Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Walk In The Clouds

Quite literally.

When you are so grounded in your life that you forget what exists beyond it, the biggest thing in your life becomes scheduling baingan ka bharta for Saturday night dinner. It's not half as bad as it sounds. It implies that I'm cooking my own meals now, which makes me content. It also means that I can enjoy spending time at home, which is essential for my peace of mind. The problem with contentment, however, is that it makes you stop yearning for the other things beyond your spectrum. So you decide to do something contrary. Take a trip to a hill station in the rains. You know it'll pour the whole time. That it will be cold enough for you to say 'The cold is in my bones, IN MY BONES, MAN!'. But that doesn't deter you either. Your enthusiasm envelops not only you, but your roomie (Roomie), normally sane close friend (RK) and The Boy (A). You and your motley crew will now take a trip to a tiny hill station with no cars or any vehicles whatsoever, where you walk to get around. Or ride a horse. A hill station with no paved roads, only mud paths. Paths that become slush in the monsoons. Ah, finally, a challenge.

You wake up late, but not too late. Rush through the bathing and the getting dressed and leave the house, only to be surrounded by a gang of extremely effusive dogs, all ready to become Best Friends Forever at six in the morning. You finally catch an auto and switch to a taxi midway, reaching Dadar station without further incident. While the boys go to buy tickets, you stand and wonder why there are already a zillion people at the station. And then you realize that the train is at 7.03, which isn't too far away from 6.57. So you run, jump down the stairs, look around wildly for the first class compartment, all the while being obstructed by all the Israelites fleeing Egypt. The boys in the meantime are already in the correct compartment, yelling and waving you over. You and Roomie run, push, shove and exhale, and get into the first class. Except is the first class ladies only. You jump out again and put your feet onto the correct compartment just as the train begins moving. The resulting adrenaline rush makes you woozy for twenty minutes.

The train ambles along. It's cool and there's already a chill in the air. Increasingly random conversation between sleep deprived adults is punctuated by 'I need to pee' and 'I'm hungry'. Then the green fields and the hills come into view. Faraway hills with threadlike waterfalls making their way down. You stand at the door and sigh, the same sigh usually reserved for Shillong. And there's a hug; momentary and brief, but warm enough to leave you smiling for three minutes. And then you wonder why people stare when you smile.

The station is reached, and the walk to the cab is laced with crisp vada pav. Then as the cab makes its way up the serpentine road, you notice waterfalls on all sides of you, even splattering some of the raindrops on to your arm. The taxi stops at the car park and you enter the town where time stopped a hundred years ago. You begin walking, and it rains, rains, rains. Mud in your shoes, and you're one with the rain. There's no difference between you and the water anymore. On the way to the hotel, you buy the long plastic sheets and sombreros favoured by the locals. At the hotel, there's steaming tea and breakfast. And lots of rounds of Uno, where you lose because you just don't remember to say Uno at the right time. Then there's lunch and a protracted argument which ends in you sending the boys to the market to buy you shorts to wear when you go trekking. You haven't packed enough clothes, you see. In the evening, you're all wearing shorts, plastic sheets and sombreros. The companionship in being silly together is wonderful.

You walk through the little mud paths, up and down, this way and that. The lake comes into view, along with the monsoon clouds moving at a terrific speed all over it, and all around you, lashing and caressing. There's the spot on the edge of the cliff where you sat the last time you were here. Now it's the edge of a roaring waterfall that looks like the end of the world. It's easy to imagine that the world was primal once, before people, before friends and neighbours and dogs and goldfish and baingan ka bharta. Then you go back to the hotel, piggybacking for a minute or two. You're on holiday after all. There's some more Uno, presided over by an old monk (very old, vatted seven years ago). Then the electricity goes off and you go to sleep. You wake up after some time, and it's pitch dark. So dark that if you put your hand in front of your face you can't see it. And it hits you how much you miss that, because it's never really dark in the city, even with the lights off.

The next day they serve you the most fabulous lunch, as if to make you feel even worse for leaving. You have nothing to wear, so you have to make do with the giant pair of shorts belonging to The Boy, tightly belted up and making you look like a havaldar. Your friends are too tired to walk all the way back, so they make you ride a horse, even though the mere thought turns you to jelly. It turns out to be a better experience than you'd imagined, mostly because the horses are really docile and you're looking at the mist above the little brooks babbling away on both sides of the path. Then you reach reality again, and this time you're too cold to be emotional about it. You've just had the definitive weekend.

