Thursday, November 22, 2012

Dear Aarya (2)

Dear Aarya,

I know its been a long time. Lots have happened. Most you know but some you dont. I have finally taken that first step.

Leaving is never easy. The first step is the hardest.

What crap! Once my mind was made, leaving Sand City was easy as apple pie. That is if I knew how the hell an apple pie is made.

Make no mistake, I am still an NRI. Which means that once in every six months, I will have to enter the Sand City and make my presence felt so that my Visa will be still valid. It also helped that I was working for the last 13 years in our family business which gave me such flexibility. So like most Indian sons, who has the longest weaning period among any animals, I passed off all my liabilities to my parents and left the country.

There comes a time in every true blooded mallu heart, where , like a salmon, he must seek the source of his birth. I wish I could say the same was true of me.

It wasnt.

I was bored. Unexcited. Mostly drunk and with absolutely no purpose. It didnt help that I am blessed with no ambition. Contentment is complacency in designer clothes. Restlessness was my motivation.

I longed to travel. I longed to get on a bike and ride. I longed to set in motion an idea which I felt had a chance, because it would be done by me. My wife believed in it. Once I made the business plan and showed it to my family, they too accepted that it had some merits, despite it being done by me. A prophet is never recognized in his home. Or like we mallus say, the jasmine on your own porch doesnt smell as good as the one on another mans porch...


Reached the Bangaluru airport early morning one day, with my knapsack stuffed with tents, hiking stick,2 jeans, 2 gaberdine pants, 10 black t shirts, 10 cotton boxers, one pair of trekking shoes, 3 pairs of socks and 1 leather jacket donated graciously to me by my elder brother . My earthly possessions of 13 years in the gulf was packed into 2 airbags ( actually one would have been enough, but the sleeping bags , archery equipments , knives and other dooms day appliances took one entire bag) and had been stowed away in the hold.

Standing at the luggage conveyor belt, after getting one bag, waiting for the second one, I fell into a hypnotic lull, watching a similar looking bag as mine going round the snaking belt , out through a heavy plastic strip curtained opening, only to reenter again through another opening, much like the recycling of our sustainable souls. Woken up from my reverie by a gentle tap on my shoulder, I realized that I was the only one standing there.

The lone bag continued its unclaimed sojourn.

The finger giving me the gentle tap was attached to a tall young man in a uniform , who had a name badge identifying him as Bhoopathi.

It was quickly deduced that someone else had claimed my bag, while his own bag was now doing the circuit like a kid lost in the mall. I couldnt help noticing that though similar looking, his bag looked nothing like mine.

Bhoopathi now jumped into action. Literally. He actually jumped onto the conveyor belt, removed the errant bag , read the luggage tag, spoke into his walkie talkie and then sprinted away.

I felt like being in Bourne Identity.

Airports , like any travel center is a strange place once all the planes had taken off and all the hustle and bustle ceased into a temporary lull. You can all most hear a collective sigh. That customs officer with a handle bar mustache, turns from a ferocious gate keeper to a gentle giant with a penchant for puns.

Being an NRI, gives some an ability to see things from a different perspective. I am never one for a comparison. I believe and love the differences. Iam not one for a uniformed conformity and a global culture. I like the surprises that some may label as imperfections.

As a traveler, it helps to move without expectations. In fact, its almost liberating to just accept without expecting. In that regards, India doesnt disappoint.

After about 1 and a half hours, Bhoopathi, had tracked down the kidnapper of my bags and had him drive back to the airport. After retrieving my bag filled with stuff which has no value to anyone but me, from a man, who was now having his ear filled with words of wisdom from the handle bar mustached customs officer, I left, after shaking Bhoopati's hand, who had unintentionally given me the best welcome to a land I hold dear.

I walked out into the early morning lights of a Banglore dawn. Walked past the unauthorized taxi guys who were half heartedly bidding my attention, into the metered airport taxi.

In the taxi, I asked my driver , Sayeed, whether the unauthorized taxis ever get a ride in the face of the highly efficient and accountable airport taxi services.

We had stopped at a tea stall, where we were served delicious masala tea in still tumblers which was as big as shot glasses. After taking a sip, Sayeed, explained that they actually do.

The airport does not prohibit outside taxis. It is still the travelers choice as to which mode he/she chooses. There are still some who believes that unauthorized taxis are cheaper. This need not necessarily be true. I had traveled in one when I had come for a visit long time ago. It costed me INR 900. The airport taxi , which is metered had come to INR 800. I prefer the metered ones because it gives me a sense of actually believing I have some sort of control.

Then there is the safety aspect to the whole thing. When my wife travels alone, I insist that she takes the airport taxis. The car number along with the travelers names and destination is noted prior to the journey. So there is an amount of accountability which can deter potential hassles. And if that had not deterred the said driver, atleast you will know who you will have to hunt down and hang to dry.

I like accountability. It helps me sleep at night.

Sayeed and I traveled the remaining stretch to my house in silence. I looked out of the window, watching Bangalore walking up to a weekend. Lone joggers, meandering milk men, brown colored stray dogs sniffing around near the cart that was serving breakfast of idli and chutney to a small crowd of workers. A couple of techies, with the prerequisite laptop slung over their shoulders, ate among them. Ladies in nondescript colored saris, swept the streets - moving dirt and debris from one place to another.

Watched with amusement at the billboard advertising a leather sofa with a lady clad in tight leather with both her hands on her lower back , sticking her ample butt out , as if she had just gotten up from the sofa with a bad lower back pain.

