The Paralysed Fish

June 15th, 2011

keeps gulping in the sea of morning,
clouded with red brackish water,
dead branches and chores.
time beats against the body
but the fish doesn’t know how to run.

- Kirkin Smirkin

Lost in Translation

December 9th, 2010

First thing I did when I landed in Mumbai was speak in Hindi. I wanted to make sure of this. I’m sure it’s quite meaningless to others, but for me, it’s everything. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t land as a foreigner this time. I don’t want to be looked as an outsider in my own country and so I wasn’t:

“Kaun sa road se jarahe ho Tardeo?” (What road are you taking to go to Tardeo, my place of residence?)

Taxi driver turns and looks at me with a look of confusion. “Saab ek hi raasta hai” (Sir, there’s only one road to go there.)

So I no longer looked like a foreigner, just a clueless idiot trying way too hard. I grinned and looked out the window. The city still has the same smell. Same smell of dry air, fish, dirt, shit, piss. I always used to say that this was the worst part of coming to Mumbai. The ever-so welcoming smell to foreigners. But again, I landed as a local Mumbaiite this time so the smell was comforting. It felt more like, “Ahhh finally I’m home” as opposed to, “WHAT THE FUCK?” 

When I usually step foot in the US, I don’t feel anything. This time when I left, I felt a lot of things. Did I make a mistake? I don’t want to go!!! I just want to go home and chill. Why can’t I just chill at home in America? I won’t have anybody when I get to Mumbai. Then just one thought made all the feelings of doubt go away: It’s time to grow up and be a man. This is what my father would have wanted, this is what my mom wants and now this is what I want. 

Again, I have no feelings of regret. Only when I pass a group of friends hanging out on streets here I get nostalgic. I picture myself with friends shooting the shit, laughing, drinking and having a good time. I see a guy driving his car and stopped at a red light near my flat. I picture myself, on the way to somewhere in hurry back in the US, and the damned red light standing in my way. But nostalgia is like most other feelings, it passes. I will not let it ruin my moments in Mumbai. It will not clog my perception of Mumbai and what I have to do here. These memories from the US will for now just be something I think about before I fall asleep every night. To be continued…

- Avi Patel

One Step

September 23rd, 2010

26th July 2005. It was the day Mumbai came to an abrupt halt. One that most thought could have been their last. It started out just like any other day in the summer monsoons with unstoppable showers beating down on the city of dreams.

The summer monsoons in India are often taken from two different perspectives. Some see it as a great relief from the scorching sun; others see it as a dreadful curse put upon them by a superior force as a punishment for their sins, particularly to those who are often unsure of their survival by the end of it. Having disliked the heat from a very young age, I was one of the former. In fact, there was nothing I disliked about the particular season.

Bound by old habit, all the neighbourhood kids went out to play in the rain, unaware of the fact that just on the other side of Mumbai, buildings were being demolished, people were becoming homeless and there was virtually nothing anyone could do to fight against the forces of Mother Nature.

I was one of the unfortunate victims of that dreadful storm. I saw crying children who had lost the grip of their mother’s hand, entrepreneurs forced to leave there expensive cars in the effort to get home safely, and fathers holding onto their newborns for dear life while women looked for something to hold for fear of drowning into the mirky waters of the flood. My brother and I had found shelter under the roof of a small store nearby which we both knew wasn’t going to stay firm for very long. We scanned the area in search of a more secure cover. Nothing. Rooftops had been blown away by the strong wind and the mist made it difficult to see anything further than a few feet ahead of us. We managed to find a small café several metres to our left and started walking towards it, making sure we didn’t let go of the other’s hand. Despite the constant sibling rivalry and bickering we shared, I knew I was in the safe hands of my brother as we pushed our way through the risin g flood towards the café.

We breathed a sigh of relief upon arriving at the shelter and decided to stay there until the rain stopped. We took comfort at the sight of everyone else there: old, young, rich, poor, men, women and children, knowing that we were all there for the same purpose—to make it out alive. We knew we’d never see these people again, especially in a city like Mumbai. But somehow, as clichéd as it sounds, we could’ve never felt closer. We didn’t know each others’ names or backgrounds. For the next few hours, we had only one thing in common: our fate.

