C is for City

CI had an idea for a non-fiction piece when I realised today’s A2ZChallenge prompt ‘C’ would carry a story version well, if I said it stood for City. Tell me what you think.

~O~O~O~O~O~

C is for City

It was hot even at that hour. Summer was here. Rhea stared at the dial and patted her forehead. The girl who was supposed to keep the place clean had skipped the timepiece. Rhea had overlooked her misdemeanors once too often. It was time to let her go, she decided, waddling back. She slowed down her step as she passed a door. She didn’t want to wake her husband. Arrian was a light sleeper and he was going to wake up very irritable, after all the drinking he had done the previous night. Rhea didn’t want a tongue-lashing or something worse, the first thing in the morning.

Her daughter Alia came in carrying a bunch of roses. She stopped when she saw Rhea and the hand cradling the bouquet dropped to one side. Her slim form was draped in a low necked white dress. The fabric clung to her hips and its hemline was a little higher than decent. Rhea pursed her lips, trying to decide what to pick on first. The dress, she chose.

“What is that you’re wearing? And where do you think you’re going dressed like that?”

“Mama, I was just going into the garden.”

“For what? To plant those flowers?”

“No, I…I just cut them. I thought they would look nice. I was going to put them near your bed.”

Alia took a step to her right. Rhea started.

“Don’t go in there! Your father is sleeping. You know how tired he gets after his late nights.”

“Tell him not to drink so much then.”

“Go back inside! And stay there until you learn to behave like a well-brought up young lady. And put on some clothes!”

Alia pouted but didn’t budge. Rhea gave her a little shove. And when Alia didn’t move, she grabbed her long hair and gave it a yank. That would teach her to talk back to her mother. Pulling her all the way, Rhea continued scolding her in whispers.

“You’re not going anywhere without a palla. And today, you’re not going anywhere. Go to the kitchen. You’re going to learn to cook!”

Alia mumbled something inaudible but since she was moving, Rhea took no notice. She continued scolding her and as they passed the long hall, she resumed her normal volume.

“Where did those flowers come from? Tell me now!”

Alia yelped and there was a thudding sound. This was followed by various knocks and bumps. A few minutes later, Rhea stepped out and bolted the door. Daughters needed disciplining. Thank God Arrian had not been awake!

The little minx probably knew he wasn’t and that’s why she was acting up. And the flowers – Rhea hoped they weren’t from the gardener’s boy. One word to Sabeen and he would never walk straight again. Sabeen didn’t permit anyone to look at his sister. And as a lowborn, the boy had no right to even raise his eyes to look at Alia. Rhea poured herself a glass of wine and downed it in a single gulp. Arrian wouldn’t notice today anyway.

She heard the door opened and she turned, startled. It was Sabeen, his clothes disheveled and hair unruly. He reeked of alcohol too.

“Were you out all night, you wayward boy?”

Sabeen waved her off and slumped onto the mattress. Rhea rolled her eyes. As soon as she had one child disciplined, the other one turned shenanigans. Boys were so much harder to manage too. She thundered over to him, before she remembered that she was supposed to be quiet. Tugging his arm, she began frantically whispering,

“Get up and go inside, quickly! If your father wakes up and sees you in this condition…go in quickly. I’ll send in some food. Just go!”

But too late, she heard the door open behind her. Arrian was standing in the doorway, his eyes red, one hand on his portly stomach. Sabeen sat up in a flash. To their surprise, Arrian padded heavily past both of them and plonked himself down at the table.

Rhea hurried up to the table, wishing Sabeen would have the good sense to vanish. He was still rubbing his eyes.

“Shall I bring you some breakfast?”

Arrian waved her off impatiently. Then he gestured for her to wait.

“We have to start packing today.”

“Packing?”

“Yes. Tell the servants. No, don’t tell them. They will need to stay.”

“Servants? Stay?”

Arrian growled at Rhea in irritation.

“Woman, shut your mouth and listen!”

“Where are you going?”

Sabeen’s drawl sounded behind Rhea’s ample back.

“We are all going. You will go and start packing also.”

Arrian paused, scratching his chest hard. Then he let out a loud burp. And his humour returned.

“Master is coming. I received a message yesterday. They want to move back here. And they want me to manage their business affairs.”

