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Moved …

January 27th, 2008

Dear all,

I have now moved my blog to http://wbfs.wordpress.com in the hope that I will find some words (and in the process, myself …)

Love,

CB

xanga

Papamma

July 21st, 2007

Hi! she said to me and then asked me the usual question of whether I had eaten food. I tried explaining to her that I had eaten, but somehow, I seemed to have something to her in our last conversation which makes her think that I don’t eat properly. She asked me to share food with her. I said I had eaten and would come back to her house after I had completed the works that I had set out to do in Ambedkarnagar.

Her name is Papaamma. She is dark, slim, slight wrinkles on her face and so far that I have seen her, she wears bright coloured sarees. I have no idea what does. But she lives in Ambedkarnagar and is like my local guardian there.

This afternoon, as I was passing by her house, I noticed that the bathroom in her house was curtained with a plastic sheet that was an advertisement for a bus company which runs buses for people to travel to places in the South.

By the time I got back, she had finished eating her food. She had thrown away some because she did not feel like eating. I told her it was too late to eat lunch and that she should eat earlier. She smiled. Then I said I have to go. She said, ‘yeah, come’ and then held me by my wrist and asked me to come inside the house. She directed me to sit and then went away. She came back with a glass of tea and as usual, she took some and asked me to take the rest. “You don’t eat properly anyway, so you must drink the tea properly and more of it than I have taken.”

Papamma’s house has a little bathroom, a kitchen area and then a bedroom which also serves as a living room. She has a television in the house, two bulbs and a fan. She said that the electricity was cut off for three months because she could not pay the bill and then it resumed again after she had paid back. “Bangalore is expensive,” she said.

I looked around and asked her if she goes to the Infant Jesus Church which is nearby. She looked puzzled. Then I pointed out to the photograph Christ and Mother Mary which was in her bedroom-cum-living room and immediately she understood. She exclaimed, “I am original Pentecostal, original. My husband is diluted Christian. This Infant Jesus Church is diluted Christianity.” “Original huh,” I exclaimed back. “Yes, original. Come, let me show you our Bible.” She took out a Kannada version of the Bible. Then she asked me whether I believe in God. I said no. She said, “Who do you think gives you food? How do you think you acquire work? And then you say you don’t believe in God? How come? Here, I will read out a verse from the Bible to show you how much trouble the Lord has undergone to ensure that you are taken care of.” She read two passages. Then she reiterated her point about how God is the provider and we must believe in him. “How did I come to Bangalore? How do you think I got this house? So what if the bathroom is small and there is problem with the toilet? What are you? Hindustani? No, no, I mean Hindi/Hindu?” I said I am Muslim. Then she said, “So you have a God. Then why don’t you believe? Believe, believe.”

I laughed out. She laughed too. then I told her I needed to leave. She asked when I was coming back. “Wednesday.” “Okay, I will see you then,” she said!

xanga

Muslim or Marwari?

July 19th, 2007

18/07/2007

“So, what are you? Muslim or marwari?”
For a moment, I did not know where the either-or choices were coming from? Why only either Muslim or Marwari? Why not some other either-or combination?
“Muslim,” I replied immediately, without feeling any sense of insecurity, apprehension or fear.
“Okay,” they said. These are women who are part of a sangha in the Ambedkarnagar slum.
I went along down along with them when their weekly sangha meeting was over. Sujeetha, the only bachelor member of the sangha was also walking down with her cousin who has just come to Bangalore from their village beyond Chennai. I joked with Sujeetha asking her why she is not married. She laughed and asked why I was not married. I asked her then,
“Why did you ask whether I was Muslim or marwari?”
“You see,” she began, “most of us women work in Koramangala. I work in the National Games Complex. Now most of the house owners here are Marwaris. So I asked if you were marwari. You say you are from Bombay. So you have also come from outside like the marwaris. So you are also a migrant.”
I smiled. I remembered what Murthy had said to me on my first visit to Ambedkarnagar. He had mentioned that “15% of the people in this slum are Hindi” and by Hindi, he meant not North Indians, but Muslims “who had stayed back in India when the rest of the Muslims had gone away to Pakistan.”
I was amused at Sujeetha’s analysis, not because I thought she was naïve or something. But rather because she had a very straightforward analysis of how things are in Bangalore and how I get viewed in her worldview.
Muslim or marwari? Aha! The contests are beginning to show up!

xanga

17-Jul-2007

July 17th, 2007

16/7/2007

I am still struck by that revelation of the concept and the practice of ‘local’ – the way I discovered it through Murthy, the cable operator in Ambedkar Nagar. The mazes, the cables, the houses, Murthy makes connections through all of these as he sets up his cables and transmits the satellite programmes into people’s houses.

