Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A crèche-crash day

Since five years of age I was put in a crèche because mom and dad were both working and could not possibly leave me home. Grandparents were all away in other cities and the only logical option was to seek refuge in this divine haven of temporarily abandoned children. I used to go to this place which was run by a lady in her own house. She would keep us there till evening when at last our parents would come after work and pick us up. The family had no apparent trouble because her children would be away to school or work and her husband too, would return only in the evening. So, it was some twenty of us with an old lady and her house.
Everything was well planned for the day. I would be dropped by the school auto rickshaw to this place along with three other friends. She would help us change our clothes and then would hurry us all to the kitchen. The next activity was lunch. All had to line up with their Tiffin boxes and sit down to eat. You had to finish with everybody else and not litter the place. It was almost a sin to be faster or slower. Prayers were compulsory before lunch. Post lunch, all would wash hands and hurry to the next room to do their homework. After one hour of doing school homework (or at least pretending to), we would take our bed sheets from a stack in the corner and lay them. Indeed, it was time for a nap. You want it or not, small children have to have such naps. They speak of how well our lady Leela (that was the hag’s name) took care of us. Routines are always a good sign. Even parents quite liked this idea of a boring, mundane, strictly safe and predictable place. But, we weren’t really the obedient kinds, at least, not me. So, the moment others would try and sleep on their sheets, I would drape it on my face and from one corner, I would observe Lady Leela. Gradually when noises calmed down, she would switch on the television in the same room. Much of my Hindi film viewing comes from such hidden niches of feigned noon siestas.
If this was not it, the schedule continued till around seven o’clock in the evening. She would wake us from the “nap” at around five and get us all to grab some fresh air by pushing us to her balcony. Crammed, twenty of us would chatter away to glory. Gradually, during my years there, I discovered that many more people used to take “naps” like me. After inhaling some air and looking down at the people on the road, we would all sit down in a line for tea, the ritual where we drank milk. Leela aunty had a much prized flirty son and four daughters. While the son loafed away with a purported occupation of a compounder, the daughters did all humble jobs to contribute to a happy middle class family living. The son had a special affection for me and another friend and would get us chocolates to eat. I hated him, the way her looked and smiled and teased us. He was not harmful but he was annoying to the core.
The worst part of such crèche days was afternoon. Sometimes when mommy was free in her lunch breaks, she would drive to the crèche and feed me lunch with her hands. I would be elated to see other kids eat alone while my mum sitting there with me. Somewhere deep down, I was glad not to be left alone at home. This was less depressing. But, she would soon have to go away and that was when big tears welled up in my eyes. I would cry and moan and sulk till the day end when she reappeared. I wonder where my father was all this time. I honestly wonder if he ever knew how every afternoon, with my face pressed to the balcony grill I would wait for mum to come, sometimes she would and then go away, and I would be so sad and helpless. I doubt she discussed it with him. It was just not in this family to discuss such stuff; it was almost natural for all to suffer like this. That is how perhaps kids grew to become adults.
Then, in the evening, mum would rush again to pick me up. This was Leela auntie’s favorite hour. She would complain and grudge and pour all her woes out to the parents about their kids. Luckily, I was a low profile brat so she never bothered. But, sometimes before this last task of the hour, if the day was sunny enough, she would get us all to go down to the open space nearby. There was a big Gulmohar tree there. Leela aunty had a friend, Jasu aunty. Jasu aunty had a big iron rod. We would meet up with her and pluck the choicest of flowers and savor them. Oh, it was good fun! Suddenly the day wouldn’t seem so gloomy. I would smile once in a while. I had a friend Deepa who had Down’s syndrome. Though she was moderately affected, it was pretty visible through her behavior. Mummy had told me that we should talk nicely to such people, that they are not bad people. So, when other friends laughed at her and refused to share their toys, I would give her my red Mickey Mouse compass box because she liked banging it. I didn’t mind it because she shared her cream roll with me!
Talking of toys, the point of biggest contention, were the toys of Hardi, a school friend. When things like Barbies were still unknown to me, she had them along with tiny wooden tables and chairs and other such things. I was always lured by the wooden cupboard. Its drawers could be opened and you could put Barbie’s clothes in it. I dared not ask my mum or dad for it, for no obvious reason at all. But Hardi only shared her toys with a selected five or six girls including me. Of course, there would be hapless days when we would fight and this joy was taken away. But I guess that was just the expected consequence of calling her names.
This is how I would crash through an entire day in that crèche till the age of eleven. Then I was isolated and put away alone at home which was a new territory altogether. I never missed the crèche and was only too glad to come off home but, somewhere I still vividly remember it and keep asking mum what happened to Leela aunty and family. She says they vacated the house and now no one knows. The last picture that comes to mind is of a fading train filled with Leela and family, all their belonging, many children like me, eating cream rolls and sitting in a line, all saying good bye for the day to family.

