Things You See On Mumbai Locals #4: Life’s Little Dramas

She got on from Dadar, and sat in the corner seat, tapping her toes and fidgeting with the strap of her bag.
Suddenly she asked, “What time will this train reach Borivali?”
“45 minutes”, I answered with the suave ease of a seasoned Mumbaikar. She blanched so visibly that it was evident she was running late for an appointment.
“Tell them – wherever you are late for – that it was raining and all trains have been delayed” I tried to reassure her. “It’s true.”
“No – actually I have to catch an express train” She confessed, and now both me and my friend (who was accompanying me) could empathize with her situation.
Who hasn’t experienced the nail-biting stress of being late for a train? Trains are the most heartless of all beings on the Earth. They never listen to excuses, or justifications, no matter how ‘justified’. Sometimes they will leave the minute you step onto the platform, just so that they can have the sadistic satisfaction of knowing they made you feel like a loser.
The three of us together tried out 3000 different hypothetical possibilities, but no matter which way we looked at it, it was a bleak situation. At the best, it would be a very close shave.
Our train, being the sadistic thing it is, didn’t make things easier, by suddenly becoming a slow, which means that it would now stop at 5 extra platforms!
My friend’s station arrived and she alighted. A few minutes later, she called up to tell me that the S Express (the girl wanted to catch) had just thundered past. We were only a few minutes ahead of it.
What followed was agonizing 15 minutes as we waited and silently urged our train to reach before S Express. After every few seconds, we would share a nervous smile. I wasn’t going to catch the S Express, but I could almost feel my co-passenger’s tension, like it was mine. I wanted her to be on time for the train almost as badly as she wanted it.
2 stations later, the S Express thundered past our train, past our dismayed eyes….till I had a hopeful thought: There are a lot of signals outside Borivali. Most express trains are forced to wait for a while before entering the station. Ours being a local had no such compunctions.
Another hopeful against hope 10 minutes later we reached our destination. The S Express was still at its platform.
The last I saw of the girl was her running towards the overpass, till I lost her in the mass of black heads and colourful backpacks.
In life, we like to have a happy ending; and so I hope she got the train.
For all I know, maybe she was going to take the train to meet her lover; maybe she was a secret agent, in hot pursuit of a criminal aboard the S Express; maybe she had a life-saving drug in her backpack that she had to take to her sick sister; or maybe she was going to participate in some sports tournament, and years later I will see her onscreen playing at the Olympics – there is a thousand distinct possibilities, and if this was a movie one of them would even be true. But who says life is any less dramatic than a movie? It may not be as obvious, but life has its little dramas…and all I hope they have happy endings.

Just another day in the city…

In the morning rush-hour, the Mumbai local is jam-packed. Sweaty bodies packed against each other like sardines in a tin. All you can see around you is the coloured fabric of your neighbours clothes, or the shiny leather of her handbag; sometimes, the quick glint of her watch, or bracelet, or mangalsutra as it catches the sunlight. Above you there is a veritable mess of hands, clutching at the rods, and all around the pervasive odour of dozens of different perfumes mixed together. Amidst all this serene and regular chaos there was a woman, maybe 50 or 60 years old, placidly knitting. Her needles clicked, and the bright orange jumper materialized before my eyes. Something productive amidst the mad frenzy of ‘office time’. 

In this crowd you would go mad with claustrophobia if you didn’t distract yourself. Some, like me, listen to music on their i-pods, mp3s or cellphones. Some squint at newspapers or books in the dim light that slants through the jumble of bodies; while others, with a snobbish shrug, use a Kindle. Some play games on their tablets, while some others are busy issuing directives on the phone. Amidst all this, there was also this lady, who was busy praying. Her eyes closed, she sat placidly, completely ignoring the mass of people around her, clutching her prayer beads, and serenely reciting the name of God. 

Outside the station, the hawkers had already set up stall and were screaming out their wares. The food stalls made the most business at this time of the morning. All those who had sacrificed breakfast for a few minutes of extra sleep now tried to cram some nourishment into their bodies. Others who had forgotten to pack their lunch this morning, purchased food packets for the afternoon. Among them, there are also some mothers who had packed their share of into their kids’ tiffin boxes, because it is his/her favourite dish. For them the roadside dosa/vada is the only option now. 

