He quickly stood up, dusted off his bottom, adjusted his tie and belt and stood there holding his briefcase as if nothing happened. Post a brief pause, he exclaimed to no one in particular,”Oh! What a lovely sunny day it is.” The fact that Mr.Higgins entered the elevator, slipped and fell hard on his bottom in front of eight occupants of the elevator whom he has to see every day in his building didn’t deter him from appreciating the lovely day outside. If the neighbours didn’t know him already, it would have invited a mild disbelief and frown from them. But that’s who Mr.Higgins is. For him, life is a gift. If you live it, you might as well love it. If you don’t love it, don’t live it. It is as simple as that. Hence, “Oh what a lovely day it is” every day. And in case of summer, “oh what a lovely sunny day! “
Doesn’t matter even if the day starts with you slipping and falling on your butt in front of 7 adults and one kid that you see every day in your building.
Nobody knows Mr.Higgins’ first name. He has been in this building for close to six years residing in a studio apartment all alone. Every morning at 9, he struts through the corridor of his building, smiling ear to ear , waving a hi to everybody he sees, singing to himself, waiting for the elevator. That’s who Mr.Higgins is. While people cringed at body odours and sweat patches, he finds it marvellous to say the least. That’s the smell of hard labour, he says. Nobody knows Mr.Higgins’ first name because even though he is full of life and positivity , frankly speaking, he is annoying to the extent of inducing a morbid temptation of sucking out all that love for life from him, grinding them in a grinder and feeding them to the dogs for good. Nobody knows what he does either. If asked where does he work, he says wherever his work takes him. On being asked what he does, he says he brings justice to the world. He also says he is not a lawyer.
Today he chose to wear a red tie. Because that’s what he was in mood for. Black trousers because that’s what goes with black suit. And silver shoes because well, black shoes are too boring for a life that is so vibrant and colourful. He baked some beans and toasted some bread. He made a four layered sandwich. On one layer, he spread cheese and egg. On the top, some veggies. On the topmost, some moist meat. Along with that he had some grilled chicken and a glass of juice. He loves a grand breakfast. Life is too short to have just oats and milk. And besides, he likes to keep his stomach filled while he is out on duty.
He held his briefcase tight, walked out of the building and held out his hand. Right on time, a cab stopped in front. He always gets a cab. Once inside, he opened his briefcase and checked if everything was in order. He particularly checked for his Ipod. He instructed the driver to get to 15th Street, at Kevin Road, the fourth building on the right. That is where his client resided. His client was in her mid 40s. A little bit of background check revealed she was a newly turned widow. He first saw her two-and-a-half weeks back when he was passing by that area. She was beautiful with her hair open. She wore a blue sleeveless blouse, denim jeans and high heels and was carrying two shopping bags in each of her hands. That is when she collided into him, slipped and fell and broke a tooth. And for some reason she had completely lost it. Profanities of chosen varieties were hurled towards him and at life in general. On how she hated this life. How life is so unfair! How this was the worst that could have happened after she lost her husband. How life is ungrateful and everything that was not good.
Two-and-a-half weeks later she was his client.
She opened her bleary eyes when the cat, all seven pounds of squirming flesh, climbed onto her belly. Squinting into the sunlight streaming in from the open window she discovered that she was now the possessor of a pounding headache, and at some point, had managed to lose both a tooth and a spouse. Oh! What sorry of a life she has been living. The fur of the cat irritated her further as if the heat of the summer was not enough. She looked out of the window and sighed at the sorry of a weather.
The calling bell startled her. “Can’t anyone let me sleep in peace on a Saturday morning”, she sighed to herself. Disgruntled, she shrugged off the cat, got out of the bed, cleared the bottles of beer and boxes of pizza, walked towards the door and opened it. Standing in front was a man who clearly had no sense of fashion, smiling ear to ear.
“Good morning Mrs. Sylvie”
“There is nothing good about it. Who are you?”
“I am Mr. Higgins.”
“How do you know my name?”
“May I come in?”
