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Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Eucalyptus tree stands tall, still
As we wait at the railway crossing,
Motors running, noisy vibrating
The train whooshes by
Hot, angry, shrill
The tree stands tall, haughty
Its leaves motionless, proud
We don't stir for trains, no sir
It takes breeze, wind, rain, clouds
For us to deign to look down,
To move at all.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Patna Sahib

When I was in Patna last December, there had been huge hoardings everywhere welcoming Sikhs from all over the world for the 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh, or as it was being called, Prakash Parv. I of course, had no idea. Mainaz, my colleague and co-traveller, who up till then had been steadily debating with me on current affairs, in preparation of the UPSC exam, was suitably judgmental. This time, on a whim I decided to go see the gurudwara, which is called the Takht Sri Patna Sahib. 

To do this, is to venture into one of the densest parts, of one of the densest cities in the world. The office Tata Sumo dropped me off at Gandhi Maidan and from there I took a shared auto. For about 10 kilometres, it drove through a narrow road with shops on loop; jewellery, poultry, steel dishes, clothes, tent house, band, halwai, tailors, kids toy stores, plastic buckets, vegetable vendors, again and again and again. Google maps showed the road we were on, as an angry red line of traffic. The Ganga its apparently a few hundred metres away. There's no sign of it. 

To survive in this country, is to have a relationship with heat. During my time in London, I remember acutely missing searing heat, the kind that soaks your clothes with sweat off your back. This auto ride had plenty of that. To thrive in this country however, I'm not sure what it takes, but it would have to do with crowds, accepting the jostle, allowing for adjustment. Crowds are instantly democratic, as are crowded places, and Bihar has a lot of those. 
The main gate of the gurudwara is impressive in its height and patterned doorway. Venturing in, there are a couple of state policemen, a few turbaned army jawans and signs for toilets and drinking water. Walking inwards, through the archway, the majestic beauty of the gurudwara presents itself, with its multiple domes and jharokas, framed by spires and flags. The whiteness goes with heat. There are also two blocks of rooms, adjacent and opposite it, all clearly brand spanking new for the visitors it would have expected last year. Some women are snoozing in the corridors, a few street kids walk around doggedly, knowing all eyes are on them. There's a sign that says "From Auckland to Manchester, from Toronto to Nanded, all Sikhs welcome." Beyond it, there is still construction work going on. 

I leave my shoes and walk in to the gurudwara through a curtained doorway. After matha-taking, I venture towards the end and sit down for awhile. The first thing I notice is the temperature, it's cool. There are two giant electric fans on the ceiling, each blade perhaps 10 metre long. There are also air conditioning vents. Being mid day and mid week there aren't too many people. There are a few bossy looking women sitting around, a shrieking child, a few young girls taking selfies. There is also a lady monitor amongst us, wrapped in saffron, who exhorts people to cover their head, and not take pictures. The ceiling of the gurudwara has marble inlay work, reminiscent of the Taj Mahal. The entire front face is plated in gold, invoking the Golden Temple. There are two huge, layered chandeliers dropping from the ceiling, spawning perhaps our cultural aesthetic.  

The earnestness of my prayers always surprise me. Perhaps it is the universal act of thanksgiving, of focusing sharply for a few minutes, that automatically reveals your priorities. If I was to really introspect, I would perhaps be classify myself as an atheist. Then again, to live in this country is to know that faith is largely inconsequential to religion. 

History though, is always a pleasure. There are no signs in English, and no visible learning material. Quick internet searches reveal that this is one of the five takhts, or holy places for Sikhs, the others being in Amritsar, Nanded, Bhatinda and Kartarpur in Pakistan. A takht, literally means a seat of authority. Earlier it is from where the Sikh gurus issued their hukums (or commandments). Now it has a more metaphorical meaning, as fountainheads of the faith. This is also the birthplace of our last guru, Guru Gobind Singh in 1666, and a gurudwara was built here by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, during 1837-39. 

The Government of Bihar has set up its own website ( with details of the birth of the Guru in Patna. A name that appears repeatedly in the write ups, is that of Pir Bhikhan Shah, a muslim mystic from Haryana who predicted the birth of the guru and travelled to see him in Patna. On meeting the child, he placed two bowls of sweets in front of him, one from a Hindu shop and one from a Muslim shop. As the story goes, the baby Gobind Rai, placed his hands on both the bowls at the same time, thus confirming the Pir's prophecy that this guru would help both Hindus and Muslims. 

