January 30, 2008
bounce. bounce. bounce. swish. plop.
for the second time on that wet morning, sree had to sink her feet in the mud.
“hurry up! come on, we only have five minutes till the bell goes…silly girl!”
sree heard them chuckling behind her, but she maintained a blank, not-affected look on her face, passed them the ball, then squatted down and buried her hands in the brown earth-water, her wide eyes glistening like her now-freshly-browned palms.
“hey! who’s going to be the donkey again? come back here, slowcoach.”
sree got up. she jerked her wrists in the air to shake the mud off, and walked back carefully. taking her place in the centre – a few feet away from both the girls, one on either side – she turned this way and that, and round and round, jumping to get a hold on the ball that the two passed from over her head, giggling all the while.
“will you let me have a chance tomorrow?” her small voice finally found the courage to ask the girls as they walked back from the playground for the next lesson. math. the girls laughed again. “why not? but you must be quicker.” sree calculated for a moment. “i…i dont want to be the donkey this time…”
“but you are one already!” they guffawed, others joining in their laughter.
math. the very mention of the subject made her want to hide below the bench. “get your homework out everyone, where i can see it on your desks.” ten minutes later, sree was making her way to the staffroom where all the teachers drank tea and shared stories of incorrigible children, husbands, and mothers-in-law. hands stiff and behind her back, with one finger she stroked her other hand where the cane had fallen, making a track of the hot-hot, soft skin. no homework meant kneeling down in the staffroom where her face too would turn hot with shame. when she came back to her class for the next not-so-dreaded english lesson, she found her name scribbled all over the blackboard: “sree is a bad girl. true / false.”
at home, sree ate her dosas in silence, watching the door, while a tv added to the kitchen cacophony. a click, a jingle, and it flung open at last, letting in her father and kid brother who bounded towards her happily. sree waited till the father went in to the kitchen, then smacked him hard on his head, and made him cry.
*i am not aware of how to translate jhattapatti in english. it’s a children’s game (from maharashtra) where one player – say x – hits or touches another – y – then y goes on to touch z, and so on. the game involves a lot of running barefeet, and sometimes you don’t know if the resounding slaps are coming from the feet on concrete, or from sweaty hands on skin.
ps: yes, when i read this piece again, it reminded me of TZP, and i winced. amazing how the mind travels…and all i thought of was a little girl being the ‘donkey’. honest.
January 28, 2008
ma, why does self-raising flour…
…not do what it says on the pack?
January 18, 2008
house #47, acton street
my train/tube commutes have always been interesting.
if i’m not mentally memory-surfing between mumbai and london, then i’m travelling across many minds and through many characters on paper, leafing through pages and pages of them till i reach my destination. and then the story continues on my way back home. sometimes, a little disoriented when i have just read a powerful story, the characters travel a short distance with me, and drop off even without me knowing when. most times, i am happiest when i come across a happy ending.
one certain book that never ran out of characters, or stories, was but a door on acton street. i passed by this door en route to my office on the #45 or #46 bus, which starts at kings cross station, passes through pentonville road, kings cross road, acton street, and finally grays inn road where i get off. a seven minute-journey, i think, including all the bus-stopping times in between.
opposite one of these bus stops is this door to house#47, which i always found half-open. i must have noticed it the first time i passed acton street, for not all houses in england keep their doors open to the public. as i passed by the door a second and third time, i began to wonder about the people living inside. were they young, too careless to think about an open front-door? were they elderly, too ill to walk? perhaps someone inside was just too hot, and decided to ventilate the room a little. but why was the door open every day, and especially at that particular time i passed the road.
the door was a dark, old shade of green, with a worn-out gold-coloured ‘u’-shaped handle right in the middle. the glass above the doorframe was cracked, broken, as if shattered by a little boy who missed catching a small ball that his friend must have thrown across, or a lover who wanted to get his message across to his/her beloved who lived with very strict parents. the message would have to be wrapped around a little pebble strong enough to smash the frosted glass. maybe an elderly widower, who always forgot his keys were under the doormat, once had to break glass to get into his own house. maybe there were vandals on the street who bullied and harrassed, and troubled the residents of the #47 house the most. what if there was an extremist group inside, mixing flours and chemicals and cooking recipes that threatened innocent lives? maybe one of them had an argument and that is why the glass was broken. no, no, maybe there was nothing to it at all. the house perhaps was rented by someone who was so busy that the door and its broken glass was never on their to-do list. gasp! what if it was a haunted house, and no one liked to live in it? …that’s why the door was always half-open (maybe it creaked horribly too), that’s why i could never ‘see’ anyone going in or out…
everyday the bus stopped in front of #47 on acton street. everyday, the characters changed. the stories changed. the writer also, changed. the bus journeys became irregular and i began to travel once a week to work. the rest of the days, i worked from home. i always looked out for the door though, and all the stories it wanted to tell me.
yesterday, for the first time in one-and-a-half year, the door was shut. it was brand new, and had a fresh coat of shining, black paint on it, like it was teasing me. the doorframe had been replaced too, and the glass, frosted, was all intact. i kept looking, even when the bus had taken in all its passengers and had begun to move on. when i could not crane my neck any longer, i relaxed. the activity must have brought a smile to my face, because the person in front of me returned it, surprised, and somewhat awkwardly.
he should have known. i just happen to like happy endings.
nothing fancy. nothing extra. just a new location…less spam maybe. more convenience.
hopefully more words. many, many more words.
do keep coming back. and yes, before i leave the most important part out, please update your feeds.
January 11, 2008
to the bbc…an irresistable rant
the world’s cheapest car. surely that’s front page news for every general/business-publication on the planet. but wait, the world’s cheapest car from india? go on then, put down the usual, that’ll will easily give you 25 to 40 words.
and so the bbc must have gone on to present its front home page news (which i should have taken a screenshot of, as i can’t find it now, and I can’t believe how foolish i was for not thinking of it earlier), with the oldest of india-related clichés available in their database.
in fact, i suspect they must even have a stylesheet to represent india: third world, most polluted country, most populated, clogged roads, lack of infrastructure, relentless traffic, (especially photo captions, one of which almost always reads the same for every other news on india: one in three indians live in ‘harsh poverty’) a third of the population living below the poverty line, shanty slums, ‘children living off scraps left by the railway passengers’… like a friend so casually put it, “what goes of their father?”
look at this classic example for instance (scroll down to the last picture and its caption): is it in any way connected with the rest of the story?
oh puhleease, writers at the bbc, do your reports always have to be so skewed? india has grown up, why wont you?
someday when i have the time and resources, i do want to make a documentary with snapshots of all the ‘good’ that is in india too, along with the ‘changing’ (i won’t call it bad, things are really changing, and i can see the change when i go back every year), and i want to send it to the bbc so they can get rid of all their old footage on india. or i might just sue them for defamation. whichever’s quicker.
and yes, we *do* have motorists taking two, three, four of a family or friends on a two-wheeler. it’s not a miracle that they don’t fall off, it’s faith, and it’s all over the country. yes, we have pollution, a crumbling infrastructure, poverty, beggars…name one country that doesn’t.
at least, we have better (read, reliable) medical care.