Monday 11 February 2008

Lost

Last evening
a poem came to me,
riding on the dark waves of my fourth drink
like a bright white ship.

Spotting you through the distortion of our cocktail glasses
I paused and thoughtfully rubbed my gin,
steering the ship in the approximate direction of where you were.

The rest of the evening was the same sea story:

You were a pirate, come to rob my ship.
And as I gazed at your convex dimple,
part eclipsed by an olive,
you stole all my metaphors
and a beautiful closing couplet,
leaving an empty bright white vessel.

This morning, there is a throbbing head in the glass
where an olive once was,
and I am left craving
a dead pirate's society.

Saturday 9 February 2008

A Message for Mr. Hughes

Ted Hughes has just sent a crow
to ask after me.
I send a message:
"I'm alright Ted,
but I'd be better
if every second line didn't rhyme obssessively,
and if I could stop cutting my fingers
on the sharp edges of hyphens.

I'm also thinking of starting
evening counselling sessions
for users of the ellipsis.
I've already cured a friend;
it's been over fifteen weeks
since he last used."

Crow sniggers.

Friday 8 February 2008

An evening with no policemen

It has been almost
many years
since an evening without policemen
or, for that matter,
a weekday beginning without
the Guardian Crossword.

Daybreak steps out of its rest,
shaking itself dry like a Labrador
and climbs, yawning, on his trek to the West.

Mid-morning, the bees hang out at the swamps
and are in the constant hum
of jazz musicians doing their scat exams.

The Labrador has lunched with the snails
with flies waiting by
to clear the remains.

Meanwhile, the frog who has worked all day
has built his villa in a trash can
since the soggy moss is here to stay.

The yellow dog hangs his yellow head
sending the birds to call in the moon,
he is about ready to go to bed.

In the balcony, I hear a cheer:
it’s the crickets sending out two men to the field
as a stadium of fireflies draws near.

It has been almost
many years
since an evening without policemen,
I don’t miss it now,
I didn’t request it then,
but I could do with the Guardian Crossword.

Tuesday 5 February 2008

The legend in our living room

His voice was like the sound of shoes dragged on cobblestones. It doesn’t sound pretty, but it is. I can’t remember if I like the sound of cobblestones because of him or vice versa. He used that warm raspy voice to call my name. Anoopa Rani. That was his special name for me. It is the clarity of detail with which I recall this name and that voice that surprises me.

Of course, there are hundreds of other things that I remember. But I can tell that with each passing year these memories are a little more faded. Perhaps a little more romanticized and hero-worshipped, but blurred; as if I’ve taken off my glasses and I have to squint just a little more.

The circumstances under which my sister and I got so close to my maternal grandfather, are a little off the beaten track. When a woman in my mother’s time got married, it was fairly common, unquestioned and a conclusion of the foregone variety, for the bride to move into the home of her husband’s family. My father, having been orphaned at a very young age and thenceforth having been raised by various older siblings, presented a new situation. And the two of them together were nudged by this history, to explore fairly uncharted territory in this tried-and-tested Indian topography of family life.

Amma and Appa lived alone in an ‘independent house’, and had two children zipping about on the well-worn red oxide floor, before circumstances forced another change. Amma’s parents were advancing in years, and my grandmother’s health was failing. It was a suggestion by my grandfather that led to our family moving in with my mother’s parents. I sometimes think it was a large-hearted gesture and sacrifice Appa made, to relinquish his place at the head of the table, however nominal it might have been. Nevertheless, ‘Anand Babu’ came to live with his wife’s family. And Thatha became the biggest part of all our lives.

My earliest memories of Thatha are the gravelly voice of shoes and cobblestones, and the softness of his khadi clothes: the proud heritage of his freedom fighter days. Of the strong whiff of Brylcreem when we sat in the living room, my father and he in solemn conversation about cricket. They always called each other ‘Sir’, except occasionally, when Thatha switched to ‘Anand Babu’. The only overt sign of affection between two gruff men in a household draped, tucked and perfumed with women. There was my grandmother, my mother, my aunt, my sister and me. The council in the living room with their coffee and cricket, knew they were fighting a losing battle, and clung to their well-formed habits, idiosyncrasies and most of all, each other.