After a while I head out. The person at the shoe counter, is young and sort of flirty. He talks to me in Punjabi, and asks if I've eaten langar or not. I reply in Hindi. I go to the tourist information centre, mainly to check out the public service and also to see if there's a shorter return route. In typical Bihari fashion, when posed with this question, the three men at the centre energetically discuss the options. After a while they ask me my name. When I reply with Inayat, one of them asks me my full name and fathers name which I refuse to give. His name his Husain he says, he's an inspector, and that he's just trying to help. I'm not Muslim, I clarify. At least write something in the visitors book, he says, which I do and then head back into the heat. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The one in which I practice loving someone a little less,
As per their demand
And not as per my supply

Is it doomed then
Like when Ammu told Estha
that it makes her love him a little less. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Patna Airport

11th July 2016

At Jai Prakash Narayan airport in Patna, they let you get off the aircraft and walk directly to the airport. Something that even its new neighbour, Birsa Munda airport in Ranchi wouldn’t allow you to do. If there’s ever an untapped indicator for comparative sub regional development, this is it. Even so, I am yet to land in Patna from Delhi, without some sort of VIP on the flight. I am yet to walk out without a large crowd lined up with garlands, bouquets and dhols. I am yet to view the parking lot without haughty Tata Sumos, Xylos and Boleros crowding it with their bullying lal baatis on top. 
There’s been a mess up and I have to wait for my vehicle pick up. As I walk through the parking lot looking out for the registration number that was messaged to me, I hear from the general direction of thte arrival gate, the familiar sounds of “Sudarshan Ram ki” followed by a respectable chorus of “Jai.”

Patna airport shuts down quick.  By 8:30, the cars in the parking lot have reduced to about a dozen. The attendant at the Amul store outside the airport is doing his stock taking at the end of the day. I decide to go back into the airport to wait and am easily let in by the CISF guards after showing my boarding pass. I head towards the two prepaid taxi stalls but there’s no attendant in sight. I get a call and by the time I’m done, the attendants are shuttering down and locking up. I sit down in the waiting area near the baggage belts but get told to move by the CISF guard on duty as she pulls out her off duty bag as well. I move towards the waiting area outside. The sole khaaney peenaey ki dukaan, a CafĂ© Coffee Day is also shutting down and the staff is packing up and leaving. At the water cooler a small crowd of CISF guards gathers, as they fill their water bottles and chit chat before leaving. The women’s pistol bolsters hang just as effortlessly on their hips as their slim gold watches with diamond shaped faces hang from their wrists. By 9 pm, the exit door to the airport has been shut. By 9:15, the lights begin to dim. I step out at 9:20 to an empty car park save for my pick up vehicle standing sulkily, communicating its displeasure at no doubt having heard an earful for the mess up in timing. 


Ranchi is the town of Ankita Anand, poet, feminist extraordinaire, who said to me when I told her that we would be switching cities, "I envy you." It's the city of Birsa Munda Airport, and while it's residents will talk of how much the town has changed, and I will say, yes and you have such a swanky airport now, they will say, no, that's always been that way. It's the city of village haats full of fresh vegetables, near the Vidhan Sabha road. It's the city with passenger trains shoot out radially to districts, where people wait at stations, two-three-four hours away, and then again, on the train while it stops arbitrarily for two-three-four hours on its way to Ranchi. It's the town of a generic hindu ethic of a way of life, viewing your intentions with wariness, predisposed to think of your corruptions.

It's a town full of street food at chowks and when you have only one of the two oily kachoris, the lady will ask you "taste nahin aaya kya." It's the city with Capitol Hill where development professionals drink with the opposite sex, while pot bellied all male groups, most likely District Development Officials sit at the adjoining table, everyone washed in a seedy red light and misogynistic punjabi music. It's the cluster stop of NGO's, where people talk without a breath of Ranchi-Patna-Raipur-Indore, which attracts investors, business folk and of course development folk, while it's ancient adivasi people like through this epoch too, as serenely as the last.

