The best part of the Hyderabad summer, when I was there 2 years ago, were the mornings. They dawned cold and fresh, forcing me to gather my sleeping bag and run back into the house from the terrace. In another five minutes I’d be off towards the Banjara Hilla mosque, blending in with the crowd answering the muezzin’s early call to prayer.
This is still the memory that defines Hyderabad for me, a vision of the faithful in white kurtas and grey beards, walking towards a voice that seemed to lure them towards it. It seemed magical, and if you think about it, it actually is.
I thought then, as I still do, that a little faith can be a beautiful thing.
I’d go straight to Ismail Chacha’s shop at the mosque gates, where I would be handed Irani Chai in a glass cupped within both his weathered, gnarled hands in almost lost Hyderabadi courtesy. Chacha would inquire about my health that morning & proceed to tell a story. He would start with “Jab Nizaamon ka zamaana tha, Sairam beta, tab Hyderabad main..”, and I would listen, tea in hand and my mother’s old brown shawl around me, to tales of the Old City.
Madras mornings, though, are different.
The wind is not wind, it’s breeze. The sea is Madras’s most conspicuous presence, and easily its most beautiful. But lovely as the beach is in the mornings, the city won’t give you enough time to enjoy it – the sun will be up soon, & you need to go places, see people, work, make money.
Which means the best part of the unrelenting Madras summer is when the sun decides it has done enough damage for the day, and descends to the west, much to the relief of an assaulted city.
This Monday, a friend handed me two tickets to the Chennai Super Kings vs Rajasthan Royals game.
It was half past 6 when we set out, on a summer evening in Madras.
Poet Meena Kandasamy had written a short piece for the Hindu for last year’s Madras Day, and I saved this passage from it –
“If you care to learn her (Madras’s) whole history, listen to it come away in layers, like the names of old, unforgettable lovers – Pallava, Chera, Chola, Pandya, Vijayanagara. Empires who held her close, coveted, almost concealed, since the 7th century – a port city on the Coromandel Coast.
She speaks a language with a legacy of 2,000 years; she also understands every word of English. She romps around with jasmine on jet-black hair, night or day. No other city shall ever seduce you in Madras’s Tamizhachi style: with sultry, sidelong looks; with spontaneous speech; with all her selfless, surplus love.”
It’s almost invisible, the invocation of Madras’s gender in the passage, but I was struck by how natural it seemed. Maybe this is because we almost always describe cities and countries as female, but in the case of Madras, I don’t think it could ever be otherwise.
Madras can never be a ‘he’.
As I sat on the back of my friend’s expensive sports bike and took in my adopted city, Madras’s feminine nature asserted itself, in a way I never would have thought possible.
We drove through Thiruvanmiyur, where on a small side street clogged with going-home traffic, a pookari sat on a wooden stool & chatted animatedly with a customer, while her arms expertly measured out mozhams of jasmine blooms. We passed through Adyar, where as a college bus stopped to let down students, a horde of young girls jumped down, heads buried in iPods, hair free and voices high. Footwear in front of the temple on LB Road overflowed onto the street. Mothers and daughters headed in, as the slow humming sound of shlokas being recited wafted out in the warm air.
Mylapore came and went in a buzz of activity. Madras’s oldest neighborhood is a standing history lesson, and again, women are its chroniclers. We passed Bharatanatyam students in full costume returning from classes, mamis waddling around getting provisions and the retired evening walkers gathering around the old coffee shops.
We’d almost reached Santhome.
It isn’t widely known, but Santhome is an integral part of the story of Madras’s birth –
On August 22, 1639, Francis Day signed the lease for a tiny strip of beach he had obtained from the local chieftain of the Vijayanagara Empire. It was a village called Madarasapattinam, about three miles from the Portuguese settlement of Santhome.
Francis Day chose this particular village for a reason. He had fallen for a Portuguese woman; he was in love, and she was in Santhome.
The village became Fort St. George, and marked the birth of the city of Madras, the oldest modern Indian city.
This August she’ll be 374.
