… And We Shall Be Together!

For long I have dreamed of spending my life with you;

To view the world through your eyes;

To take you to secluded beaches and watch sunsets with you;

To explore lush forests with you and listen to critters that reside under the canopy;

To scale huge mountains and experience the coolness of the snow-capped peaks;

To go to distant islands with you, meet new people, and smile with them.

But it has not been possible yet…

I keep trying hard to make you come in my life permanently;

I keep hoping there will be a day when I will call you mine;

I keep imagining how it would feel to feel the curves of your body with my hands;

I keep thinking how I will caress your neck, and distant dreams will come alive before me;

I keep believing that touching you someplace will create a priceless memory;

I keep dreaming about our escapades together.

One day, all of this shall happen.

Dear Camera, we shall be together!

A View Back In Time

I have always believed that our brain has been hardwired to compare. Be it objects, emotions or scenarios, our mind constantly compares. We are able to distinguish good from bad, black from white, shiny from rusty; and I feel this is where lies the basis of our intelligence. In short, I think that the human race is this intelligent because it can compare things better than any other group of organisms we know.

Since I am a part of this human race, and I am what can be safely called ‘normal’, I also have this quality to compare, especially to distinguish between things I saw during my childhood and those that exist now. And I dare say, I am really good at it!  Now there are some places that really don’t seem different with respect to time, until the difference is no longer possible to overlook. Mumbra, where I have spent a decent part of my childhood, is one such place… The streets are still as dirty as they were, 15 years ago; the people still quarrel like they did, back then; and the roads there still resemble the moon’s surface. The one remarkable change that one would easily notice now is the presence of a huge number buildings now. In a short while, many  residential structures have sprung up. It is jarring for the eyes, really. I mean, would you not be startled to discover a building that didn’t exist on your last visit, about three and a half month ago? To many, this is ‘rapid development.’

Mumbra is not that bad, as far as scenic beauty is concerned. Beautiful hills adorn one side of the town, a creek and mangroves on another. As a child, I enjoyed watching these hills while sitting on the windowsill of my Grandmother’s house on the first floor of Bhoora Mahal, though it is not really the best place to allow the creek’s view. The hills had something that had me gazing at them for apparently no reason. I enjoyed the way they turned green after a few rains, sometimes enveloped by clouds. And when it was summer, their hue would turn more and more earthern, till they were almost barren. My cousins and I would watch people (who looked no larger than ants from such a distance) climb up a long flight of stairs that reached all the way till the Mumbradevi temple, situated at the side of a steep cliff. It was a great time-killer, especially during summer vacations, when time-killing had to be ‘great’ by compulsion.

The View in 1999
The View in 1999

Soon, a ‘rapid development’, like those mentioned before, happened right beside my grandmother’s building. Not only did it block the view of the beautiful hills entirely, it also barred most of the natural light from entering grandmom’s house. It was a shocking change. No more sitting on the sill, no more watching the hills covered in clouds. It could well be the most shocking change I experienced till that age (I was around 12 years old, I guess).

After that, lights in Bhoora Mahal had to be kept on 16-hours-a-day (considering 8 hours of sleep). Meanwhile, more buildings got constructed, engulfing little huts and trees in the locality. The air lost some of its freshness each day. As time passed, some of my brain cells, that remembered the view from that window, died every moment. Only a picture clicked by my elder sister, from a borrowed film camera, back in 1999, kept the memory alive somehow. I had somehow stopped missing that view because I gave in to the fact that it could no longer be a possibility. True, I could view it from other places (such as building terraces), but it certainly never felt like how it felt from the sill. And one day, the ‘rapid development’ that stood beside a much-older Bhoora Mahal, crumbled and gave away.

