Thursday, March 26, 2009

A jar of happiness, please

I push the trolley down the supermaket aisle looking for a jar marked happiness.
I am sure it's there somewhere hidden behind the soul soups, comfort foods, iPods or even the 42-inch LCD TV. Could happiness be out of stock today or do they call it something else now. The old man in the corner, mopping the floor, whistling a tune seems a good one to ask. He is resigned to his fate, whistling in appreciation, carefully wiping clean a mighty fine electronic toy that will never be his. Or perhaps he just doesn't want it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Night flight to somewhere

Have I ever told you how much I love airports?
Ironically, I hate air travel but that's another story. I love the energy of airport terminals, it's like the world in a bite-sized helping. It's fascinating to watch people at the concourse ... you see hope, anxiety, happiness, despair, frustration and resignation. What you don't see is a pause or a full stop, you see many commas because life never stops at an airport. It's going somewhere and the seats, lights, capuccinos and bustle are just signposts on the journey.
You never feel alone at the airport because you are going somewhere like everyone else. When you are perched on that seat at the cafe, they look at you and smile because you are waiting for someone. No?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On days like today

What happened to Preeti with the braces and the lisp from junior school? Did she grow up to be heart-breaker, I wonder.
And whatever happened to Mr.Muralidhar who flunked me in math more than once. Did he turn blind and grow an extra nose like I wished him to.
Would I recognise Nirmal if I saw him cross the street? After all, we walked to school every single day when were were five. He still owes me the candies he stole from my bag.
I wonder if the little white bungalow with its sloping tiles and mango trees in the backyard still stands? I learned to walk there.
There is a piece of earth where Sunil and I buried a clutch of marbles, a top and bus ticket stubs for a rainy day. I worry that many rains may have washed them away.
There are little pieces of me that have been lost on the way. But they come back to me in flashes on days like today.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sunshine of my life

I have a friend named sunshine.
Sunshine has no gender, it's not even real. Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, Sunshine tells me I am going to have a beautiful day. Often, when I am grappling with darkness, it tells me things will be okay. Sunshine has seen me through testing times, broken relationships, foolish decisions, indecision and excessive happiness. I have tried to rename it instinct, kung fu, destiny, superstition and even insanity. But Sunshine describes it best because I am still alive and hopeful.
I have a friend named sunshine, it's like BB King's guitar Lucille, sometimes when I am blue Sunshine calls my name.

God's child

What if you woke up one day and realised you are God's child. That you could make your toothbrush fly and turn your neighbour into an owl. What would you do?
Would you attempt to part the sea? Or if you are in a place like Bangalore that doesn't have water even in its taps, would you try something cooler like flying to work arms wildly flapping and all. Come to think of it, why work at all. Come on now, what would you do child of God?

PS: Yeah, no comments on serving the poor and the homeless etc. Leave that for the Miss Universe finalist.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The fountain pen

I am going to buy myself a fountain pen today.
There is nothing to be worried about really, these things happen to me. I have had this craving to own a fountain pen all weekend. Call it a mid-life crisis or worse but I am getting one and no arguments please.
For those of you born in the unfortunate and ignorant 80s, the fountain pen is a magical and messy instrument of the Doordarshan age. Owning a fountain pen is like owning a Zippo lighter, you don't throw it away when it runs out of gas. Instead, you keep a bottle of ink handy and fill it carefully till you see dribbles of ink leaking. Then you clean the nib and you are good to go again.
The fountain pen has an ink reservoir, a nib (usually made of stainless steel or gold) and a mind of its own. You have to be nice to it or it can mess up your freshly washed shirt or examination paper. It's a moody instrument, it can shut shop without warning. Then you give it a good old fashioned shake and if you are lucky it will squirt a stream of indigo at anybody prowling in a 1-km radius.
Back in the day, the fountain pen was a symbol of success. There were Indian brands like Camlin for the masses, Waterman or Sheaffer for the privileged and Hero (from Red China) for ones with uncles in Dubai. I have to buy one.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sean Penn and the heart of art

What has remained with me years after I watched Mystic River is Sean Penn's eerie menace. Penn as Jimmy the ex-con gone straight has this repressed intensity that threatens to uncoil and burn when prodded. His brooding physicality looms large over the movie.
And then I watched Milk. Penn is incandescent again. In the hands of director Gus Van Sant, Sean Penn turns gay with such control and conviction that you almost forgive him for kissing James Franco every five minutes. Penn and Sant stay clear of all the gay cliches, the campiness and fluttering eyelashes.
Milk is a powerful film, iconic even. How often do you find a film that deals with that most primordial of human rights ... the right to be yourself.

