Archive for July, 2008

Random Thoughts From the Fingers

July 27th, 2008

It’s a Sunday today. I sit down, or let’s say, I laze around, thinking about what time means. At a time when I am caught up with deadlines, I see time going away and it is a feeling of pleasure to let the time slip away. It is that feeling of wicked pleasure where I tell myself,

‘To hell, I don’t want to be a slave to time!’

And as I think about time, I am swept into a feeling of timelessness because I count the primary asset that I hold – my friendships. Let’s talk a little bit more about this timelessness and friendship puzzle.

So here I was, on a Sunday, weeping about my vulnerabilities, and P popped up on chat. It was a Sunday where I had gripped myself in this paranoid belief that if I do not finish what I have been superficially trying to finish writing, I won’t be able to face the world. At a time when I should be holding my time carefully in order to work out my Ph.D. systematically, I let that time go. I let myself go with the time in the hope and expectation that when things are to happen, they will certainly happen. But all these certainties are so uncertain. And all these thoughts, though profound, require a great deal of practice to make life profoundly real.

So time slips away. And P appears on chat and I suddenly feel swept by timelessness. I feel like the beggar who is seeking succour. And who appears to provide me with not just succour, but a feeling of hope! It is a friendship that developed from nowhere and that can lead to anywhere.

Nowhere-anywhere-somewhere …

Living in a city where you do not know whether you really belong here because we are all in search of our respective homes, friendships can mean a lot. Sometimes, these very friendships are burdens to bear. Sometimes, these very friendships are anchors that enable us – to hold ourselves, to realize ourselves and to hold on when the going is tough. Sometimes, these very friendships are a bitch and sometimes, we are bitches. But when I think of my life, I find that these friendships are what I have fallen back on from time to time. Each one is special, and each one is different. Each one enriches my life in particular ways.

On those days when my heart is heavy or when everything seems so cloudy that I cannot navigate any further, it is these friendships which come to my rescue. And at a time when I am trying to define my life somewhat, I believe that what is needed is more friendships because these are my ultimate resort, my greatest investments that will see me in good stead.

This morning, when I was caught in the grips of mundane time and worrying time (also known as future), what transported me into timelessness was that chat with P. I was reminded once again that there is abundance in the world – I am only required to seek it.

[Random thoughts on a Sunday …]


In the midst of blasts and fireworks across cities …

July 26th, 2008

(I write in the spirit of my words and in submission of myself to my vulnerabilities and to the present …)

One blast here,

One there,

One everywhere.

Today here,

Tomorrow there.

One blast here

And one blast there.

So that is what we, in various parts of the world, have been hearing about in the last two days. And yet, the indifference on my skin remains. It only thickens. But I remain sensitive to more mundane issues that concern me/bother me/sit on my mind/nag me. And what is sitting on my mind as of now, is that beautiful feeling of vulnerability and the thought of what it means to be vulnerable in the city. The feeling of vulnerability is beautiful as of now because I write in the solitude of music, my words and my difficult and vulnerable self, shut off from the noise of the blasts and of the noise of the crowds that existed in my space a while ago.

So we (i.e. me and myself and my difficult self and my vulnerable self) write about vulnerability in a city. As there is no ‘city’ in the sense that we each make our own city and carve our own niches that we eventually call ourselves and city, so also there is no one universal feeling of vulnerability. Let me lay out some of the many vulnerable feelings that I feel from time to time these days:

a). Being woman in a live-in relationship with my boyfriend and a strange battle that has been going on between my mind, my boyfriend and his family;

b). Being somewhat unemployed and attempting to work through meaningful relationships rather than work for money only (and that darn inflation);

c). Taking the courageous risk of getting a house for myself in this city in the middle of my unemployment, an act that I am experiencing as a leap of faith, sometimes a great feeling and sometimes a scary feeling;

d). The destiny of being Muslim at a time when bombs burst in Bangalore and Ahmedabad and who knows where else …;

e). Figuring out the law and rules and regulations concerning various things and various relationships in a city whose language, both spoken and unspoken, I am still figuring out (what if I make mistakes …);

Now, this list might seem little, but then, it is a little too much on some days when I am unable to resist anymore. But hey, hey, this blog post is not about me. It is some kind of a random effort on my part to meander a little here, a little there and get to somewhere …

So, there are these vulnerabilities and on some days, when I feel vulnerable, it is terrible and on some days, that feeling of vulnerability is like the feeling of a warm chocolate melting in my mouth and sweetening my frizzy hair and the skin I wear on my person.