Three people died, from what I heard, and many people lost everything they had. Too busy with my own life (no time left to be killed, anymore), I only went to meet my grandmom after a few weeks i.e. after Bhoora Mahal was declared safe. It was a sunny afternoon,  the characteristic of the day I remember because I realized it was too bright the moment I reached the first floor. My steps hurried, taking me faster in the direction of my destination. They hurried because I started to realize what awaited me. The moment, when I stepped into the house, was special. It felt as if I was re-entering my childhood. The moment was bright, like the fresh sunlight that embellished the room I was in. My joy was at a constant ascent. And each single spec of time that had settled on my life’s own window, began to disappear, allowing me to view those moments of my past vividly. Some memory triggers are nature’s own time machines. I relived my moment, standing on the window sill and gazing at my beloved hills in the same way as I did as a child. I did so one eyeful at a time, because it was choking me with emotions. My oscillating mind began to compare two images of the same scene, images separated by a period of about eight years. As tears began forming in my myopic eyes, I looked away uneagerly. I came back to the sill many times during the few hours I spent there. In the little amount of time I spent there, I understood the true meaning of nostalgia. It is good that some things don’t change.

What I saw in 2013
What I saw in 2013

My Legendary Talent

Average – If there is one word that describes me, it has to be this. I have always been strictly average, right from the moment I was born, during my childhood, during my stint as a student, even now. Some friends and critics have used terms like ‘gifted’ and ‘talented’ as my qualities, but I guess they have been excruciatingly kind. I don’t deny them entirely, however, as I believe that we all have been blessed with a few good talents. I guess I am a good singer, though not an excellent one. And I say ‘good’ because I have won a handful of prizes while in school and college. The first time I decided to step on stage happened long after (4 years) I discovered that I had the capability to make my vocal chords dance inside my throat. I was in Grade 7 then, and having sung a deeply patriotic and wisely chosen ‘Zindagi maut na ban jaaye…’ (Movie: Sarfarosh), I won the first prize. Even to people who thought my sole talent was Being Hopeless, I was suddenly the Sonu Nigam of my school. I didn’t complain. In fact, I made it a point to participate in as many competitions as I could – Quizzes, Drawing, Singing… You name it, chances were that I was in it. As my stage fright began to diminish, my confidence climbed steadily. After a while, all I was worried about was winning prizes, which I ironically found a dearth of (A handful of prizes, true, but I have small hands).

When one day I was told that a Talent Show was to be held in our school, I participated readily. Without thinking twice, I listed ‘Mimicry’ as my talent. I believed I mimicked the voices of cartoon characters well, especially those shown on Disney Hour everyday at 5 PM. No one, not even myself, knew whether I was fit to do it, or not. Perhaps, I just wanted to be different, not only with what I was about to do, but also the character I had chosen. Goofy has not been among Disney’s smartest characters, but his was the voice I was most confident of mimicking. After waiting eagerly for close to half an hour, I heard my name being announced and proceeded on to the stage. In front of an audience that comprised students of half a dozen classes and some teachers, I began my little act. Moments after I began to speak, the microphone stopped working. I was told that I had to continue my mimicry without one, because all numerous attempt failed to revive it (the mic, not the mimicry). Placing the dead microphone on a table, meant for props for other performers right behind me, I began what one could only call ‘In-efficacious Squall.’ I had to be loud to be audible to all, but that meant I had to end up sounding like a clown.

microphone-audience
Image courtesy: michaelangelocaruso.com

Three hundred quiet faces looked at me intently. I wanted to believe that they liked and secretly marveled inside their heads at my ‘Talent’, but it was clear enough that I was wasting the time of a more worthy participant. And right when I thought it could not get worse than this, my feet disturbed the cable of the then-not-working-now-functioning-perfectly-well microphone. The cable dragged the mic, and the whole hall erupted in laughter. It was not for my act… They all thought I had farted! The position of the mic right behind me didn’t help me either. I tried to explain what had happened, but the damage was already done. Red-faced, I took the long walk back, while everyone (including a few teachers) continued their relentless giggling. As I sat back in place, the student alongside asked me if I had an upset stomach and began laughing crazily. Others followed suit. Soon, around half of my classmates had demonstrated various methods of boisterous laughter, apart from suggesting various home remedies to cure flatulence. One went as far as asking whether farting was the talent I wanted to showcase. I remained quiet most of the time, having given up explaining long back as I knew it would have little or no effect. The teasing continued for a few more days until another victim was discovered, after which my schoolmates forgot about the Talent Show. It remained etched in my memory vividly, though. It kept reminding me that even with all the lack of my fear of facing an audience, I was vulnerable to embarrassment if I did not make the correct choices. It is an important lesson life has taught me; a lesson I learnt the hard way; a lesson I value; a lesson I will never forget.

