There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Who Moved Your Cheese?

By Ananya Mukherjee
Change is the only constant, the wise men say. Frankly speaking, I don’t care whether they are three nor if they come from the east, as long as I find relevance in their adage. Interestingly, juggling between bouts of intellectual enlightenment, sifting facts from fiction and self assumed indications of progress, I have begun to observe that even change follows a pattern. It is not as unpredictable as we accuse it to be, and interestingly, often fairer than most challenges.

To the fearful, it is threatening, laced with uncertainties and panic of the unknown; to the optimist, it is encouraging; to the confident it is inspiring. But then, any transition that would change your definition of self will not only require consistent modifications in the ordinary business of life, but a complete metamorphosis of your philosophies and actions. Sounds confusing? Let me make it simpler.

When I look back at the things and people that have changed over the years, including my own conscience, I don’t think any of us “changed” as we grew older. Learning through the experiments and experiences that helped us win what we desired and took away what we could not preserve, we clearly became more of ourselves. Through that transition, we started following the pattern that worked best for us. Do you not agree?

People change behaviours that correspond best to their existing philosophies. Inanimate objects wither, wilt and rot to start again. It is strange that we take pride in being “unchanged” through the years. Have we not learnt anything from our mistakes or did no one ever inspire us to be different from following a pattern?

Take a step back and revisit the moments of time that have redefined your life today. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”

Who knows you may be thankful to the person who moved your cheese!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


By Prodipto Roy & Ananya Mukherjee
My Little Magazine

Tick tock tick tock tick...pulsating mechanical beats that rhyme with the throbbing of my heart and soul. Time, my ephemeral friend doesn’t change its rhythm when I want to live a happy moment a little longer; it doesn’t heed to my pleadings to supercede the lull of tough times.

For God’s sake, hold back your speed and let me LIVE...

Taking the Time

By Pritha Lal
Springville, Utah, USA
In my 39 years, I cannot recall sharing secrets with my dad or telling him all about my day. As a child, I recall him reading stories and then buying books and other beautiful stuff from every country he visited on his trips. During my teenage years, he was the ever protective father figure, who said more with silence than speech. As I left home to pursue studies, his wariness about my well being, security etc. continued, much to my irritation. Boys and boy friends were never a topic of discussion with him.

However, he did pay me my biggest compliment when I introduced him to Neel in person , the day before our wedding his exact words were.. "I am not sure I would have been able to find such a wonderful man for you..."
Never forgot those words. The day I left home formally as a bride amidst a quiet wedding and a looming fear of an upcoming bypass operation on dad in the following 2 weeks, I recall he said.."whatever you do, know we are here, and you will make us proud..." I have been married for 12 years but that moment gets me by the gut each time.

Through all this time, I could never relate to my friends who were their "father's daughter" , confided in their fathers about everything, shared all their stories.. for me it was always mom. There was this wall between my father an I that could be attributed to very different ways of thinking and probably generational nuances and differences.

This year, I got a slightly differently glimpse of my relationship with my dad when he visited us in March for his San Antonio Conference. A dear friend asked me to "talk to" him , really talk, take the time to spend time... and not lose this time I would have with him. I heeded his advice and I am not sure what exactly transpired because there was nothing new we shared, or talked about and yet when he left for India, I missed him in a way I had never done in my life.

It is strange how you sometimes rediscover relationships that you often take for granted or don't give much thought to, just coz they exist. Also it is amazing how the impermanence of one's tangible relationship with one's father and the permanence of a spiritual one with him, bring newer perspectives to life.

I claim no direct knowledge of such a hard experience, but with a couple of my dearest friends losing their father in a physical sense but realizing their presence in a way that pushes them further, is what I am most inspired about on this Father's Day. I have never written a note about my dad.. today I wanted to, and send him my heartfelt gratitude and regards that I have the fortune of being his daughter.

To all of you reading this post, who are in my shoes, or in the shoes of some of my friends who have gone through some tough times with their father's health or other issues, or are brilliant fathers yourself...

Kudos to you... Congratulations....
You make every daughter want to be "daddy's little girl" and every son call you.."my hero..."
God bless...

Monday, June 21, 2010

From An Old Man's Diary

By Anindita Baidya
Anand, Gujarat, India

The lamp in the night dims out....only to usher the sunlight of the dawn.  And if God wills, we behold the sunlight, if we do not see the light anymore, it is God’s will, anyway.....

I am Poritosh Banerjee, a retired high official from the Indian railways.  All my life I have earned wealth more than I could have imagined and I have earned it the honest way.  I have earned fame more than my wealth.  I have earned the affection of my friends more than the fame.

And I retired as a proud man. 

I have spent most of my wealth and energy in raising my only child; a son.  After he was born, we were very clear that we did not want a second child.  We wanted to provide the best of schooling and materialistic comforts and undivided attention to him.  Dhruv, my wife named our son.

During my job, I was transferred throughout the length and breadth of India.  So, my parents never stayed with us.  They were confined to the small sleepy village in Bardhaman in West Bengal.