The tale of tide country: Mythical play

Dukkhen: A poor fisherman
Dokkhin Rai: An evil spirit ruling the seven last islands of Tide Country
Bon Bibi: The protector good spirit that saves good hearted clean souls
Adharma Rai: A greedy wealthy landlord who deals in different fish

Scene One
Dawn is about to set in. Chirping of birds in the background, flute playing”Bhairava” raga. The air is moist and waves could be heard washing the rocks which fill the periphery of the stage
Dukkhen [humming lowly in a Bengali dialect anchors his boat near the shore and calls for someone]: Aye! Babu éshechhé? Has Rai Babu come? We should leave before more clouds come in the sky. Not good sign, you see clouds.
Boy: Na, no one has come. Why? Are you going somewhere dada?
Dukkhen: Yes, on a fishing trip with Rai Babu and his group. They want to go to the island after ImilyBari, to find fresh stock of Katla and Rohu. We should leave early, I told them, before the ebb sets in.
In the distance four men are seen. A plump man with a cane stick in hand, dressed richly compared to the other three. All are coming towards the boat. As they come near, he waves to Dukkhen dressed in a tattered blue loincloth. The pink cheeked man with a walrus like mouth is Adharma Rai coming with his men.
Adharma Rai: Aye Dukkhen! Ja, beriye ja! Goru, where all did we not look for you? Since early dawn we were wandering around. Be quick now, is the boat ready? We four will come along and you know where to go. We want to go beyond ImilyBari.
Dukkhen [lifting the anchor]: Yes, Babu. All is ready. I was here only. I hope you know that where you want to go is a wild area. They say it is Dokkhin Rai’s area and the ones who must not be named live there.
Adharma Rai [With a smug knowing smile]: You village folk! You understand nothing of this world. Now world is progressing so much and you still believe in stupid folktales. I am all set to go and remember I am paying you good money. Decide quickly. About the tigers…
Dukkhen puts his hand on Rai’s lips to avert him from saying the name
Dukkhen [fear in eyes]: Na, Babu! I beg you don’t repeat it. It brings bad luck. You know about Monjul’s son.
Adharma Rai [slightly annoyed]: Enough. Climb in. These men will protect us from the beast of the jungle.
Scene two
In the middle of Ganga amidst mangroves, the boat is nearing a pool where the fish gather by late morning. The air is heavy and they have long crossed ImilyBari. The place is isolated and completely silent. Dukkhen is breathing heavy after three hours of continuous rowing. Rai Babu is looking around, his men dipping nylon nets to catch any fish around
Dukkhen: Babu, this is the pool where I have heard that fish come. We will anchor here and wait for some time.
Adharma Rai: You lazy rascal! Tired so fast? [Sternly] We will go a bit further near the banks when you catch some breath. Sachi, Mohan, Nogen; keep your lines ready. I intend to catch some good fish today.
Dukkhen: Where to now, Babu?
Adharma Rai: There, [pointing towards the banks nearby which appear to be some island] we will get down there and then Sachi and Nogen will come with you while I and Mohan stay on the shore to unload.
Dukkhen: Bhalo! [Resumes humming some song which seems like a mix of Bengali and Arabic]
After the two men get down, Dukkhen, Sachi and Nogen row away from the shore. They go out of sight. Rai Babu stretches a bit and walks around the fringes of the island while Mohan readies bags to stock the fish. Rai wanders a bit further when he sees something glint in the dark. Greedy Adharma Rai, thinking it to be some lost treasure on this uninhabited island moves to inspect it. Mohan does not notice him move away.
Adharma Rai [to himself]:
Ah Swarga! Glorious future right ahead I have,
What cleverness of me to have landed here!
To these men with minds small as fish
Never will fate reveal a penny mere.
But, wise men as me, it finds us well
And once seen our forays in the wild
By our spirit even God is beguiled
Blessed we are with sounds so rich
And worthy remains even in such dark a niche!
Let me advance, quickly and leap
On that awaiting fortune in heap!
He quickens his step and moves following the yellow shimmer. He forgets how deep he has gotten into the forest. The banks are nowhere in sight and there is a faint smell of flesh. Adharma Rai moves around the stage. Single spotlight, sudden flash, another spotlight, a tiger appears out of the bush. Rai loses balance and falls on the ground.
He is terrified beyond words and can’t muster courage to cry out. His heart is caught in his Adam’s apple. Gasps release his mouth and his eyes are blinded. He waves in frantic desperation and faints.
Scene three
