Many of the houses I grew up in never felt like home to me. No matter how sturdy their foundations were. How well-cemented the bricks. All the fine craftsmanship that had gone behind them. They lacked the comfort and warmth I wanted under a roof. Or they belonged to an ecosystem that seemed alien to me. Their walls were sturdy but they held grudges. The ceiling fan was too loud. Beyond the front door, privacy was in absentia. And the view outside the window often a peek into the lives of my neighbors; how unhappy they can be when they don’t realize that somebody is watching them.
But in the winter of 1988, I found myself in a four-storied residential building in Chennai called Joy Apartments. My parents had rented a flat on the third floor. No matter the weather, its ambiance was stuck halfway between a siesta on a rainy day and a funeral procession of woodland creatures. It was tranquilizing and charming. On Sunday afternoons, one could hear the rustling of leaves, in the streets, under a broom. Or the sing-song squawking of the fish vendor as he crooned his way into our bellies.
I read what people have to say about national politics on Twitter. During lunchtime, I browse through newsfeeds that unattractively hog TV screens. That’s as politically-inclined as I can be. But I pay my taxes. And I form opinions. I don’t have kids. So I tend to take things personally. Especially, my ideologies.
Some nights I stay awake because of them. Thankfully, I don’t have to wipe their butts or pay for their education.
Writing about social issues used to give me fake powers. Arms stretched out, I jogged across a building terrace – pinching the loose ends of my superhero cape. I was on a mission way to save lives. Tackle injustice. Analyze political quagmires. Make bold statements about societal norms. No fear of consequences. Always ready to fight the good fight.
When I reached the terrace’s edge, I put one foot up on a raised platform. I folded my left elbow and cupped the right shoulder with the center of my palm. I looked up to the sky before peering, heroically, at the city below. I saw all the people on the ground. So many of them needed help. They wanted to be rescued.
I have mixed feelings about pet dogs. While I want to kiss every dog I meet on its wet nose, I am unsure if it is a deep and purposeful bond. It seems to be a symbiotic bond between two emotionally-needy creatures. The Homo Sapien and the Felis Domesticus.
I had a pet Pomeranian called Terry. We grew up in the same household for 12 years. We were family. He came to us when he was two weeks old. Instantly, we became best friends. Because I lived in a neighborhood where there weren’t any other kids to play with.
He was mellower than the average Pomeranian. A goofball despite born an animal without a sense of humor. I loved him because he gave me a lot of attention. I suspect that he followed me around because I was a recurring part of his ecosystem. We felt safe around each other.
I am one of those 30-year-olds who believes that things were better when I was growing up. I have a romanticized interpretation of the good old days. Like many, I want to remember the past for the lessons it taught me, not the scars it gave me. It adds more credibility to the life I lead, and the decisions I continue to take.
Many of the memories I recollect comprise mushy dribble. A tacky sequence of events that made no sense back then. In hindsight, it was as though the past had been engineered just to make me a wiser person. It’s a bunch of nonsense. A game of Russian roulette without any bullets.
During late evenings, colonies of fruit bats fly across pale orange skies in my city. With militant grandeur, they soar. With purpose and showmanship. But I see them so often that I don’t look up in admiration anymore.
But it makes for a beautiful sight. The resilience with which its cold claws still clutch onto the wire. The fragile grip of its melted rubbery skin on the rotting skeletal frame. As if the two were star-crossed lovers in the middle of their last dance. Or perhaps, the tenderest end to a quarrel. And all they want to do is never let go of each other.
It is tough to pigeonhole Indian metropolitans. They are Dickensian by nature. Often, their identities shift, like tectonic plates, under the pretext of urbanization. All the while, they play a game of cat-and-mouse with the past, whether good, bad or ugly. They are works in progress or experiments in terror, depending on how you see it.
Similarly, citizens of metros can seldom be typecast. I figured it out a week after my city suffered from its worst natural disaster ever. During the chaos, we bonded together, like squealing piglets suckling on a giant loving mammary gland. Everyone talked about how brave and selfless we were. A mere week later, we went back to being weak and indifferent – with flashes of politeness. But nobody was paying attention to us, by then.
I was born, bred and fed in this city. I am a son of the soil, for all practical purposes. But I don’t like filter coffee. I have no memory of attending any Carnatic music festival. And maybe, I have been three temples throughout my life.
Grey Francolins are regular sights for birders during morning hours in the drier parts of the Indian subcontinent. They look like domestic hens dressed in sensible brown suits.
As well-camouflaged as they are, Francolins are paranoid to the point of comic relief. We have made genial clowns out of each other. During my morning walks in scrub forests, I have startled them into skidding down muddy knolls. In return – they have knocked me off my sandals. It has been a match made in a Charlie Chaplin blooper reel.
A year ago, they were also a part of a magical experience I had. (more…)
Staring is India’s creepiest pastime. It is either a reflex action or a defense mechanism. We are like frightened and / or frustrated deer caught in the headlights of shrinking geographies and fading belief systems. It isn’t a problem exclusive to women either. Victims include people from other countries and young couples.
A theory is that our conservatism has made us meta-judgmental. Buzzwords like tradition and culture have stitched xenophobia into the fabric of our communities. It is so woven intricately into our mindsets that hyper-sexual gazing is a permissible social activity. Another theory is that we are sociopaths. Sort of like Lionel Richie in that music video in which he stalks a blind girl. And insinuates sexual tension before asking her “hello is it me you are looking for?”.
Nobody knows what they are capable of unless the situation demands it. Heroism isn’t hereditary. Circumstances make people do extraordinary things. Most of us would like to think we are capable of some bravery in the face of danger. However, when the threat is posed by a wild animal, valor can be misplaced.
In 2013, during an Indian gaur attack, I ran faster than I ever realized I could. A friend, and a tribal kid were with me. But I didn’t look back to see if they were safe. Instead I took off, leaving a cloud of cartoon smoke. They did too. I knew that if I had turned around, I might have been gored. We were a just few meters away from an alpha gaur. That’s nearly 1000 kilograms of power, agility and anger charging us at an alarming speed.
Sure, I like my friend. The kid had a charming disposition too. But I liked increasing the odds of my survival a lot better.