Throughout my job-life, my rewards brought pride to my family.  Added to this family pride were the trophies my child earned for academics, sports, extra-curricular activities.  He was a brilliant student and a winner all through.

Before we knew it, Dhruv grew up and we sent him to London for his further career pursuits.  All that I had earned belonged to him.  He was my only child, after all.

Dhruv never came back to stay in India.   He and Meghan, his wife settled forever in London and now they have a daughter, whom I have not yet seen!

He would visit us once a year.  Dhruv was busy, very busy.  He would often have to go for some official commitments in India even during his visit to us.

My wife, Mitali, the quintessential ‘Ma’, never had any complain against her son.  She instead would try day and night to make Meghan’s stay comfortable at our house while Dhruv was away.

Mitali passed away four years back.  Though I had secretly wished to migrate to London, Dhruv was not very keen.  Meghan was not keen either.  Their child did not know who I was!

For me, the last four years passed as if I lived through four long lives.  Life never seemed so long and unwelcome!  My credentials and Dhruv’s trophies gathered dust day after day now that I had no more energy to clean them.  The big bungalow I had built screamed in silence.  Many a times I had thought of returning to Bardhaman but my parents are no more, so there is no one to receive me or even want me!

I lost the eyesight in my right eye after a stroke last year.  Dhruv did not know this.  Mitali had ordered me that we should never bother our child and never come in way of his career pursuits.

I have more than enough money.  I have a bungalow built for housing ten people!  I have the kitchen set up for feeding a dozen people at a time.  Such magnanimous was Mital’s heart and intentions but now I stay here alone.  I don’t need more than a cot and an arm chair.  My diet is reduced to some insipid monotonous food which my hired cook makes.

If I could see God, I would enquire, how long do I have to live?

But last month, I met Tapan, a young lad from Katihar with dreams in his eyes and hole in the pocket!  I rented out a room to him, not for money but in search of some companion.

He is here to earn some living, he says.  He works for a small Government health project.

I had no idea that my life would change after meeting young Tapan.  Over the last month Tapan and I have schemed out a wonderful proposition.

I was almost ready to spend most of my wealth to buy a place for me in the ‘Nirvana-House for the aged’.  They demanded some 10 lacs for a two room space for me and other facilities which the aged need.

I talked it over with Tapan and some of my aged and frail friends whom I meet every evening in the park.

But now I have this brilliant idea in my mind, courtesy Tapan.   I am not spending my wealth in paying to an old age home but I am actually turning my villa to a home for the aged!!! 

Tapan will spend some time for managing the home, he says.  He will infact live with all of us, for the time being.  We have also got Dr. Vashisht, our neighbour to offer his voluntary service to us.  In one month, five people have already contacted me.  There is no dearth of money for any one of them, they have all earned wealth and fame but that is a forgotten era. They all have their children but they are busy, as I was or as Dhruv is.  All they look for is a companion.  All they want is not to sleep in an empty house.  All they want is that if suddenly one morning, any one of them does not wake up anymore, somebody else is there to take charge of the final rites and to send a casual message to the children.

So, I know, I will be not alone anymore.  I will turn my haunted house into a home.  I will have friends living with me.

It is a new beginning.  Even if the end is near, the path does not have to be dark.... I deserve moonlight till the last hours of the night!

Orchid For You

By Ankita Chatterjee

On that winter night, when your purple orchid lay breathless on our bed,
I imprisoned a shadow on my windowsill.
What innate that figure was, how I longed to touch him
I saw him struggle on the thin plank,
We were miles above civilization.

A dash of snow welted his shoulders, a mark I found on me,
A splash of tears drowned clarity, whose I couldn’t see.
The shadow grew darker, as it fell a million storeys 
I wilted at the sight,
Your orchid was still at rest.

I knew he wouldn’t return, the orchid he left behind,
I stood to see no one around,
For heaven was a world far too divine.

That night when you were away on unavoidable purpose,
A gust of wind drilled my heart apart.
I knew I counted my last,
I wailed to have you near and hug you tight
For you would remain shadows for me hereon.

I went miles above you
I left your purple orchid on the bed,
For you are to return in some days and not seeing me might pain.
There are words, there are frames, there are little complaints,
Till we meet again, let the orchid breathe in our lane.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hey Ram!

By Ananya Mukherjee
It’s been long since I have written a film review, even longer than the time when I counted myself as one of the first-day-first- show “paisa wasool” crowds! Perhaps, it is my irregularity of being a bollywood masala flick audience, the impatience of watching nonsensical visuals for three hours, or simply the worthlessness of the effort, but Mani Ratnam’s Ravaan was a letdown. And that is just a very polished understatement! It was a disaster: a complete waste of talent, a brilliant story and a great director.