After the train, it is time to board a bus now. Just as crowded, but if you run, and are lucky you might get a window seat. I was extremely lucky today. I got a window seat. So while everyone else had to clutch at the handlebars and try to hold their insides in while the bus rolls onto its destination at breakneck speed, reminiscent of a roller coaster ride, I got to sit and admire the scenery of the urban jungle. Our bus stopped at a traffic signal, and beside us another car stopped. In the front seat there were two women, busy gossiping. In the back seat, there was a young child, about 2 or 3 years old. He stared at me with wide-open eyes and I looked back. After a minute I waved. A minute later, he tentatively waved back. A bond had now been established. Soon we were playing peek-a-boo, and laughing uproariously – at 9 o clock in the morning, at a busy intersection. Soon, the lights changed, and the traffic started moving. The car carrying the child vanished in a puff of smoke, and I was left waving. My quota for magical moments of the day was over. 

The bus stopped and half-a-dozen people poured out.In front of the bus stop, there is a Sai Baba Temple, with a golden spire. 5 out of 6, stopped for a second to fold their hands in obeisance before the idol, sitting placidly in its marble sanctum with a golden spire. Only one stopped to throw down some coins to the dust caked hands of the beggar children with matted hair, sitting in the sun, with their arms outstretched. 

It’s just another day in the city of dreams. Broken hopes galore and the defeated sit back and watch, while others persevere for a golden illusion they have heard whispers of. Still others have given themselves over to the rhythm of the city, allowing it to take them where it will. 

(My first Writing 101 post).

1st March 2014: Tryst With Edgar Allan Poe

Today, by chance, I happened to find myself in the college library, with quite a considerable amount of time on my hand. While browsing through the literature section for books to read, I came across a fat volume titled: The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Now I had of course previously heard of Edgar Allan Poe, vaguely, as a writer of Gothic Romanticism, of macabre tales and dark poems. But this was the first time I had read (apart from a short story I had previously read for class – and which pretty much fell into the established and commonly accepted norm of his stories) any of his works. And was I fascinated!! Here are some of the poems I read and loved by Edgar Allan Poe:

To Octavia

5211782unrequited_love_by_captain_curly_d31j2u1When wit, and wine, and friends have met
And laughter crowns the festive hour
In vain I struggle to forget
Still does my heart confess thy power
And fondly turn to thee!

But Octavia, do not strive to rob
My heart of all that soothes its pain
The mournful hope that every throb
Will make it break for thee!

It took me a minute to understand the last two lines, but when I did I was kept marveling at the sheer beauty of them. The original poem was written to Octavia Walton, daughter of George Walton, Secretary of West Florida under Governor William P. Duval. The poem manages to convey despite its brevity, a deluge of emotions. The narrator says how even in the most lively company of friends, and no matter how entertaining the conversation, his thoughts only turn to her, to Octavia, the girl he loves. He is fighting a losing battle with his heart, as he struggles to forget his Lady Love (who though it is not explicitly stated in the poem, must have turned down his proposal). The only hope the poet has is someday his heart will break, as he will realize that she is unattainable. It is only after this realization – no matter how painful – that he can never have her, strikes him, that he will be able to continue with his life. Because till then, he hopes (though he knows it to be in vain) that she will someday return his love, and that keeps him tied to her and her memories.

Lost and/or unattainable Love is a common theme in many of his poems. Here are two more that struck my fancy. The first one is only of two lines, and yet the couplet is one of my personal favorites.

Deep In Earth

1328790080_Love GraveDeep in earth my love is lying
    And I must weep alone.

Poe wrote this poem, I later learnt, courtesy of Google, in 1847 – the year of his wife’s death. In the poem he talks about the loneliness and grief he feels at her death.

The other poem, is not autobiographical, but the theme it discusses is similar to the previous poem – the loss of a loved one. It is one of the few poems written by Poe in a woman’s voice.

Bridal Ballad

beautiful-chinese-bride-white-wedding-dressThe ring is on my hand,
 And the wreath is on my brow;
Satins and jewels grand
Are all at my command,
 And I am happy now.

And my lord he loves me well;
 But, when first he breathed his vow
I felt my bosom swell—
For the words rang as a knell,
And the voice seemed his who fell
In the battle down the dell,
 And who is happy now.

But he spoke to re-assure me,
 And he kissed my pallid brow
While a reverie came o’er me,
And to the church-yard bore me,
And I sighed to him before me,
Thinking him dead D’Elormie,
 “Oh, I am happy now!”

And thus the words were spoken,
 And this the plighted vow,
And, though my faith be broken,
And, though my heart be broken
Behold the golden token
 That proves me happy now!

Would God I could awaken!
 For I dream I know not now,
And my soul is sorely shaken
Lest an evil step be taken,—
Lest the dead who is forsaken
 May not be happy now.

