Thursday, November 20, 2008

Memory Mines

The past several days have been spent in stepping over several of the memory mines that had been planted a few ages ago. They were both familiar and alien. Some welcome, some not so. Few balmy, while most listlessly nostalgic. In the process, some new ones were also planted for future reference. They will prove to be like milestones in my life, amplifying the whispers when they become too weak to be comprehended. Rubbing in the wounds just when they have begun to heal. Blowing air over the cinders just when they have begun to die out. At least, that’s the idea.

Visiting home was like getting in touch with oneself, all over again. Being haunted by old fears, reveling in the familiarity of known furniture, getting ridiculed by well-known faces (and surprisingly not minding it at all), fretting over the same insufficiencies, and basking in the glory of a now alien success. What struck me as the most peculiar thing about my place was its absolute stillness. The afternoons seem to be so lazy that time itself appears to be dilating. I can look out the grilled windows and still see the banyan tree across the road, holding its ground. The leaves have been mostly shed. The ones that do remain offer a shade that is as inviting as an age ago. Yet, as before, the invitation remains unaccepted. Irony almost stands personified.

The pin drop silence is often shattered by the occasional horn of a passing motorbike. But that seems a part of the scheme of things. Not something incongruous. The motes dance around in the sunlight that has managed to escape the umpteen curtains in the room and trace abstract figures on the carpet. Dad leaves his things lying around in the same careless fashion. On the other hand, Mom gathers them with a recognizable unease that borders on being labeled comical. And while the friendly (albeit a bit mysterious) neighborhood dhobi continues to occupy the same nook in one of the streets of Vishesh Khand, the ghar-ke-diagonally-opposite-paan-wallah refuses to budge from his favorite spot on the main road. (Rumours abound that several young helps in the locality have fallen for him and, in turn, fallen from the grace of their employers. But that is way beside the point.) Things are best when familiar and better when rustic. Yes?

But even in the stagnation of the place, change is managing to keep up. There is this new shopping complex nearby which seems to have become the one stop destination for my mom’s provisional needs, from internet to raita masala, hair cut to plastic glasses, from betel leaves for puja to desi eggs for the yummiest omelets, and from Cetirizine to mosquito repellents. Then there is the mall close enough which, like a modern mela, is gheraoed every evening by an alarmingly high number of Lucknowites in halter necks, tank tops, and jeans. Often, there is a desire to become a part of the milling numbers and pay homage to a borrowed culture. But I try to reserve that opportunity for desperate times.

Closer home, I notice that the color of the walls has changed. Some lamp shades now add to the décor. The number of plant-pots in the garden (and around the house) has increased alarmingly and it’s slowly becoming difficult to maneuver your way to the door without knocking off some of them on the way there. The television has been moved to my room which means that I won’t be spending my nights in the dining room, watching late night movies on HBO. The in-house-temple, though, occupies the same reverent position in an auspicious corner of the house.

Bosky sleeps where Buddy used to spend her lethargic after-hours. He looks just like her, albeit the color and the size of course. There is the familiar patch of black skin over the eyes and the mole on one of the cheeks. Discipline in his life is conspicuous by its absence and its lack doesn’t fail to elicit a mention from Mummy every now and then. I take a liking to him and tickle his tummy just like I used to pamper Buddy. He rolls over and allows me to indulge him.

When rifling through the cupboard for some old paperbacks, I chance upon even older grade reports. They came in various colors – pink, yellow, white, green, and even blue. Regrets flare up with an alarming ease. Even now? Their persistence is both, surprising and pathetic. But I smile soon enough and disarm them. The art of doing so demanded nothing less than perfection (in indifference), something which had already been attained by means of relentless practice over the past four years. After all, we don’t want to live in an age gone by. We want to dwell upon it just long enough. Leaving that aside now.

The cupboard is a veritable treasure house. There is this box with all my sports cards, cricket paraphernalia, knickknack, odds, and ends. The green polythene bag with the precious letters still intact. They reek of the years spent in carefree abandon. I move on. Next up are the paperbacks. Ones Papa bought for me each time he went on a field trip to break stones and dig for exotic minerals in remote corners of Bhutan. They are all in there – Hardy Boys, Harry Potter, Sinbad, Scooby Doo, and even Jules Verne and Swiss Family Robinson. Some of the thick, hard bound Reader’s Digest volumes (purchased after much persuasion because of their sky-high prices) have been pored over zillions of times, their facts and figures all memorized long ago. I turn the pages, but then soon shut them, lest a reverie start in mid afternoon. There are several other mines waiting to be disarmed. Moving on.