Mr. Higgins mildly forced himself inside her drawing room. He looked at the cat and ruffled its fur. It dismissed his affection immediately.
“What do you think you are doing”, Sylvie asked looking quite puzzled.
“Oh just my job”, he replied.
“And what is that? she asked visibly irritated.
“doing justice to the world” he replied.
Mr. Higgins opens his briefcase, takes out a sharp knife and the Ipod, presses a button and plays a song. That’s his favourite song. He loves to listen to music while he is at work. It refreshes his mind. His body warms up to a slow rhythm of the song as he carefully walks towards Sylvie, holding out the knife.
“Do you like the song?” he asks smiling. He has a calm composure on that freaks Sylvie out.
“Excuse me mister, what on earth are yo…” and before she could finish what she was about to say, she feels the cold tip of the knife pushing down her belly. Once. Twice. Thrice. The cat hisses in horror and suffers the same fate. Once. Twice. Thrice. Mr. Higgins takes out the cleanser from his briefcase and wipes the blood from his knife and hands. Life is a gift. You don’t love it, don’t live it.
He walks out of the building with spring on his feet and a smile on his lips, “Oh what a lovely sunny day it is!”
As a result of working out with my father every morning, our common playlist includes songs like ‘Musafir hoon yaaro’, ‘yeh nayan dare dare’ and his most favourite ‘chu kar mere mann ko’. That’s his 10-15 minutes run on the treadmill while I usually end up resorting to Baba Ramdev’s breathing exercises until a Tamma Tamma from Badri sneakily makes its entry. As much as I need a peppy number like Tamma to get off the floor and jump and jog, my love for old hindi music lures me and pins me down back on the floor so that I continue gyrating my tummy in and out in a sitting position, eyes shut while listening to Annu Kapoor’s ‘Meri Awaz Suno’. My improving digestive system is a testimony to that.
Besides owing to Naushad, RD burman, Mohd. Rafi, Lata ji, Asha ji, and many such maestros for my superb digestive system and all the benefits Ramdev’s yoga claims to have, I also owe them for my cleaner room. One childhood memory that is very vivid in my mental album is that of waking up to soulful renditions on Sunday mornings while my mother would dust off the furniture of the house, occasionally humming the songs with misplaced lyrics. As we grew up eventually, we sisters were assigned each room to dust and clean on Sunday mornings and we followed her tradition of listening to ‘ek pyar ka nagma hai’, ‘kabhi kabhi mere dil mei’ while cleaning up our rooms. I remember fancying myself to be Rekha wearning Ma’s dupatta while cleaning mine. You see, old hindi music helped me promote a mundane routine of room cleaning to a hindi film screenplay where I was the leading protagonist (Aah, those were the days!). And since then, I find my solace in old hindi songs while doing anything that doesn’t include eating yummlicious pasta (doing everything else is a chore, you see). Years later, I would find myself cramming my laptop with collections of classics and crooning to ‘o mere sona re, ‘aiyee meherban’ and ‘meri awaz hi pehchan hain’ much to the utter annoyance of my roommate for my sappy choice of songs. That was until one day, I lost my collection to an unfortunate laptop crash. Just like how we have lost them to the horrifying rampage of badshahs and honey singhs and i-get-dumbyetpretty-girls-cuz-i-am-rich variety that have begun to rear its not so melodious heads in every other song these days.
Maybe our films have become too realistic today. They don’t dance around the trees anymore nor do they prance around the garden. There are no flirtatious banters between the hero and heroine anymore like in haal kaisa hai janab ka where they talk in lyrical sonnets. There is no scene made only for that one song like in kabhi kabhi mere dil mei that beautifully described the wedding night of a woman married to a man she doesn’t love. They hardy lip sync anymore because apparently that is not cool. And as much as I am all for realistic films and background scores, I am guilty of secretly desiring a ‘pyar ka izhaar’ in ‘chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko’ style. I miss burning my toasts while getting lost in ‘lag ja gale’. I miss sitting in the car for five more minutes while I finish listening to ‘aaj kal pao zamin par nahi padte’. I miss going for another round of long drive with the family so that we can listen to that coming up song of Laxmikant-Pyarelal. I miss solving math equations to tareef karu kya uski (no wonder I scored a miserable 69 or so in my boards). And I swear I can die a thousand deaths for the coquettish charm of Madhubala in the seductress of a song ‘aiyye meherban’.
