Homelessly home

Homeless across 3 cities with homes in each…

At Amboli

But not these macaques. There were two of them, (not seen here) who seemed to have some tumour like growth.

Drove past backwaters, lush jungles, dry grasslands, rolling hills, grey highways and city streets till a pit stop. And now, onward we go.

Day 3

The day was tedious but productive. Susegad is the best way to describe how work happens in Goa. I’ve been coming to this place for nearly 25 years and while much has changed, a lot still remains the same. Siesta time is still sacrosanct.
Maman had a good day today and there were moments of comic relief thanks to Chitti but that is more like a set of stories, web series style.

The highlight was a quick sunset dip in the sea with the firstborn for company. The ocean is mesmerizing in all its shades.
The road beckons again and tomorrow night I’ll sleep in another city.

What’s in a name?

Leg 2 of a multi city merry-go-round and this one involved an airplane. The airport was not as busy as it used to be and the sense of hurry was absent. While masks were ubiquitous, there was also a slipping into old ways. I guess it is inevitable with the increase in number of people. How does one maintain protocol for 450,000 square metres anyway? The flight I was on had about 25 people. Mostly young people heading for a holiday by the looks of it. How long will airlines continue to operate if this continues?

Covid is here to stay and people of Bombay have made place for it in the same way they absorb new things. Speaking of Bombay, actually Mumbai, the renaming of the city happened nearly a quarter of a century ago and there was much resistance to the change by those who knew it as such. It was a way of reclaiming Indian identity and disassociating with a colonial past. It was also a strong political posturing by the party in power at the time, a chest thumping of Maratha pride. Name changes of cities, streets and other public places don’t see the same resistance anymore. I guess in part it may be due to an increase in the transient nature of jobs and livelihoods. People move more easily.

Changing names is reasserting identity and ownership. Until some years back, it was not uncommon to find a girl changing her name to a new one chosen by her in-laws when she got married. I don’t know if the practice is still prevalent. It used to be couched in tradition emphasising how the girl was beginning a new life and so a spanking new name signified her changed identity as a wife and daughter-in-law. It was common to assume the husband’s surname. It’s now common to retain one’s maiden name post marriage.

Some time back, I was thinking about the names of trees, the ones we have given them. If they chose their own names, what would they call themselves? Would they also speak of themselves as individuals or would one name suffice for their intertwined lives underground? How do they call out to each other? Or perhaps they don’t consider themselves as separate at all, like gemels. That’s for the likes of us humans. We learn to love our names first as they are crooned to us by those who care for us. Much later we croon the names of those we love- lovers, children, gods. I remember something I scribbled a while ago

Greet one another
by name, it is beautiful –
the sound of a name

And then at some point, names fall by the way side just as form dissolves into formlessness, when structure becomes being.

Day’s end saw another walk, this time by the backwaters in Siolim where I caught a beautiful crimson and grey sunset. Just for a little while I lost myself in the flight of the birds, the gentle lapping of the waters and the cool breeze. Dusk has a different charm. It was also sad to see how little we care for natural spaces, they’re trashed without regard. Many of these places have religious symbols like crosses or shrines. At one time, they were sufficient to ensure respect for the surroundings but their influence has faded. I do feel that the time to reverse the ill effects of the systemic abuse of this planet is past. Now it’s simply a matter of time, maybe decades, perhaps less. Until then, we drink in what still remains and leave accounts of a beautiful world for those who will come after us.

Finding home

Lately the walks have been fewer and the ones I do end up carving out of my day have been under old trees. It is a relief after long work days. After a fair bit, I walked on city streets that were bustling with human activity, in a place where I lived in transit for over 2 decades.

But before that there was a long, happy drive on a highway. Those lanes are still not as busy as they were pre-pandemic and it was a pleasure to really zip past a lush and vibrant landscape. Windows down, happy music and the wind on my face. At one time, it was wind in my hair and it struck me that I’ve had short hair, really long hair, really short hair and then this bald pate. Every decade, a different way to wear my hair and the common thread has been convenience.

When the coffee mug met the mask

The drive was pleasant and the city traffic was light. So, I stopped by Amma’s place and had coffee with her. It was a surprise for her and both of us were happy. She’s quite old so it was socially distanced but seeing her felt good. I got chided for the baldness but it’s Amma and she’s always allowed to scold. Another hour or so later and I came to my mother’s house. It is not the same without her and there’s an ache at her not coming back to her home. There was nothing else to do so I went out for a walk on streets I haunted as a teenager. I walked past Sunset salon where I had a haircut the last time I was here (it was an interesting experience), down the pani puri wala’s spot, lukka corner, the lane with fading buildings of the quaint names that await redevelopment, an open-air boxing club at YMCA and back home.

