We are put in real tight spots and then we tie knots. We forget them and they loosen. The names that occur on plates are not the real ones, I hope you know. We have little obsessions and dreams, not necessarily sane. Don’t expect them to be lived or respected. As the Arctic Monkeys put it,
Old yellow bricks,
Love's a risk,
Quite the little Escapologist
Looked so miffed,
When you wished,
For a thousand places better than this,
You are the fugitive,
But you don’t know what you're runnin’ from,
You can’t kid us,
And you couldn’t trick anyone,
Houdini, love you don’t know what you're runnin’ away from,
Who wants to sleep in the city that never wakes up?
Blinded by nostalgia,
Who wants to sleep in the city that never wakes up?
17th October, 1988
“God gave you smile and gave you grace… hum, hum. Breakfast skipped again. Where do we go, nobody knows. Don’t ever say you are on your way… He shouted from behind in a strong American accent, “Hey, when are you paying up?” I hollered back, “In a day or two Mr. Smith. I hope you don’t mind. Bit of a problem.” “Sure, make it quick”, he replied. Catch bus twenty two and hope to make it for the first hour. Shit, I wish I could sleep more. It’s been a week since I slept well. The amount of caffeine that I was consuming was crazy. Also, been quite some time, almost five years, since I actually stayed back home for more than a month. I miss seeing him grow up. I miss showing mom that I can cook and clean and helping dad with his daily file arranging. I am glad I came off from Bangalore. Also, that I escaped from Hyderabad. I could not have survived more of her and he and they and all their talks summed up. And then, suddenly, when I think I am all by myself there, in Nainital, I brush past him! It was crazy, that day. Literally a dream. I tried so hard to meet him in Bangalore, when he went back and then when he was around. But, I guess he never wanted to. And then, those encouraging mails. And then, I had to leave for Wisconsin. Just when I was clear with what to forget and what to remember, this spurts! I don’t like it!
Tch tch. Tell him nothing. You know that it doesn’t really mean anything anymore. Friends or not, it has always been a rocky boat. “To where, Ma’am?” the conductor asked. “University, second block, thanks.” It was chilly today. It would start freezing in a month. The trees along the roadside were lazing, stretching in the morning light. They remind me of high school. It was beautiful, to wait for the bus at seven, a bus full of slightly older boys and girls going to colleges in colorful dresses. Koena and I would stand waiting for the Polytechnic bus, 8641, I still remember it well, dabbing last touches of Kohl in eyes and pink balms on our lips. Then we would climb with indifference and scholarly airs. The curves of our skirts and the graceful laying of our bags on the seat, the swish of every strand going astray from the pony tails, rolling up of socks, adjusting earrings, rubbing off extra Kohl off the eyes and much more. I am sure all of it was noticed so particularly by so many curious pairs of eyes. We enjoyed it so thoroughly. It was around the same time that we had gotten acquainted with the other girls at the all girls’ convent. Initially, I was grumpy. I stuck to my old bunch of friends. I couldn’t and had never stayed without boys in my life. I was like them in many ways and needed them around to relax. In the beginning the waxing and fretting over chipped nails just got to me. Then I was sort of initiated into the more feminine ways of non verbal communication. It came slowly and quietly. Even he saw it. “Kid, take it easy! Don’t act like a grown up woman”, he would say in a hush. “Come play games”.
18th October, 1988
“I still remember all I could think of was topping that white list. I cared no more of him and his teasing questions and smirks in the start. All I knew was that this was a new enemy in familiar territory. We fought like crazy, over every phrase, all political upheavals, European cultural changes and everything else. Name it and we debated over it. That is when I met her as well. The general story of radical girls who bond well. It was all drama, sheer drama. High on emo, dazed by blurry histories and grand opinions on half drawn- unseen heroes and villains. But, bottom line, we had to speak, urgently, the babbling brook of raw and fiery thoughts had to shoot up. Looks quite promising for high school kids. Then suddenly college, the long hours of summer vacation, pretending to be happy when the other got an admission call. It was crazy. Today, in this twenty minute journey, all is not running so fast. I am dwelling upon so many incidents, nearly savoring them at the back of my tongue. Things were so underplayed yet beautiful. That was the best time to declare symptoms of love. We spoke some like some red flags. They all thought we would really bring the world down. But Shishira escaped before we could blink enough and Shravana set in. We fought. I wept. She pried. She tried. She, sly, she conspired. Things went awry and that was the end of the pleasant spring conversation. After that we both tried a lot of masonry and weaving. Nothing fell in place. The last things to show common interest were Hegel and dialectics. Mutual appreciation, cordial terms, gradually it all faded. And that day, he just came! Just the same! There! I was shocked. Features hardened but the same nonchalant air. And that too was awkward. We half hugged, half wept, put up smiles etc.”