In the time it took for me to ponder over how and where my loved ones were, I didn’t even realise my brother wasn’t sitting next to me. A sudden state of panic overcame me while I frantically searched for him all over the café. My fear only escalated when I found him outside our safe shelter, in the water, knee-high, trying to carry a little girl, of not more than five years old, crying uncontrollably, into the café. The rain had gotten heavier, and the wind, stronger. However, that fear was momentary. I couldn’t believe this was the same person I had spent all my life arguing with, never thinking for one second that he, of all people, could actually have a heart of gold. For the first time in my life, I was proud of my brother.

I was even more stunned when a young man in his mid-20s, whose name I later learnt was Rajiv, fearlessly exited the tiny bistro, to help him. Soon after, everyone gathered to make room for as many people the space could possibly accommodate. Tables and chairs were stacked on top of one another while the manager poured everyone cups of coffee and tea…all, on the house. I had never seen so many people; strangers even, come to each others’ aid, especially in a time like this, when all one could selfishly be worried about, was their own safety. It was on this day that I learnt that there was only one place where a phenomenon like this could occur, where people put their own lives at stake only to rescue another’s—Mumbai…Aamchi Mumbai. And it only began with one step: my brother’s. He was my hero.

Dedicated to all the victims of the Mumbai floods on the 26th of July, 2005. This is also dedicated to all the brothers and sisters who have changed the lives of their siblings, knowingly or unknowingly. Mine are no exception.

- By Dimple Motwani

A short story: Beneath the Surface

September 23rd, 2010

It’s 3pm. Look outside your window. What do you see?

Here’s what I see:

A bunch of girls in neatly pleated uniforms on their way home from school. A crowd of rowdy looking teenage boys jaywalking against the heavy and noisy traffic. A beautiful, middle-aged woman taking a casual stroll with her Golden Retriever. A girl playfully hitting her boyfriend’s arm while walking down the street. And just turning into the corner, a lovely old couple, hand in hand, walking home.

They all look happy. Be it for the pleasant weather, the anticipation of summer, or simply the company of a close one. Nobody’s alone. Not by the looks of it, at least. Everyone seems to be content with their somewhat busy lifestyle. Ever wondered what may lie beneath the surface of those smiles and laughs?

Exam results which could potentially make or break one of those girls’ futures. How does one explain parental pressure? Gang fights which could result in the death of the soft-hearted gang member who they all like to pick on? How does one explain to his single mother that she has lost her only reason to live? The fear of calling her dog her best friend all her life. How does one explain the inability to find a lifelong companion? Doubts about a long-term relationship. How does one explain a phobia of commitment? The death of a soldier in a recent battle. How does one explain the loss of an only child without breaking a fragile heart?

Behind the veils of the warm smiles lies a bitter truth, a fear. Known, but unspoken.

- By Dimple Motwani

Oh Calcutta!

September 23rd, 2010

And I say it exactly the way it’s written. With all the awe, excitement, warmth and yes with all the ache in my heart as I prepare to leave it behind to move on in life.
I was scared, sad and unsure when I came to Calcutta. A part of me thought that I’d been handed a bad deal. The fun part is you never know how life will unfold. And I am glad that we can’t foresee future. Because when it turned out to be so beautiful I felt as if I had unearthed a hidden treasure .
Why am I so fond of Calcutta? Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with it’s pseudo British culture, delicious roadside food, Phuchke, or the interesting architecture. Though they will all make me nostalgic.
I am attached to Calcutta for an extremely selfish reason, the fact that I have felt wonderful about myself here. I got a platform where I could discover myself. I could take things that mattered to me seriously unlike other places, where everything was irrelevant and discarded for fun’s sake. Nothing could be revered there. “Sincerity” was an anathema.
Calcutta brought me close to people who influenced me profoundly. The situations presented to me were harsh enough to expose me to my weaknesses while people were learned and supportive enough to guide me through my struggles. The recognition I got boosted my confidence. The self doubt that I had harnessed for years evaporated. I felt beautiful. And when you feel beautiful about yourself, the world becomes a wonderful place.
While what make Calcutta home for me is this sense of being myself, my affection for the city can only be manifested in my yearning for metro train rides, taste of authentic Sandes, the sense of belonging that engulfed me every time I called a stranger Dada and feeling of being a pampered brat every time someone asked – “Bhalo Achhe?
Every time I’ll come across these things again, I will be reminded of who I am!

