Monday, December 08, 2003

An excerpt from a mail I wrote.

But the past changes us. What the past did to us determins the decisions we will take, one way or the other. It puts signboards of upcoming goals and diversions on our otherwise eventless road of life. what happened yesterday helps us decide how we are doing today. Whether we agree or disagree with the decsions we made yesterday, we cannot be indifferent to them. When we think we're planning for the future, we're really reacting to the past. We like new friends if they look like old friends, we make new enemies if they behave like old enemies. My decisions in the past have put me where I am now, for better or for worse. There is no such thing as starting afresh - as long as you are in the new life you're imagining, it will extend from the old life you're living. And realizing this is not the same as learning to live with it.

Monday, October 27, 2003

A belated (or is it far in advance?) happy Diwali to all! I had a good time with family during my four-day holiday - hope everyone else did, too. And now for something totally diferent:

Spiders remember childhood friends! Is one of the wierdest stories I've read in a long time. Not only for the fact which they've 'discovered, but for the tacit assumption they started with, that spiders and suchlike dont remember other creatures of their kind. I get the feeling that Indians don't have this assumption - or do they ? A lot of fairy stories imply that the little critters do remember, of course. I find myself unable to remember what I believed before reading this article... one more thing to think about.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Rather disturbing piece of news :
Single screening theatres plan indefinite strike
The interesting part is that, Multiplexes are completely exempt from Entertainment tax - while normal theatres arent. That means the multiplexes, which charge about a hundred bucks a ticket, are pocketing ALL of it for themsleves...makes me feel bad about ever having gone to those places. Consdering that you dont get any special advantages at a multiplex (being able to pay 40 bucks for a burger during the interval is NOT an advantage)...Yeh koi tareeka hua! Me, I opt for the older theatres every time.

Which reminds me, I saw Samay a couple of days back (at a single-screen theatre). Very neatly done movie, even if the ending is copied from Seven. No useless songs (except for one 'item number', which can be forgiven, I guess), no Johnny Lever, and no romantic hero for the heroine. I noticed it was produced by iDream - These guys are definitely doing good work. All the movies they produce (like, 16th December, Jajantaram Mamataram, Mitr, the upcoming Rudraksh) are off the beaten track, generally low-budget, but technically well done.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Watch this space :

Adbhut | Science Fiction and Fantasy | An Indian Experience

This is a magazine my friend Dinker is starting up. And if I know my friends right, this is going to be something worth looking at pretty soon.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

I just finished a really neat book : On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Already I find the run-on writing style has filtered into my own writing, particularly some letters I've written recently. I'll need to read something with clipped sentences (Len Deighton, maybe?) to get the writing back to normal :).
Also, a couple of days back, saw Mulholland Drive. One wierd movie, that one is. You need to either see it three or four times, or see summaries on the net(like I did) to make sense of the whole movie. Not to mention that I found the thing to be quite creepy. Of course, seeing it alone at 3 in the night may be part of the reason for that!

Friday, September 05, 2003

Went home and looked up the remaining three books :) ( <-- Sheepish grin ).

18. All quiet on the western front - Erich Remarque
19. If you could see me now - Peter Straub
20. A kiss before dying - Ira Levin

Note the very high percentage of books either on the top 100 lists or written by authors on the list. Havent started on any of this lot yet. I'm currently finishing Wizard and Glass by Stephen King and On the Road by Jack Kerouac. On the Road is highly, highly recommended for its writing technique. Amazing book! Fully deserves to be so famous, unlike some of the real duds on that #$@ top 100 list.

Went out last evening with Samrat to see Bad Boys 2. It has been many years since I watched an action movie in the theatre (and I refuse to count Chura Liya Hai Tumne as action). Fun stunts, some very funny comedy sequences, and the added sparkle of having got the tickets free (prize from the Quiz we won). Added up to an enjoyable evening.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

After a long quiet spell, I've been on a crazy book-buying spree again. There's a great book exhibition at the Institute of Engineers, and the bargain books counter (20 bucks apiece!) has some really hard-to-find books. I've gotten addicted to finishing that Modern Library list of the top 100 books this century (BOTH the lists on that page), so I use it as a guideline when looking for books to buy.

I am now going to imitate George's (sometimes irritating) habit of gloating over my current haul:
1. The Moviegoer - Walker Percy
2. The Confessions of Nat Turner - William Styron
3. The Day of the Locust - Nathaniel West
4. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers
5. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - Robert Heinlein
6. Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert Heinlein
7. We the Living - Ayn Rand
8. Journeys to the Twilight Zone - short stories ed. by Rod Serling's wife (whoever that was)
9. The Glass Key - Dashiell Hammett
10. The Belljar - Sylvia Plath
11. The Plague Dogs - Richard Adams
12. Our Town - Thornton Wilder
13. Sein Language - Jerry Seinfield
14. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - E. L. Konigsburg
15. A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine D'Engle
16. Welcome to the Monkey House - Kurt Vonnegut
17. Martin the Warrior - Brian Jacques

OH - MY - GOD! I really cannot remember the remaining 3 books I bought just two days back! Either I'm buying too many books or my memory is fading. I am dumping this onto the blog and adding stuff as and when I remember it (or look it up).

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

This past weekend I finally joined the 'Aashay Film Club', after having procrastinated over it for years. I dont think they have a proper website, so cant link to them. Basically they hold screenings of art/classic/experimental movies in all languages. Hunted around for the location of their 'office', finally found it, registered for a year, walked out really happy. Until yesterday morning, when it struck me that I was going to be going to these shows all alone. As far as I know, none of my friends are members of the club. So I need to either drag my old friends to come with me, or make new friends who are already there. :) Lessee how this goes.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Finally, it's here, the next chapter of Pawar Guest House. The short story within was born while I was on a trip to Himachal Pradesh, and written when I was on a trip to Rajasthan, under less-than-ideal conditions. The word file where I'm writing the stories is now 110 kb.... some day it'll be a full book. :)

Chapter 6

It is now nearly a week since I read the diary, here at the Pawar Guest House. In the days that passed I struggled to come to terms with the diary’s contents, and even now, have not quite accepted the idea they lay out. Admittedly, this cannot be a new idea; browsing through any good public library will give me the technical word for it, will give me accounts of people faced with this problem, and how they dealt with it.

But… as the diary itself says, there’s no way my experience can be exactly the same as that of those other writers, or even of the person who wrote that diary. So that, even in this, my account of the conversations I had with the old lady, I cannot be sure that you are actually reading what I mean to write.

That evening after I returned, I had just the strength to copy down the contents of the diary, which she’d lent me. What we talked about after that, I felt, there was no point writing. Fortunately, the feeling has passed somewhat now, though it touches everything I say and write. Whatever twisted meaning it may convey to a reader, it should, hopefully, remind me of what actually happened afterwards.

- - -

I finished reading the diary, flipped through the remaining entries ( Bread – 8 Rs., Lunch – 20 Rs. … ) and closed the diary. My thoughts were in a jumble, somehow the diary had awakened the one demon I’d always fought against – the fear of not being understood – and proclaimed it victorious without a doubt.

She said,” You’ll probably not believe it, but I know what you’re feeling. You’ll get over it, in time. But this feeling, this idea is going to colour your thoughts and stories for a long, long time.”

I got up abruptly. “It’s…getting late. I need to get back.”

“Yes, of course you must. Come back only when you want to. I’d like to hear what you think about the diary, after you’ve had the time to mull it over.”

I walked back, through the deserted, sodium-vapour-lit streets, lost in my thoughts. She had been right. All the stories I’d remembered, all the tales I’d planned to tell, now seemed so useless against the one big cancer of an idea that kept pulling me in. I was alone, so alone forever, as alone as every other person I’d ever met. Just like every other person.

- - -

I don’t know why today, I’ve come back to the Guest House. Certainly, if she asks me, I have nothing to tell. Perhaps it is inertia, or perhaps some subconscious hope of finding some distraction from my thoughts.

Thankfully, she doesn’t seem to expect anything from me, either. As soon as I sit down, she says,” I’m pretty sure you don’t have anything to tell today. So for today, we’ll do what you originally wanted when you came here. I’ll tell the stories.

“Let me start with the reason why I came here. I’m not originally from here, I was born in Himachal Pradesh, among the hills…”

- - - - - -

It took a while before anyone recognized Anand. After all, he hadn’t been back to the village for nearly twenty years. He just stood there, where he’d gotten off the bus, as it rolled on, leaving a pall of dust and smoke. As the dust settled, Anand looked around him. Memories stirred in him as he recognized places, things, that hadn’t changed since he’d left this place.

He came out of his reverie with a jerk. Two old men in the dhaba opposite were looking at him curiously. The one with the red turban had a strange, doubtful look on his face. Anand picked up his traveling bag and walked across the road to the dhaba. He went up to the old men and said to the red-turbanned one,” Namaste, Ishwar Kaka. Remember me?”

Ishwar Kaka’s face cleared. He said,” Anand beta, it is you, then? I wasn’t… sure!” And a laugh broke free from him and he stood up clumsily to embrace the lost son of the village.

Anand asked him,” Is the old room by the temple still there? Is Ramdhari Kaka still the priest?” The old man looked at him, averted his face. “Why do you want to go there, beta? Come to my home, I’ve got a pucca home now. Why not stay with me?” But Anand was already shaking his head. “No, Kaka… next time, I’ll definitely stay with you. For tonight, let me go to the temple.”

“Then… you are only here for a day?”

“Yes, Kaka.”

“But… your land? I thought you’d come to sell off your land, or to till it?”

A faint smile crossed Anand’s face. “Some other time, Kaka. This time I’m just here to remember.” And he set off on the strange yet familiar path to the temple.

Ramdhari Kaka still was the priest, and he, of course, remembered Anand. The room was much smaller than he remembered it, and dustier. But it was empty, and Anand didn’t mind the dust. He bought a chatai from the Kirana shop and pread it out in its usual corner under the window. He rested there for a while, waiting for the evening.

