I've been in Chennai for two and a half hours and I'm down three glasses of red wine and a beef steak.
I am living happiness.
According to Google, there are six and a half billion people inhabiting the earth. I'm pretty sure most of them find their way onto the Delhi Metro at some point of time or the other- mostly when I'm on it. The Metro, during rush hour, and in Delhi, every hour is rush hour, is convenient but not always pleasant.
Think harsh tubelights and enclosed spaces, the smell of talcum powder and deodorant, sweat and hair oil. Being pressed in on all sides by people, until it feels your lungs are about to fall through your stomach. Like I said, not always pleasant.
But like most unpleasant things, the Metro is a great learning experience. I think, in the past two and a half months, I've learnt more about people than I ever had in Calcutta (man whores excepted). I've also learnt about survival because I have to admit- if you can survive the Delhi Metro on a regular basis, you're qualified to face all the darkness and misery the world will throw at you.
Surviving the Delhi Metro: A Guide.
1. If you're waiting for a train and you're right at the back of the line, step back. Let the train arrive, let the train depart and while you're watching, wave at all the people who are packed in there, faces pressed against the doors, mouths opening and closing like fish gasping for breath. You may now step smugly up to the yellow line, secure in the knowledge that you are in a position to get yourself to a corner where there might just be some oxygen.
2. When about to board or 'de-board' the train, make sure your fists are clenched and your elbows are jutting out. This is an excellent position to counter-shove fat ladies and men with big briefcases who will do their best to push you against the walls. It is also an excellent position to detract gropers- if you feel a hand on your butt, stay in position, swing slightly until your elbow connects and you hear a groan. Then make a run for it because it's Delhi after all and there's always the danger of acid being chucked on your face.
3. Ladies, the men are not going to stand to make room for you. Even if you're carrying a big backpack and three files and an overnight bag and look as if you haven't slept in two weeks. In fact, they're going to take special pains to sit in the Seats Reserved for Ladies. Standing in front of them and glaring at them is not going to help. You need to point to the sign and then point to yourself and indicate you are a lady (I use the term loosely). Normally this works. If it doesn't work, hit them with your backpack and make a run for it because like I said before, you don't want to end up with acid on your face.
4. Grammarians, to survive a trip on the Metro, you are going to have to make yourselves temporarily deaf/blind. This is because you'll be hearing terms like 'de-board' and seeing sentences such as 'Stand clear off the door'.
5. Always carry a bottle of cough syrup with you. Unless you're extraordinarily lucky, you'll be forced to stand for at least half an hour, pressed in by people on all sides and the world will start spinning and you'll wish you were dead. Cough syrup comes in handy at times like this- it's sweet and it calms your nerves and it makes the Metro a happier place.
6. Should you not happen to have cough syrup on you, while switching lines (especially if you're heading towards the Blue Line), stop at the Nirula's or Gianni's in CP and get yourself an ice cream before you board the train. You'll need the happy feeling it gives you. Trust me.
7. When waiting for the train, always stand at the end of the platform. This way, as the train draws into the station, you'll be able to see which carriage is relatively empty and make a run for it. It is also a good idea to wear sneakers while travelling the Metro.
8. Always keep your Metro Card in your hand. If you keep it in your pocket, it will fall out. If you keep it in your bag, you won't find it until you've paid the whopping fine those Metro Criminals extort from you. Keep the damn thing in your hand and also, talk to it to keep it happy. Sing to it if you must. It's also a good way to pass the time.
9. To pass the time: A book will not help because you won't have room to read it. An ipod is always good but from personal experience, the battery usually dies five minutes after you get on the train (don't worry- it comes back as soon as you get off). Eavesdropping on other people's conversations is always a good way to pass the time. Adding your own input to them is not. Delhi people are notoriously unfriendly.
10. Take a friend along if possible. Two being stronger than one and all that. You'll not only have someone to talk to, if you pass out from lack of oxygen, you can be sure that there will be at least one person who isn't trampling over you as soon as the doors open.
11. Always carry money on you, in different places. Some money in your bag, some in your pocket, some tucked away in your socks and if you're very paranoid, other...strategic...places. Because you will get robbed one day and it's always good to be able to have access to an emergency stash.
