Kindnesswallah

It is night and I am playing music. Am on my way to getting into the zone. The point where mind, heart, work, and music are melded into a seamless link. The one where I don’t know what higher being channels my work. The things I do during this time are many. I have so many tabs open. I read a little, tweet a little, instagram a little, whatsapp a little, dream a little, and while it may seem too much for those who can work without the need to multitask, they all fuel my productivity immensely. All of it is helped by music. Only music makes it all possible.

Tonight, I began by listening to ‘Tu kissi rail si guzarti hain’. It happened cos of R. She sent a quote on WhatsApp. I responded to it with my favourite desi equivalent which is Dushyant Kumar’s line on ‘Kaun kehta hai aasmaan main suraakh ho nahin sakta, ek patthar toh tabiyyat se ucchalo yaaron.” She then googled Dushyant Kumar and sent me a postal stamp with his picture and said it was awesome how many different facets of the world our friendship was helping her discover. R is a heavy metal fan and I tentatively ventured into listening some of it since she was so sporting about Hindi music throughout our Ladakh trip and agreed that Amit Trivedi is awesome.

So that is how my work night began. By the time ‘Moh moh ke dhaage’ in Papon’s magnificent voice came on, I was checking Instagram and saw this pic by M. It astounded me once again how his interpretations send my heart and brain into sweeping each other into a sweet spot. I had to let him know because this was brilliant.

“You are awesome”, I said

“You are kind”, he responded

“Ke teri jhooti baatein main saari maan loon,” I smile at how easily I become a statistic, how easily I become one of many deewanis who are smitten❤

Blue Film, Censored #blue #wall

A photo posted by Mayank Austen Soofi (@thedelhiwalla) on

Introducing Delhi

I first visited Delhi in February 2014. Since my flight was to land at 8 pm, I remember asking the hotel to send me a pick up instead of taking a pre paid taxi from the airport though that cost me a pretty penny. I was quaking when I got off the plane. The hotel I was staying at was in Kalkaji and my work was to take me to IIT Delhi, which is in Hauz Khas and IIIT Delhi in Ohkla. The first day, I booked a Meru to take me to IIT. I was uneasy throughout the trip. I could not find a cab back to the hotel. The distance was too less for Meru to service me. I was very agitated and with a lot of apprehensions took an auto back to the hotel. I paid what the auto driver asked for. I was too frightened to bargain. The next day, my sister who coincidentally was in Delhi for a conference came to my hotel. She took me by my hand and showed me the Metro and escorted me to Okhla. She also took me to Lajpat Nagar and Khan Market. I think I held her hand throughout. She had been to Delhi before and loved the city and she tried telling me how cool the Metro was. After she left, I called Manu. He took me to Chandni Chowk and Old Delhi and we toured the Lal Quila. I made him escort me back to Kalkaji. I lost him briefly in the rush at Rajeev Chowk metro and panicked when he got into another compartment. I reached the hotel safely that day too.

The next time I visited Delhi was the same year in December. This was again for a conference at IIT. Since I was staying in the guest house on campus, I felt safe and did not care to venture out at all. I did not even bother letting Manu know I was visiting. So though I was dying to explore the city, I was very very scared. Nothing had ever gone wrong nor had Delhi ever mistreated me. I loved the idea and history of Delhi that I knew through books and films set in the city. Theoretically, I knew the city very well because I had read a lot about it, but it frightened me out of my wits because of the Delhi discourse in the news media and I would shiver at the thought of visiting it.

Something changed between then and now. I do not know what. It could be that I have traveled a lot. So much so that cities are now like well known templates to me even if it is the first time I am visiting them. It is like how I aced all driving tests immediately after my PhD defense. Driving was no longer something I was scared of. It was a very psychological change within me. Similarly, Delhi does not scare me any more. I traveled everywhere by myself. Used the Metro extensively. Bargained with auto drivers for last mile connectivity. Stopped and spoke to people. Dined out alone when I felt like it. In short, did what I wanted in the way that I usually live. The funny part was that I had plenty of friends around and had company almost everyday, but even if they weren’t there, Delhi had stopped being a bogey man.