25th October, 1988
“I took the last laugh off the lane and disappeared, writing this on the train to Manhattan. I, Rio am carrying my seven bags along with my father and am rushing to the other city, where he cannot find me again. I always thought of happy endings and he was the hero in all of them. Maybe, there are none, especially not the high school sweethearts and caramel dreams and red flag heroes. I am not coming back again. Cradles of desire and nostalgia rock back and forth but it …”
“Pali, child! It is two hours since you fit yourself up in that rat hole. Aren’t you coming down for dinner? Are you done with homework? Ms. Mylo will call again if you don’t. I am worried child. Please come down here. Tell granny what’s happening.”
“Muffled voices in response to the wired hair alien. Assurances. Reflections on some real spooky diary. I am glad that disaster date was good for something. Some love story I swear! Tummy gurgling. Food. Attack. Talk later. Love, Pali.”
She shut the book and the door and hurried downstairs. “Hey Amma, I was just reading for tomorrow. I don’t want more scolding from Ms. Mylo. Let’s eat!” “Are you okay? You seem tired. All okay child? “Oh yeah! All cool!”
They both sit to eat. As granny serves, “ You know even I used to be pretty in my school days, slim, long black hair and pearl eyes. I can understand a bit. Is some boy troubling you?” Embarrassment, “The alien tries to be friendly all the time and ends up choking my throat! Does she expect me to discuss my lurrrv with her? Jeez! I am just seventeen!” “Umm… nah Amma! Nothing like that. All well. Just some project work. Plus, you know I don’t talk much anyway.” “Oh alright. Do tell me if you need help.”
Plates cleared. Stallion speed, rushing to the room. Slam. Book open.
14th November, 1988
“Long time I know, completely different from the past month. Dad is being difficult His war pension was sanctioned finally and he insisted we return home I am worn out with all this travelling. Another fad that he has taken to, it’s just annoying. I agree, I knew about that crazy letter-posting spree but that was it, nothing very disturbing. I thought the red goggles he painted were the ones he carried around as mom’s memoir in the war. I didn’t know that was some kind of a secret symbol. The postman happened to read and show me one. He predicts stuff or just randomly writes what he feels and posts them to real addresses. I hope no one comes inquiring about all this; it’s hardly been a month we got him off the orange thing. I am tired. I wish someone could do this boring job for me. I don’t give a damn about young boys and young girls.”
Buzz… she slept well. Tomorrow would be again a day full of school and people and their choices. She was not really interested. She dreamt of bigger things, people and about the letter she found at the door today:
16, Blue star villa
Hi, Dorky here. I hope all oranges are in the basket. You will meet him, who she spoke of in a few days. Till then, just hang around the base with the one in the other room. I am sure we all want you to have a good health.
“That letter was freaky. I mean, that guy knows exactly what I am reading about and has sent some kind of secret symbol that she mentioned in the same jinxed diary. I don’t know what is happening around but sometimes I wonder if I can ever trace this dame back and know what she is up to now. Also, this guy. Is he possibly the one she has been looking for? All like a film reel cut in pieces. We all are given different pieces.”
“The Daily Post,
Nainital/28 August 2008,
Strange letters posted around the city, probable sign of militant activities
Strange letters were reported received by four residents from different areas around the district. All the letters bore a similar sign of two red circles and all of them were written as if instructing or predicting happenings around. The complainants confirmed that they did not know the sender. Further probing has started now in order to find out who is the master mind behind these mysterious letters. People are also curious to know if this leads to a greater conspiracy or it is a mere prank…”
“Pali, child, we also got a letter, didn’t we? Do you think we should tell the police about it?” “No, Amma, I think it’s a silly prank. Don’t bother”. “Okay. How is your teacher Ms. Mylo. It has been quite some time I heard about her. All well?”
“Oh yeah, swell! She is absent since a few days, said her dad’s ill. Catch you later. Off to school!”
“Namaste, can you tell me which bus leads to Kasauni? I am kinda confused”, he spattered amidst giggles from behind, aware of his pinching anglicized accent. “Sahib, why don’t you catch a matador? You will reach faster. It is cheaper as well.”
