Sunday, May 25, 2008

Insipid in Lucknow

Having realized that the love of my life had relegated me to some derelict corner of her affections, I finally decided to affect something substantial with/in my life. I had initially decided to mope about the fateful episode and, in a fitting finale, jump over the edge of a cliff. But wisdom suggested that “The Plan” was not that substantial after all. Junta might have ended up happier or worse still, better off. So here I am, effecting something much more tangible (or not) and writing on a subject that had so far eluded my exceptionally fertile (and potent) imagination. It has a lot to do with a city that has engaged me in a love-hate relationship for the past thirteen (unlucky already?) years. Why the sudden drastic shift in loyalties? Why a monologue about a city hardly anyone talks about? You would ask. I have no concrete answer. Maybe you should blame the Gandhinagar municipality. They don’t have a single cliff in the city. Talk about public interest. Humph.

But be warned! This is neither a tourism advertisement for some godforsaken city nor an egoist passage by a self deprecating android. It’s a bit of both, with a little bit of Chemical X thrown in for special effects. Baah. I will let you be the judge. Let’s get on with the story for the time being.

For the uninitiated – Located in the industrial belt of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow is a city that is almost as famous for its adaband tehzeeb as it is for the kattatoting university politicians. A city that reeks of filth and sweat during the day but still manages to smell nice (of water melons) if you happen to take a stroll along the Gomti in the night. A breeding ground for politics, where one would find more ambassadors with red beacons than traffic policemen in their ancient jeeps. A culture that totters on an edge, as it blindly embraces an alien cosmopolitan look, while desperately trying to retain its wildly romantic medieval identity. A town that still boasts of chaat shops in every nukkad and kebab counters in every second one. A city that almost managed to kill me on one of its generously potholed roads when I was trying to run away from it. A mentor that has, in return, nurtured my sharp intellect and managed to turn me into a raving psychopath.

Let’s start at the beginning. It’s always the easiest. Hmmm. It’s ironic that my family was never supposed to be in this sleepy town in the first place. Transfer from Bhutan had translated as a posting in Jaipur, a familiar place with familiar faces. However, the government machinery, it seems now, had not been greased properly by means of some liquid assets. So the kunbafound itself searching for familiar grounds in an unfamiliar Lucknow. The buildings were thrice as tall as those in Samtse and the people half as friendly. I hated the place from the very onset. Didi and I had to drop in early so that I could get admitted into some school before all the prestigious ones closed their shutters. I remember Mummy sweating it out, making her pilgrimage to almost every school in town, trying to prove the worthiness of her wretched son by means of all the numbers she could imagine. Sweaty rickshaw rides, arrogant principals, neglected report cards, a flustered mother, an indifferent ass, and the tormenting June heat. That was my first intercourse with the town. It seems a futile exercise NOW. Anyway, I managed to scrape into a decent institution, but only for a year. When the family settled down into a rhythm, I was shifted to a place closer home. Fortunately and unfortunately, it would personify education for me for the next eight years.

My earliest impressions of Lucknow are those of moped (Luna Super to be precise) rides, clinging like a baby langur to my mother’s back. The city, it seemed, had shrunk to the route we followed from home to school. Everything else languished in an alien planet. On-the-way stationary shop (Modern Bookstore) and the friendly-uncle-wallah grocery store encompassed my map of the city. As the moped got promoted into a Kinetic Pride, and then a Kinetic Nova, the routes multiplied exponentially and my purview expanded to include the congested lanes of Daliganj and Dandaiyya, the bustling markets of Aminabad, the glitzy malls of Gomtinagar, the coaching district of Ashok Marg, and the glitterati of Hazratganj. Ironically, the stationary shop is still there. So is the friendly grocer. They obtrude like relics of yore. So I try avoiding them, lest a reverie start. Strangely enough, through their lingering presence, I have managed to see the town evolve from a lumbering leviathan into something more alive, agile, and lively. Pardon the cliché. It’s an old habit, both figuratively and literally. On we go.

It is usually a bit difficult playing the part of the quintessential bookworm. But I handled the responsibility reasonably well. It generally comprised of thinking that all girls got good marks because of favoritism, managing to get a full score in Sanskrit every time, and sucking spectacularly in practically every thing else. Naturally, school years went by in a blur of exams, unit tests, and CW (Class Work dummies). There was just one “Games” session in the week and I vaguely remember gearing up for it from a day before. I looked the part of PT Usha, dressed in my white uniform and shining canvas shoes. Unfortunately, despite the elaborate arrangements, I could score just one goal in all my school years in Lucknow. That was the pinnacle of my athletic achievements. It’s been a downhill ride ever since. (I’ll call it symbolic of my relationship with the city. For the time being.) On all other days, the time table primarily consisted of waking up way too early, gorging on breakfast, classes, recess football session, more classes, home, TV, and HW (Home Work man). One did not have the time and patience to indulge in poetic endeavors and life was, as Floyd would say, comfortably numb. Lucknow had been aptly disguised as the cover of an erotic magazine, intended to be drooled over but never meant to be perused in public.

