Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rain

There was no calm before the storm.

It began with a surprisingly cool breeze that soon turned into a strong wind. Doors banged and window panes rattled. Dust clouds floated and whirled like mad dervishes. The people tried not to get their hopes up but the gleam in their eyes gave them away. The wind persisted, howling in their ears, whipping up the dust, scattering pieces of paper, making sails out of curtains.

A loud clap of thunder brought the neighbourhood to life. Babies began to wail and dogs barked madly. The women reached for the clothes hanging on the lines outside and shouted instructions to their husbands. Doors were latched, windows that had been pushed open as wide as they would go, were pulled shut. The children ran to the balconies to watch, aware of the sudden excitement in the air, the crackle and sizzle of it. A fork of lightning streaked down in the night sky – terrifying and captivating. Following close on its heels, another loud boom sounded from the skies. Even the most cynical husband and the most disbelieving wife now looked expectantly at the sky - the Nor’Westers might have finally found the way to their homes.

Big fat drops of rain fell onto the parched grey street. Slowly but yet so fast, the distance between the drops lessened and their frequency increased. It was actually raining. Slowly at first and then in a hard, dense sheet that pounded the ground beneath and raised a familiar smell of wet earth. The rain seemed to make up for its absence with a ferocity that looked unstoppable. The people stood on their verandahs and near their windows, peering out at the rain and feeling its spray on their faces. The street urchins rushed into the cascade, screaming and dancing for joy. The lightning made the raindrops glitter like diamonds as they fell.

The smell of the rain was like the earth’s sigh of relief.

Time vs. Money

During my college years and especially during my post graduation days, I nurtured a fond dream. It was called “When I start earning my own money”. It involved vivid and vibrant schemes for self-indulgence and self-improvement. I dreamed of a high-powered lifestyle where I played squash in the mornings and went swimming in the evenings. I also learned a foreign language, joined a photography class with my new digital SLR and learned to play the guitar and/or piano. These dreams were founded on a single glorious truth – I would be earning enough money to indulge myself.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I couldn’t pursue all these activities as a student. I just didn’t want my parents to pick up the tab for my essentially whimsical dreams. I wanted the liberty of doing something because it pleased me and giving it up when it didn’t. I also felt it would be a lot more fulfilling to pick up a new skill on my own steam.

But alas! Maybe I was na├»ve, maybe plain clueless, but I never realized the demands my job would make on my time. On an average I spend around 11 hours at work, 5 days a week. Most times I work on Saturdays too even though “technically” it’s a holiday in my organization. It’s the same story with friends who work in other private sector firms. The mantra for success is ‘perform or perish’. Work or my office now forms an overwhelming part of my life and occupies an uncomfortably large part of my thoughts. On weekdays, when I return home, I am too exhausted to even contemplate a hobby. On the weekends, I de-stress by doing nothing more taxing than chatting with family, watching movies, eating out or shopping.

I still dream of joining up for some non-work related activity but I never seem to have the time to find out the details and in case I do, I find the hours incompatible with my work life. I have to admit, I have also lost a bit of ‘ye olde enthusiasm’. I could probably squeeze in some class on a Sunday but after all the time I put in at work, whatever little I get to myself is sacrosanct – meant only for some good ole R&R (rest and relaxation people, not rock and roll). “Me” time is strictly rationed.

So after five years of being a salaried professional, I am yet to bring down the house by strumming a Spanish guitar or spout melodic French to awed listeners. It is only now that I feel most keenly just how much free time I used to have as a student. How much freedom I had (and to think I used to chafe at parental restrictions!). Such little responsibility. Sigh!

The irony has not escaped me – When you have time, you don’t have money and when you have money you don’t have time.

But I don’t give up easily. And our dreams however small or big, are our spurs. Someday I will be a sporty, French speaking, guitar playing, expert photographer...someday. And did I mention Bhartanatyam dancing?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

He

He entered the restaurant to escape the heat outside. He was early again, as always. It would be another fifteen minutes at least before his friends showed up. He didn't mind. Being alone in public didn't hassle him.

The heat had leapt at him like a beast once he stepped out of the air-conditioned confines of his office, even though it was now rapidly getting dark. So he entered the nearest A.C. restaurant he could spot. Of course, he thought, looking around, it would be wrong to call this a restaurant. It was one of those new fangled places that offered you coffees and salads and crepes and things. Could one call it a delicatessen, he wondered.

Whatever it was, it felt comfortable, he thought feeling the cool breeze from the AC duct on his face as he sank into a big sofa and dumped his laptop on the floor. And he could use a cold drink. He browsed through the menu, tempted by the variety and the pictures. Finally settling on one of the cold coffees. Not that these places would call it that. They seemed to think that it wouldn't sell if it didn't have a fancy name.

He rolled up his shirt sleeves, settled himself more snugly into his seat and looked around. Mainly couples everywhere of course. A few chatting away earnestly, one playing coy eye-contact games, a couple who looked like they were trying to ignore each other. The whole world had found a mate it seemed, he thought cynically. There was an after-office group too who seemed to be in high spirits. Thank God its Friday, he thought. He looked away not wanting to let work-related thoughts seep into his mind even unknowingly. To his mild surprise, there was also a group of elderly uncles and aunties. And not the hoity-toity kinds. More like the parents of somebody one knew. They looked like they had wandered in here by mistake and were making a brave attempt to go with the flow. The crowd, the music (popular English numbers from the 90's!), the menu (sandwiches for Rs.150), it all seemed to perplex them.
People watching could be an interesting and diverting sport he thought. He was well-versed in it, having spent enough time waiting in airports in his travels around the world.

