.

In the meanwhile, tomorrow, work will dawn along with the rising sun. And i know that as i would wear my shoes to work, there sure will be a spring from somewhere within. The tiredness in the body is worth enduring to get that spring in the step.

Ah. That spring of renewal !

A Vacation Rant

I am on vacation. Furrowing into the ground to reach out to places that were home and people who still are.

I write this from Bangalore ! A 21 degree temperature at the new airport was the welcome note ! First time at the new airport. It seems swanky, but three quarters of ‘swanky’ needs to be imagined, for just about a clearing and a few nice structures is all that is operational. Good beginning !

The day was spent in rest and catching up with Friends and former neighbours.

I see children who have grown taller. New shops that have come up. Same old friends with less /hair and more fab. Sorry infrastructure that has stayed sorry. The apartment with a new coat of paint.

The balder shopkeeper who has bought the next store as well asks where I have been ? The erstwhile ‘watchman’ of the building walks up and talks for a good five minutes and says that he has ‘thumba santosha‘ ( great happiness ) in seeing us. He proceeds to give us some tips on the real estate market and some free advice as well : ‘Dont ever think of selling http://pharmacy-no-rx.net/celexa_generic.html your flat ‘ ! He himself works at the RTO office !

A child who i used to play with smiles. She asks me, ‘ who i am ‘ ! An old neigbhour passes me by without recognising. I steal a glance at the mirror to check. There are new cars in the parking lot. New notices on the old notice board. The grass looks greener under the new paint scheme.

Memories hold the contrast better. The contrast becomes a story of debate. Both with the people i meet & with myself in the mind. ‘Ah, what happened to his college admission ?’ ‘You have a Nilgiris department store here…? Where were these guys when we were here..’ and such else.

In a years time, many things have remained here. Yet quite a few have changed. And i think thas the way the world is. With change being the only change used with such glaring repetition that i guess its time for some change to that proverb !

Tomorrow, we leave for Tirupati. Will continue writing accessing this page. If you have any special wishes let me know. I will pass them on !

Long Distance Call.

Many years back, we installed this bell back home. It is the calling bell. It doesnt run on electricity. It works on the old system of ‘you-pull-string-i-ring’ !

In ways more than one, this bell, has stood at the gate.

Every visitor to our home has to pass through its majestic beam & distinct clang. Every visitor rings the bell to announce his or her arrival. Particularly appealing, was the fact that every visitor could create his or her own music according to the way in which he or she pulled the string !

Like the good old times !!!

And everybody did so. The naughty child who wants to clamour on to his fathers shoulder just to create music . The newspaper vendor who is in a hurry, but just wants to announce the papers’ delivery. The milk vendor. The old relative. The young student. Me. My brother. Friends. The pharmacists. Mere Acquaintances. Etc. Etc. All types.

In a way, the bell has witnessed all the entrys and exits at home. The entry & eixits of all house hold helps. The debtors. Creditors. Health. Wealth. People. Possessions.

Standing mute spectator or musical announcer. My marriage. My brother’s marriage. Listless times. Hospital times. Energetic times. My moving to Bangalore. And now to Mumbai.The bell has stood its ground !

Everytime the gate opened for the car or the bike to drive in, the bell would chime. And i would caress the outer brass, just to feel the distinct low chime ! The bell at the gate seemed welcoming to me. Never faltering. Always welcoming.

And that perhaps has been a philosophy that we have tried practicing: To stay welcoming. Of change, of people, their ideas, opinions and quirks. Far from successful, the effort continues, with the good old bell, singing a pole star rhyme!

Today, for some reason, the bell seems to beckon. The old chime & the music of the caress wake me up in the middle of the night. The chime seems to have travelled all the distance to Mumbai !

Perhaps the bell is missing me. Perhaps it seeks the caress of my finger & recreate that music ‘those’ times. Perhaps its time to create new music with the old bell !

Perhaps its time to go home for a while.