Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Edit It

Copy editing is something I love doing. Carving meaning out of language, testing the limits of words, creating something that the reader would like to spend time over are some of the perks that come with the job. Another perk, of course, is to see the horrors that language can create (no offence meant to anyone whose work I have ever edited). When these masterpieces don't come to me en masse an hour before the deadline, then, well, there's something to be said about their unintentional humour. Here's one of those, about the writer's visit to a hospital to interview someone for a story, which was too bizarre for words. It's in mint condition, except that names of people and places have been removed, for my safety.

"DR have give us proper direction, where to come but (the) campus is so huge, it really very difficult to find out where is sits in campus. On top of that, the security guard standing on the gate gave us a wrong direction and we end up reaching into (the) mortuary. What we saw there left us horrified and totally grossed out. Dead bodies stacked up in half open gunny bags! What were those doing there, we have no idea. Anyway, after an hour long hunt we finally managed to find our destination."

Ik chhota sa lamha hai...

Gulzarsaab has the knack of putting a lifetime of thought into a single line. This is one I often think about, the one moment that haunts you forever, that you can't let go of and that doesn't let you go. Aren't all our lives full of such moments?

Time doles out generous doses of amnesia. Life picks up pace everyday, till you are running so fast that you don't know whether you're coming or going. The dust of life's journey settles on things gone by, on innumerable moments that were precious back then, but seem to have no meaning now. 'Moving on' is important; is looking back important too?

In the hazy world of memories, it's difficult to tell between castles in the air and the ground beneath your feet. Yet, in this ever-shifting, ever-changing world, there are always islands that stand out crystal clear.

Sometimes, I don't need to do anything to realize that I'm on one of those islands. Talking to a friend reminds me of our long Ayn Rand discussions. A chance e-mail takes me back to many, many conversations that changed the way I looked at things. Working furiously to meet a deadline sometimes brings back the fragrance of winter nights in Delhi. Kaavya's voracious, delightful ice-cream eating always, always reminds me of my first taste of Nirula's Hot Choc Fudge, of one afternoon spent with friends when we talked of nothing in particular. A casual conversation suddenly stirs up dregs of the past, things that I thought I had left behind, things that don't seem to have left me.

I recently watched Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikandar again. I didn't expect a nostalgia trip, but I got one hell of a roller-coaster ride. I don't watch Dil To Pagal Hai any more; not because I don't like the movie, but because it brings me face-to-face with bitter-sweet moments that haven't ended for me.

Memories don't need roadmaps, they only need cues to come out on stage and play their part. And as long as life goes on, there will always be moments that refuse to take their final bow.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The spirit of Mumbai

There are two kinds of people who talk about this phenomenon:
1) Those who run this country/state/city, or are supposed to. This sect believes that showering praises on the undying spirit of Mumbai gives them cause to test that spirit some more, and absolves them of all responsibility;
2) Defensive Mumbaikars or Mumbai-ites, especially when in heated conversation (read the 'I'm superior' argument) with Dilli-valas or Delhiites.

The spirit of Mumbai is the flavour of the season when drains overflow, uncleared garbage and dead rats compete for space on the roads, the Western Express Highway becomes negotiable by boat, and people spend their days throwing rain water out of their houses. The average Mumbai resident is as capable of a drunken brawl as his North Indian or any Indian counterpart, but somehow, the state of the city doesn't raise any tempers. Year after year, people die of dengue and malaria; year after year, officegoers take pleasure in relating 'stranded in the rain' stories. Flooding, water logging, houses being submerged... these aren't inconveniences any more, they're part of the Mumbai folklore, of what people have to go through to survive in this city.

Is this much-famed spirit just another name for sheer indifference? Or is it that the people of this city pleasure their struggles with the monsoon? Does it add to their self-esteem to have braved another rain, to have vanquished, perhaps, the only opponent they can vanquish? Is this some warped superiority complex that says, "Hey, look what I have to go through to just reach to work and back, look what I have to fight to live?" Or, is it a stoic resignation, a fatalist shrug of the shoulders, as eking out an existence and chasing dreams leaves space for nothing else?

saawan ko aane do...

In the middle of the much-awaited monsoon, parts of the country are wishing the rain clouds away, while in other parts, hopeful eyes gaze at the blue skies. There's something about the weather that always makes it a hot topic for conversation, whether you meet someone for the first time, renew contact with a long-lost friend, greet your spouse in the morning, or chat up a prospective partner. The weather is in nobody's control, yet everyone has an opinion on it. And the wisdom of the ages sprouts anew in the human mind, when the year's first rain showers the earth.

From the met department to the predictor family of astro, numero, and tarot, everyone is into second-guessing what the clouds have in mind. And once the monsoon's gameplan is clear, news channels move in for the kill. You can sense the announcer's exultation when the reporter hits paydirt--flooding in Milan Subway. The excitement is palpable, when citizens of this wet, wet city badmouth the BMC on camera. Channels feel they've earned their ad revenue the day the tracks get flooded, trains stop, commuters are stranded, and the country can see this live 24x7. As long as the monsoon arrives, and as long as this country has politicians, the news channels are assured of breaking news for at least three months of the year.

