Saturday, August 15, 2015

A moment

It was a national holiday. His feet beat a rhythm on the moist streets. The waves of the Arabian Sea rushed in and out, misting over the man as he ran at a steady pace along the promenade. This was his worship, once a week. A break from sitting in meetings, in cabs, in the office. He was mindful of all around him. Music poured into his ears and through his body, and he upped or eased his pace in sync with each song as it surprised him. The sky held on to traces of the dark, but the sun was ribboning through the dark clouds. Birds flew in flocks, formations intact as they dipped, rose, turned, following tunes of their own.

A rumble of thunder warned him too late of sudden rain. The white noise of the downpour cocooned him. The houses of the rich hazed over to his right, and the waves took on the deep grey of the clouds that had, temporarily, won over the tentative sunshine. He was disappointed at the intrusion. He was in his stride, running at the right pace so it hardly seemed an effort - his feet flying off the concrete in turns, small drops of water flecking his calves as he continued despite the rain.

But he had to stop to protect his phone. Needed shelter as he paused to put it away from the rain. He was on a naked promenade, with stingy palm trees his only hope. And then he saw, through the rain, a Maruti Van with the hatch of its boot open. That would do, he thought, and sped up.

He drew closer and ducked under the hood - hunching over to wipe his face and hands before reaching for his phone. In that brief moment he saw the elderly driver of the van. He was working his prayer beads, his lips moving and his eyes fixed on the distance. The drenched breeze surged in toward both the men. The runner felt like he was intruding on a deeply private moment. As the thought crossed his mind, the driver opened his eyes and motioned, "sit".

The runner refused with thanks but the rain probably drowned out his words. He had, with the ease of practice, moved his phone from his wet pocket into the pouch wrapped like a belt at his waist. The wires still connected to his earphones. He was ready to go on. The driver inclined his head and prayed on. The runner left him and jogged off. As he ran, he turned back to see the van growing smaller in the distance, and the man himself barely visible. He looked ahead. The music changed. And he picked up speed to match. The moment had passed. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Moving on

Even though she had known her husband of 52 years was slipping away before her eyes, she still couldn't accept he was gone. The bangles jammed on her wrist as she tried to slip them off. She wanted to ask his advice to plan his funeral. Who should she invite? Should they have someone sing his favourite Rabindra sangeet at the ceremony? The young nephews had arrived to take charge. She had called them at the crack of dawn when she raised her head from the hospital bed, where she had fallen asleep next to his long, frail frame. She knew she was alone before she even looked at him. She was just glad she hadn't put him in the ICU, where he would have been alone before her.

Now, a year later, people marvel at how well she has moved on, speaking his name affectionately and casually, criticising him and joking about him as always, as if he is present to dismiss her comments with the wave of a bony hand. They visit her with flowers, with food, with offers of help. And she is gracious, welcoming, warm, attentive. They do not notice the low table next to the chair where he always sat. And if they do, they do not realise what it means - the half-empty glass of water and the Economist open to a new page, as if the owner has just stepped away and will be back any minute - ridiculing politicians and complaining about noise pollution. She's alone, they think. But she isn't. Not entirely. And never will be. 

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Roses all the way

It was a fast train from Churchgate to Borivali around 6 pm on a weekday. For the uninitiated, or for those not acquainted with the crowd that is India, that means I stood uncomfortably close to a whole bunch of strangers, pretending their armpit wasn't tickling my nose. I could overhear but not see two girls discuss in petulant tones the carelessness of a certain boy. I was just waiting for Bandra, where I hoped the train would unceremoniously dump me onto the platform so that I could breathe freely the sickly toilet/gutter smell that dominates most train stations in India.

The train pulled into Bandra. A queue of women with their reflexes tensed waited on the coach to collapse onto the platform. Already angry and impatient commuters waited to board the train and clicked in exasperation because some of us tried to get off and land on our own two feet rather than mysteriously apparate off the train. The perpetually surprised-sounding woman of Western Railway was telling us that "The station is your property. Please do not..." but what she did not want us to do was lost in a loud wave of "ey-ey-ey" as a young boy tried to catch the train. My clothes were sticking to me. I crossed the over-bridge toward the exit, gradually becoming aware of something being out of place. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I looked around, wondering what it was that I was sensing before really noticing it.

And then it hit my nose. Through the sweat and toilet stink, through the gassy fumes and the lingering smoke from burning garbage, a very very mild smell was registering its presence. I couldn't believe that I was smelling....roses. And then I saw a grubby, dishevelled man, pushing along the platform a huge, transparent plastic sack full of rose petals. Under his arm were bunches of long-stemmed roses neatly packed in cylindrical cartons. The roses peeped out at commuters who hurried past. The mild smell hung over the platform even as the man pushed the sack along the platform floor, probably crushing more petals into giving up that soft, sweet fragrance. I inhaled deeply as I walked past him. Then I turned left, emerged into the outside mayhem, and went home, with roses on my mind.