Of Old Homes and New

Today, I saw time slip from between my fingers and hide behind familiar trees and houses and shops and their shadows. Balling up to finally start riding the two wheeler on the main road is the first best thing to have happened last year. I don’t say this to myself often but it has enabled a certain kind of freedom that can only come from being responsible for my own transport no matter where I am or where I have to be. Not that I don’t miss the one and a half/double meter hassling with auto drivers, but it is a strange pride, this one. Getting around the city, knowing certain short-cuts, knowing what routes to avoid at what hours- these, for a long time remained parting wisdom and long prologues to farewells only among grown ups and friends who had vehicles. I would listen with intent, hoping they would make a mistake so I could catch on and instruct them about this other road that nobody knows about and how closer it is to our destination.

I make the mental map myself now. I stop, ask for directions, use GPS and everything and it is bloody intense. But today none of that happened. I rode to the other end of the world to deliver a cheque and caught myself smiling at the prospect of visiting my old house. I took the correct turns and noticed that nothing much had changed. I was pulled 8 years back into Jayanagar 7th Block. I saw Channel 9, Coffee Day, the Government hospital which, I was surprised to see, still functions. The street looked narrow somehow. It was wider in my head, and perfect. It’s like somebody squeezed into my memory and narrowed the streets down. Young boys playing cricket and all, I couldn’t remember if they had always been there, playing cricket, screaming, making way for vehicles. How could I not have remembered this tiny bit of detail?

The house looked the same, thankfully. It stood the way it always has, in my head. White and 3 floors. The owners have now added layers of grills. I tried peeking into the window of a room which I remember now as the most neglected room. I re-winded to when I was 16 and in love. Walking the length of the corridors, making sure my feet were stepping on the insides of the box tiles and not on the lines, whispering into the phone, sitting with books around me and watching snowy make his way into my arms. Snowy was my first dog. I found and lost him within a month in that home. A lot of firsts happened in this house. I remember them all.

I rode slow until the dead-end forced me to look for the bakery my brother would be sent to so often. Bread, cheese, butter, chips and pepsi. The footpath was painted yellow and green. I remember walking there, earphones plugged in, drowning my head in imagined miseries, none of which have come true btw.

As I was heading back to my now home, I took a left instead of right because I wanted to go see my school. It was still there but I expected it to be bigger. It was sad to see it shrunken down in size. I almost felt bad for it. Somehow all the resentment I had against the school and its people seemed to peel away from me. I thought of all the things I hoped would remain permanent when I lived in this part of the city. I looked fondly at the shop in front of a former home and remembered a birthday I tried hard to make perfect. How I wanted to give a box of chuckles to classmates and how I convinced the shopkeeper to get a whole new box for me.

So much has changed, so much more is going to. It’s probably only now that I am not as afraid of change as I was when I grew up in the other part of the city. The city that I spend time in now, is carefree and I don’t want to know why and how but it is making me unafraid of change.

Strangers

If stranger had a name, it would be the awkwardness that hung over our heads at lunch yesterday, the hope of seeing a familiar face, the desire to add an extra chair at our table. It would be the skillful way I avoid his eyes and hands. Every movement your feet makes in that hour is a calculation, every word; measured and uttered in thoughts before anywhere else. Three years ago, the table we sat at and the food we ate was enough to make me sigh in content all day. It’s a different sigh now. One that comes only after you drop me home. Letting go is a lot easier, now that the stranger between us has a name, a face and seems more sombre than us.

Cuticura and Shadows

Every day after lunch they would huddle up under the big window to chat. The afternoon sun thrown on the floor around the window, mouths smelling of pan and the shadows on the walls imitating their gestures in happy animation. Lunch was a big plate of Rice and Dal. The yellow in the ghee floating like poison in my Dal. I would be sleepy and Aumu’s mom would pull me to her lap by the window to check my hair for lice. Her hands moved briskly on my hair at first and then when the gossip became more interesting, she would slow down, her hands forgotten between layers of my thin hair. I didn’t appreciate the lice removal because it meant time away from my cousins and having to sit in one position for the longest time. As long as it took for another story to be remembered, another running cousin to be caught and dragged to one or more of the empty laps. They were 4 sisters and their mother- my grandmother, mouma. They were an excited bunch. Always full of stories and laugh, always full of drama and cries, always full of lesson and well meaning advice. They were a combination of a Sooraj Barjatya and Priyadarshan movie.

