Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Fugitive

It was an ice cold winter evening. He made is way slowly through the dark street, looking around furitively. Was it just hours before that he had escaped? Was it just minutes? His mind was numb. Have to get away, he thought.

He was new to the neighbourhood, he looked around suspiciously. Was he far away from his prison? Was he safe? For all he knew, he could be going in circles. He longed for the comfort of the woods, he would be safe in the woods. He knew it. They won't be able to find him. As hard as he looked, he could find no wooded area around, it was all a concrete jungle. He sighed. Just his luck!

The sound of the radio playing in a nearby diner caught his attention, the smell of food came wafting soon after. He even could see that the kitchen door on the side was invitingly open. Did he dare stop? He could sneak in and out of the kitchen in no time. His sense screamed. It had been almost two days since he had any food. His bones stuck out from his body in odd angles. Being thin had helped though. Helped him in squeezing through the small opening on the wall. He decided against the diner, he just had to keep running. Safety first, and always.

Somewhere he could hear someone wailing. He kept running. He had to. The rule of the street, watch out for your own back. If he stopped, it would be the end. He just couldn't go back to the prison. He could remember the gaunt faces of the others in there, a cold shiver ran through his body, his pace quickened automatically.

Despite everything the wind through his hair felt nice. How long has it been? Too long. Too long. But never again he thought. He reached an open area, cars whizzing past, people going home from work. Home. Home with Lila. When will I ever see her? He felt a catch in his throat, he tried to push these thoughts out of his head but they kept coming back, Home. Of Sweet Lila, He just wanted to be with her more than ever.

The next few minutes were a blur, a car screached as he looked up, staring in a trance at the headlights. Then as soon as it started, it all became blank.

He stirred slowly, stretching his sinewy body automatically, every bone seemed to ache. He opened his eyes and looked around, he was back! His heart sank, the prison seemed to close around him. Then he saw him, the man in the white lab coat.

He seethed with anger at the mere sight of that man. He snarled and tried to get up but he was strapped down. He growled with frustration, his words came out in a torrent of frustration and fear, he screamed Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Useless Bridge

As bridges go, this one isn't much to look at. It's a dingy, covered bridge made of iron and it spanned across one of the most crowded roads in chennai, the Nungambakkam High Road. This lump of metal stands right next to my office so it is hard to avoid. A few days after I joined my company I was going for lunch with a colleague, I asked her if we should take the bridge and I was promptly told that it was crazy to walk all the way up and over to the otherside in the Chennai heat! The bridge, she said, was useless. People apparently would rather risk being runover by a large city bus than to take a bridge to cross a road, thats just the way it is. We Chennaiites who find the stock market too risky apparently seem to think nothing of a walk across a road filled with hurtling vehicles of all sizes.

I too feel into a pattern of crossing the road, risking life and limb everytime I did so. Every once in a while though, I would stop near the bridge thinking if I should climb it, then eventually giving up the idea and risking the oncoming traffic. One fine evening I finally decided to give this seemingly useless bridge some business. I approached it in the darkness and climbed up. I had assumed that there wouldn't be anyone there, I was wrong. There was a gentleman, apparently homeless, sitting there in the landing, with a few large wooden boxes around him, he looked up at me when I walked past him. I don't know who was more surpised, him or me. Then when I reached the top of the bridge, I suddenly realised that the bridge was occupied by more than two dozen people. They were bunched in groups of 4-5, sitting there in the near darkness and talking. Realisation stuck that these groups were actually families who were using this bridge as their home.

Boxes were neatly stacked on the sides, children were running around or sitting on the side of the bridge watching the traffic. The menfolk talking in corners, the womenfolk preparing dinner.

As I crossed family after family, I could sense everyone's eyes on me as I navigated through the pathway. Somehow I felt that a banker slinging a bulging briefcase was a regular sight there. Actually, not everyone was looking at me, the kids were sitting on the sides of the bridge, their legs dangling mid air, through the iron work on the side of the bridge. These kids were seem to be transfixed on what appeared to be their regular evening activity, traffic watching. I felt more and more guilty since it felt like I was passing through someone's living room without their permission.

It was sad when one realised that all these folks had in their lives were there in those wooden cartons. I was thinking about the great advances our country has made over the last few decades, I really can't help but feel that we have left a large chunk of the population behind. Rising land prices have ensured that in the city, to own home you really have to have fairly large resources or atleast you need good cashflows that a bank can lend against. Over the years as we have been beating our chests about how much we have grown as a country, we seem to have left a lot of our countrymen and women behind.

