Friday, June 18, 2010

My Closet

Don’t peep into my closet

I hide my soul there…

Some tears too, in a salt shaker

To be sprinkled as and when required

To add flavour to my insipid life.

My ego too, smoothened of its creases,

Lies neatly folded on a bottom shelf;

It will raise its head any moment, without warning.

My hurts are suspended over hangers

In a mock show of surrender;

They will have to be aired in the right season.

My sins, tied up in pure white muslin,

Are stashed away inside a tiny safe;

They knock on the door now and then.

Threatening to escape in broad daylight.

My shame is wrapped in old newspaper.

It’s been about town, a known face.

It rests in a corner, enjoying its anonymity.

Bits of my flesh cauterised by time

Are huddled close together in an airtight box

Lively accessories, waiting to be flaunted.

There’s more of me set aside in a pile

Disowned, neglected, feared, avoided…

Discarded, unwanted, forgotten, abandoned

Vying for my attention in the black hole

I’ll have to clean up my closet soon,

Evaluate each item, manage the mess,

But don’t turn the key yet,

Or open a crack to let the sunlight in.

For you don’t know what’ll enter the darkness

Or flee unnoticed, with a piece of my dignity.

- Archana Pai Kulkarni

Monday, June 14, 2010

Calm in a tea cup

Every morning, when the prospect of just lazing in bed feels inviting and there's just no way in which I can afford the luxury, I remind myself of the hot cup of ginger tea that awaits me. It's a ritual that not just energises me to take on the day, it gives me those precious few minutes to find my bearings and be with myself in silence. Actually, my morning beverage is a no-fuss affair. No chinaware and no tea pots for me. All I need are a steel glass and a steel plate and I'm good to sip.
I grew up in Matunga, surrounded by Tam Brahms. Coffee, to them, was like manna from heaven. It was their daily tipple. Our houses were extensions of each other and we could actually look into each other's kitchens without feeling like voyeurs or intruders. Every morning you could smell the fresh, invigorating aroma of filter coffee wafting through the neighbourhood windows and spot the next-door mama or mami standing in the large balcony with a steel glassful of coffee in one hand and a tiny steel vessel in the other. Then, they would begin to pour the coffee from the glass to the vessel, raising the right hand to a certain height while holding the vessel way below. The coffee would gush out in a firm, steady, stream, and fill the vessel. Then, the vessel would go up and the coffee would be poured back into the glass. Up and down it would be poured, from the vessel into the glass and back into the vessel and again into the glass several times, till it would froth. Only then would it be sipped with great relish.
Now, I'm not a coffee drinker at all. Tea's my poison, especially, if brewed with ginger and tulsi. I have very native tastes. And though I imbibed the habit of drinking my first quota of tea in a steel glass from my neighbours, I replaced the steel vessel with a plate. And, I don't perform the frothing ritual at all. I like my tea piping hot. I pour it from the glass into the plate and as I look out of my window at the lush tamarind tree  and take the first sip, the steam from the glass invades my nostrils. It generates a nice, warm, reassuring feeling on a cool, still morning. Squirrels scurry about on its branches, nibbling at something or the other. The Bharadwaj calls out, hidden among its leaves, its shiny bronze wings, suddenly flashing through them, like a ray of light. Other little migrant birds fly down and and perch on its arms and tweet incessantly, creating a sweet melody. The virginal blue sky looks down at us indulgently. A cuckoo coos, somewhere in the distance. Its mate replies and their jugalbandi shatters the silence of the dawn. 
As I sip my tea in silence, and listen to the bird orchestra, I have gathered enough vitality for the day. My mind is focused on the tea, my tongue is alive and receptive to its taste and my body senses an adrenaline rush. It's a meditative moment. Silent, peaceful, blissful and rejuvenating.
I guess, when one seeks solitude, one doesn't have to travel too far. One can find it hidden in the swirling recesses of a humble glass of tea.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

My Grandma, The Time Traveller

Jani, my granny

My maternal grandmother Jani will turn 99 on August 5. While she is unable to walk, she’s full of spirit and vitality. Her mind keeps vacillating between the past and present. Now she’s here with you and the next moment, she’s at her childhood home in Ullal. Now she recognises you and asks after you and in a second, she stares at you blankly. Playful and lively in her winter years, my grandmother’s an enigma today.