Summer vacations were a welcome respite from the hectic schedule – time meant to be utilized reading National Geographic in Papa’s library or completing summer projects while watching Power Zone on Cartoon Network. The trivia that I accumulated by means of these banal activities served me in good stead. That is because quizzing was the only extra-curricular activity I excelled in. Apart from sucking royally in the annual day parade that is. I could have won a medal for that achievement on ANY given day. So much so, I was regularly pulled out of the ranks and made to march with the rest of the losers. But we digress too much. Fast forward to other things.

As the famed and dreaded board exams loomed on the horizon, all pretences were shed quickly and tears shed in copious amounts. Life revolved more and more around books and any kind of distraction was considered a taboo. (It’s another story that my adolescent mind found quite a few attractive ones, Elsa Benitez being one of them.) Amidst almost violent trepidation, the monster spared me an untimely death and I lived to see the light of the day. But I was to realize that it was just the beginning. The remaining part of my existence (roughly four years?) in the city was confined to mostly two rooms in two different houses. My “brief flirtatious fling” with Lucknow was in one of these. Secret escapades to the video parlor, splurging indecent amount of money on boy bands, and day dreaming about distant horizons became a part of routine. It was probably then that I began to think on a different scale and frequency and my geography somewhat assisted the subtle changes seeping in. Friends became a lot more important than I gave them credit for and very importantly, a journal became a boy’s best friend. Writing gained precedence over reading and a considerable time was spent in imagining the consequences of a Lucknowite apocalypse. Even girls, in flesh and blood, were considered humane for sometime. Romance, as I see it and as few of you might, was the latest buzzword. But let’s not get mawkish already. There’s an anticlimax coming up (Y).

The last two years in Lucknow were terribly lonesome, and replete with nightmarish fears. Competition, competition, and more of it had consumed every aspect of my already negligible social life. The only discussions that mattered were the ones which had something to do with the direction of tension in pulleys or the IUPAC names of organic chemicals. Support, the kind I desired at least, was hard to come by. Few people consoled. Others inspired. The remaining reprimanded. I tried living up to the expectations, more theirs, less mine. Or so I have led myself to believe. I never got to know whether I met them. I have been asking ever since. Every time, I visit home, I get to know the questions afresh, strengthening the unseen bond I share with the city. It’s immaterial whether I want to shrug it off. It’s as much a part of me as I am hers. And so, as of now, I am trying to resist the temptation.

This sluggish town does not embrace you with open arms. It tries you. Then tests you. And when you have failed in all of your ordeals, it smiles benevolently before letting you cross over to the other side. I had my fair share of such trials and tribulations. And so did some of my friends. It made us saner people, if anything. I still remember one my friends pouring his heart out on a fateful summer night. Kids we were. Boys we had become. Ha ha. One would wonder what role a sleeping town played in the evolution of boykind. But what’s a city if not its people, their ambitions, their fears, and the tale of their triumphs? Someday, in between all the cursing at unrelenting traffic jams in fifteen inch lanes, while snapping at the nearby scooter wallah for drawing in too close, and haggling with the vegetable vendor over a kilo of baingan, I must have realized that I had become such an integral part of the other, that it had begun to affect changes in me. It was precisely at that moment that I contemplated falling in love with Lucknow, hoping my love for her would change me (and her in turn) for the better. There was something pale, prosaic, and insipid about her. I sighed inwardly. The moment passed.

Lucknow has been home for the past thirteen years. The city personifies a lot of things for me. My parents. My first victory. My numerous failures. My solitary soccer goal. My thirteen orange bars. My only crush. My several romances. My best friends. My silent afternoons. My fall from grace. As a foregone conclusion, my story is my city’s as well. It lives and breathes in my toil, tears, and dreams. It has been a witness to my evolution, the wrenching out of all my desires, and a miracle of co-existence and acceptance. As both of us stake claim to an unknown future, we realize these bonds were forever meant to last. For each one of them has sculpted a facet of my personality, distinct and yet a part of the whole. I have, in turn, played my role in contributing in the smallest of ways. Like all of hers, I feign nonchalance and think of moving on to greater and better things. But I shall remain hers, as before. And these invisible ties will keep me coming back, just like the prodigal son, no matter how much of the world I have seen.

Now that I have narrated this strange tale, I would call upon certain unwilling souls to do the same. I, therefore, tag Piper, Banter, and Reader Anonymous. Ha. Ok Pinky. You can write too. But make sure it’s comprehensible.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Repository of Regrets

Akanksha was on deathbed, fighting against the slimmest of odds. Ritwick was crying, expecting that the worst would be over soon enough. While they waited for time to pass them by Shlok fidgeted. He had never faced such a situation before and it opened up a whole new side of him. One he would like to keep under the covers; or if possible, somehow get rid of. He doesn’t want anything to do with it.