The thing about cliché is that it becomes a cliché because it is so damn true. No wonder they say old is gold. Cliché but true. Just try wrapping your head around the fact that I am talking about songs that were composed years before we were born, in probably some nondescript chai ki dukan or in the drawing room adda of a studio apartment in Bombay by musicians who are no longer in existence and you will know what I mean. Yet, in all these years the music stayed. To remind us that once upon a time the world was super filmy, sappily romantic and brightly colourful.
Here is to the world I miss sorely.
Here is to my morning workout smeared with Shammi kapoor style shimmying in funny looking movements in sensuous songs.
Here is my ode to the oldies.
Imagine this. You’re having a conversation with a person for the first time. You are sitting in a café having a good laugh over a plate of delicious kebabs. The ambience is superb. The other person must probably be thinking of going out with you again and pop the question already. You, on the other hand, come out of the café with a knot in your stomach because you can’t just stop thinking about the hair sprouting from the person’s nostril. All those hearty laughs, good ambience, yummy food are absent-mindedly left behind in that corner table of the café and you come out only with those turf of hair sticking in your mind like mucus sticking on the hair. That’s what watching Badrinath ki Dulhaniya felt like. Surprise!!
Don’t read further because there are going to be spoilers ahead and I want you to watch the movie as it was made with a good heart. And I want you to come back to this after you have watched the movie.
As promised in the trailer, Badri is a filmy masala dish peppered with song and dance, good acting , action, colours, brewing love etc. And the dessert is the message that this love story tries to tell. An important message that our society needs to hear and get it drilled in its head. Unfortunately, society is just an intangible entity that we fall back on when things go awry. We blame the society left right and centre completely forgetting that it is people like you, me and the entire team of Badri that makes the society tangible and what it is. And things get messed up even with a good heart because we pay for years of building a skewed up and highly ignorant society that juggles too many balls (Read feminism, gender equality, empowerment, etc) without having a deeper understanding of any of it. I am not a connoisseur of any of it either. This is why we hear innocent rape jokes slipping into every day conversations here and there, even today.
Coming back to Badri, the boy meets a pretty girl at a wedding and falls in love with her. Cute, but nothing new.
The boy decides then and there that he is going to marry the girl. Nothing new there either.
The boy and his bestie follow her in college, in bus and basically wherever she goes. That’s wooing for you in UP style.
The girl says no. A first no which may mean yes.
The girl says no. A second no. Clap clap.
The girl says no. A third one. Boy is too daft to understand that.
The girl agrees to meet the boy and says no. A fourth no. Frankly, if I were the boy I would have fled away. But this boy is very pyara. He does things for her and her family that the girl finally says yes. Lo and behold. That UP style of wooing works like a charm, I tell you. Now who said stalking here? Keep quiet and clap.
Oh, but we also clapped for Pink that screamed out loud once and for all that No means No.
Anyway, things don’t work out between the two but our pyara badri can’t handle the situation. He turns into a violent version of Devdas gulping down alcohol and beating people up and finally also gagging the girl he loves. But all that is justified because pyara badri is in love. It is just that the girl almost murdered this ‘pyaraness’ that has now slipped into coma and refuses to come to consciousness. Helpless badri. What to do?
Eventually, boy and girl who were already in love learn to respect each other. Clap clap.
Badri finally becomes a man in the true sense from an awara boy who thought his six pack abs are enough to tell everyone that he is a man. Major clap.
By now, you will be clapping on too many ironies in the movie.
You would clap when they meet for the first time.
You would clap when you would realize that stalker badri is actually pyara badri.
You would clap when awara turned gentleman badri renders a soul cleansing, heart-tugging, eye-watering speech battered with a socially relevant message about what it actually means to be a man.