As someone said, Ranchi ajeeb hain, thoda city, thoda town, thoda gaon. It's the city with eagle eyes auto-wallas, who drive looking at the sides of the road, for people standing, waiting, patient, for the next shared auto to come by. It will come, it always does. It's the city where, no matter how congested the street, the sky is always expansive. It's the city where the name "Rupi Baskey" jumps out at you from a registration sheet at an event, because you're probably the only person in the room who has heard of and read Hansda Somendra.

It's where people will point out Dhoni's house proudly, on the middle of a bustling main road, visible to all who pass by, like a village, with all windows blacked out, like a city.

It's the city where I've moved out of home for work, and am always a little bit on edge, interspersed with, adrenalin at the sheer thrill, the chance, to live and work in a place like this. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Storming in Delhi

Last week, my ex-boss and me were discussing the drought situation in the country. He spoke as usual, with intellect and analyses. I jocularly asked him, "How come you follow the weather conditions so much," to which he replied with a seriousness that was intended to be sobering, "the monsoons are so important for the economy."

Today our weekly office meeting commenced at 12 pm and after hours of drudgery including banality and humiliation, I looked up from my laptop to see the sky darkening into a dust storm. We ate our late lunch enjoying this change of fortune for the city, and took a break to stand outside the office and watch the dust swirl around the India Gate lawns.

It's been raining on and off since then. I feel incredibly shitty today because I had setback in work progression and future plans and this triggered a good measure of feeling sorry for myself. I just wanted to get home and read some fiction. I bumped into my grandparents sitting outside and enjoying the weather. To wrap up that conversation more than anything, I said I was heading up to do yoga.

I changed into loose clothes, but abandoned plans for yoga. Instead I read some essays from Lunch with a Bigot by Amitava Kumar and started reading The Runaways by Sanjeev Sahota, a book I've borrowed from my aunt. It is without irony, that I say I switch between books like this. The wind intensified at around seven and I went out to the balcony. The breeze and rain, it seemed, were conversing with me. In what was an ill timed bout of crying, cry I did and then had to head down for an early dinner with the parents. We finished by 8 pm and I returned to reading.

At around 9 again, the wind intensified, and we went down and re-parked the cars in the shelter of the driveway, away from the wildly swinging tree they are usually parked under.

At around 10, Bae calls on his way back from work and almost reaching home says an ancient eucalyptus tree has fallen into a commercial vehicle in the street across  his house. He mourns the tree and says he'll call back once he's in the house. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Love Will Come Through, It's Just Waiting For You

This drought of writing, is pathetically correlated to falling in love. All my energy, all my faculties, all my attention, went into being in love, being with him, swimming in it, reveling in it, travelling with him, talking to him, not talking to him, thinking of him, changing tracks, then oh, oh, till it gets to a point, when it is a part of everything else, just like any old thing that exists in my room, in my life.

They say, privilege is being able to document your experiences and retell them, recall them, pull them out of your memory and present them to other people, to narrate them with utter relevance, to be so sure that the shaping of you, is the shaping of the world around you.

It's not that I haven't been thinking about it, all this, that has happened to me. It's been a year and half of dating, two since we met. A long view is pointless, because there can be none, but there are some things, that I absolutely must tell you.

1. The Plank
There are two streams. One is the regular flow, which even if you do nothing, you will bob along, quite araam sey. The second is the current, where you direct your flow and you want to change, and build, and grow, and control and become the flow, but also the destination. I am in love, but I can think equally of breaking up, of being married forever, of being together, of not at all. So you need a plank, from which you can handle both the regular flow and the current. You need a plank, to not be either of the two. I don't want to, just go along with things. Neither do I want to participate in every directional flow initiated by me in my own apparent self-interest. I'm watching myself be me. I don't agree with everything I do, and I'm not sure this is who I want to be.

2. I is We
I've been noticing lately, how people observe us, talk of us, look at us. I meet a junior from college who is now in JNU for a quick dinner at Arabian Nights and Bae joins us after. We drop him back to campus and then we head to my place. He texts me later, you guys are perfect together! I chortle because I've been there myself, where the view from the bottom, looks so fascinating. I would endlessly idealise couples around me (especially those who were older). Another time, I was having drinks with a friend and Bae joined us again. I went to the loo and when I got back I heard the friend asking him questions about his family and then a flicker while he mentally placed it and then looked at me differently for a moment. My friends ask him questions about his work, very specific ones, seek his opinion and I can see them appraising his intellect for themselves. Independent of what they've heard from me. In those moments, I see how it looks from where they are. What it says about him, about me, about us.

