Saturday, February 21, 2009

A road to dream on.

It was a road to dream on. Trees leaned across walls for neighbourly chats that spread whispered canopies over the entire stretch. Spittle starved out under whole sunny days but swam bravely before finicky feet quelled bloated bubbles that rose and collapsed like chests choking in suppressed rage.

In the evening the wafted announcements of boiled groundnuts would bring me to a momentary halt in the zebra crossing. As if the vendor had wheeled in that cart straight from Elliot’s beach. If I’d heard his bell had tinkle in tune to the creak of his wheel, I might have heard the waves that were slowly bulldozing the beach away. But the road made earplugs out of all of us. My fingers wriggle into my ears through each of those million honks, ignition tantrums and war drums sounded between gearshifts and clutches. The evenings were always the best, when you crossed the road as a mass of homebound people tied together by waiting dinners and clock-suppressed yawns. Like migratory birds that travelled in flocks that alternately made V-shaped mobs and scattered like new-born stars in an exploding sky with season, we surfed over breaker after breaker of road-crossings together. Bottled together at the approach of a vehicle and then uncorking in sync, the fizz greenlit and the bubbles shoe-shaped.

They looked unnaturally happy in the evenings. Faces that had performed stoically to the plastic waves of a whistling conductor in the morning would shatter into zombie smiles. But it was a comical sight- a green man prancing after an appointment only to deflate to the inertia of a film negative in 30 seconds.

Sometimes, I’d plot ambitious coups against the timed tyranny of the traffic light. If my treachery was caught red-handed, I’d send smilingly apologetic envoys though wind-pummelled windshields to irritated feet and surprised brake pedals. And gracious reprieves would be dispatched along with those rare return-gifts- a kindly wave to go on forward or a resigned smile that would set their finger joints cracking whips against fatigue during that unexpected recess.

It took me a month to spot that streetsign. Walking everyday on an anonymous road is like befriending wayside strangers. You might take turns for the window seat, hold their lunch bags, and swap newspapers. One day, by pure accident you might chance upon a half-hidden ID card or the scribbled first page of the notebook that cursorily introduce its owner between your half-guilty glances. You realize that you are a nameless shadow in the other person’s head, a shadow that is summoned along with the image of a bus and your anonymity becomes only keener. And their name bedews your memory reducing itself to a lettered rot. Three words. It lay drunkenly in a half squat, drooling peeled paint at the foot of a mountainous pile of a makeshift dump, enjoying his beggar impersonation. Kavignar Bharathidasan Road. Nobody in TN needed the Kavignar prefix to remember that Bharathidasan was a poet. But I think the guys who painted this sign knew what they were doing.

It was a road that dreamed on and on. Plucked a little of everybody else’s dreams that were shed little by little like heartbroken hair and plaited them into wigs, worn and thrown with every violated traffic light. But the walking scalps fallowed on as they followed the road with their nose.

And only three other heads were in the know. For the road dreamed with them.
With the street lamps that stayed awake till seven in the morning and then put its head down when nobody but the road was looking.The road extracted a severe price for the secrecy.

With the bin-raiding woman lodged on the grimy tongued road like a half-tasted morsel of food, saved for later to be picked out between the road’s blue-grey teeth and slurped down into its gutters. She shook out specks of dried gravy and half-grains of rice along with wrinkles premature and hungry out of packing foil after packing foil, her hair as silver as the aluminium.

With the twenty-year old who made up poems while walking on the left side of the road and scattered them through her perforated consciousness, the way she allowed coins to slip out through worn torn pockets and then resisted that stooping instinct that weighed her down more than the coins ever did.
Pick them up she never did.
But she brushed her stray hair back into her elastic manacle at every intersection. Carefully. Each hair secure in its place, each dream safe from the road.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What would she say?

What would she say?

Anybody watching me might have shook their head in sympathy, believing that my eyes were blinking back tears, straining to catch a glimpse of a notoriously infrequent bus number on every display plate that swooshed past the bus stop. But what I'm searching for instead is a place that would cup me between crowded palms of inconspicuousness. Instead of allowing my foam cage to tie my arms to its own or blotting my restless screams on muted tissues of office routines.

If she saw me substituting an air-conditioned wait for six-o-clock with a wait for a phantom bus, what would she say?

I love standing on the road median when I wait for the traffic lights to change. Caught in the middle between armies of pedestrians on either side of the road looking longingly at the signal for the green flare. I'm not enmeshed within that 30 second large web of anticipation. Sometimes I wish that the signals would break down so that I go on standing on that road median forever. All that stands between me and annihilation at the hands of joyous just-released wheels is my wily strength, localized away from my head in my feet. But the signals always change in time. Always. So I cross the road back and forth, switching between armies till my own livery blends into a traitorous camouflage among theirs. .Till my fingers have brushed enough knuckles clenched around battered brief-cases and emptied lunch bags. Towards a chair bound exile.

If she heard my meditations of my close-to-collapse feet, what would she say?

There is a street filled with my dreams of houses. I've seen each of these before, between quilted childhoods in malarial visions. But in my dreams the gardens weren't locked behind these gates. Gates that forbid you to worship what lies, and like a dust cover that steals a sculpture's glory, making itself a monument instead. I ignore the sentries and walk on.

Why does that street side temple stand like that then? A crucified pose. On their toes. With a back hammered to the wall, eyes drawn away from the road and a face scrunched as if in preparation for a slap. It doesn’t even dodge when vehicles run knead its feet. As if this was it expected all along. I know what it feels like. Perennially braced for slaps and then turning my face thankfully when none of them landed.

If she knew that walks along broad beautiful roads were being frittered in nourishing my grief with such recollected pigswill, what would she say?

There is only one more suicidal drop of juice left in that straw, resisting my out-of-breath rescue attempts. Low backed chairs make themselves more uncomfortable by gliding greasily along a floor carpeted with samosa crusts and spilled ketchup. Am I so paranoid about running into my colleagues that I choose the grubbiest eat-out in the vicinity? Anxiety coaxes out every calorie that I've wrung out of carrot juice.
If she could sense that I was mangling perfectly ordinary outings into escaped eternities, what would she say?

We hold hands, the chair and I. I’m being welcomed into an exile like someone who’s returning from another. My mouse pointer hovers between pdf poetry and excel sheets, poised to pounce to the right window at the sound of carefully memorized footsteps. Of course I get a day’s worth of work done in two hours at the cost of reducing every word to gibberish and every task to a system of repetitive actions. Poe’s poems and revenue statements. Fuel hedges and blogs. They equally irretrievable in my trying to be equally attentive to both- whim and will.

A g-talk message raises its head sleepily from my taskbar. I submit to her gentle interrogation with suitable subservience. For all my bravado, I worship authority. This if nothing else is the saving grace of my otherwise disintegrating professionalism.

She’s a good sport of a boss after all- my offers of taking on more work are received favorably. She says “Good girl.”

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I'm stuck in the throes of a pilani tea craving. And my new-found obsession with filter coffee has fizzled out. After a month of fighting off intoxication at Coffee Day counters (PB pure and Plantation A beans are expert nostril-raiders who seldom spare my olfactory lobes that obligatory neuronal short-circuiting that disrupts brain activity three hours afterwards. Watching the attendant comforting polythene packs bursting with coffee with those digestive pats mothers use to push babies off the brink of a burp doesn't help. Nor does feeling their hot anger of diminution through printed plastic through the journey back. It takes the hotter stimulus of a steaming coffee tumbler in your hand to cure you.) A month of adding caffeinated post-scripts to Murugan idli meals braving blatant "Why?" looks that my sister is apt to shoot.

I'm one of those sickeningly typical creatures who prove all those pseudo-universal adages starting with "After all it's human to...."right. It's human to long only for absent loves while taking everyone else for granted. It's human to fall desperately in love with what is lost to you forever. It's human to choose exactly those things which are worst for you. (This one's from Rowling I think). It's human to love the dead far more intensely than their live presences would have ever deserved.

I started calling myself a tea-drinker in Pilani -a place that gets people seeking a well-traveled boast to begin many journeys at once and then end up in places they would rather not have found themselves in. (but useful to construct charming never-heard-before anecdotes out of all the same. What else matters but winning the crowd while appearing to scorn them?) The more perilous ones drive you towards alcoholism, pot-addiction, a supercilious belief in your superiority to the rest of humanity while simultaneously allowing loneliness to hollow your soul out, a misplaced sense of pride in a dystopian world view that is cultivated carefully to look cool, multiply enhanced respect for sarcasm and belief that it's the supreme form of humour and that secretly fostered lovechild -insecurity in defects previously invisible. Was that in ascending order? Yes, I checked. I guess I’ve been more fortunate. I ended up with merely a gastronomic issue.

The seed of any habit is a harmless imitation. The way you order exactly what the other person is ordering at a restaurant. Not because you want to conform or please them but because you don't really know enough to have strong preferences. Then it becomes a group ritual, just one more feature of your time together with a person or a set of them. Once you develop a private relationship with the habit, (the day you start ordering tea in double-chai doses alone without realizing that you've already done 6 cups that day.) you're done for.

Tea from the beverage machine here is an optimization problem. I have to optimize the tea-bag diffusion operation in a way that maximizes flavour absorption and minimizes cooling-down-to-tastelessness time. As for the street side tea stalls, an all-male domain that I ventured to buy from, the tea was probably the third infusion of infinitely reused tea powder and tasted of the strainer it was poured through several times with those expert hand maneuvers that would make a bystander wonder if it was tea or gravity-defying plasma.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On the wrong side of a sunset.

Waves flush yet another wager
Down its hoarded whirlpool of
Spilled split seconds and squandered Sundays
Pulling magic carpets woven out of
Pickled promises and piggy-banked fears.
From under dream-embalmed feet.

I wish every hair of mine were a brush.
That they might brave
Windy strokes of invisible knives
To paint your hideous orange orgies
With the west.
In brazen bruised purple.

I wish every grain of sand
Stormed into open eyelids
And hacked away
In a blinking blinding rage
An eyeful of tears
Would resurrect their
Upper hourglass lives.

Why do I keep my back turned to you?
Not these last moulting hours
Second skin
Falling off dream-embalmed feet
Drying dying grain of sand
Falling off dream-embalmed feet

Parley with me across this azure table again
Wash foamy blue sleep out of your eyes
Raise your head slow and proud
And strike a clean bargain this time.

You’ve got this day stashed deep
Within chameleon pockets scuttling up the sky
Let me reclaim it before you
Vanish into thin- aired repose
Between blankets star-speckled and sly.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

There is nothing better than a small workplace to see corporate realities sans make-up sans airbrush in its helpless nakedness. A place where no conversation is confined to the cubicle it happens in. Where people switch of their screens whenever they leave their desks where you might accidentally spend restroom queue times with the Director. Where an official communication is incomplete without the words "ideate" "revert back to" (?) and "ad-hoc commitement" (again(?)). Where unless you adjust your timing very carefully, you might happen to be the only intern in a lunch group of managers.

It’s been interesting so far. I can now gauge from the intensity and frequency of footsteps whether I should minimize my Hangman window or not and I’ve progressed to the extent that I can figure out whether a telephone ring is emanating from my instrument or one 3 cubicles away.
My “organization” is 30 employees strong. Everybody right from the founder to the youngest employee aboard (me) use the same kind of desk space. I don’t really resent the fact that laptops are given only to ranks of manager and above because my LCD screen is pretty easy on my cornea.
For a fairly flat organization (Founder= Director>Manager>Analyst> Office boy) the feudalistic rituals that exist beneath the first-names-only fa├žade are chilling.

If you’re getting the idea that I’m not enjoying my stint here, you’re wrong. I’m glad I”ve been insulated to the maximum possible thickness from intern-bashing. These guys really understand and respect their interns and the desire to provide us with the maximum possible “exposure” is derived purely from good intentions (“We’re a people-oriented company”) than any malicious plans of grooming work horses.

Training sessions are voluntary (I’m quite shameless in admitting that I’ve skipped all of them.) and are conducted in a thoroughly informal potato-chip-munching setting. And add to all this the fact that only three people in the company are 35+ to make it feel positively utopian.
I’m in love with most of my colleagues (Seriously. I’ve never appreciated a group as much as this one.) that is the ones I’ve exchanged at least one sentence with. I love the managers for their fuss-free competence and desk-perched pep talks. I love the top two for their sharply purposeful strides. Merely hearing them walk into office and clicking their laptops open gets me to do twice as many slides. I love everybody else for working 12 hours a day and making my schoolkid sprint out of the office and my beatific freedom-at-dusk expression seem like something to be ashamed of. Honestly working more than 8 hours a day ought to be outlawed. I’m earliest to arrive at office and earliest to leave. More than fair.

I love the smell of new wood that steals into my lunchbag whenever I snap my drawers shut, a smell that speaks of four year wildernesses and desperately extended project deadlines.
I love the water bottle that bears my name with cellotaped dignity for forgiving me everyday for misplacing my attention along with its cap by filling up all by itself and greeting me tight and closed every morning.

I’ve got a time-lag problem. My experience of happiness lags my memory of it by 180 degrees. Maybe I’m doomed to savour only the memory of happiness, never the feeling itself. To realize that a place has made been infinitely happy only after leaving it for good. It’s not going to happen to PS-2. Most of all I love my workplace for telling me that while I may understand its rules I can never last out the entire game. I may be in this world, alive comfortable and well-adjusted. But I don't belong to it.