Friday, October 16, 2009
There’s something invariably sticky about trains and small kids.
I love trains, the traveling part, I mean, you know, looking out of the windows and watching the passing landscape and stuff. But these second-class compartments are forever dusty and sticky with tiny cockroaches running all over the floor. I spent a small part of train traveling stamping and squashing these creatures before settling down to stare at the landscape or read. There are also those overtly friendly fellow passengers hell bent on striking up some inane conversation with you.
But the worst part of train journey is the abundant, overwhelming presence of those particularly whiny, sniffling, noisy kids. They are an inevitable part of every train journey. Their screeches, tantrums and idiotic jabber add to the constant rattle as I try to make myself as unobstreperous as possible.
It made me come to the conclusion that my life is an exaggerated example of Murphy’s Law gone berserk. (I always come to such conclusions about my life).
It was the journey back from a recent visit to my hometown. It was as usual horribly hot. Sun heated up the air inside the compartment and since I am normally an unpleasant, crabby, depressed human being, this cramped uncomfortable atmosphere made me even more depressed. I sunk into a crushing vortex of self-pity and crankiness and pictured myself as a silent suffering saint.
At the next station a woman got in with two tiny, big-eyed brats, a toddler barely a year old and its bigger sibling probably about 3 years old. I already made up my mind to avoid all eye contact and pretend to be part of the limited interior decoration.
Her husband had disappeared somewhere to watch the landscape probably as I guess most traveling husbands do. It seems that once they have impregnated their wives, made them bear as many kids as they could manage and convinced themselves of their manliness and appeased their ego, men drift into a sort of nonchalance from which they resurface when these offspring turn into surely, cranky adolescents. Then they yell at their wives for not bringing up the kids properly and letting them have all the freedom and get upset over the fact that these smart-ass beings are not turning into disciplined, obedient, meek little chips of the old block.
This woman had that typical strained, worried look on her face, which many interpret as the ultimate, pure, all-encompassing motherly love. The toddler had a disfigured piece of a toy car dripping with saliva and remnants of its previous meal stuck to the wheels. The kid waved that wet plastic thing dangerously near my face; I sunk further down into my seat pretending to blend in with the surroundings. I could see this attempt at camouflage wasn’t too successful. The woman was trying to catch my eye.
The baby banged the poor woman on her head, tried to kick its big brother or sister (its difficult to say) and went off into a babbling stream of unintelligibility. The older one was like a neurotic clockwork mouse. It tried to scramble up the window bars, pull off the blinds, kicked almost all the passengers, upset a bottle of water and proceeded to climb out of the emergency exit while all the passengers shrilled ‘Ayo Mone….’ (Roughly means ‘Oh dear boy’ or something like that) It was like a cycle, repeating all over again.
Each time the poor woman dragged that fidgety mass of arms and legs back to the seat, it sat still for a fraction of a second and went off again to repeat the same set of senseless activities from which it got a queer sort of pleasure.
The baby was excitedly watching its sibling’s antics. To show its frustration it started kicking and squirming and giving short piercing yelps.
The child eventually got bored with the wandering and came back to its mother. I thought perhaps now things will just settle down and plunged comfortably into my own morose thoughts.
Soon a screaming match started between the two. There was a murderous glint in the toddler’s eyes. Given a chance, it would have smashed the big one with that soggy toy car.
The woman was slowly cracking under the strain, she glanced anxiously towards the door where I saw the dark head of a man lazily leaning on the door and looking out, I suppose that is the father.
Eventually seeing some trace of kindness on my face, she placed that tiny, sniveling, sweating inanity onto my lap. It looked at me with its large bambi eyes and proceeded to pull my hair and gouge my eyes. All the while bloated lumps of drool dripped down its chin onto my arms.
I glared at its mother hoping it will yell some words of rebuke, but she was resolutely, almost rigidly, staring out of the window taking a sudden, exaggerated interest in the arid landscape outside.
Seeing that my eyeball was not coming unstuck, it jabbed my face with its stubby fingers and shrieked for no reason.
Out of sheer panic, I fished out the last of my precious dwindling horde of Ferrero Rocher chocolates and gave it unwilling to this grubby, wriggling lump of petulant restlessness. It grabbed it viciously; my heart broke seeing that divine morsel being squished brutally. The mother beamed benignly at me, probably mistaking this generous move as some sort of an inherent maternal instinct.
I guess she was seeking in me what all women look for in other women, compassion, a capacity for tenderness. There are a lot of people, who believe that I am capable of both and another lot who think I am monstrously loveless and selfish.
I guess I have a sort of pitiful love and consideration for my fellow human beings, and because of that, I end up doing the weirdest things for making life easier for someone less fortunate.
The baby licked the squashed fragments with great relish sending chocolate colored drool all over my lap. Occasionally, when I am on the verge of giving it a good shake, it stared at me with its large, melting bambi eyes and I had to restrain myself with a sigh.
Most kids have those wide, big eyes. I guess it’s a very clever ploy on the part of nature to ensure their survival and thus guaranteeing the survival of the whole human race.
Babies can drive you to insanity; they are irritable and cumbersome, but just when you reach the verge of doing something drastic they look at you with their large, baby-eyes that can melt even the toughest heart. Hence, these drooling, sticky pink things aren’t strangulated but instead taken care of until they grow up into another set of stupid adults.
But even the eyes can lose their charm after a point. Luckily they had to get down at the next station. Amidst a lot of bawling, and scuffling the mother managed to pull out both the kids and disappear into the anonymous crowd.