Meanwhile the news of his arrival had spread like wildfire. Everyone, from Darbari Seth, the owner of the Chamunda lodge, to mad old Babu, cavorting in the freezing river water, knew Anand was back.

Evening is a very long period in the Himachal villages. The sun goes down below the mountains very early, but darkness arrives only when it is well and truly gone. People stop working in the tarraced fields, shops start closing, and only the groups of children scamper about on the streets. Their parents are too busy gossiping in the fading light at the village chaupal, or in the temple courtyard. Today, for some reason, the chaupal was deserted, and everyone seemed to converge on the temple courtyard for their gossip. People stole glances through the open door by the temple’s side, where they could just make out Anand’s feet in the gloom, and see him occasionally turn to his side.

He finally got up and came out of the room yawning. He didn’t seem surprised to see the people sitting in the courtyard, but walked over to the pot of water by the wall, drank from it, and sat down leaning against a pillar by the gate. The murmur of discussion rose up again, but hesitantly.

Finally, one old lady asked Anand,” How have you been, beta? We never heard from you after you left.”

“I’ve been alright, Kaki. I found some work in the city and studied through college. Now I have a job in the government.”

Anand felt like a liar, even though it was the truth he’d said. But how could he describe that he hadn’t been all right, that he’d starved so often to pay his fees, how he;d studied under street lamps, how he’d vended tea even after getting his degree, how he’d struggled to get his job. He could still taste the dust in his mouth from the day he’d left the village, in the early morning bus, hiding from everyone, hoping that the bus driver didn’t know who he was. He remembered living in fear, even in the city, fear that someone would recognize him, would take him back.

The old lady said,” I remember the time when you used to help out Vaidji in his work, you’d even made a kaadhaa for me once when I had a fever.”

Though controlling his voice took an effort, Anand spoke pleasantly enough.

“Yes, Kaki. I remember. Of course, Pitaji couldn’t teach me his craft for long. Darbari Seth took care of that.”

There was an uncomfortable silence. Darbari Seth hadn’t come to the courtyard (perhaps he’d gone to the chaupal) but his wife was here. Almost everyone present knew Vaidji’s gambling habits, how he’d lost his house and land to Darbari Seth in a long night of drunk gambling. Anand, of course, remembered being woken from his sleep, early in the morning, by a goon, and being dragged out of the house by one arm. He remembered his mother weeping, assuring the goons that they would repay in full, if only they could stay here for a few more days…

Anand continued,” Of course, Ramdhari Kaka let us stay in this room for as long as we needed.”

The listeners shifted uneasily. Most of them could remember shutting out Vaidji ( who was, after all, a southerner, not a Himachali like themselves). Each had told himself that someone else would take these people in, ignoring the pleas audible from outside their doors, over the next few days after Vaidji had lost his home. They had snuggled inside, safe from the freezing cold of the winter.

“But beta, you were all quite comfortable here, and we… we would all have helped you if you’d had any problem.”

Anand’s voice remained calm as he said,” May I ask you a question, Kaki?”

Pausing a moment, he continued,” Does anyone remember the time at which Pitaji died?”

No one answered.

“Of course, no one remembers. No one even knows the time. It took me nearly half the day to get people to take him to the ghat. And no one wanted to do even that. Were you all so afraid of Pneumonia, that you were afraid of touching his body?”

Some of the villagers looked like they wished they handt come here. Morbid curiosity held the rest in a thrall. Even though Anand’s voice was calm, it was clear that he was accusing them, holding them all responsible.

One person stood up. Anand’s voice rang out after him, in the gloom.

“Thakur chacha, how come you’re in such a hurry? Arent you proud of the honour of being the first?”

“The first?” Thakur said roughly, drawn in, in spite of himself. “The first what?”

”The first to call me a ‘kalmunha’ to my face? The first to come with a crowd, to my mother and me, to demand the debts my father had left behind? The first person for whom I worked in the fields, trying to stay alive and repay my debts? You were an inspiration, Chacha, you were an inspiration to so many others who wanted their debts paid!”

Anand’s mind flashed back to his life as it had seemed to be to his ten-year-old mind then…an endless series of fields to be ploughed, grain to be threshed; as a labourer, bound to this village and its people forever… alone except for his mother, who was slowly but surely losing her mind…

She had still had phases of clear thought, and in one of these, late at night, she had woken him up frantically from a deep sleep. She’d stolen some money from a shop that day, and she told him about it as she thrust it into his pocket.

“Run, beta, run away. Don’t worry about me, I am going to die soon. Take the bus that goes to the city, early in the morning. Never come back, beta, never come back…”

He had started to protest, but she had pulled him up and stodd him straight by then. Even before he was fully awake, she was pushing him out of the door. Something struck her then, as she watched him framed against the night of stars, with the silent, sleeping village below it. She grabbed up a small pot of water and handed it to him. “Here, take this. Keep it with you in the bus. I don’t know where you will eat, beta, but atleast you will be free. Now go! Go!” And she had turned him around, towards the road, and slammed the door shut behind him.

He’d stood for a moment, listening to her weeping from behind the door. Then, as if still in a dream, he’d started walking.

Slowly at first, then almost running, he’d walked to the bus stop and hid behind a tree, clutching the unwieldy pot of water to him, jumping at every sound, suspecting every noise was a footfall, expecting a rough hand on his shoulder any minute…

Anand said, “ None of you know this, but the only thing I took from your village was a pot of water.” No one protested at his use of “your village”.

“And, of course, Thakur chacha had already discovered that I was a ‘kalmunha’. I’ve today to fulfil that prophecy, and to repay my debt.”

There was a stir at these words. No one, however, asked him to explain.

“All my life, I’ve been laughing at those stories about kind-hearted villagers helping strangers. All my life, I have had that pot of water, the only thing I got from here, on my mind. Perhaps that pot was what shaped my career.

“I’ve told you that I work for the government. Let me explain what work I do. I work for the Himachal Hydel Power Corporation, and I work for the Survey department. We look for suitable sites to set up Hydel projects – that means dams, Thakur chacha.

“I’m here to announce formally to the village that a big project is going to be set up in this valley.”

“But… that means…”

“Yes.” Anand said. Those close to him could have sworn he was smiling. This village is going to be submerged in a new lake of water in the valley. The government will of course give you suitable replacement homes and land… as it usually does. I’ll be in charge of that as well.”

- - - -

Monday, July 28, 2003

So, people, finally, I'm back. Had to leave for a sudden visit to my in-laws place, about three weeks back. Boy, was it tiring!

But this long absence wasnt a total waste....I managed to get one more story in the Pawar Guest House series completed. This is probably the quickest of the lot, counting the time from inception to execution... one month! Will dump it here as soon as I get it typed.

Not much else to report... a huge number of things happened on this recently concluded trip...most of which are still too 'daanwadol' to tell now. The trip will be described on this blog in excruciating detail, someday.

Which reminds me of the promised account of my Himachal trip... Of yes, that one is over a dozen pages long and still only half done! Working on it, working on it...hang on :)

Thursday, June 26, 2003

When you're feeling fine, you sometimes wish you were sick, so you could relax while the world works.

Of course, fall ill with a terrible cold, fever, and bodyache and you find you dont mind working at all in exchange for feeling good again. :)

Which is probably why I enjoyed working today: I've been down for about 4 days. Worst cold I ever had.

Plus they fiddled around with the setup here at my company and now i cant access the net (aka blog while code is compiling) while I'm logged on to our client's network. will need to figure a way out of that one.

Thought up this one today, and already cracked it, so you're free to reuse it if you want:

"Tumne khoob teensti nibhaayi"

"Teensti? Woh kya hai?"

"Yahan apan teen log hai na, isliye. Do hotey to dosti bolta tha"

And btw...something's wrong with my old comments tag as well...probably because they changed the blogger stuff....will work that out. mail me, whoever it was that posted the comment, please? thanks.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Hear that whooshing sound? My birthday going by...:)

I remembered another story about birthdays : about my Dad and Dev Anand. Will elaborate today.

This post is mainly to test out the comments thingy i just added. So everyone who sees this, please try it out. Or you'll never hear about the Dev Anand story :)

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

I'm almost (gasp!) 28 years old... Kya kiya re life mein :) ! Birthday coming up tomorrow. No plans yet on how to celebrate. Come to think of it, no plans yet on whether to celebrate or not.

It might be worthwhile to dredge up some birthday-related anecdote here. Hmm...let's's the standard story I tell:

When I was a kid, living in Trivandrum, my school opened on the 20th of June. Since we spent the summer vacations in Indore and Surat (paternal and maternal grandparents' places respectively), we'd generally be in the train back to Trivandrum on the 18th. Always got me irritated. :).

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Here's one of the stand-alone stories...I'd started this before I left, but finished it on the train. Kinda inspired by Stephen King's stye of writing:

There was a cool breeze that night

The first thing he noticed was the cool breeze on his upturned face. It smelled sweet, and fresh, and had the tastte of spring on it. He sniffed appreciatively, savouring the breeze, feeling ecstatic for being able to feel it.

He looked around. It was sometime very late at night. The road was deserted. He didnt recognize it; he had no idea where he was. It didnt matter. Just to be alive again was enough. The road was lit by strange yellow lights. He hadnt seen that sort before. There was a high wall on the other side of the road, with jagged pieces of glass along the top. Wires sang their monotonous tune, high above his head, as they passed through a power pylon.

He was sitting on a pile of earth. Behind him, there was a pit within which he could make out thick insulated cable. The pit and the accompanying piles of earth continued on both sides of him along the road as far as he could see. Behind that was a barbed wire fence bordering an open ground. He suddenly recognised the place. The open ground was an NCC training ground, it had an obstacle course they used. Beyond that would be the hill... he looked up, and there it was. It had many more lights at the top than he remembered.

So a long time had passed, since he was last aware of himself. Vaguely, he could remember the period in between. How people had given him a wide berth as he'd staggered down the street, muttering. He remembered a couple of kind-eyed beggar children who'd given him a roti, backing off as soon as he'd taken it. One strange memory of him being a lion, and a watchman chasing him in disgust, not realising that he was a fearsome beast. A few snatches of a nurse holding him down while a doctor gave him an injection (the world blacked out after that). And sevral faded feelings of being hungry, being thirsty, feeling pain, feeling a strange sense of loss...