I am also fascinated by the idea of the map which I discovered in my last trip to L. R. Nagar. The very concept of the map takes on a different meaning in the slum. Murthy explained the boundaries between L. R. Nagar and Ambedkar Nagar by pointing out to the garbage dump that separates the two slums.

Yesterday, I went walking around Ambedkar Nagar to find my way through the maze of houses and shops in the slum. I walked and walked. But I could not make sense of the direction in which I was walking. I followed any path that appeared to lead to some place. The experience was absolutely fascinating because even though I was not getting my path right, I discovered something new with every step I took. The lanes were made pucca with concrete while the roads were still mucky and uneven. I hit the end of Ambedkar Nagar to find myself facing the National Games Complex in Koramangala. For two minutes, I stood with bated breath. I felt a strange kind of urban schizophrenia – I am standing at Ambedkar Nagar and watching the National Games Complex from the other side. At that moment, I realized immediately why the four slums are such a contested space – they are ‘occupying’ the area which is prime real estate in Bangalore – Koramangala. At that moment, I felt some kind of strange ecstasy. I am now beginning to discover Bangalore for myself. I am beginning to make connections with this city.

[I am finding my words, once more, once again, yet again …]

Walking back, through yet another different, unknown route, I found myself at the garbage dump, the boundary line that separates L. R. Nagar and Ambedkar Nagar.

[I am finding myself, founding myself, founded myself, finding, found, lost … delirious, drunk on my experiences and words …]

It’s time to fall in love once again …

xanga

14-Jul-2007

July 14th, 2007

Filth
Muck
Terd
Open Drains
Garbage
Stench

Filth
Muck
Terd
Open Drains
Garbage
Stench

Filth
Muck
Terd
Open Drains
Garbage
Stench

I entered Lakshman Rao Nagar (L.R. Nagar), walking and sensing with my feet. There was a sudden burst of rain. The muck that lay (perhaps an unfinished road) came alive. I looked down as I walked. Every hair on my skin stood up as I experienced the filth, the muck, the terd, the garbage, scattered all around. People live in L. R. Nagar, open drains outside the doors of their houses. I made notes:

Sewage – very poor
Sanitation – non-existent

Yes, people live in L. R. Nagar, amidst
Filth
Muck
Terd
Open Drains
Garbage
Stench.

I walked further into L. R. Nagar, attempting to find the offices where I needed to get some information. The boundaries between L. R. Nagar, Rajendra Nagar, Ambedkar Nagar, Shastri Nagar are all very, very fluid. Murthy, the local cable operator, explaining the boundaries of L. R. Nagar said to me,
“See, you see that pile of garbage. That is where L. R. Nagar ends and Shastri Nagar begins.”
I immediately noted the landmarks (literally!) and the ways in which people create maps of their own localities.

The offices were closed. Murthy could understand and speak fluent Hindi. I asked him:
“Sir, what is the population of this slum? Is there majority Kannada people?”
“Tamil majority. 60% Tamils.”
“Remaining 40% Kannadigas?”
“No, no madam. 60% Tamils, 25% Kannadigas, 15% Hindi.”
“Hindi? You mean people from North India, Uttar Pradesh?”
“No, no madam, Hindi peoples are everywhere in India. Hindi.”
“Hindi?”
“They are Hindi Muslims.”
“Muslims? Hindis? But surely, these Muslims would have come from parts of Tamil Nadu or Karantaka? They must be Tamilian Muslims or Kannadiga Muslims?”
“Illa, no madam. You see, they are Hindi. Now, some are in Pakistan. Those who decided to stay behind, not go to Pakistan, they came here. So they are Muslims, Hindi Muslims.”
I am struck by this revelation. Hindi Muslims. I noted the category.

