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Sunday, January 30, 2011

The arch-villain

He did not know how it had happened.

He was born in a world of disparity, betrayal, greed, anger and violence. His failure to blend in to his world made him feel unwanted. He adopted himself to his surroundings. He learnt the tricks of his world easily, juggling with emotions, fending off the smiles, nurturing the anger, and worked his way to adulthood.

They were all disappointed in him. They were disappointed because they could never subdue him, corner him or attack him. They saw the despair in his eyes, dishonesty in his demeanour and lies in his smiles. They knew it all too well, they lived the same life themselves.They were disappointed that he was playing their game better than them.

He never knew when it had happened.

He remembers the unfamiliar uneasiness at night, at times the fake smile that pained his lips, the half-hearted nod that creaked his neck, the thoughts that propped themselves up from the depths and he assured himself that it was all good. He does not remember when it all went away. He does not remember when it all became too comfortable. He did not realise that a part of him had drifted away.

He never knew that it had happened.

Life to him was always a choice between the first or the last, the best or the worst. From the promise of a lifetime to a one night stand, he could sail through it all with same amount commitment or sacrifice. The amount that is just about right to get him the best or the worst at that point of time. He remembers the bus driver who used to pick them up for school everyday. He was always punctual, very careful and took pride in his duty. He would remember every child by their names, help them get into the bus, ensured that their parents picked them up from the bus stop before he left. The judicious bus driver annoyed him.

"Can I get you something?", she asked.
He looked up from his desk and frowned. What is she still doing in the office, he wondered. "Go home, Sheila! Goodnight." He dismissed her.

He stared at the screen. A happy family smiled back at him. A wife, two daughters and a house. How often does a man need a soul to make it all work? The thought never crossed his mind.  He does not care if he needs one. "I won't be home, tonight. Got some work to finish." He called up his wife. A brief pause, and the click sound on the other end.

He got up. Took the lift and went down to the car park. Started the car and sped away to 46, New Port street. He jumped all the red lights, tried to run over every single pedestrian who dared to challenge the stealth of the night and managed to screech in front of his destination. He looked up. The light on the window of the 40th floor beckoned him. He was disappointed. He took his bag, got out of the car and locked the door. He looked up. Again.

And then it happened. First he started fidgeting. Then before he knew, he was running. He was running from the window of 46, New Port street, he was running from the Pontiac, he was running from the trees that guarded the pavement, the prestigious hospital where he practised, the bigger cabin that he had envied next to his, the prized seats for the next Sox games, the family that smiled back from the screen, the books that lined his father's study, the cheerful laughter of his mother, the village clinic where he did his internship, the girl he first kissed, the twinkle of her eyes that mesmerized him, the football he first netted and the first sigh that escaped him. He ran from it all, as fast as he could, he knew if he ran fast enough it would all go away, he would be able to let it all go. 29 years, 4 months, 15 days - all of it.

"Why are you sweating?" she asked. "Never mind, you are late. Come in. We are waiting for you." He stood at the door on the 40th floor, a lifetime later.

"Edward, Sameer is here. Let's start the paperwork." She sat down. The glasses, the coats, the pinstrips nodded. A mechanical voice read out, "At 1600 hours yesterday, a pair of kidneys were retrieved from an accident on I60. Dr. Sameer Sahani confirms that the kidneys match the proposed recipient admitted in St Johns hospital. The organs are being transported to St Johns hospital and can be transplanted by 0600 hours today. Dr. Sameer Sahani will be heading the surgery..."

Somewhere in St. John Hospital's ICU a pair of kidneys were denied it's last chance. Somewhere in a bank account a hundred thousand dollars were anonymously transferred, somewhere in a house, a mother turned on her bed hoping for a donor to save her daughter's life, somewhere a soul drifted further away.

What if, he had known what had happened? What if he had known when it happened? Would that save the arch-villain? Would he have ran? The fastest race of his life? Do we? Even after we know...Or is it that the true nemesis always knows it all. What happened. When it had happened. And that is their strength and their power? - The drifted soul?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

These are a few of my scary experiences...

I get 'petrified, stupefied and mortified' easy. There are many encounters and experiences that scare me to no ends. I try to preempt most of the times from past experiences, but the hands still sweat, and the heart still pumps faster.

I am very afraid every time I step into a bank. I am afraid of the one behind the desk will reject my deposit slip. At one point of time I used to keep sample filled-in forms so that I do not miss any details. However, with ever changing forms, this strategy is of no use. With the long life-threatening queues, I am scared to my wits end that the one with the power will reject my form and I have to get behind the queue again. Only the other day, I was filling up a deposit slip for some yearly investments and I asked the lady whom should I address the cheque. She says, sternly, "Madam, understand! It is your policy, must be addressed to you!" :( I felt stupid.

I am also very afraid of my maid. The good lady keeps my flat livable, cleans up my dishes with specks of leftover soap and chapati as decorative pieces on the utensils, week old dust on my balcony and I am petrified every time that I ask her to clean the dish again or to clean the bathroom. I generally avoid eye contact, ask her to do the needful and shy away to my laptop or newspaper. I feel unjust.