3. The SeeSaw
Moods between two people, it swings from one to another. Sometimes it's okay, sometimes he has the upper hand, sometimes I, and we both feel it. I think that has to be one of the best parts of being in a relationship; how closely someone observes you, how much they let you be and how much they don't. What you choose to raise objection to, to explain, to shut up about.

4. Get On With Things
I have fundamentally changed as a person, based on all these incremental experiences. I can identify this in two ways; one, I just don't feel like wandering for the sake of it and second, I feel very differently about my family. Ofcourse I want every experience in life, but I also want a locus standi, a little place in this world for my own. The last decade has been about understanding my existing place and trying to step out of it, critique it, run away from it and I put all my energy into this. But I'm done with this phase now. This has got extended to the relationship also. I feel sometimes, bahut hahahehe ho gaya, enough getting to know each other has happened, life is mostly hard and the preciousness of this won't last, so let's secure it, let's be grown ups. What are our plans? Even before I frame this question, I already know the answer. Right now, it can only be this. That will have to be okay for now, but it changes how I approach the relationship.

5. Houses
There is perfect symmetry; in my house, he cannot meet anyone, no one can know he is here and we can do just what we want behind closed doors. At his place, I have to meet whoever is there, be social and communal the whole time, and there is no question of  being behind closed doors. My nesting instincts are so strong now, for the sense of a house, that two of us would inhabit.

6. What It's All About
At the Museum Bhavan exhibit of Dayanita Singh, it was between moving from one to another photograph, that catch in my heart. In Bastar, walking from one farm pond to another, as women chat and explain, the use of the water. Waking up early, to catch morning flights, so purposeful, so paid for, from one place to another. In reading fiction so powerful, that you stop and can't read on. In making my way for the protest march and bumping into my college professor, and talking about life and everything else while marching together. In these moments, of unplanned for happiness, of satisfaction and fulfillment, what it's all about is to evident, el oh vee ee.

7. Giving Love, Getting Love
It has been a struggle to accept that I need love. My reason tells me, I don't need anything. This is true of course, in its own way, but it's not an absolute. At any given point of time, I am realising, the love that I am giving, is a function of me, not of him. Of what I want to put out into the world, not necessarily what the world needs, or what he needs. Ergo, what I put out into the world, is then partly a factor of what I want, sub-consciously even, but it is true. I've accepted this. Being loving, somewhere along the line, is translating into an expectation of love. The correlation shocked me, and I refused to believe it. It cannot work like this; you love people only because you want to be loved in return? Yes and no. I love him, that is certainly an absolute. But the way I love is definitely, at some basic level related to my image of the love I want to receive.

8. Letting Go, Holding On
So many many things are let go, things he wouldn't even know, because those are things that come from me, that are my battles and perceptions and once it's gone, it opens up so much vision, so much space, to see it for what it is, and not what I am trying to see it as. If that is good, then it's good, and if that isn't, then it isn't, and that is fine.

9. The Calculation
When it isn't even, is when you start calculating. How much am I giving, how much am I getting, and that place, beyond any amount of transaction, beyond any quid pro quo, is the sweet spot and those are the best spaces in any relationship. You want to make it roomier, and airy, and put out a sun chair, and pour yourself a mint julep, and take it in.

10. It Started With a Hug
There has been no gushing, which has been a bit unfair. I write about all the problem knots, about what is to be dealt with, to be lived through. There is so much, which is effortless and seamless between us. I guess that goes without saying. It started with an evening at Summerhouse and then chatting through my building excitement in the car park of Aurobindo Market. I stood with my back to the railing and he stood near the door of his car, wiping sweat from his eyebrows in Delhi's September heat. I then walked past him to my car and stood talking from there, with a good distance between us. He walked over across the path and gave me a hug, mid-sentence. I din't realise what he was doing, and I didn't know what to do, so I just stood there and grinned, unable to return it.