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Jottings

By Naveen Kishore
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Collage by Sunandini Banerjee

I

The conversations around you. Brittle and brisk. Without meaning. Words hurriedly strung together. Shoved into a tin can. Shaken. Made to rattle in short bursts. Like gunfire at close quarters. Tweets of fate. And happenstance. Like firing squads. Immediate. Transient. Relentless and vicarious babel. Grab and shoot. Who has the time? To think? Or breathe normally. The normal? Now a different shade of pale. Like running a hundred meter dash in less than 9 seconds. On shards of glass. Breathless. And bleeding. Gladiator sport. The kind that seeks out language only to thrust a sword into it. While the mob brays. For more bloodletting.

Slow everything down. Let your fingers grind to a halt. The forty-five on your turntable. Your skin scraping the grooves. Slurring the song. As if strangling the words. Almost.

Start afresh. Begin a new sentence. A long one. One in which with extreme patience and a strong dose of diligence you once again lay down the ground rules for language with a past history of elegance and a turn of phrase that makes you gasp with admiration for the one who has penned it with such élan and taste and wit and a sense of literary tradition passed on from writer to writer through centuries of fine writing where the meaning of words as they combine and mingle with each other takes precedence over mere ornamentation and where the complexity and density of a thought is chiseled to succinct and purposeful perfection in a heady mixture of fine prose or poetry or drama or whatever be your particular calling.

Now punctuate it. 

II

Show them how things work. Or at least strew the air with hints. Let them be razor sharp. The clues. And full of wit. And irony. And the chutzpah that says it like it is. Up in your face. Like truth. So that no one believes it. As the truth. As nature. Both yours. Mine. And Natures. The way things appear to work in Nature. In life. Or on stage. Like the web that the spider weaves. Against the light. Visible. A work of art. Or a trap. Depends on who is admiring the spring like strands that shine and glint in the sunlight or turn invisible as they snare a fly. The strings on stage that create the magic of a floating cloud. An entire flotilla of white that suspends belief even as it is suspended in the air above the stage floor. Look carefully and you will see the nylon threads that like the spider’s web hold the white bags of polyester filled with yesterday’s news. Crushed and torn into different fluffy shapes. Light as the air they are meant to simulate. Be something they are not. Sleight of hand. Or a trick that the eye missed. The ones that do not bear muster close up but in the right kind of light. And colour. Glowing with gold and red and silver white. With spotlights that make no attempt at being hidden. Hung and patched. In full view. On metal battens. With exposed wires. Process. The craft of magic made visible.

The truth is always other than what it appears to be.

***

Naveen Kishore is poet, writer, theatre lighting designer, photographer, publisher – Seagull Books [http://seagullindia.com/]. 

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Image courtesy Naveen Kishore

 

When I thought of inviting some of the writers (and lovers of the written word) I have come to be acquainted with to pen down a few lines for my blog, the first name that came to my mind was of Naveen Kishore – a writer, poet and person I tremendously admire and respect. Not to mention the publisher of some of the most beautiful books in existence today.

I admit I was skeptical – asking the one who publishes Nobel Laureates and their ilks to write for my humble blog sounded preposterous even to myself. But I did, eventually, and Naveen graciously obliged with a casual ‘See if these ‘jottings’ work. Call it whatever you wish to.’

Today is Seagull Books’ 35th anniversary, and I can’t think of a greater honour than to be able to host his words on my blog. And Sunandini Banerjee, whose magnificent collages are the lifeblood of Seagull Books, has allowed me to use ANY collage I’d like! 

Could I have asked for more?

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Simple Pleasures of a Summer Morning

f8I can’t begin to tell you how it feels when I resume my morning walk after a break. The moment I put on my trekking boots (yes, trekking boots, no less. I’m ambitious!), I begin to feel slimmer, fitter and positiver, and by the time I’m half way round the park, I’m light of foot and heart, never mind the fact that I have to take shin-nursing breaks every so often.