I wouldn’t understand their stories. They talked fast in a Konkani I would hear only during the vacations. It was comforting because it wasn’t Kannada. Kannada was what dad spoke when he was mad at me and when he would teach me math. It was a language that I dreaded hearing and talking in because it reminded me of math and school and discipline. Konkani was gossip and laughter and summer.

Their stories were all larger than life, Aumu’s mother – the story teller would add detail after embellished detail to her already dramatized and well rehearsed version before mouma would cut in and present an alteration, sometimes more exaggerated, sometimes mellowed down if she liked the people in the story. Even before I had the chance to ask who someone was or if I had ever seen them, they would have erupted into a volcano of noise – disagreement, surprise and laugh. Occasionally, there would be tears – stories recollected under disapproving nods and shared sighs of bad and beating husbands, of the son that threw his old and aging parents away, of the daughter in law that wore the same sari to two different functions.

I was fascinated by the people in these stories. They were always bad, like the people in movies. They said the meanest things in the most casual of ways. It is here, this moment that I keep going back to when I think of speech and judgment. In my head, I was asking, what if he didn’t mean it like that? Would he know that the women here in my world had written off his character certificate? Would he ever know that the thing he said became a caricature here, between these walls? And all for not realizing what he was saying. It could be here that I became an over thinker, making decisions about what words would never leave my mouth, wondering if they did without my noticing it.

Money talk was rare and if heard, would always be inspired by mouma – the bra thief. Every time one of my aunts’ left a room, they would look knowingly at the other and hide their suitcases. Somebody would complain about a lost bra last seen in the bathroom. The aunt that I don’t know well asks me if I have seen it. Behind me, I can hear my mother’s voice breaking into a laugh. I will buy you one, she says. They all know their mother took it.

There would be jewelry and house conversations, some uninteresting bank talk, at which point I would drift off and sleep. My head would be warm and now and then I could feel the sun on my hair, slightly burning the exposed scalp, now I would feel it on my cheek, the red in my closed eyes imitating the warmth behind my ears. I could hear the blood, I could see the red.

I would shut my eyes unusually tight if I heard a name that I recognized. In my head, I was begging them to go on, hoping nobody would notice I was awake. When this wouldn’t happen, I would look at the shadows their hands were making and sleep.

Back home, I would wonder what mouma stole that day. It is only later that I learnt how to remember her by the things she stole. Before that I remembered her by the smells she left behind. She smelled of Vibhooti and Cuticura. Two of my favourite things today. I loved looking into her bags. I would always find a packet of Vibhooti there, and a bra that wasn’t hers.

To Pamuk & the window by my Desk

I finished reading Captain Pantoja today. What a nasty little delight the book is. As I hurried through the last few pages, I kept cursing and rereading because I didn’t want to miss what I seemed to have missed throughout the beginning of the novel. The little bits of information that he wrapped in between dialogues. Like bacon wrapped sausages. I will return to the book soon when I have recovered and have something honest to say about it. Now, I’m still trying to make sense of the narrative burst that Llosa has left me with.

I have now made my jump to Orhan Pamuk. The Museum of Innocence. It took me sometime to actually start reading the book because soon after I picked it up, I started smelling the pages like a woman possessed. It smelled of book, dust, naphthalene balls, and of having fraternized with other books. Strangely, I am beginning to associate the smell of dusty old books with the smell of memory. I remember the smell. Like it is in my head all the time and the whiff of dust just goes and rattles the smell. Just to tell you how much I love the book already, once I started reading it, I didn’t stop, not even to smell the pages. I am through with the first 5 pages, looks like I may fall in love with Pamuk now. Or maybe it’s too soon to tell.