We passed the gorgeous Santhome Basilica, drove on to the Marina Beach Road, and the old lighthouse flashed to our right. Queen Mary’s came and went, and the lights of Chepauk appeared from around the corner. The roar of the crowd came a minute later. The captains were heading out for the toss. My friend fed a little more juice into the bike’s engine.
Madras’s IPL team, the Chennai Super Kings is captained by someone the city loves to bits, as I do too, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. They chant his name like a God’s, they fight his critics rabidly, they pay thousands to watch him play. I know this, I do too. The man from the small town of Ranchi, in Jharkhand is now claimed by Madras as her own.
There have been numerous attempts to decrypt Madras and its people, its conservativeness, its intellectual snobbishness, its aspirational atmosphere, all of it. I have an explanation of my own.
Madras is a small town. It is not a metro, and it never will be. It is a migrant city, populated by people coming from all over Tamil Nadu’s small towns and villages. Madras is the city where dreams congregate. This is where people come in search of success and fame. It may be one of our country’s biggest cities, a centre of art and culture, a business and technology hub, but Madras’s people will always be from the small town.
And that explains everything.
In a Tamil village, where they are usually homemakers, the evenings belong to the women. They have finished the chores of the day, had their customary evening shower, and have descended, goddess-like, into the streets for their shopping, or are looking out from their balconies, or are gossiping at doorways or are going to temples, smelling of jasmine and turmeric.
Madras absorbed the village evening, and reflects it every single day.
Dhoni is loved for this very reason as well. He wasn’t born in India’s major cities like Bombay or Calcutta from where most of India’s cricketing stars come from. He did not attend elite schools, which usually pave the way for young cricketers into the state teams and then into the national team. He was not rich, nor did he have any influential uncles. He served as a ticket collector when he played for the Indian Railways team. He was from the working class, a boy from the backwaters.
Dhoni is a small town boy, like most of Madras. He was born in the hinterlands of a bustling country and made his way up himself, through hard work and more of the same, like most of Madras aspires to do.
Of course Madras loves Dhoni. Of course he is one of their own.
I got patted down by the security people at Chepauk and was shown my seat. Two rows behind me sat an elderly woman and a little girl wearing her hair in ponytails. When the Chennai Super Kings theme song came on, the little girl broke into dance and the old lady laughed as she clapped and sang along –
“Enga ooru Chennaiku periya whistle adinga”
I turned around towards the game, singing with them.
It was named by Burma. Thane, they called it, the Eagle. It was 2011’s strongest tropical cyclone in the north Indian Ocean and on December 28, it was categorized a Very Severe Cyclonic Storm. For context, the cyclone that hit my town was the equivalent of a Category One Hurricane.
That. Is Big.
Pondicherry was under siege that early morning.
On New Years Eve, 4:30 am, Parthi, me and Rajesh stood just outside the Central Bus Stand, waiting for our other friends to come and drop us home. We had just got down from our bus, we had no idea what had happened. We had missed the storm. It was pitch dark, not a light. Not even the moon. Not a soul in sight.
We were still laughing and joking around. We did not realize the state our town was in. How could we? We could not see anything, the blackness of the night all around us. We knew there was no power anywhere, but we didn’t really think about it.
It was only later in the day, after golden rays split the night apart, did I really understand.
There have always been storms in Pondicherry. I remember one particularly bad one when I was in school, during which I sat at home reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, listening to the wind performing weird dances outside.
We are a sunburned, hardy people. The sea is not something we worship as much as something we identify ourselves with. Storms don’t bother us much. The next day it was business as usual for us. That’s just how we are.
But this time it was different. I didn’t want to to believe what my eyes were showing me that day. But I had to.
Scenes of utter destruction greeted me with all their gory details. Both sides of the street, I watched as people tried to clear the debris, to reclaim anything that was left of their houses, their shops, their belongings.
It was the eyes that hurt me most. The dazed, disbelieving look that asked of anyone and everyone ‘Did this really happen?’
Everything was broken. Power lines across town had been ripped off, there was not a tree in sight. Mud houses across town had been demolished, the huge, newly installed floodlights had fallen into three tiered office buildings. Glass lay on the roads. Plastic tanks had been blown halfway across town. There was no water. In some places, houses were underwater.
It was carnage.
