Friday, January 29, 2010

Our Place in Time

Let me tell you something about myself. Before my imagination takes control and I start weaving a wreath of words for you. Let me do this before you reach any hasty conclusion and I begun to drift away. Into my sleep of no dreams.

I have been walking for so long now. I am tired. I need to catch a nap, drink some beer, and have some of that sumptuous fried chicken from the place near Green Park. What was its name now? I need to take a deep breath and stop dreaming about flinging red pamphlets in the Parliament one day. I need to start working towards a home with huge, verdant lawns, a wife who looks ravishing in saris and bindis, and two kids (twins preferably) who are as much of a nuisance as they are fun. I need to take care of you and others like you. Very importantly, I need to stop my relentless assault on your patience and prevent myself from looking at the world through my looking glass. I need to, for once, really let go. Yes, all this and more.

I am noting it all down but, as might be apparent, I have a way of shelving my own rules and plans when they become too tedious. I try to pass it off as novelty. But before any of that happens, I have planned a little detour for you. No, I won’t take no for an answer. I know you prefer the hustle of Café Morrison in South-Ex and the bustle of Berco’s in Connaught Place. The ambience of the coffee shop in Khan Market and the comfort of garishly coloured bean bags behind the plush windows of the M-Block market in Greater Kailash. I realise now how much you love the mundane routine of the people I despise (or I think I despise). And the trappings which such a life can afford – the razzmatazz, the gossip, the glamour, and the glitz. But, my dear, you have to relent just this one time. Close your eyes and I will paint a pretty picture. We’ll decide then. Deal?

Come away with me to this place I have been to. It’s somewhere in Delhi. I don’t know the name but I have been there often. I catch a bus and it drops me at its gates. Just 10 rupees. Sometimes I have to walk but I have the knack of finding my way. Don’t let that take away anything from what I have planned for you. It’ll be fun, I promise. We shall waltz (nay, walk) in through the revolving gates and marvel at this oasis in the midst of a city that seems to be bursting at its seams. As soon as we leave the road where brightly coloured and flashy cars zip past huge upper crest bungalows (no wonder the place is called Jor Bagh), we will be in a world of our own. Crumbling tombs, archways, and courtyards cause the place to reek of history, heritage, and in my definition, culture. Perhaps, the Sheesh Gumbad will have some story or a royal scandal to tell us about through its guarding djinn. Huge palm trees shall vie for our attention and bow down in obeisance. The mighty peepal trees, if in the mood for graciousness, might sway around and shed their last remaining dry, withered leaves in order to carpet the damp grass beneath our feet. The sun shall have already breathed its last, leaving a warm reddish glow in its wake. You will see the Moon in the distant horizon, through the white, leaf less branches of the dead trees. Already so yellow, it’ll seem as if the Sun rubbed off some its colours on it in order to continue living in the night. A few stars will twinkle and wink knowingly. They are always up for interesting gossip.

Lovelorn couples can be seen making their way back to the motorcycle stands, the more courageous ones amongst them snuggling up to each other in order to escape the dull Delhi chill. Retired civil servants, their pride still too proud to accept humility as a virtue, are out for their evening walks, dressed smartly in Nehru jackets and starched kurta pyjamas. They are accompanied by their suave wives who have streaks of grey in their hair and are looking every bit elegant in their cotton saris (and pashmina shawls tossed over their small shoulders). Disgruntled executives have come here too; their laptop bags and blackberries still in tow, straight from work or perhaps after bunking it, wanting to catch a breath of fresh air before they head back into the smog and dust. Insanely rich Punjabi girls can be seen ‘exercising’ in Reebok/Adidas track suits and instructing their minions about a party at the farm house, either over the phone or in person. Foreign dignitaries are littered all over the place, their small bratty children as bit bratty as our own. They speak French, English, German, Italian, Mandarin, and even, if we are lucky, Batak Toba. Young girls share gossip and scandals about their jaded love lives and imminent break-ups. Dogs, no expensive dogs, of all shapes, sizes, and breeds are encouraged by their retainers to create havoc and scare away the small children, and sometimes fearsome looking Sikhs who are enjoying the last moments of a well deserved picnic party. Some foul mouthed school kids scare away the birds returning to their nests and pass obscene remarks about the school sweetheart, whom they have now pronounced to be a slut.

