Saturday, March 31, 2007

Another railroad story

Down by the gates to a well known institute of technology in eastern India is a railway line with a single track. It is not used much - two or at most three sluggish freight trains tugged by a couple of straining engines pass by every day. But this is a special railroad - going beyond the shacks that line it to the left and a crumbling wall to the right, you are transported into a land of paddy fields, abandoned world war airfields and the memories of all those who have passed by this way. A place frozen in time - a magical railroad of the mind.

If you walk down those tracks, you will see them balancing along the rails, arms extended to their sides, with the tips of their fingers almost, but not quite, touching... he a skinny, lanky sort of a guy with long, disheveled hair, wearing a hoodie that has "Metallica" written at the front and "Seek and destroy" at the back. She is in a blue t-shirt and black jeans. The shirt has something written on it. Or maybe not. Her straight hair is tied up in a ponytail that swishes to and fro. He's a novice at this - she, on the other hand, could be a tightrope walker. From time to time he slips, and she laughs at him and goads him on.

They are in no hurry. All that was needed to be done has been done. Their friends are gone, and tomorrow, they will also head on to separate lives thousands of miles away. In fact (and somewhat unfortunately that this is the sole reason) they are walking the railroad together only because there is nobody else left with whom they could hang out, and some company is better than no company - they are only the barest of acquaintances otherwise.

We will skip the next couple of hours of laughter and inane conversation about what lies ahead in their respective lives (it is the last day of college, after all) and go straight to the point where they reach a tiny railroad station - one of the innumerable ones that dot the Indian countryside - one or two trains per day affairs where the station master doubles up as both the signalman and the linesman *and* the booking clerk. Miraculously though, they find a tea-seller, and legs dangling over the side of the low station wall, they have spicy lemon tea of the kind this part of the country is famous for.

This is not a love story. There is no holding of hands, or kissing or hugging here. Our protagonists are going to be careful not to resort to anything that all you harsh readers might call overly sentimental. They will never be in love - although truth be told - as she sits by his side, delicately sipping tea from a glass, he does feel a pang of regret that he never got to know her better. You might call this the story of a distant-could-have-been - not necessarily a unique one, or even one that substantially stands out, for that matter, because the unrealized possibilities of our short lives always vastly outnumber those upon which we act.

The sun sets into an uninterrupted horizon of paddy fields. The station master walks out and chats with them. He doesn't think it is a good idea for them to walk back - it will be dark soon. He has a better idea - a two engine combination is on its way to the steel plants to the west to be deployed on a freight train - it could drop them off. He flags it down, and they make the journey back in the engine driver's cabin - the driver proudly showing off his knowledge of how a diesel locomotive works. She loses interest and nods off to sleep against his shoulder.

It takes a scant half hour. He walks her back to her dorm. He will not be allowed inside, and they don't really know each other enough to promise to stay in touch, so he shakes her hand at the gate. What follows is recorded rather distinctly:

"I don't suppose I will see you again. Good luck."
"Yeah, I don't suppose. Good luck to you too"
A lone tear spills over onto her cheek. She giggles nervously.

The story is not over yet. This could have been a possible ending, but good stories don't end this way, and statements about people never seeing each other again usually turn out to be untrue.

Years later, as he steps out of a bar on the lower east side of New York City to clear his head of alcohol, he will run into her. She will have with her a toddler - her own. They will exchange pleasantries, email addresses and phone numbers. Meanwhile, the little one will make known quite vocally his displeasure at not being the sole focus of her attention. She will give in and and agree to leave soon. The kid will head to the edge of the kerb, and start to walk along - arms outstretched to keep his balance. She will smile, and loudly admonishing the kid for walking along the edge, follow him into the night.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Old Pictures

Do you ever wonder about that place-where-forgotten-memories-go? I imagine it to be like an old age home where the elderly sit around the dining table - complaining about children who never visit. Elated when we revisit them after years of neglect, only to have their hearts broken again as we, unable to resist the seductive pull of a future full of uncertain possibility, leave for a place far, far away.

