Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bombay ki hawa..4

Am I really independent ? It is a question that has been in my mind over the last few months. Independence, according to me rests in your own mind and the ability to express your thoughts without a sense of being curtailed or controlled. But independence is also about how one copes in today’s world- at the workplace, with inlaws, among friends , for that matter in any society where control seems to be the buzzword. People like to control you not just by power, but even with emotions. There is always someone telling you how to live , always with well intentions, but they eventually rob you of your will to live life the way you want, to commit mistakes and sometimes make the mistakes again..Independence is also about acceptance – its about accepting the moment and your own state of mind . If you are weak and vulnerable, so be it. If you are consumed with ambition to reach a certain goal, its about being non apologetic about it. Sometimes your mind becomes overbearing or weak and that is when it starts controlling that a sign of being independent too ? And often how independent are we to control destiny ?

Many years ago, when I was a naïve 21 year old, I recollect asking myself the same question . Sitting on the last step of the Mount Mary’s church and looking out into the sea, I often thought over the meaning of independence. Did it fit the life of someone who was staying alone for the first time with no one to keep tabs and live your life without anyone out there to control you ? I could come home or whatever I called home whenever I wanted, go wherever my mind wishes, probably try alcohol or attempt grass or even find boyfriend(S) according to my wishes. And yet, I had no such desire then .Smoking and drugs has always been a no no to me, non veg is against my principles and boyfriends..well, where were the men ? (That’s probably a subject for a different post) .

I did wander aimlessly through the roads of Bombay, getting in and out of local trains and learning a lesson or two about friendships and relationships and enjoying many a beer by Carter road with new found colleagues and classmates – but that I realized was not the real essence of independence. The paradox of independence is that it is often coupled with the word responsibility, and it is when you are alone, you learn to be responsible and not necessarily independent. You are not just responsible for your physical being, but you also learn to be responsible for your decisions and your thoughts and actions and the way you portray yourself to others. Why am I rambling along these clichés ? Let me tell you the story of K ..

I finished my course in March 1996 and my internship in TV 18 started in April. At the end of the month, I walked into my boss’ cabin and asked her if I could get a job there. I was startled by my own boldness and later by my naïve nature when she did say yes and I took her word for it without a letter. I went home to Madras and told my parents that I am not coming back as I had a job and I would need to find a place immediately after my exams. My parents weren’t too happy but they let me be and I returned to Bombay in June for my exams. The hostel was very clear. I had to vacate on the 16th day, the day after my exams and instead of studying, I went looking for a roof over my head. I called up friends, read local tabloids and even asked my canteen guy, but finally I got hold of a broker in Bandra. I told her I had 3 days to vacate and I needed a PG. I also told her I had just 5000/- with me and I could afford her brokerage, deposit and the rent with that amount . She found a shabby pad for me near Bandra reclamation where two Goan sisters lived in a 2 BHK , a common toilet and bathroom and the entire flat was not more than 500 sq feet. I had to share my room with another girl while the other bigger room was shared by K with the two older women. My terms was simple. I paid Rs 1500/- a month for a bed and half a table, 2 shelves in a wardrobe . I could buy milk and keep food in the fridge and cook , but need to pay extra for gas and for telephone and I need to inform them if I was not coming back in the night. The room was very tiny, being in the ground floor and the kitchen was extremely dirty with fish and bones lying all over the table. Being a vegetarian, I had no problem with friends eating non veg or even storing meat in fridge, but I cannot take the smell of fish, especially when it is being fried. Nor can I take the sight of meat and bones lying all over the kitchen table after being cooked. Nevertheless I agreed, telling myself I will be out by 7 am and return only at late nights and all I need was a bed to crash.

I remember then setting eyes on one of the most scary looking men Ive ever seen . I was shocked . He was huge, massive like a giant from a fairy tale. His face was dark with large haggard looking eyes and his hair and unshaven beard almost merged into one. He looked a bully and spoke like one. I was silent for a moment as he enquired for K and left a message for her with the landlady . I was told he was P, K’s friend and he did odd jobs for the Goan sisters.