Now, you might ask why, if my morning walks elate me to this extent, can’t I just do it regularly. I’ve also asked myself the same question, and arrived at a rather humbling set of reasons for not doing so. 

For one thing, I’m by default a not-very-disciplined person. I have to pep-talk myself up to do anything (beyond brushing my teeth) on a regular basis. Come on girl, you’ve four mouths to feed, so up! There there! You’re a decent cook – you know that. Now cook. The sooner you get over with it, the better it is for you. You can go back to living your life… And so on and so forth.

We are talking about a good day here.

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Now add to that a body (and a mind) that is heading towards that inevitable Pause. You know the one I mean: Me-No-Pause. When your body acquires a mind of its own, one that has nothing to do with your real mind. Your real mind as in the one you suspect you’re quietly losing. Because your mind also has now developed its own separate mind, which looks at reason and logic with total disdain.

It’s chaos, I tell you. Ask anyone who’s going through it. 

To cut the long story short, there are days when I give in to the diktats of my body, and then there are days when I triumph over it. Today was the latter kind of day. 

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When I stepped out of our apartment building at 5:51 AM, it was already light. But the roads were thankfully empty; in another 20 minutes, it would be impossible to cross them without dodging at least a dozen yellow buses, among other things. 

I like to keep my songs on ‘shuffle’ when I walk – the sheer unpredictability of what the next song would be is fun. I could be listening to uff teri ada… one moment, and the next minute it could be suttrum vizhi chudar thaan, Kannamma… or anuraagathin velayil… And that’s cool with me. 

I don’t remember if I had discussed this earlier, but in my world, there are three types of songs. There’s the kind you don’t want anywhere near you. If you happen to come across one, you just pluck it out of your sound space and put it away. Switch channels, turn off, run away – whatever it takes. 

Then there’s the second type that just plays in the background without fuss. You don’t mind having it around because it doesn’t move, touch or demand. Nor does it jar your senses to the extent that the earlier type does. It’s there in the background, just letting you be, allowing you to carry on with whatever you are doing, quietly lending rhythm to your steps… The sweet, nice type. 

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It’s the third type you need to watch out for, however. The kind that grabs your arm, laces its fingers through yours, looks you deeply in the eyes… And you’re lost! Try to walk away from lag jaa gale… and you will understand  what I mean. It’s the kind that possesses you. 

Anyway, coming back to the walk, today I decided to go round the park in the clock-wise direction as against the regular anti-clockwise rotation. Not merely out of a sense of adventure (for want of a better term), but also because I was still vaguely wary. Of being accosted by another couple of friendly-looking ladies who would try to talk me into preparing for the Judgment Day (with capital J and D). It’s rather tiring to make them understand that it’s today I’m worried about, not some vague apocalyptic future.

There were also two Gulmohar trees in full bloom that I wanted to take photos of, both more accessible from this route. So I walked my walk to the the songs that were playing, stopping every so often to take pictures of gulmohar, frangipani and neem, reveling in the utter loveliness of an early summer morning.  

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My usual exercise corner was occupied by a serious yoga enthusiast, mat and all, so I quietly did my juvenile drills trying to keep as low a profile as possible. If he did notice me, he was kind enough not to laugh – and that’s something. I took the more meandering route around the park, and then walked out of the gates.  

Past the sleepy children who were waiting for their buses and their sleepy parents waiting with them. Past the groups of office-goers waiting for their staff vans to pick them up, and past the cars waiting for the school buses to pass. Shedding with each stride the accumulated weight of long, long days. 

 The simple, simple pleasures of life. On a summer morning.  

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Of Gods Past and Present

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When I was a child, gods were everywhere.