But all that, it seemed, was in the past. He was sane again, and aware of the cool breeze blowing against his face. Able to think of what to do next, able to put his past behind him and decide how to get on with living.

He'd done it before. He could remember how he'd started from nothing - that assortment of wooden planks, aluminium roofing and cardboard that had been his house in the slum. How it had been just him and his father, both starving half the time and fighting each other the rest of it. The long journey from there to a job, Maya, and their flat. And from there to Vakil Bhai, a simple loan at first, then bigger and bigger, until those men had burst into their home to collect or else...

But that was long gone, God knows how many months or years ago. He'd start again.

He looked around again, watched a lone motorcyclist speed by. He lifted up a hand to scratch his cheek, then noticed how thin and wrinkled his fingers were. Somewhat alarmed, he looked down at himself. He was old, and worn out. He must be about sixty-five or seventy years old. He had very little time left, then. He had to make something of himself, and quickly. He would start by -

Eh? Why had he stumbled? Was he so far gone that he couldnt even walk? He tried again and nearly fell down. His left hand instinctively reached out, and he realised why he hadnt been able to get up. There was an old twisted branch with a small slab of wook nailed across one end. Rough, for sure, but a crutch nevertheless... his left foot was gone.

He hoisted himself to his feet, using the crutch as support. It didnt matter, really. He'd done it before and could do it again. He mumbled a bit as he made his plans, hobbling down the road, the cool breeze of the night ruffling his thin white hair.
* * *

Finally, home again. The trip to Himachal Pradesh was wonderful, got 3 kg off my spare tyre, gave me a bunch of silly stories to regale friends with, and memories of some beautiful moments. What more could a guy want from a vacation?

Photos are at my yahoo account.

The stories from the trip will come out slower, they need to identified as such; split up into nice bite size chunks. The "proper" short stories that I thought up during the trip will get dumped here as I type them in...sadly, just one of them is a chapter of Pawar Guest House. Oh well...

One of the 'monthly forecasts' for my sign tells me that my writing phase ends on the 15th June. ;). Hope I dont have any incomplete stories then...

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Hmm. Install still not finished. Time to add another entry.

I read an interesting article a long time back, in which some guy was doing research on babies' brains. Rather, what kinds of logic they are capable of. What he did was, had a large, attention-attracting object move slowly through the baby's field of vision. Then he had something blocking the way, so the moving object was obscured. He checked the direction in which the baby was looking. Sure enough, the little geniuses continued to turn their heads and eyes in the direction the object had been moving, and they would lock on to it again when it became visible. He concluded that humans are born with this basic logic inbuilt.

Writing this above reminded me of the 'blind spot' in our eyes - that place where the optic nerve connects to the eye and there arent any sensor cells. No one ever complained of that one.

Why am I thinking of these things? Extrapolation, or the creation of pattern, is what I'm coming to. Even without having to think about it, people do believe (or 'have faith in') the idea that their action has a result, and every result has a cause. It struck me today that this impulse must be really burnt deep into our brains. Essential survival instinct, I bet. And take a society that keeps asking "why?" to every question, a society where you have a bunch of people who are free to do just this, for many generations, and you get a system of thought like hinduism.

It has been more than two weeks now since this blog got updated (if you dont count me 'fixing' the archives). What newsworthy stuff has happened since then? Hmm...

I took part in a quiz competition almost by mistake and got runners-up prize.

The pi-laaan for my trip to Himachal Pradesh got finalised - me leaving on 23rd May. Taking my digital camera along this time, so my photos will hopefully come up here on this page.

Scratched half my hair out trying to find the right counter attack to the 'Quiet Diary' story. Why O why didnt I make that one the last story in the book? But no, that would have been running away - I need the answer to that situation myself. Finally found one that isnt either of the two obvious choices ( ignoring it entirely, as most people do in life, or trying to add more context into everything, as much as one can stand). I'll have the HP trip to compose and work out the next chapter.

Mom wrote the Gujarati subtitles to Chura Liya Hai Tumne (Mohabbat mirchi che :D ), Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum, and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Since the English stuff was already done I didnt have any stuff to do there besides setting up stuff, and mailing finished files to C-DAC. The next movie, which she'll take on after I get back, will have both the English and Gujrarati subtitles to do.'s a thought exercise - can anyone make out what the Hindi for this is?

This girl is very unknowing (innocent, maybe?)
Is she a dream ? Is she real? Or a story?
Look, this crazy girl hasnt changed a bit
She's just the same maniac she was...

Well? mail me when you get it. sudarshan_purohit, at hotmail.

Monday, May 05, 2003

Interesting quote, off Slashdot (made by Pike65) :

A quick trudge of any *shudder* blog site is more than enough to convince me that everyone else leads a life as boring as mine.

Of course, it may just be that the people with interesting lives are out living them. Now there's a thought . . .

Links to the Quiet Diary idea all right...

It's interesting how, when you think about it, the various 'smart' ideas you've had over the years are linked closely. How they all mark out your 'mental space', as Hofstadter put it. Like, Quiet Diary links to the Foreigner, links to that whole 'Nothing has meaning without context' idea that blew me away a couple of years ago.

I'm reading some of these ideas in the spiritual books I use for bedtime reading these days... What I used to call 'the Universal Set by definition' they call the 'Truth'. They use another word for 'Context', as I used it in 'Nothing has meaning without context', and 'Words have no meaning without the context we associate with them'. I forgot what the word is, but Context seems a better word than the one they use...

Friday, May 02, 2003

Ouch. Seems the Archives arent working. Something to do with how I edited the entries after i added them; the archives only show the first cut. I'll have to be more careful.

George wanted to know about the "Subtitles" entry on Apr 15th. Explanation :

C-DAC has a subtitling cell, which takes on work to subtitle movies in various Indian languages. They get contracts from several different groups, leading to really varied work. This work is executed by various freelancers who get paid by the job.

Mom is one of these. I help her out when I get time and when the work's interesting enough. We've done everything from translating mobile phone error messages into Hindi, to subtitling episodes of Shree Ganesh, that TV serial on Sony, in English. That last one was kind of fun..."Lord Shiva, it is time for me to be born as your child."/"Yes, Shri Maha Ganesh, your will alone is the mightiest in the universe." :)

Anyway...the majority of the work is adding English subtitles for Hindi movies, or Hindi subtitles for regional movies. Everything from Muqaddar ka Sikandar (King of Fate :) ) to Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham.

Aap ke Saath was the movie I wrote the subtitles for recently. Assuming that the guy who gave us the contract sells these subtitled DVDs/CDs in the general market, unfortunate souls who see that movie could be reading our translations :)

Monday, April 28, 2003

I'm looking forward to cracking this one : (and hoping my intended target hasnt read my blog)

"Kya yaar, tune bahut dino se koi PJ nahi maara?"

"Nahi, mai ab ahimsa mein vishwas rakhta hoon, kuch bhi nahi maaroonga."

:) I know I'd hate to hear that.

Saturday, April 26, 2003

Finally...Here we are with Chapter 5. Whopper, even if I say so myself.

Chapter 5 : Pawar Guest House

Though I don't know it, what I hear today is going to shake me to the core. It starts off normally enough, with me walking to the Guest House and seeing her on the balcony; her seeing me and escorting me upstairs as usual. It is later than the other times; the huts on the grounds are closed and dark by the time I arrive, and hardly any vehicles ply the roads as we talk. The radio is playing Bela ke Phool instead of Hawa Mahal; but she's still there listening to it, as if expecting me to arrive today.

We talk a bit, about the weather, about some new guests here at the guest house, about how quiet it seems now that it is so late. All along, simmering on both our minds, are the stories, waiting to be told. I wanted to try something different today, and inwardly I'm itching to get on with it. Finally, the topic veers around to the story.

I say,” I don't really have a story to tell today. I do have something else, though. This was an evening I spent in Pune, a long time ago…”

- - -

I couldn't do any more work. The significance of the deadlines, of the work that had to be finished that day, had paled before the fact that Ila wasn't there. The fact of her absence sapped all my will, left me idling for hours before I realized that there was no point in staying in the office.

Mumbling my goodbyes, I left the office. Down in the parking lot, I was about the start up my motorcycle when I realized that there was no reason to go to my room. It was too early for dinner; besides, Ila's memory would be overpowering if I went home.

I drove around aimlessly for a while. I thought about that day – Was it only a few days back? - When Ila had left. Her train was at six in the evening… I'd told her I would try to make it there to see her off. But I hadn't any hopes myself, there was too much work. I'd fought through all of that day, tearing through documents and rushing meetings. There had been still more work left then (just as it'd been, today) but I'd somehow managed to break free. Driving down, I'd felt like a prisoner who'd escaped and was now greedily enjoying his precious few moments of freedom.

I'd reached the station just a few minutes before six. Her brother had left already… she'd probably assured him she would be fine and he needn't stay till the end. She had taken a seat by the window, and she brightened when she saw me coming down the stairs of the station. Her face was the brightest of all, and her smile made me forget I had just a temporary reprieve. I reached her and just looked at her. “Its only for a few days,” she’d said. “I'll be back before you know it.”

“Take care of yourself,” I'd whispered, as I stood by her window. The whistle blew just then, and the train had begun to pull away from the platform. My hand had been on the window sill, just an inch from hers. As the train began to move she'd shifted her hand ever so slightly, still looking at me, so that it touched mine. It said more than any words could have. Even today, if I think about it, I can feel the tingle on my hand, where she'd touched it.

I kept waving for as long as I could see the train. Only for a few days, she’d said, and yet…

And today, again, I was thinking of her. If she had come back she would have told me so. But somehow, I hoped she'd returned and forgotten to call, or was too busy, maybe. That would mean she was here, somewhere in Pune, and I might bump into her anywhere.