He wakes up after some time. The tiger is still poised on a low branch. Instead of growling and purring it almost sighs and starts to speak something that resembles human tongue.
Dokkhin Rai: Hah! Welcome my friend! Of course you knew where to find me. And I knew where to find my right man. So, where do I start? [A contented smile] The limbs, liver, lungs or… the heart? [Wicked grin] Ummm… Fresh meat. So, greed brought you here, is it? That familiar golden shimmer? How naïve! Now, now, you must not be so petrified! You even dare take my name, didn’t you! [Growls loudly enough to make leaves of trees around quiver]
Adharma Rai: I don’t know what to say actually. I really don’t know why I am still alive. Why did you not kill me in my sleep? [Weeps miserably] Please don’t tear me apart. I am just a greedy foolish man. I only came here to make some money. Take all that I have and leave me. Please, I will never invade your islands again! Pity!
Dokkhin Rai: [mock pity] Ah! Leave you my friend? But no! To me, your cries are like jingling gold, so inviting. How can I not be greedy? Do you think I am above lust and hunger? What do you do when someone barges into your house? [Takes a circle around Adharma who is fallen on the floor] Do you leave the burglar? Do you not derive pleasure in beating him and scratching all the skin off his body? Try it! [Sadistic delight] I so want to lynch all the coiling flesh in your stomach! But, we share some common spirit! Greed! It makes you blind, doesn’t it? Blind enough to draw your own beloved’s blood.
He wanders a bit, looks skywards and softens in features, thoughtful, then looks again at Babu.
Dokkhin Rai: Let’s see. If I let you off, what can you give me in return? Rack your brains you smart tradesman! What can be so precious as a life, rotten though by contempt and greed, yet a life nevertheless?
Adharma Rai: [Wiping off beads of sweat, thinks for a while and then his pale face brightens up] How about devouring on a body, less fleshy but innocent soul, pure and uncorrupted? Utter real fear will grip his heart and his blood will be clean red! The most pitiable creature! Nowhere a match to your power and sharp senses! There can’t be a better bargain, my lord!
Dokkhin Rai: [Thinks for a while and then seems genuinely interested, intrigued more so] Sounds good but don’t take me to be a fool! [Growl] Where in these times will you get me such a simple prey? Old though I am, not senile enough to let you go for some lanky piece of meat that will make me run around! Tell me quick [His paw brushes Babu’s face].
Adharma Rai [Seeing a solution, very happy]: Ah! Just command! On my boat is a man, as simple and pure as I described. I assure you a different taste altogether! Just let me get him! Please!
Dokkhin Rai: Hmmm… okay. Go! Bring him to me before the sun sets. It is noon. Beware! You are in my lands. You will pay heavily for your treachery! Here, justice prevails, though slightly differently.
Scene four
Adharma rushes towards the banks, panting for breath, still unable to believe if it was a dream. All he knows now is to find the lamb and hand him over and get out to never visiting this place. This is an entr’acte but nothing is behind the curtain. Adharma will pretend to run on the same spot but people dressed in black and green will come and change the setting behind and the other characters will take position, Dukkhen on the center right beside Adharma, Sachi and Mohan behind him and Nogen behind Adharma. There is loud echoing music (Krishna Das-Gregorian Chants).
Adharma Rai [huffing and puffing to Dukkhen]: Quick! Go inside! I mean… I just found a big pond inside where they live… some kind of pearl fish. Go, you will make money! Just go fast! Why are you so still! Fool, time is running out!
Dukkhen [perplexed at the urgency and generosity]: Are you telling me Babu? Ki holo Babu Shaheb? I have never heard of pearl fish in Tide country! Why are you sending me? I thought you didn’t like me! Tumi shotti bolchi? Why are you helping me?
Adharma Rai: No, no, of course not! I mean you deserve it. You sailed us here, took all our complaints, never grudged, and took reasonable fare. You completely deserve it. I am just eager for you to get ‘em before they go! Shotti!
Dukkhen [simply]: Oh okay! Right away I will get them. Please take care of the boat. Do you think I should take Nogen along?
Adharma Rai: No, no! He is a crook! Don’t bother dear! Just run away. I will see to your boat.
While Dukkhen marches innocently, Rai explains the situation to his comrades. They hop on the boat and make a dash for home. On the other hand, Dukkhen is already staring in the eyes of the tiger, bewildered more than fearful. Things seem to unwind in his mind.
