The Goat.

It can't even be called a road, really. The little winding mess that links Beckbagan to the Mainland China lane.

Coming back from school, I always used to keep an eye out for Millie's Primary School, shoved into one side of the street. A little cement box, with the door open and darkness within, but never so dark that you couldn't see row after row of sweaty pupils and a harassed teacher intently - some less than others - engaged in the great learning process.

If I craned my neck a bit, and if it wasn't too sunny, I could see the blackboard inside and the things on it. Didn't seem too different from the things written on the blackboard in my school. Sometimes, the times table. Sometimes, a caricature of some unfortunate soul whose less than stellar body parts were exaggerated for the benefit of public entertainment.

Next to Millie's, stands a pile of makeshift houses surrounding a little square filled with people and birds and cows and goats and puppies, all existing in the harmony that comes with the passing of time. Potential photographs - a crow sitting placidly on the back of a cow chewing hay, a puppy rolling gleefully in the gutter, a little girl picking the puppy up by the scruff of its neck and not seeming to mind that it's covered in mud and cow poop, holding it very close to her chest and disappearing into one of the houses. Puppy has a home. Goats, nudging each other, as they try to get to their food. An occasional angry goat-sound if one of them tries to be too greedy. Animals have a certain etiquette too.

At the end of the road, on the corner, a green and white mosque. Outside, lots of people making noise. A game of cards just by its doors, a yell as someone triumphs, a different kind of yell as someone orders a child to go home. Three or four women drying their saris on the pavement nearby shaking their heads at the futility of the opposite sex. A row of dilapidated cars, rusty and faded, living out their last days. And inside - the doors are usually open - a big empty hall radiating a stillness that the tumult outside does not destroy.

And the goat. The goat on the chair.

There has been a goat standing on a chair on that road for as long as I can remember. It doesn't really do much - it just stands there, surveying its surroundings with a look of haughty grandeur, not unwoven with a certain peace, a certain surety.

Sabir lives in that locality. Once, we were driving through and as we passed the goat, I asked him why it stood on the chair all the time.

"Oh," he said, airily. "He does that. He just likes standing on chairs. He'll go into a sulk if the owner doesn't let him."

"Why does he like standing on chairs?" I asked.

Sabir thought deeply for a minute.

"Well," he said. "You can't expect a goat to sit on it can you?"

Fair point.

The last time I was in Calcutta, when we were crossing that area, I looked for the goat. He wasn't there, neither was the chair.

"Chagol ta kothai?" I asked.

A cryptic question, but Sabir understood.

"He died earlier this year. Just got sick in the morning and was dead that night before anyone realised what was happening." He sounded sad. The goat was a local pet. Everyone knew about the goat-who-stood-on-the-chair. He'd been around forever, and I suppose people didn't expect that to change. I didn't.

I didn't say anything because there was nothing to say really.

When I was going back to Delhi, we wove our way down that street on our way to the airport. Right next to Millie's, stood a cot in the sun. A goat was standing solemnly on the cot.

Oh time, you trickster. 


Famous last words.

Surely this is a moment worth living for?

PS Stumbled across the photo on someone else's blog. 


A reply.

Did he look at her with the eyes of an artist or with the eyes of a man?

The bright metal suspended below her ear, the light bathing the blue of the cloth, saving her face from shadow. Mouth ever so slightly open, the gleam of her lower lip.

And she? What was she thinking?

The book has given her a name, given her a life, given her thoughts and dreams and desires and loves. But she lived long before the book was born.

It doesn't really look as if she's thinking deeply, does it? It looks like she's simply turned her head, a tint of exasperation perhaps, a hint of what-do-you-want-now, interwoven with something else I cannot name. Innocence? Perhaps. Or knowledge. Strange how the same look can come from two very different fountainheads.

Why do we look at paintings of people we don't know, people who weren't anyone really, just anonymous faces, not even beautiful, who were lucky enough to be captured by someone whose long fingers created what eyes saw, what most eyes do not see?

