Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Random thoughts on a rainy day

Sheets of rain like tears from heaven. She wondered at the line…perhaps her mother had told her the words sometime.

Nowadays, as she reached her mid 30’s, her mother’s quaint terms came into her mind often. Theirs was not a typically suburban life, the one you find in books and movies, but grittier and much less romantic. Her father was an occasional intrusion, her mother harried, loving and full of strange advice. Yet, it had not been an unhappy childhood.

Today as she sat in the café, words came flowing from all directions. Her boyfriend had left with a note, not in his own words, but, taken from a Bob Dylan song – now this was so typical of him. It said, ‘It ain't no use in callin' out my name, gal, like you never did before. It ain't no use in callin' out my name, gal…I can't hear you any more.” Strangely she had laughed after reading it, not an original thought in his head, not even when it came to saying goodbye.

Here she was kind of reaching middle age alone, and reasonably happy, counting the men in her life. Her mother called them her, “romantic entanglements.” Everybody wondered why someone as attractive as her, “never found a man to marry.” How could you explain the fear of commitment, the need for space to stretch your soul and mind, and was it so bad to be alone?

It looked as if the rain would never stop; she had a sudden vision of Noah hurrying his way to the café, to choose two good human souls, the ones who would populate the future. Would he choose her, and if he did, who would he take as her mate? She looked around - who would she choose, that one- too corporate-handsome, and the other – too slick….
“See that’s your problem,” she scolded herself, “too hard to satisfy!”

Perhaps she should have stuck to her Fourth Grade sweetheart…he was nice enough!

“Oops, you are beginning to sound like Ally McBeal!” She said to herself, imagining her rather curvy figure as a much thinner…and even anorexic. “Too fond of pasta,” she told herself.

Freedom…she had no idea why the word entered her mind. The swing in the backyard, which seemed to have the power to reach the sky…as a child she felt it would. Sometimes she wondered if it would take her to space…to the moon… to Mars perhaps

Freedom meant so many things to so many people…in the French revolution it had stormed the Bastille's, the African Americans in the ‘60s; fought for right to ride on a bus without discrimination, and went on to win so much more. For women way back it meant the vote… for her it meant leaving behind the past. For everyone it had a different meaning…

Right now, it suddenly meant taking a walk…in the rain, wearing her business suit…and not caring about anything else apart from the magic of the moment…Freedom…was her call to take.

Monday, January 29, 2007

There is a friend of mine, who will tell anyone willing to listen about the sheer beauty of the small towns of Belgaum and Kolhapur. As a woman, my take of small towns is a little different based on the few I have seen.

My life in childhood revolved around few small towns other than Pune. They were in the depths of North India, in bad old Bihar - Dhanbad and Jamshedpur, and in Bengal - in a place called Barrackpore, where the 1857 mutiny started.

Now Pune, when I was a child, was this tiny town, and we were a part of the expatriate Bengali community, therefore the greatest need was to herd together and celebrate the Bengaliness, through Durga Pujas and other such "socio cultural" activities. Over time as Poona has grown, this too has changed. I am now too busy and indifferent to be a part of it and somehow this once rather boisterous event has become very staid - strange!

Dhanbad is a bad town. Mafia run, wicked in so many ways. My uncle was in the railways and was posted in Dhanbad for quite a few years. The mines located underground the town constantly burn, it has the smell of fired coal. Every pan chewing, wild-eyed man could actually knife you down, without a thought-and you were always well aware of the dangers! Yet, I was fascinated by it. There was a massive railway yard in front of the house. It had a "turntable" which allowed the engines to change directions. My uncle used to take us for steam engine rides. Within the town, there was no place to go, as Dhanbad was an industrial town, in the worst of ways, a coal hell. I have no idea how this town is now.

Being stuck in a place with nothing to do meant lots to read. There were these fabulous “bong” books to read, which made my evenings. These were the creepy ghost story types, long hands silently dripping with blood, crawling towards you,...the skeletons are dancing, ready to pounce on you, and you have nowhere to go. These made my days. The house we lived in was these old colonial houses, quite fitting the atmosphere of the stories.
Iti, my daughter, seems to have inherited my love for ghost stories that is all she reads nowadays.

Then we went to Jamshedpur, or TATANAGAR. Now, everyone in those days, worked for either TISCO or TELCO here. My father too was here for a little while, so there were many friends here to visit. I was born here...but I don’t think I’ll want to stay here.

Jamshedpur back then was divided into class-conscious neighborhoods, with little to do. Gossiping, clubbing were the main activities of the evening. Women then had no status apart from being homemakers; the men would discuss football and whatever else men talk about. Children had plenty of space to run around.

Living in this provincial town, the mindsets became quite small; they could be packed on tiny pinheads. Of course, the girl child was viewed, as a potential wife. For every one of us fairness creams were suggested, even the fair ones were asked to use a range of "treatments" to get even fairer- I of course had a range, right from turmeric to whatever else you can think off! The boys were asked to study harder and become engineers. If anyone wanted to be an artist, a quick whack was delivered to knock it off his head. After these thoughts we were left alone in the courtyard, and asked not go further because it was dangerous.

But, this was a well laid town with a place called Jubilee Park, where everyone would crowd around in the evenings. The sky was always a brilliant orange, because of the furnaces from the factories. Of course life has changed, with the blossoming brigade of working woman with so many attitudes, and job hopping youngsters.

For me the escape from these little towns was the sheer anonymity of larger cities. They were and are so crowded that gives you space. If you want to, you can get lost there. No one bothers you, no one cares.

Yet, I retain a love for many a small town. Madgaon, Kolhapur and Belgaum being among my favorites. The only time I went to Belgaum was in small “meter gauge” train, sitting at the doorstep, passing by countless other village and towns. It was a great ride. The red soil, the nip in the air, fragrance of dirt and flowers-the beautiful houses.... I was always an outsider enjoying the peace, because Pune by that time was beginning to burst at the seams.

So, here's to small towns, and may we always love and enjoy them.