I Have A Dream…

For as long as I remember, the word ‘dream’ translated into a beautiful song. A song from my childhood, from ABBA. Like any other kid of the 80’s and 90’s, I grew up listening to ABBA. And long before I actually understood the lyrics and meaning of songs, this one stayed a firm favourite. At one point of time, this song was also part of our school drill.

Some memories, some anecdotes, some dreams of my own…the best way to describe this song would be to call it the background score of all that I wanted to achieve in my life.

As I grow older, I have come to dream lesser. There is no longer an innocence of a dream. I no longer look at an unachievable goal in my life as sigh saying, “I wish I could do that!” I no longer hope and pray for anything in particular. Not for myself. But always for others. Let’s say, I think I have forgotten to dream. A little jaded and perhaps a cynical confession here, maybe it is time I bring this song back into my life.

I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I’ll cross the stream – I have a dream
I have a dream, a fantasy
To help me through reality
And my destination makes it worth the while
Pushing through the darkness still another mile
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I’ll cross the stream – I have a dream
I’ll cross the stream – I have a dream
I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I’ll cross the stream – I have a dream
I’ll cross the stream – I have a dream

I Have a Dream–ABBA

 

 

I am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013. Today’s prompt is ‘Dreams’.

They & I

What will they say? 

What do they think about me? 

Just how vulnerable can a person be? Does it affect me? Oh! How it is killing me.

On a chair, tucked in a cabin, a lone computer staring at me. The air condition blowing a cool breeze. I sit next to a window, on a cold December day. Today is an unusual day. The sun is out. Maybe just to comfort me.

But it does little service.

Out there I can see them together. I can see they are talking. Discussing. Planning.

Are they plotting against me? I am sure they are.

Incapacitated. Debilitated. Humiliated. My eyes transfixed at the wall before.

They are all out there. Am I the one they are talking about?

How do I tell them that I am with them? Where do I begin? They will never believe. They will never hear me.

After all I have done for them…this is the end of a long, long road. A journey that we began together, one that we couldn’t complete.

I failed them. I faltered. I didn’t stand up for them.

I have lost my family, my friends, my colleagues. And with them gone, I have no one to call my own.

But how can I win them back? I need them. To live. To believe in myself. To go on.

This is the end of the story. Just mine. Their will go on forever.

I am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013. Today’s prompt is ‘People’

Write Tribe

Hushed Screams

Where are you Maa? I can’t hear you here. Everyone else I hear . Papa, Daadi, Dada. I can hear Naani cry. Her voice is just like yours. I remember you telling me that you are just like her. Her mirror image. But where are you Maa? I want to hear your voice again.

So many voices but I can’t hear yours. The one that I know best. The one that defines my life. It belongs to me. Your voice is my rhythm. My heartbeat. My only source of music.

Yes Maa, I love your voice. It calms me more than anything else in this world. When everything else in the world is a buzz, I can always hear you. Loud, clear and beautiful.

Remember that tune you hum. How does it go? Ta-ra-hmm…la – ri – ta…I have heard it so many times, but I still can’t get it right. Can you sing to me again?

You always tell me to stay calm. Even when the noise of the cooker whistle alarms me. Or that rude horn of Papa’s car. Why does he honk so much? There is no music in his car. Just like his voice. Always grunting. Always shouting. Always alarming. Did I tell you I am scared of his voice?

I know you love to read. The thud of a book on the night stand, the soft rustle of the pages of your book. You gently tap your book at the edge as your read. Reading and soaking all that your eyes cover. Yes, Maa I can hear that too.

Your telephone has a lovely chant too. Not like Papa’s shrieking tring-tring. Isn’t the sound on your phone the Veena piece you play? Is that you Maa? Is it your tune?

I love to hear you doing your riyaaz. You say it calms you, gives you strength. To me it is the most magical hour of the day. As you sit and position your Veena, I can hear you breathe. As you close your eyes, the voice travels from your stomach, up your throat. And there comes the silken voice that always makes me smile. As your negotiate the crests and troughs of your raag my heartbeat moves in sync. Sometimes fast, sometimes at its usual rhythm.

Where is that magical voice Maa? Where are you?

When you say you will protect me, I believe you. Like that day when the loudspeakers blared all night? When there were people knocking at our doors. I was restless that night. Scared of them. Scared that they would come to get us. You said, there is a riot outside. You shut the windows. Thud. The voices deadened. And then to calm yourself and me, you began humming that song again.