The metaphorical semblance of this modern age Ramayana was obvious to the point of being idiot proof. And neither Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s good looks, nor sonny Bachchan’s brand, coupled with scores by A R Rahman and cinematography by Santos Sivan could add any value to the loose and confused script. There are some great frames captured on camera albeit, but I would rather credit it to the natural beauty of location than the technical handiwork of the eyes behind the camera. No frames tell a story beyond the apparent.
The romance fails, the melodrama reeks with Bollywoodish stereotypical nuances, the dialogues have little intensity and you are often forced to mistake the good for the evil and vice versa. Whether, establishing this sense of grey between the Black Ravaan and the White Ram was Mani Ratnam’s deliberate intent or not is debatable, for if that were the case, Seeta maiiya aka Aishwarya would have little or no doubts of shifting loyalties.
In the end, you are left wondering how a great storyline with a good cast, a remarkable director, good music and inspiring photography can end up being a visual torture just because of a loose script and disconcerted blend of modernism with the great epic. Even Govinda’s comic timing as Hanuman doesn’t spice up the bland platter.
In short, Raavan is a great story badly told and disastrously presented.
Moral of the story? If you can't make gods out of actors, leave them alone for the worldly tales!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Four Letter Word

By Amitava Nag
Kolkata, India
Lata gasps her breath. She sees him enter. The dance floor bursts. Ravi is a macho. He is dashing, handsome. Lata is cute, small. It’s party time now. They completed a year. The college feels cozy. Old friends have withered. New acquaintances blossomed radiant. Lata loves Ravi, madly. He started returning favours. This is the event.

- Hi sweetie, been long?
- Nope. Waiting for you
Ravi grabs Lata’s waist. Draws her even close. She smells after shave. She feels so intoxicated. Ravi knows to handle. Girls, liquor and money. The music is deafening. Mosaic lights throw shadows. And the two dance. She matches her man. He tires his prey.
The lights go off. It’s late and over. Lata doesn’t stop crying. Ravi gets bored increasingly. He just dumps girls. But Lata is different. He sensed her urge. To satisfy her man. She is petite wild. Lata trembles in despair. She is in love. Deeper than virginal woes.
- Lets leave now sweetie
- Please don’t leave me
- What nonsense you speak
- I can’t stay alone
- Don’t be a fool
- I love you Ravi
- I love you too
- Will you marry me?
Ravi is not sure. It’s too much commitment. He is quite young. His family is rich. Lata will be misfit. Lata clasps his hands. She can’t waive now. Her mother and sisters. Their hope on her. A family of women. She falters, and cries.
Ravi feels irritated now. He needs a bath. To wash off memories.

Old rivalry breeds hatred. Jai knows pretty well. Dimple is the bimbo. Jai’s hunger is insatiable. Dimple ignores him always. She is after Ravi. Ravi is too strong. His father has influences. That frustrates even more. Jai spoke with Dimple. Tried to convince her. But she is adamant. Girls are fools, always. Jai is pretty sure.
The party was bore. Dimple had a fracture. She was not there. Bad luck to losers. Ravi was with Lata. This makes Jai angry. How easily they change. Like changing clothes daily. Jai feels like fighting. He then restrains himself. There is no use.
The mobile camera blinks. The couple is intimate. Jai is taken aback. His idea is wrong. Lata isn’t that innocent. Few pegs of vodka. Jai goes overboard instantly. Justice has denied him. Streaks of revenge resurface.

The pics are beads. They stitch up stories. Jai is so happy. He strikes a plan.

The mail server shivers. MMS clips fly off. Dimple can’t believe this. She was so blind. She calls it quits.

No one knows the details. None wants to even. They relish the contents.

Vibgyor is her favourite. Their town paints rainbows. Will she ever return? The shame is manifold. She can’t think anymore. Ravi has behaved awkward. How can he escape? She is discussed everywhere. Inside college, even outside. She can’t stand this.

Then she remembers colours. She loved to draw. Rain drops and lillies. Ages she didn’t draw. Till Ravi’s birthday card. She can see colours. Everywhere, even in death. What is death’s colour? To her it’s white. White is always sacred. Death is freedom too. Her father committed suicide. He couldn’t feed them. Her father wore white.
The night grows still. Only the dogs bark. The lampposts stare alone. She gets up. The white pad glares. She will deflower it. Who will be responsible? She pens her name. Her own name – Lata.

Outside, the night sleeps. Inside the turmoil heightens. She holds back breath. The fragrance of life. Gone in one week? Is life so cheap? So full of threats? So dull yet arrogant? She feels like quitting.
She calls up Ravi. Ravi is also shaken. His veneer has fallen. He looks mortal, weak. She does feel sorry.

- Ravi I am leaving

Her voice starts trembling. She grasps her dress. To be still, calm.

- Where are you going?
- I will be gone
- Are you mad sweetie
 This is better dear.
She hangs up hurriedly. She fears becoming weak. Its not easy leaving. She thinks of ma. She thinks herself selfish. But no other choice. The knot is silky. Vibgyor dopatta touches neck. Like a warm hug. She closes her eyes.
Ravi can’t sleep anymore. Lata’s call is disturbing. Hard days taught him. He is in love. Ravi dials Lata’s number. Will he call police? The consequences frighten him. He calls up Jai. The humbug switched off. He will thrash him. Restless, he calls police.


