Friday, December 30, 2005

The circus

Bangalore was under a “terror” attack a few days ago. It had Rajdeep Sardesai standing for almost 4 hours. His channel insists on anchors standing while reading news, precariously holding a piece of paper. Godonly knows why. On NDTV, Vishnu Som was struggling with words and pushing them out before they melted in his mouth. A Reuters journalist wrote towards the end of his story: The gunman was suspected to have escaped from the leafy campus. As if the assailant would have waited for the cops to say, Bengaluru police! Freeze maari! A tired Rajdeep, the verbal pugilist, wanted to break for commercials (sit for a few seconds while his attendants spray water on his face and shove in a pipe of lemonade in his mouth?), but a producer kept him from doing that. A fumbling Rajdeep says, Wait guys, there’s more breaking news, my producer won’t let me go on a break. Great. And AajTak was just like a Laughter Challenge contestant had portrayed it to be: perennially trying to connect with its correspondent. Deepak*? Kya aap mujhe sun sakte hain? Sound of static. Deepak is listlessly gazing into the camera, fiddling with the earplugs. Anchor says, aye Deepak…..and then yells (Chhapra-style), are Deepakwaaaa

*generic name for Hindi language correspondent

Monday, December 19, 2005

A story without an end - III

That was it, I thought. I had waited for three hours. And saw the sky change from ochre to deep orange to dark red. The last embers of the autumn evening were dying down. The cars and the buses had their lights on. People crowded the bus stop across the road, clambering on to already crowded buses. In a mad rush, the tin buses were darting around, scrambling for passengers. The entrance to the Park Street metro station was in a frenetic whirl. Mostly, people were entering the tube station to head back home.

I was sitting on the steps of the Asiatic Society building, a prominent “meeting” place, smoking the last cigarette of the pack.

Right across the Chowringhee lay the vast emptiness -- more conspicuous in the growing twilight -- the maidans, and the waste yard of the metro constructions.

She had not come. Yes, she had not come to meet me. And now it was almost seven. There was a slight chill in the air. I was shivering.


The taxi lunged forward, cutting through the dense rain. The windows were blurry and the wipers flailing madly. Very soon the glass got all misty inside because of our collective exhalations: mine, her’s and the driver’s. There was an awkward silence, made more somber by the humid air hanging still in the cab.

Was she surprised seeing me at the Park Street crossing? Rather, was she pleasantly surprised?

She said, why don’t we go to Flury’s? I have to pick up some stuff. It will take me a couple of minutes.

It was her suggestion. No, not suggestion. It was almost made to sound like an order. Like it was in the past. She was much older to me, and she always made this clear. Even when I pulled the blinds one sultry afternoon in a moment of confused and tormented passion…

She was looking to open the window a bit and throw the tissue she had wiped her face with. But she desisted, and put the soggy tissue in one corner of her purse. The taxi was already half way towards Sealdah, so it would be a long detour back to Park Street where Flury’s is. I told the driver that we would go back to Park Street. He grumbled. These drivers are getting impossible by the day, I said. She said the other day she got into a taxi and the driver stopped half-way to her home and just refused move.

Crazy, I said.

A few years ago, she had used the same word turning down my curt proposition.

Are you crazy? She had said, laughing her heart out, as if I had just said some silly joke.


I was still standing at the Park Street crossing, absorbing what had hit me. She didn’t come. I don’t even know her name. I met her in Darjeeling. We talked Salinger and Beatles and smell of old books in that tea shack as raindrops kissed mountainsides.

She nodded when I told her we would meet in Calcutta. On Saturday. At the Park Street crossing. At four in the afternoon…

Now it was almost eight. The shiver in my bones had almost become unbearable. I couldn’t stop thinking about the last few days. How I had traipsed down the Mall in Darjeeling after she had left. How the train journey passed in pleasant contemplation. How I counted days till Saturday. That was today. And here I was, at the Park Street crossing, thumbing down taxis that went by not bothering to pay any heed to my half-hearted attempts at stopping them.

It was just then that a thought struck me like lightning on a clear day. And it made me stand still on the pavement, as if some sheer force had rooted to the concrete. The home-bound crowd of pedestrians shoved me around, screamed at me. A mad man made faces. I could feel the hair on my neck rise, I could jut about hear the din of the busy crossing, I could feel my cold palm clench till it pained…

What if she had been waiting for me at the other end of Park Street?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A story without an end - II

Another meeting, another place…

That was Calcutta, not the distant Kolkata then. Walking down the Park Street on a steamy wet August...Moulin Rouge and The Park... the Oxford Bookstore... the discount basement. Chilled beer and beef steak at Olympia..

What now? __ said, sipping Foster's. The finals were over. And a blank future ahead. Studies were that comfortable cocoon.

I took the last piece of morsel in, and...

Here I am, an old man in a dry month,
Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain...

__ hated impromptu espousals of poetry.

It was indeed a rainy day in Calcutta. Late April. When all of a sudden the sky gets pregnant with rain clouds. And for days the humidity reaches astounding levels. Squelchy underfoot and the acrid odour of perspiration.

__'s technicolour umbrella was the brightest spot in the whole of Park Street as the neons hadn't come on. We walked down in contemplation.

We are going nowhere, she said, visibly miffed.

I looked up at the sky – it was dark and cumuly -- and just about managed to avoid stepping on a poodle.

I was avoiding another confrontation.

The somnolence of park Street gave way to commotion when we reached the Mallickbazar crossing. It was time to part. I wanted to say something. Did I? The No. 234 arrived before I could think of anything to say. There it is, I said. And __ vanished into the crowded bus.

For quite some time I stood there. Lit a cigarette. Time seemed to be stretching on. Till, I felt a sharp drop on my shoulder. I looked up -- the clouds were already bursting. Rains again. Why the hell does it rain so much? Tiny rivulets were already taking shape, the crows were ruffly wet and the sewer hole bubbling. Now -- pieces of shit burst out as if they were waiting for redemption. And the coming was heralded with a crack of lightning.

I took shelter under an umbrella shop. Ali and Sons. Estd 1954. We do repair jobs also. All black huge umbrellas. Virtual canopies. Not like __'s technicolour one, which she bought in Nepal.

I stood there as the clouds burst and raindrops danced on the washed-off road. A maze of umbrellas passing by in a hazy blur and buses spraying up the poodle waters. Crows cawing in pandemonium.

My eyes were suddenly locked on to a woman standing in front of me. No. Wait. Do I know her? Yes I do. A few strands of hair sticking to the shoulder... the water turning the green blouse into a darker shade at places. A bit of soggy petticoat sticking out near the toes. The finely crafted stilletos half-submerged in water.

Have I seen you somewhere? I could feel the rush inside me.

She turned. She looking more than her age as she was in a sari. She had high cheekbones and sported a large bindi. She hadn't changed much, I thought.

Hey! __! She let out a startled cry in that husky voice of hers.

The Ali & Sons owner, with not much to do, was observing the chance encounter -- a smile perched somewhere near the corner of his lips. So were the others who had taken shelter from the rain there.

__! I never knew you were in Cal?

Well…Here I am! I said. As usual, her in-your-face demeanour was making me squirm. From the corner of my eyes I could see the Ali & Sons crowd watching us. I stopped a taxi and we got in…