People stood in very long queues, waiting for petrol or to take cash out of ATMs, their eyes betraying their emotions, as they took in the devastation that nature had wreaked around them. My people usually talk a lot, there’s laughter in every corner, every turn, in my beautiful little town, but that day, I heard nothing. Not one thing.
How did I feel?
Have you ever seen the town you were born in, grew up in, destroyed? The buildings you are so used to, the roads you drove your bicycle to school on, the shops that you bought chewing gum for free cricket cards when you were a kid, the trees whose branches were cradles for you and your friends, all of them, in tatters? Your town, where you first fell in love, where you made your first friends, where you played, fell, rose, fought, loved and lived?
If you have not, you will not know how I felt.
Pondicherry was a French colony. The architecture around the boulevard is still, mostly French. The arches, the facades, the wooden doorways, the very atmosphere itself is reminiscent of something of an era that is long gone. The breeze from the ocean sometimes brings with it old sailors tales, of long voyages on ships whose names are now forgotten. The beachfront smells of salt, of ships lost at sea, of a way of life lost to time.
I say this because that is how we are, as a people. Pondicherry is a small town. Everybody knows everybody. When at school, if I was hanging around near the now defunct Anandha theatre, Dad would know even before I had turned my bicycle around. I’m not exaggerating even a small bit here. Ask any kid brought up in Pondicherry. Its like the whole town is family.
And the family is old. We cling to traditions here, as if things that have survived for hundreds of generations could be torn from us in second. That day, it almost seemed as if it had.
My bike turned by itself to the place that means most to me in my town. Behind the main Cathedral and the Archbishop’s house, the building that taught me all I know today.
The entrance to Petit Seminaire Higher Secondary School revealed nothing. It was as calm and welcoming as it always has been, for 160 years. But inside, was a different story. Our beloved Escande Hall, the humungous exam room in which 6000 students sat and wrote their examinations, a building steeped in history as much as in emotion, had had its roof blown off.
The Assembly ground at the end, under the watchful eyes of St. Joseph, our patron saint, had trees. And I don’t mean your everyday trees that a harsh wind can bring down. These were decades old trees, on which generations of boys had played, wrestled with, and had their lunch under. Even they were reeling. One was completely ripped out and our ground was littered with branches and leaves, sand and green leaves forming an unnerving combination.
As I walked through, confused, downcast, a voice called out to me.
It was the school peon. His name is Anthony, I think. Very old he is, a thin, short man. His smile is something that all Petit Seminarians must have seen, at some time during our years there, but must have forgotten. He is as much part of the school as the statue of Virgin Mary at the entrance of Escande Hall is. He is a constant.
I asked him, “Anna, school eppa thirakum?” When is school opening?
“Naalaneiku pa” Day after tomorrow.
“Eppdi anna, ground ippdi irruku, thanni vera illayaam” How, the ground is like this, there’s no water too?
“Naanga ethukku irrukom?” What are we there for? He said, and smiled, that million dollar smile of his.
That old man has seen generations of boys become young men in that campus. He has picked up boys injured during fights and ran to the hospital. He has washed us when we were all nursery kids and didn’t know that crying wouldn’t get us back home. He applied medicine on our hands when we were caned by Father Rosario or Jayakumar Sir for being brats.
Petit Seminaire will open as usual after the half yearly holidays. 6000+ grey ties and white shirts would come out in full force and take over Mahatma Gandhi road. They will see no trees in their ground, talk about it for a bit and then go back to chasing each other, fighting and of course, studying.
Pondicherry is not the same today, but it will be. It might take a few months to get back all that we lost in that storm, but we will.
We will have that sparkling sunrise, that heart breaking sunset, the sound of the crashing waves, that cool breeze through the boulevard, the Christmas lights at the cathedral, the New Year celebrations that bring tourists from across the world, everything, every bit of it, again.
But more importantly, we’ll have laughter in the streets again, smiles on our faces again, the world envying us, all of it. Again.
Why, you ask?
Because Anthony represents all that Pondicherry stands for.
We are citizens of a town called Pondicherry and we are as proud as it is beautiful. And we will endure. A storm will not be allowed to scar us. We are a small town sure, but we have a big heart.
