Autumn Fragments

Will the dhak be heard

In those endless nights.

Will you come

Before the Mother departs?

 

 

 

(Note: In the eastern region of India during the early autumn Goddess Durga is worshiped as a divine Mother and during the ritual ceremony the dhaks (auspicious drums) are played.  It is believed that in the last day of the festival Mother Durga finally departs from the earthly realm to her celestial home)

 

 

 

Home and the Monsoon

I keep gazing at the hillock from the balcony as the soft clouds slowly enfold it under the grey sky.  As the rain drops slowly fill up the vast distance between us, it suddenly becomes a sacred object, no longer young but immensely ancient like a prophet who has buried tales under the mist of  silence.

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Rendezvous

“Just let your thoughts

And dreams unfold

Let’s talk of love

Of  tales, untold…

Speak! So I can see your soul….

Speak! So I can see your soul”

Somehow, this title track from the famous talk show Rendezvous with Simi Garewal has been ringing in my mind. Suddenly, the summer morning breeze becomes intensely musical as I play it on Youtube and then there is this wonderful onslaught of memories. I am reminded of my adolescent days when I first heard this gorgeous word- ‘Rendezvous’. The dictionary defines it as a ‘meeting’. Those days, I was really mesmerized by this show anchored by the lady in white who encouraged her guests to speak their hearts out. No matter how elitist it had been, today when I still watch those episodes, it makes me ponder over the fascinating stories that are kept secured in the warm shelves of our lives. Coming back to the word Rendezvous- perhaps, it is not just a meeting, a private chat between two people. There is a lot more to it.

This entire  Sunday morning, I’ve been thinking of how difficult it is for us to know those who we never knew before. For instance, when I sit next to a co-passenger, I am tempted to speculate about him/her, that stranger with whom I would have to spend a few crucial hours of my life between the excitement of departure and the anticipation of arrival. And how lovely it is, if we strike up  a conversation. At times, I am fortunate enough to meet students of my age who go on to talk about careers and their crisis in life. I still remember some of the candid moments. I had met this person who was in his sixties and had come to Delhi for some official work. He was devastated to see how pathetic and irresponsible the people at government offices were. His son had settled in Bangalore and so our grandpa had to handle things on his own. He didn’t speak much during the two hours in the flight, a few crunch of cookies fell on his neat shirt and dhoti ,  he was like a hermit happy to have met a student. I just kept thinking about his life, those shades of experience that shaped  his wisdom and perhaps, about all  those tales of sorrow were left unsaid.

I had met another wonderful person on a flight journey few years back and I will cherish that rendezvous. He narrated how he had nearly escaped from the jaws of death the previous night when he was on a severely turbulent Air-Egypt flight. He was the sole supporter of his family, his father was no more and being the eldest, it was all his responsibility. Survival was his necessity, death can never be an option for him.  During the journey we spoke about life and death, about hope and faith, about belief and skepticism.  When we landed in Guwahati, as a token of farewell, he handed me a 1 Dinar note! What an unusual gift, isn’t it? A foreign currency note! He wanted that to be an inspiration, he wished me to be diligent, to be responsible and to be brave! It was my best rendezvous ever! Not because I got a gift, but because I was able to connect to a stranger. An absolute stranger who had a close encounter with the possibility of death. And someone who got a second chance. Perhaps, his gesture is rich and meaningful in yet another sense. I see his gift as an offering to the unknown and supreme power, the power that sustained his faith in that moment of crisis. There is mysticism when two people connect, not just with words, but with gestures and feelings. A perfect rendezvous happens when one is able to read the unspoken thoughts of the other.

Once on the Rajdhani express, I had met an astrologer. He was a retired army officer who was drawn to the puzzles of destiny. Astrology- he loved the games of the predictable and the unpredictable. During that full day return trip to Guwahati (Assam), he counseled me about the virtues of ‘Karma’. Your Karma (actions) become the stars. Think positive and keep doing good. At one moment, I offered him my hand as I was really curious to know my destiny. The train had gathered speed, the sunbeams fell on the lush green fields, his eyes were fixed on my palms, on  the graphs, lines and texture imprinted on it, and suddenly he grew silent. He stated at the cow grazing at a distance. I looked at him and smiled- he just replied “Good, just believe in Karma”. What did he foresee? What was that prediction? Was it prosperity? Was it disaster? Perhaps, I will never have that answer. Yet that rendezvous taught me something special. Just accept life as it comes to you, play its games joyfully, destiny will take care of you, it will sweeten your joys and perhaps balm your wounds.