- By Neha Singh

Irony in a new city

July 13th, 2010

- Guru Ranganathan
After roaming around in kormangala at forum Bangalore, I was looking for an autorickshaw to go to my friends place. And I happen to be from Chennai . Autowallas in bangalore are totally a different breed from Chennai, while autowallas in Chennai crave for their business, these guys are not bothered! to make it clear the scenario is like this:
In Chennai if you ask a auto guy at 4am to take you to Tambaram which is the city end , he would be ready to, but would be greedy too. Where as in Bangalore if you ask a auto guy to take you to St. Johns from Kormangala all at the same time they would say a Big No.
While thinking about this and talking to myself about how they are, I hear an auto guy calling me “Guru, elli hog beku” which means Guru,where do you want to go! I was just startled and automatically a lot of questions were creeping in my mind..How did this Guy know my name, was he a school time friend of mine who dropped out of the school? Was he the guy who I fought with that day when I was drunk? Was he a Guy who was near my house in Chennai? Lots of questions… I sat in the rick and on the go he grumbled about the traffic , the pub culture e.tc., and finally he dropped me.. I did not ask how he knew my name because the conversations which we had did not show that he knew me and something stopped me from asking.

I came to my friends place and told him about this strange Autodriver who knew my name, He in turn laughed and laughed and made me look like a joker …That is when I came to know “Guru” is a word used to address people in bangalore.

Strange But true!!

Tirunelveli

July 13th, 2010

- By Avinash Y

I was born here in 1986. Lived here till 1993. I went back to this place after Sep 1993 in Jul 2010. It was a quaint little town and I shouldn’t have remembered anything from the place. But somehow though I’ve been in bigger cities with better infrastructure had more fun, this place reminds me of the longing I have to become a child again. I remember my friend’s names but not their faces, the things I did but not the places, the fun I had but not how I had it. Its like I visited this place in my dream but my birth certificate and an old TC(Transfer Certificate) remind me it was all too real.

The time I lived in Tirunelveli was the time when Star was something in the sky and cartoon was Tom and Jerry on a VCR (do you remember what it was). The only form of entertainment in the evening on the tele was a programme called “Oliyum Oliyum” which used to show the latest songs in tamil. Funnily my mother tongue was Telugu. Hence I used to play on the streets with friends who I remember but haven’t contacted in ages. I dont even know how I will contact them now.

My weekends were typically spent by accompanying my mother for some of her kitty parties organized by the wives of IAS/IPS officers who were friends of dad. I still fondly have a photograph of sitting on the lap of the Collector of Tirunelveli during the independence day parade of some year. Its also a place where my parents have the fondest memories of me. Somehow despite all that happened, I never think I found that memory happy memories in the other cities I lived in. Or maybe I just like to think that the place I was born kept me the happiest.

Things I love about Tirunelveli which I discovered on the train journey to that place is how people are still simple in wants, courteous by nature & polite with their words. In that place money does not define your social circle. the snootiness was missing, the flashiness was not there. I was in the train with a gentleman who had studied till 8th standard but built an empire of over 1000cr on his own. he still owned a Nokia 1500 along with the latest HTC. but he didn’t care which phone he used!!!

He spoke cheerfully about the 440 acre organic farming project he was doing with the same ease as morning tennis he plays with the who’s who in Chennai. the best part about this place I realised was the lack of airs and the avoidance of any sort of false pretenses. These people were happy with whatever they had and whoever they are, the whole world be damned. I’m glad that part of my place of birth has stayed with me till now. I hope that never goes away, wherever I may go.

Remenicising

February 12th, 2010

- Payal Chakravarty

Its been a while. I have been traveling, trying to settle down. Again. A new city, new work place, new room to stay, new weather, new traffic, new computer, new people, new food, new commute, new daily schedule. And this is the probably the fifteenth time in the past seven years, since I left home at eighteen.