We will reclaim our town. As Anthony reclaims our school for us.
Pondicherry will rise again. And you will never see what went into getting our pint sized paradise up and running again. You will never see the hundreds of volunteers, PWD workers, policemen, working day and night to clear the streets and restore the glory that Thane stole from us for some time.
In the same way that we never saw Anthony cleaning our classrooms at Petit Seminaire.
Pondicherry prefers it that way.
Plan a trip a few weeks later, from Bangalore, from Chennai, from Hyderabad, from Delhi, from wherever you are, and you will find a vista of peace, of silence, of prayer. You will see sands that glimmer in the afternoon Sun, the beachfront shimmering in the cold evening wind.
You will enjoy your trip, every bit of it. We promise.
To the ‘The French Riviera of the East’.
To the town where Time stands still.
It’s almost gone, 2011, and try as I might, I really don’t know what to label it as.
Eventful it has been, my masters is over, and I find myself working. I have changed jobs already, been lucky enough to find something I love doing. I have been distressed, I have been lost. I have been confused. I have walked for hours in the Hyderabad rain. I’ve earned real money for the first time in my life. I’ve made new friends. I’ve run away from love, hunted by the demons of my past.
I’ve tried to hide from myself, and at the same time found a way through it all.
I have lived in three different cities, each one special to me in it’s own way, each having a story of it’s own.
I don’t know what to call 2011, it has been a slideshow of emotions – mostly sad, sometimes happy, but always special. But this also means I’ve lived life, and I suppose that’s something.
I have discovered, or rather rediscovered things that used to mean a lot to me.
Music. I sang a lot this year. At parties, at friend’s places, at get-togethers, on my own. Among friends in Hyderabad, at joints in Chennai. Some times this year, music was all I had.
Cricket. I donned the red and white of the Amrita School of Business for my last university game. I bowled reasonably well, batted very badly & lost that game. It hit me hard. My final university game deserved better. I wasn’t sad about the loss – that’s part of the game, and of life. But I was certainly disappointed. At that point of time, my game could have given me some kind of solace. It didn’t. Even my beloved game deserted me.
But these won’t be the things that will say ‘2011’ when I think about them, many years from now. I will remember 2011 for something else entirely.
For abstractness, for meaning, for imprints left in the mind.
My love for the written word came back with a vengeance this year, and having nothing else to hold on to, I clung on to it with everything I had. Probably more.
It was “one of those days”, as we call them – evenings when existence seems to question itself and your heart lurches in the misty memories of times gone by. I was chatting with a friend. Nothing big, just your basic depressing gtalk chat about the futility of it all, when she said something that made my heart stop.
Sai. Love is terrible, in that one taste of it is never, ever enough.
I don’t know in what context she said this. I don’t remember. Maybe I was just being my usual cynical self, but that string of words is an observation so deep and so true, the meaning of it is enough to knock you over.
Words have a way of doing that.
I found refuge in my books this year. I read so many, sometimes a book a night. There have been nights when I’ve finished a book at 1am & started another. It has been my year of books.
I’m so thankful that I read, though. I of course don’t remember the exact moment I became a bibliophile, but it must have been something like Alberto Manguel describes here –
At one magical instant in your early childhood, the page of a book – that string of confused, alien ciphers – shivered into meaning. Words spoke to you, gave up their secrets; at that moment, whole universes opened. You became, irrevocably, a reader.
I don’t think there’s a better way that can be put.
I was woken up one morning last month by a phone call which asked me simply this – “Do you remember what you tweeted late yesterday night?” I didn’t. I just knew that I was sad, & I was sleepy. “I have sent you a mail, check.” I woke up and did what he told me to do. I checked.
Twitter has become something of a diary for me, and of millions like me around the world. It records my moods, my thoughts, my opinions, my every move.
Those 140 characters sometimes can become mirrors, reflecting things from the crevices of your soul, things you try hard to keep hidden.
My friend had sent me a curation of my tweets from the last night. It must have been a godless, moonless nightfall. For the darkness in my own words scares me.
Her haunting presence in your every waking minute. The knowledge that you never were for her what she was to you. That.