Some part of it is technology. Google maps, the awesome awesome Delhi Metro, apps to order cabs if I so wished. But most of all it was about me. I had begun looking at Delhi differently both because of my own extensive travels around the country and because of the Delhiwallah’s amazing way of showcasing the city. I did not visit any of the parts he haunts or features on his blog, but his pictures and stories really took away most of the fear I had about the city. I am aware that this is also because I don’t crave night life. I don’t drink and don’t pub hop and am not a party animal and that these are ultimately what determine how safe a city is for its women. Also, I was a visitor and had a safe place to return to everyday since I was staying in the IIT campus so did not have to worry about trust and security issues the way I had to when that ass stole my trousers at Zostel a couple of months ago. But, for me, the fact that I have in some ways become comfortable with Delhi is a huge deal and a big psychological barrier broken. Someday maybe, I can say the same thing about firecrackers.

I want to say that I wouldn’t mind living or entertaining the possibility of living in Delhi. I had a ball of a time traveling through the city and I look forward to getting to know it more in the way I like to get to know cities. Visiting centres of power that govern the whole country was a heady feeling in itself and gave me a peek into why Delhiites are the way they are. I have fallen deeply in love with Wenger’s. If you have ever wondered how all of the creamy buns and cakes in Enid Blyton’s books really taste, then you have to visit Wenger’s.  These are the best pastries and buns I have ever tasted and I even carried two back home to Bangalore. I am very very sad that I can’t easily Metro my way to it anymore because I only sampled three of its items. I also had a deeply satisfying shopping trip to Delhi Haat and though everybody warned me that it could be expensive, I found that I could bargain and get reasonable prices for what I wanted. I carried home a truckload of some beautiful Madhubani stuff and though I have no place to put them, I am just so happy with their colourful art work and pretty presence.

Delhi, here is a Love❤ button from me to you. I want to get to know you in winter when you will be at your prettiest. I want to explore your ruins and your stories. I want to learn your histories and your secrets. I want to shop from your hidden corners and gorge on all of your food. I have many favorite Delhi films including Oye Lucky Lucky Oye and Dev D. I know the Delhi song anthems come from Rang de Basanti, Delhi 6, and No One Killed Jessica, but I feel like this song in the way I experienced Delhi this time.

 

Brun, bread, and pav

Today, I am missing brun. The languid quietness of a holiday, demands brun. If I were in Pune, I would have taken my scooty and sped down the road to Noble Bakery in Wanowrie. They make the softest and yummiest white bread, the tastiest pav, and the crustiest brun. None of these three are available to me in Bangalore. I didn’t even try and look for it in Chennai knowing it would be a lost cause. Before Noble, there was Naaz on East Street , but time swallowed its taste and it has been decades since I crossed its threshold. Also, we don’t live in Camp anymore. Sometimes, there was Husseini Bakery on Taboot street. But, since Noble is more proximate, we don’t visit Husseini.

So, Noble it is for all bread stuff. The rest we get from Kayani. The cakes, the khaaris, the biscuits. Though we get the fancier stuff from Kayani, I don’t miss it as much as I miss Noble. In Bangalore I get expensive artisan brown bread from an independent bakery in my locality. I generally consume it while dreaming about Noble’s white bread because no artisanship is ever going to rival the way that white bread tastes. When I first moved to Bangalore, I tried the white bread from the local Iyengar bakery, but it was sweet and I didn’t like it one bit. Brun, they hadn’t even heard of. Pav is something they just don’t get right and sweeten it like they do white bread. I will stick to their apple cakes only, thank you very much.