P.S.: I used this title to pay homage to the novel ‘My Legendary Girlfriend’, the first novel I ever read completely (and re-read it 5 times). This novel is written by my favorite author, Mike Gayle, whose descriptive and rib-tickling writing has been among my primary inspirations.

The Frail Furball

“Wake up, Salman! You will be late for work!”

“Gah! 5 minutes more please…”

When I woke up ‘5 minutes’ later, half an hour had passed. As I looked at the clock while running to the bathroom, with my towel mopping the floor graciously without much effort, I realized I had approximately 25 minutes to bathe, get ready, comb my hair (always takes a bit of time), have breakfast, catch an auto rickshaw, reach the station and catch my regular train. Considering the fact that this was routine stuff, I was slightly less troubled in my mind. Afterall, I had been desperately trying to reach office on time since ages, in vain. I had been so unsuccessful in this endeavor, that my not-so-on-time arrivals earned me another epithet – “Late Latif.” This, too, was routine stuff. I had been a “Monday Man” (for falling ill a lot, mostly on Mondays), “The Prolific Patient” (for falling ill a lot) and “Mr.Clumsy-pants” (for falling a lot).

Deciding while bathing, that I needed to skip breakfast to ensure my rare moment of punctuality, I quickly rushed to change my clothes. It didn’t take long for me to realize that they were not taken out last night from the cupboard. This was a big ask, considering that the cupboard was in the upper room. Perhaps the only challenge more demanding was that I had to rush upstairs on a ladder (there were no stairs) wearing nothing but a towel around my waist. I hardly had any time to ponder. Frenzied, I rushed upstairs and quickly went across the room. In no time at all, I was ready and combing my hair looking at the mirror. I had shaved last evening, and my skin gleamed, and I grinned at how good a job was done by my barber. The reflection of a white ball of fur, lying on the floor just behind me, caught my attention. It was a cat.

Now it was not a surprise that felines loved our upper room – it was their favorite place to hang out when they weren’t pouncing around on roofs. Even with windows shut, they always found a way to sneak in and rest on a cloth fallen from a clothesline. I admit they had been a nuisance, sometimes, but I have always loved cats. I always make it a point to show love to these fluffy creatures, provided they are tame and do not get uncomfortable.

I turned around and advanced towards the animal, half expecting it to run away. But it stayed still as I brought my hand near it. It was not asleep and was looking at me. But it did not move. As my hand made contact with its soft fur, it started to get up. I felt a shiver it its body, and before I could assume that it was getting ready to run away, it no longer attempted to stand up, coming back to its original state. It was for the first time since the moments of my first encounter with it, that I noticed its extreme weakness. The outline of its ribcage peeped out at places from underneath the surface of its skin. It blinked very rarely, and produced no sound at all since I first saw it. What looked like a curled-up ball of fur, was now a mute bag of bones. I was convinced it would die if I didn’t help, and images of a pet that died years ago flashed before me. All this was shattering my heart.

Leaving the comb on the floor, I rushed downstairs to the kitchen. Finding a steel bowl with great difficulty (Our kitchen was a maze of utensils), I poured some fresh milk and came back upstairs. The sapless kitten still lay there, too frail to even change its position. I lifted it in my hands and somehow tried to bring its mouth to that of the bowl. As its whiskers touched the surface of the white liquid, its tongue began lapping it hurriedly. It almost fell out of my hands into the bowl, as I struggled to ensure it did not. It seemed as if the milk was pulling the kitten towards itself. In around two minutes, the bowl was empty. I went back downstairs to get some more milk. But when I returned, the animal was gone. I scoured the entire room, but the feline was nowhere to be found. Worried and surprised, I slowly started to descend down the ladder. The open window, that was not open earlier, grabbed my fancy. I came back up again and looked outside from that window. My worries faded and I smiled silently for a few moments. My little ball of fur was sitting on the opposite roof, licking its paw. My smile was more a result of disbelief than of happiness. Surely, such a small quantity of milk would not have been enough to bring the kitten back to life. It was too weak to move its limbs, the same limbs it was now cleaning merrily with its tongue.