I once took this pre-paid cab from the Delhi Airport to reach my college campus. That one day, I had a deep rendezvous with the cab driver who shared with me  the story of his love marriage. He suddenly asks- “Aapki shaadi ho gayi? Aap love marriage karoge ya arranged marriage?” (Are you married? Do you prefer a love or an arranged marriage?) Such a heartwarming question!I had to think of an answer keeping all my philosophy and cynicism suspended for a brief while- “Love marriage accha hoga” (Love marriage would be better). It was the beauty of a moment and I will cherish it forever. On the way, he spoke about his struggles, about his devout and loving wife and about his hopes and ambition. Like an elderly brother, he spoke which would translate as  “Take your studies seriously, Be a good professor some day. And be careful when you fall in love. Some girls can’t be trusted.” For some reason. my feminist bent of mind forgave his bit of misogyny because somewhere I had discovered  one extraordinary guardian in this otherwise bewildering city of strangers. It was almost evening when we reached , I paid him some twenty bucks extra as a token of gratitude- perhaps he deserved a lot more which money could never express- and soon the car vanished.

On a typical summer afternoon, as I was returning from Kamla Nagar- a shopping hub for students in North Campus- the rickshaw puller asked me “Kaunse College main hain aap?” (In which college are you studying now?) He smiled “Accha hain” (that’s good) when I replied St. Stephen’s. Then he says again- “itna padaai karoge, to shaadi kab hogi?” (if you study that long, when will you marry? I just laughed- “Pata nahin” (I just don’t know). I will never know indeed! How magical! In that heart of summer, a person who carries me to a place with a sweat laden body becomes a guide and a friend. Will I ever find such a genuine person again? Perhaps, in moments when I feel betrayed, such are the faces that offer immense comfort!!

Rendezvous! As I told you, how difficult it is for us to know someone who we never knew before. How difficult it  is to have a rendezvous with a stranger! But yet, how equally  impossible it becomes  for us to know the ones we had always known! Often, we fail to read the stories of the ones we thought we knew best! Once my grandmother was narrating her childhood memories- how she was fascinated by the bicycle and how her mother (my great-grandmother) would scold her to keep her away from “manly” things! One afternoon, my grandma confessed how she was the topper of her classes with the highest score in Mathematics yet her love for algebra was cut short by her marriage after the high school. In my rendezvous with my grandma, I learned the true feminist stories. the stories of silence and the stories of her voice.

Likewise, in a special rendezvous, my mother revealed her childhood fear of spider. At the age of six, she once saw the shadow of a spider inside a large Gothic room, and thought it was a mini-tiger! She instantly ran away screaming! Or that one rendezvous, when one my favourite teacher spoke about his love for Hindustani music and how his passions shifted from rock music to the nuances of Hindustani Rasika and Raga.

Oh, how many of such rendezvous! I am sure there are more and will further excavate them deeper from the pockets of my memory! And dear readers, this is my rendezvous. My phrases, verses, and words are my confessions. Through them, I speak to you! Through them, you shall see my soul! Let’s keep this rendezvous going! You all are special to me and my heartfelt gratitude for those  endless  rendezvous  I had so far!

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(Painting- Terrace Rendezvous)

The Grade

Somehow, I have been thinking of grades- those magical  alphabets that supposedly define one’s position and competence- A, A+, B, C, F, so on.. If I were  to choose a grade for the last twenty years of my life, that choice itself would be the most enigmatic moment ever. Still, what grade would fit into my life so far? I can never think of that special, that ultimate “A” grade. My life does not deserve that “A” grade. “A” grade demands that life should be neat, orderly,  thoroughly precise and structured. Let’s say, for a term paper that gets the “A” grade- its author must have chosen his words with great skill and played with his argument with great depth and subtlety. The author, in other words, would be flawless and confident about his/her texts and thoughts. But my life has never been that neat. I love the intensity of emotions, I am passionate, I am always in a state of excess. My thoughts flow and over-flow. No, “A” grade would never suit my life.

