August 18, 2005

burgled

this happened on tuesday. and it was all very filmi.

the three hours that we were away from home watching a movie that did not rise to our expectations anyway. the 20-minute diversion we took on the way home, to buy milk and yoghurt for the next morning. arriving home to find nothing unusual or out of place for a long time. until we went upstairs and noticed one of the pillow covers in the bedroom missing.

i thought it strange. i am the only one at home who changes the pillow and bed-covers, yet it was unlike me to leave one on and one without. my mother then noticed a lone gold earring on the carpet. i came in to check, her tone had sounded like “how could you be so careless, leaving gold lying about the place…”, and i too was curious now – i don’t change my earrings for months. this one was missing its pair.

my heartbeats racing, i opened the wardrobe. a storm had been inside, the contents ravaged about, bangle-boxes lay open or turned upside down. the only jewel case in my possession, which had contained my wedding gifts from friends and family – rings, gold chains, bangles and four tiny earrings, stared me in the face, absolutely maroon, velvet, and empty.

after a visit by the police, and a sleepless night, i walked in the garden again, trying to re-trace the burglar’s steps. how did he come in? how long had he been watching us, to strike at the time when the house was empty? was he english? was he asian? this was considered a ‘safe’ area…was he a ‘she’? were there more than one…? no footprints, nothing to show who it was. the plants, the flowers in the garden, the four very expressive wooden-figure-musicians in the house, the male and female dancing-rajasthani-puppets hanging by the porch door – witnesses all – remain silent in spite of my pleas.

i believe the worst is over, perhaps…

but what bothers is not the gold that was taken away. i rarely used them; i never had a fondness for jewelry anyway. it bothers me that these were precious gifts, blessings for the day we got married. it bothers me that i had to bring them with me much against my wishes almost four years ago, only to lose them this way.

it bothers me that a bulky and ugly black pouch, containing lots of feel-good-accessories i was deeply attached to, should attract the thief’s attention. in it were colourful glass and lac bangles, red and green and mirrored ones, silver anklets and toe-rings precious to me. precious not for their monetary value, but as moments i treasured. moments with my sister when i picked the bangles, the many shops we stopped at in mumbai, the fuss, the dilemmas, the giggles. the dreams. some clips and hairbands, crocin tablets (nothing else stops my head from splitting). about fifty or so bindis i had handpicked for every occasion. not that there are many when you are in an ‘english’-locality london.

it bothers me that a camcorder we recently purchased, after three years of waiting “for the right moment” should disappear so quickly. when we had not even begun to use it yet. along with it my kolhapuri hand-purse, with all the essential plastic and paper moneys inside.

it bothers me that in a nation that is quite “rich and developed”, this repeatedly happens to people who are generally classified as those coming from a “poor and developing country”. it bothers me that getting rid of “the indicator on the front door” – the colourful toran, will make me seemingly less-indian. it bothers me that i am even given this suggestion, twice by well-meaning people. it bothers me that none of the (four) english neighbours around our house, except our new sri lankan friends next door, knocked to enquire about what happened that night.

my heart is still racing. it bothers me that a perfect stranger has walked in my house, uninvited. it bothers me when i think… i think he will visit again.




August 15, 2005

walk to the light, always

it was a friday night, like any other friday night.

cars and bikes zoomed on the motorway that circled london and on the motorways elsewhere in britain. inside (london) men and women fell over each other as they tried to walk straight on the footpaths leading to a(nother) pub. youngsters stayed in groups and passed the cans and joints around. their drunk voices rising high and falling with the chilly wind. behind a huge but presently-isolated construction site in hemel, we parked our car and briefly discussed who should go to drop in the videocassettes and dvds at blockbuster.

i think i fall into that category of people who would hate to admit to themselves that they are afraid. i like to think of myself as someone who tries to walk into her darkest fears, even though i might be trembling like a leaf inside. and so, “i’ll go.” i said bravely, stepping out of the car even before praveen could ask, “sure?”

the entrance to the store was from the other side, a work-in-progress-diversion for the mega shopping centre scheduled to open by the year-end. anyway…to get to the other side you had to cross an unlit alley, so quiet you could hear your own voice inside your head. so dark that if you stopped and stood halfway through, you would forget which way you were heading. it was beginning to be the loneliest and scariest three-minutes of my life, until i remembered…i just had to look for birbal’s light!

children have a vague manner of interpreting or understanding the stories they read. as a kid i used to devour a lot of stories myself and some of the simplest ones stay with me even today. this birbal’s story is one such unforgettable piece. although the plot here was about justice to the poor man who stood in freezing waters all night for a reward, i had, as a child, taken in another lesson from the same story.

i had learnt that however dark the night may be, there must be a light shining somewhere. look at that light, and the night isn’t dark anymore. i had practised this so many times…when i had to wake up at 4 am during vipassana practice and walk in silence, alone, to the dimly-lit meditation halls about a 100 yards away. sleepless nights where i waited for the headlights from passing vehicles to fall on the walls and wildly tilt and zoom across the rooms. production times at work where i reached home at 1 or 2 am, sometimes, walking all the way in the dark because there were no willing rickshaws to drive to that area. the beautiful minnaminungu (fireflies) when i lay awake and in pain in kerala more recently, or even the faint glow of the moonlight coming in through the window when i have to get up to use the bathroom… however bright or faint, the light left no space for fear.

light. hope. whatever.

back to where i was, sure enough, the tubelights from the store threw a tiny white triangle where the dark alley turned to the right. into the street where the other shops were. my thumping heart regained its natural rhythm as i walked towards the triangle of light, turned to the store, dropped the dvds and cassettes into the quick-return-box and rushed back through the darkness to where our car was parked. shutting the door i sighed, smiling at praveen. he had been fiddling with the mp3/cd-player in the car all this while, unaware that i had been through my entire childhood through that alley, in just six minutes.

to the country of light and shadows and rain, to the land of stories, myths and legends, to the country that was home to both akbar and maheshdas (or birbal), this is my message: walk to the light, always.

happy independence day :-)