Monthly Archives: September 2019
He has gone, and has left behind a deep sense of emptiness. As a true blood Mumbaikar of 30 years, I have amalgamated the celebratory culture and spirit of the city. How will I not?
For eleven days, the nondescript residential society where I live transformed into a glittering performance arena. The cars lining both sides of the main road in the society made way for a huge mandap. At the far end, in an enclosure, sat the reigning deity in whose honour, the performances were offered. Each day of the festival was a bonanza waiting to be unwrapped, and you could not miss the heightened anticipation in the Lord’s merciful eyes.
The loudspeaker, every now and then, interrupted Salman Khan’s aaj doob jaun teri aankhon ke ocean mein, to urge residents to come down from their homes to grab the best seats in the house.
On day one, when the curtains went up to Lata Mangeshkar’s signature “Sukh karta, dukh harta”, piety hung heavily in the air. The fleeting solemnity was soon replaced by thumping music that announced the start of the revelry. As always, the itinerary started with performances by children. Cute little cherubs were shoved onto the stage by eager beavers in the guise of parents. Watching the performers, who have barely transitioned from monosyllables, mouth precocious patriotic spiel, was moving – to the mother, who stood in the corner of the stage, dabbing her tears of joy. Fathers had been strictly instructed to wield the camera.
The high point of the festivity was when not one, but a dozen Sri Devis descended on the stage holding up their right arms to mere haathon mein nau nau choodiyan. I recognised the aunty in the flaming red ghagra. Every morning, without fail, she sprinkles me with water as I step out under the plants in her balcony to make my way to the car. That evening had the largest turnout of spectators. Seats were taken early, leaving the rest to take vantage positions from where they stood and watched the greatest show on earth.
Next to arrive on the stage were all the bathroom singers of the society. Each year, this is their day of reckoning. I could now put a face to the mein zindagi ka saath nibha tha chalagaya, that makes me rush through my shower each morning. One after the other, they belted out their favourite numbers. Since the occasion was religious (you forgot?), the audience refrained from cursing out aloud. After all, isn’t tolerance one of Lord Ganesha’s virtues? He leads by example. He hears more than double the decibel we hear, given the size of his ears, and yet, he tolerates.
The 11-day festivity had something for everyone. A case in point is the “thread the needle” contest. The bunch of senior citizens who claims all the benches in the garden in the evenings was enticed by the promise of gifts to participate. They sat on chairs, their eyes peering through spectacles, their fingers barely able to hold the thread and needle in place. The organisers of the contest stood over them cheering vociferously, and then a prize was announced for the one who brought the thread the closest to the needle. Camouflaged sadism. I was beaming because the winner was my mother-in-law.
The Healthy Baby Contest was a private affair that had been given a public platform. All eyes were on the mothers holding the flailing limbs. Wails resounded in the mandap, as the judges (the friendly neighbourhood lawyer, doctor, and teacher) made the delicate decision. It’s always a make or break situation for them – neighbourly courtesies and civility from the next day onwards hinge precariously on the judgements they proclaim that evening. Many friendships have been sacrificed at the altar of the healthy baby contest at Ganpati mandaps.
On the eve of his departure, was the grand finale. An event that the Lord had been waiting for with bated breath – the Fashion show and the accompanying swag. This year, the theme was “Jodi No. 1.” It was for couples to take part. It was for couples above 40 years of age. The toe-tapping Jalwa from Fashion boomed in the background as the couples stepped onto the make-shift ramp. The first man and woman were residents of the flat above mine. They were renowned for not paying their society dues since the last five years. I did not clap for them.
On the evening of the 11th day, the Lord was bid farewell. He was paraded haltingly. The two-minute distance from the mandap to the main gate was covered in 2 hours to the accompaniment of the zingat song and the likes of tera dhyan kidhar hai, yeh tera hero idhar hai. Frenzied dancers surrounded him. It was almost as if the cavalcade was making one last-ditch attempt to impress him with their talent, just in case he had missed the point in the last eleven days.
And then at the final adieu was the promise of more…pudhchya varshi laukar ya!
It’s two days since he has left. The society is steeped in stony silence. We go about our sad lives, grieving the return to mediocrity. The dancers have shed off their talent, and stuffed it up in the attic. The bathroom singers are back.
pic courtesy: Google images
The long-pending task of sorting out our bookshelf turned into a therapy session of sorts, where instead of my husband (a process-driven, task-oriented man) and me (haphazard and always wearing my heart on my sleeve), sorting out the books, the books sorted us.
The morning cuppa this morning is a little different from the other mornings’. We are not looking out of the window, or reading out the COVID-19 stats from our phone screens. We are both looking at the expansive 20-foot long bookshelf that runs along the longest wall of our living room.
