Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Stopping to Smell the Flowers

I don’t like the colour pink. No, actually I hate the colour pink. I hate it with a vengeance, not because pink is a girl colour and I am rebelling against gender stereotyping, but because, well, I just don’t like it very much. Like how I don’t like brinjal. There isn’t a reason for it. So ok, I don’t like pink, in all its shades and hues. The best girl friend threatens to have a pink themed wedding; I tell her I will wear black. I don’t mind shades very far away from the baby pink spectrum, like mauve and violet and purple.

I like the pink on trees though. When I list to myself, very often off late, the reasons why I still live in a city, in this city, I write down the trees. Especially in the Vasantha Ruthu, the spring season, when trees in Bangalore rise up and bloom and open their branches to the wide blue sky, unmindful of the dirtiness of the roads and people below. I love the jacarandas and the other pale pink and yellow and darker pink and violet flowers, the names of which I have never thought to find out.

I keep promising myself that early one morning, I will take myself to one of the larger parks in the city and take pictures of these trees. Maybe I will do that some time in the summer this year. Are most of the trees in Lalbagh and Cubbon Park in bloom yet? I wonder.

When work took me to those parts of the city earlier, I would look at the flowering trees and long to sit under one with a thick book of poetry, maybe Neruda; or perhaps Keats and Kuvempu would have been more appropriate. I never did that, you know. Journalism is not a place where you have the time or column space for poetry. On Sunday summer evenings, I imagined having a summer dress on and a wicker picnic basket packed with lemonade and some snacks and a light novel too, friends and I would find a spot under a wide tree and speak of youth and music. Maybe one of us would have a guitar to strum along.

Maybe my dreams are too English!

I never did that picnic thing either. In fact, I have never been on an outdoor picnic in Bangalore; I don’t like the crowds everywhere here. We do a lot of those picnics back home though.

This Sunday perhaps I will go to the park to see the flowers. I will stop for tea at Koshy’s, I find myself becoming a sometimes-regular there. I will perhaps meet friends and share the pot of green tea I order for, then walk up to Cubbon Park to see the jacarandas and the other flowers. There used to be a musical hour at Band Stand there every Sunday, where a ‘light music’ group or amateur singers or out-of-work orchestra groups would entertain the crowds in the evening. People would sit on the grass and watch their kids bounce a newly-bought red balloon about, munching on spicy puffed rice or biting into fried corn. Some would walk by and stay for a song or two. Lovers, hand in hand, the girl, always coy, the boy, always macho in the eyes of his beloved, would find a corner to sit, if the band began playing romantic numbers. There used to be an old world charm to that one hour below the Band Stand. I am a big sucker for those old world charm things.

But we have too many malls popping up these days, the lovers, the children and their parents now eat overpriced corn and prefer elevator music under air conditioned roofs. I don’t know if the music hour is still organized at the park. If it is, maybe, when I go to see the jacarandas, I will hope for a soft breeze and stay for a few songs.

P.S. As it turns out, this happens to be my 500th blog post! I am telling myself it is another milestone!

Friday, February 10, 2012

It Was My Favourite Present

Last month when I was home, I spent as much time as possible working in the garden and sadly, not getting even a hint of a tan; I have always had anti-tan skin. Right in front of Shailaja’s (maid, tailor, woman-Friday) house, next to a pot of tiny yellow wildflowers and where Blacky is tied, there is a capsicum plant. Two capsicums had grown; one had got stolen, she said, by an old woman from a well off family in the neighbourhood. The other was hidden away in a black cover and left to grow some more.

A few hours before I was to board the bus back to the city, while looking over when Shailaja and her family were replanting some beds of kohlrabi, she picked the green capsicum off the plant and gave it to me as a present, saying they all wanted me to have the first one from that plant. That was, without doubt, one of the most memorable gifts I have ever received. I have always known that it is the thought behind the gift that matters, and this is one present the memory of which will always remain very special to me.

I suppose I have some parts of my life set out right after all.

Monday, February 06, 2012

"I Didn't Know What Dreams Were Like"

The other day, there was a panel discussion as part of IFA’s Arts Education Conference where two young people, dancers in well known choreographer Astad Deboo’s group, shared their experiences of having lived on the streets before they came into the Delhi based Salaam Balak Trust. Both had moving stories to tell, but what Pankaj, the ‘talker’ in their group said struck me hard. Describing his days of uncertainty, he said, “I didn’t know what dreams were like.” In the course of the next half hour, I wrote something inspired by that line. I wouldn’t normally put any of my creative writing here, but this one time I want to. It is the unedited writer’s cut.
I refuse to insert a disclaimer that it is short fiction. I find that it doesn’t make a difference whether I do or not.

“I didn’t know what dreams were like”

One morning, just before Naboo would start his day’s rounds and beat us all up, I saw the sun’s rays again when they glazed over the iron and steel tracks. I wondered where I would get breakfast that day. Even when the cold has crept into your bones and stayed there long after summer has arrived, the first thing you wonder about, before wanting an un-torn rag to wear, is where you will get breakfast. That’s the way it is, on the streets; what can you do?