Murthy is a cable operator. He ‘supplies’ cable to Ambedkar Nagar. He began his business fifteen years ago, the time when you inserted the ‘cashette’ into the VCR and broadcasted the movies to everyone’s homes through the cable network. Then came the era of the satellite television. Murthy became a distributor for Ambedkar Nagar.
“The big guys get people to buy the set top boxes for 3,000 rupees after which the subscribers have to pay 250-300 rupees per month to receive the channels. Here it does not work like that. I go up to the terrace and have my man go over to the terrace of the next building. We throw the wires and make the connections. The big companies cannot come and do this here.”
“Yes, because you the local fellow. You know the local system here.”
“Exactly, because I know the locality here.”
My eyes sparkled as I discovered the idea of locality through this complex maze of wires and cables. Murthy knows the ‘local’, how to make the connections, something which the big companies cannot do because they simply do not know the ‘local’. I make a note.

I leave Murthy, fascinated, hoping to return back. I go over to the next office for data collection. I am directed to a rose-coloured building, but I do not understand from where to enter to get to the office. I am pointed to a house. Someone calls her out, saying,
“Come out. She needs something.”
Out comes she. She is old, wrinkled. I explain to her what I want. She has a morsel of food in her hand which she rolls into a ball and throws into her mouth. She washes her hands, holds me by my arm and wraps her arm around my shoulder and directs me. The local boys are asking me what I want. She shoos them away, holding me by my hand and taking me in a direction.
“Baa, baa. Banni.”

She is barefooted. I watch that carefully. My hair starts to stand up as each sense on me begins to experience all the
Filth
Muck
Terd
Open Drains
Garbage
Stench
which her feet are traveling through. I almost want to give up my footwear, over to her. She is comfortable (or so it seems). I am not.

It is Saturday and everything is closed. I decide to come back on Monday. On my way out, I notice the open drains. Two children are running boats in the sewage waters. At that moment, I am horrified. My senses come alive.

People live here, here in L. R. Nagar. There is
Filth
Muck
Terd
Open Drains
Garbage
Stench.
These are also cityzens. They also have legitimate claims.

xanga

From London to Bangalore

July 10th, 2007

From London to Bangalore

Aldgate. It is literally a gate. It separates Central London from East London.

East London. The infamously famous part of London City. There is Brick Lane which is the ‘culture hub’ of the city and many novels and stories have been written about Brick Lane. I have not read any of these, but I certainly know that these would be unable to capture the territorial, inward, closed and ghetto nature of Brick Lane. Don’t get me wrong, I am not condemning Brick Lane. I am stating what I have sensed. Given the political atmosphere in London, the targeting of Muslims, the experience of living in a city that is not really home for the Bangladeshis who inhabit Brick Lane, there is something inward about Brick Lane. Yes, there are restaurants, shops, eats, the everything that a tourist would look for, but that is a very superficial image of Brick Lane. There is more to Brick Lane, the people who reside in it. It is the people who make the space. And it is through the lives and stories of the people that Brick Lane can be understood.
(Now I understand what ‘apparent’ actually means …)

For a moment, just for a moment, I stand amused. It’s called the Brady Arts Center Street and beneath it is written in English and Bengali ‘Kobi Nazrul Islam Street’. I wonder whether this is a form of making a claim on the space of the city. Kobi Nazrul is the national poet of Bangladesh. Maybe one would say that this is a sort of ‘establishing Bangladesh in London, a form of assertion.’ I disagree. I believe it is a form of making a claim on a city, asserting that yes, we indeed do not belong here, but we are here. We have made this space from its past into what it is now, we have a hand in perpetuating this city, we are here and you have some obligations towards us to fulfill. Undoubtedly, the space and nature of claims will change with the coming generations.
(‘Claim-making’, now I understand what a tedious process it can be to make claims on the city …)

It is a Sunday, thankfully sunny. I have dragged Alt to come with me to Tower Hamlets because I am given to understand that there is some kind of an ‘illegal’ market here which takes place only on Sundays. ‘Illegal in London’ – this fascinates me. The last two days, I have walked the Portobello street market, Spitalfields and some other street markets, but these are all licensed markets. There are licensed stalls to let. Yes, there is ‘culture’, if you may please, in here, but I can’t seem to enjoy it. There is a certain feeling in me which says that this is marketed culture, propped up culture. It does not give a flavour of the contests in this global city. So here I am, curious, excited and eager to find this ‘illegal market.’