Ta-ra-hmm…la – ri – ta…Where are you Maa? I want to hear that sound again.

And then you stopped singing. You talked to me. You read the Gita. You prayed to God. But you didn’t sing that song. I was restless again. The night before you and Papa had a  fight. Thud I heard you fall. No you screamed. You can’t do this now. You can’t do anything now? Accept her  you said. Accept us you cried.

He shouted at you. Called you names. Even me. I wanted to hug you Maa. I know you were hurt. I could see you bleeding. Your heart was bleeding.

And then…all of a sudden you stopped singing.

Where are you Maa? Why can’t I hear you sing again?

I remember the rocking of the train. It lulled us both to sleep. The roar of the sea. The sound of the seagulls. These were all new sounds to me. You said we were on a holiday. Just you and me.

And then I think I heard it once again…Ta-ra-hmm…la – ri – ta…Maa I still can’t remember the rest of it.

You went to the beach for three days. You didn’t talk to anyone. You didn’t hum your song again. There was no Veena. No riyaaz. No music. You didn’t even talk to me. But I was happy. Because I could now hear your heartbeat. Loud, clear and beautiful.

And then one night I heard your voice for the last time. I am sorry you said. I heard the sea again. The water. The sound got closer, louder. Your heart beat faster. I woke up. Alarmed. Scared. I kicked hard. I tried to tell you that I am worried. You clutched you tummy hard. I could almost feel your grip on my bones.

And then there was a silence. I could hear nothing. Not you…not anyone.

I can hear everyone now. I can hear Papa say She walked into the sea. I can hear Nani cry. Yes, her voice reminds me of you. But where are you Maa? Why can’t I hear you now?

II am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013. Today’s prompt is ‘Music’.

Write Tribe

Book Review: The Lowland

When I read The Namesake about a decade back, I didn’t aspire to write. But I decided that if I chose to write, I would want to be a writer like Jhumpa Lahiri. You know…fanciful, wishful thinking! In 2003, fresh out of college and having studied the very new Indian writing in English, I fell in love with a this emergent genre of writing. Powerful, moving and evocative, Lahiri’s writing made me look at my concept of Indian-ness and everything drives my identity.

Ten years later, when I pick up another Jhumpa Lahiri, I know what to expect. After all, here is a writer who has come to represent the voice of the immigrant Indian so beautifully.  But here there is a remarkable twist of tactic. It is no longer only about the immigrant Indian. It is no longer about a protagonist’s identity. It is about his past, his present and his future. It is about politics. It is about ideology. The Lowland is all that and more.

the lowland

For those of you haven’t read the book, here is the book blurb from Goodreads:

“Two brothers bound by tragedy; a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past; a country torn by revolution. A powerful new novel–set in both India and America–that explores the price of idealism and a love that can last long past death.

Growing up in Calcutta, born just fifteen months apart, Subhash and Udayan Mitra are inseparable brothers, one often mistaken for the other. But they are also opposites, with gravely different futures ahead of them. It is the 1960s, and Udayan–charismatic and impulsive–finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty: he will give everything, risk all, for what he believes. Subhash, the dutiful son, does not share his brother’s political passion; he leaves home to pursue a life of scientific research in a quiet, coastal corner of America.

But when Subhash learns what happened to his brother in the lowland outside their family’s home, he comes back to India, hoping to pick up the pieces of a shattered family, and to heal the wounds Udayan left behind–including those seared in the heart of his brother’s wife.

Suspenseful, sweeping, piercingly intimate, The Lowland expands the range of one of our most dazzling storytellers, seamlessly interweaving the historical and the personal across generations and geographies. This masterly novel of fate and will, exile and return, is a tour de force and an instant classic.”

At many levels, The Lowland is a book of expectations. Expectations of parents, sons, siblings, wives, husbands, revolutions, the country’s…every character in the book has expectations to deal with. For here are a set of parents who toil through the lives, build a home and raise it just like their sons, hoping and expecting their sons to live in it. A mother who expects her son to marry a girl of her choice. A brother who expects his sibling to follow his path of ideology. The other driven by his duty towards his parents picks a path that they approve of, but fail to walk the whole road. He never returns. He too doesn’t marry the girl of his mother’s choice. He too abandons them to do his own bidding. A widow doesn’t live up to the expectations of her mother-in-law. Or even to the memory of her slain husband. In fact for that matter, she doesn’t live up to the expectations of her own daughter. The only one who does justice to some of the relationships he lives through is Subhash. Subhash  as a father and a husband plays his part well…a bit too sincerely, to be honest.