Hostels, paying guests, apartments, hotels, college, work, school,internships,vacations at home …time has flown by. While unpacking my luggage last night I was wondering what do I call home? The apartments which change sooner than I can adjust myself to a good night’s sleep? The kitchens where I microwave frozen food, which I never equip completely assuming I will do it once I settle down finally, someday. Restrooms where I never get quite adapted to the mirror or the layout. The walls which are not mine, either they are adorned by photographs of families I don’t know or they are bare. I make do by putting up the few photos of family a nd friends that I always carry, on my bedside. The cities whose roads I do not know. My suitcases and bags have to be kept handy all the time since I know my stay here is temporary.
Gone are those days when our family suitcases would come out once a year to be packed before a summer holiday trip. Mom would spend a week trying to ensure all the stuff that everyone will need was taken care of, lists were made, clothes were pressed and on the final day the suitcase was secured by tiny metal locks. Before taking off we would lock the windows and doors, let our maid go for her yearly vacation to her village and inform our neighbors that we are going to be away and that they should keep an eye on our “home”.

At the end of the vacation all I wanted to do was sleep on my own bed under the same ceiling fan, the noise of which I was so accustomed to that without it I wouldn’t get a good night’s sleep. Looking out of the window to find familiar faces in the neighborhood, eating at the dining table, where I had my early meals as a toddler, on plates, that had been demoted to serve regular meals cause they could not be served to guests. The water from the steel filte r seemed the safest to drink, the taste of the food, though we complained about it being boring everyday, was tuned to our palates. The shower head, though gushed out water with more strength than I would want, seemed like the only thing that could cleanse all the dirt.
The sound of familiar voices, the feel of familiar touch, the warmth of home.
The balcony where I have spent all my afternoons reading, playing sitting under the washed school uniforms which hung from the rope to dry and where my grandmom has narrated so many a story while tying my hair in plaits.

The book case which housed my new brown-paper covered text books and the new story books bought at the book fair in January every year , the collection which had grown from Enid Blyton to Arundhati Roy accompanied all the way by Tinitin and Tinkle and of course my encyclopedias. Its all there in the glass doored wooden book case with my name handwritten by me – my years of wisdom.

The Godrej steel almirahs where Ma has stored our childhood clothes for our next generation to wear, with napthalene balls preserving them. The wall hangings collected from our trips, the paintings and photographs which I were a part of.

The furniture whose corners had hurt my sister’s and my knees while we ran around the living room chasing each other. The study table which was a s upport for so many years of my education especially during long nights before board exams, the drawers where I stored my secrets, the dressing table where I had sat and tried my first makeup.

The television, music system, refrigerator and microwave which still serve us faithfully. The living room echoes the noises of the late night get-togethers, trivial arguments and birthday parties. The bedrooms remind me of the times when all four of us slept in the same bed because there was only one air-conditioner to keep us cool on humid summer nights. The staircases, the patterns of whose tiles are etched in my memory.

The large Gulmohar tree, the tubewell, the grocery store..they all stand there the same.That’s my home. It does not have the amenities I would have liked it to have or interior decoration that I have dreamt of. But I don’t think I can call anything else *home*.
To convert just a comfort zone to a home would take years of memories and familiarity. Hope I get there someday. Till then I’ll miss home.

To Chennai, with love

December 8th, 2009

- Iswarya Murali

Yes, yes, Chennai is hot. And humid. And dusty. And Chennai’s autowallahs are the kings of overcharging. Yes, Chennai, despite the prevalence of pubs and discos, is still probably the most conservative metro in India. But, despite all this(or is it because of all this?) Chennai is the first love of my life. Nothing can come close to the rush of affection I feel for this city. And it’s not even as if I have spent all my life in Chennai. I’ve had minor and major flings with other cities. But in every other place, I’ve managed to grumble and find flaws. It’s not as if Chennai is perfect, it’s just that I love my city, imperfections, flaws, et al.

Some random thoughts about images that keep flashing my mind, when I think about the only city that i call my hometown….

*Chennaiites’ love for “The Hindu” and filter coffee is inexplicable. Say what you will, but in my humble opinion, not even Pink Floyd + alcohol could possibly beat this combination.