I had to take Pantoja to the lab to finish with him. It had begun to get noisy in the department. When I returned to my place for lunch, the mad child and I talked for sometime and then, as I was preparing to leave with Pamuk, I decided to stay. I shifted my chair, turned it towards the wall so now on my right, the window opens to my face. There’s noise inside but it is easier to ignore it. Either it’s because Pamuk’s sex descriptions are that good or the slow, drilling machine sound outside is soothing enough to drown out the melodrama inside. Either ways I am not complaining.

Now and then, that bird I keep listening to when I am reading, chirps. It is how I will remember afternoons here. It is how I remember Finding Fanny.

To get back to my new sitting position, I love it. My day just got better. I was in a rut all morning because my faith in humanity had died last night, following a terrible argument with my engineer cousin who stated that rapes are like small cuts that need to be ignored to be able to focus on priorities. When I told this to my sister she said that this cousin and everybody else are on their ‘journeys’ and that I cannot change it. I cannot decide which conversation left me more bruised.

But Pamuk and my window have managed to suck me out of these journeys. I badly want to get back to my book now and to the birds outside my window.

Amélie

Amelie brings back some fond memories from a time that I don’t really want to remember. My high school was a series of disaster after disaster, embarrassment after embarrassment so I’m not particularly thrilled that some bits of happy events that occurred around this time also forcibly bring back a sudden tightening around the chest area and oodles of goofy smiles.

Even so, Amelie marks a huge coming of age moment for me. Until then, I never really watched movies. I sat through them waiting for a moment to take home, and usually these moments were romantic oscillations between the hero and heroine. I would later relive these moments with superb memory. With Amelie I felt compelled to pay attention; to details, to colours, and because it was my first foreign language movie, to dialogues and subtitles.

Late afternoons during holidays at home were woozy. Everybody would be asleep and I would have just woken up, hungry and aimlessly walking. On one such woozy afternoon I caught Amelie when I was lazily flipping through TV channels. I am an impatient buffoon when it comes to waiting to watch something. So if I stop flipping through channels and decide to abandon the remote control I must have been crazy hooked. And because this decision of pressing the next button has to be taken in under a second, I was surprised at what made me stop.

The movie had already started and Amelie was looking for Dominique Bredoteau. The name baffled me, the colours thrilled me and the language confused me. And so I spent the rest of the afternoon feeling all these things at once and I found myself enjoying a movie in a language I had never heard before and despite the fact that it lacked traditional romantic oscillations I never once complained.

Amelie inaugurated in me, an interest for unknown forms and unknown cities. I liked the narrator who would come in and go everytime a character was introduced. I liked that I didn’t have to know their names and that the movie was giving each of these characters – important or not – ample time to be introduced by the narrator – what they liked doing, what they didn’t. I am curious about shit like that.

Amelie is not simple, she is not your girl next door, she is not cheerful and she is definitely not a do- gooder. Amelie is just curious. And she does what she does to see if they will come out as brilliantly as they did in her head.  Even lifeless characters in the movie seem haunting, like the gnome, like the fruits and vegetables, like the dead roast chicken, like the streets of Paris, like Lady Di’s pictures in newspapers too.

And now, after all these years of watching some seriously psycho stuff, I still love Amelie. Some kind of exciting ritual that I look forward to once in three months has been initiated. I look for tiny opportunities to screen this movie for students, watch it with my sister over and over again, and watch it every time it plays on world movies. I never tire of watching this movie. Along with such loyalties I also resist an immediate urge to smack people in the head when they say that the movie is boring.

Everytime I watch this movie I also start wondering if there are more movies like Amelie that I can accidently ‘find’ on lazy afternoons. Anyway, my sister’s fondness for the movie has taken a whole different angle. She now wants to name her child Dominique Bredoteau. And I want to have a child just so I can name it Dominique Bredoteau.