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Thursday, 31 May 2012

Few more pages

15th May 2012.. Verdict is out..I wait impatiently for the attachment to download..the order I have longed for..transfer order to Delhi..happiness, joy at the expected news coming a notch earlier..phone calls.. to a husband who is unreachable as usual (being away watching IPL on that night switching off mobile), parents, in laws. Guess my mother in law was the happiest of all..which mother in law would love to see her daughter in law pack her bags and kid off to a far flung place and ' leave' her son ' alone' ( alone in the city of Delhi!!) for a year for the sake of a job..whatever the job might be.

Waves of joy coupled  with a tinge of loss for leaving the place and a feeling of not being able to deliver..deliver what the place deserved. May sound redundant and philosophical after the transfer order but then this one year apart from loving the hills and clouds..mourning for Delhi , husband, planning for leave, suffering bouts of illnesses, blogging at random..what did I do!! Strange question..I did discharge my duties, did what I was supposed to do..and I would have done same in Delhi too,do what I am supposed to do. Then..just an excuse to sigh and get philosophical, my husband would have quipped at once, ' Getting all sad and melancholy is kind of your hobby, pack up your bags and rush off from that place'

I am going to do the same. Pack my bags and flee. Yet I know I have not been honest or not been able to be honest to these hills I claim to love, to the girls who work so hard. Yet I know the seat I hold in my office, the salary and respect it draws I should have been able to do a lot more than just what I am supposed to do. Apart from getting aircraft safely on the ground from my tiny tower, indulging in office gossips, imparting a few english lessons to a part time plumber,being sympathetic to local young office girls, being the ' Agony Aunt' to my young Malayali colleague ,sometimes the protective elder sister making her life a bit smooth in this alien land  there is hardly anything worthwhile I did...

The hills are now green , rains have started not the incessant ones ( global warming and all) but one shower almost everyday, and while the rest of India burns in the sweltering heat Barapani whisks off the rain drops from her body with a brush of her clouds.. This is bliss... cool breeze in the evening and the invariable chill in the wee hours of morning.. The brush of green has painted the landscape in all shades,youth at its best, beauty radiating from the hills just enough for a long breath to escape..the hills did not get their due nor its people from ages, wanderlust travellers being beckoned ,enchanted, loved and then they move on leaving these hills for  greener pastures.

I would go back soon very soon, doing little for this place, little for the hills , nothing for its people. I would forget this land as a fling, a passing phase and this land..would bid me adieu with her open arms , would welcome other wanderers, other souls trapped in this exile, love them, caress them and send them back happily after a year.

Barapani Diary coming to an end..tale of our discoveries..me discovering Barapani and Barapani discovering me.. few more pages..fewer readers..

Saturday, 26 May 2012

On reading ' River Of Smoke'

How do we define a good book...I read somehwere most probably in High School..some books are to be swallowed, some to be chewed..but Google is there..let me find out the complete quote..

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.

                                                                     Sir Francis bacon

It has been a week I have finished reading ' River Of Smoke' and was swept in the after effects a few days more. Yes many books are there..to be tasted swallowed etc etc and some books just defies all dimensions..not only transports the soul to a roller coaster ride through the lives of the characters, it,s just that opening a page just changes the backdrop at once..I move back around two hundred years in time in a country I have never been and am caught up in the tornado of events. 

I have read Amitav Ghosh before and more or less loved all the books. The Hungry Tide was specially dear to me because of the riveting experiences of Sundarbans..the mystries of the mangroves..and the chemistry between the leading characters Fakir and Piyali.

The Sea Of Poppies was the first in Ibis trilogy, tale of opium being cultivated in India, rich fertile lands meant to yield crops turned into narcotic hubs by selfish traders, the plight of  Raja framed by the shrewd British , oblivious to the finances of his estate lands in Alipore Jain Calcutta,and then the story of Deeti and Kalua social outskirts eloping to find themselves deported to Mauritius along with other slaves in Ibis.

River Of Smoke came second in the trilogy. I delayed reading this book as I did not want to get in the Ibis world yet too soon..the plight of the deportees, being caged like animals, suffeing bouts of sea sickness stuck in the underground of Ibis..their dream of escape. Yes 'River Of Smoke' did begin from where Sea Of Poppies ended..the journey of the fugitives of Ibis yet Ibis gets off the centrestage in the turn of events before the reader realises  and Redruth and Anahita occupies the  seaward voyage.