A

A few of those old structures have already been replaced by swanky looking new ones and the character of the entire place is changing. Saving these few images here of a time that will soon be erased like the lives it contained. It began a while back as reclaimed land gave rise to tall buildings .Were we meant to live so high up in the air?

I.C. Colony was predominantly a Catholic neighbourhood but there was a largish community of Malayali Syrian Christians too. The community was small and one knew everyone. It also meant a robust gossip culture but that has also withered. Bombay was both home and not home simultaneously. There was always a wanting to get away and the inevitability of coming back to the claustrophobia of cramped spaces. I passed BEST buses packed with damp bodies, trucks with men sprawled over sacks, limbs over sweaty limbs and vacant stares. I remembered local trains where I’d shrink into myself pretending there was an invisible bubble that shielded me from other bodies. It helped to be a whole head taller than the rest. Despite the discomfort, there was also a fondness of familiarity. Years later, it is nostalgia which washes all memories with softer hues. Maybe these are the last few trips to this city, there is very little left to bring me back.

Tomorrow, a sleepy little village by a river beckons. That’s a piece of land where my skin smiles and the heart sings. Maybe it is time to call that ocean kissed place – home.

Straddling generations

Strange times these but lovely too in a fragile way. Last night the youngling was texting her friends on a group chat. On a lark, she recorded our banter and sent it on the group and just like that I was part of teenspeak. I got a speedy schooling in gaming slang, memes and music most of which don’t make any sense but it is their world after all and language serves each generation in ways they choose. They’re heartbreakingly beautiful, these children but not children. One of the kids she knew took his own life a couple of days back. All of 16. I can’t begin to imagine his pain.

In another place, an old woman lives within the confines of a shrinking mind, bewildered. Time has decayed for her, it has lost its linearity and become congealed into a shape shifting island. It is hard to reach her world, where names and numbers, memories and dreams are a continuous tumble in a kaleidoscopic prison. She remains locked in a time and space warp within her mind while her body collapses or wanders as it pleases. It must be terribly frightening, vertiginous at the speed at which all of it devolves.

60 years separate the teen and the old woman. Viewed from the middle, I am conscious of the closing in of a past and a blossoming of the future. But I also wonder if they both are any different in the world we now inhabit.

Nine Days of the Devi

Since the last couple of years, I reread the Devi Bhagwatam every Navratri. It started on a lark and I have no other reason but the satisfaction of a timed challenge for myself. Start to finish in 9 days. This time, I’d like to summarise each chapter so I have a reference to the stories in them. This is a post in progress until it gets done.

The book is a modern day rendition by Ramesh Menon and I like the lilt in its words.