Early mornings are cool. HE always strolls now. This is HIS duty. HE reaches in time. HE stays with them. Even before the time. This morning is fresh. The rainbow is perfect. HE loves pictures as well. HE pans HIS frames. The boy is restless. He pants and puffs. He loves a girl. HE looks at her. She looks so radiant. Emotions recollected in peace. HE can’t squander love. HE remembers HIS girl. HE took her away. That sin pegged HIM. When can HE stop? HE doesn’t know yet. But HE leaves her. The boy comes in. Welcome HE says him. Then lifts and leaves.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Of Love & Politics

By Tuhin A Sinha
Mumbai, India
It has been five days since I landed in the US. The convention is over. Thoughts have been exchanged, ideas mooted but I am left mulling over what Ghulamsaab called the ‘complex selfish stakes that powerful nations of the world would have in the nations locked in dispute…’. I am left to wonder if these conventions would serve their purpose till all the powerful nations get rid of their complex selfish stakes. But if they did they wouldn’t be super-powers. I’m left wondering if the last few months have already imbued a certain cynicism towards the US in me. I wonder why dealing with the US requires exemplary astuteness – on the face of it, we have to make all the right noises about friendship while inside we are insecure and watchful.
This transition of mine from being uninhibitedly pro-US just six months ago, to having a more realistic, neutral disposition now, underlines the rapid evolution that is underway in my worldview. Why then am I stuck in one position on the personal front? Was it because of the abruptness with which it ended? Given that I respect propriety, is it that I want to meet Sarah once and give it proper closure?

The truth is, I’m in no hurry to return home. While the official delegation flies back to New Delhi from Washington, I take a day off and go down to New York. I catch up with Khalid and Kelly. We have lunch at ‘Ahluwalia’s’ an Indian restaurant just two streets away from my Kingston office. We chat on a whole lot of things – Kingston, my new life, the developments in Khalid’s and Kelly’s lives. Then Khalid broaches the subject I have been trying to avoid: ‘Yaar, Sarah and you should have made it work.’

I don’t have an answer. Instead I pop a query: ‘Have any of you spoken to her lately? Are you in touch?’

Both shake their heads. ‘We were just too surprised by her sudden decision. There wasn’t any motivation to go to her wedding. So we ignored the invitation. I did call her though, a couple of days after her wedding, and congratulated her.’
‘Would she be happy? I mean, did she sound happy when you called?’ I sound absolutely naïve.
‘Are you?’ Kelly asks me.
No, I’m not.
‘Do you still love her?’ she prods me further.
‘I still miss her.’
In a place like Manhattan, when you are engaged in work round the clock, you crib about not finding time for yourself. But then, when you find yourself absolutely free, as I am now, the place actually feels hostile and unbearable. Kelly and Khalid have gone back to work after lunch. I have a few free hours at my disposal. I don’t feel free, though. I’m constantly haunted by thoughts that don’t easily leave me.
I dial a number that I haven’t dialed in a long time. The phone is perhaps disconnected. I call up the number a dozen times. In the next two hours I land up in Central Albany’s Delmar area – a few lanes off Park Street. I’ve been to the place just once – when Sarah brought me here to introduce me to her parents. Yet I remember the by-lanes vividly. The last 50 metres, though, is an arduous journey for me, every step heavy with doubt and a question mark over my motivations for treading forward or rather backward in my life. I move up to Sarah’s door. It’s getting dark.
I ring the bell. There’s no answer. I ring it again. There’s no answer again. I wonder if anyone still lives there. Maybe, as Sarah had mentioned, her parents have moved to Canada. Sarah must have moved elsewhere with her husband. I ring the bell one final time and just as I’m retracing my steps, the door opens. ‘Sorry I was in the ba…’ Sarah stops mid-way, confounded by the realization of who her visitor is.
I feel a whole gamut of emotions when I see Sarah – relief, nostalgia as also the fear of more hurt being in store. She’s lost a lot of weight.
‘Adi… What a surprise!’
Our eyes are moist as we hug each other hard. She leads me in. From inside I hear the voice of a man talking on phone – loud enough to be heard outside.
My husband...’ she explains. ‘He’s talking on phone with an old friend.’
I feel sheepish to have landed up like this. I try to accord an excuse to my visit by telling her that I was in US for some work and would have been happy just talking to her on the phone; but as her phone was not reachable, my concern brought me here.
‘Ah, I see... so you still care for me...’ she smiles.
‘You don’t?’ I ask her diffidently.
From inside I hear loud laughter. Her husband it seems is deep in animated conversation with a bosom buddy. She gently shuts the door on him. This also accords us some privacy for our conversation. I notice that Sarah has dark circles under her eyes. I quiz her about them and she tells me that it’s bound to happen to a newly married couple who is madly in love. I can sense a certain bitterness in her, as also a veiled attempt to hurt me. I don’t blame her. I don’t blame myself. I do realize the futility of landing up here though. I realize how bad a judge of people and situations I am. Sarah was probably never as fragile as I thought her to be. Or maybe I sympathized with her more than I should have. In the end, she’s found solace, I’ve got chaos.
I am not in the mood to stay any longer. Nonetheless, Sarah pesters me to have a look at her wedding pictures. She takes out a large album and shows me her man. What I see baffles me – the man is much older than her. Sensing my surprise, she tells me how it all happened – how Francis, born of a Mexican mother settled in America and a Kenyan father, was actually brought up in Malaysia; work later brought him to the US where a quick growth in his career made him stay back.
‘And what does your husband do?’
‘Oh he runs a small travel agency of his own. So in case you’re looking to book your flight tickets for home, he can do that at a discounted rate.’
‘Thanks, I’ve got my tickets.’ I laugh off her offer.
I take note of the fact that Sarah has not bothered to update herself about the changes in my life – an aloofness that has remained consistent from the time I first met her. I want to leave. I am almost relieved I don’t have a place in her life anywhere. Yet I’d be lying if I say I’m not feeling a deep hurt. Her swift leap from me to Francis makes me curious enough to ask her:
‘But how did this happen, all of a sudden?’
‘Oh Adi, certain things are just destined... Two weeks after you left, Francis met me at the local bus-stop. He told me he crossed the place everyday and would invariably spot me there. He told me I had a grace he hadn’t seen in other women and that he could tell I was always lost in my thoughts and upset about something. He told me he’d fallen in love with me. I found it crazy and told him he was a good flirt. Two days later when I returned home, I was shocked to see him talking to my Dad. I heard him tell Dad that he had fallen in love with me when he first saw me and that he’d do everything to keep me happy.’
And you gave in?’ I asked, surprised.
‘Was there a reason for me not to? You wanted me to wait till eternity, right? Or till you found a saner girlfriend?’
I was in no mood to contradict Sarah. Her actions had once again proved she was crazy.
‘How old is Francis?’ I ask her.
‘Fifteen years older than me. That’s the age gap between us, if you’re curious to know.’
‘Sarah, you could have spoken to me just once before getting married.’
‘Would that have altered your decision?’
Our conversation is interrupted by the arrival of her husband. He is loud, garish and unsophisticated. From the physicality of their body language, though, Sarah and Francis indeed seem to be in love.
Sarah introduces me as her good friend from India. Francis doesn’t bother to ask anything more about me. He is warm. His ‘warm’ hand-shake, though, carries savage intensity. Then he turns to Sarah and reminds her that they have plans to go out. Sarah tells him she’ll just perfume and come. He tells her to forget it, her body odour is attractive enough and plants a lingering kiss on her lips. I feel terribly out of place, more so with what Sarah tells me, beaming at her spouse: ‘You know, Adi… I couldn’t have asked God for anything more. In just the last two months Francis has filled my life with all the joy that I was deprived of – all my life.’
Francis gets inspired by this declaration to kiss her more brazenly. She protests but gives in. I witness a sight I’d have never imagined to see: a girl whom I’ve kissed and loved, whose faith in love and relationships I helped revive, kissing a stranger while I stand passively by. I want to shut my eyes, run away or just blind myself, but I have to be brave. I’m glad this moment marks my freedom from guilt and concern about Sarah.
On the flight back, I yearn to be with Chaitali and speak to her.
I want to cry my heart out to her.
I want to tell her how much I missed her.