We accidentally tumble on Petticoat Lane market as we walk from Aldgate tube station. Nah, I said to Alt, this is not it. We were told to walk towards Brick Lane. Inside Brick Lane, we stumbled upon licensed markets until we finally hit the backyard market. The backyard market consisted of displays of students from the nearby fine arts school. We walked out of backyard, and there we were, that ‘illegal market’ which had been so elusive. We stood there for a while, Alt and me. Alt was busy making pictures but I was feeling too hesitant. Am I marking these people by aiming my camera at them? There they were … they were probably East European and some seemed Chinese-Taiwanese. They were squatting on the pavements on both sides. Some had opened up their suitcases and were beginning to lay their wares. Some others were watching, waiting, looking here and there, before they could open up the boxes and suitcases to lay out their wares.

Alt and I began walking. I still cannot forget those scenes. I passed by a Bangladeshi family – father, son and some uncles. The Holy Spirit, in this case, the London policeman, was not around, yet. They were selling secondhand goods. Perhaps they found some of these in trashcans. My eyes fell upon what I thought was a beautiful painting of a girl carrying concrete over her head and I could not take my eyes off it. ‘5 pounds, I make it 3 for you’, the young man of the family said to me. I took it. I was too tempted to engage in a conversation with him and yet, I agonizingly could not. At every moment, I was nervous, what if I broach something inappropriate. I decided to walk ahead, to see if I could muster any courage. But perhaps there was no need for me to muster any courage. There was enough to see, and I decided to carry out the conversation with myself.

Alt continued making pictures. I made a few pictures and happened, by chance, to point the lens at an African man. ‘No, no, you can’t make pictures, you dare don’t take that picture’. I moved my camera away. Yes, I was right. In this space, I could not afford to be a leisurely tourist. I was in a contested space, a highly contested one at that – marked illegal. He continued to shout and became abusive. I walked ahead until he came behind and tapped on my shoulder, ‘if you made that picture of mine, you take it off.’ ‘No, I did not,’ I said. ‘Okay,’ he said and moved back to his place.

Place – yes, that is what that market was about. It was about place, what is known as jaaga in Bangalore – solpa jaaga. Place, jaaga, and a new term that I have recently encountered ‘location’. This market was about place, jaaga and maybe location.

There she stood, besides a clothes hanger. She was haggling with a customer over a price bargain for shoes. ‘No, no. what do you think? This is used? No, no, this is brand new. What you think, it is old? I don’t sell old.’ She was very beautiful, perhaps Eastern European. We started admiring a dress hung on the hanger. ‘Yes, very beautiful,’ she said, turning to me, ‘and look, it got that belt in here. You can tie it to your waist and you will look pretty. And it’s also got that nice jacket over it.’ ‘Can I try it on?’ I asked. ‘Sure,’ she said. ‘I sell for 7 but make it 5 for you. Take it.’ Alt asked her where she gets her goods from. ‘This one, this dress, the boutique made sample piece for client and then gave it to me for sale because sample pieces just lie in boutiques and they try to discard these. So we go and pick ‘em up.’ ‘But aren’t there stolen goods in here, in this market?’ he asked. ‘No, no, I don’t sell stolen goods. I get from boutiques, they give it to me. I have a license to stand here and sell. I can show you.’ I did not want to take this conversation further. Already I was beginning to sense the tension. Next to her was a much younger girl, again East European. She was being questioned by the policeman about change of place/location. She seemed intimidated by him, though his questioning and body language did not appear as if he was threatening her. She said, ‘I was there, but today I came here. Otherwise I stand there.’ He nodded. We moved from there, just to encounter another scene, but this time certainly one of intimidation. These were two Bangladeshi boys who had a clothes hanger with clothes hung on for sale. One of them stood with a cardboard box containing electronics, perhaps pirated. A hefty policeman rounded up the boys, telling them that you don’t sell these things in here. Some Bangladeshis and Pakistanis collected around the scene. ‘Can you give us some place here please,’ one of the officers shouted. The boys were certainly being intimidated. We could not understand what happened afterwards.
(Authority – now I understand what it means …)

We continued to walk, fascinated and awed. The sale of goods was picking up.