Rhea gaped, trying to take it all in. Arrian smiled at her affectionately. Women were so simple-minded. She was probably thinking of her gardens.

“Don’t worry, you will have a garden there also. It will be smaller but that’s okay. You’ll be able to go shopping there. You’ll meet all the high society ladies. It’s the capital, after all. We’ll go watch the horse races at the Circle. I’ll even take you to The Circus.”

Rhea bowed her head. She was just wondering how long they had. But she didn’t dare ask. Sabeen did, however. He couldn’t wait to get going. No doubt, he’d be out chasing every girl around, the minute they set foot in the city. If he was this bad, here on the farm estate, there was no telling what he’d get upto with the crowd there.

“You will come to work with me every day. The master has agreed to let you be my assistant.”

And with that, Arrian put an end to any grand plans Sabeen had had a chance to make. Somewhat mollified, Rhea shuffled off to talk to the servants. She wasn’t sure what to think about Alia though. On one had it was a good thing they’d be getting away from the gardener’s boy. On the other hand, just like Sabeen, Alia would also be in bad company once they got there. It would be a lot harder to restrain the girl in city. Besides, Rhea had seen how the girls there dressed. Sabeen would end up killing somebody or Arrian would die of rage.

She sighed, sitting down on her bed. She didn’t really like the loud noises and flashy people in the city. She knew Arrian had wanted a lady who could impress the others in his circle but she had failed. She wished she was more beautiful or charming. She never knew what to say at big parties. She was a very good cook, and that’s what had made Arrian fall in love with her. He had been a lean, young man then and look at him now! But she hadn’t been able to spend her married days closeted away in the kitchen. Ladies of her station didn’t do that, he told her firmly. Servants did.

It had been a relief to both of them when they were able to move here, managing the farm estates. She liked it here. It was peaceful and beautiful. But she was a good wife. She knew her duty was to follow her husband wherever he went and try as hard as she could to make him happy.

She stood up and waddled slowly to her daughter’s room.

“Get up, Alia. We are moving to Rome.”

Alia jumped up, clapping her hands, the slaps forgotten.

“Yippee! Can I have a new toga, mama? And my own chariot?”

~O~O~O~O~O~

C is for City

*Image courtesy potowizard on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Reverb 10.22: A Ticket To Kolkata

Getting today’s Reverb10 prompt in just 90 minutes short of midnight. It’s been a day of making deadlines by a whisker! It’s actually a great question since it is so different from the same old-same old ones that have come before this.

December 22 – Travel

How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year?

(Author: Tara Hunt)

I don’t remember visiting any new places in 2010, more’s the pity. I went to Pune (twice) and that’s about the extent of my travel outside Mumbai. Last year I managed to visit Chennai, Marakkanam, Pondicherry, Pune, Hyderabad, Goa and Alibag and in 2008, I toured the Greek Islands and Turkey. This hasn’t been a great year for my suitcase, I admit.

One place I would really like to visit is Kolkata and for a number of reasons. First, it is the only major city in the country that I don’t know intimately. I was born in *shudder* Delhi, visited Chennai each year in the summer, lived in Bangalore for 3 months and call Mumbai home.

Secondly, it appears to be the cultural haven that none of the cities familiar to me, are. The Kolkata that I imagine is full of books (and book-lovers), art, music and culture. Maybe that perception is incorrect, maybe it is outdated or maybe it’s true. I’d like to find out for myself.

Thirdly, it is the city of a number of people I’ve known and loved. A very many of my Bengali friends trace their roots there (obviously). Precious grew up there. Adi moved there earlier this year. Trisha (new friend…yay, yay!) is there. And finally, the boy himself calls himself a Calcuttan (his description, not mine). The place you come from, that you call home says a great deal about you. Each of these have been people that have shared my home city and my associations with it. I would love to be able to do the same with them.

The Bangalore Story

I came to Bangalore over 10 years back. I was falling in love. Not with a person or even a place. I was really, completely, truly committing myself to life. I was 19. I had just weathered a tempestuous adolescence culminating in my dropping out of college. Then I licked my wounds, cleared my arrears and waited for life to begin again.

It did, in the summer of 1999. I found my first boyfriend, completed the Landmark Forum, figured out my plan for the next decade of my life and then came to Bangalore to start it all. I wasn’t just turning another page, I was starting a fresh book, Bangalore its first chapter.