Breakfast, maybe, if Naboo left me with any strength to walk after he was done with me, maybe, would be a piece of bread for the four and half rupees I had stashed away. Stashed away for a day just like this, when I woke up thinking of breakfast. Would Naboo leave me alone this morning? I don’t wonder. My thoughts rarely go beyond breakfast.

I am Anoo. I am 15 years old. Of medium height. With fair skin. Bright eyes. Capable of being as wild as you want me to be. That is how Naboo describes me to his friends who come by the tracks after 11 every night. For that is the time the beat man in khakhi has left to nurse his one shot of brandy he allows himself when it gets too cold. I am Anoo now. I used to have a different name as a child. But that was in another life. This life is marginally easier if I call myself Anoo.

I, Anoo, might have breakfast today. The 5:40 Mail has left the station. The station, my home, occasional workplace, my nightmares are here. But then, I want to tell you about my dreams.

I never knew the word for dreams, in any language. I didn’t, still don’t really, know what dreams are like. I suppose we all dream when we are asleep. But nights were often my work hours and when I slumped against a cold stone seat sometime in the day time, the station’s morning was so loud and busy that I only heard everyone’s conversations in my sleep. No, though. That is not the kind of dream I am talking about. 
The other kind of dream, where you think of hopes and future and stuff, you know, that’s the sort I talk about. I never had those. Did I tell you? I never knew the word for dreams. Never knew what they sounded and felt and tasted in my mouth like.

It is like…oh, I don’t know, maybe like never knowing what hot rice tastes like. When you never know a taste or a smell or feeling, there is no chance of missing it. I never missed dreams. Even if I had known them, I know Naboo wouldn’t have let me have them. Like hot rice or a red shawl to cover my body or a full smile, which Naboo forbids me. I cheat though, with the smile, and allow myself one when he isn’t around and I see jasmine flowers on someone’s hair.

Things happened. I nearly died. There came and went many more trains. I hit Naboo. When a food packet someone was carrying slipped out from a tear in the wire basket, I had hot white rice for the very first time. Things happened. I ran, I came. I went away. I grew bigger breasts and longer hair. I am still Anoo though. That is because I choose not to remember what I used to be called. Things happened. The best thing that happened was that someone told me what a dream was. Jisoo once described one to me. Beloved Jisoo, my friend. Jisoo told me of dreams and what the sounds and colours and textures of dreams were like.

Things happened. I ran away, faster and further and ended up with Jisoo. We are happy, with Summi and the others. I dream now, they all taught me how to. I like it, dreaming. I still dream of breakfast. The only difference is that now I am sure Naboo will not snatch it away. I also dream of looking at the sky and not the ground and running so fast that the wind cannot keep up between the curls of my hair. Jisoo laughs and calls me a dreamer. As for me, I know of dreams now. I create for myself, and sometimes for Jisoo, a beautiful new day, every single morning.
(Feb 4, 2012)

Oh, Just This and That. And a Lot Else!

A lot has happened. 2012 is sounding to be a good year after the disasters I have seen the last few years. They say the world will end this year, something about the Mayan calendar. If only ending things was that easy.

A lot happened in January. I spent a good two weeks at home. Need I say how lovely that was? While there, I kept thinking of two or three great opening lines for this post. But in my vow to stay away from all kinds of keyboards while not working, I forgot to make a note somewhere. And then, grumbling and pulling a face, I came back to the city. Why I say that ’12 looks like a good year is because the day after I got back, I joined work.

Yes, much to my mother’s relief, I decided to give the glamour of freewheeling a rest and found myself a job. And what a job! I now work as the Public Relations Officer at India Foundation for the Arts (IFA), an independent, philanthropic, grant making organization that supports various arts. I work great hours, sane hours and am even back at home by sunset! Never before in my working life have I done that!

I love my new job. Hear what happens at work. The other day, I spent an afternoon learning a few steps of contemporary dance from boys in Astad Deboo’s troupe! Met, will meet some of the country’s best artists. Office is so much fun! There are some amazing musicians, singers and artists working at IFA. So there is music and intellectual stimulation and freedom to create and think in a beautiful atmosphere. If I knew work could also be this fun, I would have shortened my long break. Or maybe not. I must note here a compliment that the big boss at work gave me during my interview. Was truly humbled. It meant a great deal to me to hear those words. Thank you, so very much.

Much happens at IFA, by way of fantastic performances, new artists, grants…be good now and go ‘like’ the Facebook page and keep both eyes out for updates. And visit And watch this space too!

I never thought I would be in this kind of NGO space. Life does have a funny way of having fun at your expense, doesn’t it? Not that I would complain, not this time.

That apart, my social life seems to be looking up after a near saintly two years. There have been many new friends, new ideas, new events to go to, new books, old people and renewed contacts, new inspirations. I cannot seem to stop writing. That is good, no?