So what does one do when one is vulnerable? And that too vulnerable in a city? Well, well, it is not like I am “alone” here in this city. Despite being well connected, it is that feeling of not knowing the spoken and unspoken language of this city, that makes me feel vulnerable. And what happens when I feel vulnerable? I seek out people! And here is the story of one person that I have sought out in perhaps one of those subtle moments of vulnerability. This post is my account of that person, that person who is one more stranger in the city that I have tried reach myself out to, to hold her hand when she did not mean to extend one, and to express to her that in that moment of losing myself, when I found her, I found myself, that she helped me to hold myself together without even ever meaning to reach out me. I sought her, I reached out to her, and she did what she was expected to do – she responded!!!

So her name is V. She is my hair stylist. Now well, would it not be true for us, somewhat stylist urbane women, to reach out to our beauty parlours when we are dying with all those mad thoughts in our heads and don’t know where to go! Well, I was not in a mad state when I happened to meet V. I was very much sane, saner than what I am now.

I want a hair cut.

She smiles.

I want a hair cut.

She continues to smile.

Err, I need a haircut, where do I sit?

I am busy today.

So I will come in the afternoon.

I am busy then too.

So I will come tomorrow.

I don’t come to the parlour on Thursdays.

So when do I come?

Hang on, I will remove my diary,

and she removes her diary and asks if Friday is okay.

Tis’ okay, but I need a short haircut.

Open your hair. Hmmm … you need it cut in a way that you are able to leave it open. When you tie your hair, you look old.

Uh, well …

Okay, come on Friday, wash your hair before coming.

True her word and true to my time, I landed at the appointed hour and V began the snip trip across my hair. And we spoke. We spoke about my boyfriends and she spoke about how she lived at Bonga, the village which lies at the border of (now) Kolkatta and Bangladesh. I wonder whether the location of her home, along a border, is as coincidental as her present gender state which also lies at the border of male and female. But this was not a poetic coincidence for V alone, because, as I discovered in my conversations with her later, we each navigate the gender border without necessarily having to be in a phsyical state of being transgender. As V mentioned to me towards the end of the snip trip,

There is nothing male and female. It’s all there, at different times in our very lives …

On leaving her parlour after the first snip trip aka hair cut, I asked myself about borders. And then, in the midst of those blasts and fireworks in Bangalore yesterday and Ahmedabad today, I realized that we have all traveled the borders of life and death; we have all been at the border of chance, of fate, of destiny and of luck. And we continue to be …

On my next snip trip, when the vulnerabilities were gripping me and I was on the border of sanity and insanity, I went off to V’s and announced:

This time, I want a crop cut, like those soldiers who have just about enough hair on their heads.

No, you can’t have that. You will look funny. Let me see. We give you some other look.

Okay, then you decide,

I said, handing over my hair and some parts of myself to V in a manner of trusting her. So how many times is it that we can trust strangers in the city? But then, V was someone who I somehow liked a lot, and could hand myself over to. I could not hand myself over in the same way to the agent who was just trying to sell me a house which was built in violation of the city’s bye-laws …

So, I liked that house but it was all violated property V. How could I get it?

Yeah, I have landed into a similar situation. You know that builder took my token money and then, I figured that he had no sanctions. And guess what, he was a Hindu, believing in Lakshmi! He said, ‘Ma, I will never cheat you!’ So I said okay. Then, we had to go through a meandering procedure where I had to register myself as part landholder and we created a document which even the sub-registrar’s office had no mention of in the rule book. But then, we made a new rule and the sub-registrar said, ‘Well, we do it we do it!’