Dokkhin Rai: Ah! You are indeed my innocent feast! You have dared enter my islands to rob me of my treasures! Did you think I would spare you? Who can save you here? All your friends have left you already! [Laughs aloud] Oh mortal! Pray to your deities! Ask them to save your soul! [Slowly]Do you have anyone?
Dukkhen [mustering courage]: Aren’t you the wicked spirit that must not be named? My mother told me when I was young! She also said that for all of a good heart, Bon Bibi would serve as the angel of life! She would resurrect us men from your clutches. I am sure she can save me!
Dokkhin Rai: Hahaha… This is my land! Dare she come my comrades will tear her apart. She and her brother Shah Jongoli! Both have annoyed me greatly! Call them! Let me fight and win you from them!
Scene five
Dukkhen starts chanting the same humming chants which sound like a mélange of Sanskrit, Bengali and Arabic, an invocation to rouse Bon Bibi and her brother Shah Jongoli from the deserts across Arabia to call them here to his aid. The tiger jumps around in wrath, becoming more furious by the moment.
Dukkhen: Bismillah! Bon Bibi, ami ke raksha korbe… Tvam gyaanam asi, tejomaya devi amar rooh rakshanam korbe…ami premal, shuddha chitta…
Dokkhin Rai watches curiously, still wondering with a tinge of disbelief if Bon Bibi will come.
Then, suddenly, there is a noise farther in the woods; anklets can be heard brushing the bushes as they pass. A sweet smell of musk fills the air, so intoxicating that the tiger gets fuzzy for a moment. Then suddenly, a lady with peacock’s feathers attached to her hands appears. Her face is smeared with vermillion and her eyes are big and black with kohl. She faces Dukkhen and he becomes silent. Then she looks at Dokkhin Rai and smiles as if meeting a long lost friend.
Bon Bibi: Aye, Dokkhin, kemonnaché? It’s been such a long time we met! Not up to your dirty tricks anymore? Not gorging up fresh meet now or is it just that I see old age setting on you? [Smirks]
Dokkhin Rai: Aye, sheesh. I don’t have time Bibi. I have to kill you today to eat up my prey. He thinks you can save him, you, a fragile tiny thing. Your magic is good to please the stupid girls and boys of the village, not hurt the likes of me! [Growl] Let us finish this macabre dance fast so that I can claim my prize!
Bon Bibi: Sure! [Voice growing louder] Let us finish with you for once and for all. No longer will I let you feast on innocent and good men! You will be taught an appropriate lesson. Never again will you harass those weaker to you! You evil spirit! You will pay today for all the misdeeds of your past. I will offer you to the Ganga today! [To Dukkhen] Don’t fear, man! You are a good man with a clean soul. You prize your own tales of the country and your faith has drawn me here. I will slay this demon and free you.
Dukkhen: [tears of joy in his eyes] Khoob Bhalo, Mata! Please save me! I have never even hurt a single thing in my life and I have always prayed to God in good and bad times. [To Dokkhin Rai] I said she would come! I knew it. Oh beast of fury and vanity, have wisdom enough to accept defeat!
Dokkhin Rai: Never! Never will I bear such words from an insect like you! I will smash all of you to pieces!
Dokkhin Rai and Bon Bibi stand in the centre of the stage. Dukkhen moves to the right wing as if looking from a distance. Drums of war in the background and conch shell is blown. Rai and Bibi stand facing each other at a distance and take two half rounds as if preparing for war. A short mime of fight for almost two minutes, at the end of which the tiger lays vanquished on the ground in the centre. The spotlight on the tiger dims as he winces in pain. The lady regains a calm posture and sits in the center on a rock, slightly above ground level. She beckons to Dukkhen with a smile. He tiptoes very precariously and goes around the tiger, examining him. Then he leans and bows down to the lady
Dukkhen: I do not have words to thank you O holy goddess! You have saved me from this man eater and granted me a new life. How can I pay you back?
Bon Bibi: No, my son! I only come to rescue those of pure and clean hearts. If you ever wish to pay me back, go and teach all the sons and daughters of your village the virtue of a pure conscience!
Dukkhen: Yes, mother! I will do so. Also, I will build an altar to you and will pray to you every Nag Ponchomi with all my village brethren. May your divine grace protect us all, O spirit of the tide country!
Fade out.
The narrator’s voice comes in. “Since then, all the people of the Tide Country worship the goddess Bon Bibi and her brother Shah Jongoli on Nag Ponchomi. They offer a pudding of milk and rice to her and chant that muffled verse that Dukkhen used to hum. And so passes on the tale of Bon Bibi, the tale of the tide country...