In a subtle progression of the narrative the Ibis and its characters take the backstage pushing forward  a new city Canton unfurling like a book in the eyes of readers, Canton and fanqui town .. the ' pidgin' language ( I think Ghosh,s uniqueness lies in mastering the languages and dialects, be it the language of lascars in Sea Of Poppies, or " pidgin" in River Of Smoke). Foreigners.. American, Europeans and yes Indian traders ( Indian trader to be precise) flocking in the city, shipping their cargoes, cargoes full of opium cultivated in India, joining hands with local merchants to smuggle the shipment, ruin two counties India  and China and bask in the glory of reaping huge monetary benefits and all these being the ' loyal subjects of Her Majesty, Queen of England' 

Canton (Guangzhou) , Pearl River

Canton, now Guangzhou on the bank of Pearl River, the boat city..it is in one of the boats where protagonist Bahram Modi meets the love of his life Chi mei. Bahram stands as the ironic facet of the novel being noble generous,foresighted Persi businessman on one hand yet having quintessential  business heart, hideous affects of opium escapes his vision rather the fame the riches that opium brought him obscured his vision. Opium has given him the identity he has lost living with his tycoon brother in laws and conglomerate in law family. He stands apart from the other shrewd European merchants smuggling narcotics in this land they love and the land which has loved them back but..as he himself realises later he sold himself to ' Ahriman' the Zoroastrian demon whom he loathed in his prayers all his life.

The book illustrates the backdrop in minute details ,city of Canton , Maidan , fanqui town where foreign merchants reside and sets the pace to a thriller like extent.The Chinese resistance an ,effort to save the eroding country under effect of opium , the bunch of greedy East India Company merchants finding ways to smuggle the drug through the alleys of the city , their high and mighty attitude of being ' British'  being proud to turn Indian farmlands into opium fields and China as a potential ' market'. The thriller grips the reader, other sub plots, of Paulette the botanist and her quest of Golden Camelia faints as the main plot takes over and the reader feels as much inclined as the Chinese authorities to oust the greedy merchants save a country from corruption from the claws of this killer drug.

The abrupt end of Bahram Modi surrendering his huge cargo under the pressure of Chinese authorities and another ploy by English merchants for the beginning of a war brings about the anti climax. The loss of the war by the Chinese , more smuggling after the British victory just would draw the long sigh from the reader and the total fall of fanqui town where the friendly Chinese and foreigners all enjoyed the ' Law of Free Trade' being turned into British colonies and the equation was now of the ruler and the ruled.

Ghosh never attempted to pass judgement on history, just the turn of events pointing to the stage of history crying for justice, justice for the Chinese  being poisoned with the drug , for the Indians starving despite having vast fertile lands, lands without paddy and wheat, lands full of the narcotic flower.

The critic may have several points up his sleeve but I cannot help but revel in reading a book which has brought life to a phase of history, a neglected part of history being relived with feelings and emotion. Well just felt thankful to Amitav Ghosh for this River , smoky hazy but he led the readers to lift this veil , sail through the river and embark on a new journey across its banks.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Barapani Diary....The Road Beckons

Udate pairo ke tale jab bahatee hain jameen
Mud ke humane koi manjil dekhi hi nahi
Raat din raahon pe hum shaam-o-sahar karate hai

The road never ceases to fascinate.. as the vehicle turns left and the first view of lake hits the eye ..half obscured by hills and the eye just begins to yearn for more of the luscious beauty..the road beckons..to all ..all wanderers.. all travellers..And it is time to move on ..may be quoting Robert Frost,s most quoted lines

But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep

Every time I get out of my exile and the vehicle just turns left towards city..towards Shillong..towards a piece of my past.. I invariably feel the thrill, the thrill of city..thrill of the road and the thrill of the destination ahead..We cross the first bridge..right.. the lake plays hide and seek before giving in to the lusty eyes of admirers for a full view.. left.. pines bloom much down below..and somewhere I have heard the wind caressing the pines have a tale to tell..if you stop to listen.