The photo albums are virtual disasters in the making. Mom can never bear to have a look at them without being on the verge of tears. So I smuggle a few into my room at night and pore over them. The yellow light in the room only serves to help matters. It’s a bit bright for my taste but is still better than the clinical white light of the CFL. There she is. Mom. Cradling a very small version of me in her arms. Dad looks on with an expression of suppressed amusement on his face. They are standing in front of one of the tombs in Lucknow. Amma dotes on each of us in turn while Baba is his reserved self. There is this picture with the entire family in it, all the kids very small and shitty looking, all the parents very smart and proper, and all the grandparents very smug and satisfied. Not much subtlety there either. My sister smiles at me from the confines of a few other sepia colored frames. She is looking silly in almost all of them and I long to tell her that. I long to tell her how much I miss beating her up and getting thrashed in turn. I long for a lot many things but instead prefer giving in to her demands. She speaks in hushed whispers. I just listen.

Her hair is looking so pathetic that I wonder how she agreed to getting a hair cut that obscene in the first place. Then she is racing and finally standing third, just managing to outrun the fourth placed. I see her on the podium (wearing a skirt so long one could almost mistake it for a gown) and smiling, positively beaming as she receives the medal. Often, I see her doting on me on each occasion I cried a bit too hard after bring scolded by Mummy. I see myself sulking in the rain just because she had taken my favorite Mickey Mouse umbrella. I see her holding onto her birthday present so that she was the first person I gave the cake to. There she is, all decked up in a red lehenga and dancing to the tunes of a track from Guide. I see her all dressed up for her first farewell, in the company of friends who are boys and boys who are friends. She is married then, and the distance mellows the discord that had seemed so unreasonable. She has a kid now and seems so grown up and responsible, hardly a shadow of the playful thing I want to remember her as. I see all this and I smile. I see all this and I try. To no avail.

I switch off the light and try to find comfort in Floyd. A lamp flickers nearby and sheds strange shadows on the wall. I try deciphering their pattern for a few minutes, probably inspired by Waters and Gilmour. Then I give up, realizing that even Freud must have abstained from such a pastime. I must be losing it. Why does Lucknow do this to me? Why does it engage me in a conversation that happened so far back in time that even the voices seem blurred now? Why is it so static? Why do I claw at those receding shadows and still strive to derive comprehension in their whispers? Why do those memories never fail to fascinate me beyond reason? Why do I always try to find familiarity in their alienation? Why has it been so hard to let go? The questions never cease to exist and their answers never seem to appear.

As we journey through time, new mines keep getting entrenched. The visit home did not prove to be anything different. New reminiscences evolved and were safely ensconced in the backwaters of my psyche through various means. Possibly for reference in a time less favorable. The gestation period of these memories always follows the same predictable cycles.

When actually living them in their entirety, we hardly notice their wholeness, blinded by a shooting star of the time ahead. Enamored by an eluding phantom. Wanting things we could have now and yearning for people whom we love instead of those who love us. But once there, we can not help but be fascinated by the innocence of the moments we have just lived. Our fertile imagination only assists the process, filling in the gaps in those memories with agreeable details, soothing the transition from now to then. Helping us to dwell happily on the past and always making sure that the present never seems that perfect. This when there and that when here. A vicious circle if you may (forgive the cliché). But perhaps, that is how it is supposed to be. Who knows? All that is needed now is a lazy winter afternoon with the ceiling fan creaking at the slowest possible speed. Rest is, as Barney would say, ‘legendary’. I wish you all the best.


  1. Barney certainly has lots to say!!

    Laughed at the sister's haircut thing. Girls that age don't get to choose ok. There is the fountain pony stage to being a blunty to plaits and finally having a haircut of your choice. So don't judge :P

    This post, reaffirmed something I've being noticing for a while now - your writing has become better (more readable and honest somehow).

  2. What the fucking fuck is 'maneuver'? Are you out of your fucking mind?

    God, it took me full five minutes to recover from that!

    Anyway, the honesty of this piece was what made it so special. I'd rank it alongside 'Humph'. And you know what that means.

  3. Lovely write I must say and yes, Chandni is right when she says that your writing has bettered n I had the thought as I was reading the post.

    Talking of those mines, don't they seem friendly sometimes?

  4. had read this one almost as soon as u posted... but din't comment then.. coz i wanted to come back and read it again...

    i sometimes wish that we could jus go back to those days... those days of joy.. of childhood.. without any worries.. those days of innocence..

  5. A better writer?
    Heh Heh.

    She got that boyish haircut on her own. No one forced her to. Not once, but I think 2-3 times. That says something about fashion quotient.

    It's the Word thingy again. We have been over this, right? But just so that your sensibilities are not hurt again, I have installed English (India) now.

    Thanks, then.

    Mines being friendly?
    They are a lot more than that actually. Lot more. But friendly, yes. Most of the times.

    Days of innocence?
    You don't realize the crux. It's a vicious circle. This when there and that when here. Never ends.