‘This for 50 pounds, I sell for 50p, only today. What do you say?’

‘Anyway you like it mate, anyway you like it. Only 5 pounds, Marks and Spencers! Anyway you like it, mate, anyway’

A little further away, a man appeared from nowhere
and started out a game. Spot which one of the 3 round rubber plates has a white sticker beneath. He began juggling. A woman gave 20 pounds and on spotting the right one, got 40 in return. She played another 20 and won another 40. Encouraged, a Bangladeshi man gave 20. He lost it and his face fell. The game was just beginning.

Back here in Bangalore today, I spent twenty minutes in the City Market.
‘Social Justice, Economic Justice’
‘Opposition to the UPA government which is anti-poor’
‘Dalit Sangha’
Yes, the jaaga was marked, unlike that in London, but marked for sure. Those who are marginalized mobilize themselves through their identities and attempt to make claims on the city. I saw this in a little glimpse in City Market today. The hawkers were hawking on dug up land. Beneath the Avenue Road flyover, the road dug up were hawkers selling kothmire. ‘Naati maa, naati.’

Contested space, perhaps. I still don’t have a grasp of the space in this city, of the numerous contests. I struggle to understand. My words struggle with me as do my consciousness and sight.
(Awake, this is Bengalooru …)

xanga

In London with Brainz!

June 15th, 2007

So how does one understand a city?

I am in London now. They say it is the global city, but to me it appears like an extension of a suburb in Bangalore. Alright, I know I am sounding too harsh, but I am beginning to find these European cities and the regular kind of tourism more and more boring! What I find fascinating about London are the numerous worlds that exist in this city – there is East London where a certain Asian imagination prevails. There is Southall, the Punjab of London. There is Edgware Road where Middle Eastern migrants live!

Last night, Brainz aka Pradeep and I explored one such world within London – East Ham! East Ham is home to Tamils and Sri Lankans. I met Brainz outside Holborne station and we decided to take the tube from Circle Line to East Ham. London tubes are interesting. The atmosphere in the tube is cold. Regular commuting in the tube can make you mechanical and harsh and yet, this is only one part of London. In the last two weeks of my stay here, I discovered, accidentally, several warm people and my image of London being a cold, developed city, have been severely challenged. Tube stations can be either very crowded or very empty and scary. Singers and musicians sing in the tube stations. One such person that Brainz and I encountered at Tottenham Court Road station was playing the guitar beautifully. I watched him as he continued to play. It occurred to me that we need to rethink the way we live our lives in society. I am convinced that society needs to support some people and their livelihoods. I am convinced that begging/panhandling is something that we need to accept because some people must be supported. And there are some people, who by adding sheer value to our everyday lives, need to be supported. These could be writers, musicians, artists, thinkers, what not!

Brainz and I stepped outside of East Ham station. The walk was a fascinating one. Pakistanis abundant. Brainz explained to me that certain cash machines should not be used for withdrawing cash because they duplicate the cards. At every step in London, I have discovered illegality and ways in which the loopholes in the law have been exploited. Whoever says there can be complete control. We walked to Sarvana Bhavan, our zone of familiarity. I am not sure if it felt absolutely absurd to be sitting in London and eating at Sarvana Bhavan – another aspect of city worlds! The waiters took our orders on palmtops and promptly served us South Indian meals. When it was time to pay, Brainz and I decided to lay bets – would the Gujarati girl at the cash counter date Brainz? If she did, then Brainz pays for the dinner. If she does not, I pay! Brainz told me that the Gujarati girl had recently come to UK and was working part-time in Sarvana to support her education. We laughed and joked with the Gujarati girl. Brainz said that we made her day! I guess this has been my greatest learning in London – that there are strangers who we discover accidentally and that is the greatest gift that we give to ourselves and to the world around us!