I listened to V and at that time, when the vulnerabilities of getting a place called house/apartment/home were high with all the accompanying vulnerabilities of not knowing the law, the rules, of the possibility of being ‘cheated’ and of managing all this headache of getting a place in midst of not fully knowing the spoken and the unspoken language of this city … aaaaaarrrrrrrrrrggggggggggghhhhhhhhhh. And then, I do not remain the only one who goes through this, I felt as I heard V. What a mad, strange, and bitch that desire is to have a ‘place’!!?!!? V also expressed that bitch of a desire to me when she remembered her days of working at Bandra in Bombay:

Oh, even today, I tell my cousin, don’t remind me of leaving Bombay. I don’t want to remember it at this point in my life when I know I cannot go back and when I cannot any longer hold that regret. You know, when I was working at the saloon in Bandra, the maid there had told me, ‘give me ten thousand rupees, and I will get you a jhopda on the seaface.’ I did not believe her. I said no. She insisted and even said that she would take care of it for me. I said no because who would live among these people? No, no, not me! And ten years later, when I went to the same place, I saw, her jhopda on the seaface was now a full fledged building. Damn me!

So on my next snip trip, V and I chatted less. But I only watched, her untold and undying faith in Lakshmi. She had held on to Lakshmi, and I, without her knowing and without her permission, had held on to her. It felt wonderful. She would take the fragrant smoke in her hand and wrap it around her face. She would start her day and the parlour with this ritual. And then, when her colleague came and removed some cash from her pockets and said that this had come to her today, V calmly said, while holding my hair in her hand,

It’s Friday and it’s Lakshmi. Good sign. Keep it maa.

I don’t have much to say about V at this point in my account. Let’s put it this way that I don’t want to say anything more about her. It would spoil all the warmth that I have nurtured for her in my heart. In a rational’s dictionary, I would be an emotional fool. In my city’s experience, I have just submitted and reached myself out in the comfort of another who has unknowingly helped me find myself.

I don’t know where this relationship with V will go. It may stop right here. It may go further or farther. But the warmth that I have experienced in these few encounters with V, I just want to today communicate that warmth and the good spirit to the present which is experiencing bomb blasts. And I remain optimistic and hopeful, that this warmth and good spirit, will enable us to reach out to one another, knowingly and unknowingly.

This remains my journey from vulnerability, to V, to goodwill, and I guess we all traverse these strange and beautiful paths …

To you I remain, the conduit of words and spirit.

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On Freedom

July 9th, 2008

This morning, I was standing at Richmond Circle, waiting for a bus. A man was moving around with a cloth bundle on one arm and one cloth piece in another. I looked at the cloth piece; it was the Kashmiri design. I immediately looked at the man’s nose because Kashmiris have a peculiar nose structure, though not all Kashmiris bear it. The nose structure was not unique, but I was certain that the man was Kashmiri. Immediately, another man came around, again with a cloth bundle on one arm and a piece in the other hand, demonstrating the goods he was carrying. This man was Kashmiri and both the men spoke the language.

On seeing them, the immediate thought, or rather the sight, that came to my mind’s eyes were those pictures that all of us have been seeing in newspapers on the front pages: mobs throwing stones and policemen/security personnel shelling tear gas and the headlines shrieking about the Amarnath Shrine controversy. So here are these Kashmiris again, these bunch of Muslims, who are demanding azaadi … But the idea of azaadi is not practical, right? That is what most people told me when I first returned back from the Valley and passionately spoke about how a group of people cannot be coerced into staying with a nation because of an idea of “national unity and integrity.” But that is a matter of discussion and of words for some other day. Today, I want to explore the notion of freedom. In the last 3-4 weeks, I have been coming across struggles, battles and fights, for freedom in varying forms.