My mother would spend most of her waking hours with them – chanting prayers, singing hymns, preparing things for pooja or performing it. The pooja room of my tharavad (ancestral home) had a million – or so it seemed – framed images and statues of gods, with the central position given to my mother’s Krishna statue. Our backyard was under the supervision of Ayyappa and the many Sarpas (serpent gods), from whom we often borrowed space to play in the afternoons. 

Our family and its property was remotely protected by goddess Kali; the former by Chitturamma who lived a few kilometres away, and to whom we proclaimed undying slavery every year in the form of a coin placed on a brass sword. Another Amma, who lived in the middle of the paddy fields and demanded an annual pooja, guarded the latter. No one like a mother to take care of her family! 

When we bathed, it was either in the pond that was part of the Krishna temple next door, or the one near the Shiva temple a little further. Either way, a visit to the temple was mandatory at the end of each hour-long bath.

Gods were quite demanding, back then.

Our next door neighbour, as I said, was Krishna (the blue one who played flute and teased women, and was generally a cool dude as gods went). We kids gathered every evening at the temple, gossiped, skipped rope, played hide and seek and giggled at secrets. We prayed too, but mostly in times of emergency; an impending exam, for instance, brought out all our latent piety. 

Whenever we lied or cheated, we would silently appeal to him for forgiveness, swearing that we would never do it again. Until next time.

We would often bribe him too – three extra laps around the temple, two incense sticks, a banana… And most of the time he would oblige. I remember how he breathed life into Amitabh Bachan after his accident on the set of Coolie, just because my friend Vimala had offered to light a whole packet of camphor if he (Amitabh, of course) lived to tell the tale. She had been in tears for days, and as our friend and neighbour, he (Krishna) could not turn his back on her request now, could he? 

Gods were generous, back then.

The nuns in the school I went to – Vijaya Matha Convent English Medium Girls High School, Chittur, the only convent school in the radius of 10 kilometres – brought Jesus and Mary into my life. I remember how I had taken an intense liking to ‘Samayamaam rathathil njaan…’ (little knowing at the time that it was a funeral song) and would sing it at the drop of a hat each time someone asked me to. My pretty PT teacher in grade two was my biggest fan, and the huge smile on her face each time I sang it loud and clear for her used to be my biggest reward. 

We had in our class a girl called Beena who would fast during Ramadan. I secretly admired her determination to not even sip water, though I could not understand why she did it. It used to worry us, her classmates, that she turned all pale and near fainting by the end of each day, and we would be eager to support her in all possible ways. I don’t remember if Shani used to fast, but it was from her that I learned to pronounce Bismillahi Rahimani Rahim properly. I was so proud when she told me that I now knew Qur’an, which was a good thing. 

Gods were good things, back then.

I also remember the metre-tall lunch box that Shani’s mother used to send with the driver every afternoon, from which came out the most divine mutton cutlets and biriyanis I had ever tasted. (My lunch box usually had rice and eggs in varied forms, a meal that got a little unappetising over the years.) The best school lunches in my memory were the ones that Shani, Sheeba and I had shared, sitting on the floor of the landing next to the locked terrace door of the school building. 

Later in college, Nazir would bunk classes till lunch break so he could bring steaming hot pathiri and chicken curry his mother had made for his ‘college gang’. After lunch, we would all gather around Henry listening to him sing ‘Nilaave Vaa…’ for the nth time, good-naturedly indulging our – Honey’s and mine – repeated requests for Tamil songs. I would pester Henry for the meaning of the lyrics, and Praveen, Nazir and Anand would tease me mercilessly for that, chorusing ‘and that means…’ at the end of each line. Subramanian would intervene with words of wisdom and common sense, and all would be well. 

In my Bombay days, I used to seek sanctuary in the pews of St Thomas Cathedral near Flora Fountain on Saturdays after work before heading back to my hostel. My most intimate conversations with god would happen there, below the high-arched ceiling, under the marble eyes of the bas-relief angels that adorned the walls.