(Of Love & Politics is due for its grand release in all the major metro cities across India this June. If you are keen to catch up a chat with author Tuhin A Sinha and his celebrity guests, Rituparna Sengupta and Rimi B Chatterjee, don't forget to attend the launch on Friday 25th June 2010, at Oxford Bookstore, Park Street, Kolkata at 6. 30 pm.)

Saturday, June 12, 2010


By Abhishek Chatterjee
Ridley Scott and his preferred partner in crime Russell Crowe team up again to bring another popular hero back from the woods, literally in this case, but intelligently, they chose not go down the 'rob from the rich and give to the poor' route. Instead they bring to life a fictional account of how the legend of Robin Hood came to being.
And it works only in bits and pieces, to be honest. Our hero comes across more as Robinus Maximus, an indestructible leftover from you-know-where, rather than an emotionally vulnerable yet supposedly roguishly charming Robin Longstride (who becomes Robin of Loxley and eventually the outlaw Robin of the Hood). The story line is a predictable David v Goliath meets Walk in the Clouds, and perhaps would have even worked if it didn't aim for the high human drama quotient and in turn try to take itself so seriously. And it is here that the film sadly fails. It ends up as lumbering and overdone. The cast does fine, and the battle scenes are to Scott's usual high standard, but the love affair between Marian and Robin is quite 'thanda', evoking almost no emotional connect, while we wait for the film to drag on to its inevitable good vs evil battle royale.
In the end, it is a brave attempt, trying to do something new with the Robin Hood story, but the screen play is clunky and overdone and the execution is entirely run-of-the-mill. See this if you must.