I found a battered copy of an evening tabloid wedged on the berth above me and immersed into the swirling images of blood splattered bodies and exaggerated headlines detailed in every page.
The the next bunch of kids have just got in, one of them’s got a large lobotomized doll in her hand and the haggard mother was looking hopefully at me, I stared fixedly into the newspaper and switched off the outer world.
Ps: For those who don’t know, I have emerged from my months of reclusive life and finally got an underpaid job in a children’s publication as an editor. Occasionally I write random articles for a highly experimental and completely unoriginal tabloid with a very limited readership. I have a feeling it is destined for an early death, the paper I mean.
Ps: Picture above, titled Deflated, MS paint.
Monday, October 5, 2009
A small place it was, a place of casually elegant understatement, a tad-tongue-in-cheek perhaps, but cozily anonymous and expensive.
Dougnuts topped with cream and strawberry jam, a greasy sandwich stuffed with chicken and coffee.
Its always coffee. Invariably.
It acted as a landmark, marking the different junctures of the two lives. It was the continuing motif, an excuse, a reason, almost an identity.
In the beginning it was a hesitant, watery coffee, then powerful dozes of ultra sweet brew, then the ones spiced up with exotic ingredients. As the journey progressed, it became more experimental, the tang, the variety and the layers of flavor. Right now it is the raw stage - the sugar-less, milk-less, pure, onyx colored concoction in a pretty cup.
We ignored the heavy strain on our almost empty purses that this place left.
We sip, one sip, two sip and stare over the flaking gold rim.
The steam toast the tip of our noses.
The air dense with indiscernible things.
Hands long to reach out, but the touch would be brief, restrained, to end too soon. We knew the futility and the melancholy that lingers around half-done things.
It was not even a conversation, fragmented phrases, and observations. Comfortable silences in between, half of a sad smile, the smell of unhurried peace.
A few grotesque jokes, brutal sarcasm, it goes so well with the doughnuts. Smell of fresh smoke rising up, a cough, a puff.
Our eyes follow the non-existent blue humming birds flying around the ceiling. We are too afraid to check the time.
Blue is the persistent foreground hue. Unvarying.
It painted everything, the sky, the walls, the deep smudgy line under my eyes, the imaginary door, the emotions.
The clocks tick persistently always blindly running forward.
Tick, tick, another tick, a second dead, a second older, another heartbeat closer.
Soft, sensuous twanging of the guitar punctuated by the strains of the flute and the melancholic wail of the violin in the background, we smile over the porcelain arc.
We have the third eye with us, the eye with so many lenses that can memorize every detail, the eye that we held lovingly, to capture the inconsistent, ever changing visual grandeur around us.
The silent happy man gave us a thumbs-up, grinning, walking in the mellow watery sunlight.
We stood in the leafy shadows, we always stood there in the shadow, sunshine made us mad.
We were made that way, to hide in the deep green shadows, among grey clouds, to be lost, to drift off and reside on the edges of everything.
The dark, crumbling ruins of the bygone era was like a gothic backdrop with the grey cloudy brooding sky above. The multi-hued cotton skirt swishes, laughs and flutters in the rushing breeze, the teasing wind trails between the toes, salty almost-kisses, the tiny curve of a finger nail explored minutely, hair rumples.
Whispers of a million sea ghosts fills all the nooks, fissures and the yawning, silently wailing heart-shaped hollows. A sigh, eyelids close slowly, a pink cycloramic nothingness fills the gaze, bare feet twirls, the heady fragrance of a sun-warmed shoulder.
Sea is menacing, gnawing at the black rocks, a white starfish rotting in the sand.
The healing is slow and the deep red scars still sore.
The starfish is washed away by an extra powerful wave. We go back.
The next journey planned, worked out over another coffee, a slice of bread dripping with melted cheese.
We don't need maps, we've never referred one so far. We followed the teasing call of adventure, that elusive, dangerous temptress. Exploring the inky darkness that lie beneath the sunny cerebrum.
Oh, the risks, the adrenalin rush, the pungent exhilaration of taunting pain, stretching the limits, teasing death.
Pain. It’s a cosmos in itself.
An invisible pattern traced on my wrist, the finger moves away, the tingling sensation remains.
We look at the slow, monotonous spinning of the dusty ceiling fan.The waitress's lip gloss is orange, like a faded marigold. She is in a hurry I could see the nervous blue vein jerking near the jaw.
We walk to through the narrow silent streets,nothing new to see, a locked synagogue, a deserted playground and lots of small dark shops.
Peace ebbed around me like warm waves.
I held the hand that once saved me from myself. that became the deep silence at the core of my storm, the calm amidst the chaos that raged within me, the mountain of comfortable sanity that soothed my violent gales, the sea that drowns my rushing, incoherent, blind torrents. If I died now perhaps I wouldn't have a single regret.
The wind-chimes tinkle mockingly.
The sky frowned, frothed, swirled and churned up a grey storm. Rain wailed hysterically and bloated droplets clung to my lashes.
The waitress is hurrying away down a steep path. Her pink umbrella is bent but she carried it defiantly with a furious pride.
In the distance the ancient fort became a damp yellow color, another brick disintegrated. The sea thundered away.
This is heaven, it must be. This is all that I always hoped for, dreamt a million times but never thought would be possible.
This peace, this moment, this dream, is life.
(Inside Kashi Art Cafe, Fort Cochin. 27.9.2009)