Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The library round the corner

I haven't seen this one in Delhi for at least two decades, but it might exist in the nooks and crannies of that city that are unknown to me.

In Mumbai, however, at least in the large residential area where I stay, there are three or four such libraries, and only one of these deals in books and movies. The other two are solely books--English, Hindi and Marathi.

One of them is the size of a kirana shop in the less affluent parts of Delhi. It's managed by three women--who take turns to come and sit there, aided by a young boy who can climb up to the top shelves to retrieve books. The monthly rates are nominal, less than what one brand new bestseller would cost. There are no fines and no limit on how many books or magazines you can read in a month.

In the surrounding glitz--there's a row of boutiques three shops down, three eateries, toy shops and grocery stores, and even a jewellery showroom in the vicinity--this place comes as a surprise. It's housed among a shop selling lights, a doctor's clinic, and a vegetable vendor, which is strategic positioning--people can visit it on their daily grocery shopping trips, or while returning from office. The bigger surprise is that the library seems to be doing well on the usual fare of English bestsellers, Hindi classics, Marathi novels, children's books and loads of magazines in all three languages. I guess just like roti and rice, some reading is also a staple in every diet.

Have nothing better to do?

If you literally have time to kill, go watch Jodhaa Akbar, the most pointless extravaganza to come out in a long time. At my most charitable, I can commend the movie for the following reasons--Hrithik Roshan's thoroughly convincing performance, the music and the background score, and to a small extent, the authenticity with which the settings have been recreated. Otherwise, it's a masala potboiler, which the makers have tried to lift to the scale of an epic.

You might, of course, do better by renting the DVD of a film called 'Sideways'. It's hard to describe the genre of this one--it's a dark comedy; it has elements of satire; it's a road movie; it's a love story...it hits you at many different levels.

For Nears and Dears

I don't know if anyone uses this term for their loved ones (is this one still around?) any more. But in the past month or so, I've got acquainted with, met or spoken to more people than I come in touch with in an average month in Mumbai. The number, by the way, isn't much in either case.

Living away from family and friends whom you've grown up with gives a detached perspective to relationships in general. The emotional need of connecting and sharing is overridden by the needs of here and now. In short, you learn to fend for yourself; you learn not to feel lonely; you learn not to have expectations of people. So far, so good, but then, all that has to be unlearnt every time the near and dear ones come visiting or you go to your 'native place'. That's the unending dilemma.

Being pulled in different directions undermines the belief that you are in control. Seeing others make demands of your thoughts, opinions and emotions makes you wonder, and in my case, it also makes me feel out of my depth. Visits to the 'native place' are uncomfortable in one aspect--you're back where you started from, but though you've grown beyond it, the starting point hasn't changed that much. Thinking about going home makes me full of nostalgia and happy memories and the joy of seeing everyone again, but once I get there, I'm in the middle of a tug of war. A part of me has grown up and away from it all, and another part is deeply entrenched in that house, those people, the very air of the city, so that even without realizing, I start living through an old mask. I find myself shaking out of it with a supreme effort, trying to reconcile these two parts of me. By the time I achieve that, I'm back in Mumbai, and the tug of war starts again.