Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lost And Found In Transit

In the winter of 2008 I crossed India’s borders for the first time; I hadn’t even been to Nepal or Bhutan until then. My primary emotion pertaining to this travel was that of excitement. But when, at the end of the first phase of the travel, I missed my connecting flight to Bangalore from Frankfurt with no tickets available till the next day due to Christmas rush, that excitement was quickly replaced by apprehension.

Now I like to think of myself as an avid traveler who has even travelled alone in India since that day. But that day, I was tired, sleep-deprived, on my way home and was in no mood to be stranded in transit in Frankfurt. There surely was a moment when I felt it was serendipity, this opportunity to be in and see a bit of Germany. But then I had heard that Germans don’t speak English even if they know how to. How would I get around for one whole day? How would I get to the town from wherever the airport was? What would I eat? And did I have the money? How expensive was Germany anyway? Suddenly, the thought of being couped up in my room at the airport hotel and catching up on sleep after nearly 30 hours seemed more tempting than exploring a new country. Frankly, I felt a little lost.

And so I collected my alternate tickets from the Lufthansa desk and stepped outside to look for the shuttle bus to the Intercity Hotel. There were many Indians waiting alongside but I was too drained to try and initiate a conversation although usually I am the one who starts talking. I just wanted to get to my hotel room and lock myself in. Just then I heard a question: “Have you missed your flight to Mumbai?” 

He had missed his flight to Mumbai, an elderly gentleman of Indian origin, who was on his way to Baroda, I learnt. In the course of the introductory conversation I realized that he was Gujarati by origin and had migrated to Australia many years ago where he was a Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering in Canberra. I brightened up on hearing this; I was an Electrical Engineering graduate myself! I decided to address him as ‘Sir’ from then on since that is how we addressed all our professors in college. He didn’t seem to mind either.

We reached the hotel and while checking in, Sir asked me if I wanted to go see the town post lunch. Whereas I should have jumped at the opportunity of being able to see Frankfurt and not necessarily on my own, I found myself saying that I hadn’t slept in 30 hours and needed to catch up. It’s unbelievable in retrospect. But Sir told me to consider it; if I wasn’t coming back to Frankfurt in the near future I might as well see it while I had the chance. And yet I only said I’d think about it!

Thankfully good sense prevailed and I called Sir in a bit to ask if we could go to town. He happily obliged and we asked for directions at the hotel desk. We were told that the Christmas market was a must-visit for that time of the year and were even handed over free tickets for the train! And we set about to explore Frankfurt.

For someone who enjoys a good conversation more than most other things in life, a conversation with Sir that evening was a fitting close to the first phase of my travel abroad. Sir is a learned man with a broad spectrum of interests and an open mind. He was curious to know my perspectives about a whole range of things in India, just to gauge how much India had changed since he left. And we talked…of art, culture, philosophy, India, Australia, academics, the development of language and Sanskrit and all that I can’t think of. We also spoke of our families. He asked me how old I was at one point, and told me that if he had got married before his Ph. D. he would have probably had a daughter my age. He asked me to think of him as a father-figure and not to hesitate to ask if I wanted to buy something from the market. And I happily got him to buy me a big bag of Caramel popcorn! 

We returned from town at dinnertime but the conversation continued. Being from my parent’s generation, Sir gave me his perspective on certain matters that had been bothering me especially relating to conforming to societal norms regarding marriage and such. His unbiased opinion helped me to put my thoughts in order. At the end of the day, it felt like I’d had a conversation with a wise relative who knew exactly what it felt like to be in my place. More than the opportunity to see Frankfurt, I was thankful for the opportunity to talk to someone as wise as Sir and find a good friend while stranded in transit. 

