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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Here comes the rain …. again

I had forgotten the rains at home.

The big, fat glistening droplets that slam into the ground that it’s like they have a battle with the dry asphalt and earth adorning the dusty streets of my home town. I had forgotten the smell of freshening winds as the grey, dusky clouds over ran the plains coming all the way down off the hills.

I had lost in my travels, the almost electrical feel that accompanies the peak of a hot and dry spring in waiting. The thousand towns had robbed me of memories complete joy of a summer’s day washed clean by chilly drops of rain and even hail. Rain and hail, which produced a weird symphonic cacophony as they rang off hard tops of cars, tin roofs and even on the concrete streets. This rain drowning in me in memories had character and attitude; it sang to me, welcoming me back home in its sheer & beautiful ferocity.

I was standing on the roof of the college where I teach as I first smelt the freshening wind and noted the dusky clouds obliterate the setting sun. It has become a habit of mine to bid adieu to the sun with nicotine & caffeine on the rooftop, a weakness of watching the ever-changing landscape of my town and world in the last rays of a never-changing sun.

As I drove home, I could feel the sudden temperature dropping and living in a humid climate, it meant a sudden sharp relief from the scorching heat that generated so much chlorophyll. Waking up in the middle of the night, I could hear the steady drip on the old timbers and galvanized tin roof and was sung to sleep with its sweet lullaby with promises of a new world tomorrow.

A promise that was kept as I drove to work, over washed streets and glistening green peeping at me, fighting against the relentless tide of the concrete jungle that tries to overwhelm nature. I could see it in the high pitched shouts of young blood that was set tingling with wetness and evidenced in the fabrics stuck to skin despite efforts to the contrary….or not.

The rains kept their promise in the flickering voltages and the drenched terrace that rippled with the droplets. By evening, it was balmy and no one had thoughts of working and concentration itself went for a walk on the wild side……in the rains probably.

The ride back home was slow with headlights almost invisible in the crowded swathes of falling water and everyone paying more attention than usual to the slick roads. Tires churned up splashes of muddy water at potholes and depressions in the abused streets. The sidewalks were empty except for hurrying figures but small bunches could be seen huddling under awnings and overhanging eaves of buildings. But for all the wetness, all the issues of water-logging, of all concerns of everyday life, there was a giddy happiness in the city today.

The city was alight with reflections off the water and the joy of the river people reveling in their element.

I have come home….to the rains, again.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Savory Experience

The rotis in front of me, were large and THICK…..we used to call them “labourer’s rotis” back in my lawschool hostel days. In those days, we were usually ALWAYS hungry and the mess owners knew their clientele. It’s been a while since I had passed out of lawschool or had the chance to feel hungry enough to eat alligators, scale, teeth and all.

“Everything all right saaar?” asked mine host. A large, swarthy man with a face pocked with scars and wearing shabby and well worn clothes, concern & turmeric writ large on his features. The establishment was small and dingy, with 2 ceiling fans barely moving and the doors & windows open to the road. Its usual clients were the everyday people of the streets, an assorted mix of servicemen, trades people and others I and my “class” would refer to as “hazira” or daily wage earners. Plumbers, telephone linemen, even two women who looked like receptionists. People who would work for us and with whom we would rarely fraternize, much less share a meal with, in short. Yes, I belong and grew up in a classist society, where caste might not be mentioned in public, but categorization exists in the front of the mind in every sphere.

It was all my fault….the other professors and institute people would have their food delivered upstairs and eat amongst their own…our own!!! I wanted to come down and “try the experience” since I was the maverick from abroad !!! :P

No way out, so I grinned at the owner of the shanty and proceeded to tear the roti in front of me… WAS thick.

As I scooped up some of the sabji and started chewing, I realized that I had come a far way indeed. From being accustomed to quiet consumption in air conditioned restaurents with proper cutlery, silverware and china, it was down to steel thali’s and extreme mastication with gusto & pleasure!!! Did I mention the open-jawed burping??!!!

The man across me was a stringy and wiry individual putting away rice like there was no tomorrow. As I watched, rather stared with admiration at his messy but effective style, he was least concerned with anything else other than his food. As I watched more closely, I realized that the man was not messy at all, but there was an economy in his movements and he did not spill even a grain of the precious meal. By the time, he was done, after a prodigious 4 helpings of rice and vegetables and lentils, his plate was spic & span and there was not a single dab of spillage anywhere in his eating area. There was no wastage of food and his heartfelt burp expressed a happiness that was almost lost on me. Accustomed as I was to wastage of excess food, of meals for the sake of mealtimes and comprehensively conditioned to table manners, this man licking his fingers with slow satisfaction was the epitome of everything that I had missed out on the other side of the fence.

As I continued with my meal, I found the food nothing to write home about, but the hospitality of the owner in feeding HIS people was so evident in every movement and gesture that I quite forgot what I was eating. After all, eating was something we do not just for the hunger in the belly but sometimes also for the gaps in the soul. I was observing an elan and a honest happiness in feeding people food, that the supercilious maitre’d of many fine dining restaurents & hotel would never be able to understand, much less emulate. The roti’s seemed to appear magically and even if they were not soft or even tasty, they were piping hot and served with aplomb by the 11 yr old son of the owner with an equally happy grin on his face.

As I finished, I realized that I had polished off 5 whole rotis without even thinking about it, in a shanty restaurant I would never have noticed much less imagined even entering in a previous life. I wouldn’t dream of inviting friends to have a meal in this place, but I was hungry and I had “experienced” something today…..something I believe was important. Something, that is not easily defined and perhaps should not be wrapped in inadequate words to be put aside on paper or a screen and forgotten. It’s is perhaps an experience that is to be relished and treasured, in the recesses of the mind and heart which makes callous comparisons and categorizations.

We live in an unforgiving society where the price of success is measured in values and costs, where our only endeavour is to move up and ahead. In such times, no one is to blame……but it might serve us well to stop and walk a different path and even take the chance to do something we haven’t done.

I’ve come home……