Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Monkey Business

A few days ago, while I was working in the afternoon, there was a movement at the window I was facing. I saw nothing when I looked up. Now, anyone with a ladder can reach my house from the basement level. A few fleeting thoughts about thieves and criminals (and I suspect, even terrorists) crossed my mind. In that fraction of a second I took to rise from my seat, I am sure my heart had reached its maximum pounding rate. I peeked through the window, saw nothing, so I decided to be bold for the sake of appearances, and opened the door. Imagine my surprise when I saw a monkey perching on the rails, looking back at me as though I were the intruder in his (her?) house.

What passed through my mind wasn’t exactly relief, but a close relative of it. It was not a human – that was a consolation, for I had no experience in handling thieves; but it was an animal – that was a worry, for what was it doing on my balcony and how do I get rid of it?

I tried to shoo it away – I was standing at a safe distance, and my foot was in the door so that I could escape at short notice (if the wild animal decided to turn wild). But my shooing clearly conveyed to it that I was one frightened being. It bared its teeth in offense and it was all I could do not to dart inside and slam the door. Then it decided that fun was over, and hopped to the neighbour’s balcony.

Later that evening, I heard of its many adventures from different parts of the apartment. The animal was spotted wandering, idling, searching, and in one place, it had managed to reach the kitchen, from where it was devouring freshly prepared beans fry when the owner of the fry surprised it.

There was an estate nearby, full of trees, and not long ago, we used to have frequent visits from monkeys on our balcony and surrounding areas. They used to soil the clothes on our cloth-line, and leave waste behind. Snakes were also occasionally seen, and many birds and butterflies frequented our neighbourhood. Then more buildings began to appear, and the trees in the estate were cut down – we heard that a posh apartment or a mall was coming up. We groaned, but we were partly thankful when the ‘animal menace’ seemed to reduce. So it was a surprise when a monkey was sighted again, and not just in the vicinity, but right on our doorstep, like in the good old times.

The next morning I found water dripping from my neighbour’s balcony and went to investigate. (The owners were away.) It was obvious that the monkey had left the tap open after taking a swig, the previous evening. It occurred to me for the first time that the animal was here for a purpose. Summer had begun overnight. Just a few days before, we were still in the throes of a severe winter and one fine morning we realised that summer, as dry and hot as you please, was here. No transition, no delay, no pause; no time to catch our breath.

When the maid came into clean my house that day, I told her about the visit, and reminded her to keep our door closed, so that monkeys don’t come in and sneak off our precious meal. She agreed with me that the afternoons are hot and that there is no water to be found for these beings. She lives in a one-room house with her family, at a nearby school. She informed me that they keep a little water outside during the day, for the animals. They see birds and small animals coming to drink, she said. I thought that was good, and I even considered for a moment keeping some water out for the birds. But of course, if the monkeys come to my balcony, I would not be happy – they sure do know how to leave a mess. My dilemma was resolved in a couple of days when the summer showers hit the city. I hoped that wherever they were, the animals and birds got some reprieve from the heat.

Where do these animals, stuck in the urban world, normally find their food and water? Do we even care? We’re just relieved that they aren’t encroaching our space, harming our children and stealing our food. We cannot ‘co-exist’ in the true sense of the word. When nature marches into our lives, we take desperate measures to keep her out. To live a civilised life as humans, we need to keep nature trimmed and well-behaved and on our terms. That isn’t co-existence. If you keep your distance, we may keep ours. If you are hungry, we don’t care. When it comes to us versus animals, we vote for us. Naturally.

The deadlock between man and nature continues.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Lost & Found - and Lost

When I came out of the building, I had this familiar feeling that I had forgotten something. I looked at the items in my hand - a brochure, a leaflet someone had handed me on my way out, what did I miss? Of course. My mobile phone. I must have left it where I was sitting. 

I asked him to wait and went back. I did not expect to find it. No one can resist the sight of an abandoned phone and refrain from stealing it. At least, that has been my experience.

It was new, and it was mine. Everything that I could tell another soul and everything I could not - my phone knew it all. I could wink at it and it would know why. Losing it would be like losing a part of myself. As I walked in past the crowd thronging the building, I was certain it would not be there. I kicked myself for forgetting it.

There were so many staircases in that building - why was there so many of those, everywhere, going up and down, and every where? It was as though I was in a maize of staircases. Which one did I just use on my way out after the meeting?