“Sounds great. How much time? Will it go to Jawahar Chowk?” The matador rattled in the morning mist. “You seem to know the place well, have you been coming here, Babu?” the helping hand asked. “Oh yeah, I was born here and haven’t come in a long time.” With these words he slipped back in time, years ago, and somewhere in eighty eight. That was the last visit. He knew she was gone and it wasn’t particularly disturbing. It was over long ago. But then, seeing her after almost five years was phenomenal. And then, he never saw her again. Initially she would mail and call and try to stay in touch but once she was gone, she never cared. Today, sipping on cardamom tea he wondered how things would have been had he not flown away, literally. Kasauni was quite a nostalgic place. This was also his next feature.
“The Daily Post
Nainital/31 August 2008,
Nainital, Almora and Kasauni to feature in the famed “Hitchhiker” magazine
It is a proud moment for the hills and all those who live around it as the famous “Hitchhiker” magazine, credited with providing the best travel guides around the world, has decided to do a feature on Nainital and surrounding areas owing to its increasing popularity among European tourists. For this task they have chosen none other than Kanai Raghav, an ardent lover of Indian history and a prolific Indian writer. In an interview with our correspondent, Raghav, who has been born here recalls…For all those of you who are keen to add your own favorite haunts and memories to this feature, write back to us at P.O. Box 34”
School, Ms. Walia’s class, utter boredom. She writes a letter to P.O. Box 34. Just time pass only.
“Dear Sir, I am Pali. I have read your book, “My name is India”. I quite like travel writing and when I grow up I also wish to become one. I am in school and Kasauni is a beautiful place. My teacher, Ms. Mylo describes it so well. She and Kasauni almost run parallel in their walk. They both have tweaked lotus like eyes and they both sleep early. Like her, the town also just vanishes after evening. I prize both of them. Ms. Mylo loves the garden by the valley. She says it keeps safe all the voices that came to it. I would love to take you around that place if you ever came here.
21st December, 1988
“It is increasingly difficult to keep a track of my own life when all is so dislodged and messy. He has fits and he is torn between sudden silence and war shrieks. We can’t really help him. It is quite a nuisance to calm him because I can’t even figure out what he sees. Why! Why am I left here alone in an unknown place to earn money and support this man who cares more for fellow dead soldiers than his own daughter? Why am I left alone by the man I prized as my partner? Where the hell is everyone when I am here, freezing and starving? Now, all know about his letter mania and no one says anything. But Nainital is a small place!”
6th January, 1989
“Things are settling down. I have started looking for work. I work in and around the hills, teaching students of different classes. It is quite amusing to see all of them, some high cheeked, round nosed, pink and yellow skins. The place is extremely splendid in natural beauty, especially, the woods on Kasauni and the valley beyond. The valley is a strange thing, it does not reflect voices. It does not echo sounds. Like a small treasure box, it sucks in and gulps down all the memories you throw to it. Can you replay them ever? Can there be a way in which you can summon them all and listen as if back in time? Cardamom tea and camping near the temple, those five days just play again and again in mind.”
Dear Pali, I am surprised to receive your letter. I never thought someone from this town would actually bother to write me a letter. But, I am happy that you observe your beautiful haven so keenly. The valley! It is one of my favorite spots too! I used to go peanut feeding to the monkeys with my friends there. But, the way you describe it, is unusual. In fact, it reminds me of someone who absolutely loved the place and thought the same of it as you do. I wonder where she has disappeared. I also like the way you write. Why don’t you write more and send it to me? I will put it as inputs from you!”
Thank you little reporter,
That day she didn’t study. The letter passed millions of hands within the classroom and kept on being reread. Ms. Mylo was returning the next day. She resolved to show her the letter as well.
17th February, 1989
“Oh yes, I left it on the five days. He came back then, the shock was over. We had come to accept that time was less and perhaps this was the last time. So, we travelled together. Corbett National park is one of the most beautiful things that I ever saw. Adorned with bamboo shoots all around, the home to white tigers, one of the most endangered species, you could never know it to be day or night. Raw nature on your face. We went with a curiosity, bordering on audacious sentiments of invading those swamps with our feet but, the moment we stepped into the park and got down from the jeep, I realized that I was helpless. In the ten mile radius of the park, I was the most helpless creature. It felt new to be threatened and chased for life. I crept by his side and shut my eyes in the warmth of his sides. The grief and certitude of parting weighed and drained through us. Oblivious for a few days, we travelled further up the hills, watching birds in the tall grasses. We breathed together and clicked each memory in mind. After that, we made excuses, good enough to leave and keep in touch. Been a few months now, feels the same. I doubt I will ever see him again.”
