Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Journey to School - I

Since I joined Bantul Mahakali High School, somewhere in a far-off area in rural West Bengal, I have been inundated with questions. Curious friends want to know how life is at this village school for someone who has studied and worked in the city and knows nothing of what life can be 50kms away from the heart of Calcutta. I have tried to answer these questions to the best of my ability but there is just so much to say that nothing I could write on chat boxes or say on phone conversations could totally encapsulate my experience. A series of blog posts on my life at school was long overdue! With the doors of this co-ed institution shut for three consecutive days and the weather enforcing me to keep my own door firmly bolted, it’s time to keyboard my story.

This was going to be my first journey on a local train! Yes, when I mention this to anyone, they don’t believe me. It surely does not make me feel proud of this dubious distinction but I have never traveled short distances by train. I didn’t need to. I was gearing myself up for the worst when my colleagues laughed at my question, “Where should I punch the monthly ticket?” These two friends are regulars on local trains and had told me to buy a monthly ticket for convenience. I was of the opinion that they could be punched, much like Metro Rail tickets. When my colleague took out his ticket and railway ID card, I had my first look at what I needed to be armed with to take local trains on a daily basis.


I had done a reconnaissance a few days before I was scheduled to join and knew that it would take me a couple of hours to reach the school. I started off this reconnaissance trip with a lot of foreboding. I had no idea how it is going to be. I had a rough sketch of where I needed to go and what I had to take. The rest would unfold when I hit the track. High on a desire to explore and quite low on enthusiasm, I took off. I had to walk for 5 minutes to reach the bus stop. If I had to go to Calcutta, I need not have walked because a bus going that way would have saved the trouble for me. Anyway, not to be weighed down by the loss of this luxury, I took a bus to the train station. The bus was near-empty because office goers were headed the opposite way, towards Calcutta. I was going away from it. The bus stopped on a flyover above the train station. I had to climb down about two levels to reach ground floor.

The way to the school was a series of questions. The first one was, “Where is the ticket counter?” I had no choice but to depend on random strangers to locate a destination where I might spend the rest of my professional career. I was shown a structure which was more like a concrete hut with a tin roof and polished marble floors. The rain in the morning had left patches of water on the floor and years of use have eroded the surface. Walking carefully, I reached the ticket counter. Two counters were on the sides of a room that can pass off as a rectangular hall. Rubbish was heaped on at least two of the corners. An old woman was strategically standing between the counters, expecting passengers to drop their loose balance into her begging bowl. Many were disappointing her.

I bought my ticket and headed for the over-bridge that will take me to another platform. Again, this information was indebted to a stranger. The climb up made me sweat badly and I realized with a tinge of fear that maybe these flights of stairs, the flyover and now this, will be difficult to manage some years down the line, if I continue to skip exercises. I got to the right platform and asked a tea vendor when the train will come. He replied that it was due and anytime it would arrive. True enough, I saw it chugging in lazily. With each passing day, I have learnt to trust the information of train hawkers more than railway time tables or officials. Seats were available on the train. The same reason, like the bus, applied to save me from another physical exhaustion. I was on my way.

Monday, April 11, 2011

An Empty Ode

Sterile thoughts clog my void brain,
I cannot wade through thoughts profane;
The want far exceeds the frugal means
Of sustenance that life did me ordain.

Each day I hope for a pregnant sunrise
Each day the boredom I despise.
The numbness remains my vital shadow
When will life bring me a surprise?

I feel compelled to shield my eyes,
From the naked shrapnels of the past.
What stark, bare force in them lies
That bring them up out of the dust

The need for a physical consolation escalates;
Blocked are the routes of escapades.

This is a poem I wrote way back on a June evening in 2008.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Dear Dad II

It’s been a year since I last wrote to you. It’s not easy making up my mind and begin to write a letter to you, you know! No, it’s not just the emotional upheaval that I’m scared of. It’s also because of the lack of emotional intimacy we shared. I don’t remember talking to you frankly or freely about my problems, neither did you feel easy enough to do the same with me. Somehow we kept our lives separate, lest we betray our vulnerabilities. There’s something that held you back from talking about your needs. You could never say what you wanted. If somebody understood instinctively, it was done for you. You would accept the favor with silent gratefulness. If it was not done, you would have no qualms about it. I inherited this trait from you, though partially. I can keep silent when no one realizes what I want, but somehow I cannot help but be bitter about it. I feel a bad aftertaste in the mouth.

This last year has been oddly quiet. There were no major events except for my laptop breaking down and me having to spend a whole two months to bring things back in control. Yes, I bought a laptop last year in May, with the money I received as Provident Fund from my last office. I tried to sell off my desktop, the one you worked on, but changed my mind. Remember how we used to fight over it? Things used to get so ugly on Sundays! You were so paranoid about checking your email every hour and I would grumble that I cannot have the computer to myself. I would complain to my mother and she would raise a ruckus and bully you into letting me take over. You would calmly get up and watch TV. I would finish my non-existent work in half an hour and join you on the sofa. Invariably I would take the remote and change the channel you were watching. You would immediately adjust your mind and watch what I did. Why did you never assert yourself? The computer and the TV lie silent for days and months. Need I say more?

You want me to talk about mom, don’t you? She’s fine! She’s heavily into singing devotional hymns and has learnt to play my old harmonium! She asked me to teach her initially. But you know how she picks things up! I gave up in two sessions. She went ahead and got herself a tutor. The lady is a very patient and an ideal teacher. Krishna Aunty joins mom for these sessions that happen thrice a week. But mom practices every single day! She’s really taken this up and is happy to keep herself occupied. Her sense of humor remains keen and outrageous to the hilt. Remember how you used to poke her so that she may say those funny, quaint things? You would laugh till tears came flowing. I enjoy her hilarious side a lot. She makes me smile with her excuses for bad cooking. When I’m pensive, she asks me if I am worried. Then without waiting for an answer, she brushes away all such considerations saying that I need not worry as long as she is around. I trust her completely when she says that. She may be comical, but she’s rock-steady. They don’t make them like her anymore. You did well to choose her as my mother.

If you want to know how we are doing on a daily basis, I have nothing much to say because nothing much has changed. There’s no one to bring the fish every day, so we don’t have it regularly. You know mom wouldn’t put anything non-veg in the fridge. As you know, she’s beyond reason when it comes to following null and void customs that are etched on her mind. She gets hysterical when I try to make her see sense. I don’t try hard or she may think that I’m trying to push my opinion on her. I don’t argue with her, unless I feel that she’s open to change her mind. She asks for my advice on little things these days. She feels that she’s getting old and now I must take the decisions. I tell her what I think of the matter and give her options. I don’t know if I’m capable of standing up and being there for her when she needs me. But I’m not giving up. Ever.

I dream about you every other night. Don’t look away, I know you realize what I’m talking about. Just the other day you were holding me in a half-hug when I woke up, like you used to. Don’t deny, you were right there, I could feel your stubble on my cheek. On other nights, you tell me things that I don’t remember when it’s day. I can’t recall a single word now. Na├»ve are the people who say dreams are nothing but your sub-conscious mind playing visual tricks. You are not my sub-conscious. There are some little things that keep coming back to me: silly jokes you found really funny, India losing cricket matches, our drunk neighbors fighting. As days pass, I feel I’m imitating the way you were. I gulp water like you did, I sometimes speak like you used to, I react like you did. And you know what, I wrote all these tenses of the last line in present tense.

That’s it for now. Don’t be conscious that I referred to your visits in my dreams and stay away from me. I would feel really lucky if I could talk to mom during the day and with you during the night. I never want to choose between you two. I will accept nothing but the both of you.

Be with me always.