There was silence and five people in the room. None knew what to do. And hence, everyone assumed a look of concern. Not a soul knew her as well as Ritwick. Yet fate had thrown them together to mourn a sorrow only one of them had a clue about. The air seemed heavy with morbid anticipation and a plethora of nightmares raped Shlok's mind. “Did they feel the same way? What were they thinking about?” He could not help thinking and each and every one of his thoughts shrieked at him. It’s strange how death can make one realize the fleeting nature of almost everything. He wondered about writing it down and almost immediately, felt so selfish that he was disgusted with himself. He felt like hating himself for it. “How could I even be so? Is that all I am about?”


Got the news that Akanksha had passed away. Ever since, Shlok has been walking around. Clueless. Again. The repercussions have failed to notice him in the crowd. The only way in which he is affected by the incident is when he imagines the trauma in context with his own life. There is no other way. “Is that selfish or is that just how we are supposed to be? Sit there with my arms folded and look solemn? Appear sad when I don’t know what I should be feeling like?” Blank.

Even the skies are overcast today. Weird co-incidence. Maybe. Some people are likely to think otherwise. It’s strange how this kind of thing passes on to others. The paltan has been immersed in an eerie silence since last evening. Nobody has been cracking the trademark lewd jokes. All sounds seem to be coming from somewhere cold and distant. They all pretend to understand. But each of them knows better.

It’s difficult to forget things. Every time Ritwick will look at her photograph, a smile will come flooding back and the heart will ache in an inexplicable fashion, almost willing itself to explode. But then the pain will subside. New lovers will be loved. Different photographs will be cherished. And the memory of the dead will be relegated to some unspoken corner, not meant to be disturbed. But as of now, the ache will be fresh and the reminiscences vivid. The mind will question often and the pain hurt more so.

“I think I am too selfish”, decides Shlok. He imagines his life going out of control in the same fashion and is appalled at the ramifications. This is the only way he feels anything. Putting himself in Ritwick's place and fearing the aftermath. His thoughts are spattered with regret and more than once he thinks of breaking the cocoon and saying things before it’s too late. After all, it’s all ephemeral.

Even the smallest mundane tasks seem like blasphemy. One is supposed to wear a mask of misery and wait for time to pass you by. Telling someone about the same seems utterly selfish. Fruits brought from Subhiksha become the portrait of ignorance. There's a tear strained handkerchief too, still wet when he touches it. His mind goes into an overdrive and he notes down everything, as if he had already decided to come back and relive his regrets.

It’s all going to end. They all know that. But the embers will continue smoldering for several months, maybe years. Shlok doesn’t know what to say. Not what to do. He sits there and finds a teardrop finding its way through years of barricades. But it dries up as quickly. Just as the handkerchief on the bed had begun to. Is that symbolic of something? Or was he a fool to think like that?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Romance is Dead

Let it never be said that romance is dead
'Cos there's so little else occupying my head
There is nothing I need 'cept the function to breathe
But I'm not really fussed, doesn't matter to me

Ruby, ruby, ruby, ruby
Do ya, do ya, do ya, do ya
Know what ya doing, doing to me?
Ruby, ruby, ruby, ruby

Due to lack of interest tomorrow is canceled
Let the clocks be reset and the pendulums held
'Cos there's nothing at all 'cept the space in between
Finding out what you're called and repeating your name

Ruby, ruby, ruby, ruby
Do ya, do ya, do ya, do ya

- Ruby, Kaiser Chiefs

Friday, May 02, 2008


O Ahalya, untouched and unchanged,
Let me suffer the curse of your vice.
O Ahalya, my frozen deity, my beloved;
Rid my tired senses of this endless strife.
O Ahalya, unspoken words of my silence,
Become a rhyme in the verse of my life.

Ahalya, by the lamp, I had seen tonight;
Tears in your eyes, by that yellow light.
Those pearls were never meant to glisten;
So the tale of woes, I promise to listen.
But that mantle, my dear, you must shed;
Reach me out, leave the obvious unsaid.

Or will you listen if I told you my story?
Its words forever, more yours, less mine.
I vow to recite from the start, the dawn
Of our togetherness, to the end, my pine.
Forgive me if I falter, for wasted I am;
You are all I have, your essence divine.


Your lips quiver, yet they make no sound.
I’ve relished your silence; deep, profound.
Every nuance of your body, each blemish
I recount in dreams; all there’s to cherish.
Each wanton curl, every guiltless twinkle,
I remember them all, to the last wrinkle.

Irresolute lips did whisper my devotion.
But did they echo your indifferent ears?
How I despised being an ignorant fool;
Was I still a stranger? Worst of my fears.
I’ve now worn out, longing for a chance;
Love’s labor’s lost, and with it my tears.


For you, dear, all inhibitions I’ve shunned.
Given more of me then you’ve returned.
Saying so, I wait, fade, hope, and trust.
Have love my faith, but only if you must.
Thus in your arms, myself I do surrender;
Let me in your light, my beautiful stranger.

I rant and rave, hoping you would listen.
Though in my heart, resigned is each wish.
I err more often than I breathe Ahalya,
Become the perfection in me, lest I perish.