I suddenly realized I was crossing the Balgandharv Theatre. I turned the bike around and drove into the parking lot. Parked in the far corner (just like I had the other day), and walked to the entrance to the stairwell. There was a sign about a new exhibition of sculpture on at the multipurpose hall on the first floor of the theatre. We'd argued that day, right here. I'd wanted to eat first, she was afraid the exhibition would be closed for the night by the time we got back. She'd won, of course.

I went up.

Wandered through the exhibits… looked less at them, more at the people seeing the exhibition. Once I saw her favorite orange jacket in a crowd…but it turned out to be someone else. She wouldn't have liked these new sculptures - they were too small and besides she liked those black metal types better, forgot what she called them.

I walked down and went to the ticket window of the theatre. They had a comedy playing. Laxmikant Berde was in it. I'd probably have persuaded her into seeing this one.

I left my bike in the lot and walked down Jangli Maharaj Road. I didn't stop at the pavement booksellers even though Ila wasn't there to pull me away.

Dusk. The street lights were on but as yet not doing anything. A lot of people walked along this road in the evenings. Most of them weren't alone. A light breeze ruffled shop awnings and brought forth whispers from the trees.

I found myself falling into a trance, walking on the orange and brown tiles of the pavement, looking down to make sure my feet were stepping two files forward at a time. I stopped once to look at the crowd around a flower seller, who'd set up his rack of bouquets under a big old mango tree. Most of his customers were young college-age boys. He was advising those who asked about good bouquets for birthdays, parties, 'just-like-that's, and marriages. As usual, he was out of deep red roses early.

Reaching the next junction, I decided on having dinner at the Chinese food vendors who'd set up their little stalls along the road. Each had their few tables and chairs in front, on the pavement, with customers' favourites painted on little tin circles festooning the stalls. “Chow Mein”, “Hakka Noodles”, “Chiken Manchurien”, “Sweet Corn Soup”, they all advertised in English and Marathi.

I ordered Sweet corn soup, Noodles, and Vegetable Manchurien at the first stall that had seating space free. Idly I watched the vendor make my dinner… The familiar smells were comforting. I wondered if he would ask me why I was alone today. He wouldn't, probably; couples were transitory here, on this road next to Fergusson College.

I ate quickly, while deciding what to do next. M. G. Road would be a good place to go to now.

It was dark by the time I walked back to where my bike was parked. The lot was crowded, the show with Laxmikant Berde seemed to be doing well.

I parked in front of Manney's Book Shop. I could see very few people in there; the stores were all about to close anyway. The crowds on the street were at their peak, though.

There was hardly any traffic on M.G. Road, the whole road was full of groups of people walking. Balloon vendors were selling heart-shaped balloons and doing brisk business. The couple in front of me was walking hand in hand, and swinging their hands in time to the music playing loudly from various shops.

I looked around for a place to sit as I walked. The steps in front of most shops were occupied already. Groups of people perched here and there on the two-wheelers parked along the road. I passed one such group playing at Dumb Charades. “Govinda? A Govinda Movie? SCS? Haseena Maan Jayegi? Oh, an older one… Dariya Dil?…”

There was a huge crowd in front of Marz-O-Rin. I walked into there, hoping their Softy hadn't sold out. I was just in time. I got the Chocolate, and walked upstairs to where they had just added more tables. It was strange – there was enough space to sit upstairs, but people insisted on standing outside on the sidewalk to eat and drink. Upstairs, Marz-O-Rin had a long balcony with little tables set up all along it. I walked along to the last-but-one table. We'd wanted to sit at the last table, but that had been occupied that day. Ila had finished her Pineapple Juice quickly and I’d gotten her a pastry… We'd looked at the two girls at the last table, they'd moved their chairs right up to the railings in the balcony… The one with her back to us was mostly quiet, if anything, she seemed to be consoling the other. It was noisy that day, too. We couldn't make out the words they spoke. But I remember the face of the girl who sat facing us… She was haunted, by I don’t know what. Her hairstyle was kind of like Alisha Chinai's; she wore a denim jacket and jeans. She would have been in her early teens. I noticed her first when I saw something glittering, out of the corner of my eye. It was a tear, sliding down her cheek. She hadn't noticed it, apparently. Her companion spoke after a moment. The girl started, nodded, and passed a brusque hand over her cheek. She shifted position, tilted her head and rested it on the parapet. The two were still sitting there when we left about an hour later.

Today there was a middle-aged couple sitting at the last table. I was probably the only one here sitting by himself.

From up here, the yellow light of the streetlamps imparted a nostalgic feel to the whole scene below. The crowd and the noise reminded one of a college carnival.

I felt…

- - -

I am silent. Then I say,”I cant really go on with this. There’s no way to tell what it felt like, back there. How can you express what it feels like to long for someone, to know that you're truly, madly in love with her? What they talk about in the movies, in songs, that's just the surface of what it feels like. You're almost paralysed with happiness, you can feel something huge inside that really fills you up. You close your eyes for a moment and it's like her face, as it looked in the train window just before it left, is clear in your mind - clear as if you're seeing it now. And the fact that she's possibly thinking about you makes the feeling even stronger.

“Oh, there isn't any way to express it. Unless you've actually felt it.”

- - -

What else? I sat there and finished my ice cream. After a while I walked back to my bike and drove home.

I did say that this isn't a story, it's just an evening I spent. I don’t think I managed to express exactly what I wanted to. But… there it is. One evening I'll remember for a long time.

- - -

She is listening intently, eyes focused on something far away. When I stop she stays that way for a while, then abruptly seems to realize that I'm done. It seems my story went down well.

She says, “You know, that reminds me of something. Especially that last part, when you were having trouble expressing yourself. Sooner or later everyone hits that wall, and everyone deals with it in his own way. Hmm… wait here a minute. I want to show you something.”

She gets up and walks off into the corridor behind us. I sit back and listen to the radio. She's gone for a while, about two or three songs have gone by on the radio in the meantime.

When she comes back, she's dusting off an old rexine-bound diary. Sitting down, she explains, “ Hadn't thought about this one in a long time. A boy who stayed here a long time ago left this when he left. He left really suddenly, actually. Was there one evening, gone in the morning. Left most of his luggage behind. Always was a sensitive sort, he was. Anyway, what I want you to look at is… let's see, where is it…” She flips through the book… “There isn't enough light here to read this thing. Can you reach up and turn on that switch over there?” The switch in question is an old fashioned, black plastic knob set in a round case. I pull it down, weak, incandescent light washes over us. It is barely better than a candle; but she seems to have no trouble now. She's looking through the diary, stopping every now and then to read a few lines. “It was nearly at the end of what he wrote… The entries after that are really simple, appointments and accounts, mostly…ah, here we are!”

She hands me the diary, open to a page that’s torn off a little at one corner. “Read it aloud, if you want.” Her movement of leaning forward is duplicated in her huge shadow from the bulb moving down on the sidewalk. Ours seems to be the only light on the road now, apart from the streetlights.

Though the diary looks really old, it reads a date from not too long ago.

- - -

1 June

I've never kept a diary before. Never had the patience. So all I'm going to do is to write what I feel about Laxmi today, before the memory I have fades away. Later ( I hope) she'll be closer to me and may not look so magical. This is for me to remember her as she looked today when we talked for the first time.

Her eyes are this deep 'surprise brown’, which look black until you look closely. When she's looking at you, you feel she's actually seeing you as you are - not as you appear. And her smile is knowing yet playful. When she talks, you can tell she is glad to do so - otherwise you'd just be another piece of scenery to her. Unlike some girls I know, she doesnt wave her hands around or shift her feet while talking. All her attention, her whole body, is intent on speaking and listening to you. Sometimes there's that sharp twinkle in her eyes that tells you that a sudden thought, which she probably wont tell you, has occurred to her. And what thoughts! To talk to her and understand what she's saying you need to be really well read. I mean, I thought I was well-read, but when was the last time you talked to someone who's understood both Kautilya and Sartre? I'm going to need to learn a lot more just to keep up with her. Not to mention understanding atleast something about Bharatnatyam - she's learning that too. And the Harmonium. And computers.


2 June

I really shouldn't be leaving this book around for idle friends to read. Praveen reads through that page I wrote yesterday and goes," Who’s this girl? Uske chasmey ke number kya hai? Sounds like a South Indian to me. Knowing you, any fat black philosophy student would fascinate you...Arrey yaar, atleast if you want to remember her, write what she looks like, not this vague 'twinkle-in-eye' stuff!"

Praveen is one of these idiots who'd fall in love with any girl who laughs at their jokes and stays fashionable.

2 June (later)

I looked through that first entry again - without thinking about Laxmi at the time. I mean, as someone who only reads the words. In fact, as anyone else but me would. They do sound vague and zabardasti ka highfunda. I guess I could have another try. Hmmm.

Laxmi is not very tall, maybe about 5'3", but looks perfectly made. Her smallish round face really sets off her curly hair. Her fingers are rather long and delicate, though her figure is

What the heck is this? Hurray, I've just begun a Mills and Boon novel starring Laxmi Pandya. I'm sure Praveen would love this sort of description, if I could ever bring myself to show it to him. Whereas this description is actually worse than the earlier one.

3 June

The first one is better, if I don't read only the words. If I remember the feelings I had while writing those words, I really love the description.

So my words are just placeholders for the feelings I have in me? They don't really express what I'm feeling?

Stupid theory.

4 June

Funny how vague ideas stick to you. I couldnt help thinking about the 'words as placeholders' thing all today. I thought about how I liked so many books I read...If those words were just placeholders for the feelings which the writers had, what am I feeling?

Obvious hai. It's like the shayari stuff which I could never understand, even when Ashish explained the meaning of the words. Never could understand all that 'dard' and 'mohabbat' stuff, until Aditi went away...suddenly I found I liked them. When I had some feelings to put in the placeholders, I understood them...

All these feelings I had while reading, they were in me already...So me finding the book good just meant I was able to put really powerful experiences in the 'placeholders' the writer put.


4 June (later)

But that just means, if I remember my experiences while reading books, others must be remembering their own experiences.

You mean everyone sees something different when reading? Everyone has different experiences in life...