It was a green, calm, young and fresh city. It seemed to mirror how my own youthful self felt, within. The IT sector was booming, retail was opening up and the peaceful little Garden City was waking up and experiencing the first flush of attention and awareness. Just like a debutant belle. Just like me. It was in every way, a perfect summer. I tried my wings for the first time in everything I could think of – work, love and other relationships. And I was soaring. Just as the country’s spotlight begin to focus on that lovely little place called Bangalore.

Bangalore and I sustained our relationship for the next couple of years, only growing with every interaction. There were the friends whose arms were wide open to me, their sweet, drawling, Southie accents telling me about the city we all loved. There was the boy, only a boy, who arrived to beat me in a debate and left minus his heart. He would bike down to Mumbai every few weekends to meet me and bring with him the whiff of cigarettes, pub stories and flowers that I always associated with Bangalore. There were the college admits, graduate and post-graduate that I confidently strode up and claimed but never used. Bangalore loved me.

The monsoon of 2003 is the time I can peg as when things started to go wrong. I had crash-landed a devastatingly poisonous relationship. My beloved Bangalore had toppled into the abyss of the dotcom crash. After college, in a bid to escape Mumbai’s unsympathetic memories and unemployable reality, I fled to Bangalore. But the city had nothing to offer me at all. Not a job, not a friendly smile, not a kind word. The bracing weather that had been my wings , my mood upswings, on my earlier trips gave me a bad cold that year. It was a sudden turnface that left me empty.

A year later, we met again, like guests at a party of a host who doesn’t know our history.I went out with my Mumbai friends, the metropack prowling the new-kid-in-the-city-business city. The best way to meet an ex- is looking fabulous, surrounded by fabulous people and wearing a cold, casual attitude. It worked. I spurned my former lover, Bangalore, enjoying it like a stranger and my only memory of that time was the incessant partying. The boy met me once and after ferrying me around one evening remarked that I was the cruelest and most wonderful woman he had ever known. So there, Bangalore. I went back with my claws sheathed.

Yet another year later, it beckoned to me in the form of a lonely Mumbai friend, asking for solace, promising companionship. I set my cynicism aside and went back with open arms. It was a mistake, a shattering defeat. I felt it like a slap on my face. If I had fallen in love with a city that was youthful and fresh, this was a date with a youth wasted in drink and other excesses. There was nothing for me in this city anymore.

Last year, it lured me again, false pretences in the form of him. I’m glad I didn’t go. He turned his back on me. The city he loves, already had, several years ago. I should have known.

If cities were people, Mumbai would be my family in every sense…the one I can’t do with or without, an inseperable part of me. Delhi would be the slimy, leery relative that I’ve always been terrified of, for reasons unmentionable. Chennai would be the stiff-necked, stern grandparent with whom there would be a connection but never an attachment. And Bangalore, Bangalore would be the love, the first wonderous love that turned traitor….on itself and on me. The love that will never be again.

Bangalore, you were mine and I, yours, for a brief, sweet spell before we passed into each other’s almost-oblivion.

Other things and places and people have happened tome. I’ve discovered Pune. And Hyderabad. And Goa. And other friends, lovers and selves.

And yet, there is nothing quite like the first love, is there?

To Bangalore, with much affection and warmth. In my memories, there will always be a fresh, bracing place for you as I remember us.

The Wall Project: BMC Plays Tom Sawyer & Everyone Wins!

It has been nearly a week now since The Wall Project and I’m so happy to say that it was a stupendous, tremendous, awesome success! I was thrilled to have been part of the event. The photographs are still surfacing on Facebook, people tagging each other and comparing notes.

Having put out an ‘official’ call on Twitter, I know I really should have been at the venue by the stipulated 8a.m. but I plead a swine flu scare which made me stay in bed with the sniffles till afternoon. Thankfully for me, my dear Aditya shook me out of my hypochondriacal stupor with a,

You really don’t know what you’re missing! Take care of yourself and I hope you feel better soon.