12. Above all, look at it as a challenge. You are in a tough city and you are dealing with tough people and you are therefore, no matter what your friends and family think, tough (I should also mention that delusions and hallucinations always help you cope with the Metro Experience better). And above all, keep in mind that you won't be using the Metro forever. One day you will leave Delhi or even if, by some sad twist of fate, you don't- you will have a car or a helicopter or a bicycle or some other mode of transport. However, should this fail and you are faced with the prospect of travelling on the Metro for the rest of your life- there is still no need to worry. After all, if you throw yourself off the platform, it will be happy to run over you.
I think I was thirteen the last time I was in Calcutta for Durga Puja. So I really don't know why I'm suddenly missing it so much this year. I don't even know what I'm missing.
Is it watching, wide eyed, as Durga and her four children were reverently brought into Nabakailash on a battered old truck? I remember the black, coarse curls of her hair and the red silk of her sari and the silver foil at the end of her trident. And I can see her slanting eyes, so terrible and so gentle. The pink of Lokhi's sari and the green of Saraswati's and it took me years to understand why her skin was white while the others' were gold. They all stood- no, stood is the wrong word- they occupied, the rough wooden stage and sometimes it seemed to me that they really were alive, that they were watching all of us, smiling secret smiles that we were too blind to see.
I remember going out in Dad's jeep, inching our way along roads taken over by people- fat women, hot and sweaty with make-up streaming down into the crevices of their faces and little girls and boys in crushed clothes and laughter in their eyes. Vendors selling steaming food, oily and crispy and hot. Plastic whirring toys and gas balloons. Green tube lights turning the trees a harsh, terrible green. The sky was never black, not even at night, it was always a deep purple because of all the noise and all the lights and it was as if the excitement on the streets had slowly wound its way beyond the clouds.
And I remember waking up every morning to the noise of drums, a noise that managed to find its way all the way up to the eighth floor, through my closed windows to trumpet me awake. It didn't even bother me, it gave me a fierce rush of energy and I'd gulp down my breakfast and rush downstairs to join the crowd already there, scooping up a handful of orange flowers and getting ready to throw them to the thakur- an offering and though I didn't know why I did it, I did it with faith.
The last day, I remember sitting on the cold white marble steps watching the thakur being put back in the truck. Wailing women and grave men and smiling boys climbed on as well, to accompany her to the river- the last part of her journey. I remember feeling a tug of sadness because she was gone, with her red silk sari and her black curls, and with her, the drums and the marigolds and the incense and the priests and the chanting crowds and the games and the wooden stage were gone too.
I remember one particular Doshomi watching Bobby get on the truck to go with her to the river and I wanted to go so much, to see the final act of putting her in the water and watching her wind her way down to the sea, back to the Destroyer.
All this was so long ago and now, when I look back, I see it through someone else's eyes. A lifetime ago and I've lived a lot of lives since then.
But tonight, just tonight, I'm turning back the clock. Just for a little while.
I have Monday off too- even better. Of course, I'm spending the weekend with my great uncle and aunt so it's not like I'm going to be having a wild time. But I'll be having a good time. Boring yes, but boring and good sometimes go together. Lots of on-lining and sleeping and I've decided to learn how to cook. My great aunt's going to teach me how to produce a kick ass Punjabi meal. She is unaware that I set her bathroom waste paper basket on fire two weeks ago- I don't think she'd be as willing to let me step into the kitchen if she knew. Never mind. You're never too old to learn.
Speaking of food, when I arrived in the evening, I made the mistake of telling her I hadn't eaten lunch. I would've been happy to eat a banana and wait till dinner but she force fed me three lunches instead. I've gone to the bathroom thrice already and the pain in my stomach still hasn't gone.
The Metro was crowded as usual and I was forced to spend half an hour standing next to a woman who had all the symptoms of swine flu. Watery nose, hacking cough, feverish eyes. So if you never hear from me again, you'll know what happened.
College has been good. Delhi isn't as soulless as I thought it was. And day by day, I realise the benefits of living in a city that is not the one my mother lives in. Of course my life isn't all that wonderful- I get less hugs than I did back home, and I walk into more cows on the road. Okay- that happened once, just once, but it never happened in Calcutta. There, most of the cows I encountered were dead ones- cooked to perfection and lying on the plate in front of me. Anyway.
I have a good week ahead. I have two dinners, a concert, a potential party and...yeah, okay. That's about it. But still. Compared to last month, it's a lot.