One day I admitted to the priest there that I tended to address Jesus as Krishna in my prayers, and he reassured me that He wouldn’t mind. Later, when I told him I was getting married, the elderly Father advised me to make sure that I retain my own individual bank account – not just share one with my future husband. It was important, he told me, that women were financially independent. I folded my hands and bent before him. He drew a cross on his chest and blessed me with closed eyes.

Gods were fluid back then.

They kept us separate, but did not divide.

Then came men with metal rods and plastic bombs. And gods are not the same anymore.

***

Photo: St Thomas Cathedral, Bombay – Marble Bas-relief (courtesy https://playingwithmemories.com)

A Mother’s Day Wish

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*Kalyani, who occasionally comes over to help me with cleaning, always looks as if she is just an inch away from bursting into laughter. And despite having known her for just a few days, we have shared quite a few laughs. 

Like the time when she recounted how, after she cleaned a bathroom, the owner was so overwhelmed that he kept marveling at how she managed to make it sparkle like that. “I told him it’s all about experience – like any other job!” And bursts out laughing. 

Did I say that her laughter is infectious? Well, it is. 

“Twenty-seven years of cleaning experience, madam. No small thing, is it?” I nod in agreement. 

Kalyani is thirty-seven – started working at ten, madam! – and a proud mother to her 21-year-old college-going son. 

“What!?” I must have heard wrong. “How old were you when you had him then?”

“Seventeen, madam. The nurses who attended to my delivery threatened to complain to the police for marrying off a minor,” she laughs again. I can’t.

“So at what age did you get married? Sixteen?” 

She shakes her head slowly. “Fourteen.” To a man twice her age. 

Her father was an alcoholic, and an abusive one at that. The mother had to marry off the daughters early for their own well-being. 

“And your husband? Is he in India?”

“He died. Brain tumor, madam.”

“When?”

“I was twenty-one when he died.”

Married at fourteen, a mother at seventeen, and widowed by twenty-one. 

 “I couldn’t sleep for six months…” She stops smiling.  “Kept thinking about — Things… That affected my health…”

After that, she continued working in houses, earning money to send her son to school. “My husband’s last wish was that. Neither you nor I could study, Kalyani. But you send our son to school. Give him a good education. But when he reached higher classes, I needed more money to pay his fees and all that.”

There were people ready to marry her, of course. One of them asked her how much money her late husband had left her. “I threw him out of the house! And then I thought, it’s better if I just take care of my son, madam. Live my life as Kannayya’s wife, you understand?”

Somebody advised her that working abroad will fetch her more money, so she got herself a passport and entered the country through an agency that provides cleaning staff to companies. 

The agency still takes two-thirds of her salary as their commission, and gives her the rest. 

“But why can’t you request your company to give you a visa? That way you don’t have to pay the agency!”

“They would have given me if I had completed tenth grade, Madam. But I got married when I was in eighth. And did not study after that.” 

Kalyani’s son is now studying to be an aviation mechanical engineer. “He’s very good, madam. Passed his 10th grade with 94% marks! Plays the drums, guitar… O-grades in art, and a state level athlete.” She beams with pride. 

“Two more years for him to complete his studies. I will hold on, somehow. After that, once he has a good job, I will go back. Then I won’t have to work… He will get married… And I will just look after my grandchildren…”

Her wide eyes are dreamy. Mine are moist.

Kalyani, here’s my heartfelt Mother’s Day wishes: May all your dreams come true! Every single one of them. 

***

*Name changed for obvious reasons. 

Image courtesy Google

Dubai Diaries: Day 7 – Long long ago…

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Today is the seventh day of my 7-day marathon writing. As days go, however, today has not been a productive one: words seem to elude me. So I’ll just share what my immensely talented brother-in-law, Mani Menon, had commented when he saw my posts:

Mini, since Dubai is the common thread running in your musings, I thought you might be interested in what I have to post here…

Yes, I am, Manietta. I am a sucker for stories. Especially the ones that start with ‘Long long ago…’

Long long ago, in May 1970 to be precise, my parents, sis and I had gone on a sort of a whistle stop tour of some cities in Europe and New York in the US. As my dad had been employed with Air India, the trip was free! We had flown to Geneva on our first port of call from Santa Cruz Airport in a Boeing 707. Not being a long haul jet airliner, she had to land in two airports along the way.