* Bessy beach – simply the best hangout in the city, whether you’re with your significant other, friends or family. Beaches have this amazing tendency of manipulate your emotions ranging from wacky, soulful, romantic to philosophical (And sorry Hyderabadis, Necklace Road comes NO WHERE close)

*Renganathan Street – the ultimate shopping destination for rich and poor alike.

*MAC Stadium – the place which prompted a commentator to deem the cricket crazy crowd as “one of the most sporting ever” after a standing ovation given to the opposing team, albeit India’s loss.

*Yes, of course, my love for idly, dosa and sambar.

Miss you, Chennai. (And as I like to call it rarely – Madras).

Calling all Earthians

November 25th, 2009

DSCN3307- Sangeeta Pillai Lander

Displaced? Me?

I’ve always dreamed of exotic travel – even when I was a little girl growing up in a crowded one-bedroom suburban Mumbai apartment within a family of five. I dreamed, yes, but never thought it was possible. And wonder of wonders, I now live in another country and I explore different countries every few months. The act of stepping into a plane and passing through another immigration queue feels like passing through an alternative reality – you emerge at the other end feeling like a more exciting, exotic version of yourself.

But who is this person? I’d say “Indian” in a flash. Yet my passport says “British”. The strange thing is – I’m not sure what I feel. Indian or British? Neither or both?

When I moved to the UK four years ago, everything felt strange. The air tasted different, crisper with a hint of the red double-decker buses and cut-glass accents of my imagination. The smells were amazing – I remember stepping off the plane at Heathrow and thinking, “Wow, they must use a lot of perfume here.” Everything smelt so good, so polished. The accents were different, and some downright confusing particularly the Glaswegian and Northern ones.

The amazing thing about my particular displacement is – I don’t feel displaced at all. I feel like I’ve got my feet planted on Indian and European soil at the same time. Now while that sounds extremely unbalanced, the truth is it’s actually quite comfortable.

I live in the UK, work in the UK, party in the UK, grow every day in the UK into a more well rounded person (I like to think). London is an incredibly inspiring melting pot – it absorbs all sorts of nationalities, people and ideas. It lets you be who you are, and in fact enhances who you are. I love waking up on a Saturday morning spoilt for choice – I could discover a new artist or explore art works from old masters. I could eat a Turkish, Swedish or Sri Lankan lunch. I could take a walk along the river and see the sights and hear the sounds from a city that’s rich in centuries-old history. I could hear some un-recognised yet brilliant musicians. The options are endless and exciting.

But I also make sure I spend a few weeks every year in India. The strange thing is – the moment I step onto Indian soil, I become Indian. My accent becomes Indian, my body and brain become Indian. It feels like I never left. There’s none of that expected – oh gosh, everything looks and feels different. To me, it feels exactly how it did when I left 4 years ago. I feel myself seep into India and India seeping back into me.

And yes, I become more British when I return. I talk incessantly about the weather. I whine about this, that and the other. I live for the weekends – and make sure I extract every moment’s worth of fun from every one of them. In fact, I plan each weekend ahead sometimes a few months in advance. (I used to complain about this supposed lack of spontaneity when I first moved here and now I do exactly the same thing!)

I seem to have developed this almost chameleon-like ability to become one with my background. I am Indian. I am British. I am neither. I am both.

There is something I should mention – I live in a very Indian neighborhood. In fact, out of all the neighborhoods I could’ve chosen in London – I chose to live in an Indian one. Nothing warms my heart like the sight of a new south Indian eatery opening up on my street. I walk around on Diwali day beaming at the all the lamps and diyas on the street, all the Bollywood belching out of the stereos, the firecrackers exploding in the sky.

So maybe that’s the secret of my non-displacement. As a friend remarked, “You live in India and then get on the tube and go to work in London”. That about sums it up, I think.

Does it really matter how you define yourself? In the midst of this endless galaxy within galaxies, among all the infinite stars and planets – surely all that really matters is that you feel at home among what really is a finite number of countries and nationalities. Maybe they should start issuing passports soon for a new nationality – Earth-ian. You’d be surprised at the number of applicants queuing up for that one.