PS: Yeah, fairy tale would have been a sick headline:)

70mm of the eighties

I miss the old fashioned movie hall or cinema theatre as we used to call it. The drama unfolded much before the lights faded and the burgundy curtain rose to lusty cheering. It began at the gate with hustling queues, eager touts and an occasional angry abuse or punch. The cinema social order was differentiated by colour ... yellow tickets for the front stalls, pink for the middle class, green for the upwardly mobile and blue for the dress circle. The colours were interchangeable but not the seats.
Cinema theatres had balconies and dress circles. You could stand at the balcony and hurl pop corn at the working class or you could sit with the front benchers and whistle your lungs blue.
You sat through black and white Films Division documentaries, usually about polio or birth control or similar fun stuff. You sat through "trailors" and then you waited with bated breath as the flickering film came alive in Eastman colour. You perched precariously on the rickety seat with the ripped out foam and tried to keep your mouth closed as Amitabh Bachchan took a bullet in his gut.
And the lights would go off. The darkness would be rented by whistles, boos and an occasional yelp. You swore under your breath and fought for oxygen. And then you would hear it ... the unmistakable whirr of the movie projector coming alive again ...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A dog called cat

How do you name a pet animal?
By religion: Tommy, Jimmy, Sammy, Daisy ... all good Hindu dogs.
By colour: Snowy, Blackie, Dark Brownie and sometimes Whitey?
By heroes: Kaiser, Caesar, Diana, Ramalingam Raju
By your tipple: Whiskey, Brandy, Cognac and if you are in denial, Coffee.
I feel for these animals. Not only are they cruelly locked up and not allowed to pee and crap at will, they have to live with the most everyday names ever. Like me.
So, I break into hysterical laughter when I read that Naseeruddin Shah has named his cat Buddhu. If I ever own a dog, I will call him a cat.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Night 1.0

It's a garbled sky tonight. The moon is shrouded in angry cloud. The air breathes heavy and hot. There is a promise of rain but it will be broken I can tell. The leaves sway restlessly, the moths buzz aimlessly. There is anticipation all around. And a dew drop ambles down. Have you ever watched the night?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tell me a story

Krishnan was born after the great deluge. He can't remember the day, year or time. Shockingly, his parents don't either, mostly because they couldn't count days or tell time. Krishnan worked for my great grandfather, pulled his rickshaw to work and back. He carried my family on his shoulders, I guess.
Krishnan told me stories, mostly fabricated. He once raced a train, lugging the rickshaw with my grandfather holding firm, and won. He was the fastest, meanest and most decorated rickshaw puller of his time. Other times, he told me about how a town had to be built every few miles so that bullocks could be rested in the days before buses and trains.
Some say Krishnan was born old but unlike Benjamin Button, he remained old. He had no teeth but he had the gift of the gab. He was my shah of blah, a man from a time forgotten, steeped in a sea of stories.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Guns and goalposts

You can get used to anything, even violence. I remember friends of mine who lived in Kuwait post the Iraqi invasion talking about kids playing on the streets while rockets were being launched down the road. Soldiers would take a break from business to play on empty roads using guns as goal markers.
When violence becomes a way of life, it can numb you. I found myself unusually unperturbed when I heard about Sri Lankan cricketers being fired at in Pakistan. It was a deplorable act but it didn't shock me. I guess after sitting through 72-odd hours of live coverage of the Mumbai siege it will take a lot to shock me. It may take even more to shock the ten-year-old who survived the siege.
So, I just plug my ipod right back and let Bono take me to a place where the streets have no name.