The first had been a place that appeared to have been established in the middle of an ocean of glistening blinding sand. The airport was a nondescript structure with a few stalls selling magazines, tea, coffee, ice cream etc. After a stop of 30 odd minutes, we were off.

A few seconds into the air, the air hostess—as the cabin attendants were then called—had announced, “Those seated on the right side side of the cabin, can look out and see the township of Dubai.” Yes!! the word used was ‘township’. My mom and I had craned and looked down. Sure enough, there was a road flanked by buildings that had been erected purely to be functional. None of them could be described as a skyscraper!

Even after all these years, when I see or read about yet another dazzling skyscraper coming up in Dubai, my thoughts go back to that sultry May in 1970, when we had ‘visited’ this place…

The township of Dubai! Buried under a trillion giga-tonnes of chrome and glass. All this? Only sand, Madam! Long, long ago…

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Dubai then and now: Images courtesy Google

Dubai Diaries: Day 6 – Taxi Tales

Dubai cabs have some of the most interesting stories behind their steering wheels. Stories young, middle-aged and overdue for retirement. Stories on 12-hour shifts, that try to dodge peak-hour traffic and avoid fines. Stories of hope, despair, nostalgia, regret and everything in between. Lonely stories, waiting to be told.

A man from Afghanistan told me once about his haveli up in the mountains. About the hundred family members who co-exist within its walls in relative harmony, along with cows, goats, horses and hunting dogs. I could not but write about it. I remember how a writer friend of mine had been incredulous – she shared her own story of a rather stressful early morning encounter. But then, personal experiences are just the luck of the draw, ultimately.

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I would get into a cab, and typically, we would reach the second or third roundabout from home, get stuck in the traffic, and then inch our way forward. Either the cabbie or I would mutter something about the traffic, reach the consensus that Dubai traffic (or the driver who unexpectedly changed lanes without warning, as the case may be) is our common enemy. A minute later, he would ask:

Aap India se hain?

Ji.

On more than one occasion, the next response has been ‘India ke log acche hote hain.’ Elsewhere India and Pakistan might be baring teeth and snarling at each other… Biting off large chunks of each other (I’m all for euphemisms) for that matter. But not here, not today.

Aur aap? Peshawar?

Then he would ask me if  I worked. Yes, I do, I would say. I write and teach.  And wait for the warmth level in the taxi to go up. I am an aurat with taleem, and a teacher at that! The finest kind of human being there is, purely by default.

He would then adjust the mirror to catch my eye, and we would begin our conversation.

Aap ke bachhe hain?

I would tell them about my boys. How old they are, what they do. Then he would ask me if I don’t have daughters. I would say no, and he would shake head in pity. 

Betiyaan honee chahiye, Madam. Betiyaan ispecial hote hain.

I would agree with him. Then he would tell me about his daughters and sons back home – either with a smile, or with a sigh. About what they were currently doing, and how much he missed them. And so on and so forth.

When we part ways, it is usually as life-long friends.

Only once had I been told off by a cabbie for being an educated woman who earned a living. None of his three wives back home would dare to do that, nor would his daughters. Hamare yahan auratein ghar sambhalte hain, ji! Because you see, he was a marad who didn’t rely on his women for money.

I did try to convert him to feminism all the way to the airport, but he just sneered at me.

The man who took me to Business Bay Metro Station, on the other hand, was coming back from seeing his daughter off at the airport. In the three decades he had driven a cab here, he had seen a lot.  All this, he pointed at the skyscrapers on Sheikh Zayed Road, only sand, madam. No building. And with his earnings, the proud father had educated his three sons and two daughters. Including the youngest, a medical doctor, who had come to Dubai for an interview. Inshahallah she get job, madam. She too good! Too good!