Soni, the maid/cook, just came in with a mug of coffee. I love her coffee. It's the best coffee in the world. I wish I could describe its divine taste in detail but words can't do justice do it. How do you go about describing coffee anyway? Brown, bitter, not too bitter because of the right amount of sugar....see what I mean? Hopeless case. Anyway, I'd rather drink it (which I'm doing right now) than describe it.
I'm chatting to one of my Man Whore friends (Type 3 for those who are interested) and he's telling me about the four girls he's got running after him. Man, girls are stupid. Actually I shouldn't talk. I'm also stupid when it comes to boys. This is where my brother could come in handy- whenever I need boys to be interpreted, I call him up and ask him to interpret them for me- but he's normally as clueless as I am and turns to his female friends for advice which is then passed on to me.
I was bored the other day and decided to try my hand at writing a story which I hoped, would soon escalate into a novel and then maybe a best-seller. I'd written 600 words when I realised it was basically my life story and therefore, it would never go anywhere.
Mawii is right. I am self obsessed.
Founder's Day today. No, not college. School. My facebook is, therefore, peppered with status messages from people quoting bits of school song and the school motto. Labore et Constantia. I always hated it. Who the hell wants to labour constantly?
Always found it really funny that we celebrate Founder's Day, not on the day of Claude Martin's birth, but the day of his death. Of course our Principal always managed to use this fact as an excuse to make us aware of the solemnity of the occasion. No laughing, no jollity, no sunshine, etc.
Do I miss school?
I don't think I do. I sure as hell don't miss Founder's Day. The practices leading up to the Big Day, the standing and the sitting, the hissing during the Canticle, the Anjali Sengupta singing- it's all in the past and I am so very thankful for that. I always thought Founder's Day was a nightmare. Class 12 was sweet because of the special blazer and the front row that the Prefects were entitled to, but I think its specialness lies in the fact that it was my last.
I've been trying to write more about it but I can't think of anything to say. There is nothing to say.
Oh, except this: Our school song is lame. I love it, of course I do, because you learn to love things that are familiar but as songs go, it really is pathetic.
I want to walk across the earth with you. It doesn't matter where we go, so long as we go places.
There is a little town in Spain, near Alicante. A little town by the sea. It's called Moraira and it's set in the hills, slowly curving its way down until it reaches the shore. I haven't been there for a long time, but I remember that the sky there is a crisp blue when the weather is fine and the houses that wind down the slopes, have gardens with orange trees. I've been there before but I want to go there again with you and see it once more, through your eyes.
Then we can climb the Himalayas, up and up and up, until we're looking down at the feathery clouds, and below them, the rest of the world. There are other mountain ranges to climb too, ones I haven't been to, and I don't want to stop until we've reached the pinnacle of every one.
There are so many cities to explore- old cities that have stood for thousands of years and the new ones, artificial, but brimming with life- spilling over with thousands of people, speaking thousands of languages, all different and yet still the same.
I want to drink beer with you in a London pub and cappuccinos in an Italian cafe. Hot tea, held tentatively in an earthen cup, on the dusty streets of Calcutta.
And I want a boat- either a low, cream coloured yacht or a little wooden dinghy or if we're lucky, a big and sprawling ship with white sails- and I want to sail away with you beyond the horizon, like Ulysses did. Except I don't want us to fall off the edge of the earth, oh no, I want to sail and sail, stopping at busy harbours and crowded ports and bustling sea towns, until we reach a little island where, tucked away among the trees, waits a house that looks like a sugar cube with tomatoes in the garden.
I want to live through wild, raging storms and ravaging suns and freezing winters. I want to feel every nerve of my body tingle with anticipation and excitement and restlessness and when that's done, I want to be at peace, to lie somewhere under a soft sky, and read books and listen to music and talk to you about Things.
Have you ever noticed how many different kinds of roads there are? Some long and straight and broad, others twisting their way into nothingness. Cobbled and grassy, broken and made of sticky red mud that clings. I want to walk down all of them with you, and maybe, here and there, when we don't feel like walking on the road, we can break away a little and see what lies beyond.
Most of all, I don't want any of this to be a dream- I don't want it to be elusive, breaking into a million little pieces as soon as I reach out to touch it, just because I reached out too soon. So I'm going to let it be for now. A dream catcher- they're supposed to catch your dreams and hold them for you until the time comes for them to turn real.