His eyes drifted to the LCD TV that hung silently in a corner punished by the 90's music. An IPL match was on but his favoured team wasn't playing. He had just about checked the match score when the lights went off. A loud murmur rose from the crowd and fell just as swiftly. A power cut after all can happen anywhere and who in India is not used to it. When the lights didn't come back on within a minute, he heard a lady asking the waiter about it. The waiter made reassuring sounds.

The power cut had transported the restaurant into a different space. The place had huge glass windows on two sides and the darkness was partly lifted by the glow of streetlights that poured in through the windows. It gave the place a strange intimacy and anonymity. He was surprised to find that he liked it this way.
There was a mild breeze outside and he could see the shadows of the swaying trees on the walls. He felt lulled by the hushed whispers, the tinkling of glasses, a womans' laughter...somebody was sharing a funny story and he was an unwitting listener too. He caught a flash of golden. It was the drink on a stranger's table glowing amber amid the surrounding darkness and silhouettes. He was struck by the visual wishing he had his camera with him then. He thought, not for the first time, about the beauty one finds in unexpected places.

The side doors swung open and a girl entered. The lights came on almost immediately. The girl seemed a little taken aback by this and a little bemused. She had beautiful kohl-lined eyes and the hint of a smile hovered on her lips. She was scanning the crowds...looking for her mate, he thought.

Just then his cell phone burst into song. He told his friends where they could find him.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Many a slip between the cup and the lip

KKR is breaking my heart.

In the third season of IPL (Indian Premier League), India’s T20 cricket tournament, the Kolkata Knight Riders have again failed to prove themselves as a team to be taken seriously. This year they started off on a better note than the pathetic performances that characterized the last couple of years. However, it soon became apparent that inconsistency was to be the name of their game. The hopes of all Kolkatans rose and fell with each match they played, mirroring the rise and fall of the team’s fortunes. After having lost a couple of key matches, one after failing to defend a high score and the other in a spectacular show of incompetence, they are now all set to bow out before reaching the semi-finals. The only sliver of hope now remains in the minds of the mathematicians and the hearts of the most ardent fans.

I wonder now whether this entire IPL ‘tamasha’ is not all just a scam. After all, everybody makes money – the players, the team owners, the sponsors. The only people who lose out are the ‘mango people’ a.k.a. ‘aam aadmi’ who treat cricket as more than just a game. For them it is a chance to find heroes in common men, it is a chance to replace the frustrations of daily life with passion , it is a chance to triumph with every swing of the bat, it is a chance to revel in the reflected glory of a bunch of guys from different corners of the world. Cricket is catharsis in this country.

But now, with all the big bucks involved, the auctions, the big ticket sponsorships, what incentive is there for the players to win the game? Is the love of the game enough? Especially for the international cricketers like Mc Cullum, Hussey et al, whose pay packet is ensured and whose solidarity is not really in question. Even for the younger Indian players perhaps the good money, the temporary adulation, the endorsement deals and the post match parties with PYT’s are enough. As for a senior player like Ganguly, the belief of several hundred fans does not seem enough to keep him going for long. And it may be a sad truth that Dada is now unable to cope. Vindicating himself in one match with a half century plus a super stumping plus a cocky catch, we find him blinking in the face of defeat in the next.

Shah Rukh Khan, the owner of KKR, was another reason for many of us to support the team. But this has been one of the few, possibly the only instance, where SRK’s Midas touch has not worked. Yes, yes, he has still made money but surely for a superstar with justified egotism, this dismal performance is unacceptable and embarrassing. His tweets only show how increasingly irate he is becoming with KKR. Perhaps it is time for him to dissociate himself and remove the pressure of his popularity from the team. He is, after all, part of the reason why the stands get full in Eden.

Just for the record, KKR are now ranked 7th out of 8 teams. With a good chance of finishing at the bottom. Black or purple, it’s clearly not the team colours which need changing. Maybe the players, maybe the coach, maybe the owner, maybe the mindset.

For a lot of people in Kolkata, “IPL season 3 is now closed”, like a friend of mine put it. Unless…

Saturday, April 10, 2010

She

She stood next to the traffic policeman. She waited for him to blow the whistle that would call a temporary cessation to the hostilities, that would let her cross the road.

She stood on the small stretch of no man’s land between two lanes of traffic moving in opposite directions. Her thoughts felt alien, like they were pulled into distorted shapes by the chaos that surrounded her. Vehicles, big and small, rushed past, belching black smoke and loud noise. They rumbled past relentlessly, not seeing where they blew the dust, not caring who came in their path.

People thronged around her, pushing past and jostling each other. With an almost bovine impatience they scrambled for the best position even as they waited to cross the road. Hoping that their collective haste would make the traffic stop.

The sun beat down with no regard for the fact that it was a relatively early hour. She could almost feel the steam rising off from everything around her - like they were all giving up their souls to some hellish inferno.
There was a building being torn down on the pavement across the road. The sound of the hammers had a rhythmic quality to it – a haunting sound amid all the cacophony.

Flashes of chrome and plate glass made her squint. She felt she would not be surprised if she was run over. It was almost too easy. One step forward or one step back would make all the difference - the Dance of Death she thought morbidly.

She felt disoriented – cut off from past and future. Locked into this eternal present where the sun grew hotter, where the din of the traffic wouldn’t let her think, where the crowd made her feel invisible. Her kohl-lined eyes yearned to close themselves against this brutal reality. She felt she would gently float away into a space that was far removed. Someplace pure. Clean. Quiet. She felt she would give up almost anything for such a moment…The whistle blew with a piercing shriek and she jumped out of her reverie.

She crossed the road and started walking briskly forward, trying to get her thoughts in order.