There was this man from – was it Timbuktu or Sudan, I can’t recall – who loved Tamil songs, and another from Lahore who spoke a few sentences in ‘Keral’. It took me a minute to understand that he was asking me, in my own language, if I had lunch.

The young man who recently drove me home from City Centre told me in a matter-of-fact tone that very often tourists asked him where they could find ‘good women’. Of course he knew where – it was hard not to. But he did not think it was right to do ‘that kind of thing’, so he usually said he did not know. Though that was just his personal point of view – he had nothing against his colleagues who did. Everybody had to live.

Then there was another young man – he was twenty-two at the time I met him, the same age as Appu was back then – who told me about his village in Peshawar where each house was built like a fortress, complete with watchtowers, for safety. They slept with machine guns within arm’s reach because you never knew when you needed to use it.

He also told me about how his village had so many fatherless children and young women who were practically outcasts. The Taliban just took whomever they wanted – and when they were no longer wanted, they were brought back to the village and left there. If they were lucky, that is.

Yes, Dubai cabs have a million stories that sometimes go off to exhausted sleep at the steering wheel. Stories that long to go back home, but can’t – for whatever reason. Instead, they roam the streets, looking for a willing ear.

***

*Image courtesy Google. 

Dubai Diaries: Day 5 – Blue!

Today was going to be my Taxi Tales day. Because, as I was saying, there are so many I’ve collected, and I’m bursting to tell them. But it has been a very long day, and I’m too tired now to string two decent thoughts together. And then there is all the excitement about my newly acquired turquoise nail polish – a gift from Juhi – that is making me look at my fingernails every so often, wondering momentarily whose they are. The fingernails I mean.

You see, I’m usually more conservative with my nail polish. But what the heck – YOLO, as Aditya used to make fun of me, back when he was just a strapping lad. Now he’s almost seventeen, you see.

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So I’m cheating. I’m using my turquoise-tipped fingers to copy-paste something I’d jotted down one glum morning a few weeks ago. A morning when the earth and the sky were glum, as were me and my thoughts.

***

a sky with dark circles

under the eyes

brushing off last night’s dreams

from her clothes

the moon biting her fingernails

waiting 

for the sun who wandered away

lost in borrowed thoughts

a desert hungry for words

that fall on sand and die

***

That’s where I’d stopped. On that grey-blue morning in the last leg of winter.

Dubai Diaries: Day 4 – A Cat Tale

Before stepping out for my walk today, I threw in a notebook and pen to the pile in my green backpack. The idea was that I must write down on paper the 3 kilometers worth of dynamic content that usually runs through my head-screen while walking. Lest I forget most of it by the time I get back and am done with my cooking and bath.

The shuffled playlist on my phone had decided to be partial to Aamir Khan this morning. It was jee le zara… when I started out, a while later it was chand sifaarish jo karta… (Each time I hear that song I wonder if it is from this Urdu word that the Malayalam word ‘shupaarsha’ evolved.) And somewhere along the way, dheemi dheemi… started playing. Not bad as choice of songs so.

I’d vaguely decided that it’s going to be a ‘taxi tales’ day. Because I have a whole lot of stories gathered during my many rides around the city.

So which cabbie was to be my hero of the day? The one from up the mountains of Peshawar who told me about how, back home, they slept with machine guns by their side? Or the one who wore Ray Ban aviators and told me he was a good cook, a skill that fetches him additional income? I am Gujarati, no, Madam? You know us – we can’t just sit idle!

The machine gun man almost won the day, when, as usual, my left shin demanded due diligence. I headed to the nearest bench to massage it. And maybe jot down stuff.

