Saturday, 20 December 2008

Truly Scary

I was leafing through an old article on Arundhati Roy in the Guardian and a vague sentence about "increasing fascism" in India caught my eye.
It's a sentiment I've encountered briefly before too, and for some reason I felt like chasing it.
I googled 'The rise of fascism in India'.
And lo and behold, 146,000 results. The first one being a report with the exact same title.

Oh. And welcome back to the other home.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Mumbai Airport

Is empty.

And I have Rs. 100 in my pocket, but many many pounds.
I looked from start to finish for a bookshop to buy White Tiger and find a MediaMart sales counter at my gate.
It costs Rs. 395 and they only accept Indian money.
The exchange counter is ages away.
I imagined reading it on the flight.
I have an hour.
What to do?

Wednesday, 17 December 2008


'My' country:
I had (and still have) so many questions about the use of that phrase that I could scarcely mean it when I said it. And when I returned this time around, I actively felt a resistance to calling it that. But that's the way one falls in love, isn't it. Or at least it's the way I do. Fuck off I hate you until the very last minute, before a sudden sharp shattering fall straight (if it can be called that. It is anything but.) into desire.

But somehow when I look around at it, when I let it just just come from within me rather than from some idea of what I am supposed to feel, I sense an incredible thing:
This is my country. I am Home.

And travel I will - and must.
And have adventures in foreign lands - as a matter of principle, I will collect as many of these as can be contained within me.
And live with M. in a vine-encrusted, sky-kissed white house with warm golden light flecking the snow outside the window.
And complain, every time I come back - more and more and more, incessantly.

But bringing together all the thousands of little things that I've seen and heard and felt and touched and smelt and listened to and lusted after and rejected and been repelled by, is that tiny wordless feeling somewhere that I suppose could be called roots.
A gut-level connection, for better or worse.
And that, my friends, is how you can suddenly come home to visit your parents and realize, at 26 (far too late?) in a far deeper way than just saying it - This is home. Or at least where I came from. Apni zameen.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Bapu Zanzad*

Was my friend.
He was also - Very well loved and respected in his village. Noted for being amongst the friendliest and most honest men anyone had ever met - which, evidence my last posts, is really hard to balance, at least for me! He was a great tailor. There should have been a sign outside his shop: Will sew, darn, mend, alter, snip anything. Fast.

His shop was extremely humble. Empty except for a sewing machine, two plastic chairs and a long trestle table on which he cut his cloth and ironed the clothes with a huge steamy iron that should by rights require a weightlifter to operate. On the wall opposite his machine was a faded old picture of Mumbai - where he'd spent some time as a younger man.

He was in his late 40s.
He finished his work one day, walked home, and slept peacefully after his dinner. When he woke up at six, he went outside, and one minute he was there, the next he'd gone. I suppose that is something.
He left a wife and a son and his shop and many many friends.

We spent many hours talking when I was there for my fieldwork.
He said I was a guest in his village, and insisted on buying me a cold drink.
He asked me many questions about my life in England. The size of the houses, the state of farms, the habits of the people ("Is it true that they really don't wear any clothes?!") and about whether I was happy there. When I was there, did I miss home? Did I still think of India as my country? Are the streets really very wide? Is it true that there isn't a monsoon?! My goodness! No monsoon? What do they eat? ("Crap", I said to myself.) Do you still keep in mind everything that you learnt in this country? How come you speak Marathi? Which is more difficult - Marathi or English? If I learnt English, could I do anything? Why did the English make everything happen in their language? Isn't ours better?
And so on and so forth, through the hot summer afternoons, over a Pepsi and under a whirring ceiling fan.
When you come back, (not If. When. He knew, even if I didn't, that I'd be drawn back to this place) can you please bring me some pictures of where you live?

One day, when I was sitting at his shop, the village drunk swayed in, took a look at me and said something obscene - though of course, I was never told what exactly he'd said. Mr. Zanzad drove him out of the shop. Called the chai-wallah from the tea stall next door. The milkman from across the road. The gram sevak from outside the grocery store. And they hounded him back to his house.
The next day, he said "No one will ever bother you in this village. You can go where you like. And if you have any problems, see me. Or the Sarpanch."

When I returned for a day visit this week, there were huge posters ouside his store and just outside the village gates, announcing his sudden demise and full of good wishes for him and his family. Everyone I met mentioned what a great guy he was.

I suppose I could be accused of being too bleeding-hearted. At the slightest excuse. But somewhere, I feel... Ouch.
It feels trite to say 'loss'. But I am trying to measure what was lost. It also feels odd to say 'My friend'. But he felt like it. Even though it was just two weeks of chats across the space of a room but really across the biggest divides. I so wished to see him. His open smile, his laughing eyes, the enthusiastic wave. Someone to talk with, a friend in a faraway place who made me feel so welcome. I miss him.

*not his real name.

Early morning at home

Smells of:
Very fresh air outside - even if you're still inside.
Fresh coffee.
And the subtle creature-smell of the warm, furry, purry, orange, bewhiskered cat curled up asleep next to you.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Old friend across the abyss.

And because I didn't shamelessly spew enough venom last night, here's some more.

Thou art so lovely.
And Polished.
And probably - no, definitely - perfect.
At work, at play, at sex, at clothes, at boys, at games, at driving, at learning, at reading.
You've read all the correct books and are suitably disappointed by The Latest Big Thing because - well - that's so much cooler and cleverer than just loving it!!!
You're cleverest of them all.
And you redefine Type A. You kick.ass. All.The.Time.

Don't you?

Divergent paths were, for us, fated.
It's in my blood: A-negative.
And though we're old, old friends and I love you (I really do. Or last night would have been farewell), I sense you see me now only through You. And I see you through my own blinding screen of stars.
When I think of home, you will always be there. And long may 2am phone calls persist. And if anyone hurt you I'd kill them. And when we've stopped fighting about this we will probably put down the phone and drive over to each other's houses and hug and cry like we always do post-fight. And everything will be fine. But between 'Hmm' and 'Wow!', may the twain n'er meet. (WHY aren't you letting me dig you out?! Is hmm really a nice place to be??!? Anyone?)