One Person at a Time

Last year, Anandi had called me one afternoon with good news. “Bhaiji, I passed first class in Open University exam.” She had finally gotten herself a 12th standard degree. And she was betting on it to be her exit ticket from a life of suffering, the horrors of which very few of us can imagine.

“So, what now?” I asked.

“You know I wanted to be a doctor. But that’s too much to study. No no. I can never do that. So, I was thinking I will become a nurse. Tai also agrees.” Continue reading

The Old Ways in a City of Whims

“Go, go. Get the cardboards. Can’t you see how the mosquitoes are all over the saab? Go go.”

We were on a street near a historical monument in a city that’s known all over the world for the most beautiful mausoleum any man has ever built for his beloved wife. The monument we were outside, however, wasn’t that mausoleum. It was a fort, some of whose inside walls had been red once and then yellow and finally white. Clearly, the father ruler hadn’t liked what the grandfather had built and in turn, the son ruler hadn’t liked what the father had changed. Yes, I was in a city of whims, where more stock was given to fancies of the emperors than was to the realities of its citizens. Continue reading

Goodwill Counting

“If an apple costs five rupees and a lemon costs three rupees, how much will you have to pay for both?”

I was sitting outside Raipur railway station, near a fruitseller’s pushcart, trying to teach a bunch of street kids a bit about money and how to count it.

“Don’t bother with them, Saab,” said the fruitseller, a greying man who somehow reminded me of hailstone lemonades that my grandmother always talked of but never made. “They are only here because you offered them each a small platter. What do they care about all this?” Continue reading

The Things They Carried to Durga Pujo

In the calm sea of brightly clothed humanity, inching towards the Gariahat Pujo Pandal, there were several things bobbing up and down that caught one’s attention.

The narrow streets carried over a thousand men and women and people of the sex no one wanted to acknowledge. The air carried a hotness and humidity that could only have been the vapours of hopes and ambitions rising from the bodies of these thousands on the streets and the thousands who were here before them. The tall bamboo frames on the side of the road carried branded promises of prosperity and future security, with tiny bindi shaped stars that talked about terms and conditions immediately below the message that celebrated unconditional love. Continue reading

Happy Independence Day

Before 1947, if one had a distinctly Indian name, which 99% Indians did, one could literally die of a name.

In 1943, a British Naval Officer, who was from Indian roots but had been born and brought up as a pure Brit in Sussex, was assigned to a mission at the Bombay port. He had never sympathised with the Indian cause and had taken every step he could to make it known to people that despite his roots, he was very thoroughly a Brit.

But Bombay was a new place and new places come with their new prejudices. When the Master-of-Port at Bombay saw that someone by the name of Rustomji Jahajwalah was asking permission to dock his rowing boat, he assumed almost immediately that the line saying “Boatswain in His Highness’s Royal British Navy” must have been clearly a mistake. Continue reading

Misty Mountains and Silver Fountains

Misty Mountains
And Silver Fountains
Are no longer that far.
Notice that today, they are
In our very homes here,
So much to my fear,
As Man’s dirty parody
Of the Dwarvish Morian tragedy
In which the smaller children
Are overrun by the taller adults,
Who with firebrands held in their teeth
And rising mountains of ashes beneath,
Puff out immaculate misty rings
That float skywards on their wings
As Fallen Angels set to do their share
Of hanging on, as Death, up in the misty air.
And so the children are slowly choking
On the abject indifference of indiscriminate smoking
While not-yet-old men are dying of their dragging faults
And silver coins are pouring out into bolted vaults.

Though Much is Lost, Much Abides

The Mumbai-Nagpur Duronto Express on 23rd June did not come even to the starting station until it was well over an hour late. Expectant passengers passed their time looking from the announcement screen to the digital clock hanging all along platform number 18. Bored of the wait, a group of three friends, well past their age of retirement, sat down and decided to play a game of Hearts. Only god knows why they were bent on playing a game of four when they were only three. Perhaps, it was some wisdom that a 24 year old cynic did not possess. It was definitely beyond his understanding. Continue reading