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He appeared out of nowhere, the elegant black and white cat. Squeezing his way out from between the bars fencing the pond, he headed straight to where I was sitting. He stopped hardly a foot away, but refused to meet my eye, instead pretending to inspect the shrubbery for neatness.

I sat watching him.

Another minute passed before he turned and looked up, hesitantly. I smiled.

That, I guess, broke the ice. He came closer, brushed against my calf. And then, in one swift move, he sat next to me. I moved slightly to make space, but no – that wasn’t enough. He edged sideways, stretching in such a way that most of his body nestled against mine. He was used to human touch, and very obviously craved it.

“Want me to scratch your ears, baby?” I asked him. In response, he edged closer. 

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There used to be a black cat earlier, who would follow the walkers. In typical Puss in Boots style, she had melted my heart into buying her milk one evening. Wonder what became of her!

I have never taken a stray pet home – and I’m not proud of it – except once when we were new to Dubai and found an abandoned tortoise. We named him Oliver – Ollie for short – because he was always asking for more. The amount of lettuce he ate was completely disproportionate to his size!

But the next time we went to India, we had to leave him at the Dubai Zoo.

I have not attempted to keep pets since, though we have, over the years, tried to nurse a couple of baby birds who fell into our balcony. One died, and the other flew away. We have had pigeons laying eggs, hatching and eventually flying away.

But no pets. 

***

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The sun was becoming warmer, and it was time to leave. As if sensing my thoughts, he pressed closer against me.

Another abandoned pet. One of the many you find at unexpected places in the city. Maybe leaving them in the park is better than— Better than whatever else they do with pets they get tired of.

No, love, I can’t take you with me. Not to my apartment which is hardly large enough for the four human beings that occupy it. Plus I am a coward – I shy away from the pain of inevitable loss. Sorry!

I hitched my bag back onto my shoulders and walked on. He didn’t even attempt to follow me.

Dubai Diaries: Day 3 –  Massagus Centerus Cardimicus

So my Dubai Diaries would be a non-starter without introducing you to this phenomenon called Massage Centre Cards. They are small, they are colourful, and they have (a million) stories to tell. Which of course they won’t. 

But before I get to that, let me warn you: The contents you are about to see are graphic, and can be highly disturbing. In India, the censor board might have frowned. (Or not. They frown only at things that seduce the intellect. I guess I’m safe.)

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Name: Massage Center Card

Scientific Name: Massagus Centerus Cardimicus

Origin: Unknown 

Size: Slightly larger than an average visiting card

Colour: Skin, mostly

Function: Informational / proclamatory / invitational / motivational (Take your pick.)

Habitat: Pavements, sidewalks, footbridges, and roadsides [Known to infest windows of parked cars in great numbers.]

Feeds on: Human desperation and depravity

Special Features:

    • Digitally printed.
    • No female with an anatomy is safe from the confines of its four edges. Indian film stars, regardless of their standing, are particularly vulnerable.
    • Certain parts of the said anatomy are more susceptible than others.
    • Elusive to copyright laws and defamation suits.
    • Deposited in place by swift hands and bent heads that pass by on foot or bicycle

Sub-species:  New Girl, Good Girl, Sweet Belly, Ya Ting , Lixin, Love Me, Milk Spa, Angel, Personal Care, Jasmine, Rose King, Rose Spa, Royal Rose, Lucky, Marvellous, Relax, VIP… Or [no name].

Evolution: Started out with more text and smaller graphics, plus a map to the location printed at the back. Soon moved towards minimalism, with more visuals and graphics (read more ‘visually graphic’). Currently tend to be spartan, with just monochrome visuals and phone number/s.

Collector’s Note:

      • Be prepared for mixed reactions when you are caught picking them up, especially if you are a middle-aged woman with graying hair and an air of respectability.
      • Do not think beyond the card.
      • Do not ask why they are so blatantly there, at the most obvious places, despite.
      • NEVER think about what they imply. You can’t sleep.