It was late evening. Brainz and I strolled all around and landed at Tower Hill station. It was raining mildly. As we stepped out of Farringdon station, Brainz explained that a black man was always sitting outside the station and another white man on the other side was panhandling. Amidst this, was a world of plenty, of affluence. People were standing outside the pubs and the bars, drinking and eating. Perhaps this is what frightens me as cities are growing – that the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing and it is in your face.
I don’t know on what note to end this post. On the one hand, I have discovered that London’s problems are the same as those in Mumbai or Bangalore. And I have found myself through experiences and people around here. I am in a flux myself!

xanga

Tales of Time

May 7th, 2007

I boarded his auto from Kormangala. My warped sense of direction, I felt clueless about which direction to proceed towards. He asked me which route should he take to drive me to Langford Town. I said ‘take whatever route you think is best’. Later he told me to memorize the route because, “people in Bangalore are not good, haraami hote hai, they can take you for a ride. This is the shortest, quickest and easiest route, so you should remember it now.”

Our conversation started when I said to him that traffic seems to have increased a lot in Bangalore. “There are so many out-of-country people here. Look at this city, it has expanded beyond its capacity, now to Uttarahalli, Devanahalli. There are at least eight to ten lakh out-of-country people, coming here to study and work. These people come from Korea-Japan and those countries and settle in the outskirts. Then, there are about forty lakh people who are not from Karnataka-Tamil Nadu-Andhra Pradesh. They are from Kashmir, Bihar, Orissa, Maharashtra, North. The number of outsiders in Bangalore has increased so much, that it is now hard to find a Kannadiga in this mass – chiraag leke dhoondo, to bhi nahi milta”. He is Kannadiga, he told me. Every aspect of his conversation was a tale of time, every telling a memory of the time gone by and/or a narrative of the time that is.

“Now look here, there are so many people from outside who are coming here to study, like yourself. You are afraid of this traffic and so you are not purchasing a two-wheeler. But many people are. My own sister, when she was married, they had only a moped in her house. Then they bought a kinetic, a maruti eight hundred, a scooter, a luna, all this in addition to the moped. How much does this make it? Five vehicles. And how many people to drive these five vehicles, just three! In Bangalore, the road capacity can handle only fifteen lakh vehicles. How many vehicles are running on the road now? Thirty five lakh, more than double! The problem is that this is not a planned city.” I marked his words – the problem is that this is not a planned city.

“I was living in Bombay once upon a time, in Bandra. With a daily earning of three hundred rupees, I would eat well, spend on rent and yet save money. Now what is the value of three hundred rupees? That was a time. Things have changed today – mahaul hi alag hai aaj. I had a little accommodation there for which I gave a pagdi of two lakh rupees. The space has not increased an inch till date, but the value has gone up. What an irony!”

We got stuck in a little jam around Kormangala when he pointed out, “People who work in Electronics City or even in Whitefields, they have to travel at least three hours each day. What a national waste of time! All those daily three hours, they add up to so much. And all those daily three hours can easily be put to productive use. The money earned in all those daily three hours would ultimately go into the national economy, isn’t it? Desh ka hi fayda hota! I once drove the manager of an IT firm in my auto. I asked him, ‘Sir, why did you people not think of building houses for your workers in Electronics City itself? Wipro, Infosys, why did you not think of housing your employees close to the place of work itself?’ He said to me, ‘at that time, when Infosys, Wipro were building, they thought of purchasing those extra four or five acres for expanding their businesses. Now the prices have gone up so much that they cannot afford to build housing there.’ I look at these fellows traveling to work. They come from as far as Peenya, Malleshwaram and Rajajinagar – what a national waste of time, isn’t it?”

“There was a time when I was driving people in the auto for a minimum fare of seven rupees. Look here today, the minimum fare the minimum fare has gone up to twelve. In Bombay, I could take a taxi from Bombay Central to Bandra in twelve rupees. Can you imagine this now? Impossible. Prices have gone up so much. I imagine that Bandra has become unlivable now!”

Like all journeys, this one ended too. I did not bother to note his name. The display card was scratched and it was dark. I tried to visualize the space that he was talking about, the space of this city. All I could conjure up was a chronology of time and memories as he spoke with his words.