Let me begin with myself then when I have to talk of freedom. It is interesting but I first experienced freedom when I went to Kashmir. Those muted figures of Indian soldiers on the roads, at every furlong, had made me so uncomfortable that when I reached G’s home, I felt like something was wrong and there was an uncomfortable feeling of claustrophobia that was gathering in me, like some form of noxious gas. G later helped me unearth the claustrophobic feeling by exploring it with me: we figured that the discomfort has emerged from the heavy presence of the army, which, even though it had done nothing to me, was still a discomforting factor. At that moment, I suddenly felt like heck, what a free life I live in Mumbai.

On landing in G’s house, I could not help but marvel at that large house with a garden and how there were so many rooms in the house. Rooms in the house? I had only known of kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living room in that 55 sq. ft. house of ours in Bombay. And in that house of ours in Bombay, I struggled for every inch of private space. When my sister and I had started rebelling for our own space, we figured how we could never be able to afford our own space in Mumbai were we to live on our own. Freedom from home – that was such an elusive thought and yet, an idea that both of us nursed in our conversations at night and dreamt about it in our slumber, only to wake up next morning and find it distant, elusive and yet, so endearing. The rooms on G’s house – I can’t even remember how many there were and many which I had not known of. And here was G, complaining how he had established his space for himself – carved his freedom in those bricks, or rather in that door, which he kept shut always, indicating that people in the house should back off. Freedom – carved in bricks, set in concrete and shut by the door.

And then I land in Bangalore – well I am already here and still nowhere – and I hear of everyday squabbles, skirmishes, fights and battles for freedom – freedom from parents. Nah, I don’t mean to paint a nasty picture of that breed called parents, but what is most interesting in each of the squabbles, skirmishes, fights and battles between parents and children is that despite the squabbles, skirmishes, fights and battles, neither of the parties are perpetually free. What binds the two, parents and children, are a set of reactions where each one is responding from one’s own position of insecurity, of anger and of control. I don’t mean to state that freedom is never possible from parents, but that freedom has many shades where the freedom is not from the parents per se, but from the reactions that have come to define the relationship. I remember that when I first stepped into G’s room, my mind instantly raced back to the terrible battle of freedom that was going on inside me against my parents – I wanted my own space, physically and mentally – and how I hated my parents back then for ‘binding’ me to them. But as those days in Srinagar went by, I had realized that the root of every conflict lay in every home. And over time, as much as I have to feel grateful to my parents for their magnanimity and their understanding and to my teacher Goenkaji and my friends for enabling me to understand patterns of reactions and behavious, I still recognize that I am not free from several of the reactions that continue to define me as a person and the relationship between my parents and me.

Then I move into the streets in Bombay city and into the squatter settlements and in these are some of the subtle struggles for freedom – freedom from control of the state and battles for freedom from conditions of poverty. Within the power structures that shape the everyday life of squatter settlements, there are small and large negotiations taking place between various actors to carve out more space. There are struggles against the government for rights and for existence with dignity. There are struggles to move away from the controls of various groups in power. And there are struggles to increase the power of one over the other in order to attain a freedom that may seem illogical to those of us from the outside, but remains completely meaningful to those within the sphere.

Then I think of the many people in Bangalore, the professionals, who yearn to be free by having a stable job, a high income and an apartment. And yet, is that where freedom lies? I cannot be judgmental about what people perceive as their freedom because even in my maverick ways of living, I see myself as unfree. And in their stability too, people can be very much free!

If I were to stop writing, I’d end with one of things I have been discussing with a close friend for sometime now. In some of the circles that I am part of, there is the understanding that the availability of more choices implies freedom. Thus, because “the market” provides us with many things to choose from, we have the freedom to decide. The question is whether choice and freedom are synonymous? If you are left with options, does that invariably mean that you are free to choose?

I can’t say anything more. But I still think of the two Kashmiris I saw today in Bangalore, with cloth bundle on one arm and the Kashmiri suit piece on display in the other hand. And I still think of freedom and how it means so many different things to so many different people.

[This post is dedicated to Kashmir, my home and to Bombay, the place where my mind has thrived and developed without fear …]

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