While taking his leave that night, I had felt the sudden urge to touch Sir’s feet like one would of one’s own elders; the conversation I had with him was one I would have liked to have with someone from my own family but their concern and worry would always come in the way. Sir and I still keep in touch and our conversations remain the same – Sir trying to gather perspectives from me on the India of today that he only reads about, me trying to gather wisdom from him like one would from a wise uncle. He sends me songs that his son has composed and gives me feedback on my writing. It really is like having a family elder in a far flung land. But I had known that already, when he had blessed me that night as I touched his feet and told me to head to Canberra whenever I felt like visiting since he and his family would be glad to host me. I had left knowing he probably WAS my family in another lifetime and had been sent to take care of me while I was lost in transit that December day in Frankfurt.


This post has been written as an entry for the Around The World With Expedia Contest organized by Indiblogger and Expedia

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Summer In The City

The air.
The trees,
And bare.

On the streets,
Vacant eyes 
By the wayside.
Their reveries
Have evaporated,
The emptiness
They hide.

Above the stratosphere,
Droplets of dreams collect
And clouds form.
And tonight 
The city
Dreams of a dust storm.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

In Memoriam

Seven years
And a sense of loss
That refuses to go away,
With every passing year,

It creeps up
On unsuspecting days
Like these
When the flowers are blooming
And the world
Seems to be at peace,
A nice summer day.

But maybe
That’s the point.
All these things
He couldn’t see,
That he will miss
In the years to come,
It breaks my heart.

Miss him
All I want,
There is no way
To tell him
Just how much,
No way
He can see
Me smile
All the joys,
See me cry
On quiet nights,
No way
He can be
He should be…
By his daughter’s side.

That time is a healer
Is the biggest lie,
The pain never goes away,
All you can do is cry.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Keep Talking

Have no fear for giving in
Have no fear for giving over
You'd better know that in the end
It’s better to say too much
Than never say what you need to say again

Even if your hands are shaking
And your faith is broken
Even as the eyes are closing
Do it with a heart wide open

Say what you need to say

John Mayer has obviously never been in that position himself. Or it’s always worked out well for him. Lucky guy. For people like me, the above simply translates to constantly saying things and verbalizing feelings and emotions about anything and everything. So we just appear like talking heads after a while. It doesn’t matter what we are really trying to say, the core of it. It becomes cheap talk instead of a conversation. We just say stuff all the time anyway. And the words just bounce against empty walls and become noise after a while…cling and clatter.

Too many voices
It won't take long
Which one's right
Which one's wrong 
Yours is most likely to be misunderstood

Contrary to how it appears, it takes courage to put yourself in that spot where you will be seen as someone who wears his heart on the sleeve. And there is a risk of appearing the fool yet, sometimes it is the only way. What other defence do you have against transience? Of moments, of lives? And I have learnt that the hard way. By losing people. 

At 20 years of age, I gathered all my courage and told my ailing father how much I loved him, in a letter…because he had gone deaf due to side effects of medicines. I said it in plain, simple and straight words. It wasn’t common in our family and love was shown more through care. It was implied and assumed. Nobody ever said it to anybody else. But I am glad I did it anyway. He started replying but was hospitalized the next day. And then he passed away. Now all I have is his unfinished letter and the contentment that at least he knew.

When equations between my best friend and me changed after her marriage, we lost all communication for a while and I missed her sorely. But it was clear we would never go back to where we were and so I told her how much she had meant to me when we were together. And that’s what brought us back together; she had assumed that it made no difference to me whether she was around or not. I am glad I had the courage to ask for closure and say what I needed to say, for that admission is what brought us back together.

I don’t think there is anything worse than being ordinary”, that’s what Angela said in American Beauty. For me, there is nothing worse than being replaceable. For your uniqueness to be lost on others and your individuality reduced to a role that can be played by someone else. And essential to making someone feel irreplaceable is to let them know how special they are, and what they bring to someone’s life.

The question to ask is, how much do people value knowing that they mean something? In a world filled with hate, does one person’s love make any difference? And if it doesn’t, there is no need for words, to say what one needs to say. And John Mayer can write that down.