Tales of time,
Tellings,
A time gone by,
A time there is,
And a time to come …

xanga

30-Apr-2007

April 30th, 2007

30/04/07

I cannot remember his name. He was perhaps in his mid-forties. He had a salt and peppered beard. The photograph on the photo identity card in his auto certainly did not resemble him. Perhaps it was one of those cases of sub-leasing where the original driver sublets his auto to another fellow for a few hours.

I: Shivajinagar
He: Shivajinagar bus stand-ah?
I: Russell Market
He: Shivajinagar bus stand-ah?

Our conversation during the second half of the journey swung between two words – gota-gotilaa, know-don’t know, understand-don’t understand. Yet, we spoke a lot. He said he could not speak Hindi. I said I was in the same position when it came to Kannada.

We landed in Russell Market. I picked up the mattress that I had come here to collect. I did not realize it would be so heavy. The maker of the mattress simply started loading the mattress on the head of the auto and began tying it. He was very upset with this load. I insisted that the mattress be kept inside his auto, but the mattress maker told me that if the mattress was kept inside, it would keep hitting the meter and raise it. He was very upset and I thought he was reluctant to drive me back to my destination. I asked him once whether he was interested in going further or whether he wanted to part from Russell Market itself. Meanwhile, the mattress maker and he were arguing. The mattress maker insisted that nothing would happen to his auto and that he should drive me back.

Our conversation began during this part of the journey.

He: Now where?
I: Shanthinagar.
He: How do I go from here? Left or right?
I: Ummm, ummm, ummm, take a left. Route gota?
He: Gotilla.
(Oh no, I said to myself and started to map out the roads in my head. Bangalore being a city of one-ways, I started to think what route would be faster and quicker. Not knowing what landmarks to give him, I suddenly said)
I: M.G. Road gota?
He: Gota
I: So, M.G. Road
(He swerved his auto to the left and from Commercial Street, hit towards Russell Market again and then out of Shivajinagar towards M. G. Road. I started by asking the usual question of how many years since he started driving)
I: Kitna saal, how much time, driving you?
He: Eh?
I: How much time? Auto driving?
(He could not fathom)
I: Owner? Auto ownership? You?
He: (W)owner huh? No. Rs. 170 per day.
I: Oh (saying it profoundly)
He: Karntaka?
I: Baambay
He: Baambay huh?
I: You, Karnataka
He: Yes
I: Karntaka or Tamil Nadu?
He: Karnataka
(I was suspicious still. I wondered whether he was trying to hide from me that he was indeed from Tamil Nadu. But I could not push myself into verifying. After all, I have also, in many strange ways, tried to conceal my own Muslim identity in this city. People ask me my name. I say ‘Zainab’ and then immediately add, ‘Zainab Bawa’. I hope this confuses them, but often it does not. Then they ask me if I am Punjabi or Muslim and I quickly say, ‘I am a Ph.D. student, from Bombay’. In this city which is still strange to me (and I, seeking my own sources of intimacy and understanding here), I protect and defend my identity, off late. Sometimes I feel a stranger to my own self as I protect and defend. Sometimes I wonder if I am betraying my own self. Sometimes I wonder what I fear.
Hence I could not push myself to ask him whether he was indeed Kannadiga or whether he was actually Tamilian.)
He (summarizig): Rs. 170 a day, 20 hours of driving. Kannada gota?
I: Solpa solpa, little, little
He: Haan
(As we hit the airplane landmark, it suddenly struck me to ask him whether he knows Double Road)
I: Double Road gota
He: Double road gota
I: Then Double Road
He: Are you sure?
I: Pakka, 100 per cent
He: Route gota
I: Yes, routes gota
He: Where are you taking this mattress? To Baambay?
I: No, I have rented a house here. I am taking it there.
He: Who was that boy traveling with you?
I: Friend.
He: Brother?
I: Yes, yes.
(Often times people ask how I am related to my male friends. Most, like him, safely want to seal the relationship as one of brother and sister. I, not caring, often say yes-yes. Strange I feel here, my relationship with men under a new form of scrutiny)
He: How much did this mattress cost you?
I: (raised my index finger and indicated 1)
He: Wandu saavra, one thousand?
I: Yes
He: What kelsa, work, do you do in Baambay?
I: I am a student-o here.
He: What?
I: Student-o (trying to think what would be a simpler term), err, ummm, college-o (I struck upon it at last!)
He: Haan. Where?
I: Jayanagar
He: Which college?
I: Private college
He: Private huh?
I: Yes
I: (trying to polish up my Kannada) Bangalore, malay season? Rains?
He: Yes, yes. What about Baambay?
I: Garam (then realizing that this is Hindi), tumba bissi, very hot.
He: Yeah!
(We hit the traffic signal junction at M.G. Road and Cubbon Park. He turned around, smiled and said)
He: Left side M. G. Road. Gota?
I (laughed): Gota, gota
(he got out of his auto and checked if the mattress was okay and if the head of the auto was not too burdened)
He: Why did you load on top? Mele galeeze, it is very dirty on top. Your mattress will get dirty.
(We continued journeying. At Convent Road, he says)
He: Hindi, don’t know much.
I: Kannada, don’t know much. What about English, you?
He (laughed): 4th standard, dropped out. Gota?
I: Yes, gota.
(He kept on saying something in Kannada as we hit Richmond Road. I tried memorizing what he was saying so that I could get it translated later. But beyond a point, I lost him. He continued saying something and then he turned around to ask)
He: Gota? Did you understand what I was saying?
I: This much part, gotilla
He: Hmmm. Father, Baambay?
I: You mean appa?
He: Yes, yes, appa.
I: Baambay.
(I am not sure what he asked after that. I understood it to mean whether my father speaks Kannada. But later, I wondered whether he was asking for my father’s religion …)
I: Baambay, Hindi
He: Brother?
I: Baambay, Hindi.
He: Amma?
I: Baambay, Hindi.
(He turned the auto left, into a lane from Richmond Road)
He: Routes gota?
I: Yes, from here gota.
(We hit my destination. I began to untie the mattress. He screamed)
He: Madam, no, no, not that way, the auto will topple over you
I: oops!
(He carefully untied. I asked him to load the mattress over me. He picked it up on his back and asked where to leave it. I was feeling embarrassed and asked him to drop it near the staircase. He looked surprised and asked)
He: Mattress mele (don’t you need to take it upstairs?)
I: Yes, mele (pointing towards the elevator) lift-o
He: Then let me drop it inside the lift
(He dropped the mattress inside the lift. I handed him the fare)
He: Did you check the meter before giving me this?
I: Yes. Let’s go to the auto and check it together.
(The reading was right.)
I (joined my hands): Thank you. I am very grateful.
He (embarrassed): What are you joining your hands for? Aiyyo? No, no, it is okay.