That is when they told me about K. My landlady almost considered her as a daughter and told me to look at her as a rolemodel. She was successful, beautiful, intelligent, articulate, confident and street smart according to the two women. And they were in awe of her. I was warned about her likes and dislikes and was told not to cross her path. She also got priority over kitchen, TV, bathroom etc..I finally did meet K after 3 days of moving in.

She was a petite girl, who looked street smart dressed in tight blue jeans and a tighter pink jersey sweater. She seemed like a no nonsense person who looked me over for a few minutes and then moved on to go to the church. Later on, I used to meet K once or twice in a week. She was silent, stuck to her work and often had the last word in arguments with the landlady. I never met her friend P for an entire month.Finally, K decided to be friendly. She started by once in a while announcing that she has cooked aallu paratha or bhajji for me and has kept in the fridge..sometimes she used to throw a couple of expensive perfumes or bawdy earrings at me and say keep it, keep it..she often came to my room to put on her make up and asked my opinion on how she looked everytime she tried a tiny weeny skirt or a tube top. She was always proud of her skin and complexion and said people called her a dusky beauty.I smiled indulgently hoping I will get free dinner and then K started telling me her story.

She said she was a third daughter of a rich man in Rajasthan who had plotted to marry her off to an older man for money. K had a knack for story telling and for drawing emotions. Occassionally the Goan women used to come and listen to every word she said. She spoke about her sister in Bangalore and a brother in Rajasthan. She also said how she had always wanted to be a model and that is why she ran away to Bombay without telling her parents.” Do you remember the Frooti ad – I was supposed to be the model, but the photographer asked me to sleep with him and I refused !” she said. K said she changed her name and became a Christian and now does some modeling whenever she has the time , but works as a secretary . She wouldn’t say where. She cried talking about her parents and about how P helped her in Bombay and that is why she still is friendly with him..” Did he scare you ?” she asked and laughed..Later when K went to sleep, my landlady took me outside and said, “ Don’t believe her, she just tells stories..she told me that P is her brother in law, who was once married to her sister, but is in love with her..and you, stay away from P and all her understand ..”

I nodded disinterested in K’s life then. It was just a distraction. I was learning to cope with my own emotions and work pressures and K was like a stress buster. She was always cheerful, her entire petite frame used to shake when she laughed and her eyes were full of mischief. On nights when I got home early , she used to drag me to Carter road and buy me dinner and we used to laugh aloud and sing songs together. We went to Mount Marys on Sundays and she used to tell me about the men in her life. Her boss, a married man was in love with her..what should she do ? She says he showers her with expensive perfumes. Another man keeps calling her on the phone..she used to just call him JI and said he lived in Andheri..she seemed to hold him in high regard, but said he is married too..She didn’t want to settle down, but did want to make it big in life. Her confidence, her charm, cheerfulness, her playful nature used to draw me out on days I was bored and lonely.

About four months later, my landlady told me that I had to move out as her daughter was coming home with her second husband in Dubai. I had just 15 days to move out. I asked K and she offered me after much deliberation, her friend JI’s flat in Andheri. But I wasn’t comfortable and I said NO, athough I had initially considered it. I moved on and found aunty’s place in Mahim-Matunga Road (West) and then never saw K or heard from her again until..

On a new year’s eve, I was out with friends in Jogeswari and we had decided to go to Fantasy land before partying at a friend’s place . And there I saw her, in shimmering gold, with loud make up, with gaudy earrings and an older man, not P at her side tightly clasping on her while she stood there, a disinterested arm candy. She looked startled on seeing me and then suddenly turned her face , uncomfortable, not just with me being there, but with probably herself..She suddenly got lost in the crowd and I searched for her in the crowd. I did find her later, but as our eyes locked, I realized this was not the K I knew….her mask had just fallen by the wayside.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Bombay ki hawa..3

There is a wanderer inside all of us, searching for that elusive something. We give it names like love, money, fame, lust, dreams, goals..but try as you may, it is difficult to express that one word. Even the most focussed and determined soul will find it difficult to do so. The problem is most of us, including yours truly do not know what we really want and a bulk of our lives go in searching for that elusive Godot. Those who do not participate in this search, content themselves by just existing,but some of us manage to live a bit of our lives this way. Sometimes even before we know it, time whizzes past like water draining through our fingers, leaving us limp and lost.

