The memory of a photograph not taken.
The memory of a photograph not taken.
A particularly entertaining sense of ennui and a general one of ungiven fucks metastasise into the entire week, creeping up from the Friday afternoons with a hint of breeze and plenty of leftover sleeplessness in the air. Legs propped up against a stolen quote off Bukowski on the windowpane (taped among other neatly aligned bits of paper and rescued remains of stickers and knick-knacks catching, and then releasing shards of the fading light into the otherwise unmoving insides of the studio) and sponsor-logoed cups in various stages of growing moulds over leftover tea, one leaning adventurously over the sill onto the stack of ungodly coffee-shop-issue-sachets of sugar and dairy powder, as if to say "any day now," one silently thinks up variations of "HOW I WON OVER THE FADING LIGHT OF THE DAY AND FOUND JOY IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS" and several impossible ways of syndicating it to the three or four websites still not strong on their title games. I mentally edit out the JOY and look for a catchier word to take its place.
HAPPINESS would do. Or maybe, DUST.
On the Railway Line, Rats
The train is empty on the inside, bustling with life at the doors. I find a soon-to-be-window seat at the far end of the compartment, opposite a visibly annoyed specimen (who had to relieve my seat of his own propped legs) and someone who looks like a very responsible father to college-going children. I see he is worried. I feel like starting a conversation then remember I don't really feel like it. I bury my head in the Kindle and instantly regret looking at the letters too closely. I had cheaped out and bought the one that made them look like they ran out of curves. After four (five-ish) stations, the window-seat is mine and the specimen is happy again, I lean my face onto the muddied pane and look at healthy rats run around the tracks at Sion. It makes me think of the last time I went to a barber shop, eleven or so years into the past. I had always picked the one on the slope up, right before the Co-operative Bank on the left and assorted Ayurvedic medicine shops on the right, tucked right behind the unofficial parking for buses ferrying the few who still wanted to head to Sivapuram. The inside half of the shop always had heaps of cut hair in neat, undulating piles. One could tell each person's hair apart, as if it retained a memory of who it came from and clung together in a final act of beauty.
I look up at a train unload its burden onto the platform on the other side, moving on before stolen glances allow themselves to turn into something beyond punctuations around bending over pieces of light in their hands. All the love stories that could have been theirs, depress people leaning out of the compartments. Some find love on the tracks, never meeting because a geometry lesson tells them so. Most glance up from their lives backlit on endless loops and miss the tracks.
It is between cringing at the type-size in the Jonathan Franzen Purity paperback and fruitlessly hunting for an unwrapped copy of Jerry Pinto's Em and the Big Hoom, that the flannel-clad girl moves out from beyond the Indian Literary Fiction shelves. Given my truckloads of inexperience with the ladies and the double barrelled confusion that had presented itself in the last sentence, I fail to react to her presence at first, take two steps back onto the Jeffrey Archer-JRR Tolkien stack. I look up from the barren colophon page and into her eyes, for the briefest of moments. They are black, everyday eyes, but something about the spectacles framing them makes one think of old magazine ads for detergent powder. I follow the tips of her fingers as she reaches out for a white paperback edition of In Custody. I wonder if she properly punctuated her text messages. I wonder if I should find out. I put the Franzen back where it came from and nod to the person calling out THE SHOP WILL CLOSE NOW. It is far too early. It is always far too early. I get out into the footpath and break through a stream of people heading for the station. I find the chaiwallah two pillars from the shop, and take in the cool wind. It is raining somewhere else.
I reach the end of the cup, squinting at the dregs, and it smells of detergent. It occurs to me I should look up.
Shadow of The Wind. Like a spilled bottle of Gentian-Violet over fresh toilet paper. Or the other way around.
Here is a little list of things so far, this year. Now I can't sop worrying whether that first semicolon was egregious.
A new project, on the Dandi Salt March, is up at keyaar.in/salt
This is an interactive data visualisation of the Salt March. While it resizes somewhat awkwardly on a narrow screen, I wouldn't recommend it. (My biggest gripe still, is the absence of a sensible way to input proper apostrophes and dashes in Windows. Bear with me on this, I am as horrified as you are.)