While having breakfast, I looked at the tea in my cup for sometime. It was about the same quantity as the milk the kitten had sipped. Many questions crossed my mind: Where would the kitten go? Would it get more food? Would it live long enough? I could no longer eat in peace, so I stood and left without finishing my breakfast. If there have been times when I ran away from a straining thought, this was surely one of it. As I walked towards the rickshaw stand, I saw the the cat sitting at the edge of the pavement, stretching and yawning. Changing my direction at once, I went near it. I was already convinced that it was the same animal, but before I could touch it once again, it got up and ran away. I genuinely smiled for the second time during the day, not due to disbelief this time, but from happiness. As I saw it disappear at a distance, I boarded the rickshaw and left for work. I was happy to be late this time.

Kitten

(Image is for representation purpose only, and is owned by its author)

What Can A Simple Walk Teach You

I recently got a chance to go to South Mumbai. Under usual circumstances, I don’t go alone, which was not the case this time. The person I usually travel with to this area was holidaying out of the country. As a result, I went there, may be because I thought it would help me ignore my loneliness for a while. In the earlier part of my life after I left school, I was used to coming here alone, sometimes for entirely different reasons. I love this part of the city. It has a soul that you can feel by walking on its streets, especially in late afternoons. That was precisely the time I went there.

Now, sometimes I like taking an odd turn here or there. It yields fascinating results at times, other times not so. I could take this risk today, since it was just me. This area, which is around my school (Bharda New High School, CST) is not entirely unknown to me, but it is a shame to state that I did not roam around much in alleys immediately south to my school. I took that turn today in the direction of Murzban Road.

20131117_152906_1_wm

It was not at all disappointing: old Victorian style buildings still dot the area. Though now owned by corporate houses (a building has been renamed Videocon Heritage… Eww!), these structures still look like they would in their heydays. The certain best part about the place were its empty roads, scattered with few dead tamarind leaves at the fringes. And with the kind of silence that exists here, it is a peaceful place right in the heart of a not-so-peaceful city.

20131117_152943_1_wm

The location looked like a living allegory. The road seemed like life; the buildings, the memories. Some roads met and so did the buildings, just like two lives meet and share their memories. Some memories crumble with time, some remain. The fabric of life I was walking on contained memories that have stood the test of time. And these memories are still beautiful! This made me feel slightly less lonely, and a bit optimistic, too.

20131117_153252_1_wm

I kept walking at my slowest pace, eventually reaching the lane which exits opposite Tata Communications. And then, all of a sudden, I was back to the real world. I turned around to see where I just came from. It was a wonderful little journey. It is amazing how just a simple walk through a peaceful street can be so soothing and ingratiating. I walked ahead, smiling.

20131117_153126_1_wm

An Account Of My “Minor” Surgery

It is not too difficult to get jitters imagining being in a hospital. The smell of spirit, the never-ending white walls, the medicines, shrewd nurses and of course, doctors who always tell you what to do and what not to do. When I was admitted to the JJ hospital for my Laproscopic Appendectomy (swell name, eh? It is a method to remove an inflamed appendix, for those who don’t know), my fear was quite evident, too. Who wouldn’t be scared? It was the General Male Surgical Ward: The prospect of being surrounded by men with amputated limbs and diabetic feet was enough to demoralize me! Although I wouldn’t be going through all what the other patients were, it was the first time I was admitted to a hospital. So my fear was understandable. Dr. Abhishek, a newbie in the ward, was given my responsibility. He had to visit me around 5 times a day. And often, the poor fellow had to wait, as I would be busy gorging on the roadside food below the hospital building or simply roaming around. I wasn’t sorry for it at all – Hospital food is never something that I consider worth relishing. Also, I did not like to wear the patient uniform provided to me. I would wear the same clothes that I normally would at home and shockingly, no one objected.

Dr. Abhishek, I must say, was a very nice man, but often appeared too stressed. Dealing with so many patients was not an easy task, that too while working in rotating shifts. Plus he was about to get married, so I could understand his plight, and how he must have felt constantly switching lives. It is ironic how someone who is supposed to provide comfort, can be at discomfort.