Despite the saas-bahu melodrama that the monsoon has been reduced to, there's still some untouched beauty left there. The fury, the unpredictability, and the sheer joy that rain falling on earth evokes is almost indescribable.

In Delhi, like everything else, the rain arrives with a lot of shosha. Dusty winds churn dead leaves and roadside garbage, the sky is thunderously angry and lightning flashes threateningly, until the rain begins, cooling tempers and bringing relief from the never-ending heat. In Mumbai, the rain arrives with the matter-of-factness of a crowded local train. Dark, heavy clouds move in from the horizon, gather mass, and empty their load. If you aren't smart enough to jump for cover in time, you're drenched, and before you know it, the sun is out. I had a ringside view of this at Marine Drive. Two women, deep in conversation, didn't bother to move, because they knew the futility of it. College kids took the opportunity of getting a good drench. Lovey-dovey twosomes... well, they continued with what they usually do at Marine Drive. Everyone grinned at each other, deriving pleasure from predicament. The tea-coffee and bhutta vendors peddled their wares with more confidence.

Of course, if you watch the news carefully, these images will flash too, along with the ones that satiate the morbid appetites of the nation. Like everything else in life, the monsoon too has two sides.

Monday, July 9, 2007

The Sound of Silence

"Why is it so quiet? I like noise," says my four-year-old daughter.

I can't recall at what age one begins to prefer silence. When do you realize that you like to sit quietly, with yourself, for a few minutes that stretch to infinity? When does the complete lack of any sound stop being threatening? When does the endless sea of cacophony--blaring horns, impatient vehicles, incessantly ringing phones, conversations, arguments, television, radio, Himesh baba blaring in Coffee Day, loud music at every favored hangout--become an ordeal that one must live through to reach the shores of all-engulfing silence?

The wait for quiet is never as excruciating as during the Navratri in Mumbai. While bright lights and loud music find adequate complements in earthily colorful chaniya-cholis and feet that can't stay still, the monotonous and nerve-racking noise soon becomes an assault. There are those who live for these nine nights, there are those who are overwhelmed by the city's changed colors, and there are those who can't wait for them to get over.

Some people prefer the solid familiarity of noise over the unknown infinity of silence. The boundaries of their world are comfortingly etched by noise and sound; they hate to feel the gulf of loneliness that lies in the silences beyond. But silence is solitude too; quiet is comfort too.

Silence also has a voice, but it speaks only to close friends. Shyly, it welcomes the tired souls who have heard enough, seen enough, been through enough. It's a soft hand on the forehead, a firm grip of your hand, when you need it the most. For all its elusiveness and fragility, it is still a friend worth having. I have known no silence more intense, no quiet as deep, as that which flows from a clear night sky. The dark sky quietly ponders over its deep secrets, as the stars twinkle down at me, reminding me of the proper place of a single planet in the unfathomable cosmos.

A series of irritating sounds proclaim that someone's car is in reverse gear, and the whole universe must stop its ruminations and take note of the fact.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Overheard at a coffee shop

“You never understand what I’m saying.”
“But I do.”
“No, you don’t.”
“How can you say that?”
“Because you never do understand. I know.”
“How do you know?”
“You never remember what I’ve told you.”
“Okay, but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand you.”
“So, you do understand my feelings?”
“Of course. I think I know you better than you think I know you. Do you know me at all?”
“Of course I know you. I know you better than you know me. I’m good at knowing people.”
“Okay. Let’s order ice-cream.”
“No, too many calories. I’ll have coffee.”

Friday, July 6, 2007

Ah! The Joys of Parenting

Here are some things that only parenting allows you to do. It follows that, if you don't want to do any or all of these, don't even think about that bundle of joy! (Statutory warning: I've been a parent for only four years; so this list is liable to change as my work experience increases.)
  • Chant about brushing, bathing and eating as you would a prayer
  • Try to fight a range of fears: monsters, strange sounds, whether the body can crack and break up, darkness, strangers, cockroaches and other bugs...
  • Answer endless questions about bodily functions, including throwing up and the like
  • Have a ready, rapid, thought-on-your-feet, and reasonably believable answer to any unforeseen 'why'
  • Devise endless games and conversation to motivate eating
  • Think up all the stories and rhymes you can, and make up your own when all else fails
  • Play with dolls (or at ball) all over again
  • Learn to read out loud better than they teach at all those voice-modulation classes
  • Think back to how your parents 'disciplined' you
  • Be prepared, awake and alert at any hour of the day or night
  • Grope and grope for ways to keep the over-energetic, extremely inquisitive, and ever-ready-to-play-but-not-ready-to-sleep thing busy
  • Pray for schooldays and groan at holidays
  • Get in touch with your rusting imagination
  • Witness the creation of an individual

I guess the list will never end. But more additions that you can think of are welcome.