Ordinary, so ordinary. Mona Lisa, whoever she was, was also probably ordinary. An enigmatic smile means nothing, just as these eyes, so wide set, mean nothing.

Ordinary people. Many days worth of gazing and the sharp lines of pencil on canvas and blue being painted over black to settle next to yellow. Hours of, not inspiration, but banal work.

All for what?

A face set in a single brief moment and centuries later, a strange longing to know more about the person it belonged to. There is no point, really. It's just age old human curiosity.


The Thing About Harry Potter.

I don't remember how old I was when I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Probably about eight. I remember reading the second one, and the third one, and waiting impatiently for the fourth.

What was it about Harry Potter? I'm not sure. I've never been a big fan of fantasy (except Lord of the Rings). I think it was because apart from the magic, apart from the plots twisting this way and that, and intriguing hints, and the never ending battle between good and evil, the characters were so endearingly human. They weren't my friends, I wasn't so far gone as that, but there was something essentially comforting about turning thirteen and fourteen and fifteen, and seeing them change with me.

There was a brief period of time when, at bed time, Daddy would read the first Harry Potter book aloud to me and Mum. I'd already read it - but it was the first time both of them were reading it and I remember lying in bed, with my mother's arm around me and my father sitting at the foot, and I remember how every night they'd insist on reading only one chapter and every night, they wouldn't be able to stop, and had to continue to the next one. It didn't last long - maybe a few weeks - but when I think of my childhood and security and sanctuary, it is that picture that comes to mind: being nestled between both my parents, feeling sleepy and warm, and listening to the sound of my father's voice and my mother's laughter.

The last book came out the day after what was one of the worst days of my life. I locked myself in my room with it, and for a few hours, I actually managed escaping from the real world and it was...it helped. There was a lot of speculation that Harry Potter was going to be killed off, and I remembered being so worried that that would happen, because after all the poor boy had been through, I just really wanted him to live. And I was pretty fed up with death by then. The ending was disappointing. He lived, but to end a series like that, with a trite "All is well" seemed a huge let down. Thinking back to it now though, maybe that's what I needed. Just something to reassure me that everything was going to be okay even though a tiny rubber squeaky toy lay buried with something more incredibly precious to me than anything ever had been, or has been, in a tiny corner of an overgrown garden in Alipore.

The films haven't really meant much to me. I always resented the attention they took away from the books, and how they commercialised a piece of genuinely good writing to the point where a lot of people, who do appreciate literature, scorn the books themselves. But it's the last film, and since the books ended, the films were always something to look forward to because it meant that the world, and I along with it, wasn't finished with Harry Potter yet. Or rather, he wasn't finished with us.

But it's over now, and I'll watch it, and I'll probably enjoy it, but I won't feel a sense of loss because that happened when I closed the last book and put it down and wondered what there was to look forward to now.

I remember reading something saying that now that the films are over with, maybe the books will be returned to their fans. I think there's a grain of truth in that.

Either way, though there are certain things I don't like about the Potter series - especially the last book - whenever I think of childhood and growing up and coming of age, I will, along with thousands of children, think a little of those books, and of Harry Potter who was as much a part of my formative years as acne, piano lessons, and Farhad Anklesaria (who I fell in love with because he reminded me of Harry Potter).

It was true love (on both fronts). And as illogical, irrational, and ridiculous as it may seem, there ain't no love like true love.


A Step.

A strange sort of setting for the kind of conversation it was. You'd expect, along with the lights and the murmur of voices and the quick, light footsteps and the sharp clink of glass meeting glass, something else.

It was a conversation I've had with myself, and the route it took was familiar, but at the same time it wasn't, not quite, with unexpected turns and maybe an occasional stop sign, and a brief pause before hesitantly revving up the engine again, pushing foot against accelerator increasingly firmly.

It was important. It was important because before it, what I saw was something that was trying valiantly to be a painting though it really wasn't more than just a few vague smudges. But after, after - it hung before me, jewel bright and linseed scented - firmly in its place, in the castle in the clouds.