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Sunday, January 27, 2013

" You seem to me like a loner"

...My colleague said, emphatically. I immediately apologised, with a sad smile, "Sorry!" Two questions popped up in my mind as I watched the traffic zoom by while entertaining my usual vices, with two of my loner travel buddies, in Montra, Pattaya, Bangkok: 

1. Why was I apologetic? 
2. How do you define a loner?

I haven't had quite a chequered life as many, I have tried to take my decisions by myself, I have tried to execute most of those by myself, from my unconventional choices in education, work, people I had been with, people I am with, things I do or things I do not do. Is it because I always chose to be a loner as my defense mechanism or is it that I always knew that no one can possibly live with my idiosyncracies for long? Does that make me loner? Am I sad that I am one?

"What are you thinking?", he asked sipping on his beer. He hates beer. He was really conscious about his regular gym workouts and cursing me for having to give me company over beer and counting the number of days of workout that were going down the drain. I smiled at him and asked, "Do you think I am a loner?"

He stared at me for few seconds and said, "Well, we met through travel portals, and now we are on a DIY trip to Thailand and Cambodia with two other again from the travel portals. So yes, we all are loners."

I argued, "But then why are we travelling together? We should be travelling alone. Technically we are not supposed to be liking people's company, isn't that how a loner is supposed to be?"

My travel buddy quickly googled (yes, it's a verb now) and said, "Loner: A person who prefers not to associate with others." 

"I rest my case", I said. He continued, "But then, you are with us, or all four of us are with one another because we know it's for 7 days and so we have convinced ourselves to be a groupie for this period of time, it's an arrangement of convenience and that's it." "We are loners." he concluded, ordered another beer and I watched silently as a faraway look crept its way into his eyes.

My other travel buddy had by that time made good use of her time and was chatting away to another tourist, chances were she won't go back to the hotel with us. I probed him further, "What do you think makes people like us loners?"

He nibbled on some pork stir dry and inquired, "Durba, you know I am a Muslim, right?" I responded, "How does that matter in the conversation we are having now?" He said, "It matters".

They had a very passionate affair he claimed. He showed me a scar on his face and said he got that when he fought with her brothers, who were political goons of the land and dead against them being together. He told me that he never thought they would be together, she had always dated the hoities and toities and was extremely rich, while he was the only son of a government engineer with a humble livelihood. But she always came to him after every heartbreak, he always consoled her and one of those days, to keep her heart safe, she committed it to him. They got married against tremendous family opposition and started their lives together. While there were good days, there were bad days too he said.

"Am leaving guys" told our travel buddy from Kazakisthan. We bade her goodbye and ordered one more pitcher.

He continued how her family insulted him and his background again and again, they wanted him to shift to Dubai, he refused and wanted to stay in India to take care of his ailing parents. My mom said, he quoted, "With every responsibility comes a choice. Always make a choice that gives you a good night's sleep." He stayed back. Some way, some how, many more people started living their married life he thought. And finally, after two years, they found themselves in a mosque, saying "Talaq" in front of a Qazi. "I don't even have a paper Durba to look at that says I am not with her anymore...something tangible...nothing..." he sighs..."you see why I said I am a Muslim. I am denied that paper...with every trip I take with folks like you...I tell myself that I don't need a paper. This trip itself is a testament to the fact that I am alone."

I met him two days back at Suvarnabhumi airport, I didn't know what to say. I kept silent. He concluded, "So you see we are loners." I kept silent while I wondered whether not being with anyone is what defines or makes one a loner.

It is a trait of your character for sure, but when it takes precedence over anyone and anything in your life, then may be you are one. There are many decisions in our lives that we take because we do not have any other option. It's like that decision is staring at your face and saying, "well buddy, this is it." Do you always have a choice? I wondered, as his mom said once. And is it that one choice that makes us loners, just for today, for a month or forever?

I remember the times when my mum, having a wonderful life with my dad in that one room in a joint family, stealing those moments away from 8-10 family members and reading out aloud her favorite Shakespeare sonnet. We were barred from troubling her then. I remember someone, very close, just going out of the house and walking for hours just by himself. I remember someone whom I admire a lot saying, "...regarding space-if u don't need it in closest relationships then i think it is sheer dependence and nothing else.i am glad to be whole and complete by myself..."