My mother is friends with the folks at Noble. Just like she is friends with the peruwaala at Jagtap chowk a little away from Noble and all vegetable vendors at Bhopla chowk in Pulgate. She has actually shopped her whole life for groceries only at Bhopla chowk, right from the time she was a very young child who was put to hard work running all kinds of errands for her home. At Noble, the calendar that she gives them every year is the one they hang up in their shop to track time. The owners of Noble are Muslims from Uttar Pradesh. They came to Wanowrie some time back and seemed to very smoothly acquire the way Poona Camp likes its breads, pavs,and bruns that are a mixed legacy of influences from the local Goan and Iranian population. I remember Noble from the time we moved to Wanowrie 19 years ago. They prospered and live above the bakery with their huge joint family and are now opening a new branch just behind my home. This means that they will be closer to me than the two km distance they are now at. This is what local becoming hyperlocal means.

If I had gone to Noble today, I would have asked for ‘brown bread’. They would know that I want the brown paper wrapped white bread and not brown bread. I would have also picked up do laadi pav for omlette bhurji or pav bhaaji and chaar bada brun. The pav and the brun will be wrapped in newspapers and tied up with a white tread. This pav and bread has traveled with me to far off places like Austin. I am so glad I don’t have to make that journey anymore. They were pitiful attempts at quite literally carrying some slices of home back to foreign shores. My attempts at staving away the pain of parting was so pathetic. Mum still stuffs bread and pav when I return to Bangalore, but now I scold her when she does that because in my head I am almost home.

The brun that I would have bought today would have lain on the dining table while the milk for the coffee was heating on the gas. I would have sliced the brun and spread Amul butter on it. Mum would have made coffee for me to dip the slices in. The salty butter would mingle with the sugar from the coffee and I would have experienced heaven on my tongue. That would have been breakfast. At some point, the pav would have been consumed with masala omlette or chicken kheema or ghotala, or pav bhaaji. The bread depending on mood, would have been eaten with plain Amul butter, plain Amul butter with sugar sprinkled on it, Amul butter and Kisan mixed fruit jam, omlette, or chicken ghotala. The leftover brun from breakfast would keep getting moved here and there until mum and I would get fed up and eat it with chicken, fish, mutton, or prawn curry depending on what was made first. The brun would sop up the gravy and I would declare it a meal fit for kings.

I write this from Bangalore. This post is my breakfast.

At the Mahavishnu of Mount Road

Last night I felt the need to pull on a pair of socks and go to bed. I was so terrified that I was needing socks in Chennai that I quickly popped a paracetamol too. There is a nasty flu that is doing the rounds along with conjunctivitis. Now because this is also called ‘Madras eye’, I point to strangers I don’t know in the office and tell them “Hahaha, you got Madras eye. Hahaha.”  I can’t help it. Sorry. Okay, fine, it was only one person and I saw him turn around whenever people approached his colleague and butt into their conversations simply because he wanted to shock them into seeing his ghastly red eye and feel smug about it. So, when it was my turn, I decided to have a little fun with him too. He should have stayed at home anyway instead of being a public health menace. I only hope that the universe does not give me a flu AND a Madras eye in return for this.

The weather the past couple of days have been Bangalore level. It is nice and breezy and you are not sweating like a pig at all times. It is not nice enough to leave the windows open and switch off the AC, but it is nice all the same. But, having to pull on socks in Chennai is definitely a cause for alarm and today morning when Bikash, our housekeeping chap came in, I told him to not do my room because I was going back to bed and Bikash went and told M and M came over and we talked and talked and talked, so essentially I never went back to bed or to office after all and so M and I have decided that we both will leave early for office tomorrow to make up for this.

I like the life I have in Chennai and I love working where I am. My perks include a nice apartment with housekeeping support, no responsibilities other than my own work, congenial staff at the office especially the two office admins whom I call Tom and Jerry because it is so boring when even one of them is on leave. My colleagues like M with whom I have the best conversations ever, especially when he tells me stories about his native Haryana. I heart M a lot. Also, the best lunches ever. Seriously, I think I am going to begin buying two copies of the Hindu everyday instead of one only because they take such awesome care of their employees. I pay Rs 10 everyday for some fantastic lunch. They hiked the price to Rs 15 from this month after many years, but seriously for the healthy and homely food on offer, this is practically free. I have mother level sambhar rice everyday with appalam and buttermilk as the staple and then the rest of the items on the menu varies according to the days of the week. On top of this, they offer free, totally free healthcare to all their employees. Is this like the best news org ever to work for or what?