Favourite moment: - standing above the cliff, looking down at the end of the world.

The moment I won't be allowed to forget: - We're walking our way up to the hotel, and someone asks me for the time.

Me (looking at my watch with great concern): -"OH NO! My watch stopped at ten o'clock!"

RK: -"It is ten 'o clock, you idiot!"

Monday, August 04, 2008

Tunes In My Head

Yes I still post. And has it been over a month already? It's the new job's fault, really. Don't know what they would do without me :)

Anyway, something relatively strange happened to me on Friday night. I'd been unwell in the morning, with a head that felt like a tub of mercury. Added to that, I had a typically long day fussing over punctuation and text placement. So I figured that I was in for a good night's rest. But I didn't sleep as much as a wink that night. Tossing and turning is only exciting for the first two and a half minutes. I got bored of the extremely random conversations inside my head as well. I even tried reading a truly godawful book called Tall Dark & Handsome, which was so gruesomely bad that I could only persist for ten minutes. As a last resort, I switched on the radio, hoping that music would lull me into slumberland.

So there I was, lying in bed with my eyes wide open, while my ears were assaulted with a mindboggling variety of kitsch. With nothing else to do, I started listening to the kitsch. And found some of it actually resonating within me. Pithy wisdoms in everyday melodies. The songs we hear but don't listen to. So uncool because they are popular. But so infectious that they give us headaches when we battle to get them out of our heads. So evocative of forgotten and not-so-forgotten things and people.

We're all history sheeters. Reminisces lurk around every corner of our stylishly spiralled minds. And there's always some Bollywood song to encapsulate these memories.

Like sleeping on the back lawns in LSR in third year. The smell of grass and the warmth of the sun. Watching Ankita write in her journal, or Simran reproducing Impressionist art. SKT's foot up in the air while she dozed. Or Reeju with a bag that was perenially bursting at the seams. Hum na rahein kabhi yaaron ke bin.

Or Gitanjali, Shreya and me in the first few months of the Masters programme. The most awesome trio with the shortest life span, before Gitanjali and I became leftists and Shreya became a centrist (in terms of seat preference, not the political spectrum). Akele hain, toh kya gham hain?

The hostel experience. Staying up till the wee hours, talking about absolutely nothing. Giggling while tipsy, or not. Sitting on the floor of the hall at 3 am and insisting that Absolut vodka was made out of the finest potatoes in the world. Ranjit and Bindiya, perenially setting each other off. Akhila, Tanu, Pallavi, Reeju, the four directions of weirdness. And Pia, the one who cried because I told her that just because she spoke loudly, it didn't mean that she said what was in her heart. Katra katra jeene do.

The one time we ran into RPM, to dance for five minutes after the movie. Spontaneous and awkward at the same time. Ten minutes of unadulterated fun. Pappu naach nahi sakta.

Vasudha Pande, with her luminous eyes and her easy smile. Drumming modern Indian history into my brain with the lightest of touches. Me marvelling at how suddenly economic history became so fascinating, while wondering if her glasses would actually fall of the tip of her nose someday. Ho sake to is mein zindagi bitade, pal jo yeh jaana waala hai.

My sisters and I. So exceptionally strange. Can't shut up, and can't talk either. Always wondering what the other is about. And where we're gonna land up eventually. Golmaal hai bhai sab golmaal hai.

Finally, Jaane tu, jaane tu ya jaane na. Jazz, and a smoky Chicago in the 1920s. Or in this lifetime, a boy and a girl, whiling the weekend away at Marine Drive. The boy likes peanuts, the girl prefers roasted chickpeas. He points out the crabs on the stones below, she takes enthusiastic, if somewhat pointless pictures with a woefully inadequate camera. He gives her a poem in a matchbox, she laughs because she doesn't quite know how to react. Or a day at the Hanging Gardens, where they laugh uproariously at having become the biggest cliche of them all - The Couple in the Park.

At 3 am, clarity is at its best, even in a cluttered dustbin of a head like mine. So much so that I remember every moment after three whole days. My life and Bollywood, intertwined in their uncoolness and their kitsch quotient. And the sudden epiphanies that make it worthwhile.