The poem is narrated by a newly-married bride, whose first love died in a battle. Her husband loves him, but she is unable to forget her earlier lover. He is rich and showers her with jewels and silk garments. And she tries to be happy and grateful for these gifts, explicitly crying out And I am happy now. However the very fact that she has to clarify on this point, repeatedly state it shows that she is not. She is just trying to fool the readers, and herself, into believing that she is happy. She confesses, that the only reason she accepted her husband’s proposal is because his voice reminded her of ‘dead D’Elormie’ her first love. She manages to partly convince herself that D’Elormie is happy now, and at peace; and thus in a stupor she goes through the marriage rituals. But even when she is taking her wedding vows, it is dead D’Elormie whom she imagines to be standing in front of her, and in this way she gets married. After the marriage when she returns to reality her heart is broken. But that is not what bothers her. What bothers her is that she has broken her promise to both men. She broke her promise to D’Elormie to love him forever, and she broke her wedding vows to her husband. But again she points to her golden wedding ring, and declares herself to be evidence of her happiness, since newly-wed brides are happy on their marriage day. The poem ends with a dream (or nightmare) of the bride, which shakes her soul, as she is made to consider the possibility that her dead lover may be unhappy by her betrayal to him, and thus he cannot rest in peace. The guilt and inner turmoil of the bride’s conflicting emotions underline most of the poem.I will conclude this post with a stanza from Poe’s poem ‘Alone’:

Sunset_Alone_by_ibadurrahman1From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were — I have not seen
As others saw — I could not bring
My passions from a common spring —
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow — I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone —
And all I lov’d — I lov’d alone —

The poem simply describes the lonely childhood of the poet, as he was different from all his peers, in his thoughts, feelings and passions. Yet at the same time it celebrates his own individuality and uniqueness. And isn’t that what Life is all about – being one with the crowd, while maintaining our own uniqueness. We are just one strand of colour in the rainbow of society. Not alike to anyone around us, yet made beautiful by their presence.

Images taken from Google

Writing A Blog….

writing-centerI will Write! I decided, and with great determination opened my computer. The ‘new post’ page loads and there is no sound in the room except the whirring of the ceiling fan, and the soft crackle of the newspapers in the wind – no sound, NONE – not even the fantastic one of brain gears clicking and churning to produce an idea, that blossoms into a story.

‘Text’ I click on the dialogue box, and a sterile white box opens – waiting, waiting for my words…..as I wait for them to come, to descend like invisible moths into my brain, and help me write. For I want to Write. But nothing comes, and in desperation I open up the daily prompt ‘Shake it Up‘ write about your birthday from when you were 12. Ah! what a nice idea! I will write on this.

I re-open the page. The white box stares at me expectantly. When I was 12 years old….nothing comes to mind, except the image of my mother, my mother in the kitchen cooking for us, my mother waking me up with kisses – my mother who is right now at a hospital, battling for life from hyperglycemia.

mother-and-daughter-1Writing for me is therapy, and so I want to Write, but nothing really comes to my mind. When I think of my 12th birthday, at present it is only my mother who comes to my mind, saturating all my memories, with a heavy sweetness. My taste buds yearn for the taste of the dishes she cooked for me on my birthday, all my birthdays – pulav, prawn curry and chilli chicken. And for desert – caramel pudding and rice kheer. Always! At every birthday, she would be the first person to get up and visit the temple to thank God and pray for my health. Then come back, wrap up my presents – and wake me up to her own rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’. The whole day she would be busy in the kitchen, in the dreadful heat, cooking up dishes whose fragrance dragged me and my sister to the kitchen door, where we would linger, watching her work. My nostrils ache for that fragrance now. In the evening we would go to my grandmother’s house for dinner, and it would be late by the time we returned. I remember how on our way back I would put my head in her lap, drowsy and half nodding off, and watch from this position the vast blue sky above with twinkling stars, interspersed by tree leaves and street lamps, while she gently patted me to Dreamland – this image always evokes in my mind a sense of safety and security that I cannot find now. I long for it now. I long for the comfort of her hug, the warmth of her arms, the promise of hope and security in her kiss, that could in an instant cure anything – from bruises to heartbreaks. I remember her pushing me on the creaky old iron swing in the park, I remember her holding my hand tight in the crowded roads, I remember her patting me to sleep, and I remember her hugging me tight when I woke up in tears after a nightmare; and later when these nightmares became real in the form of school bullies and cruel taunts.

I want to write, but it is only my teardrops that fall on the keyboard – and they craft their own song of nostalgia, of undying love and of Hope.

Daily Prompt: Shake it Up