I don’t think I ever thought of Thatha as proud- he was too down-to-earth for that- but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone else with such a distinct air of sophistication and self-assurance. Thatha had fought for his country, been imprisoned with the Mahatma, married the woman he loved, raised three children, survived the loss of a son too young, started an educational institution, learnt and mastered many languages, traveled widely, built a house on land that was his...
He’d basically managed to pack in an astonishing number of achievements in his lifetime, and bore the everyday awe of people around him with grace and humour.

In the twilight of his life, he surrounded himself with the things and people he loved. His house with his wife, children, grandchildren, dogs, cats and oft-visiting friends, held together with his personal holy trinity of coffee, cricket and khadi.

I can’t clearly remember when exactly he changed, because I was too young when my grandmother passed away. But I know that he was weakened by her passing. I know that he often cried, and had lost some of his will to live. An atheist all his life, Thatha turned to religion with the kind of fervour I had only seen in his late wife. Within a year of her passing, we moved into the beautiful house that he built and named for her. Lalitha.

In spite of the changes that I was then almost oblivious to, Thatha managed to pick up the pieces of his life. He turned all his attention to his granddaughters, who were growing fast and proving to have alarmingly poor grasp of Hindi. The language he helped bring to the South, the now-failing metaphor of unity, when India was beginning to show the British what was what.

I remember the patience with which he took me through the same rules of Hindi grammar that sidestepped me time and again. A battle that I gave up fighting altogether when he died. He wrote all my essays for me. I especially remember how, in moments of deep concentration, he seemed to go through some mental tunnel, and suddenly start writing in Urdu. One line in Hindi, left to right, and the next line in his small clear Urdu script, right to left. I was fascinated even then, notwithstanding my run-of-the-mill teenage air-headedness.

It is important to mention that at an extremely rebellious time in our lives, my sister and I never sensed a generation gap in our separate relationships with Thatha. He bought us all our stationery. Rather, he bought her all the stationery that I ‘stole’ and ‘lost’. He bought us our first saris, and also all the pairs of jeans we owned, although he disliked the garment. His special name for denim was ‘Katthey Battey’: cloth of the donkey, for some reason. He admonished us the most for poor marks, but still drove us out of the house in the evenings, on cycles he bought us. I also get the sneaky feeling he gleefully encouraged our childhood crush on Boris Becker. (I had to like everything my sister liked.)

I remember the exact moment I realized Thatha was dying. He had recently been diagnosed with cancer and owing to his age and various other health issues, things didn’t look too good. While the rest of the family was trying to deal with it, I was busy avoiding it. I was sitting at the dining table watching television, as any good hard working 18-year-old should, and he walked from the living room to his room. As I watched him, I realized I’d never seen him walk so deliberately and with so much pain. It took him a couple of minutes. I think I cried. As Thatha got worse, he started drifting further and further away from us and, apparently, closer to his dead wife. He would talk to her often and tell her he was on his way. I was terrified.

I don’t want to talk about his death very much. I think the God he had implicitly put all his faith in, screwed up. And I’ve never seen so many people so lost. Gradually, we put away the everyday things that reminded us of him, in an attempt to regain a semblance of life as we knew it.

It didn’t work; we never forgot. I can still smell the Brylcreem. I remember the sandpaper-coloured ‘medicine tray’ peppered with Glyciphage and Sorbitrate. On his mirror, right by the hair cream, was a neatly written list of his daily medication. Every night, at 11.30 pm, his clothes for the next day, on a hanger, everyday, the same as the last one: khadi pajamas, khadi vest, khadi kurta and detachable brass buttons. The beautifully carved walking stick. The rocking chair- his chair- in the living room, in front of the television. Rows and rows of VHS tapes, of Ramayana and the Mahabharatha, which we had watched Sunday after Sunday for years. In the corner, a neat wooden roll-top desk. Pens. Paper. Books. Below the glass surface of the table, a neat hand-written document of the most recent cricket match schedule. Each day marked off with the team that won.