The trauma of beautiful loss. Knowing that as she walks in your head, she tramples on your dreams.
The World went on. She has moved on. But your heart screaming out what you already know – You will never be the same again. Never ever.
The letters she never wrote. The kisses that never transpired. A love that never was love. What happened doesn’t matter. What didn’t, does.
When words are all you have left. And flashes. Of memories, that is. Distant, cold. And the laughter that once ruled your life.
When all I want is for my thoughts to fade away. The flicker of a lamp, the damp of the night, her hold on my heart, the time that flew by..
The songs she demanded you sing. The rains she demanded you bring. When all she loved was what you gave her. Not you. It was never you.
Where that came from, or where it went, I do not know. But there it is.
From the contemporary science and fiction of Richard Dawkins, Ian Rankin to classics from Wodehouse, to some heartbreaking Rumi and Neruda poetry, I have uncovered gems, but some of the most beautiful pieces I read this year were not on paper at all.
This one, from someone I know only as mentalexotica, is something I just cannot have enough of.
Why I will write you four letters in one night
Because I cannot keep away from you. Because my nights are yours in thought and memory of the morning before, of the unexpected detonation of desire beneath the sheets at 6:49 am. Because my days are filled with disinterest and wild distractions both. Because your lips keep the memory of my tongue pressed upon them like unwithering flowers. Because my skin is stained by the fingerprints of your craving. Because breathing reconciles itself only with short, sharp pulls and forgets how to exhale. Because writing to you is not writing but an accident of words; colliding, spilling, revealing. Because my body is sore but my longing goes un-neutered. Because the amber-gold highlights of your hair spilling across your face tease a wicked game. Because the white in your smile is a reminder of the bruise on my neck. Because love is a four-lettered word when we make it. Because I cannot keep away from you.
I cannot keep away from you.
If that doesn’t take your breath away, I don’t know what will. I will not try to describe the words above. I don’t possess the intellect to, and I will fail miserably. I’m only a guy who reads. I’ll just get lost in the turmoil it throws my soul into.
It’s time to end 2011 on my blog. What better way than a poem? But first, a small story.
There was a boy, in London. He loved a girl madly, hopelessly. She loved him too.
And then she died in a plane crash in Canada, far away from him.
It was Christmas, 1943, World War 2. He wrote a poem in her memory.
The boy, Leo Marks, was a cryptographer. In March 1944, he used that poem, to encrypt secret messages for the Allies. He used the words he wrote for the girl he loved, to fight Hitler’s evil empire. He was fighting for nothing less than the freedom of the known world. It’s only a few lines, but they do not betray easily the secret they carry or the emotions they were born from. Read it once, and then read it again. Then read it once more. These words demand it.
The life that I have is all that I have
And the life that I have is yours
The love that I have of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.
A sleep I shall have, a rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause
For the peace of my years in the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.
The movie ended with Aamir prancing around on screen. The credits came up & I walked out, drawn along with the crowd of happy, laughing people, who, like me, had enjoyed the movie immensely. A gust of cold wind hit me from the window on the side on the stairs. I looked out & what I saw confirmed my suspicion.
It was raining.
The monsoon’s arrived here in Hyderabad. Started about a week ago & hasn’t really stopped since. The cold is a weird, seeping kind of cold, something that cuts into your very senses. I like it. I always have.
I wait for this new cold coffee Krushers they’ve introduced, from the KFC below. It’s a special KFC, managed by people who can’t talk nor hear; you have to point out your orders. It’s quite close to our flat, and Anand & I end up here quite often. There’s something about these people, some of who now know us quite well now. In spite of being different from the rest of us, the smile never leaves their faces. I try to think about living like that, in a world where there’s no such thing as sound, no such thing as music, and it fails me. I can’t. It could have been so easy for them to say that they were not good enough, that they were embarrassed, & stay home. They chose otherwise. In our daily lives, we see courage & character in so many forms. This is one of them.
I sip the cold, frothy coffee & walk out into the foyer, where a lot of people are waiting for the rain to stop, or at least slow down. I stand there for some time too, and look around. One small kid loses her balloon in the wind. I grab it & give it to her. She says a shy, cute ‘Thank you’ & runs off to her mother. My eyes fall upon a girl fiddling with her boyfriend’s shirt buttons. I smile involuntarily. He catches my eye & smiles, suddenly self conscious. I take that to be my cue.