5 June

So is that why Praveen didnt like my description? OK - He has no idea of what I mean by saying 'Surprise Brown'. It would help if I told him that its a colour of the eye which looks black from afar and brown only when you look into her eyes close up.

No, it probably wouldn't. Unless he's actually had the experience of seeing a girl's eyes change like that (Aditi's eyes did). He wouldnt appreciate it.

So if I write something like "her lips were as delicately coloured as a shoeflower".., only someone who knows what a shoeflower is would understand...the others would think of vague things like, say, shoes!

6 June

Felt rather depressed today. Started out feeling great about the great insight I had into writing. But I tried explaining it to Praveen and Sandhya, and they didnt get it. I mean, they got what I was saying, but it didnt seem to affect them. They couldnt feel the enormity of the idea. Funny, that. They themselves hadn't come up against a block like this, so they couldnt put their experiences into the words I was saying. Their not understanding proved what I was saying, but it didnt make me feel any better.

Reminded me of asking my mom what a backache felt like. She'd answered, "Tu jab bada hoga tab tujhe maloom padega".

More and more of this sort of thing came to me all of today. "Ek baar awashya taste kijiye." "Maa Bahen nahi hai kya?" "Bandar kya jaane adrak ka swad?" "Bhagwan ki bhakti bataayi nahi jaa sakti, sirf mahsoos kar sakte hai." "No one can explain to you what the Matrix is."

Isnt there any way of conveying a new experience to someone? All that words can do is to either try to break it up into prior experience or tell you how to experience it yourself.

7 June

I'm trapped. Trapped. Heh. This wouldnt mean anyting to someone who's never been trapped before, never felt like this. I tried telling Laxmi what I felt about her today. Couldnt. Every word I spoke sounded like some sort of compromise. I couldnt help stripping it of the meaning, the experience I attached to it and looking at it naked. Alone it seemed so pitiful, so inadequate. 'Pitiful'. What does that mean to someone who hasnt felt pity, hasnt been pitied?

It isnt just words. It's pictures, drawings, music, dance, facial expressions, whatever silly ways we've devised to try to express ourselves. Placeholders all of them, meaning nothing by themselves. Tell me frankly, ever understood what they mean when they say there's something odd about the Mona Lisa's smile? Not unless you've seen someone else smile like that, whom you knew more about. Try showing the photographs of the beach you took, to someone who's never been to the beach. He'll ask you why you all look so happy just splashing about - The photos cant show the joy of being there.

15 June

This past week was horrible. I felt totally inadequate in expressing myself. Praveen asked me why I was so down. I'd told him before, so there was no point in explaining. I sent my diary so far, as a story, to some friends, and it came back with comments like "Amazing story!", and "It was cute", and "I laughed at the funny parts". (that was the worst...WHAT FUNNY PARTS?) I'd asked for suggestions for completing the story. No one had anything reasonable.

So it's up to me - I opened up this can of worms and I must deal with it. No one else can see the trouble. Even if they could, no one else could solve it for me. instead of letting the thing pull me under, I need to name it, file the problem neatly away under all my other big problems like "Not having musical talent", and "unable to help the starving people of Orissa". Most of all, I need some plan of action.

16 June

So what is the problem, as such? Basically, I've discovered that my words, my representation of my experiences, cannot replicate my experiences for other people. Nor can their words replicate their experiences to me. Put that way, it sounds reasonable. Silly, even.

The implications are the bad part - that everyone's experiences will always be their own, cannot be shared or explained.

A solution occurred to me today. Try to live your life as full as you can, so as to have common experiences with many people. Then with these people you will have that common ground to communicate. Of course, the problem with that stupid solution is that you will also have even more of life that you dont share with each other person. The proportion of common to unshared remains the same.

17 June

Why do I want to be able to share all my life and thoughts with everyone in the world, anyway?

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Who you? You who? I noticed I've always been writing as if I'm speaking to someone. Never really thought about who that is.

I was going to make a vague-ish stage&audience reference here, but I am struck by a memory...

This is somewhere in my third year in college. That year we had what turned out to be the last really big college festival (the princi changed after that year, so...). This was huge by Indori standards. [See, now I'm assuming that You know I went to college in Indore]. Spread over a week, the festival took place in the ground next to our college building. Tamboo/shamboo gadhaa kar. We invited other colleges to take part in the competitions on the last day, and I, Swapnil and Mukul lost the Dumb charades by a whisker that day. But back to the topic....

I was 'helping' out with the Fish Pond, which was supposed to be read out on stage by another guy every hour or so during the entire week. Eventually I ended up doing nothing beyond getting the 'dabba' for the messages, and getting some prizes sponsored by some bookshop for the best messages. I'd been to said bookshop the previous weekend, and the other guy (who was to read out the messages) did not know yet that I had a bunch of discount coupons as prizes from them. He liked the idea and I went along with him when he was to announce this. What I wasnt expecting, of course, was for him to speak into the mike,"Sudarshan has an announcement!" and step back, looking at me expectantly.

Err...Mmm...I told them about the coupons okay enough. I was just about to tell them about which messages would get the prize ( whichever ones *we* thought were good, basically), when I spotted her.

I'll call her A. I'd been noticing her for a while now, she was doing the management course that ran in parallel to my computer course, and she was different from the rest. She'd grown up in Zambia, she'd grown up in Gaya, she'd grown up in Delhi, everyone I'd asked had a different story. Of course I was too scared to talk to her directly [How that happened is another story] and ask her. Anyway, she was there in the audience. What was a large audience of 300 people, in front of whom I could have sang, danced, joked, turned into one attentive girl and 299 eavesdroppers. Seeing her looking at me threw my vocal facilities into roughly the same level of competence as a 6-month-old.

I dont remember exactly what I said then; I let autopilot carry me, until i noticed the guy standing next to me shift restlessly.

This brings forth many more memories; I'll write about some of them later. For now, I guess the lesson to be learnt is this:

Part of the reason I'm able to write here is that I'm talking to you, you who are an undefined audience who listens attentively to all I say. I dont see you shifting restlessly, I dont notice if you join in midway or leave in disgust. Sometime flashes light up people in the audience and i recognize them from elsewhere..I recognized Ramanand ( the other day. Other people I have myself invited..Dinker and Snehal and Srivats and George and many others...but I dont know if they are in the audience even now. Does it matter? I cant let it. You, the dark auditorium, is there, listening attentively. If I write for any one person I'll be tonguetied.

It would be interesting to know how others perceive their readers. Do they have anyone in mind when they write ?

It's a nice feeling...hearing a song you've heard any number of times before, and suddenly noticing some words out of it are really good, wondering why you'd never heard those words before...and rewinding your winamp just a little to hear that stanza again....Lifts your spirits even in the middle of these hectic code drops (in case you're wondering why all I've been talking about is songs, and why I havent worked on Pawar Guest House. :) ).

Sample of nice lyrics I heard recently :

Tell me what I see
When I look in your eyes
Is it you, baby,
Or just a brilliant disguise?


Likhte rahein tumhe roz hi magar
Khwahishon ke Khat kabhi bheje hi nahi

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Listening to that terrific Louis Armstrong song "We have all the time in the world"'s probably my favourite of all his songs, except maybe Now You Has Jazz, or High Society. But this one particularly heartbreaking because of the James Bond connection. This one's on the soundtrack of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Havent seen the movie, but read the book. I'm pretty sure where this track comes up - it's right after Bond gets married, and they're driving away to their honeymoon. Bond whispers to her (Tricia? Teresa ? something with T for sure) "We have all the time in the world..." just before goons drive alongside and shoot her dead.

Saturday, April 19, 2003

Read this in a jokes list :

At least wrinkles don't hurt (Graffiti: Gene Mora)

Wonder why that made it into a jokes list...It sounded like something serious to me. And it sounds wrong. Wrinkles *do* hurt. All the wrinkles that your experiences leave on your mind, on your face. Sometimes you try to separate the ones that hurt by calling them scars. But there's no teling when a harmless-feeling wrinkle turns into a scar, for no apparent reason.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Hearing some new music, after a very long time...This is Dr. Hook, the best of. Cute stuff...but somehow it feels small-minded...elements of jealousy, idleness, that sort of thing...But of course these guys are no Gulzar :)

BTW, Dinker's book is now available in for "Murmurs of the Dawn" on,, etc..

Finished typing in the subtitles for 'Aap Ke Saath', a cheesy 80's does most of the translation, I do the typing. So if you buy that movie and have a crib about the english subtitles, you know whom to blame :)

Monday, April 14, 2003

Pretty much done with the fifth story. But the funny thing is, I went back to the British Library and re-read that Iris Murdoch chapter I was going to base this on. And there are already many differences...I still liked her ending better, though.

And now, beginning to see the real direction in which this book is heading. The old "Hopeful young man" versus "Cynical old woman" did seem a bit artificial to me... We're almost where I want to start writing again....And right after the fifth is where 'Quiet Diary' fits in. That is the story I want to elaborate on, the one I've wanted to write on all this time.

Has all this time passing helped me decide where that story goes? Cant's only given me more pithy phrases to add to the core. But the suggestions I got from all the people who read it, atleast those that struck a chord, are what I'm trying to stem the tide of my own thoughts with.

Just so's I dont forget : here is the sequence as it stands : An Evening in Pune, Quiet Diary, Old man at Khajarana, Sadhu Baba who knows people are lost. We're already heading for the breakdown right there....

Monday, April 07, 2003

Currently working on the fifth story...and man, is it turning out difficult, or what! This is going to take a while.

I was inspired by that "looking for Anna" wala chapter in "Under the net", by Iris Murdoch...Wouldnt call the book a classic (or maybe i didnt read it carefully enough). But that chapter is too, too good. Thats what stays in your mind after you're done with the book.

Trying to do something similar with this chapter...only it's much closer to my own experience. Would have preferred setting the story in Indore, but Pune seems a better setting for this sort of stuff somehow.

Monday, March 31, 2003

Chapter 4

"Your turn now," I say.