Monday, June 7, 2010


By Ankita Chatterjee
I remembered the hooting and callousness of cab drivers back in India; the word is necessarily ‘taxi’ there. I figured in my mind’s frame the rugged appearance of their attires. They stank of tobacco and their lips would definitively be smeared red. They walked with the swagger of a swashbuckler, enacting shots from B-grade movies. Whilst they spat betel wastes all over the town and made every open space their private lavatory, they dawdled in sheer anonymity. And yet you can make out the famous Indian taxi driver amidst a mass of people. I collected memoirs of memories of taxi rides from my travel to a few Indian destinations. And the experience was varied. So, with frames both vibrant and erratic, I was overwhelmed to board cab number SH 8214H on Syed Alwi Street, Singapore. It was the midnight hour and cab fares had shot up with extra charges. I held to our grocery trolley and eyed for vacant cabs around. The street hustled. I could see my husband impatiently waving for cabs; his mobile phone glued to his ears. I wondered if the world knew better means to enjoy their weekends than shopping to the last penny in their pockets. I fidgeted with my hand phone keypad, jostling with my handbag. Unlike my husband, I patiently tried to get through the call cab extension.
“Piya, slide the trolley down from here”, instructed Abhi, my husband.
“Did you get through?”
“Yes. Just did. Look for 8214.”
“Thank God. It seems everyone decides to come here this late, since the centre is open 24*7”, I complained.
“Come, quick. The cab’s here already. I load on our stuff and you deposit back the trolley. Come.”
I was zapped seeing a toddler racing onto the street while his parents fought over some issue. Abhi called out again.
“Hey, bring the trolley, Piya!”
I zoomed down the pathway. While my hands lent parcels onto Abhi, I frowned in disparagement at the gawky looking man, who happened to be the driver of cab SH 8214H. I let Abhi do the formalities while I monitored the actions of the driver. Mr.X, as I would call him now, was a stout and clumsy man, much older than we had actually thought him to be, and which, along with some other details, we would come to know in the next twenty minutes. He wore a Casio watch and kept looking at it more than normal number of times. Mr. X blabbered like an empty case; his words resounding hard within the cool comfort of his air-conditioned cab. The moment we had stepped in, I knew it was a bad choice.
Abhi shook his head. I wagged my tongue out; my eyeballs sprang to my brows. In a whisper I conveyed my lament in Hindi, a language to our advantage here, “Gonna be a dead duck now”.
Mr. X seemed to have lost it somewhere and he badmouthed someone continuously who had apparently called the cab booking extension and then had refused to acknowledge, leaving this poor man to wander.
“Insane idiots! They think I need money and so I can wait till the dead hours of the night! Oh I don’t need a single penny from them. I don’t trust them; these techno-savvy, ill mannered junks of the present age. I am driving tonight since I don’t want to go home. I have to be there at 4a.m. I don’t want her to die in pain. My mother was unlucky.”
His English was much clearer and advanced than the common localites of Singapore. I snubbed Abhi the moment I sensed his discomfort. My husband happened to be a generous and a no-nonsense figure, who could initiate conversation with the most nondescript passersby, and hence left me in fritters. Nevertheless, Abhi could not stop himself this time too.
“Are you angry about something, sir?” he began much to my dismay.
“You know…la (in the local term)…they don’t worry. They call and they cancel later. I don’t need their money. I have enough la… I have sons and daughters to look after me. Just see how they want to die…”, he gestured out at a group of bikers, driving fast and rash.
“Singapore…they have fines and rules. Still they bike fast and die. I am driving more years than their age.”
“What’s your age, sir?” Abhi asked.
“Oh! I am sixty eight years old”, Mr. X replied in a tone that reflected his superiority in age and experience. I assumed he was an arrogant man.
“So how long have you been driving cabs…I mean how many years? I guess someone is unwell at your home…”, Abhi asked with a pause.
“You will be surprised. This is the thirty fifth year”. Suddenly he sounded melancholic and yet there was an overtone. I saw him holding the steering wheel like it was a possession. He withdrew answering Abhi’s second query. I could see his eyes in the back view mirror. They were small and inexpressive, sloppy and wrinkled.
“Oh, it took me years to master the skill of driving. I can blind drive into any lane of Singapore now. You can just rely on my road sense. In fact I see you are not very comfortable that I am talking.” He suddenly turned around with a jerk and in a loud spit of laughter, he turned front again. “Don’t worry…la…I was awarded the best driver title in 2008.”
Abhi and I were taken aback. Was he jocular or was a sarcastic humbug? Or else, was he a crack-pot? I chewed my lips and checked his moves. He seemed to be a steady and safe driver. Though he certainly was a bragger, there was something ominously striking about his presence. His expression didn’t match his sentiments, an example of which he had demonstrated five minutes back.
“My father was a Chinese merchant. He bought and sold fishes, a variety of them. He also had a farm. He would supply buffaloes to cart pullers. I had, for long, admired him who was somehow making our lives happy. His profits were not high and his expenses were much. My mother was a craftswoman…an artist. My siblings and I went to a local school. I used to hate our friends who would call my father names. I thought he was a nice man. But he was a bugger. He ditched my mother…” He sounded coarse and malicious now. “…He was once seen with a woman in one of his private chambers. People later found that he was a merchandiser of the flesh trade. He was a bloody pimp!”