  1. Krishna Dwaipayana wants a son and Narada suggests that he worship the Devi for his boon.
  2. Story of how vamris were responsible for Vishnu’s decapitation, which was the fructification of Lakshmi’s curse and the story of Hayagriva
  3. Story of the asuras Madhu and Kaitabha and how the earth came to be called medini
  4. Story of Budha’s birth- son of Soma and Tara
  5. Story of Pururavas grandson of Budha, son of Sudyumna/Ila (only person to have lived as both man and woman, as Ila she bears Budha’s son) who falls in love with Urvashi who abandons him
  6. Story of Suka’s birth and the origin of the 18,000 shlokas of the Devi Purana. “All that I see is myself, only I am eternal.”
  7. Suka goes to Mithila, gains wisdom from Janaka and comes back to his father and lives as a householder. The four ashramas of a wise man essential to cleanse the mind until it is still to see the truth that is immanent. Eventually, he attains moksha. His father is distraught but his time is not up yet. ‘The seeker had become all times and places, and all things. He was free.’
  8. The story of Matsyagandha, Vyasa’s mother.
  9. Mstsyagandhi becomes Satyavati and gives birth to Parasara’s son, Dwaipayana who would be famous as Ved Vyasa, the greatest poet.
  10. Parikshita’s death, Janamejaya’s sarpa yagna and the telling of the Mahabharata by Vaisampayana
  11. The story of Astika who prevented the sarpa yagna and how the snake got its forked tongue. Vyasa begins to tell the Devi Bhagavatam
  12. Brahma recounts to Vyasa how he along with Vishnu and Rudra saw the Devi Bhagavati and received the Mula mantra from her.
  13. Vyasa recounts the tale of the Ikshvaku dynasty and how Dhruvasandhi’s oldest son, Sudarshana and his mother Manorama are forced to flee after his death.
  14. Sudarshana grows up a Devi bhakta. Shashikala, princess of Kashi loses her heart to the prince without laying eyes on him. Her swayamvar has princes from all over and Sudarshana also shows up at the Devi’s command.
  15. Shashikala and Sudarshana are married in secret.
  16. There is a battle outside the gates of Kashi, the Devi slaughters the enemy kings. Yudhajita and Shatrujita are killed. Devi tells him to celebrate Navratri Puja in autumn. Sudarshana takes his rightful place as long of Ayodhya.
  17. ‘Spring and Autumn are the months of sickness and death; they are even called Yama’s teeth. These are the thresholds of Uttarayan and Dakshinayana, when the sun turns north and south, and these are the seasons when the world is unstable.’ The story of Mahisha asura’s birth and his boon of protection against death by no man of any of the races from Swarga, Bhumi or patala. Only s woman can kill him.
  18. How to do the Navratri puja. Mahisha sends message to Indra to be his vassal. Armies and allies prepare for war. A great war between asuras and devas commence.
  19. The battle rages for 100 years andthe asuras win the war. Mahisha sits on Indra’s throne in Amravati. The devas go seeking help eventually.
  20. The devas reach Narayana. The shaktis of the devas join to fuse into Devi Mahamaya with 18 arms. She is worshipped and armed by all Devas. Her laughter draws the attention of Mahisha who sends his generals to bring her to him.
  21. Mahisha receives conflicting advice on how to deal with the Devi. Tamra is sent to meet her but returns terrified. Vaskala boasts that he will vanquish her.
  22. Vaskala and Durmukha face the Devi in battle and perish. Chikasura and Tamra take their place and are killed too.
  23. Asiloma ans Vidalakhya are sent next and they too perish. Mahisha himself comes to the battlefield and tries to convince the Devi. Mandodari is cited as an example of the regret of spurning an eligible husband.
  24. Continuation of the story of how Mandodari marries Charudesna, regrets spurning Virasena. Mahisha attacks the Devi and dies. Dharma is restored. Shatrughna is set on the throne.

Friends Library

A few weeks before a pandemic shut down the world, I had paused my membership at the neighbourhood library. I’d gone a little book crazy then, buying an assortment of titles from an exhibition. This was topped with a pile of books I received from an acquaintance. It made sense to pause and finish what I had on hand. But I guess it’s a common reader tendency to always end up having unread books. Additionally, I also bought a few on the kindle during lockdown. My reads were mostly non-fiction interspersed with children’s books from the youngling’s shelf when I needed a break.

Last evening, I took myself on a nice long walk in the old Cantonment and rounded it off by heading to the library. It’s a quaint little place, over quarter of a century old and run by two ladies, K and A. Friends Library has had a loyal clientele over the years and the two ladies know all their regulars well. K is usually the one at the desk in the evenings and she knows the kind of books that I like. Sometimes I ask her to pick me something and she unerringly chooses the perfect one. She’s crazy about dogs and the library is always fostering abandoned ones. Shadow was a long time resident, he was gone though, someone adopted him. Four new strays had made themselves comfortable. Shadow would be sprawled between two shelves where I’d browse. It felt strange not to see him in his usual spot.

K was shocked to see me bald but like with most people, it was just an initial reaction. I’m still the same old me. Although the place was open, there were not many visitors. Most of the members are senior citizens and have been staying at home. K rued that a lot of folks hadn’t bothered to return books they had taken months ago. A long borrowing inevitably gets written off. Everytime I see the copy of Tughlaq at home, I feel mildly guilty at not having returned the book to my college library. But it’s also nice to have some relic of that short period in my life. I don’t think I have anything else from those years, no pictures, nothing. Maybe I should leave a note in the book about how it came to nestle among the other books at home. I digress.

Wonder what the autobiography of this book might read like…

Back to the library, it was quiet. Earlier, a little charm with bells that hung on the door never stopped tinkling. It was a place of comings and goings, of seniors and children, indulgent parents and solitary bookworms. There was a small sense of community in a largely indifferent city. The pandemic has erased that camaraderie. I suppose it will eventually come back but there is a certain apathy that is visible. The tiny place also has an attic for the kids, with books and toys along with a cosy area for reading. The youngling has spent countless hours reading there and often I’ve had to climb up to get her to come home. There are no children lounging there anymore.

I picked up a couple of books, one I’ve been meaning to read for a while and the other a random pick for its title. By the time, I got to K with my books, she already had the long green card with my name ready. I’d forgotten my number but she remembered. Come today evening, I was back at the library and returned one of the books I had read and the youngling got herself a nice, fat book to read. It feels good to slide into a familiar haunt, one that is warm and welcoming and smells of books.