Aren't we all loners at some point of time or the other? Aren't we all, what we are, because of those 'loner' moments when we confront ourselves and define our next few minutes, next few hours, next few months and next few decades of who we are or will be? Is that shameful? Something to be apologetic about? I don't know really. I won't comment on it either. I just noted, when my colleague said, "you seem to be a loner" that I said' "sorry"...in this cyberworld, I would like to conclude by sharing, again something that I always felt reaches me, effortlessly at any point of my life, a song about "I", the "I" that pushes away the rest, the "I" that faces the big hard sun...and yes, often by choice...

What are your thoughts on being a 'loner'?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Of misplaced Bindis (colorful dots that Indian women wear on their forehead)

They are everywhere...on the mirrors, on the bathroom walls, on the dressing table cabinet, even on the headstand of a bed. In the hotels, resorts, beds and breakfasts and even in the shacks. On the roads, ambulances and police vans...they are there too.

The first time I saw them, left on the bathroom mirror of a hotel room, I immediately thought of the story of the forehead that adorned it and the owner of the forehead that abandoned it to oblivion in a hotel room on a bathroom mirror. The forehead that adorned it will never return to fetch it, the forehead will easily replace it, the forehead that may not even exist any more. 

The misplaced bindi does not have much control over its state. Of course it is true that the ones that are misplaced are mostly the red, black or the maroon ones, so in the bindi caste system they surely come way down at the bottom. I don't think I have seen any of the ornamental bindis misplaced. So as a bindi, it needs to move up in the bindi caste system to ensure the forehead's loyalty to it. But we digress, any social revolution needs time, before that we must really first know their stories.

It is my believe that every misplaced bindi has its own story, what brought them to that place, the bathroom, that particular hotel and who accompanied the forehead. So like a fool, every time I see them, misplaced, forgotten, left, trampled, I talk to them, I ask them these questions...I want to know their stories. 

One misplaced bindi once told me that it was not the intent of the forehead to leave it on the dining chair. The forehead was having an heated argument with it's companion, one thing led to another and a slap across the forehead dislodged the bindi to the dining chair. I found it quite improbable, the trajectory, the force of the slap and the perfect placement of the bindi on the dinning chair, but I did not quite argue. If that's what makes the bindi feel comfortable, then that's the story am gonna tell every body.

The other misplaced bindi in one of the run-down motel room bathrooms told me that the forehead was in a hurry. While washing her face she saw on the mirror that she still had the bindi on, callously stuck it on the mirror, washed her face and then walked out of the bathroom, leaving the bindi on the mirror wall to talk to me, someday. I don't like this bindi's story much, it has a matter-of-fact way about it, no room for imagination, a tad bit depressing and way too practical. But again, if that's what the bindi tells me to tell every body, then that's what am gonna do.

Their love blossomed under the trees, the bindi said. "I was her lucky bindi", the bindi proclaimed. "she was wearing it the day, he asked her out." They held hands together, against the sun, the rain, the families and the society. They stood together, by it all, and then won. It was a monsoon evening, the bindi said, when they came to this resort after 30 years of togetherness. They sipped their tea on the balcony in silence. He looked at her and asked her not to go. The forehead said that she was ready. She was happy, content and ready to go. She touched his face and said, "I lived with you, I now need to go." She took off her worn-off bindi from her forehead and placed it on the balcony frame. She looked at the bindi and said, "I have all the luck that I needed all through my life. I set you free." This story made me teary. The bindi wanted me to tell every body that it was not forgotten, it was not misplaced, it chose to be there, that evening, left on that balcony frame as a witness to life and death.

Her heart rate grew faster. The strong hands pushed her, her frail body could not resist. Her saree got stuck, they ripped it and shoved her into the van. The others followed, all cramped in that van, shivering, sweating and numb. Strong hands slapped them, pulled their hair, kicked them. They endured. They knew they will be back in this van, again, few months later, and it would be the same. The bindi on the van floor told me so. I looked at it, I picked it up and carried it with me. "Why are you doing this?" the bindi asked me, "there will be more. will you be able to pick each one up?" I stay silent.

The siren blared through the traffic as the ambulance sped. She couldn't stop crying, she held his limp hand firmly, hoping that every breathe in her body goes to his, gives him life, gives him health. The siren kept blaring, she wiped her sweating forehead, walked out of the van with the stretcher, rushed to the emergency, the misplaced bindi on the road hoped and prayed for his good health. Do you know if he is fine now? the bindi asked me. I assured it that he is.

The misplaced bindis, they all have stories, I believe. They all have...