Wednesday, December 24, 2008

An Eve in Retrospection

My love for Christmas has been crafted by a mélange of memories. Having done my schooling in a Catholic School , spending a precious teenage year in a church hostel amongst grey habits and growing up with a multi-ethnic group of friends has made this day as much special for me as Diwali or Dushhera.
I can’t think of any other better time for Christmas to arrive - right at the end of the year to make you merry, no matter how the year behind had been. On this chilly winter night, the world drapes itself in beautiful red and green, dotted with the silver and shimmer.
This Christmas Eve, As I sit down to scribble some words , I couldn’t help but wonder about the 20 odd Eves that I have witnessed. Each phase has been different from the other. Each centered around a different set of people and places and around a different me. But if I had to choose the special Xmas Eves – they are the forgotten ones, tucked away in ancient times.
I must have been 8 years old . The school holidays used to start on 23rd Dec and it was ( the one and only ) day on which I never had a stomach/tooth/tongue ache or any such innovative anomaly , and I looked forward to get to the school.
Throughout our lectures , we waited for the Santa’s arrival .Especially after the recess , we grew more and more restless . Finally when we heard the Jingle bells approaching our classroom , each one got ready to run and grab the maximum number of goodies from the Santa. Now these were not expensive gifts – but just any other candies we already had an enormous stock of. But the joy of climbing up the wooden benches , screaming the jingles at top of our voices and seizing the maximum amount of those candies was a big big deal, then..
The real thrill, however started towards the evening, when I used to rush home and s and join my friends – on the terrace to make the wish-list. It was a task which involved a lot of consultation and racking of our little cerebrums.As a principle , we used to write only 3 wishes and reserve the rest for the next year . So after much calculations , I used to neatly write those essentials that I required to continue living – like say , a black pilot pen , a squeezee water bottle , complicated 15-door compass box ,sometimes evil spells for my teachers :P n pink lip sticks. The last one almost always featured on my list. These chits , were then inserted under our pillows.
My mom used to ask me over dinner, what I have jotted down and I proudly declared the list. She pretended to not listen to it very carefully, though.
I used to force myself to sleep off early on the Eve - worried what if Santa missed my home this year !But he was efficient - never missed a thing .Every Christmas morning gave me a reason to cheer . More than the fact that I have received my “pink” lipsticks – the fact that he had remembered to drop by , was my achievement.
As years passed, I realized who Santa was. My mom , who pretended not to hear my precious list used to fill the Christmas stockings with those gifts, every yr. Now that I look back , it feels such a stupid and such a wonderful gesture . Beautiful enough, that I shall remember it for the years to come.
Those were the years ,Xmas was simply beautiful and beautifully simple .Merry Christmas !

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Volatile Spirits

To keep myself going, I visit aamchi Mumbai every month , squeezing some time out of my not-so-busy schedule, which obviously is not very difficult. Being unemployed as of now and given the frequency of my travel, I certainly can’t ask for kingfishers to fly me home and so I often settle for the bhartiya rail. 26/11 , 9 p.m. – I boarded the train from Hyderabad Deccan , and even at an average of 2visit/per month – my excitement remained intact .

Being a single-lady traveler, I always get a separate “women-only ” cell and though this ensures some comfort, the continuous yapping makes my journey troublesome. As a remedy, I was quick to put on my earphones and engross myself into the oshotimes ,I had just bought from the station .
It was hardly 10:15 p.m.; My inbox started overflowing with “where are u “, “are u ok” messages. I guess that the network had just sprung back to life. I wondered what they were for….only to know after sometime about some terror strike at Mumbai ! I felt uneasy but dint bother much, and was back to my business. To be frank after living through the 1992 riots, 1993 blasts and years of travel in those explosive-laden local trains - this wasn’t something new. Inevitable almost .
The next morning, things sounded worse .Usually I don’t encourage anyone to specially come and pick me up from the station, but this time my protests stood in vain. I reached my city. This city with millions looked strangely deserted. I was not used to this Mumbai .I am used to that Mumbai - where you can’t walk without hurting someone or getting yourself hurt , where getting in and getting off a train is a everyday battle - preceded by small rituals like tying a knot with the duppata around the waist or rolling up the sleeves of the shirt, and yes - taking that one deep deep breath before the plunge . Today I missed all of that.

On the TV I watched at the symbols of this city being murdered one by one. The Taj was a place where I had spent evenings- sometimes as a guest and sometimes working in its back areas wearing chef-coats and cravats as part of my HM curriculum. I remembered those nights with friends which were spent, after college at the marine drive looking at the expanse of the dark Arabian Sea bejeweled with the lights of this city. Night-outs with friends on the stairway of the British library - sipping tea , chatting and cherishing every moment …a time when Mumbai was Bombay , and it was as Bindaas as we were.

I spent much time at home , too beleaguered to venture out. But things moved on and they did because there wasn’t an option. I travelled to CST to shop for some junk jewellery from the colaba market . The stations and trains were again overflowing with people. Some may have lost their lives..but it was hard to notice the few missing amongst the thousands. The same rituals were repeated -people pushed , they fought for the “fourth” seat and the little kids who have been begging since years were again on duty with the all time favourite “pardesi-pardesi” on their lips , and their little fingers expertly manufacturing music from two lifeless pieces of flat stones.

But If I say Mumbai was back..I would be dishonest. As the train picked up speed , I felt something was amiss. It wasn’t the Mumbai I have lived in, which even after mishaps, limped back to being itself. People looked at burkha-clad women and any man with a beard with distrust . Any black bag on the steel rack above was looked with suspicion –and some exchanged glances over it .The fruit baskets covered with old sarees by the local bhaji wali (who were always trusted) – now were asked to be exposed by some passengers. People feared each other .Any rumour could have led to an stampede at that moment . I have never felt suffocated even in most packed compartments - it was an expertise built over the years. But this time , I felt my heart pounding so loud that I thought the girl standing next to me would hear it but as I looked around I saw and heard many such hearts. The undercurrent was obvious – though on the exterior we all stood there composed, busy with our mobiles and indifferent towards everything.
In spite of many cancellations on my things to do list, the dinner date with my friends was still on- in a place not so far from my home. We finished late, as always, (almost 1 pm) and my friends dropped me a little distance away from my house. As I walked back, at this hour - the city was alive and kicking . The aroma of fresh butter sliding and melting on the hot tava from the pav bhaji stalls stilled filled the air ,serving customers of all ages, religions and classes . Men and women took a stroll , in their night clothes . People slept peacefully on the cold foothpaths ...

I walked back …confident and casual. In a single day, my outlook in the same city was volatile , just as lives of millions around me.
The irony was I felt safe on the street at this dark hour , perhaps I wasn’t so only in its broad daylight…