I held to my seat, rolling around my fingers the accessory that flew out of my handbag. I was gradually getting curious as Abhi continued chatting.
“You wouldn’t know la…how sad I was the day my father married his third wife. My mother, his first one, was a tortured ass by then and only guarded her five children.”
I was aghast.
“We are seventeen siblings in all. I remember my father selling off my two elder sisters; one at a port and the other to a goldsmith. Sometimes I want to find them. I think I will not recognize them even if I meet them somewhere. They were my closest. My mother is dead now. I could not do much for her. As a tribute to her art, my children, my wife and I organised an exhibition of her works. We gave the money to an old-age home.”
I kept staring at the back view mirror. His eyes were no different from what I had seen a while back. It struck me that the story might have been repeated often, for there never seemed to be a hint of any displeasure, wrath or remorse in his expressions.
Abhi was silent now. He didn’t intend to dig out painful chapters of a man’s very personal life. He looked out of the window in depletion. And Mr. X continued.
“…But I didn’t let my life sink la…I went to Australia, did my Masters in Communication and freed my mother from the bugger. She was in tatters then and I had to take her away in the darkness” “You know, in all these years of taxi driving, I didn’t let any lady sit in front…next to me. This is for my wife, Ann. I love her so much. Do you see this? It is for her”. He caressed his pendant that read the alphabet, ‘A’. “She is in the hospital now. She is fighting cancer and has an operation in another three hours from now. I have promised I would be with her. My hands don’t move now. I am afraid of the outcome.”
He smiled a sad smile, which Abhi told me later was not to be and that I had just imagined it.
I still tried to read his eyes. He held an unruffled gaze fixated on the route he had to take to reach us home. We were entering the Xilin Tampines Exit now en route to our home in Changi. I assumed he was stone-like or else a strange man to have not shown a trigger of emotion while shuffling back his pages of life.
Abhi took my hands in his. He was feeling the burn more than I was.
“Ann brought up my children; two sons and a daughter. She stood by me when I lost my job. She has sacrificed a lot. She is not very educated and she used to cry when she had failed to get a job. My eldest son is a doctor in New York and my other son is a journalist in Australia. They are married and have children. My grandsons love me. My daughter is a student of psychiatry, also in Australia. They make me feel special. They pulled me out of my bad finances. My father came searching for me, I don’t know why. My step brothers set my taxi on fire. My daughter bought me this one.”
Mr. X grasped his mobile phone from the dashboard and clicked open an image. “This is my daughter. Click left la…and those are my grandsons.” His chest doubled with pride.
He shared a grin. I saw his eyes squeeze more into closure. “I have lots of money. I had a job here. I own a house too. I go to New Zealand with Ann for vacations. She is a delicious cook. Once I had told her that I would love to remain fit all my life. So I have always been driving taxi as a pass time. Even now that I am a retired man. I don’t do it in the nights though. I am a successful man. But today I am sad…I cannot fight it out for her.”
He wavered and dangled between agony and ecstasy…between arrogance and pride…between past and present. His spattered and disjointed sentences threw me into disarray. I stared blankly into the back view mirror and imagined the whirl of events he had just narrated. I was hit by a strange conflict.
The cab stopped at our apartment. Abhi, as he paid the fare off, shook hands with Mr. X.
“Sir, congratulation! You have lived through strongly. I am sure your wife shall be fine. God is kind to the brave”, assured Abhi. I could see my sentimental husband leaning in appreciation and respect. Abhi had always been the more vocal between the two of us.
“Would you like to advise us? We are the family way.”
“Oh, congratulation!” Mr. X said with sheer humility and sobriety, “ Be honest always. Don’t be like my father.” He flashed the indicator of his LimoCab and sped along the lobby path. In a snap of a finger I saw SH 8214H fading into anonymity again. My disparate reading of his eyes failed me to understand what they meant to pass over. He was a stranger to us…and so shall he remain always.
For days to come, thereafter, the conflict banged in my insides. The incompletion of Mr. X’s dialogues with Abhi drew patchy pictures in my mind. I put together the threads that were not joined. I was destructively occupied with stories that had no reason for analysis and held to precursors and aftermaths. I thrived to know what Mr. X was and what his stories meant to instigate in us, what God’s plan was. Being a bad orator, I didn’t approve of reflecting my ideas or being vocative of my thoughts. While Abhi flapped its emotional aspect, mine was psychological. Had he really braved the atrocities of his life? Were the episodes real at all? I danced in dilapidation. One, he could be a marvel; a man of character who dismantled the woes his father bred. Or else, he would be the escapist, who has built his own mirage and broken his castle of guilt…a failure in view of relationships and morality, much like his father.
I chose to be with my first score…an optimistic deconstruction of the man who drove SH 8214H, a number plate now ingrained in my heart and mind.
Mr. X, to me, is the representative of a mass of workers we barely like to be audience to. We, the people, in all our sophistication, tag them coarse and brash. Mr. X is the realisation that there certainly are things to learn from them…that in all their eccentricities they too have a genuinity.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