“Dear Sir, thank you for the letter. I and all my friends enjoyed reading it. I don’t have much to say but there is something no one knows that I will tell you. I once found a diary in the loo of a restaurant. A lady has written amazing stuff in it about Kasauni. I am sending you a few entries of that diary with this letter. I don’t know who she is and if she is around but I am sure she will be happy to see her words being taken so well. Are you also from this place? Do your friends and family still stay around? Do you think this place had changed?
Ms. Mylo walked back to class, baggy eyes and unkempt hair, like a soggy day, all scattered. She taught and went. Not the best time to show her the letter. She resolved to show it later, in the meantime expecting a new reply from him as well. Granny was waiting for lunch, time to return.
“The Daily Post,
Nainital/10 September, 2008
Hitchhikers approves draft, first copy of “Naini hills explored” to be given to town library
After over a fortnight of stay and daily interactions with locals on what they think Nainital is, Raghav has finished his work on the hill cities. In a press conference held yesterday, he was quoted saying “this is by far the best work I have attempted. It has those little personal things strewn all around. I am overwhelmed by the affection with which people have spoken of their hometown.” As the first copy will be gifted to the M.J Singh Library after the book release, hundreds of curious readers will hurry for their share of this nostalgic recollection…”
“Dear Pali, thank you for all your help. Do read the book; it has all your letters and all our talks. Unfortunately I cannot come to Kasauni because I am going to Ranikhet in search of someone and then I will leave for my home in the U.S. The same someone who calls out to the valley, like you. Rio. I don’t expect to find her but I cannot help searching for her. A friend told me that she is still around. I don’t know why I am telling you this but her dad used to write funny letters to people and draw red goggles on them. People thought he was an astrologer or something. It’s a hilarious story but I’ll tell you some other day. Got to go. Take care. Try and keep in touch, child.
Panic! He knows this lady Rio! How? Can the diary help him? I haven’t even read the whole of it! What do I do? I can’t think of anything. Should I go to granny? No, she can’t run.
“Uncle, peon uncle, can you tell me where Ms. Mylo stays? Please! It is urgent. I am in a fix. I need her help.”
“Wait! Silly pranksters you all are. You eat the life out of me, all that muttering. Here! She stays in the white cottage on Dale road. Number forty.”
Cycle fast! Blue cycle, two wheels, hundreds of spokes, run! Sweat pricking the nape in cold winds. Watch it Pali! Careful, make it fast, he might just not return. Ah! Finally the house, an old man! Open the gate. What’s that beneath my feet? Letters? Later, this could wait. Radio, news, songs, advertisements. Rush across the garden to the main door. Name: Rio Mylo! What! Doorbell. Speechless.
“Hey Pali, how are you? How did you find my place? What is the matter?
Silence, gaping, she wrote the diary! God put a smile upon your face…
“Are you okay? Come on in. You look unwell.” God gave you style and gave you grace…
Why did she not meet him then? Doesn’t she read the newspaper? Nirma, Nirma, washing powder Nirma...
“Pali! Can you hear me? I am getting worried now. Child, please tell me what happened?” The next song, “Fluorescent adolescent” by the monkeys… Used to get it in your fishnets, now you get it only in your night dress…
“Did your dad write funny letters to people?” Landed in a very common crisis…
“Oh yes, did he write one to you too? I am so sorry; he is a bit messed up. How did you find it was him?” Clinging to not getting sentimental…
“Do you still like Raghav?” Said she wasn’t going but she went still…
“What! How… Is he…Where did you…” She breaks down, sobbing loudly. Oh the boy’s a slag! The best you ever had…
“Quick, he is leaving or maybe left the town already. Don’t you know he was in Nainital writing for a magazine? It came in the paper yesterday.” My love when you dream them up…
“Gosh! I haven’t read anything in the past month. You know things have been bad. Dad was hauled for being a suspected terrorist aide. Shit! Where is he leaving for?” News: We regret the interruption but this is an urgent news flash. A bus carrying passengers from Nainital to Ranikhet has tumbled in the valley due to bad weather and blizzard. Thirty six people are expected to be dead. It is suspected that Kanai Raghav who was in town was also travelling by the same bus and is feared dead. We will hold a one minute silence for the deceased souls. Where did you go, where did you go, oh…
The old man screams “I knew they would bomb it, those Chinese rats!”
The scream. Fingers tugged at the eye. Tears trickle on cheeks as pink as the roses in the vale.
You took a left off Last Laugh Lane
You're just sounding it out
You're not coming back again…