Many years ago, when I first set foot in Bombay , I thought I got what I wanted. I also presumed that I knew what I wanted. A career in journalism, a sense of independence and an escape from cloistered life is all that I looked for then. Armed with a happy go lucky attitude, an inquisitive mind for a new challenge, a desire to seek a new experience , I landed in Mumbai, nervous and excited at the same time.
And around me was a collage of several minds all looking towards a new unchartered destiny. But one thing that separated me from my classmates was that I didnt share their fierce competitiveness . Their cut throatness shook me, their overpowering confidence unnerved me as I waited for my chance for a group discussion. I was confident in my own way and unlike my aggressive classmates, I let my assertiveness speak for myself. I wasnt the dark horse, but many told me later that I was like a chameleon, which could change colours..may be that instinct stood by me in later years.

Today I shut my eyes and the group discussion in the wide classroom came to my mind. We were a medley of girls from different states and were as parochial as we could get. The Bengalis stood their ground together, dominating the conversation at one end, the Punjabis at the other end. There were a few Tamilians, Malayalis with the Marathis and almost every single state was represented in the aspiration list. Yet no one could fit into the description called demure. The group discussion was the second round after the examinations and one needed to pass this before graduating to the personal interview session.

We could hear them though the door was shut.There was no room for articulation, only voices trying to shout over the other to put the other down. The judges smiled whenever someone raised their voice to form an opinion. It was important that we all spoke, it was even more important that we spoke our minds ..I got through that day despite the fact that I articulated my thoughts without necessarily interrupting someone..the topic by itself was not so important, it was your communication and your attitude that was given due either had it or you didnt.

It was also the first time that a naive madrasi learnt and experience a new word in the English language - a word that most of today's 21 year olds wear on their sleeve, a word that I grasped while standing in the verandah of my yet to be classroom , a word that I will hear again and again throughout my career and a word that changed connotations many times - ATTITUDE. If Madras shaped it vaguely , Bombay fine tuned it for me .And in my quest , this attitude gave me company, letting me live my life, while changing gears, while taking major decisions, while hitting my lowest lows, while being dumped, while dumping people..This has been one constant companion, no matter which shore Ive landed in . But today in Bangalore, I seem to have left it somewhere by the wayside and my quest has now multiplied two fold..oh ! how I miss that Bombay ki hawa..

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bombay ki hawa..2

Standing at the edge of the shore at Nariman Point and looking straight into the Arabian Sea , I was trying to juggle the multiple emotions that raced through my mind. Insecurity jostled for space inside an independent mind. A nervous energy shook me , probably it was a combination of both fear and excitement. It had hardly been a month since I landed in Bombay from Madras and the Arabian Sea was slowly taking over from the Marina Beach.

My life until then could be described by 3 Cs - comfortable, conservative and cloistered. I fought to break the shackles of that world and landed in Bombay as a 21 year old eager like everyone else to charter my own destiny. Bombay may have become Mumbai, but the city then and now remains the city of dreams, where an invisible energy seizes you and you dance along with the frenzied spirit of the city

However the Bombay where I landed was the Bombay of Mani Ratnam. The movie had released a while ago and although tensions abated after the 93-94 bomb blasts, a sense of distrust remained and violence was waiting to happen. I had just sensed it in my own hostel , when R , a soft spoken girl from Pune screamed at her Hindu roomate for dating a Muslim boy. "Do not go to Scandal Point alone with know what happenned last month na.." The film screening in the class yesterday had been Anand Patwardhan's Father,Son and Holy War.