The homeless in the roads, the small buisnesses that have shut due to competition from larger companies, the farmers who have been forced to sell their lands due to rapid urbanisation, effects of our growth are plenty and are all around us, if we choose to see them.

I know there are no quick fix solutions for the plight of the homeless, so if we can't build them homes to live in, lets atleast build more such ugly 'useless' bridges.

Friday, June 09, 2006

And we're back..

I think I am too self concious when it comes to writing
I think I'm afraid that the world would someday point at my blog and laugh
I think somtimes I worry too much about being responsible for a failure
I think the confusion in my blog reflects my life

There...I said it. Phew!

Tired and frustrated after a long, difficult and tough week, I travelled back from Bangalore to Chennai a little earlier than usual in the evening to catch the opening match of the football World Cup. All I wanted to do is get a beer and watch soccer on my own.

If I had got what I wanted, then it would have been a perfect evening. And life as we know, is seldom perfect.

What I did get was the prospect of 'bonding' with my parents. Now that they've retired from work they have all the time in the world and really look forward to spending time with me. I should be feeling great about this, I know. But sometimes I feel that life was much more comfortable when they were working, they would be doing their own thing, which was dad being in his study, with work that he carried back home and mom in the bedroom, reading, too tired for any conversation.

I love them to bits, yet there are moments when I wish I wasn't a 32 year old man who is confused with his life, prefering solitude over human contact but I just am, as guilty as that makes me feel.

Anyway there we were watching the game like a billion other people in the world. You could have picked out the fact that these two didn't know much about soccer in a few minutes of spending time with them.

As we were watching the starting few minutes of the Germany vs. Costa Rica, mom started her round of questions,

Mom: Who are the guys in white?
Me: Germany
Mom: Who are the guys in red?
Me: Costa Rica
Mom: Who is the guy in yellow? the referee?
Me: Yes

After a while...

Mom: Can the goalkeeper pick his own colour?
Me: eh?
Mom: Why is he wearing blue? And the other keeper is wearing black..
Me: eh..

Dad who had been on the phone, came into the conversation immediately after Germany scored their first goal in the 6th minute.

Dad: Why are they jumping? Is the match over so soon?
Me: No, Germany just scored a goal
Dad: the match live?
Mom: Appa (Dad) can you see the words 'LIVE' written on the corner of the screen?
Dad: Ah. So it is live..
Mom *does her own limited edition roll of the eyes*

As the match progressed both the teams started playing very attacking soccer, the crucial moments were peppered with verbal gems like

Mom: I think the players shouldn't shave their heads...
Dad: Why?
Mom: They can't seem to head the ball into the goal properly..

Dad: The Costa Rican goalkeeper isn't very good...he is letting Germany score at will
Mom: No, the german goalkeeper is bad, he looks sleepy...

Dad: The TV commentator will raise everyone's BP by screaming everytime the ball is near the goal..
Mom: Score a goal, score a goal! (This was when Costa Rica was near Germany's goal)

Then came the fun tete a tete with dad,

Dad: Do you want mangoes?
Me: No Appa
(A 15 second pause)
Dad: Potato Chips?
Me: No
(A 15 second pause)
Dad: Guava?
Me: No
(A 15 second pause)
Dad: Pineapple sweet?
Me: No Appa!
(A 15 second pause)
Dad: Lime Juice?
Me: (sigh) No
(A 15 second pause)
Dad: I can get you...
Me: No dad, please I'd like to watch the corner kick...just want to watch the game.
Dad: ok...lots of foodstuff at home...
Me: (sigh) Ok

Though I was nearly gritting my teeth, I also knew the care that were behind his words. A blardy catch 22 situation if ever there was one.

Then when Wanchope of Costa Rica scored his second goal to bring his team to within one goal difference of Germany, my mother who was passive so far sat up like a bullet. Her arms were flailing and she was shouting 'Go Go Go' and I think in that moment she would have gotten a Costa Rican passport if some official of that country was around. And every time Costa Rica had possession she would mutter 'score a goal, score a goal' staring intently at the screen, like she was using her willpower to help them score (I guess it only works when she wants to get Dad to do something). Anyway she was a firm Costa Rica fan this night. Everyone loves an underdog, right?

And as the match progressed, my mood changed from that of frustration to that of silent thoughtfulness. I looked at these two people with me and I realised that in a way off late they were making up for all the time that they spent away from me as a kid when they were busy working. And that watching a strange soccer game with me was just about the only thing they wanted to do in life at that moment.

Somehow the week or the evening didn't seem so bad in the end, I think I'd love to come back to this reception any week of my life. Any week of my life.