Relatives would have to wait for me, too. In one such instance, I had gone to the barber for a shave (Yes, I did that!) and ended up meeting them while they were leaving the hospital building. Apparently, they were trying to locate me for half an hour. After a couple of days of my stay, even the hospital staff knew that my medicine had to be kept at the table if I wasnt there. Although I feel ashamed of it now, I enjoyed every bit of this ‘special’ treatment back then. I hated the medicines, though. I would crib like a little child at the sight of tablets and capsules! “We can’t always inject medicines, right? Your body will then get so used to injections that oral medicines will have no effect. When you grow old and have to have medicines because your veins will be too hard to find, what will you do?”, Dr. Abhishek would rejoinder. Doctors always have their way, somehow, and he seemed to prefer the softer form of intimidation.

As a few days passed, I began to get used to the place and the people. I would talk and try to motivate patients with really extreme injuries, most of which had resulted in amputations. It was painful to see their agony, as much as it was difficult to understand the exact extent of their courage. I clearly remember walking towards my cot from the loo, and finding a man (probably in his sixties) weeping, as the doctor clawed the deep, wide wound on the sole of one of his feet. When he realized that I was watching all this, he smiled at me with tears still in his eyes. I saluted the man with a silent smile, too.

Such incidents gave me much-needed courage for my surgery, although I must say, I was not very scared of it. I trusted the doctors, many of whom performed multiple surgeries every Wednesday and Friday. Needless to say, there was always a long queue of patients wearing the same bottle green clothes, complete with a bottle green skull-cap. I got a chance to try this attire on a Friday. It was also the day when I came to know that ‘Laproscopic Appendectomy’ meant they would put a camera inside me through an incision. I was told that it was a safer option than the conventional method of opening the side of the patient’s torso. This added more to my already-brimming stock of self-assurance.

The doctors were literally on a surgery spree that day. After all, patients had to wait for an entire week for one of these two days. By the time it was my turn, it was afternoon and I was already famished. They had prevented me to eat anything since the previous night (which is good, or they would have discovered that I ate outside food). I walked inside the operation theater alone. Here too, the walls were white and the entire room was well-lit and extremely clean. And then, I saw the operation table. It was not very wide and just about the length of my body. I wondered where I would be resting my arms. My imagination conjured images of corpses with their hands resting on their stomachs, and kept inside coffins about the same size as operation tables. It was the time of my life when I would do some act of cleanliness to ward of my nervousness. I can say I began to get really nervous, because I was washing my hands (arms, rather) all the way up to my elbows, without the slightest clue why. I could hear my bravado draining. Hell, I must have pissed tens of times in my mind! This feeling of mental incontinence was overwhelming.

“What are you doing there?”, said a voice from behind my back. I turned around to see a group of doctors standing before me. “Just washing my hands… I thought since this is a surgery, I should be clean… Am I right?”, I responded. “Mr. Shamsi,” said an old female doctor in a motherly voice “We are performing your surgery, not the other way around. Any way, you are too clean already.” They all laughed and I followed suit, but halfheartedly. I know what she was talking about.

Earlier that morning, I was given a shave from my chest, all the way down to my knees. The process, which I consider too shameful to speak in-detail, was appalling at best. I was happy with the end result, though. At least chances of infection would be slimmer, I thought. But the happiness was short-lived: They sprayed a solution on me (read: my shaved area) which, they said, would form an anti-bacterial coating. It also turned out to be the time I screamed my loudest in a medical facility. I feel it would be futile to make my readers understand how painful it was – I just cannot explain it!

My doctors asked me to lie down on the table. I did so, with my panic seeping out at places. I asked that motherly voiced lady about what would they do to me during the surgery.

“Nothing. We will just put you to sleep.”

“You mean you will inject something that will cause my Serotonin levels to go up? And how will I wake up? And will you be putting THAT camera inside my stomach?”

“Just relax and… why are your palms sweating?”, she said while injecting something.

“Oh, that is just the water I couldn’t wipe.”

operating room

When I opened my eyes some hours later, the light bedazzled me. I must have died and reached heaven, I thought. It did not take me much time to figure that the room was too well-lit for my liking. I was still half-asleep. A guy in bottle green-clothes walked up to me and showed me a little glass jar. It contained my inflamed appendix, and it looked absolutely horrific, as far as I can recollect. I realized it was Dr. Abhishek, and my eyes closed. When I regained consciousness again, I was no longer in the operation theater. But wherever I was, I was not alone. I could hear people moaning in pain, myself included. I tried to lift my head, and realized that I could not do it; not without having to experience more pain, at least. My hands were positioned exactly where I had imagined on the corpse, but they could move, which was relieving. I lifted the sheet that covered me to see the extent and number of incisions. The sight was shocking. I could not believe what I was seeing. I was aghast at how incapable my doctors had proven themselves.