What happens in LV, stays in LV? Naah....

By Bidisha Bagchi
St Joseph, Michigan, USA
My date with Sin City started the moment our flight landed at the Las Vegas international airport. Okay, okay, like President Obama, I apologise for using a cliche to describe the Mecca of gambling, but can one help using it if the first sight in after landing is one of slot machines —rows upon rows of them, brightly coloured?
As we walked towards the taxi stand I looked up at the giant video screens that advertised the different shows in the city and kept counting the ones that I wanted to see. I realized I wouldn’t even be staying in Vegas long enough to run the gamut of activities avialable in this city in the middle of the desert in Nevada…

“Would you be gambling mamma?” asked my teenage daughter. “I’ll play blackjack and roulette,” I answered and could sense her fuming at the idea of participating in a sin and wasting her dad’s hard earned money. But who cares, by then I was already the ‘Vegas Baby’ as my friends back home in St Jo dubbed me.
Las Vegas does not have any genuine ‘sightseeing’ attractions, if you know what I mean. No castles, forts, lakes or mountains etc, but the amount of time one can spend in this city is far more than any other place. In fact, don’t even be misled by the thought that Vegas is a city where one can only gamble. Certainly not. There are loads of things to do, see, eat and drink and even shop...
We began by strolling down the famous Strip. It was cold and sunny, ideal for long walks on roads teeming with people. Interestingly, lots of them had Asian features. The 6 km long Strip is flanked by casinos and hotels that are beautifully done up. It’s like going on a world tour by cruising down a road.
Each hotel’s exterior décor has a theme: for example, one is done up like the Sphinx in Egypt; the statue of Liberty adorns the New York hotel with a roller coaster encircling it. The Venetian, of course comes complete with canals and gondolas while Caesar’s Palace has statues of the Roman emperor, Venus and even a replica of the Trevi fountain!
Our first taste of gambling was in Kathmandu almost 12 years ago. We lost Rs 500 in seconds and I promised never to enter a casino again. Clearly I didn’t mean it as I merrily marched inside MGM in Las Vegas.
I chose MGM Grand because we had booked tickets for the Cirque du Soleil aerial acrobatics show and arrived little early to see the ‘not so glamorous from outside’ hotel. I chose a roulette table and my daughter was immediately asked to go elsewhere as children are not allowed there. Being called a child at 14 made her even angrier!
I placed my bet and once again in the blink of an eye my $20 vanished. That did it. No more, I vowed, and proceeded towards the theatre where KA was to be staged. The mind-boggling show kept us spellbound for 90 minutes, with awesome performances, war scenes and sea storm scenes all done beautifully on stage.
As the sun set, Las Vegas turned to a fantasy land with lights, lights and more lights. Huge neon signs flashed, some animated, some digital, all so gorgeous. Each and every hotel was decked up, ready to welcome anyone set for partying hard through the night. We just walked. For hours… Traffic on the Strip, incidentally, is messy, moving bumper to bumper, and taking ages to reach somewhere.
We finally stepped inside the Bellagio, considered one of the best hotels on the Strip, but I hated the décor. Flashy, with huge floral beds and gaudy colours. The hotel’s famed musical fountain, however, was absolutely magnificent. Playing every 15 minutes, in the evening only, I made it a point to watch it at least once, every day.
Going around Caesar’s Palace was like a tour of Rome. Especially the forum shop arcade that had an artificial sky painted so well that it could easily be mistaken for a natural evening sky. Adorned with statues of ancient Romans, amphitheatres and even a huge model of a Trojan horse (why, I cannot fathom), it was a fascinating stroll to the venue of the ‘Atlantis’ show, held every half an hour.
There are no tickets and no seats; people who wanted to watch sat on the marble floor. We did too. The story of king Atlantis and his children unfolded for the next 30 minutes: greed and power, all dramatically depicted through light and sound.
The next day was reserved for another mind-blowing show of The Phantom of the Opera at the Venetian. My daughter and myself being ardent fans of the ‘angel of music’ waited eagerly for our show so that we could rush in. Meanwhile we wandered around the Venetian, whose ceilings were like the Sistine Chapel.
The gondola rides on its canal were expensive — $16 per person. Why not save it for a gondola ride in the real city of canals? So we merely stood there and watched. Then, of course, the Phantom swept us off our feet with 90 minutes of special stage effects and haunting melodies.
Among our other Vegas experiences was an erupting volcano — at the Mirage hotel — that spit artificial lava and smoke very realistically! The replica of the Arc de Triomphe, the glittering Eiffel Tower and giant screens advertising shows and attractions made us lose count of days and time. We even made a trip downtown to Fremont Street to see the famous ‘Stratosphere’ tower but somehow our minds stayed on the Strip.
For shopping enthusiasts, a memento can mean just a keychain, a cup or maybe some coasters but look around and you’ll find more appropriate souvenirs, say, beautiful dice with red or black dots that can serve as paperweight! As for food, sushi bars are tempting. For authentic Chinese food, Noodle Asia at the Venetian is the best, but when desi khana pangs begin, the Tamba or Gandhi are perfect to tingle those taste buds.
It is said ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.’ Well, I don’t agree because the joy derived from the ‘fun’ we had in Vegas is still with us in the form of happy memories.

The article was first published in ET Travel, The Ecomonic Times, New Delhi