But all this we shall ignore. I will take you to my favourite place there. It’s a bench. One of its legs is missing so someone has very kindly put a stone underneath. Don’t worry. I promise it won’t be uncomfortable. And as soon as the yellow lamps have come on, you will realise why I brought you there. The light won’t be too bright as the leaves of the lone deodar struggle to strain most of it. There will be a wall right in front of us, remnant of some tomb probably, with elaborately carved niches, a narrow cobbled pathway bordering it. Joggers, lovers, and tourists will slowly amble past, looking smug in each other’s, and their own, company. Uncles and aunties too. But if you do not want their prying eyes to look our way, we can always sit by the pond. If you stay just long enough, curious ducks will make their way towards us, their eyes shining with hope. Of course, we won’t be having anything to feed them. They will quack their loud irritating quacks and swim away disapprovingly, their webbed feet making them look like awkward swimmers. Holding up their beaks in dignity and puffing up their feathers, they will retire for the night to the island of green in the middle of the pond.

When you have relaxed a bit, I shall breathe in your smell and feel intoxicated yet again. I shall light up, in spite of your disapproving look, and tell you how, if you might have come here some other day, you might have found me engrossed in a book under the shade of the peepal tree not far from the ducks. How I still have a leaf from it tucked away somewhere. I shall tell you how I have often thought about discussing political essays with like minded friends under the lamp behind us. (All of us will swear by the Communist Manifesto of course). How, though a loner I might be, I still long for the company of such friends. You might go tsk tsk and prompt me to initiate another line of conversation. To quote Ghalib or Momin (not Shelly or Frost or Shakespeare), whose verses made such places in time larger than life and disinterest you tremendously.

Having done so, I shall try to save some face and shamefully confess that though I don’t have the intellect to appreciate them as I would like to, it still doesn’t take away anything from the beauty of their creations. You might look at me appreciatively and decide whether this was one of the reasons you fell for me in the first place. What reason that might be I can not tell. If I’m lucky, a twinkle will light up your eyes and gradually break through your defence by means of that ill-disguised dry sarcastic smile. You might shiver occasionally but I will choose to ignore that because you look so beautiful with a red nose. (The voice gets huskier). I shall then lean back and close my eyes to the world for sometime for I can never manage without a bit of melodrama. You’ll choose to rest your head on my shoulder and look for a comfortable spot to nestle it.

Soon it will be time for us the leave. The watchmen will come tapping their lathis and shoo us off. It will be cold by now and the shawl must be dug out. I prefer the shawl while you have a thing for my jacket. We head our separate ways, having mumbled some inconsequential goodbyes. I can see your small frame retreating back into its world. Your shoulders give away your knowledge of my reluctance to leave. But you sigh inwardly and make it a point not to turn back. I sulk for sometime but realisation dawns soon enough and causes me to head towards my corner of the city.

For a moment in time, the ephemerality of it notwithstanding, our worlds and the ideas and opinions in them will clash. But fortunately, it’ll help us let down our defences and stifle our presumptions. Allow us a different perspective so that we can go back, same yet altered. So that we can still love what we loved but also what we can love. Without killing the excitement that is the harbinger of change. This could be our place in time. I know it’s not a beautiful picture. But a pretty one it is. So what do you say? Is it a deal?


  1. And so, you've managed to surprise me just when I thought you couldn't! You have more guts than I presumed. Sahi. The post of course did all that it was meant to do. You DO write for an audience don't you? The Lodhi Gardens have never sounded so beautiful or so lonely (the bit about the ducks was a pretty detail). I did, as a reader, love it.

  2. a very nice article,
    enjoyed reading it..

  3. You have really great taste on catch article titles, even when you are not interested in this topic you push to read it

  4. I am loving this blog!!!! reading non stop :)