Thatha should be so proud. What a legacy he left behind! A school full of thousands of children. A family capable of unconditional love and unremitting sacrifice. A house filled with such magnificent echoes of cricket-match-screaming.

I moved out of my grandfather’s house a year and a half back. But not without taking a part of him with me. His rocking chair is in my living room, facing the television. On my bookshelf is a picture of him, sitting on this chair, a dog on each lap. This is my favourite picture because right there in the left bottom corner, is a bit of my leg and the shadow of my arm. It reminds me of where I come from. And that there was once a legend in our living room.

Monday 4 February 2008

Ordinary Morning

The sun rises, yawning,
from the same white-curtained window,
stretching through the tear
that the cat’s claw made
so many years ago.

Ordinary morning:
orange screaming birds in flight;
thank God mornings are not
depressingly clinical white light.

Daybreak tests its groggy voice.
Suprabhatam inspiring a King’s breakfast,
Ian Anderson drags me out of bed.
Elsewhere Ms. Fitzgerald and the Azaan
and the Grateful Dead.

Ordinary morning:
everywhere rushing up and down scales.
There is no intolerance
in the melodies of morning-time tales.

Over the weekend, I met someone who actually reads my blog. It made me realise how infrequently I write, and how much about cricket. Mayura, hope this is more agreeable!

Friday 1 February 2008

Proudest Monkey

Why do we still call it a sport? This is the biggest most obnoxious soap-opera-meets-reality-show. All the field is a stage, and all the men in white, mere players. A series that bubbled over with some brilliant cricketing moments, fabulous showmanship and records galore, turned into a schoolboy playground rife with he-said-he-said and astoundingly immature levels of name calling and blame-gaming.

Sachin’s centuries, Kumble’s moments of proud reckoning, Brett Lee’s fast bowling brilliance all faded into some anti-climactic busking side show. Let’s not forget, this series was also the swan song of Australia’s only claim to fame in the Gentlemen Department, Adam Gillie. More like the imploring chirps of the last sparrows that ever nested in Bangalore. Not a single man was allowed to leave that field with his head daring even a half-mast.

I suppose we must at least try to see the good in all the evil. Because no one will remember the poise and elegance with which Kumble dealt with the mêlée. Or Gillie’s valiant, if lone, fight for sportsmanly sobriety, and the fact that we won’t be seeing any of that from anyone on the Australian team, in the matches to come. We sure as hell won’t remember that it was in this series that Yuvraj failed to prove himself as a reliable test player, perhaps because of, you know, his experiments with the many splendoured thing.

But look what we've got! A glossary full of new metaphors. We’ll never get ‘majorly screwed’ anymore. Just ‘Bucknored bigtime’. ‘Monkey’ is unfortunately a word that will now be synonymous with ‘Symonds’. Forever. ‘Get the Symonds off my back!’ (Never mind that Bhajji actually said something far worse, directing his wrath at Symonds’s mother who wasn’t even there to defend herself.) The final word on truth, as it turns out, is Ricky Ponting. So we’ve got ourselves a Fourth Umpire. If Ponting be told, I think it’s a great idea. In fact, I think we should blind-fold Ponting and make him stand in cricket’s High Court of Justice, wherever that is. We’ll get one soon enough, anyway.

Stump mic par haath rakhke kaho. Mein jo kuch kahoonga, Ponting kahoonga.

Australia sure as Bucknor turned the tables on the whole issue of racism and racist abuse in cricket. I'm just wondering if they're damn sure they picked the right team. Hopefully someday, in retrospect, everyone will realise how entirely foolish it was to accuse the pot of calling the kettle an indeterminate brown.

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Oh, and here's a brilliant piece. Thanks for sharing, Appu.