Inside my grandmother, an ocean roars
Outside, surf settles on her skin, like gooseflesh.
Through the hidden alleys of her wizened veins,
Her bygone childhood runs amok, carefree.
Around her bed, the air regresses and laughs heartily;
Inside, memory reefs stand testimony to her turbulence.
Outside, coral beads weave a story around her neck;
Inside, her heart beats playfully in her backyard;
Outside, she forgets the rules of the game.
Inside, she’s at the market, buying a pair of red bangles;
Outside, she examines her bare hands wistfully
Inside, she’s five, pig-tailed, a merry fish,
Gliding back in time to sit on her father’s lap.
Outside, her lips part, a cry escapes, “Anna”,
And she scans every face for his kind, loving eyes.
Inside her, words well up, wave after wave;
Outside, her parched lips whoosh soundlessly.
Tides turn, storms rage, and she’s placid again, inside;
Outside, the tributaries on her face chalk new maps.
Inside, she rows her boat through lands forgotten;
Outside her hands grope for sand from umbilical shores.
Inside, she spots her husband hiding in an oyster;
Outside, she goes all coy, a child-bride again.
Inside, she gathers the priceless pearls of her tears;
Outside, she gifts away the treasures of her life in a will.
Inside she’s a dolphin, dancing with her little friends;
Outside, the music has stopped, her soles have cracks.
Inside, messengers bring her sad tidings from a dead daughter;
Outside, her ears long for the postman’s knock, news from beyond.
As she travels back and forth, inside and outside herself,
Timelines merge, she’s tossed about, and she swims aimlessly,
Till inside, a mermaid sings a soulful lullaby;
As the ocean calms down, outside, her eyes grow heavy,
And as she grows older, my grandma is a baby again.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Knowing grief

Dadu at his favourite spot in Indian Gymkhana
My uncle, Prabhakar Kamath, passed away on June 4. His death was not unexpected; in fact, it was very much staring him in the face for months now. Having lost my father to a rheumatic heart when I was just two months, I was brought up by him and nurtured with love, discipline, and a warm sense of security. I never lacked anything--not love, not the regular little things that are necessary to live and the special ones that make living life worthwhile. He spoke little. Very little, in fact. People in my house were careful around him. No, he wasn't an ogre but he liked his space. He spoke in monosyllables and from a very early age, I learned to read his approval or disapproval from the tone of those grunts. He introduced me to books very early in life. You could find a Chaucer nestling really close to a Shakespeare or Pickwick Papers or The Autobiography of a Yogi on our bookshelves. He read voraciously, when he wasn't at work at the Bank of India where he worked in a managerial capacity, or when he wasn't playing cricket. Yes, he was a Ranji Player, an opening batsman and all-rounder and went on to become the first Indian cricket coach to  pass formally out of a coaching college, the first one to be invited outside India for coaching (he coached Sri Lanka) and perhaps the only one to not earn a single penny out of the game. He was an honorary coach. Acknowledged by the cricket fraternity for grooming Wadekar, for contributing to Gavaskar's skills, he was also the coach of the Ranji cricket team, when Vengsarkar captained it and Sachin made his debut.
You could find us both eating our meals with either a book or a newspaper in our left hands, a habit I was told by many, was obnoxious, but which added spice to my meals. I still read when I have my lunch at work. It's a very special time for me. Disciplined to a fault about his exercise regimen, in the last few months, he was confined to his bed, having given up on life. The man who walked from Matunga to Kurla every day for years could not move at all. It was as devastating for him to accept his immobility as it was for me to watch him waste away. He stopped reading the newspaper, recognised me now and then, and sometimes his face broke into a smile when I visited him. His eyes would often fill up; I'm not sure it was because of the pain in his legs (he'd developed athlete's veins); I think it was the pain of being dependent and incontinent. It was because of the loss of freedom, the inability to call the shots, the incapacitation, the fear of turning into a vegetable. Diabetes, a surgery to repair a fractured pelvic bone, and a pacemaker--his body accepted it all, at first with reluctance, then resignation and then with indignation.  Somewhere along the way, I guess he decided that he wanted no more of this life.
I knew he would go; I knew he was in pain, yet I didn't want him to die. I wanted him to recover. When he breathed his last, I was away, at my own home. I rushed to his house, hugged him and wept but there was just no response. He was very very still and his face was surprisingly calm and serene, Buddhalike, as if he was glad to be rid of his pain. If that was so, I'm happy for him. But, what do I do about the pain in my heart? I feel orphaned. Without warning my eyes mist over and I long to see him once again. It feels like yesterday that he took me for a pony ride to Five Gardens and bought me a packet of peanuts or a large slab of chocolate. I won't be helping him scrape and grease his bats and put them against the wall to dry any more or watch him make an egg omelette for himself or share a piece of cheese with him. He held my hand and taught me to walk, he encouraged me to write as I sat by him when he wrote his sports column under the byline Hooker for Free Press Journal. He displayed my prizes and trophies in the living room very proudly. It made me want to top the class always. Today, if I try to be regular with my morning walks, it's because I've seen him do it religiously for years and know how important fitness is. If I write, it's because I've imbibed the pleasure of doing so early in my life from him. If I'm disciplined,he takes all the credit for it. Cricketers called him Joe. I called him Dadu. I was Archu to him. He's gone. I remain. And the memories too, beautiful and permanent to be relived. Don't mind my tears. They will flow, like my love for him. Rest in peace Dadu. Farewell!