At the Indian Express in Pune, we had to fight for a decent toilet and this paper seems practically 5 star luxurious in comparison. It is an accepted truth in Indian journalism that if you want to earn your spurs as a reporter, IE is the place to be. Not for nothing is the paper known as a reporter’s paper. And when I asked Pratim da too which newspaper he thought was the best, he did not hesitate even for a moment before he said IE even though Calcutta has never had an IE edition and he has never worked there. But, I think once your spurs are earned, the Hindu is where you should consider retiring. Unless the IE has pulled its socks and is offering employees a better deal these days.

When I look back at the two articles I published since 2013, I wonder if it was coincidence that it was the Hindu that took both my stories. Once in the Business Line and once in the Sunday magazine. It is as if I was beginning an association with them as a precursor to this current gig. Of course, the media landscape in India is vastly different today and it is a nasty fight for the top because there are so many more worthy contenders for the throne, but the name of this newspaper is such that though a mainstay of southern India, it was recognized even in Arain, Rajasthan.

One of my main reasons for even applying for the fellowship was to meet N. Ram because I knew he was going to be part of the interview panel. When I walked out of there, I really did not care if I would get it or not because I had a blast watching him and his brother together. Their family squabbles are legendary because they are so public and it was fun getting to talk to both the brothers at the same time. Not that everything about the centre where I work is perfect and I have feedback plenty, but I am scarcely going to bitch about that in public. Not when it has been a wonderful experience in every way. When I look at it critically, I am aware that the organization is paternalistic in how it treats its employees because in return for all of the taking care of that they do, I suspect that it expects employees to know their place and not upset the apple cart, but since I haven’t worked there as a full timer, I wouldn’t really know and it is not my place to comment on this. That said, this is perhaps the last news organizations in India that has a a pretty influential union in place. And that is quite telling about the newspaper’s beliefs, I think.

Something that I enjoy doing every morning is to casually tell the cab driver every day when he asks me where my drop is, “Mount Road, Hindu office”. It is my thrill for the morning hour and I am not going to pretend that I don’t enjoy doing this especially because it is a landmark that nobody in Madras would ever say they didn’t know. This newspaper is not the one I grew up with. I had only known of its prestige and quality through hearsay. It is never a place I aspired to work for as a reporter, but I am glad that I have walked its premises and participated in its daily life. As someone with some links to Madras, however tenuous, I am happy that the Mahavishnu of Mount Road as it is nicknamed took me into its fold and allowed me many wonderful experiences.

I am aware as I type this that all of this is rushing to an end. Soon, very soon. I will savor it while it lasts. As of now, I am using this time to recover from all my travels. I sleep well , go to office. and I think by the time I transition to Bangalore, I will be in running condition. I am even toying with the idea of going to Kerala because I am feeling less tired now. Let’s see.

I don’t think I can bear writing farewell notes when it is time, so I am doing it a full whole month before this is due and also preparing myself for the goodbyes.

P.S. I have also begun calling Madras, Chennai because the name Chennai is everywhere so my brain is not fighting to hold on to the old name anymore. I now use both names depending on which naturally pops first in my head. This makes me feel that if I live long enough in Bombay or Calcutta and if I explicitly see their new names written everywhere, I will transition there too.

When you heart someone’s work do you sexualize them too?

Last night, I fell asleep thinking of Mayank. It is interesting that I have graduated to thinking of him by his first name instead of his moniker. This signals to me that I might just be in the middle of having a full blown love affair with him in my head.

The thing is that I am very promiscuous on Instagram. As I suspect are a lot of other users too. I don’t follow an account for long because the kind of pictures people tend to take have a similar theme so I generally move on after a while when things become repetitive unless I have a personal connection with the person.