Later in the evening, munching moongfili and looking at the sun setting over the Arabian sea, I wondered if this is the city romanticised by the films . I had met S, the boy R was referring to. We had all gone for movies together. We had even been for dinner and had gone over to meet his friends. He had even confided in me that he had just broken up with his girlfriend. " You South Indians have no clue what happenned and you have been here just a month and you are already trusting strangers..are you mad ?" R had yelled as I tried to support her roommate.

True, I thought today as I pen this memoir. We had no clue of violence and hatred. There were no TV screens with 100 channels breaking the same news nor was there internet and facebook or twitter throwing opinions and photographs at us. The newspapers and magazines were our only source of information and sensationalism was then a bad word . Ironically it was in this world of no mobiles , I landed wanting to become a journalism and study media. Little did I realize that Bombay the city itself was to become my school, where I learnt more than just media studies.


There is a lot of buzz thats going on at home. Well, it has nothing to do with me directly, but it seems to have caught me in its fold . Im just a little speck being thrown around by the gusty winds with no sense of direction or destination. In a way, the buzz keeps me going. I am not worried about the storm. But I am worried about the calm after the storm. That is when the mind starts becoming stormy and it needs to be calmed.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

I love birthdays

In an hour, I will start celebrating. A special day that reminds me to look at the vast endless spectrum called life, filled with people and emotions. I often spend a few minutes before my birthday to reflect on the special moments and people in my life. Today as I think about the joys and sorrows that made 2009 , I remember some emotions and people from that year. The fear that gripped me when my father was in the hospital, the assurance that I saw in my mother's face, the grin in Sharath's face and (relief in mine)when I came back to the hospital room from the operation theatre, the peace that I saw in aunty's face when she opened her eyes to see me before breathing her last. Some close friends have stayed with me through these troubled phases and have brought me out of some of my worst phases this year.But each phase has been a learning curve as I emerge out of it to celebrate again. I am gifting myself a healthy outlook of life-not just the physical human body, but an overall mental and emotional health too..Ive promised myself that starting now, I will enter into a no conflict zone. Happy Birthday to me.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A shaky beginning

2010 began shakily. High energy, feel good phase followed by a very low phase exploring the dark facets of the minds. I recovered after 2 months of being extremely sick, only to regress further..Some lessons learnt

When the body is weak, the mind is weaker. No space for emotions then. Time to be silent, when staying calm is not possible.

You cant focus on just physical health. Mental and emotional health are important too.All the recovery is not real unless the mind comes back to normal.

The focus at all times has to be YOU.

Conflicts arise from expectations.

When a certain issue hasnt been resolved for a long period, accept it never will.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A new beginning

In another few days, I will actually turn a year older and so, in many ways, January goes beyond those three words - Happy New Year . It is indeed a new beginning. Ive just woken up from a deep siesta and I am writing this post with a lot of clarity in my head, although I have no clue what 2010 holds in store for me.

There is a debate inside me that is not yet resolved on the path that I would like to take . I am like the traveller in Frost's Road Not Taken wanting to journey down both the roads simulatenously. The only difference between Frost's traveller and me is that I had already chosen a path and I had stopped mid way down the road for a bit of rest and to enjoy the journey rather than rush to a destination. But a lesser trodden path beckons me enroute , while I feel a sense of remorse to let go of the path already taken.

As I face this Frostian dilemma, I realize that it doesnt matter which path I take, as long as it is full of challenges.I have also realized that the traveller in me will not stop as the quest and zest for life continues irrespective of where I am.A new shore is beckoning me for a while and I wonder if I will get there..I do see myself doing a lot of writing and reading in 2010 besides travelling. I have made a few promises about growing up a bit this year. I would like to avoid conflicts at all levels.

Last year was a roller coaster ride and a bumpy one at it, but has been interesting. I met a lot of people and a few continue the journey with me in 2010. It may be a stereotype to say that people widen your horizons, but its actually amazing to see how each person awakens a side to you, one that is sometimes lying dormant inside you, sometimes even unknown to you. May I get to see more of me this year through friends and strangers. That in itself will be something to look forward to.