I walk out into the rain.
I’m wearing a red, or rather maroon, sleeveless sweatshirt. Hadn’t realised that I’d been wearing this one. Memories have a bad way of coming back to you when you least want, or expect them to. My flat is just down the road, about a five minute walk. I pull the hood up over my head, bury one cold hand into my jeans and sip some more coffee.
I walk past one of my company’s stores. The green neon shouts out at me ‘Heritage Fresh’. The store manager is locking up. It’s about 11. He must just have finished the accounts for the day. He can’t recognize me, not under the hood. I don’t want him to.
I walk on.
Cars & buses go past me in a blur of light & sound, some of which go to Hi-Tech city, the huge IT special economic zone to the west. Client calls from the US & the UK, some of my friends tell me, have to be taken after this time. Bus no. 147 comes towards me, the digital board on its top flickering in the rain, and at last dying.
I sip the last of my coffee & see a trash bin a few metres away. I look around. There’s no one. I position myself, lock my feet & throw the plastic can into the bin. It falls in with a dull thud. I do a Kobe Bryant spin right there. It’s almost midnight on Banjara Hills Road no.2, right opposite the Harley Davidson showroom, Hyderabad City, and if you’d been driving on this stretch of the urban jungle, you would have seen a boy doing a jig in the middle of the road and wondered “What’s wrong with him?”
There’s office tomorrow & I’ll have to go & work. Even if it is a chance to learn & perform, it still registers as another dreary day at the workplace. I just hope that it doesn’t kill this part of me, the part which still loves doing stupid things, which still wants nothing more than a coffee and a walk in the rain to keep smiling. I don’t wanna get caught up in this life, this corporate race. That’s just not me.
The rain’s slowing down a bit
I walk on, pulling my ipod out for the final song of the day. Quite fitting, really, as it’s Adele I stumble on, as she sets fire to the rain..
I let it fall, my heart,
And as it fell, you rose to claim it
It was dark and I was over
Until you kissed my lips and you saved me
My hands, they’re strong
But my knees were far too weak
To stand in your arms
Without falling to your feet
But there’s a side to you
That I never knew, never knew.
All the things you’d say
They were never true, never true,
And the games you play
You would always win, always win.
But I set fire to the rain,
Watched it pour as I touched your face,
Well, it burned while I cried
‘Cause I heard it screaming out your name, your name!
It’s hot here in Hyderabad. That is the understatement of the century. Sometimes it becomes impossible even to sit inside the house, let alone sleep. And it was on one of these sweltering nights that I decided I had had enough, and mattress and pillow in hand, off I went to the terrace to see if I could get some sleep.
It’s been ages since I’ve slept on the terrace. The last time I did so was during my engineering, when I lived with my friends in Karaikal, Pondicherry. The terrace was our favourite place then. We spent most of our evenings there, just talking and having fun. We studied there, fought there, ate there, partied there and fell asleep there, only to come back into the house in the wee hours of the morning coz’ of the cold wind from the Bay of Bengal, the coastline only about half a mile away from our place. I miss those days of absolute care freeness, when the most pressing problem we had was where would the money needed for the petrol to go to college tomorrow come from!
I plopped down on my mattress and found myself staring straight at the North Star. It was a clear midsummer night, not a cloud visible. The stars twinkled, the breeze made an appearance, the night closed down upon me. A small plane flew across my plane of vision, its blinking lights betraying its presence, the muffled sound of its engines barely audible. It flew past the moon’s pale shadow and disappeared. One moment its lights filled the sky, the next moment, it was as if it never existed.
I was slipping into dreamland when I saw them in the distance. Another minute and I would have missed them. At first I couldn’t make out what I was looking at. Just something big and white in the night sky. And then, they parted. They changed formation, from an arrow head to a straight line, ever graceful and sublime, like a song. Their wings were visible now, flapping away as they flew across the night sky, breathtakingly beautiful. I couldn’t hear anything, they were too high up and by the time I had absorbed all this in, they had gone.