It is also interesting how Instagram goes a step ahead of Twitter in the no strings attached interaction. In Facebook, unfriending is a high stake business. But it has the unfollow feature that I use a lot, where we can stay friends, but get no updates from an account. I use it extensively on habitual ranters in my feed both left and right wingers. Then there is Twitter, where unfollowing someone does not quite have the same kind of ramifications as unfriending, but can still be noticeable. If you are a passive follower and not known to the person you have unfollowed, they are not even going to miss you, but because Twitter is about textual interaction, this again can also have some stakes for unfollowing. Instagram is generally just about ‘hearting’. There is almost no interaction other than that, really and I have yet to forge a bond with someone solely through ‘hearting’ because you heart and you move on. So unfollowing accounts here means that in all likelihood, people really don’t miss you or notice.

Sorry, the above paragraph was a side note. I hope you are still reading as I continue to bare my heart below.

But, the D keeps me engaged forever because of the way he interprets his pictures. I friended him on Facebook too and now I have two places on which to ‘heart’ him. So I send him hearts on Instagram and then send him the Love button heart on Facebook again. I also stalk him a lot on Facebook because unlike Instagram, a lot of conversations take place around his pictures there. Like me, a lot of other women are also his deewanis and flirt with him with gay abandon employing shayari and sufiyana adaayein to shoot their arrows at him. Once, one of the regular flirters compared him to a shahi ka tukda that she feels like consuming. Sigh.

Being an absolute shrinking violet and a wallflower in these matters, I only restrict myself to sending him hearts, feeling a little sad that he might never know the intensity and the passion with which I am hearting him. Sometimes, I unheart him only so that I can heart him again.

Anyway, what I really want to wonder about is if it is possible to admire and connect with someone’s work without it at some point in time also taking a romantic or sexual turn. And if so, in what conditions is it possible? The three people I have had love affairs in the head in the past have been:

1. Shahid Afridi

2. A blogger who shall remain unanamed and whom I have never met

3. Amit Trivedi

I was a teen when Afridi happened to me and my triple attraction for him was foremostly that he was the fastest century score holder, that he was from the ‘enemy’ country, and he was quite attractive too. So I conducted a grand affair with him and sincerely campaigned for Indo-Pak peace while I was at it.

The blogger is a polymath, and while that was the starting attraction, it was not the only reason that I liked him. His very way of being and how he conducted himself was itself very inspiring. It has been a couple of years since I have had any interest in him because with time, I could also analyze why he was the way he was and his intellectual elitism slowly became a turn off. But, at one point, he really was a Dronocharya for me. I have had no mentors in real life so I tend to stalk people and imbibe what I can from them. This person was a source of admiration and inspiration for me in a lot of ways. And then, I grew up.

Though I liked Amit Trivedi’s work, it was his voice that hit me hard in Dhak Dhuk. It did something to me. I know that people feel he should stop singing, but it was that song really that led me to delve deeper into his music. I can still remember how a spark of jealousy flared within me the first time I heard him singing Keh ke loonga with Sneha Khanwalkar in Gangs of Wasseypur and the realization that I really like him. Sorry, I mean his work. Now with Trivedi, because he was already married, this led to a lot of conflicting feelings too. So because of this, for a long time, I took great pains to specify that I was in love with his work and not with him. Then I let go of that pretense in my head. I stalked his wife a lot on Facebook and I really like the kind of person she comes across as. So, my feelings for him have stabilized now and I am no longer daydreaming of meeting him and sparks flying everywhere in his recording studio. But, the fact of the matter is that I was crazy enough to write an acknowledgment to him and Amitabh Bhattacharya for all of eternity in a paper at a very competitive and prestigious conference that carries immense weight for me professionally. It seems that some people went and Google Scholared them to know what their body of work on social media was. *facepalm* and me explaining to people who these two guys are and what they are really doing in an academic paper.

So, then I thought of the women whose work I crush on. These are:

Natasha Badhwar because go look at her Facebook feed and her Mint columns

Anuja Chauhan because go look at her and her fairy tale real life and her toe curling heroes in her romances

Paromita Vohra whom I hate a lot because in truth what I actually hate is that I am not even a pint as awesome as her.