Let’s consider the second possible grade. The supreme, the ultimate. “A+”. Never, never ever, will my life match the requirements of “A+” But how beautiful would it be to achieve that ideal, that state of absolute perfection. I imagine what kind of a paper would get an “A+”. Who would be that one remarkable author who would produce the most original argument, plan out the most well-crafted structure and the one who would write the best introduction and the most brilliant conclusion? Who could stitch the beginning, middle and end into one perfect whole! I wonder, and I am thrilled. “A+” Will my life achieve that kind of brilliance? Will I be able to look back at my life years later with my grey hair falling on the key board and yet my smile sparkling with satisfaction? Will I stand near the sea as a victor who achieved all that he wanted? In the last twenty years, I found myself terribly inadequate. My thoughts flew like butterflies while my words crawl on the ground like snails! As I have said, I defy structure, I love excess, I hate balance, I hate order. Perhaps, “A+” can never be the grade for my life.

Let’s come to the third option. “C”. The grad that says “Poor”. A very strange word indeed. Poor, it lies below average, you have no place in the order of this world. My life-should I give it a “C” grade? I don’t think my life deserves “C” grade, no matter what. It is said that a plagiarized paper gets a “C” grade. The principle is dishonesty. No, by no means, my life has been dishonest. In the last twenty years, each moment of my life has been sincere. Many years back, we had a wooden gate and there was this cow who used to break in to have a bite of the grass. There would be a chaos in the house the moment the cow would enter. And I would burst into laughter finding them how busy they were battling against that harmless bovine. I would just fall down laughing and later invite a few lashes. Wasn’t that laughter sincere? Another incident comes to my mind which was a few days after my grandfather’s death. I was left all alone on the verandah. It was a full moon night and suddenly I shrieked with fear. Till today, I haven’t figured why that sudden fear erupted. Those moments of laughter, those moments of fear, they were all sincere and true, No, it would be unfair to assign my life a “C” grade.

“F”- the grade that signifies failure. Has  my life so far been a failure? How would I judge the boy who has challenged his fears, inhibitions and timidity? How do we judge that tiny fish who left his tiny pond in search of the sea? How do I judge the small victories against  struggles and mundane battles of everyday life? Didn’t I resist their malice? I will never accept the “F” grade. Life is never a tale of failure. Life can be imperfect and incomplete yet never a failure. Is it possible for all to achieve that grand perfection? Life makes us an eternal traveler and we encounter twists, turns and shifts, yet this journey in itself becomes the salvage. When destiny becomes the author, struggles become our stories. But it is never a narrative of failure, it’s never the “F” grade.

So what am I left with now? The “B” grade- which can give us all an acceptable position in this world. A “B” grade paper shows hard work, but falls short of the critical requirements. Yet such a paper can be re-worked, improved and re-submitted and thereby the gate to the world of “A” and “A+” would remain open. The average position seems to be comforting, being neither great nor inferior. Should I then consider the “B” grade for my life? I don’t know. Perhaps, I will never know. How will I grade that child who loved the summer rain, who fell in love with the dark sky yet who was hesitant to play outside in the rain? How would I judge that boy whose thoughts were endless but never spoke enough? How would I grade my decision when I decided to choose difficult and uncertain paths in life ? Perhaps, “B” grade might work for me. Perhaps, I will chase perfection till I achieve it like a rain drop. I too will leave the world of excess and illusions and some day move into that realm of the supreme and superlative, in that world of “A+” Or should I just embrace the reality of the “B” grade and seize the day.

Our lives oscillate between these grades. Between A+ and F, between perfection and failure, our lives constantly fly like the night bird. But what if we reject all those grades, and live a life in its utmost simplicity, free of judgements and evaluations. Or else, get caught in this constant grading and re-grading of our lives!