She is leaning back in her chair, eyes closed. Without changing position, she begins. "This story happened, perhaps..."

* * * *

By late summer, loadshedding would be in full force. A few shops around us had generators to light up their shops. The rest of us bought candles by the dozen from the mandai. Joshi saeb sold them for five paisa each to the lodgers. I think he made a bit of profit, too. None of the lodgers minded, since they were too caught up in their jobs and exams and packing and unpacking to go buy them from outside.

Akash was one of these. He'd looked around for cheaper board when he was new to the city. But his job in the factory took up too much time and he was soon too exhausted to search further. Whatever spare time he had he spent with the friends he'd made in the factory.

They generally liked him. He had the same tastes as them, he enjoyed the same sort of cheap desi daru they did, he shared his beedis and occasional cigarettes with them. He too never felt the need to change his job or move on to 'better things'. From experience they knew that those sorts soon started avoiding them. Akash of course didnt. Initially they had been bothered a bit by his seeming more intelligent than usual. But once he was caught up in the full time occupation of living he never had use for thinking too much and became more and more like them.

There was this time he came home only slightly drunk, and forgot that the candle in his room was almost finished. Halfway up the stairs he remembered...he patted his pocket to make sure he still had the matchbox. Since he was just going to sleep, that would be enough.

The room was pitch dark. It was later than usual, so the building was very quiet, too.

After he got into the room, he pulled out a match and lit it. He was looking for his change of clothes when -

Imagine what it feels like. You're alone in the pitch dark, expecting nothing but to go to sleep in a few minutes. You wave your match around your mostly empty room. You locate your old shirt. You blow out the match (you don't need it now) and are on the point of picking up the shirt when a hand grasps your shoulder .

Akash would have fainted if he hadnt been drunk. Instead, he said in a quavering voice," Who's that?"

A quiet, confident voice answered," Your conscience."

"Eh? What?"

"Your antaratmaa. Your inner voice. Your soul. Call me what you want."

Akash could either accept this without argument or go mad. He accepted it. Trying to calm his voice, he asked," What do you want?"

A chuckle. "Nothing much. I just thought I'd pay you a visit. Arent you excited?"

"Um...yes. I am." He tried to turn a little, to look around him.

"Do you want to see me?" the voice asked. "Then why dont you just light a match?"

Something in that voice - a hint of mockery, perhaps - gave Akash pause. He hesitantly said," I dont really want to see you. Not now."

The voice laughed, freely, like a child. Yet the tone made Akash shiver slightly.

"When, then? When do you want to see me?" It asked.

Akash tried to think of a safe enough time...a month? That seemed far enough to be safe. He felt that asking for more time than that would be dangerous. "One month?" He volunteered. "Can we meet in one month?"

The pressure on his shoulder eased. "One month? Why so long? Surely you cant be... afraid of me? Oh well, as you wish. I don't know how I'll be able to wait a whole month. But since you command it..."

The voice was fading all this time, and Akash wasn't sure if he actually heard the last few words, or if they were just echoes in his mind.

After a few minutes, Akash picked up the courage to light a match. The room was empty except for him.

He considered leaving the place. He could just go now to his native town. But he had the feeling that his conscience would have no trouble at all following him anywhere.

No, there was nothing to be done except get ready for it.

Akash's friends were quite disappointed with him in the days after that. He stopped talking to them. He spent more hours than ever in the factory, but he never seemed to have money when they wanted to buy a bottle and enjoy the evening. One of them saw him praying at a temple once. As if that wasn't enough, another saw him actually giving away his hard earned money to a home for orphaned brats near the factory. He'd turned into just the opposite of what he used to be. They wondered what had happened. Was he trying to snare some high class girl?

For Akash, the month went by in a daze. He kept trying harder and harder, making sure he left nothing unsavoury in his life. As the fateful evening approached, he felt the time he'd asked hadn't been enough. He wondered if he could get any more time. He'd worked in the factory all that day and was bone tired. He hoped he could go to his room and just fall asleep before anything happened. Wouldn't happen, of course.

Loadshedding time again, when he went back to the guest house. In a few weeks, the rains would be here and there would be electricity. For now, everything was dark, just like it had been a month ago. He'd bought a candle the day before, and he was prepared to face whatever it was he would see.

He unlocked his door with trembling fingers. He took two steps into the room. He turned around to close the door, and the voice said, "Hello."

"H-hello. Is that you?"

"Who else could it be. Are you ready?"

Akash mentally squared his shoulders. "Yes." He said as confidently as he could.

"Good! Go ahead, light your candle, then."

He struck the match, cupped it with both hands to make sure it lit properly. Touched it to the candle. Picked up the candle (the flame shivered ever so slightly in his hands), and walked toward the voice. The first thing he saw was a pair of brightly polished leather shoes. Somehow their neatness heartened him. He walked closer. The trousers were clean, ironed and new. The belt buckle gleamed faintly. The shirt was blue with the checks he remembered so well. It had been his favourite shirt in college. He couldn't make out the hands, they were in shadow. And he walked closer, close enough to see his conscience's face.

Suppose a child dies. Suppose that even after he's dead he somehow keeps growing. Suppose his face rots away but keeps growing, until he's old enough to live by himself in a guest house and work in a factory. Then his face would look, somewhat, like the apparition sitting on Akash's bed.

Just before the candle dropped from Akash's fingers, just before the room plunged back into darkness and he fell senseless, he heard the voice say, "Thanks for the new clothes..."

* * * *

Sunday, March 30, 2003

And now, time for the Conscience story. This is probably the last of the backlog of stories I'm clearing up. After this I'll be able to write the newer ones that are still in the original shape - not being rewritten, like these current ones.

I'm currently reading Kafka's The Castle right now. No doubt this is going to have an effect on the stuff I write, over the next week.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Here we go... Chapter 3 on the way. All that sentiapa last night did help decide what comes here, though.

Chapter 3

Her eyes are lost; they still seem to be looking at the tiny figures scurrying off that faraway student's face.

"Joshi saeb called up the uncle... he had the address, and he asked one of the boys to go. They came in a few hours and took away Ankur... I don't know if he survived. Don't even know if he did well in the entrance exam."

I say,” That doesn’t make much sense – it’s all gloomy and there’s no main character or anything. Don’t you have any good stories?”

She seems to have been expecting this; she grins and says,” That’s how most real stories are – You wouldn’t even understand them unless you were a part of them. Like I was, who saw that boy every day for a month. I’ve seen thousands of students come and go, each had their tale to tell. Why do you think I remember this one?”

I think about it. There’s some truth to it – I am pretty sure I am going to remember this tale for a while. Not as well as she remembers it, of course. I’m only hearing it second hand.

The road seems to have grown a bit quieter. I look at my watch and start. “Oh, I’m late… I have to pick up my sister, her class must be over by now.”

She nods. “Go, then. It was fun talking.”

“I’d like to come again, if I’m not intruding.”

“Of course, come back. Come in the evenings, I don’t have too much work then.”

“I’d like to hear more next time.”

“You know it’s your turn… I’ll tell mine after that.”

I walk back the way I came, down the stairs, onto the road, and away from the old building. The yard is totally empty now, I see. The huts are closed, none even have kerosene lamps burning in them.


When I come back, a week has passed. But it could have been the same day, for all that has changed. I am there again at the same time, the labourers are again getting ready to pack up, she is again in the balcony. This time she seems to be by herself up there.

I wave at her. She looks down, and nods. “Wait!” she calls, and starts down.

In a few minutes, I am back in the chair I’d occupied last week. She has gone somewhere to get me some tea, and I am looking idly at the thinning traffic on the road.

“Here you are”, she says, walking up with two cups of tea, and handing me one before she sits down herself. “So… you thought my story was pointless, and today you’re going to tell me a good story that isn’t pointless…”

“Well… since you put it that way, I don’t know whether it’s good or not. All I know is that it made me happy to hear it.”

She is looking at me, waiting.

* * * *

He said to her,” I want to tell you a story.”

She rolled her eyes and laughed. “Only after we order. I’m starving.”

They sat in a coffee house, like most college students, not to eat but for company, to spend long hours feeling safe to talk. They were surrounded by others like them, who provide a backdrop of guffaws, arguments, constant comings and goings, and the occasional waiter replacing empty glasses of water.

The waiter asked them for their order. Both were regulars; both had come often enough with their friends to know the menu by heart. They each ordered their favourites : One Masala Dosa for him and one Idli Sambhar for her. Filter coffee after that. He’d have bought a pack of cigarettes too, but he was scared of ruining her impression of him.

He tried again after some idle chatter. “Want to hear the story now? You’ll like it.”

She said,”Do you write?”

“A little…” How could he say that he’s never thought up anything like this before… that if she asked him for more he wouldn’t have anything worth mentioning.

“Okay, so this is a science fiction sort of story. Our hero lived on a planet that was very similar to earth, except…”

The Idli Sambhar arrived. That never took any time, they always had the Idlis ready. He motioned for her to begin eating.

"As I was saying, the planet, and it's people were very similar to earth, except that their tongues were different from ours. They were made of mud."

He braced himself for a reaction from her. This sounded wierder than he'd thought. But she went on eating, nodding for him to go on.
"Now don't think this is very different from what we have. The whole purpose of a tongue is to reflect what's in your mind, isnt it? So if you have that wet shiny sort of mud, it reflects your mind out of your mouth pretty okay. So they didnt have any problems speaking.

"Now our hero wasnt entirely normal. In fact, he was considered below average. This was because of a birth defect, which happened to a very few people.

"His tongue was made of silver. Dont get the impression that it helped him somehow because silver is a precious metal. On the contrary. Think about it, you're a science student, you can get this. Mud is really soft, it can be formed into any shape. So you could reflect whatever part of your mind you want. If you want to reflect something in a different form from what it's like in your head, just shape your tongue to it. With practice, you could say whatever you want to, and it would come out in the form you wanted it to. Basic social skills. Smart people who understood reflection could make out the real shape in the mind, of course.