I realised I was sitting up. It was dark and the only sound I could hear was of my own breathing. I’m no ornithologist and I have no idea where they are headed, but I do know this. For these feathered miracles of evolution, the journeys they take to distant lands are part of their very essence. They take flight with single minded purpose. How do they know if they are headed in the right direction? The truth is, they don’t. They trust their instincts, their intuitions. They don’t stop and analyse what their heart tells them is right. They just fly. It’s what they were meant to do.
Somehow I believe we have lost that. We analyse things too much, look for phantoms where there aren’t any. We check, cross check, are afraid of taking risks, and are terrified of failure. We think too much about what other people think about us. Why can’t we just do what we were meant to do, what we want to do, each second of our lives. Why can’t we just do what our heart says? So what if we fail, so what if things go wrong. You can pick yourself up again, do it over, but this time you would have experience on your side. And the satisfaction that you did something you really wanted to do.
Well, it’s already a very short stay here, and you are young for an even shorter duration than that. Might as well do what you really wanna do. Might as well do what your heart says.
I pulled my covers up and snuggled in for the night.
It’s about 9 on a hot evening as I make my way from work to catch the bus that will take me back to my apartment on the other side of town. My throat’s been pretty sore since I moved here. I’ve no idea why, and I’ve given up trying to get my voice back. I’ve avoided my favourite drink for as long as I could, but what the hell, the throat hasn’t gotten better anyway! I open my can of Pepsi to its familiar fizz & gulp some down. My ipod drowns out the noises of the road with some Arctic Monkeys. I watch, as the traffic moves past me in a constant blur, and soon I’m caught up in its intricacies, in the boy speeding on his bike to God knows where, in the middle aged man going home slowly on his rather old scooter, in the lady buying her kids ice cream.
My bus rolls in; I get in & grab a window seat. That seat is essential. I suppose I’ll never grow up, I still fight for the window seat. And as has been every city that I’ve lived in, this city’s different from all the others.
This city’s Hyderabad.
The first thing that struck me as my train chugged in was the language. A South Indian, I was born and brought up in the North. Hindi comes naturally to me, but Hyderabadi Hindi is a cultural symbol in itself. The mishmash of Urdu, Sanskrit, Hindi & Telugu is an absolute delight to listen to, & very very infectious. By the end of my first week, I was saying “Ho” & “Nako” impulsively. If you don’t understand, they mean Yes & No respectively!
In my second week here, we had a store visit, and I slept off blissfully on the bus, crossed my stop and found myself in the confines of Hyderabad’s famed Old City, where the iconic Charminar stands. I felt like I’d been transported back in a Time Machine. All the signs are in Urdu, everyone is in the traditional Islamic garb of Kurtas & Purdahs, and the only eateries I can see around me are for Naans & of course, Tandoori cuisine. I had to catch another bus back home, but before I did, I had a glass of what they call Falooda here. I swear they must have it in Heaven; it was one of the best things I ever tasted!
I look out from my window & I see the swarm of humanity that is Hyderabad, where it almost impossible to discern an individual from another. If I’m not conscious, my mind will not even try. The people I see will be drowned out as noise, they would not even register. I would dismiss them as part of the picture, just another brush stroke on the tapestry!
And so would all of you!
But that’s so wrong. That’s not the way we should look.
Every person out there has a story. This guy must have people waiting for him at home. She could have her children waiting for their mother. His grandkids could be waiting for their grandpa to bring them sweets. This guy could be buying those flowers for his wife. How many people are out there, how many dreams, aspirations & lives are woven in that single frame I see out the window? Every person out there is so important and irreplaceable, as I’m. As you are.
My stop appears. I get down & walk home, stopping to throw the can in the dustbin. Pepsi has been among the few constants in my life, along with books, my ipod & cricket. They’ve been with me through my journey, and this leg of it has brought me to Hyderabad.
This is me, this is my story. You know part of it, of one guy in this huge city. I walk on to cross the road and am immediately engulfed by a huge horde coming from both sides. I merge into the multitude, and you can’t see me anymore.
I’m a small town boy in the big city, and for the moment, I truly am, lost in the crowd…!