We do not stop..but move ahead..hearts humming..blue jacarandas strewn carelessly along the sideways.. welcoming velvet carpet and a little drizzle always crafts the letters in the clear sky.. ' Welcome to Shillong'. By the time we have reached the doorway to Shillong.. Mawlai and the traffic to the city had begun to build up..congested roads, the lure of the city gets stronger...then a ride through the narrow alleys, giving in to a breathtaking view of colourful tin roofed houses blessed with rich flora and then.. at the zenith of climax.. Police Bazar...
Bliss..the aroma of freshly baked delicacies..the chatwallahs lining up the street in the evening and mind dancing to the music of being spoilt for choice.. momos and chowmein at Centre Point, Ilish (Hilsa) at Suruchi or nibble those heavenly mutton samosas at Ecee or wash down chicken pakodas and lollipops with a warm cuppa in the small road side shop run by the pretty lady (forgot the name of the shop)..or enjoy a relaxed ambience at Lamee ( Earlier Broadway) with usual North Indian fare or may be move a bit up and enjoy the open space of ' The Family Dhaba' or on a mundane note simply sit at Dominos and savour the half forgotten taste of thin crust pizza and coke or may be take a peek at R.B. Stores breath in the aroma and dig at their puffs and pastries..and yes..the Alu Muri and chaat on the wayside cannot be spared too..

Once we are done.. we most of the time includes me and my Malayali colleague..when let out of the workplace which we consider exile sometimes both in terms of location and bosses.. and we are no less than a pair of sniffer canines hunting sniffing for food we are deprived of. Sometimes we aso include my toddler and woman friday but since most of the days our venture is on friday ( no flight day for me) and woman friday is a staunch vegetarian on friday ( vegetarian as in no onion and garlic) and I have to struggle hard to order no onion garlic food for her..but level of irritation has gone down drastically and do it as a routine job like stuffing anything edible in my toddler,s mouth..to keep her going through out the trip.

Next stop after a fill is some shopping..if time permits ( since most of the times we try to sneak in the office vehicle coming to the city for work..we adjust return accordingly) window shopping. My favorite stop is Glory,s Plaza , wandering in the narrow stuffy semi lit alleys..though the betel leaf stained downstairs is a sore sight..I have learnt to ignore and move up through the spiralling staircases.. shoes ( though I get my size rarely) clothes bags accessories..but the habit of malls with spacious trial rooms and visible price tags and sizes..so buying spree gets curbed to an extent..but hardly I return empty handed..shopping bags in hand..joy in the heart..and sheer glee of bargaining spins the happiness web..as we return to the crowded lane of Police Bazar.

Sometimes we would frequent the salon for a short or very short visit..yes.. surprise we do not have any salon in the nearest forty kilometres.. I know all city women would wonder how does one survive..and yet all the village girls manage to look pretty if not all city bred.. Beauty treatment never fails to leave a feel good happy mark in girls..and we too are caught in the wave..specially let out of our exiles..feeling pretty..irrespective of the fact that hardly anyone to notice..but I guess this joy is too selfish..beholder or no beholder.Hair cut, eyebrows, facial, wax..more we spend..our joys match the splurge in leaps and bounds.

We are almost done now..as we would wait for the vehicle..last minute rushes continue.. some apples and pomegrenate in exorbitant prices..some more eatables packed from R.B. Stores..rush to the ATM.. we are severely cash deprived there near airport where we work.. with ATM being 15 km away in a place where there is no means of public transport to commute, and always try to remind myself constantly to a buy a balloon for my toddler from the vendor when she is not with me and if she is there I end up buying a host of unnecessary things that suits her fancy to avoid the fiasocs created in the middle of the road overlooking the irritated eyes of onlookers with the message ' cannot control a child!' Yeah that is bad parenting..but who bothers..with the heart humming.. And as we would find our way through the underground parking our last stop is Baskin and Robbins where my colleague would tickle her sweet taste buds after being spoilt for choice for the flavour.

The curtains drop..if we are not standing in the long queue of ' public utility' to relieve ouselves in the rainy chilly evenings of Shillong..(which is a very cumbersome task given the long queue building up in the stench filled gateway).. we are in the vehicle struggling through the busy traffic of the city, finding the way out, pines bidding adieu..eyes closing in slumber..a' blink and miss' glimpse of the lake awaken a 'nearing home' feeling. we cross some more curves..and the pines make way for the broad view of the lake..evening lights donning the hills..the newly built view point..we cross bridge number three after first and second , the vehicle turns right..blue jacarandas hardly visible now..the vehicle zooms through the newly constructed highway..sing song heart almost fell silent..we reach airport.. exile..home.

How many times I have undertaken this journey since last one year..the thrill ,the music, the joy and the end continues...till date..and the road beckons...and wanderers wander....

A quote I read in Shillong , ' We also believe in God, only we spell it 'NATURE'.

Har mulaqaat ka anjaam judaai kyun hai
Ab toh har waqt yahi baat sataati hai hamein....