"But silver is a metal. It doesnt change shape all that easily. His tongue would be straight and undistorted all the time. It would reflect plainly what exactly was inside, all the time. He could never disguise it, tailor it, or even stop it from showing up, the moment he opened his mouth. As a result his talk had all the finesse of a two year old, who's only just learnt to angle his tongue correctly. Of course he was a social outcast, people tried to stay away from him because you never knew when he would say something stupid.

"He had his own little group of friends, most of whom had the same problem. One or two were normal people, who found it acceptable to know the real thoughts of their friends all the time. They got through school and most of college together. But he was always lonely for more company.

"One evening, our hero had a bright idea. ("That's why he is our hero, right?" she said, grinning) If the reason people stayed away from him was that he alone had this silver tongue, and they had mud tongues, why not just disguise his own? He went quickly to a medical shop and bought a jar of the good quality mud, the kind that didnt wear out very easily. Alone in his hostel room, he spread it evenly over his tongue. After a couple of tries, he thought it looked pretty good. It was difficult to tell it was a disguise. He tried talking, and he found that while he couldnt change his thoughts entirely, they did get muddled up a little. He could get mistaken for a normal guy who preferred to stay honest.

"He couldnt wait to try it out. His own friends of course knew him already, and they wouldnt approve, either. He went to a bar he'd never been earlier. The experiment was a success. He found people talking to him easily. The conversation went on well, as long as he didnt open up too much, kept on the shy act.

"As time went on, he did this more and more. When he left college and took up a job in a new city he kept his disguise on all the time. People liked his being generally honest and he did all right. Of course, the disguise put up a barrier against him opening up all his thoughts to anyone, so he began to get lonely in another way. Every once in a while he would meet his old, silver-tongued friends in out of the way places and talk to them freely. Somehow those conversations were more satisfying than all the others with normal people.

"Then, one day, he went to this variety entertainment programme. It was a popular one, which he'd been hearing of for some time. And in the middle of one of the items, he saw her.

"She wasn't one of the prettiest girls he'd ever seen, but there was just something about her face that set her apart from the others. He looked at her and forgot that he was in a hall with a thousand other people. Others looked at her, listened to her and laughed at her jokes, but he alone seemed to understand what she was really thinking.

"He wondered what it was about her that attracted him. Was it something she was saying? He looked closely at her mouth to catch every word.

"And then, he thought, he had it. From time to time, while she spoke, he caught a glint off her tongue. It could have been just a quirk of the lighting in the hall. But he thought it was because she'd had the same idea he had - her tongue was silver, just like his, and she'd disguised herself as a normal person. He decided he needed to meet her and find out for sure.

"After the show he would go up backstage and talk to her. There was only one way to persuade her to reveal the truth - he would have to tell her the truth about himself. And if she werent a silver tongue? He'd work that out if it happened..."

He stopped speaking, and picked up his spoon and fork. The Masala Dosa had arrived while he was telling his story. After taking the first bite, he looked up. She was still waiting for him to continue. At some point she’d forgotten about her food.

“Well? So what next?” she asked.

He looked calm (he hoped), but inside he was in turmoil. This was it, he thought. This is the point you’ve been hoping for. She even seems to be interested in your story.

“I don’t know,” he said.

She was less startled than expected. “So you don’t want to tell me right now, or you don’t know the ending at all?” she said softly.

He swallowed. “No, I don’t know the ending yet. Because I don’t know if you really are a silver tongue, yet.”

She laughed out loud at that. “You idiot,” she said,” You had to say this in the most roundabout way possible, didn’t you?”

He was too scared inside to say anything. He hadn’t expected her to see through him as easily as that. But…

“Let me think about it. I don’t really know if I am a ‘silver tongue’ or not. But you have a cute way of saying things, all right.”

Monday, March 24, 2003

So that's "Spiders"..finally got written. The last part was easier than expected. I had this friend, Snehal, in my office asked whether I'd updated the blog recently...guess that was what pushed me into finishing the story.

So this is where I really decide who 'I' in the story is...And how he's different from the old woman. That'll be decided as I write...

God, I'm lonely for's 12 midnight and I'm sitting here updating this diary. I wish I were talking to someone instead of typing.

So that kind of decides what I'm writing about in the next story.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Chapter 2 of Pawar Guest House

If you'd come by in the summers in those times you wouldnt found a room here - the Law College used to be close by you know. They had their exams in July, and kids from all over the state would come to give those exams. Most of them stayed here for a few months before the study in relative peace.

The place really hummed in the evenings then...the boys played cricket over there where those labourers live now, chana-jor-garam and peanut sellers would park just out the gate, friends would come and go, and the occasional family would visit to boost their boy's morale and pass on some home cooked food.

In the afternoon, of course, everyone holed up in their rooms with their dusty table fans running, and either slept or slogged. The road outside would be deserted, ruled by searing gusts of wind. So Joshi saeb, who took care of the bookings, would snooze at his desk undisturbed.

That was probably why Ankur was able to get the room in the first place. He came in that day, carrying this heavy trunk with both hands, looking as if he'd been walking a long way in the heat. The sound of the trunk dropping to the floor woke Josh saeb up. He straightened up and looked around, "Hunh...kaun...kya?"

He saw this scrawny teenage, about to ring the calliing bell on the desk. Ankur saw Joshi saeb was awake, and brought his hand back down. He said in a low voice, " Room milega kya?"

"No, all the rooms are full."

Ankur looked even more tired. "No place at all? Every boarding wala is booked, all around the L.C. I've been everywhere, talked to everyone...where else can I go now?" He sat down heavily on the trunk and passed a hand through his hair.

"But there isnt a single room available...they're all full for the whole month."

The boy didnt respond. he sat there silently, staring off into space. Joshi saeb felt irritated. "Bola na, there's no room...", he said, and stalked off to the toilet. He always tried to escape arguments.

When he came back the boy was still there, sitting on his trunk. he said," Could I sleep here, in the hall? I cant go anywhere...I have my blanket. If I try to sleep on the road the police wont let me."

Joshi saeb was fed up. He said," Follow me. No, leave that trunk there, first see what I have."

They went up the stairs to the top floor, and went along the hallway. Joshi saeb stopped at almost the other end, in front of an unlocked door. He pulled open the squeaky chatkhni, and motioned the boy to follow him in.

The room had probably not be used for years. It looked like a bathroom, with an antique tub along the further wall, and a broken basin next to it. A folded metal bed leaned against the wall on the left. The only light was from a small window, covered with a clouded pane of glass. Shadows of leaves moved on it and darkened the room intermittently.

"Idhar me open up the bed." The two of them pulled down the bed, balanced it on the long edge, and opened out the legs. They dragged it over the tub. "See, this place is all I have. There's no fan. I'll get Pakya to hang a bulb up so you can study. And I'll ask Jijabai to sweep up the room a bit. If this is all right with you, come on down and pay the rent."

The boy seemed a lot happier now. "Thank you" was all he said.


There’s no way to tell if Ankur actually worked harder at his entrance exam; all I can say is that he didn’t have any friends to visit him in the evening, he didn’t make any new ones, and he was in his room, studying perhaps, almost all the time. There was only the one time his aunt and uncle, who lived in the same city, came to visit him. Even that visit lasted barely ten minutes – Anukr came down to meet them when the watchman called for him, they talked in quiet tones, then they went back, leaving Ankur to his studies again.

By the time the last week of June approached most tenants would buckle down to their work. Bhel from the bhelwalas outside would often be dinner, and lights would be on till early morning. It being summer, sales of mosquito coils would increase and the smell of Tortoise and Rooster would float through the halls come evening, mingled with that of the agarbattis.

Ankur, already gaunt, started looking even paler and more tired. Every time I went to his room to clean it, he would be writing, filling up huge piles of rough paper, surrounded by books. His room didn’t have a chair, so he’d pulled up a spare, wobbly, table from another room and pulled it next to his bed. He’d sit on the unmade bed, with a little table fan on one end, studying in his pajamas.

And grab at mosquitos, of course. He preferred grabbing at them , trapping them with one hand, then half opening the hand and looking in to make sure they were crushed, before throwing them idly to the far end of the bed.

It was probably because I was lazy that I didn’t clean up the cobwebs in the room. I had dozens of rooms to clean, and anyway, all these kids would be gone in a month. There was less of a crowd during the rains. Even so, I was mildly surprised when I noticed the number of spiderwebs in the far corner of Ankur’s room, at the opposite end from the fan. There were many more there than in the roof or in the other corners.

I never knew if Ankur was aware of those spiderwebs. But I did realize the reason for them the next few times I saw him killing those mosquitos. Almost every time he killed one, he’d throw it in the corner, where it would land in the webs.

I know I sound silly talking about these insects and fans and coils and such. But it didn’t seem silly at all, then. Most of the rooms got real dirty when the students were there, and we took it for granted that we would be giving them a real good cleaning after the entrance exam. After I’d once noticed those spiderwebs, though, I looked at them more closely every time. They kept on getting more dense. The spiders on them – earlier I could hardly see them but by the end of June I could make them out easily, each with big bellies and some almost as wide across as the palm of my hand. But I never saw them move. Probably because of all the noise I made sweeping.

By the time the 25th of June came, preparations were at a fever pitch. Boys were buying bottles of soda to sprinkle in their eyes and keep awake somehow. Some of them walked through the corridors, book in hand, reciting out loud. It was everyone for himself, no friends, no chitchat.

The exam was at 7 in the morning. God knows why they kept it so early, but it meant everyone was out of the place by 5:30. I and Joshi Saeb were able to have a proper cup of tea without all of them wandering around.

They started coming back by eleven or so. Without exception, every one of them was drained. There would be movies and parties and celebrations soon, but not right after the exam. That day, everyone slept.

Ankur came even later, after everyone else. He plodded up the stairs without a word, went to his room, and locked himself in.
By late evening, there was some activity again in the building. Most of them would be leaving the next day. Many would be going back to small towns, hoping for a letter from the Law College two months from now. This was the last chance they’d have to enjoy the big city. Some went out in groups, asking to leave the gate open till they got back. Some others sat along the walls again, eating from the vendors. They talked in loud voices, laughed, sang. They organized themselves into groups and played antakshari. As night came they, too went off to better hotels, a little further away.