I stalk all three devotedly too wherever I find them and am as generous in my hearts for the things they say on Facebook as I am with Mayank. But, of course there is nothing that is quite sexual about my liking them.

So, these romances I have with these men is because I by and large tend towards heterosexuality? May be it is a bit of a stretch for me to expect to have romantic feelings for the women?

I had a very deep connection to Kishore Kumar growing up, but I was a child then and also he was dead, so no romance there. Guru Dutt also I immensely liked and he was dead too. I thought of AR Rahman as a another person with god level fan following. I can’t imagine having  any kind of romantic feelings for him because as a person both he (and Tendulkar) don’t really give that kind of vibe. Somehow just seems very foolish to romance them in your head, but then I did not connect with his work they way I did with Trivedi. So do some of his gay and straight fans who are emotionally connected to him through his work perhaps feel a certain way about him?

But depending on one’s sexual orientation, is attraction an expected and logical follow on if you admire and connect with someone’s work? Are there situations when it would not stray into romance territory? I think for me this has perhaps happened with Salman Rushdie and Amitav Ghosh – both authors who have had me gasping at their brilliance, but I haven’t really experienced anything really sexual for them. So is it also an age thing? Both Rushdie and Ghosh are much older men – not that this would be an issue with Rushdie.

Any person whose work you really like and have an emotional connect to, but don’t sexualize depending on your orientation?

P.S. I have left Salman Khan out of this because I really wanted to be his friend more than anything else. As an 8-year old that was all I thought of him though I did graduate to more adult feelings for him later. Still a lot of it was colored with childhood innocence and I had never outgrown wanting to play table tennis with him. Plus, he is in the business of being a conventionally good looking man so it is not really rocket science to analyse why there was attraction for him. I also need a very long break from him and wish that he would just disappear somewhere because I can’t deal with him anymore, especially after just having seen NDTV.

 

Rambling to an end

One of my forever fantasies has been to spend time living in various cities in India and move on whenever I feel like my time there is done. By living I mean renting a home and participating in the daily life of the place in a way that will allow me to maintain an insider,outsider status. Like having one foot out of the door to be able to exit when I please because I would not be able to live in a small town forever.

I am thankful to be living in Bangalore because I wanted to live here with every fibre of my being. That apart, the metros barring Calcutta and very recently Delhi because of rediscovering Mughal history and crushing on the Delhiwallah’s posts, have not really been top of the list in this fantasy. It has always been the smaller towns and tier 2,3 cities that have called out to me from maps, books, or news stories. Some because of how they sound, some because of some kind of history that I find attractive, and some simply because it is in some part of the country that I want to experience. This is not an exhaustive list, but at the top of my mind the places where I have wanted to live in for a wee bit have been Coimbatore, Lucknow, Baroda, Rajkot, Guwahati, Shillong, Nasik, Chandigarh, Allahabad, Jhansi, Meerut, Patna, Belgaum, Dharwad, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, the Doon valley, Dharamshala, Kathgodam (how  exceptionally pretty this place sounds), Kochi, and the place I am typing this from – Vizag.

This summer, my forever fantasy was semi-fulfilled. I did not really get to visit any of the places in the list, barring one. But it allowed me to travel a lot off the tourist circuit and visit some really unheard of places. I met people and learnt about their lives and have returned better for the experience. In a matter of three months, I went from the hilly northeast to the mountainous Himalayas, the great Indian desert, and then now to the ocean on the eastern coast of India. I am not counting Madras because I have been there on and off over the years. I feel lucky and blessed to have been able to do all of this and experience the length and breadth of this fabulously awesome country I belong to. I have frequently felt dizzy with wonder at how we are even one entity when the diversity is so unimaginably vast in every which way.