Hain! Such things could not be endured so like a flash we were out of bed and chugging our way to Mahim station. Since I got there only half-way through the day, I missed picking out one of the early spots close to the station entrance. Still, I’d like to think that the quality of the paintings improve as you move from Mahim to Matunga. Heh, ‘my’ wall and those of my friends are nearly at the end, right next to Matunga Road station! ;-)

FIrst day collage

Moksh planted...err, painted...trees. Simple, detailed and lovely.

Moksh planted...err, painted...trees. Simple, detailed and lovely.

The BMC had provided paints, brushes and thoughtfully, a tanker full of water to splash up. On Day 1, I even managed to get a lift from them from the station, all the way down to my wall. Aditya, Rehab, Spitphyre and Vagrant Seeker had been already and created their colourful collage, replete with Twitter ids. They also very thoughtfully helped me start up my first wall project and left me to fill in the end details.

On the BMC truck

Left to right: BMC guy, @wanderblah, @ideasmithy, @Spitphyre, @Adityab, BMC guy

Since the BMC came around to wrap up by around 5:30pm, I’m afraid it turned out to be a rather rushed job. The results can be seen on a pinky-pink wall with green swirly things and bleeding red eyes, almost opposite to the J&J building. I was gunning for a psychedelic design but I’m afraid it ended up being more kiddy crayoney.

Pink psychedelia

Pink Psychedelia: My efforts at the end of Day 1

I also managed to carefully white-wash the wall on its immediate left, layering on the paint evenly. When the BMC guys took away my paints, I vowed to get back early the next day and start on the white wall.

Whitewash

If you're wondering why there's white in my hair, it's my swine-flu protection pushed up to double up as headband!

Rather unfortunately the next day too, my sleepy somnambulistic side surfaced and I ended up getting there only around noon (Aditya, stop laughing! You also turned up at exactly the same time!). To my grimacing-frowny dismay, the whitewashed wall had been taken over by a family. What’s more, my carefully even-toned whitewash was being covered meticulously by layer over layer of blue-black. Ah well, I cut my losses and decided to look for another wall further up.

Happily I bumped into Shawn, Wanderblah, Jayant, Spitphyre, Aniceto and Jai at the end of the road. The corner after the tree seemed to become ‘ours’ as we set up our mini-studio there, piling up our backpacks onto the carriers of the taxis close by and painting the adjacent walls. We were joined in the middle of the day by Ashwin, Princila and Sayan. Princila took up the brush to paint a little something right under my painting. She says it’s a man being splashed with paint but I personally think it looks like a guy running away from the spotlight…which inspired me to spray an ‘AnonyMouse’ next to it.

I never imagined painting a wall could be so much fun and I realize in retrospect that it was only because it was such a community event. None of my art classes or solo ventures have been as thrilling as the weekend I spent with these amazing guys. We poked fun at each other’s artwork, we photographed together and each other in weird poses (and continue to leave silly comments on each other’s FB albums), we shared paints and brushes, we mixed up our ideas and added to each other’s work. It was such a lovely, brilliant day!

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Top l-r: Jai, Spitphyre, Adityab, Wanderblah. Bottom: Ideasmith, Shawn

We also received our 10 seconds of fame when Aparna brought in an interview on UTVi (aired yesterday and to be repeated on the weekend; youtube video to be linked shortly). Their anchor was very prettily (and somewhat unsuitably) dressed in a lavender formal shirt, wherein she borrowed my paint-streaked apron (already smuggled out of mum’s kitchen). That’s the one that you see on her in the video. :D

Interviewed by UTVi

With @Spitphyre, being interviewed on UTVi for a TechTree segment.

There was a spot of unpleasantness when we tussled for the plastic stool and spray paint cans with our neighbors, one of whom left after uttering a diabolical statement that the paintings may not be around the next day.

But the ickiest part of the day wasn’t the mean neighbors or the blue-paint which turned out to be a shitty brown. It was the attack of the Twitter vandals. If you’ve been around on the Twitterverse, you’ll know who I’m talking about. I’m rather embarrassed to admit that I invited the leader of that gang to visit the wall and join us in the project, earlier in the day. Of course I had no way of knowing that his version of contributing to The Wall Project would be to spray-paint his own name on other people’s good work, mess around with some really fantastic paintings, take stupid dirty photos of the wall and finally to add insult to injury, tweet that,

We’re done desecrating the wall project.