Thanks to Prof. Venkatesh, Arihant (code-ninja), Prof. Greg Polk and Shri Sethu Das Ji, and their help and support, I only worked on this for five months and not a decade and a half.
In an Umebayashi induced comagasm, the ATM queue snakes along the half unpainted chain-link fence, off absentminded Cuticura tracks and lucid dreams of a two-thousand-Rupee paperback, freshly minted. The girl in faded jeans and white dress-shirt and unintended RayBans finds a glass of black tea (or was it coffee) in the third canteen she terrorises. Everybody is happy, sings the last two stanzas of whatever they remember off Virinjuninna Parilum and goes their parallel ways. Sometimes they meet for clandestine shopping complex combings and sing Partisookthangal to each other over Parippuvadas and black tea they find in the third canteen the girl terrorises.
I like longwinded reserved-in-advance-because-not-hardcore-enough train journeys for the environmental bragging rights as much as the flooded toilets and miniaturised trashcans. I was told IRCTC has started mentioning these in the second page (or third, I don't want to remember) of the totally multipage PrintEticket.pdf, right under the multicolour ad for a hotel cheaper than a half-decent print-out of the PrintEticket.pdf. I have this thing of printing out colour PDFs in colour and the black and white ones at half the size. Don't ask. Then I started looking for the "agree to terms and policy while we remove your left kidney and replace it with a life-size nendran banana ripened with Sulfur and whatnot" and failed after the third try. I wish they did the same thing to SMS confirmations and sent a minor Murakami novel sized text along after each booking, and employed unemployed graphic/interaction designers to slyly infiltrate them with links to paid porn sites and whatnot.
The four old ladies, Gujarati and clad in overflowing headdresses and unapologetic laughter and keeping the lights on till midnight lent an unmistakable AnjaliMenon vibe to the whole journey. I climbed up to my sideupper and waited for the coach to go up in purple Dakshin-Railway smoke and a bubbly vatful of stuff of questionable pedigree to appear any minute while the last of the MealsOnWheels guys peddled leftover dinners and overpriced tapwater in classy plastic bottles. I couldn't tell when my disappointment segued into much undeserved sleep and it was morning already and the toilets were appropriately flooded and the miniaturised trashcannots.
The old ladies retained their highvolume laughter and what appeared to be inside jokes from the outside and mercilessly ignored yourstruly all the way till Panvel where two of them get down and the third go wait at the door for an illicit stop at Diva. Then the last of them tell me they are old schoolmates and Kalupur has a shrine where they go once in a while and I should get married and they do these trips often and have been to places I have not been to and why am I not settled yet and they had gone to Munnar and the weather was nice and sorry for laughing so loud all the way and especially inside tunnels and I should probably go wait at the door for the stop at Thane because the crowd is insane and one should not jump off moving trains on account of old ladies apologising for laughter and having a good time.
I tell her it is hard to imagine myself doing the things they are doing at their age and she smiles that comment away and laughs and looks out the window into the sunset behind tall buildings and flyovers and hoardings for jet black phones and unlimited storage space for all your memories at very low EMIs.
The Warhol book, one that reads—appropriately—like a bag of chips, is from JB.
Writers at Work gathered mite-tears sandwiched between slightly more cultured-looking hardbound volumes in the Institute library before I bailed it out into the rain and, for exactly thirty seven seconds felt the exact same kind of elation my mother usually feels after putting a frayed thread through a needle. A PhD. fellow who passed by, tried hiding behind a pillar unsuccessfully and leapt out after I did not slow down to attack. I was pretty sure he had sandwiches in his eyes and then I wasn’t sure anymore. He was probably just too late for the evening tea or liked the general idea of hiding behind pillars when running late for cheese (1-slice) sandwiches.
The thing is set in RCA VideoComp Avanta and smells of old tree stumps and dead pixels. A little bit of Google-fu brings up this PDF and then some, lining a rabbit hole slightly wider than something that can accommodate an atrophied miniature rabbit.