The Lowland is also a complex and intricate tale of siblings. Udayan and Subash, two brothers who grow up together, inseparable and very alike almost look at one another as shadows. Rather early in the book, when the story begins in the past, we are told how the elder looks at himself as inferior to the younger. A compelling force drives him to match up to his brother. He loves him, no doubt. But in everything they do, Subhash tries to keep up with Udayan. It is not until they grow up, do their personalities walk different paths. As Udayan is sucked into the Naxalite movement, Subhash steers away. Choosing the safer shroud of academics and a safer, farther haven of the United States of America.

In a typical Jhumpa-risque way, Subhash’s American life pans out just as I expected. A life of a loner, one far removed from his family and brother, there is a fleeting affair too casual and flippant to be called a romance.

At one point of the story, I began predicting the story. I hadn’t read reviews of the book, but I could sense what was in store. For instance, I knew Subhash would marry his wife’s brother. I also knew the marriage would be an unhappy one.

Gauri’s is powerful. Yet too cold and distant. Her dreams are never revealed. Only her place in the story is juxtaposed with those of other characters. She left me with a feeling of unease. Of not knowing what her motivations were. Or why she does what she does. But here is a character for who America is a place of liberation. She never surrenders her Indian identity. She keeps her passport and her identity as Mrs Mitra. But she also earns a new one. She becomes a renowned Professor. She snips her locks that Udayan loved so much. She abandons her life as a mother and wife. She lives with the ghost of a husband she had briefly. I have a problem with Gauri. But then maybe because it is a personal reading of a character who is a mother. As one myself, I have trouble accepting a character who abandons her child from the moment she is born. I look at it as a failing. And as I read through the book, I kept looking for that one moment that would absolve her of her imperfection. I couldn’t find any. Maybe she was meant to be like that.

The Lowland is not the perfect book to understand the Naxalbari movement. But it is a telling tale of how the revolution affected hundreds and thousands of men. Of how young boys believed that they could change the face of the country, rid it of its imperfections that had begun to creep in. The Lowland in that is a perfect picture that helps the reader understand history and society of Bengal. One passage that deeply moved me is below:

“She wants to know who has done this. Who has desecrated this place? Who has insulted Udayan’s memory this way?

She calls out to the neighbours. Who was responsible? Why did they not come forward? Had they already forgotten what happened? Or were they unaware that it was here that her son had once hidden? Just beyond, in what used to be an empty field, where he’d been killed? 

She waits for Udayan to appear amid the water hyacinth and walk toward her. It is safe now, she tells him. The police have gone. No one will take you away. Come quickly to the house. You must be hungry. Dinner is ready. Soon it will be dark. Your brother married Gauri. I am alone now. You have a daughter in America. Your father has died. 

She waits, certain that he is there, that he hears what she tells him. She talks to herself, to no one.” 

The Lowland reminded me of an uncle. A now very close family friend, who Maa says was in throes of Naxalbari way back in the late 1960’s. He had a body-warrant, she says. At once, alarming and exciting for me to know. A reading of Udayan’s story therefore is an close encounter for me, and anyone who has heard stories about the movement.

The Lowland is gripping and poetic. It is a powerful tale of love, belonging, duty, responsibility, loneliness and dreams. It is the story of a nation. Of political courage and aspirations. It is the story of an unfinished life. Of a life interrupted. It is also the story of a relationship halted, of discovery, faith and unconditional belonging.

Ten years later, I still want to grow up to write like Jhumpa Lahiri.

 I am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013. And today’s prompt is ‘Books.

Write Tribe

Munch, Munch, Munch…

The heart crumples

The stomach grumbles

I eat

Munch, munch, munch…

To discard the hunch

To drive away the fear

The verdict as I hear

Oh! It’s painful

Hurtful

Disdainful

To be shunted out

To be booted out

I eat…

Munch, Munch, Munch…

Lunch from home

Hooking up to Chrome

To find a friend

To find a rope at the loose end

To talk

To hear

To think

I eat…

Munch, munch, munch…

IMG_20131209_031848

Soon it runs out

The food

The patience

Everything

Then I want more

To eat

Munch, munch, munch…

For comfort

To hide the discomfort

To please

To ease

The pain

The fear

Something sweet?