All we needed was a seed of lou

He saw the poem. I do not know how far it struck him. But I am talking to him!
Hah, it is a big fat lie. I do not know how it will end but I hope it ends well. Or maybe he will eventually fall in love with my lie and accept the truth as well. I just hope the Cinderella story works for me, for once… groan. He is cute, adorable and the best, he sees the same questions as I do. So, maybe I can detach easily and come back when I want. Not only that, I hope I look well. I am going to meet him today. I hope things work well. Pha! Can this happen to me? Only time will tell. La la la…

I will not message in the lead, will always wait for him to message to be sure he wants to talk as much as I do. I met Gumbo today. He is so sure about it all. Even his life has changed so much. But, he still cares for me. Maybe like some sister or child. I am safe. Him, the other one, or not, I am still safe. Jabberwocky and experiments in logic of daily utterances have to be tested yet. Oh but, I am on radio! Finally! Oh yes, that lotus gentleman recited the poem in class! Pha! What dishonor more than this when I am absent!

Song of ourselves

A Song of Ourselves

We slept through millenniums
I amaze at us sapiens
We learnt to melt and mould
Our haunches, to wax up to strewn benches
And sleep on musty chocolate wood.
That was the later defeat,
The first strategy was to listen
With a searching look,
To ask you evident questions,
To prove you could answer them obviously.
Never mind the sucking up,
We needed your winner smiles.
Eons later you took problem to drooping
Your ears pricked at suppressed snores
Poor you, daring to ask
Let me tell you!
We don't scream and shout, we murmur
You don't see placards and posters, you read indifference
Proletariat revolt is passé! We are mice, you're drawn in our books.
We smirk at your moustache and at the flare of your pants
All your acts are recorded. We laugh at them later
Don't try the equality trick
We have grown beyond illusions of camaraderie.
Look beyond catching us for conduct!
We are upgraded
Our tools are apologies, as yours are disclaimers.
Are you sure you can teach? We are clear
We can't learn! (we know your sympathy with learning disorders)
You are passionate (grin)
We are dumb (sadly)
You think we think we know?
We think you never saw a beating mind (there is one!)
Madness, inopportune hums and
Frequent encounters with alternate realities
Amaze our "assuming" minds.
It is no use telling you all this
We know you don't particularly admire
Absurdist, individualist, and much other pre-modernist thought
But sir, madam, one and all,
We still think and dream.
Maybe there is another way.
Keep trying, best of luck
Be quick! We are waiting for the next one.

(No one can obviously claim singular authorship of this text which traces the history of a species named "student kind" in the cultural context of 21st century's post globalization crises. Also, it does not cite references and the imagery is largely affected by extra sensory perceptions, liberating substances, the prisms of "-isms" and integration of the virtual (perhaps the hyper-real also)with the existing notions of real in a student's life)