One seemed familiar, and I went up. Yes, they were all there, the smiling adults and the playing children. The balloons, the toys, the noise. The phone was still there in my seat. It was not stolen! Of course, if you leave a mobile phone among children, it will not be lost. On the contrary, the children who find it would go out of their way to hand it back to you. Between childhood and adulthood springs the first inkling of dishonesty.

It was such a relief to find it again. It was not gone. Thank God. It would have been tragic. Wonder why emotions are so heightened in dreams. The immense fear of losing the phone, the overwhelming relief of finding it - but those were nothing compared to what was coming.

It was time to get out of the building, and the maize confronted me again. Which way had I come up? Are these staircases moving like those in Harry Potter stories? Why were there so many of them? Which way should I go? Why was I so confused? I don't usually lose my way. Today I feel so muddled.

I tried to remember the way I had come up. Those set of steps, then the turn - to the right or left? I had to choose one at random and trust my instincts. 

Wrong. I ended up on the other exit at the far side of the building. What was this - a mall? Vehicles were flowing out the gate. I looked back. I could see the numerous staircases all the way to the other side. I had to get there. He was waiting. That was where I should be. But I could not just go straight. I had to choose the steps.

I closed my eyes and tried to picture the location and the route. How did one get to the other exit? What did I have to do to go home? No one was paying any attention. Who can show me the way? Why were there no directions to the Exit? Why was I feeling so scared?

I was lost. I was LOST. It was just a damn building with infinite rows of staircases. And I was stuck in them. Helpless.

I opened my eyes. Daylight was streaming in. A faint sense of relief washed over me. I wasn't really lost. I was safe in my bed. But I was trembling. The magnitude of that fear remained in my mind for the most part of the morning...

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Two-way mirror

There is this school bus that shrieks to a halt in front of our apartment every morning. You could hear it groan as it approaches, as the driver gently steps on the brakes. Some days I would be outside when it arrives, watering my plants or putting out clothes to dry or consuming Vitamin-D from my east-facing balcony with my cup of tea. I see the faces at the window, of sleepy, dreamy or bored children, having who knows what kind of thoughts about school and what lies ahead. There is this girl I see - she wears glasses with a black frame. She is probably in high school. I noticed her because I caught her watching me, many times. Sometimes she doesn't. I don't know if she actually sees me, or if that is a blank, half-asleep morning stare. Her chin is raised when she looks this side, suggesting that she actually sees what she is looking at.

Children are the mirrors into our past. When we look at them, we see our own past staring back at us.

When I see that girl, I remember a window through which, one day every week, we used to observe a man washing clothes and putting them out to dry in the clothes line. We called him Uthaman - because he seemed like the ideal husband. Yes, a man who helps with the laundry was well within our definition of 'ideal'. That was not the pre-WW II era, of course, but those were still the days when men and chores were considered strangers. A husband helping with kitchen, washing, etc. was a rare enough sight (or, concept) for us to drool over.

I wonder what this girl in the shrieking school bus would be thinking, if at all she is conscious of the woman with the steaming cup of tea, leaning on her balcony rails, squinting against the sun, watching the hustle and bustle of morning school time. Does the girl think about what I am doing, and does she wonder about herself? Does she see me as a mirror into her own future? Does the sight excite her or cause her dread? Does she wish that her difficult school days would be over so that she can also lounge in some balcony and sip hot tea? Or does she fear that her days ahead consist of washing and drying clothes and hanging them out to dry, and watering plants and keeping the house?
Does she wonder, at all?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Time has passed

They may say there are no accidents
But there was something in the way we met.
It just happened, all seemed normal;
But looking back, I do wonder.

Was it meant to be? Was it a wise act of destiny?
We had discovered the highway, together,
Learning the ride, making mistakes,
And ultimately paying the price.

It wasn't all fun, of course; it never is.
But a co-traveller makes it worthwhile.
Through twists and turns, ups and downs,
The journey has been rough.

Now we travel at the ends of the street
Not holding hands, out of reach.
Wasn't it narrower when we started?
Time has passed, the roads have widened.

We're not who we were, we've grown;
Dragging ourselves like tramps, up and down,
Shoving forward, though exhausted, beaten;
With only one purpose: the end, the end.