They started coming back late, many drunk, most of them with some souvenir or the other to take back home. They kept coming till two, three in the night. And lights still stayed on in many rooms – there was packing to be done, preparations to be made for the journey the next day. Many were leaving by the early morning train or bus.

That’s why I was late in doing the cleaning the next day. I waited for the crowd to thin out a bit. I started from the top floor as usual.

When I reached Ankur’s room, it was still locked from the inside. Neither Joshi saeb nor I had seen him around since the previous afternoon – we’d talked of him just that morning. I thought he was still asleep and was about to go on to the next room, when I thought it was quite a long time for him to be asleep – it was nearly a whole day now.

I knocked on the door. Then a bit louder when he didn’t respond.

That was perhaps the only time I can remember when I was scared and didn’t know why. But something told me there was some problem here, and I knocked on the door as hard as I could. I was hitting the door with both hands before I realized it, shouting out “Hey!” again and again. Then Joshi saeb, who’d heard me and come up to see, said, “Wait…” and he went to the end of the corridor and got back a big hammer. He looked as scared as I felt. I’m sure even he didn’t know the reason. A few students were collecting around, looking puzzled. He told them to get back, and swung that hammer as hard as he could, at the top of the door where the chatakhni was. The old wood broke easily, and we rushed in.

For a moment, I thought the shadows were falling on his face, making it black. But then I realized it wasn’t the shadows, it was… Did I say I’d never seen those spiders moving? Well, no, because that was the only time I did see them move. They scuttled down fast, off his face and back onto the webs just beyond the bed.

I had stopped, horrified. Even after I’d seen those creatures run off, Ankur’s face seemed to have something more on it. Now, somehow, I stepped closer and saw the huge wounds on his face. He looked unconscious, barely breathing.

There was a choked sound from one of the boys who had crowded into the room to see what had happened. Many of them stepped back quickly when they saw Ankur.

Joshi saeb was kneeling by the side of the bed. He was saying to himself,” I told him there wasn’t any room here…”
* * *

Monday, February 10, 2003

Have been reading that book I got from my grandfather, some commentary on the 'Kenopanishada' . Got this interesting quote last night :

To define God is to defile Him.

Hmm....matches what i've been thinking about for long... a definition is a placing. To define something is to categorise it. More importantly, it is to remove it from all the other definitions it could have had. Like saying "Is rishtey ko naam na do".

Immediately, definition becomes a restriction as well as a solidification.

It is like seeing a road on dry desert-like land. The road is neither there nor not there. But your seeing a probable path which you can follow makes the road available for you. Out of Foucault's Pendulum again....just knowing that the pattern exists creates it.

Friday, January 31, 2003

I cant get that image of 'Pawar Guest House' out of my mind. Must have been the atmosphere, maybe my receptive state of mind. Started a story which I could later make into a meta-story. In fact I could put in almost all my other stories into it....the spiders behind the bed, the foreigner (maybe even foreigner 2), secret diary, silver tongue (sad ending version, maybe), Smile...

As it is, here's the starting of the story, copying from the file i have, and adding as much as I can. This will get edited as i come back to it, so maybe it could be complete at some point.

When you walk along the pavement in the night, the road is illuminated only by the ghostly yellow light of sodium lamps and the frequently passing headlights. People take on a different shape then - somehow deeper and looking more like they all have strange stories in them. The slanting lights on their faces reveal creases never seen otherwise. Shadows in the little lanes going off the main road partly hide mysterious looking houses.

It's been a very long time since I went out walking late at night. Pretty much the first time I went out in this city. It feels different from my hometown. It's more developed, with sidewalks and neon signs flashing. But the road I'm walking down has been a colony for many decades; some of the houses are a hundred years old. Tile roofs and stone columns are evident everywhere in the sleeping, dark buildings. Mehndi and Duranta hedges form the second line of defence after corroded barb wire.

I start reading the names on the gateposts as I walk by. Some are overgrown with bougainvillea, streetlights around some others dont work. Most have just a surname and the house's name.

Suddenly I trip over a piece of broken paving. Reaching out blindly, my hands connect with a lamp post and I steady myself. It makes me aware of my surroundings and I become awared that someone is looking at me.

The building I'm standing in front of still has a few people in the yard. Its bigger than the others around it, so I look at the gatepost. PAWAR GUEST HOUSE, it reads. The place seems even older than the others around it, and in worse shape. The globular lamp on the left gatepost is smashed, the other gives off a weak, dusty light. To the left of the grounds, there are a few huts of old cardboard and plastic sheets: the kind that construction workers make when living on site. The people outside them are the only ones still awake, but they arent the ones watching me.

I look upward. The building is about 4 floors high...On the top floor, framed by the night sky beyond them, two figures sit on a balcony. One is an old woman, who is peering down at me. The other figure is indistinct; it seems to be wrapped up in a shawl or coat.

A moment passes. I cant think of anything to say or do; it seems bad manners to just walk away. Finally I call out," Are there any rooms for rent?"

The old woman seems taken aback. After a moment she calls down,"No...I mean, I can't...." She pauses a bit, and something changes in her expression. "You don't really want a room, do you?"

I think about what to say....the truth might be best. Or not. "This place looks interesting...It's really old, isnt it?"

"Oh, so you just want to hear stories," she says, something like a smile in her voice. "Wait there a minute." Her outline, and the one next to her, withdraw from the balcony.

I look around. No one else seems to have paid us any attention. After a couple of minutes, the creaky front door is pulled back partway, and her face appears in the shadow of the opening.
* * *

We go up dark flights of stairs, with old stains on the walls, splashes of yellow light from the windows on the wooden bannisters. I am just a few steps behind her, having silently agreed to her invitation to sit and talk. One or two of the doors have dim light seeping out from under them; for the most part, they are locked, silent. The radio plays fainlty in the background as we reach ( think) the fourth floor. The balcony is accessible directly from the stairs. I see two heavy chairs facing each other, a little table between them, a mudda to the side of one of the chairs with a radio perched on it. She sits down in this chair and turns off the radio. I take the other chair, somehow feeling comfortable here already.

"Sorry to interrupt your conversation," I say.

She gives me a strange look. "What conversation?"

"Werent you talking to someone just now?"

"No, I was sitting here alone, listening to Hawa Mahal. What made you think there was someone else?"

I pause, feeling a bit uneasy. "But I..."

"Oh, the extra chair...These are here all the time...other guests used to come here to watch the passersby, a long time back. Me, I just come now for the breeze."

"So you're not a guest here?"

"No, I'm just the caretaker. Pawar Saheb lives in Mumbai, I'm just here to make the place look occupied." A passing truck makes curved beams of light march across her face. She is looking at me curiously. "Do you live nearby?"

I was expecting this." No, I...had some time in this area, and decided to walk for a while. This is a nice street to walk in."

"True," she says, nodding. " just wanted to know about this place, eh?"

"Yes.It looks like a place with a history...It would be nice to hear...if you dont mind spending some time with an absolute stranger."

"At some point, everyone in the world feels like a stranger. No, it's good to talk. Havent sat down and talked in a long time."

" old is this place?"

But she seems to be lost in thought....she says, almost to herself, "So long it's been...I cant remember the last time I really talked." She seems to focus on me again.

"But somehow, I cant think of a single thing to say...nothing worth talking about. All these numbers and details...when this place was made, how many people, who made it....they mean nothing. What is really worth talking about is the stories...the thousands of stories that passed through this house." She glanced at me. "Have you ever thought about it? How you're a part of so many stories, how you intrude, change, touch pass through so many tales, how you're probably a minor character in the tales so many people hold in their hearts? Just as I've become a character in one, maybe several stories that you'll think about, tell your wife, describe to your friends?"

I nod. She continues, "But so few of those stories ever get changed into words, ever venture out of the heart they were formed in. So many would fade and wither if we tried to mould them into a narrative."

"But in a quiet place, with a good listener, they could bloom perhaps."

Her eyes, which were looking at some far-off memory, snap into the present. She smiles a little. "But I'm not the only one with the stories..."

"Who, me? I dont have any..."

"So, young man, you just want to be entertained? You just want me to talk, talk, talk, while you sit there looking at me, perhaps not even listening? I dont think so." Now her face is hard, she reminds me of a sharp customer at a vegetable stall.

"But what do you want me to tell you? I dont really have much to say-"

"So tell me what you have. If you can't appreciate the little stories in your own life, how could I expect you to understand mine?"

She softens a bit."Look, I know you have them in you...they dont have to be long or grand. But I really want to hear you tell me something close to you. Come on, now..."

"Give me a minute." I lean back in the chair. The silence is broken only by the noise of the people in the yard, who are still up, and by a bird calling out from the mango tree in the yard. I let my mind wander free, trying to pick up something compact enough, simple enough, understandable enough from the maze of my life...

"I think I have one. It is not long, but its something my grandfather told me a long time back and I hold it close."

She is just listening, now. Her eyes have that vacant look again.

* * *

"There's a temple, somewhere in the jungle some distance from here. Villagers know of it, they visit the temple when they are in trouble. This ancient temple has no idol of the Devi. Rather, it is said that the Devi resides in the large bronze bell hanging at the entrance. People pray to the bell, before ringing it and going in. Inside is just the pundit.

"They say about the Devi that she has great powers. They say that if you are ever in any trouble, and you ring the bell, she will appear before you and help you out of your trouble.

"She only appears on one condition, though. She will appear to you *only if* you are in some trouble which you cannot solve yourself, which is too big for you to handle.

"No one, ever, has seen her to appear yet."

* * *

She has been listening to me carefully. After I am done with it, I lean back again and say, "This was my grandfather's favourite story. I've always thought of it as the biggest thing he ever gave me."

She seems satisfied; she's nodding gently, going over it in her mind. "That is good. I see you *do* know how to recognise a story."

"So now...tell me about this place?"

"There are so many stories..." She broods,"...and many of them actually happened.

"I'll tell you one thing that happened here a long time ago."