The north east, especially made me wonder how on earth did this place even become a part of the Indian Union. The population there is emotionally very far from the idea of India and while there is plenty of discourse around the racism that they face (and rightfully so) when they come to ‘mainstream’ India , there is very little known about the racism they practice in turn against ‘mainlanders’ simply because it is too far away for anyone to venture into for any practical purpose. I experienced a very tiny part of it in Tripura – in the non-Bengali parts of the state where I was grilled with a fair degree of hostility about my religious beliefs. Nothing that terribly upset me because Pratim da had cautioned me about it already and I lingered in that part of Tripura only for a day. Plus, am used to all kinds of questions given what I do and I did see that they really had very little to do culturally with how I experience the idea of India so I could contextualize their interrogation also knowing how strong the Christian missionaries are there. Later, when I came back, I heard time and again from other researchers who did fieldwork there that things do get really bad and hostile in the other NE states for mainland Indians and this, even if you are a Christian. And, saying you are atheist is not really going to cut it for them or make it any better because they have you culturally pegged as a Hindu in any case. But, I am hardly going to hold this against them given how difficult Rajasthan, which is mainland India in every imaginable way, was for me.

Just goes to show that it takes all kinds to make this world. And India.

Kerala was supposed to be next, but I think I am going to end my travels here because I am feel I am done for now. Vizag seems like a good place to call it a day.

I feel like I could really live in Vizag. The city is quite deserving of its tags as one of the cleanest cities in India. It’s beach is amazing with almost no litter and its lovely boulevard is a pleasure to walk on with the Bay of Bengal for company. How nice it is to have such a decent beach in India that is not overcrowded the way I know Bombay and Madras beaches to be. The beach in Vizag had a good mix of people engaged in various leisure and commercial activities and there was still plenty of space left around to wrap around yourself if you wanted to be alone.

Last evening when I was there, I saw a hijra  dressed in her Sunday best. I don’t know if she was on ‘work’ by which I mean collecting hafta because I saw no money exchange hands for the 10 minutes that I was watching her, but she was quite the busy bee. She seemed to be friends with everyone and her presence on the beach seemed to be more of an exercise in Sunday socializing than anything else. She moved from couple to couple, lingering for a few minutes to chat and laugh and some hailed her when they found her to be headed the other way.

That interaction, which is so unlike how things really go when hijras approach people, really summed up the city’s vibe for me She actually seemed to have plenty of friends within the mainstream. As I mentioned in an earlier post, communication is an issue here for me. Not so much in Vizag city, but in the villages where I was collecting data. The signages and nameplates here are quite sternly monolingual and I had no idea about anything to aid in sense making. The people I was interacting with, also speak nothing but Telugu. But, that didn’t stop a grandma in one village from frequently patting me on my head and pulling my cheeks and asking me over and over again if I was hungry. Or a computer operator to take me around the place and introduce me to people. Or the bhutta lady to furiously gesticulate and yell that I was forgetting my very expensive smartphone behind. All in all, the people of Vizag have been stellar and I really really like them.

This is not even to say that I am leaving here with my work done. The government official I was depending on to take me around more villages went incommunicado over the weekend and completely let me down after promising me that I could accompany him on his survey. I actually spent a wasted day today here and sat moping around in my hotel room. I was very upset because he wouldn’t answer my calls or reply to my messages and I gave his colleague an earful when she called to explain on his behalf. WTF? Who does that? I ignored three calls from him later because I couldn’t trust myself to be civil to him after a day gone waste and the strain it was putting on my budget, but when he called a fourth time, I had cooled off and spoke to him. He had the lamest of excuses, but since the damage was done and he was apologizing, I told him exactly what I thought of his behavior and let it go. What else could be done, anyway?

It has been a long journey and I am quite full with everything that I have seen and heard. All the good and the bad. All the smiles and tears. All the data, collected and uncollected. I don’t know how my report is going to turn out. As always, I have a niggling feeling, that I don’t have it all. That I am perhaps getting too old for this. That I am simply not making the best use of this fellowship. That I have not written anything of worth yet. That I may not write anything of worth yet.

