The following was written October, 2009, at an internet cafe. I have edited some to make it more conducive to the readership of Boloji.com. I had taken a break for a few months and used it to connect with the India of my childhood. It was Ramlila time, the entire city was immersed in preparations and festivities. And though, I could point out much that was different, from all the other countries I had lived in and travelled through that stood out as Indian, I could not place the feeling that lets out a sigh and point--‘that, that is what I meant by connecting with the India of my childhood!!’
And then this event happened!!
It was written on the spur of the moment, when my senses were still in a trance from the experience. It was the response to this entry from the friends I had mailed it to, in nearly six countries --that finally made me decide I want to work on a blog. Finally I acknowledged that I find peace in writing stories, stringing words, and sharing ordinary day events by painting a halo around them.
I have always been in love with words, even before I knew how to spell. I hope that some of my entries will bring a piece of the places I travel, to the readers--especially India, which I love, and so easily get frustrated by.
The Pied Piper
Am at the internet cafe again. I come to this internet cafe practically everyday.
I am tired and the heat is mounting up.
September-October was never like this.
It used to be the pleasant month, when youngsters, newlyweds came out in their finest clothes, evening walks were more common. School was not that hectic, not until November. And there was nothing on TV worth watching (still isn't-but when I was a little girl, TV was not this continuous barrage of mindless pictures, sounds and dialogues, so we expected quality programming).
But thanks to global warming, population growing by leaps and bounds, and no regulations unlike some other countries (including Bhutan) there is non-stop traffic everywhere, thanks to the lack of civic sense there is trash everywhere, and thanks to all the above mentioned, there is incessant noise, air pollution and unseemly sights and smells in the city.
Coming to this cafe is almost a daily ritual. I cross, Shankar Road, the main street stuffed with moving cars, shunting lorries, rolling bicycles, meandering cows, hustling dogs --really I mean dogs, four legs and all, hand driven carts, and many other creatures and means of transportation that would be hard to define, in a city that overflows with life. New Delhi, India! I could write an essay on what I notice for every half a degree turn of the neck. There is so much life, so much happening on the streets.
Both stray dogs and cars are in abundance!
The smells and sights,
repel and delight!!
India evokes such strong feelings in me.
A sense of oneness and a disgust at the same time. India wraps me in familiarity and alienates me with its many irrationalities. I feel towards India, a love so deep and yet a feeling of aversion. A deep faith in this country, its diversity, its tolerance (the only country where the major religions declared that all religions are good and that all of us are sons and daughters of God-- all of us, not a chosen few--we are the co-creators of the universe). The country where despite what media states you can see mosques, temples, churches and gurudwaras on the same road. The only country where celebrations for all major religions are listed as national holidays (Christmas, Diwali, Id, GuruPurab, Budh Poornima--despite the fact that the country is 85% Hindu).
A country that makes twice the movies that hollywood does (and twice as bad in taste) and yet, has a thriving folk and classical art scene. A country where no matter how hard you try you cannot avoid poverty, you cannot ignore it or forget it. And alongside poverty, alongside a skinny rickshaw puller you will always see two fat people, donned in silk, who squabble over how much they will pay to the skinny guy for hauling them three streets up, 25 or 50 US cents.
A country where we address strangers as "aunties", "uncles" and "beta" (child), and discuss life and philosophy in buses and trains. Every time I get tired of it and I think that I want to run away....something happens that makes me stop, I sigh and say. "Ah, its India again!!"
Today, as I sat next to the door at the cafe with barely 10 computers, I could hear honking from the rickshaws, the changing gears of all kinds of vehicles, barking dogs, mindless chatter of teenagers sitting next to me, who were checking their emails and talking simultaneously on the phone, I heard something so Indian that dumbfounded I stepped four steps away from my chair and was at the door of the cafe.--I stared out at the little convenient store across the road, the old man was absorbed in reading his newspaper. I looked to the right and there was another skinny man, in a black full sleeved shirt and loose trousers. Both the garments hung loose on his bony body. He held a long stick on which a bouquet of flutes was tied, facing upwards. He had another two bags dangling on his right arm. In his right hand was a flute that he played. Using only one hand, since the other hand was holding the goods that he was selling. He played so melodiously that I stood mesmerized, not caring that I blocked the way for those who wanted to come into the cafe.
As I came back to my computer, I heard one of the guys who works here say, "Oh Madam, do you want me to ask him to come here, so we can buy something?
"We? No!” I shook my head, and asked, ‘Do you know how to play it...?"
The other employee at the cafe said, "Madam iski kya baat hai, yeh to sapre hai, yehi to kaam karta tha yeh gaon mei" (Mam, he is a snake charmer, that’s how he made his living in the village")
“Seriously?" I was impressed. After all, snake charmer to a computer-assistant does seem like a big leap. But in today's info-tech world it all seems quite plausible.
"No madam, mein to mazak kar raha tha aapne to seriously le liya" (no Madam, I was just joking, you took it seriously, I was just joking").
One line witty comments are also quite a Delhi thing.
The vendor continued to play his flute with one hand. It rose above the non-stop honking, above arguing customers, barking dogs, and filled the air with something as simple as another sound.
The burn in my eyes, resulting from the heat, had calmed down. I realized my breath had normalized and I felt a quietness, I had not felt in weeks. The kind that makes us carefree and therefore more in the present. The kind we all left behind somewhere in our childhood. Like watching rain drops sliding on a newly painted door.
Someone from behind me tapped me on my shoulder, and broke my trance.
I bought one flute, (the cheaper version) that cost me less than 50 cents for my nephew. I wonder how long these people will survive, the poor flute seller who can play enchantingly with one hand and probably on an empty stomach, the street side cobbler who fixes my shoes that cost me 100 dollars each, in two dollars and made them look brand-new, the guy who comes around the neighborhood and "tinnes" the copper pans (Copper, even though a trace element, is not a good conductor, so copper pans are "tinned" so that the heat is spread evenly. I am told that daal and vegetables cooked in these copper pans taste markedly different from the modern ones made of steel). But not many people own those old pots now).
I do not have a childish nostalgia that wants to revert all the progress. I question all this from the two main viewpoints; first, are we concerned that in fast economic rise, and a market-value placed on everything, and every transaction that millions are getting marginalized and becoming invisible? These marginalized form a larger portion of the country than the ones who are benefitting from the rising and visible modern wealth in the country. Second, do we realize that we are losing many of our traditions that have a millennia of wisdom embedded in it? Once again, not a meaningless desire to turn back the clock, but a caution to not throw the baby out with the bath water. In this case, there are many babies being thrown out. The most important being the ability to take time, sit down and chat over a cup or many of chai to entertain the neighbor.
There are no answers. I am not sure if ‘preservation’ is a part of the ‘development’ agenda at all. But I know this, that when I heard the flute, by a man who may not have had a proper meal, who may not have ever gone to school, that something in me rested, it brought me to a state that was wordless, thoughtless and yet filled with color and high notes. My mind, like a calm pond--I bowed to what was common between the flute player and I, silence in my mind extended, and I forgot to breathe for a short time.
I smiled, and my heart agreed, ‘that is what was I wished to experience, a sense of timelessness’
For a few minutes, thanks to the Pied Piper, [watch video] I was in the India of my childhood the one that I was so sad to leave.
Came back into the cafe to get back to the modern India, immersed in computers and chaos that connects me to the world.