Sometimes they run the risk of being abandoned entirely. When that happens, we put them on the-list-of-endangered-memories, like the name of the girl in this picture (the first love of my naive teenage) - a memory that has been granted protected status for the sole reason that it has been forgotten several times.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Cricket and an old man

Cricket is the only sport (apart from basketball) that I actually *care* about. Part of this has to do with the fact that like any self-respecting Maharashtrian, I grew up playing gully-cricket. (I bowl a mean googly, and my straight drives are quite respectable). But a large part comes from many years spent with my cricket crazy Nana (maternal grandfather).

On days on which India played a game, Nana would refuse to leave his favorite chair by the T.V.. He had an old black-and-white T.V. set that for many years he refused to upgrade to a color one. I believe it was a BPL. Not that it would have made a difference - he didn't see much at his age.

He had been a cricket player in his day, a strapping, handsome young man - he played university, but never really found the time to devote himself exclusively to it. He was old by the time I grew up - the only time I saw him play was as a kid - at a seniors game when he was well into his sixties, and he could still bowl at a pace that I would not have dared face. His proboscis of a nose, which is shared by all of us on my mum's side, was bent to the right because of a ball hit from a pacer back in the day when helmets were unheard of.

He died during the India-South Africa series in 2000, after a short illness. I wasn't there, but I was later told that one of his last lucid questions was about the score.

To this day, a game of cricket evokes in me a vision of a thin, aged Nana peering into the screen through thick glasses from less than a foot away - his face lit up in equal parts by the glow of phosphor and the thrill of the game - belting out a running commentary and pumping his frail arms when a sixer was hit or an opposition wicket fell.

update: There are newer shinier things to the right. A lot of growing up music, and some new stuff - all videos. Click and Enjoy. :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sunday, March 11, 2007


A new amigo's joined over at my bagelerie. As bagels go, my place makes some of the best and finest bagels in Noo-Yawk city. It's a sunday ritual for me - i wake up all bright-eyed and head over for breakfast. Now, if it's a normal sunday, steve-o behind the counter knows what I want, so as I a make a light and sweet coffee for myself, he slices a freshly made bagel down the middle and chucks it into the giant brick oven, till it gets a hard crust, which he then proceeds to slather in butter, roll up and hand over to me. A dollar for a bagel and a coffee. Brooklyn is cheap that way.

But today, something felt wrong the moment I picked up my 'package' and left the store. As I unrolled the butter-paper on the way back home, I realised that the bagel was soft. It had merely been warmed up in the microwave, as opposed to having been toasted. And as i, bracing myself for the soft squishiness that is a microwave warmed bagel, dug my teeth into it, I had the shock of my life. The new guy had, instead of using butter, smothered my bagel with a huge blob of *margarine*.

As fas as all things edible go, margarine is an abomination. It is a shitty, greasy, disgustingly squishy gloop that is fit only to make soap - and having worked in a soap-factory once upon a time, I know *exactly how*. An ersatz form of butter invented during one of the wars when the real stuff was in short supply, and food had to be rationed, margarine is one of those sad things (like marmite) that has just refused to go away, collectively hijacking our minds in some weird inanimate version of stockholm syndrome to the point where there are people who actually believe that margarine is good for you. And especially despicable are those forms of margarine (yeah, they go under other names like "vegetable spread"), that claim to be healthier than butter owing to their lower cholesterol/fat content.

If there is a hell, I imagine it is full of stale bagels, bowls of margarine, and only microwave ovens to warm them.

Friday, March 09, 2007

the most beautiful girl in the world

Meet L, my foster-dog. She loves nothing more than having her chin scratched and her tummy rubbed. Apologies for the crappy picture quality. It's a camera-phone snap.

Ok, now, collectively, 1... 2... 3... "Awwwww"

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

a post with the picture missing

at the foot of the wall, a figure sits hunched over a paper-plate containing some rice and daal. Impossibly thin, sinewy arms poke out of a threadbare blanket thrown around its shoulders to keep the winter morning chill out.

He has a stubble and a bony head that makes him look ancient. A few tattered rags cover his wispy white hair. Thick dirty glasses dominate the face - their frame held together by some kind of tape - probably the result of long-ago operation to remove cataracts in some rural eye camp around here. I doubt he can see anything but the vaguest of blurs.

As he hungrily shovels food into his mouth, I consider taking a picture. But something about the idea strikes me as sacrilegious, so I put my camera away. He notices me and turns to look up. Hugely magnified eyes crinkle up and, like a burst of fireworks, a giant toothless grin reaches out from ear to ear on his shriveled face.