I am also very afraid of Indian immigration officers. They are outright mean to me. I think they plan across cities (except for the ones in Delhi - they are nice) and decide to pick on me. The other day, in haste, having already missed the boarding time, I placed my passport and immigration form on the powerful gentleman's desk, hoping against hope that I had completed the form correctly. He looks at me in utter disappointment, "Ma'am, so many passports you have, you still don't know that you have to present the boarding pass as well!" :( Believe me, I was about to. The split of a second, and I am ashamed.

I am pretty scared of the bhajiwalli (vegetable vendor) as well. She is a robust lady in her late forties. Very efficient, prompt and calculates in lightning speed. I take vegetables from her once in two weeks as she passes by the apartment. She knows me by now - but puts me right at the bottom in her customer's list. Someone who buys vegetables once in two weeks is not worth her attention and service. In my desperate attempt to gain position in her list, I order two tomatoes and one pau (250 gms) bhindi (ladies finger) extra. She eyes me with contempt, my cook expresses displeasure at my miscalculation and I stay at the same place in her list. I feel exasperated.

But the ones that steal the show are the government officials in Calcutta, be it to issue ration cards, pay late telephone bills, change names on electricity bills or issue corporation tax receipts. First of all, it is a race against time - you must be able to catch the relevant official in between his arrival time to the office (which would invariably be late because of the traffic jam) and his lunch break and his tea break to the time he calls it a day (which has to be early to avoid the traffic jam). Believe me, this is very very difficult and your query must be to the point, you must prepare a list and mark those as you progress in the conversation and you must always be prepared for lead-in questions. If you stammer, pause to think or are unsure, the clock will strike the lunch break and you are doomed. I am literally mortified by them. I prepare and I prepare and I prepare and I still mess up. :( I feel useless.

Yes - I get 'stupefied, mortified and petrified'.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Of Borrowed Thoughts, Feelings, Stories and a lifetime...

*** Warning: This post is a result of a psychotic attack - heavily philosophical and rather Utopian***

When I was a child, I was mesmerised by the stories of Nil Kamal and Lal Kamal. There was a LP record in the house that I used play on the gramophone and instantly transform myself into the world of demons and princes, magic and battles, wins and losses. It was a story of how princes won over demons and how the gold stick would wake up the princess from her long sleep. When I was in my early teens, I was intoxicated by the men in Bengalee literature. They were dreamy, argumentative, headstrong and difficult. They made conversations easy, they made love less romantic. I took parts of authors' imaginations and made those mine. I judged their writings and adopted thoughts that became mine. Their outlook inspired my ideals and believed those were mine. Are my ideals borrowed?

I have never witnessed a war. I have never witnessed a catastrophe. I have never seen deserted roads dotted with torn shoes, broken promises, shattered glasses and leftover lives. The closest I have come to life being affected is the curfew era in the 1980s when the state government declared curfew to combat the tribal uprise in my home town. Yes, roads were empty after 8 PM, people rushed home, we bolted our front doors, the members of the house kept some form of weapon handy (it could be a bettlenut cracker; don't laugh, we are Bengalees), and we huddled together on the back porch in front of cracking coal while our guard from Bangladesh narrated stories of riots and terror. Once in a while in the morning, we would hear about a dead body found floating in the nearby canal, but we were never allowed near that. Today, I watched a much discussed film - The Hurt Locker. It took me to the celluloid streets of Baghdad where people peeped out of their windows as 'elite' US Army squads attempted to defuse bombs on deserted roads. Roads bearing the mark of a generation torn apart, faces etched in surrender and structures propping themselves up - tired and distort by the continuous assault. I have never witnessed a war. I have just watched them, in films and in documentaries. I write about them, the words I believe are mine. Or are these borrowed? From the Hurt Locker? Or the Casualties of War?

Ever since I have started to think, which would be as late as 18 or 19, I have always wanted to visit my father's birthplace, Narayanganj, Dhaka, Bangladesh. I wanted to see the village (or whatever it might have transmogrified into) in search of my roots and to find a sense of belonging. For someone like me, who cannot call any place a home anymore, it is in such hopes I fool myself. I read 'Ekattorer Smriti' (a book on civil war in Bangladesh in 1971) and I believed nothing will be left of my father's ancestral home. I still dreamed of one story buildings, green pastures, the Ganges from family stories and painted a picture. A picture borrowed from hopes, stories and desires.

A very dear friend of mine faced the tribulations of life bravely to carve a place for her in this world. As she narrated her story to me in a late June afternoon, I experienced love, faith, loyalty, heartache, anger, struggle, and courage. She inspires me to believe in myself. I know I have borrowed a lot from her.

We all have our own little place in this world where we have our thoughts, beliefs, values and loved ones. A lifetime of memories and incidents. It makes me wonder how much of our stories are our own? How many such actions that we have taken are our own? How many times has it happened in our lives that after we have done something or thought of something that we have paused for a while and felt this has been done before. Or have wondered if, my friend, mother, father, sibling or spouse had inspired me to do that. Is that mine anymore? Or is it borrowed, copied and 'customised' by me to suit me?

As I embark on yet another year and a decade, it makes me think if all our stories for generations have been stories of borrowed thoughts, feelings, expressions and actions - in parts or in whole? And if that is so, is that what we call existence?