But if it does make a difference, then maybe it is worth every bit of putting yourself out there and being vulnerable. Maybe for some of us, the only way to become irreplaceable is to tell others how special they are and then trust we make a difference, whether or not we hear it back. Maybe there is nothing else that makes us special.

And hence it must be said when it must be said. Whatever the consequence. Whether or not it comes back. Words, after all, are arrows and not boomerangs. The only thing we can decide is when to send them forth, not when they will return.

And so, Pink Floyd and Stephen Hawking…keep talking.

For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. 
Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. 
We learned to talk 
and we learned to listen...

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted

In some ways I am glad January is over. I was sick in January. And upset a lot. And symbolically indeed, a few realizations hit me yesterday morning just as January 2012 made an exit from the calendar. If yesterday were a song, it would most definitely be Clarity by John Mayer.

I worry, I weigh three times my body 
I worry, I throw my fear around
But this morning, there's a calm I can't explain 
The rock candy's melted, only diamonds now remain.

The only place free from any illusions in life is the core of your heart from where your inner voice emanates. Unfortunately, reaching that place is like undertaking an expedition to Mount Everest but on the inside. Once you reach there, the air is pure and there is crystal clarity about everything. Once you reach there.

I was there a few weeks back. In that place. Hearing my own voice. And echoing it. It was the happiest time of my life. Because I knew what I needed to know. And nothing else mattered.

But then I opened that place up and guests came in. And in the noisy banter that ensued, my voice disappeared. And because it was coming from that place, I mistook that noise to be my own voice. And I became miserable. 

It took me a while to realize that it was someone else’s voice that was talking within me and then I started to frantically search for my lost inner voice. And it was painful, the noise was still echoing in that empty cavity. And I didn’t know where to start looking for what I had lost, the voice that had been right for a very long time now. I lost my way. I was standing on someone’s else’s path to happiness and mistaking it for my own. And I didn’t know how to go back. And I became more miserable.

It took a few reminders from the past to find my way and voice back. And I realized where exactly my view had got corrupted. Love and happiness are different destinations for different people. And hence, the milestones/landmarks they see on the way are different too. Letting anyone tell you what landmarks you will pass by on these journeys is like driving up NH7 and looking for landmarks from NH6…they’re essentially different roads that may or may not meet. Happiness for some is on mountaintops and for some it is by the seas…and the same goes for love.

The worst part is that I had always known that. Always. And still, I lost my way…because I opened my heart to too many people. All that overflowing happiness had to go somewhere after all. The problem with having an open heart AND sharing happiness at the same time is that you become vulnerable and your heart starts to get infected. And your inner voice takes sick leave. Sometimes, it is necessary and important to keep your heart and its special place closed and reserved for only those that reside in there. It is necessary to protect all that is fragile. 

Precious and fragile things
Need special handling
My God, what have we done to you?
We always tried to share
The tenderest of care
Now look what we have put you through.

Precious by Depeche Mode on Grooveshark
(Such a perfect song that is for this moment!)

In the end, there are no templates for anything in life. Because each of us is unique. And hence our interaction with each individual is also unique. Our life stories are unique, sometimes very special. No one else knows our history like we do. And hence they can never possibly understand or begin to fathom what our hearts know about us. Of course there are always good intentions. But even good intentions can kill sometimes.

I spotted my voice yesterday just as I finished what was almost a journey for me. I am currently busy convincing it to come back home to that place of love and stitching my open heart so it doesn’t get infected again. Only residents of my heart will have access now and trespassers will be prosecuted.

While January hasn’t been the best month, it was necessary that it put me through all this so I could come out wiser. And here’s sending a note of thanks out to it as I bid adieu and begin February on a fresh clear note!

(Discovered this song this morning on YouTube and thought it was apt background music while I wrote this. Love the video too…in the end, there’s nothing more to life than love, is there?)