Oh! I want to eat

Munch, munch, munch…

 I am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013. Today’s prompt is ‘Food’.

Write Tribe

Memories That Money Can’t Buy

Maa tells me that when she was a kid petrol was 40 p / litre. Baba earned 800 bucks a month. Their first dish of lobsters in Taj Mahal, Mumbai costed Rs 350. It was an extravagance, but they weren’t paying for it. My parents’ childhood sounds idyllic to me. Gosh, really, how inexpensive was life then!

My own childhood was not extravagant either. Once a week, Maa would be give me 5 bucks so that I could buy dosa for lunch at school. Or pepsicola like we called in those days…iced colas squeezed in plastic pipes.

pepsi cola

Or a round of kala chana salad that I called ‘Vitamin’. The thrill of handling money was of great joy. At once empowering and full of responsibility. With a small amount given to me on certain days, I felt I had to account for every penny spent, or saved.

As I grew up, my ‘pocket money’ also increased. 50 bucks a month was such an extravagance. Sometime later, while still in school I started tutoring a little girl. Her mother out of gratitude paid me Rs 250 as fees. To a girl of 17, it brought the first thrill of earning her money. Then there was a dance competition that fetched us Rs 4000 as top prize. Between 10 of us, we shared not more than 400 each. I remember I bought myself my first high heels back then. Black in colour, I soldiered on in them for a long, long time. They gave the height my own legs didn’t. A confidence of having earned something. To be worthy of a prize. To be able to spend it. To make a choice of putting my money in the right place.

Money didn’t matter then. What did, is how I earned it. Or spent it.

Years later, I take my son out to the weekly haat. There are fresh vegetables you see. As a mother, I strive to put the freshest and healthiest grub on the table. Oh yes, it is a task to walk from one stall to another. To find the juiciest tomato, or the perfect lemons, or a flower of gobhi without hidden pests inside…to carry the heavy bags back to the car, sometimes five of them heavy with kilos of food for the family. Of course they are cheaper, but what is a good wife who is not penny wise?

Haat Memory

Our trips to the haat are not about vegetables any more. They are also not about finding the cheapest onions that don’t sting my purses. It is about my son learning his ways in a market. Every Sunday, mother and son, we go to the haat to pick our veggies for the week. To haggle a little. To sort a little. To pick the best. To eat the best.

Hand in hand we walk from one stall to another. We sort the veges we want, we ask for the best rates. He likes the feel of soft, squishy tomatoes in his little palms. No, we don’t want them, I tell him. Look for the firm ones. They have to be tight…yes, look for the red ones. He picks one and wants to dig his teeth into it. Oh, you can’t do that yet! Wait till we get home and you can wash it first. 

The firm form of green capsicum also tease him. He picks up one, just enough to fill his hand, like a little ball. He looks around, aiming for the weighing scale, wanting to throw it right in. He looks at me for encouragement and then at the shopkeeper. Both of us yell, No baby, don’t throw it…put it down! Disappointed and defeated, he puts it right back.

We pick our lemons. He notices that I don’t pick the ones with spots. A spotted lemon makes it way into the basket, and he quickly pops it out. While the shopkeeper weighs our pick, the little man quickly picks one and hides it behind himself. What do you think you are doing here? I ask. He flashes his dimples and puts the lemon back.

Me, me me…he screams when the pumpkin man returns 5 bucks to me. He wants it, you see. Three pieces of coins all for himself. I let him have them. He fingers them carefully and puts them in his pocket. Clutching it tight. Back home, as his Baba helps me carry the bags home, he pulls out his tiny hands from his pocket and says, taka..Baba, taka.

Oh yes, my boy…taka (money) is what you will handle when you grow up. But will you remember the innocence with which you went to the haat? It’s all worth a penny’s sake…but to me, it is worth it to gather a moment that will become a memory for me. And for you… 

Memories are special…because they can never be bought. Long after you have grown up, you may remember our trips to the haat. And every time you do, they will make you smile…

I am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013.Today’s prompt is ‘Memories’. 

Write Tribe