The bookshelf was introduced to the family five years ago after a long and tedious discussion with a carpenter whose first and lasting impression of us was of a crazy couple fussing over a row of wooden planks. When the bookshelf was new and untouched, we spent hours deciding which books go where. We lovingly stacked them by titles and by genres. The paperbacked ones were distinctly placed away from the hard-bounds. Friends such as Shakespeare and Shaw were a shelf above the nodding acquaintances – Saki, Gabriel Garcia Marquee. Bringing up the rear were the strangers – soon to be friends. We had painstakingly created labels for quick reference. I stand corrected – my husband had painstakingly created the labels on his laptop, printed them on coloured labels and stuck them neatly on the shelves. He ensured that the books were stacked in the ascending order of the height of their spines. As someone has said, “A bookshelf is as particular to its owner as are his or her clothes; a personality is stamped on a library just as a shoe is shaped to the foot.”
When the benevolent carpenter, who had come over to collect the balance payment, offered to help by picking up a random stack of books from the floor and pushing them into the first available free plank, he invited the wrath of my husband, and left home murmuring under his breath.
“You should not have shouted at him,” I said. “It was so rude.”
“I don’t care,” hubby said, pulling down the sinfully placed stack.
Since then, several books have been pulled out, new books have been wedged into the spaces in between. Many books, for lack of space, have been lying stacked on their sides, one on top of the other. Knick-knacks and souvenirs from our numerous travels have been pushed along the ledge of the planks. In short, the bookshelf was a total mess.
Right after tea, we get started. I start first, by pulling out the books from here and there. Hubby has gone in to the study to fetch his laptop. When he returns, he is furious.
“Wait! Wait!” he yells. Let’s follow a pattern.”
Patterns are his thing, the lack of them, mine. The past twenty-five years of our married life were spent in patterning our future along a severe timeline. On the achievement of every goal, there was another one taking shape in the horizon. There was always something to work towards, to look forward to. I loved the dizzying frenzy of moving from one milestone to another. A couple on the go – that’s what we were known as in our social circles. If you thought life was all about work and no play, you have another think coming! Our annual vacations were plenty and not too far apart. It was all planned to happen – two overseas vacations, two domestic. To everyone’s awe and envy, we stuck to the routine for years.
Until a few years ago, when my soul demanded a slowdown. I could not continue to live against my grain anymore. I was getting tired of the time-bound routines. The patterned life knocked the wind out of me. Hubby slowly got accustomed to my disdain for routine. He slackened a bit on the planning and the patterning. But, when it became cumbersome for him, we decided to do things differently in our own spaces. He did his thing, and I mine. Often, we did the same things, differently. I began to live in the moment, and he happily planned his moment.
So, it is no surprise to either of us that today while he pores over his MS Excel sheet to understand the category of books on the shelves, I sit cross-legged in the middle of the piles of books and begin flipping pages. My pleasure comes from simply being in the midst of mellifluous words and provocative imagery. The books sit around me each vying for my attention. To Kill a Mocking Bird sits atop an Ignited Mind, while Sapiens shares floor space with Growing Up Bin Laden. I open Wuthering Heights to a random page: “He wanted all to lie in an ecstasy of peace; I wanted all to sparkle and dance in a glorious jubilee. I said his heaven would be only half alive; and he said mine would be drunk: I said I should fall asleep in his; and he said he could not breathe in mine.”
I look up from the page, and turn my dreamy eyes on my husband. His spectacles are perched on his nose and his fingers tap away on the keyboard of his laptop. Obviously, he is oblivious to the magic around him. But I do know that he is an ardent book lover, much more than I am.
“Listen,” I say.
I read out to him the passage from Wuthering Heights. I have his complete attention.
“Wow!” he says before returning his gaze to the screen in front of him.
A few minutes later, he says, “Listen to this.”
I look up from the book in my hand. His laptop is placed on the floor away from him. A book has taken its place on his lap. He chuckles as he reads out.
“You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.”
For the next ten minutes, Yuval Noah Harari sits in the midst of our ponderous discussion on his acclaimed opus – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.
Soon, the scene in our living room has a makeover. Hubby sits with his back against the bookshelf, flipping through a book. I sit beside him, in the exact same manner, thumbing through a book. The only thing that punctuates the silence is one of us reading out a piece from the book in our hands. Or, when he lovingly asks, “some wine?”
By the time morning morphs into noon and after, we have met the very-tongue-in-cheek Jerry Pinto, the indefatigable P.G. Wodehouse, and the erudite Ram Charan. Erma Bombeck keeps us in splits with her misadventures. Before we know it, we are as full-spirited as the full-bodied Shiraz we have not yet opened, and our bookshelf is bare.
Such is the magic spun by books – two distinctly disparate individuals could find intense commonality. In the words of Joyce Carol Oates, “reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.”
We cast a glance at the books sprawled around us, and burst out laughing. Within half an hour, the books are back on the shelves – some on their sides, others pushed into place in random order. The short ones and the tall ones stand next to each other in asymmetrical beauty. The knick-knacks hold the unruly books in place.
As I close the book on a wonderful day, there is only wish in my heart – May our shelves always overflow with books!
Pic courtesy: Google images