Dubai Diaries – Day 2: Her

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So I was telling you about the lady from Tamil Nadu who showed me the calluses on her knees. And about her lovely smile. I met her the day I went to the women workers’ accommodation (I cringe every time I hear the term labour camp) in Al Quoz with Juhi and a few others.

A different world there. In those dusty, closely built, unremarkable buildings that flanked the dusty, unremarkable roads with no pavements. A very different world inside the buildings too.

a world

in pale neon

where shadows

pale and watery

hover

above arms

eyelids

and tired lips

where conversations

kindle 

die out

and rekindle

and smiles

smiles

linger

unsure

listless

waiting

“Doesn’t it remind you of our hostel, Mini? All these girls, gathered after an evening bath, walking around, smiling and talking…” Liza had asked me the first time we had gone there.

I met her there the second time I went. Fair skin and long, black, wavy hair. Kohl-lined eyes above smiling lips. In a sky blue T-shirt and a printed skirt. Which she lifted up to show me the calluses her knees.

Later, I wondered how she would look in a Kanjeepuram sari and a large red bindi. Beautiful enough to break a few hearts, I’m sure. Bad knee or not. 

Dubai Diaries – The Beginning

Seven evenings, you said, to create a body of work. Adding that it’s a long, slow process.

Well, why not? I have great belief in long, slow processes – being one myself. The fact that there’s more than just me in this process lends a certain level of accountability. (Notice how I’ve already taken your presence for granted?)

I have to clean up my act now. And start on my Dubai Diaries. Or shall I call them Desert Diaries?

All morning I thought about it. How do I begin? Where do I begin? More importantly, where do I stop – draw the line, so to speak? 

Begin at the beginning, as the King had told Alice, and go on till you come to the end: then stop?

Ideally. But then, what if this exercise turns out to be like trying to contain a sky-full of small white clouds inside an IKEA glass jar? What if? 

Anyway.

My Evening # 1 will have to start with my morning walk. Because I can’t write a text about Dubai without including my morning walks. Because that’s when I do most of my writing. In my head, that is. While treading the oh-so-familiar path to the park – between buildings, past the closed shops, across the road, past the buildings and across the sand, past the mosque, across the zebra crossing, past the gates and onto the jogging track around the pond…

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Today is Friday – the Day of Invisible People. Of those who otherwise blend into the background and remain unseen/unheard in this city. 

I can see the paper boys stopping by the pavement to chat, the night-shift workers still in reflective gear sitting at the entrance of the park and happily sipping tea, the housemaids enjoying their day off…

I’m vaguely aware of the songs that are playing. I think it was Rahman’s ‘nilaa kaaykirathu…’ when I stepped out of the house, and then somewhere along the way, I remember Jagjit Singh singing ‘din kuch aisa guzaartaa hai koi…’ in my ears.

Spring still prevails, at least in the park – though there are more flowers on the ground than on the trees now.

The other Friday I met a cleaning lady from Tamil Nadu who showed me the calluses on her knees. “No holiday one month, Madam. My body aching…” But it was with a beatific smile that she told me about how she had persisted with her request for a day off until her boss finally agreed. She did win, after all.

It’s not in the park that I met her— But then, that’s another story, better saved for another day.

Friday is also evident in the absence of the usual suspects: the yoga people with their mats and good cheer, the gang of young mothers led by a loud-voiced girl who spoke Gujarati, the tall Egyptian man who looks as if all he does with his days are workouts…

My legs hurt easily these days. I’m not sure if it’s the age, the weight or the desert that is catching up. So my 3-kilometer walk is often punctuated by bouts of sitting and nursing my aching shin.

As I make my way back home, I remind myself to start my walk earlier – the sun has begun to show its true desert colours. I’m sweating profusely, and the increasing brightness hurts my eyes.

It is with relief that I open the door to the air-conditioned darkness inside my apartment. Summer has risen.