Strangely, the Banga’bore’ feeling has abated a bit. This may be because the semester is starting next Monday and I am teaching two classes this term. I may have an 8 am class on Mondays. How truly horrifying! But, then I decided that I can come home very early too, so I will just do it. Plus, I think I am really lucky to not have to deal with corporate shit. T and S regularly moan everyday on WhatsApp about how their work lives suck and their lives really seem to lurch from one escalation to another. Having been there done that, they have my full sympathies, but I also am thankful that I have the academic kind of stress and drama to deal with and not the corporate kind in my life. Still, how I will manage August I don’t know because I am supposed to be in Madras until the end of the month and still may have a trip to Delhi for more interviews. But the constant emails from students and planning a few tentative lectures is telling me that Bangalore is not going to be as empty as I was scared it would be after all the travel excitement.

I had also clean forgotten about my library. I may not be able to get any reading for leisure done at all until December, but at least I will try and do one book a month. It will be so good to walk in there again. It’s been a full three months since I last went the there to return all the books before moving to Madras and  while I didn’t even remember about it all this while, this week, I have thought about it often enough.

Which reminds me of Farahad Zama. Have you read his books? If you are looking for stories set in small town India, then they might appeal to you. I had first heard of him in 2011 during the Landmark book sale and had picked up three of his books then. They were set in Vizag and I enjoyed reading them thoroughly and am even more happy that I actually got to visit this place because I really wanted to when I was reading the books. When I next visit Pune, I will reread them because I don’t remember anything about them other than the fact that they were a good read. It will be really nice to revisit Vizag. Some day in person and until then through literature.

Also, I seem to have difficulty in writing anything here that is not in excess of 1500 words. If you are reading, thanks for your patience as I ramble.

Roommates

In Panisagar block, Dharmanagar district, Tripura, the ‘VIP room’ of the ‘dak bungalow’ in the BDO office premises that I was living in, had three other occupants. Since I was the newcomer and an intruder in what was clearly a long undisturbed habitat that they had claimed as their own, I often felt guilty about usurping their space. To their credit, though they would make regular appearances according to their timetable, they never caused troubled. So, I am inclined to believe that they held no grudges against me for sharing their room for the two weeks that I stayed there.

One of them would unfailingly emerge from a hole at 11:30 pm every night. He would speed across the wire from which the bulb hung and escape through an overhead gap in the door, to what I imagined would be a night of revelry with his nocturnal buddies. So quick would be his escape that the first time I saw him do this, I forgot to jump up and squeal – my usual (and an understandable) reaction to spotting a fat rat in my vicinity. I soon got used to his escapades every night and owing to a lack of any entertainment whatsoever, would often sit up fascinated at how his big body would so nimbly flee across the thin wire with such ease and grace. The other two occupants – a lizard and huge black spider showed no such alacrity in getting away from me and would come, go, and linger as they pleased. Sometimes, the spider would make a sudden appearance in the toilet, but politely leave as soon as it sensed my presence to give me my privacy. Thank god.

Today, in a hotel in Gajuwaka, which is a suburb on the outskirts of Vizag, a rat quietly scuttled across the headboard of the bed in my room. Unlike the Tripuri rat who was always in a hurry to exit the room, this Telugu rat kept peeping at me from behind the headboard. Moreover, unlike the BDO office where I was staying free of cost, this hotel is charging me money. So, I had no qualms in picking up the phone and squealing at the receptionist who responded with complete solidarity accompanied by a heartfelt, “oh shit” when I said, “rat”. He promptly changed my room. I am now right next door to my old room and the rat. But, I have no peace of mind. I hear scuttling noises all around me and am frightened of my own shadow. This rat showed no sign for the first two nights that I have spent in this room. If it made an appearance this evening when ALL the lights are on, then there definitely is a way in and out of these rooms and there is a strong likelihood that it may follow me to this room too. Now, there is no saying what might happen when the lights are switched off.

I have no idea how I am going to sleep tonight. I cannot be sure, but this may be the universe’s way of restoring balance to the all the sleeping I have been doing and which I complained about in my last post. Somebody is taking notes from my blog.