But perhaps he did not understand what I was grateful for. I was grateful to him for the trust he gave to me in the time of our journey. I was grateful to him for the intimacy which our unspoken language brought to me. I was grateful to him for those few moments of friendship, for those few moments of friendship in this city which I find strange and hostile.

I am grateful …

xanga

Off Langford Road

April 25th, 2007

22/04/07

Sunday night,
About 11:10 PM,
Off Langford Road,
I passed.

Off Langford Road,
While passing,
I saw …

He lay,
His arms outstretched,
A man about 27, 28,
Dark skinned.
His dark skin glowed in the shine of the night.

He lay,
Carelessly,
As if the world belonged to him (in those moments),
As if the space he occupied was ever-expanding (stretching beyond his outstretched arms),
Eternal.

He lay.
Time seemed to have come to a standstill,
He lay collapsed in a drunken stupor,
As if he were lifeless,
As if he were alive in his apparent lifelessness,
As if the world were his …

Off Langford Road,
I saw him,
Alive in his lifelessness,
Jealous of his freedom, his outstretched arms, his carelessness, his time (of which he was the master) …

Off Langford Road,
I drank in his drunkenness,
Felt alive in his lifelessness (for those moments).

I passed
Langford Road,
Then Lalbagh,
Then 1st block Jayanagar.
The streets were empty,
Lifeless,
Dead,
Hopeless,
(Poverty hidden away into the interiors),
Inert,
Time passing by (as if even time were inert)

My heart is cold.

xanga