The taxi sped on. Towards on coming traffic. Some say that Indian traffic is like organized chaos , that there is some sort of purpose behind all the chaos. I dont think so. I think its just sheer luck. You walk out of the house with the firm belief in an after life.

Its difficult to be an atheist in India. India requires hope. It requires you to have faith in that auto guy ,who is hell bent on killing you, to get you to your destination in one piece. You need to have some sort of a belief structure to ensure that you still believe that all those documents and money and time you had given at the RTO will eventually produce some tangible results. India will make you light those candles or break those coconuts or look up to the sky and murmur inshallah. Indian spirituality is a necessary part of negotiating your way through India.

I reached home. Sayeed helped me take my bags upto my flat. He declined my offer of tea. He had been called for another run.

Hugged my wife. Kissed the kids.

I am home.

I stood at the balcony holding the hot cup of tea which my wife had given to me. I stood among the potted organic farm she had managed to create in that small space. I watched the Bangalore sky line with her.

We stood in silence. It was a comfortable silence, the kind which envelopes you a second before you step into the ring.

I stepped into the ring.

I am home, Aarya. Finally. I feel a calmness.

Heard about your break up. Hold no animosity. Blame games are such emotional drainers. Get up and continue to be open. I am bad with advice and probably lame in my supposed sympathy ( I feel none). You must be laughing.

Love Tys

Dear Aarya ( 3 )

Dear Aarya,

Sorry that I havent been able to write to you sooner. I have no excuses. I was busy just imprinting everything. Seeing.

Indian Roads.

I had forgotten how mad the driving scene is in India. Having been spoiled rotten in the Sand City with its 6 lane roads , one way traffic and those voyeuristic cameras that flashes when you least expect it, I was not prepared for the utter chaos that goes down here as traffic.

I love it.

Last week , I stood by the corner of Madiwala, watching the road, while a bicycle repair guy brought to life my cycle that had been lying neglected in the building parking area. The seat had been stolen, and in the process, the perpetuater, possibly one of the kids in the building, had managed to break the back brake. I figured that I will repair the bike and give it to my son, who was celebrating his 9th birthday.

What can I say? I am a cheap father.

The shack that advertised its service as 'Bycycle Repare and Spair Parts', was a neat , clean, wooden cabin, the size of a porta toilet. Inside it hung various cycle parts like meat in a butchery.In the corner was a neat stack of tyres of various sizes. The mechanic worked outside, with his tools that were kept in an evidently organized mess, within a tin box. His other implements was a large plastic bowl with water in it, to check for punctures and a air filling set up.

I had explained to him , largely in mime, what I wanted done, since my language skills does not exceed beyond Malayalam and English; and that too is claiming too much. Since it doesnt take a high IQ to figure out what was wrong with the bike, the man set to his task with a focused intensity.

So while he worked , I watched the traffic.

India is a celebration of contrasts. It also exhibits a patience and tolerance on the roads that one finds rarely in the Sand City. There was a family of bulls in the intersection where 4 roads meet and is kept in control by a traffic light and a traffic cop, who was now more interested in how my cycle was coming along. Ramiyah, the traffic cop, in his white starched shirt and the customary walkie talkie was busy fining vehicles on a random basis, when he could tear himself away from the gripping scene of my cycle getting a seat.

The bulls lazed in the middle of the intersection, while the vehicles swerved around them to their destinations. There were buses filled with beautiful people, autorikshas carrying people and in some cases , things one normally does not see being carried in an auto. The one I saw had a man with building scaffolding in it. Obviously a painter, with his washed to oblivion shirt which in some past life had a color that was now a greyish shade. He was getting down with the tools of his trade, when the large metal scaffolding hit against a parked scooter , causing it to fall down.

Ramiyah, was not amused. He said something in Kannada, which must have been directed at the painter's eyesight. The scooter owner, who was sitting at another shack,which seemed to be an eating joint, near the Cycle Repair shop, casually got up and righted his scooter with one hand, while holding onto his piece of dosa in the other. He then moved the scooter away from the parked auto so that the painter had enough space to unload. After which he went back to his seat by the shack and resumed his breakfast.

Ramiyah, by now had realized that the battery of his walkie talkie needed to be recharged and handed it to the cycle repair guy, who took it and plugged it into a socket somewhere inside that small cabin.

Horn seems to be the most integral part of a vehicle on the Indian roads. I probably must have heard more horns in the 1.5 hours of drive from the airport to my apartment, than the 15 years I had spend in the Sand City. In India, the vehicles talk.

There seems to be a language of horns here. As I stood there and watched, I realized that it was not just a cacophony of noise, but a pattern of established sounds , much like the singing of the blue whales. They were communicating!

There are the short blasts which stood for , I am here.
There are the long ones, which stood for, I am behind you and I am in a hurry.
There are those medium blasts, which says, what the fuck!
Then there are those, continuous beep beep beep, while the vehicle weaves its way through traffic, much like the 'make way, make way' chants of the Tamil pilgrims to Sabrimala.

To integrate myself back to the Indian scene, I realized that, I needed to relearn the language of the Indian roads. I decided to join a driving school and get myself an Indian licence . Mainly I wanted to get over my fear of the perceived aggression of the Indian roads. This was brought home to me while I walked back to my apartment pushing my repaired cycle. I saw in front of me a gang of children, dressed in red checked shirts and kakhi shorts, with knapsacks on their backs, weaving their way through the onslaught of Indian traffic. They were all around 9 years old. I do not know if the traffic made way for them or they found a way through it. Either way, there is only one way to learn how to swim:

Be ready to get wet.

I will update you how that went. How are you? Enjoy the solitude that has fallen on your lap so unexpectedly. Seperations need not be lonely. You take care.