I’m embarrassed to say that I know this man. Most of the tweeple who were around that day have unfollowed the vandals in question. The leader of that gang has since initiated a ‘clean-up’ effort and accordingly tweeted pictures of his effort. But as far as I’m concerned, I’m left with a the thought that,

That’s just uncool. Only for losers, dude.

‘Nuff said.

The highlight of our day was the Twitter wall that we painted in our far corner. One panel was painstakingly painted shiny blue (we couldn’t get the pale sky blue of Twitter) long after everyone else had packed up. And then we recreated a Twitter timeline with actual tweets from the gang that was there. I’m so proud of us for this one guys, you all rock!

Wall Twitter - All

Though the Project spanned only two days, people are still talking about it. There’s newpapers, the TV interview and loads and loads of photographs circulating on Facebook and discussions still happening. Yes, the BMC may have pulled a Tom Sawyer on us but what the hell, it was fun, wasn’t it (aching bones notwithstanding)?!

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Hidden Tiger, Crouching @adityab

Hidden Tiger, Crouching @adityab

Painting @krist0ph3r's face. Don't miss his expression!

Painting @krist0ph3r's face. Don't miss his expression!

DangerMouse on the divider

DangerMouse on the divider

Aniceto with Jai. Aditya in the background making big eyes.

Aniceto with Jai. Aditya in the background making big eyes.

And here are the results of the brilliant efforts of the wonderful people I was with.

Reena

Spitphyre's fairytale

Shawn

Shawn's SCREAM

Wanderblah and Jhayu doing their crazy thing!

Wanderblah and Jhayu doing their crazy thing!

@adityab's Space Wars

@adityab's Space Wars

And here’s my piece de resistance (I hope that was used in the right context *gulp*) – my own wall!!! **DRUM ROLL**

Here’s the chess board representing order and structure, being ripped apart by a hand (whose model was a street kid called Sultan). A conversation with Sultan resulted in the painting of a crown and then a king who looked like a queen. Hence that’s the Red Queen looking very happy over the breakdown of order.

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It's a honour, a high honour you see, to have tea with the Red Queen and me! - Alice in Wonderland

And finally, the resultant chaos, also known as the hungama inside my head or as you know it – theideasmithy.com. TADA!!! Incidently I stand accused of using up half of BMC’s paint supplies on one wall. I’ve also been diagnosed by the God of Gas as suffering from a disorder that makes me scared of blank spaces in art. Ah, mea culpa. See for yourself -

Me and my wall 2

You can also see Princila's paint-splash guy on the lower panel. AnonyMouse is yet to be added.

Incidentally I rode down to Tulsi Pipe Road the next night because I just couldn’t resist taking one more look. While all the other paintings in our corner were intact and looking quite brilliant in the night, I was most dismayed to find that Setto’s imaginative pink piggy in a suit had been splashed with a dab of red paint running down from the pig’s nose. Agitated, I spoke to him and told him about it. I was quite unprepared to hear him chuckle and say that he wished he had been there when it was done, he’d have shot a video. I asked him how he could possibly feel that way, I felt so bad when I saw it vandalized. Very wisely and oh so cooly he replied,

Hmmm… its graffiti. You know the fact someone did that makes me happy, coz that was what the party needed. Something unorganized…chaotic…the whole scene was too much like a ‘slumming’ party. Whoever did that is adding another layer to the image..and whoever follows him is doing so too.

Aniceto

Hmm, I wonder who the inspiration for the piggy face was...

Hmm, that’s food for thought. That is what street art is about I guess. And that’s what this city is about. Layers over layers. Colour and cheating, fights and fun, friends and vandals, silliness and talent. It’s just Mumbai.

Some other posts about the Wall Project:

Jhayu – “On Dirty Walls, Sundays and Stained Fingers”

Punk Polka Dots – “When India Takes 2 Steps Forward..”

Aditya (on Facebook Notes) – “Food, Drink, Writing And The Wall Project”

Deepa – “The Wall Project August 15, 2009″

*All the photographs in this piece have been taken by Wanderblah, JhayuSpitphyre and Aditya.

First Rain

On the first week of June, Mumbai welcomed the monsoon of 2008. I watched it arrive, alone…which is probably the best way, with the rain.

The skies heralded the season of water.
And then I watched the drops paint the sidewalk a shiny, sheeny gloss of life. Read more of this post

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