“Where the hell are my clothes?!”

These were the first words to come out of my mouth after my surgery, and sadly, they were addressed to myself. I could not speak properly, may be because they had inserted tubes through my mouth. I was disgruntled. Which idiot wearing only a hospital shirt, after a painful surgery, won’t be? The night brought even more pain, as the effect of anesthesia faded. The only thing that helped me cope up with this pain was the presence of my mother, who sat beside me throughout the night and kept saying that everything would be alright. I was discharged two days later, as my surgery was “minor.” I thought otherwise but didn’t really care a bit about the term, perhaps because I was too busy bidding farewell to my fellow patients and wishing them speedy recovery. Most importantly, I was just happy to be heading home.

Image courtesy: dlflowtech.com

Death of the Dilemma

Should I go, or should I not?”

It must have been one of the rare times in the history of humanity that a person was confused between entering a building and climbing up to the third floor, or not. Most people need just the first step to convince themselves. I needed three floors. For precisely 7 minutes, I stood there and kept tackling my thought. I would not let go. My eyes remained fixed on the third floor window all the while. I turned around and left the compound. I could not take myself building so much suspense for me. “No big deal! I haven’t been there for over a year. Doesn’t matter if I did not go there today”, I explained to myself while on the way in an auto rickshaw. My other self kept quiet. My phone rang. It was Mom, who said that I had to collect some jewelry from an aunt and deliver it to another aunt in Amrut Nagar.

“Amrut Nagar?”, I confirmed and mother responded in the affirmative. I was returning from the same location. It was the same place where I stood under that building, lost in confusion. In no time, I was going back there, a box-ful of ornaments in my hand. “Sometimes, all you need is a sign”, my other self gave back a long-pending reply. Quickly, I delivered the box to my aunt and looked at the remnants of my deliberation about my visit to an old friend’s house.

When I say ‘friend’s house’, it would hardly appear to be a matter to be so perplexed about. But it DID matter to me. I had not been there for more than a year and five months (Yes, I kept a track of the time). All this time I had avoided that place as much as I could. There had been many such moments when I had stood and stared at the third-floor window, wondering if I should go upstairs and meet my second family (I would call them this). Every time I would return, just explaining to myself some way or the other. And all this was for a reason.

It is said that people with true friends are lucky. While I don’t really doubt this saying, I believe that there is hardly a person as fortunate as the one who is also loved by his/her friend’s family as one of their own. My friend’s family loved me dearly, and I realized my superior luck very soon. It was only a matter of time when they were my mother, my father, my brother and my sister. The only wrong thing that they did was they lived right next to my ex-girlfriend’s house. When I was planning to marry her, my second family tried to help me. In return, they were banished by their own neighbors. And then, they banished me. The only thing more painful was that they never said it to me by themselves. It was a long day, I recollect.

It only took a phone call to my present girlfriend to end this mental disarray. She encouraged me to go and meet them. When my mind was waist-deep in confusedness, she de-cluttered it in one moment. Some people understand what calms you down more than you can ever understand. I walked away again, but this time, I wanted to buy something to eat. When I get worried or nervous, food helps me (and maybe, this is one reason I am turning so fat now). But I did not want to eat alone, so I bought some shawarmas for them and a huge pack of chocolate for my friend’s little son. While returning, I watched daylight fade, and since I was walking in Mumbra, surroundings began to lose visibility as there was no power, not even on the streets. I reached the building and was on the stairwell without a second thought. As I stood in darkness on the third floor, the heat of freshly-prepared shawarmas warmed my fingers , as I continued to gasp out of exhaustion. I did not want to change my mind midway, so I ran as fast as it was possible for me. I knocked the door and waited for what I felt was an enormously long minute. The door creaked open, and lights began to glow. Power had resumed.

The Entrance

We are what we remember

%d bloggers like this: