Saturday, October 18, 2008

Cambodia : Phnom Penh

…when the plane was busy making a dusty bumpy landing on the tarmac, I could see stretches of green fields punctuated by little clapboard house roofs here and there. And then the potted green colour of plants in the cool airport waiting room, not a leaf out of place. Looking at the polished doorknobs, the immaculate lapels, the synthetic brightness of the flat television screens and dollars being flung on every counter, it was hard to believe that this country had faced the largest proportional genocide just 30 years back. Through the haze of immigration complications, I could make out the starched uniforms, the practised smiles. Yet the eyes held a different story for every Cambodian we came across. In a regime that had wiped out a third of the nation, every person had a history of loss, a new tale of agony that was to stay forever.

But Phnom Penh the capital, had in no way stayed behind. Youngsters perched on motorbikes whizzing through the night breeze along the riverside; night clubs and flashy food joints crowding every street corner; and that “ happy” life to tempt those with the green bills. The rest were also there. Not hidden away, just overlooked. Outside the museum, selling Lonely Planet copies, or playing with apple peels on the pavement, showing me the way to my car. It was a sickeningly simple social ladder. Two rungs. The highest, lost in clouds and the lowest, left to grapple in the mud. A gaping void in between.

Yet, the air hangs heavy with a new scent as one approaches The Killing Fields. Even the grass is a different green here, a green lost in the dark ditches that lie scattered all around. Sometimes the stories are engraved in blunt words for tourists to read and sometimes the wind’s feel on your skin reminds you. The ditches have coughed up thousands of skulls that now adorn the shelves of the memorial. A mound of clothes have been dumped on the first level belonging to all the corpses that were recovered. A wooden post says: “ Clothes were cleaned with deodorants in 1988”. And above it, rows and rows of yellowed bone, the teeth still glued, the jaws still fixed, the gashes on the cranium bearing testimony to Pol Pot’s famous words: “Don’t waste bullets”. Bludgeoned on the head and buried unconscious.

The ideology of Pol Pot (head of the Party of Democratic Campuchia also known as the Khmer Communist Party) which later defined all Khmer Rouge activities in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 was based on a radical form of agrarian communism. So the country needed cleansing of those who didn’t till their land. All but farmers were methodically executed, the figures rising to 7.5 million (1975). The driving motto was “ To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss”. Execution and burial of thousands took place at “The Killing Fields”, victims being transported from the prison “Tuol Sleng”, which has become another popular tourist attraction in Cambodia.

Orginally a school building, the black boards at Tuol Sleng have heard more than history lessons. The blood has long since been washed away, the stench removed, the bits and pieces of flesh and skin mopped out, yet the rusted iron shackles peek from the brick torture cells, the sunlight fails to illuminate the metallic beds, the enamel plates, the cuffs and ropes, and the large photographs screaming at you from every room at Tuol Sleng. Black and white shots of burnt corpses lying on the same beds.
The dust on the huge makeshift gallows looks down upon the immersion pots below. Now empty. Yet when I stand so close to them, the camera clicks and buzz of tourists wane. I can hear the water gushing out as prisoners were immersed, hanging upside down from the gallows.
And then the faces. Apprehensive, frowning, angry, surprised, smiling, wary, expressionless. Hundreds of mug shots looking straight at me, the prisoner numbers pinned on their shirts. Some didn’t have shirts, so the paper was pinned on the skin. The twinkle in each eye veiled, the tears frozen, the gaze steady.
I look away. Outside. Where the chirp of sparrows flitting in and out of the windows have dampened the cry of prisoners, where the scent of blossoms wafting up from below the gallows have replaced the odour of singed skin and where the menacing barbed wire and the stained prison walls look up to the cheery blue sky above…bringing promises of a new chapter.

The memorial at The Killing Fields

Mass grave: The Killings Fields

Skulls of victims on display

Clothes of corpses excavated

Photographs by Tirtharaj Paul

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

dekhite giyechhi parbotmala
dekhite giyechhi sindhu
dekha hoy nai chokhkhu melia

ghor hote shudhu dui-pa phelia
ekti dhaner shisher opor
ekti shishir bindu.

This October, Cambodia. And yet I wonder.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


New Market in all it’s glory. Cheap trinkets bought and shared. The Sudder street detour. The flavoured biryani.
Someplace else. Empty couches and clean ashtrays. Green Apple vodka and the Wednesday afternoon high.
Honours Lab. Tiffin and a very angry DS. Little snippets of gossip and forgotten lab coats. An even angrier DS.
Moidan metro station and the corn. Missed trains and shopping advice.
Lebu cha and classics. Rai annoyed (you too).

That comforting stretch of grass. A not so normal evening.
And that strange wind which plays with us so often.
To us. And the rest who have felt this wind.

My magic hole

The last post was so sordid and depressing, I was determined to write something bright and cheerful, to make up for all that grouchy complaining. So I thought about the first thing that elevates my mood : movies.
I am not exactly an exception here; I guess everyone enjoys escaping into a different world, if only for a few hours. Then, it doesn’t matter if I have a pile of papers to work on or a house to clean or a garden to mow or an angry neighbour to confront, because for those few hours, I’m sucked into that vortex of fantasies so different from my world. The one’s on screen become part of me and I cry with them, laugh with them, join them in prayer, wait for miracles to spout even in the most impossible situations. And then suddenly the lights are back. I realize people shifting in their seats around me, a growing buzz of conversation and my fingers sticky from the leftover butter of an empty popcorn bucket.
Till my secondary boards, this was more or less my idea about cinema on the whole. My route of escape, three hours of unadulterated fun.
I guess I was born under a lucky star, because one afternoon, one very special afternoon, changed my life forever. Thanks to someone very generous I had been enrolled at a film appreciation course organized by Seagull Media and Arts Research Centre. I was quite eager, wanting to utilize my post exam holidays to the hilt. The course was illuminating, with regular classes pushing us further into the world of films, meandering into the technicalities of film making and all the sweat that goes into it. I was duly impressed, absorbing everything, thirsty for more, an ideal student. And then the magic afternoon happened.
One day, after the lesson was over, our teacher showed the class a movie. He said it was an old french gangster movie. I wasn’t exactly excited, because it didn’t sound very engaging to me. The name of the movie was “Breathless”. It had been made by Jean Luc Godard. I had never heard of the person or the movie. The movie started. I remember feeling different. And I remember wanting to watch the movie again. And again. I couldn’t follow half the movie. But I knew something was unusual. Somewhere, my preconceived notions about cinema were changing. I had never known that a mere movie could make me feel like this. It was more than a film, much more. Then I came to know that “Breathless” was just one. I couldn’t wait for the others. In the next month I saw “Battleship Potemkin” by Sergei Eisenstein, “Stagecoach” by John Ford, “Citizen Kane” by Orson Welles. Each one was different. All were amazing. I was like a kid who had been gifted a free lifetime access to the candy store. Cinema became this new craze for me. I recall my mother commenting one day, that this new passion for movies would soon wane; this was just a passing phase. Strangely enough, it has been almost four years and I’m still going through that “phase”, as my mother put it.

At the end of the day, every single one of us need that one little corner to ourselves where we can wash away the troubles that plague us throughout day. That’s the fuel which drives us the next day and all other days to come. For some it’s playing video games, for some it’s reading story books, for some it’s cooking, for some it’s collecting stamps or orchids and for some, it’s movies. It’s our very own magic hole.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Life has suddenly become suffocating. Just can’t figure out when I missed the bus.
Finding cheap solace in an excess of puffs and plastic sitcoms.
Too tired to run.
A desperate need to be rescued, yet the fairy tales have long since left my world.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The city

There are so many little incidents that distract us everyday, cramming our craniums with these useless happenings would be pointless. Yet, it doesn’t always lie in our hands. Sometimes, the grey matter is receptive to the most insignificant details and one fine morning, it hits you without warning, there’s a sudden rush of memory and you are kept wondering why on earth you’re thinking about that of all things.

Quite a few months back, my car halted at a traffic jam. It was busy morning I recall. People shouting, the incessant honking of horns, and vile exhaust pipes bellowing clouds of smoke everywhere. The sweltering heat didn’t help either.
It’s a strange, looking out at the world from a car window, sheltered in that cocoon.
Nearby there was footpath. It was a regular Kolkata footpath with a muddy gutter; shaded partially by trees, people moving in both directions, not a care in the world.

This kid in school uniform came sauntering down the path. A tiny little thing walking with these jerky hops, fiddling with the bottle strap that hung around his neck. Now he collided, bag and bottle and all, with another man. He was old, very much so, walking with a discernible limp. The dark glasses and cane showed that he had lost his sight. On this abrupt push, the child fell down, grazing his knees and elbows.

The man had stopped. He bent over the boy and tried to grab his arms. I couldn’t follow what was happening. Now I saw those knobbly old hands clumsily patting that little head, then feeling for his legs, chest, trying to make sure that the kid was allright. It was weird watching two strangers caught up in the middle of a busy street like that. The kid in the mean time was getting impatient and trying to release himself from the old man’s grasp. He succeeded at last. When the man was sure that the boy wasn’t hurt, he smiled and let go. And then things went to back to where it was. The man clutching his cane, trudging down the road and the kid skipping his way to school.
The car started to move.

It was such a simple incident, yet a few weeks back when I passing through that same road, it came flashing back.

I don’t know if you’ll find this happening in other cities of the country, perhaps you will. But for the time being, I’d like to think that this is what makes our city so different from the rest. It’s not always about the calculative ones who try to carve their way through this rat race, there are others too. Somehow I believe our city still has some warmth left in it. It has a quaint old rustic charm to it, lurking in the most unlikeliest of places. And the smiles are different too. I had read in a book by Roald Dahl that a true smile always reaches the eyes. If the eyes are smiling, you’ll find a tiny spark dancing in there. I’ve noticed those sparks in a number of eyes, all over the city. The kid in a muddy jersey playing para football, the maachwala on a Sunday morning, a lift operator at a shopping mall, a fellow passenger in the bus, the lady selling plastic flowers near new market.
And in the old man’s dark glasses.
It just makes me fall in love with our city all over again.


The blinds sagged against the bleary night wind. The moonlight had grown old, lost it’s sheen. Yet the pale glow cascaded down on the patched bedspread, on the flowery wallpaper, the chipped washbowl. The stars had long since resigned to the pregnant clouds. The inky blue marred with an angry grey here and there.
The silence was deafening. She was scared it would wake up mother. It stretched over the tips of her toes, making them curl. She wanted to pull up the covers, block out the silence. But that strange numbness had set in. A cue.

Mother had bought the wallpaper from a traveling fair. It had green leaves and tendrils playing on a pretty pink backdrop. The vines spread intricately, forking and uniting, the leaves strewn all over. The airy room called for it. The naked walls were clothed again.

Time and dust had tarnished the glow, with an occasional tear or a stubborn stain. A crinkled old thing, forlorn and harmless. In daytime when the house was awash with a flurry of activities, she could hear the swings creaking in the backyard, the pantry door banged again and again, mother calling for her tea. The vines remained a mute spectator. The lunch trolley was brought in, mother came to visit, the sheets were replaced. Sometimes she cast a wary glance at the dusty old thing adorning the walls. Mother remained silent.

And now, the darkness had set in. And the vines were moving again.
It started with an innocent squeak, the crinkle of dry paper. It wasn’t smooth. She could make out bumps, little hillocks as the sheet flowed over the slopes. It was moving towards the door now. And then wood wasn’t wood anymore. The vines had swallowed up the door, her only means of escape. They were moving faster now, with a growing speed. A cluster of leaves had devoured the washbowl. The paper was moving at the same ferocious pace, now covering the carpet on the floor, edging slowly towards the foot of the bed. The tendrils were now climbing up the four poster, they had reached her feet. She could feel the vines now, slithering across the bedspread, tying her down. A single one snaked across her arm. And then suddenly she couldn’t look anymore. Had the clouds extinguished the moonlight? Or was the silent so intense, she couldn’t resist? It was the vines again. And the pink of the wallpaper she could feel on her face. She was bathed in pink now, that sick pink mother had loved so much. Only the pink had been drowned in darkness. Now the green of the vines and the pink had become one sordid colour.
She was desperately trying to stay afloat but the her boat was heavy with leaves and vines. She hadn’t even noticed the water. The room was full of it now. She could even hear the water outside. The clouds had finally won the battle, she could hear rainwater sloshing down a lonely drainpipe. Or was it the water of her sea, the water around her boat? The storm raged on. The sea was in turmoil, the waves had soaked her pigtails, her nightdress. She hadn’t noticed, too busy maneuvering her precious vessel, aided and abetted by the vines. The water had diluted the barely visible sallow pink, the paper now a sodden mass slowly making it’s way around the boat, it’s new toy.

And then, without warning, the storm calmed down, the paper stopped playing, the vines released her. Her throat was parched, she ached for water but it had disappeared. So had the boat. The wallpaper had returned to it’s rightful place. And the darkness had taken it’s leave too. Sunlight was streaming in. She could here the familiar sounds of the house waking up. She felt strangely calm today, that hovering nervousness had left her. A trifle elated at this new freedom, she decided to take a walk around the room after lunch.

The walk proved to be fruitful. She had never realized how dusty and worn out her room was. There were cobwebs in the corner and the floor creaked. As she stood near the window holding on to the broken blinds for support, she saw a man outside. He was standing near the porch in a white shirt, looking at something she couldn’t see. The man stood there for quite sometime.


The morning had been quite an awful one for Charlie. The row with his wife had spoilt the day. It was the heat, he kept telling himself. And the baby. Ever since the baby had arrived Charlie had known that their cheap fourth floor walk up apartment wouldn’t do. They needed a larger house, the baby needed it too. But times were rough, and his savings were trickling down. Finding a cheap house in a decent neighbourhood was seemingly an impossibly task.
And that’s when Charlie hit the jackpot. The house was perfect. The merciless sun bore down on him and his new shite shirt was drenched in sweat but he didn’t care. He had found was he was looking for. It was a dilapidated old thing. Which meant that the price was probably low. Charlie knew he could fix the broken blinds and rickety doors with some help from his friends. He read the sign with a smile again.

It read:

CALL 3342656

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


You can never fathom how it’ll call for you, play with you gently, take you in it’s arms, engulf you in it’s comfort until you can’t find your way through those lanes you had once walked so willingly.
The consequences are painful, a persisting sickness that refuses to leave you.
Laughter sounds stale, and memories are never enough to fill that half empty glass. Once you found solace in crowds with the noise and shouts and barks but now the crowds have alienated you, made you the enemy, pushed you away. The evening sky mocks you. The bleak rain fails to wash away your despair.
The streetlights are too bright, voices too loud. You grope your way through the smoky haze that has settled on you so snug, so comfortable. There’s a desperate urge to shrug off this sickness that clings to you, but the last reserves of willpower have seeped away.
There’s a parade ahead, some heightened celebration…is it the festivities? You memory fails you. But the crowd is coming again. You can almost make out the smiles on their faces, the brightness in blinding. And then you hear them. The music of contentment. It’s like an old scar that won’t heal, the flow of blood you cannot stem, an overwhelming pain that stabs you over and over again. There is something flickering inside which screams for release, a gaping hole that aches for fulfillment.
But you were always the weak one.
Oh how can you brave this crowd again?

I am standing beside you. You have denied me so often, daunted by the path I offer, hesitant, faltering. The “sickness” you called me. A blanket you thought you could lift and throw away. Yet you clung to me. I worked my magic, took you in my arms, lulled you to sleep.
And so here I am. Again. So close to you. You can feel my breath on your skin. This time you don’t recoil at my touch. The crowd is nearing. I take your hand in mine. We walk ahead. Oblivious to the jeers and cries. You and I.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


I have been sitting in front of the monitor for the past quarter of an hour vaguely realising that I have nothing much to write today. I would be lying if I said nothing much has been happening lately, but to sort out all the muddled thoughts that cloud my mind nowadays is indeed a herculean task. Framing them into meaningful statements also doesn’t seem easy.
Now I’m sounding lazy.

I have recently developed a liking for the colour green. There are a number of reasons for this:
Ø When my exams were going on, a fellow student helped me through a particularly nasty question paper. I don’t remember the face, but I do happen to recall a very bright green tshirt the person was wearing.
Ø Quite a few days back I stumbled upon a painting I had made as a kid. I couldn’t make head or tail of it but there was a lot of bottle green on the sheet of paper. It made me want to paint again. With bottle green.
Ø There is a tree which stands just behind Maddy’s house. Whenever there is a sleepover at her place, I make it a point to brush my teeth leaning out of the large window, facing the tree and it’s sparse foliage. Now that Maddy’s exams have come knocking and sleepovers are rare, I miss that gnarled old thing.
Ø I have recently bought a pair of flip flops, green in colour. They make my feet look almost pretty.

A number of recent developments have caused me to take notice of the way my life is shaping up. I feeling like making some drastic changes, doing something reckless and out of the ordinary. It’s probably because nowadays I’m sitting on my ass doing nothing at all. When you’re idle, you get a lot of weird ideas. Not all of them are bad though. Just that wimps like me need a catalytic push which will set the reaction into motion. I am still waiting for that push.

Now I’m sounding lazy again. Damn.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


A very curious little problem had cropped up in the king’s land. Thanks to a poker faced gentleman who had very sharp pointy ears, the startling news reached the king’s court.

We are losing the war, your highness. The troops are all eating chocolate.
Chocolate? Why, that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard!
Sad, but true. Not a single one of our cannons in sight. The battlefield is littered with wrappers.

And so the story spread through the king’s land.
It was embroidered and picked in every chapter. Each one made his own prediction.
All arms had been abandoned. The soldiers had taken to eating chocolate.
The soldiers had vanished. Now chocolates would go to war.
The king himself had ordered for chocolates. Oh, they were delectable.

The war was lost. The king was furious.
A major smuggling racket was uncovered. A minister and the troops were convicted.
Charges: Abandoning arms in a battlefield.
Refusing to fire the provided weapon.
Smuggling chocolates in metal shells.
Eating chocolates in the course of the battle.


The king issued an arrest warrant against anyone found in the possession of chocolates. The kids were also not spared. Nip them in the buds, he would say.
But the chocolate shops and chocolate factories remained. The poker faced gentleman had a brainwave.
Why not use them for making extra cannons and shells? The stores could still have their chocolatey decorations, you know. Imagine how pretty it would look! The guns being sold in those large candy boxes. Bullets in candy wrappers. Even the children wouldn’t be able to resist such temptation!

And then, it happened. The initial hesitation, suppressed apprehension peeled away.
People took their first faltering steps towards the new “chocolate” shops, embracing the acrid odour of gunpowder, the new scent of “chocolate”.

It was one happy land, united by chocolate.

(Inspired from “The arms and the man” by George Bernard Shaw)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Masks: The wrong kind

One noticeable advantage of maturing is: you can better modify your mask/masks to meet your needs. Now, don’t deny you don’t have one because you can deny it to me, to them…but not to yourself. We all wear our masks. That’s when we feel protected, snug and comfortable. We are at liberty to show the world what we want to show. Only when it slips and a bit of our inside is revealed that we feel the first pangs of fear.

Thing is, a lot of those masks out there are way too deceptive. There’s too much of a difference between the actual face inside and the one we see. And then the trouble starts.
I wouldn’t call them hypocrites right away. I have noticed that most commonly people get turned off by hypocrisy (courtesy: Orkut) and it makes me wonder…aren’t we all hypocrites, at some level?

Recently it’s become easy to identify the wrong type of masks in the crowd. I guess it usually depends on your interaction with the people. It’s not that difficult to look beyond the saccharine sweet smiles pasted on their faces and all those over-the-top gestures of concern. One glance at a pair of cold eyes and you never know what’s lurking behind them.

Among the wrong type of masks, there’s another quite interesting variety. These are the best. They fit well, never slip and are impossible to detect. And these can be anywhere. Your best friend, your favourite cousin, the best man at your wedding…it could be anyone. Throughout your life you depend on them, trust them, respect them and then at a point when you are leaning on them, the masks finally slip, they pull away, you lose balance and fall. Those masks can be recovered but I doubt if you will ever recover from that fall. If you do, there’s someone else to lean on, another better mask…and eventually another fall.

We seldom learn our lessons well.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Rest

There is something about air conditioning systems that irks me. It’s like an itch that develops and won’t go away. It is quite disconcerting, actually.
I haven’t been able to figure out what it really is. The consistent humming of the machine or that cold floaty feeling that spreads to the tip of your fingers and makes you feel oh-so-comfortable. Just that, this little rush of cool air makes me acutely aware of the heat outside. And all the men braving it while I sit inside. Isn’t it just so unfair? Like I wimped out?
That’s the itch.
But then again, it holds the same for food, clothes, a roof above my head..all the basic necessities.
Isn’t it unfair that some people have it while the rest just watch with empty tummies?
That’s too many questions left unanswered I guess.

I had pav bhaji after a long time today. I don’t know why but I always enjoy pav bhaji when we are standing on the road all hot and sweaty, balancing the tray, four people digging into a plate of curry with those little disposable spoons and then the tussle over extra pav. That’s a proper pav bhaji treat.
Anyway, today when we stopped for pav bhaji Rai’s malfunctioning wallet finally gave away and a five rupee coin and a one rupee coin rolled into the gutter below. We were all eyeing the gutter apprehensively wondering if we should actually retrieve the coins from that muck when this little girl in soiled knickers comes forward, picks up the coins and promptly hands it over to Rai. This was followed by pleas for alms. Rai obliged and dropped the one buck coin into her outstretched palm. Along comes another urchin in hope of a coin like her mate. Rai, after a moment’s hesitation gave her, the only coin left-the five rupee one.
And this little incident made me realise something. The ones with larger share of the cake are not always the ones who have earnt it. No one is truly responsible for this. And strangely enough, that’s the way our world runs. Atleast, most of it does.
And that’s the reason why some get air conditioning systems and money to buy more of it while the rest…well, I don’t really know.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


Saw “Masculin Feminin” yesterday night. Godard is as confusing as ever. The movie is something about “the children of Marx and coca cola”.
Not that I didn’t enjoy it. There were slices here and there which I could follow but mostly it went over my head. Was the film preachy? Or am I just being dumb?

I feel like watching a bollywood flick. Singing and dancing and pretty faces and bright costumes. The works. It’s been a long time since I went for a movie like that. With friends and popcorn. Maybe I’ll do it one of these days.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to resist the urge of chopping off my hair. I don’t even need a salon. A pair of scissors from the kitchen cupboard will suffice.
Of course, my mom fails to understand that. Mere suggestions about getting my hair trimmed is enough to fuel heated (one sided) arguments in this house. Oh, those scissors. What a waste.

I have realized the following things about life after eighteen:

# Just eating your cereals and doing your homework doesn’t make you the good kid.
# You run out of convincing excuses, and you’re in trouble.
# Don’t rely on the younger lot to finish the chores, you’re an adult now.
# Your voice for once, is audible at home.
# If you have some really disappointing news (like bad test results or something),
tell your mom when she’s on the phone.
# That scrawny guy next door does have cute eyes.
# The early bird gets the worm is bullshit. Most people are late.
# Money runs out fast.
# Black coffee helps.
# Weed is tempting, but you’re better off without it.

My grandfather passing away, last week’s visit to the crematorium seems ages ago. It didn’t make me sad. Just a weird numbness that spreads through your body and you feel a tad confused, like someone’s knocked the wind out of you.

And then there are the restrictions. I sampled a piece of chicken a few days back. Naturally I had completely forgotten about the no meat rule. A glaring mistake. Shows how callous and insensitive I am. The restrictions are an integral part of the whole process of mourning. There are people watching, you see.

P.S. I have noticed something recently. In most of my entries, I tend to move from one topic to another with no links whatsoever. I should work on making my topics flow. lol.

My first visit: Night at the crematorium


I was
so blinded by fancy lights
The harsh gray of my tunic
The betel juice stains
a myriad of patterns on the wall
A solitary wail
The collective chants
The pushing and heaving
The bumps so smooth
The jerks so shallow

Little balls of cotton
wedged against dead skin
Stubborn sticks of incense,
Stale tears and drooping flowers
Rusted metal doors
A flash of orange
The heightened scent

And money spent
On elaborate rituals,
Packaged water and cheap biscuits
A muddy canal, some eager hands
And a floating pot

Empty streets, limping dogs
A bleak wind blowing
So listless, so calm
And blackened was the starry sky
So blinded
Was I


The tube. Our city’s jugular.

The ticket.
I always enjoy watching those little metal boxes swallow up my bit of yellow paper. And how you sail through the barrier and the slit in the metal produces your ticket with a flourish. Add to that a light nudge from the flustered commuter behind you (who’s always in a hurry) and it’s the perfect prologue to a pleasant ride.

The sounds.
From the hanging television sets chanting the same commercials to the weary mother calling her son to safety and then finally the much awaited dragon rushing into the platform…bringing with it that tempest which threatens to knock you off your feet.

What follows is a mad rush of people trying to shove their way in before the metal doors rattle to a close and I find myself inside the dragon’s belly surrounded by a lot of blank stares desperately trying to hold on to the shiny steel bars above, my thin frame swaying and my backpack pulling me down as the train continues it’s relentless journey into the murky depths of our city’s underground.

The people.
My home to St. Xavier’s College. Kalighat to Maidan. Three stations in between. Enough time for me to indulge in my daily morning ritual. Looking around.
If you’re pressed against the dirty transparent panes on the metal doors or close enough to peek through the half open windows, you’ll notice the dim, flickering lights; the tracks snaking their way in the darkness and sometimes, if you’re lucky, another train whizzing past.
And then the people. Sitting, standing, leaning.

The kids in starched school smocks. Chattering, running about. The docile ones usually stick to their mothers.

The regular office goer. A loud necktie. An even louder phone, constantly flipped open. Shiny, pointed black shoes

The skinny man in dusty overalls juggling a thousand packages.

The plump lady, wrists and neck swathed in jewellery. A bright nylon dupatta. A flashy purse. Squeezed in between two men hiding behind newspapers.

The lovers in the vestibule. Fingers interwined. Shy smiles. Hurried whispers. Oblivious to the curiously stern glances of the faces which surface occasionally when those newspapers are put down.

The college punk. Greasy hair, black nail colour. Baggy denims and plugged ears. Che smiling from a black T shirt. Hands in pockets, legs crossed, lounging against the door.

The wizened old man with papery skin. Large glasses. A vintage watch dangling from a thin frail wrist. Clutching on to a crushed plastic packet. Trying to read the print on the yellow ticket.

And then there are the rest, who, unlike the others, manage to make their presence felt. Sometimes it’s an outrageous bit of clothing, sometimes a phony laugh or a violent sneeze, sometimes a popular hindi song blaring from a phone, sometimes an unwanted accident like slipping or dropping something and so on.

Promptly, the dragon pulls into the Maidan station. I am washed along with the tide of commuters into the crowded platform. A long trudge up the stairs and I’m out in the Monday morning sun. A few minutes from college, thanks to the tube.

The rains, Sylvia Plath...and more.

Pabda maach and a Bunuel flick. Not the best of combinations. But just the push I needed to raise myself from a Sunday afternoon stupor and actually do something.
I thought I could write. Now I realise, I can’t. Or maybe it’s the keyboard.
Ruskin Bond once wrote, that pencils are always a better option. At least you can chew on the ends when you’re thinking. You can’t chew on your keyboard.
I like Ruskin Bond. And I agree with him.

Last couple of days, it has been raining. Along with the muddy soles and tangled wet hair and sodden textbooks, the rains bring in that earthy smell. Brishtir gondho. Even when you’re indoors with the stereo volume hiked up so you can’t hear the pattering against the windowpanes, you’ll smell that smell. It always made me feel pleasantly lazy. And made me fall in love with the rains even more.
This time, that feeling dampened. Don’t know why or how. Maybe it’s the monotony of the college days. Or perhaps the prospect of a long dripping walk through Park Street. But I always enjoyed that. Did the rains change, or did I?

Sylvia Plath has been taking up quite some of my time in college. No, it’s not poetry. It’s “The Bell Jar”. A fascinating read. Fascinating enough to squeeze in a few hurried pages between classes or when the teacher turns towards the blackboard.
The book reminded me of “Taxi driver”. Funny, I know. What could such a captivating Scorsese flick have in common with a novel by Sylvia Plath? Most people who’ve seen the movie and read the book would say I’m barking. But somehow, as the story proceeded I could sense a bit of Travis Bickle in the protagonist, Esther.
The last line looks funny. Maybe, I am barking.

Dinner’s ready. I’ll end with this:

“…Laugh at the night,
at the day, at the moon,
laugh at the twisted
streets of the island,
laugh at this clumsy
boy who loves you,
but when I open
my eyes and close them,
when my steps go,
when my steps return,
deny me bread, air,
light, spring,
but never your laughter
for I would die.”
( From “The Captain’s Verses” by Pablo Neruda )