You would heave a sigh of relief because now you know that all those wooing/stalking, violence, threatening was to show the transition in badri’s character, of course conveniently forgetting that he manages to melt the girl’s heart before he becomes a gentleman.
You would take a breather when the ‘pyaraness’ comes out of the coma much to everyone’s delight and pyara badri is ready to take on the world with his new found perspective and his girl. Clap clap clap.
But but but, you still come out of the theatre with a knot in your stomach because you can’t stop thinking about the hair in the nostril.
There is this scene. It is an empty street. Dark sky. Boy and girl are walking when a group of masked goons surrounds the girl, gropes her, molests her and tears off her clothes. After the goons leave, the boy lends his jacket to the girl to cover her izzat. And they all laugh over it. The audience claps the hardest in this one, ‘rofl’ing. It was supposed to be a comic scene so laugh we must.
Are you kidding me, you ask. You can’t be serious, you gape in horror. Please tell me you are joking, you plead. And I say of course I am joking. Dare anyone make a mockery of sexual harassment and molestation of a girl and trivialize what a woman goes through. Of course I am joking. That is not what happens in the scene. It is the boy who gets groped and molested and gets his shirt torn off and it is the girl who lends her dupatta to cover his chest and they all laugh at him while he makes a face. Haah! Calm down now. For a second, I did scare you, didn’t I? Now, go ahead and laugh because it is a boy who gets groped and there is something so funny about it that the audience laughs.
Meanwhile, let me just go back to my Tinkle to get over the hair in the nostril. Yuck!
On a dreadful Monday morning, I get on the bus to work sharp at 9:30 am and like every day, I manage to get a seat. I sit there, laptop bag on my lap, half dozing off and half introspecting about my life, which to be honest, is just slightly more happening than the expressionless faces all around me staring at the no smoking sticker bills and New Year cards stuck in front as if Shakespeare’s life story is written on them. (That would be so cool by the way). Even the loud radio blaring 90s hit songs like ‘hi sexy, hello sexy kyu bole’ does no jiggle to our mundane postures.
And then I suddenly notice him. At first sight, pardon my snobbery, he is a no looker. A bespectacled, side partition haired, slightly pot-bellied, seemingly 30-year-old man. His black coat, white pant tells me he is a lawyer. I am about to mentally high-five him saying “welcome to the ‘i-hate-Monday’ club buddy!”, when my eyes fall on his fluorescent green headphone plugged to his phone. That surely stands out in the monochrome bus that I am riding and the monochrome man that I am looking at. He takes the aisle seat just an inch ahead and diagonally to me from where his cell phone screen is totally accessible to my eyes. That is when things start to get interesting.
If you ask me, I wouldn’t have snooped in. I am not the nosey type, you see. And he didn’t seem the out-of-the-box type either. But when the pair of shoulders in front starts to jump up and down and the head motions left and right, you have to know what he is having. Or watching. And I pry and see a dance tutorial playing on the screen. Probably a hip-hop one. I imagine him tapping his feet too. As the dancers in the video twerk and twirl, this man tries to imitate the moves in whatever restricted posture he is in. Seeing him hooked to the screen had me hooked. There was something magical about him. I could see his eyes twinkling and him smiling from the back of his head. His energy was that contagious. It was not just mere excitement on his face (like mine when I watch those cat videos) but something more than that. He was obviously oblivious to the nosy neighbor behind (yours truly) as well as the entire world around.
As I got down at my destination, his picture lingered in my mind. How his face lit up while watching the tutorial. How he seemed like a superman in disguise beneath the black coat and how he almost gave it all out for us to see. For me to see. It has been more than a month now and this story kept ruminating inside my head all this while. In that crampy dingy bus, I saw passion stand out and up wearing a cape right in front of me.
So this is what passion looked like. Felt like. I guess I would never know.
That moment, right there, I was envious and jealous of a no looker, bespectacled, pot-bellied man because he had something that I never knew I didn’t have. Now I know. Sigh!
Usually I read on my way to office. But sometimes when I am in a lot more of my effervescent self, I like to pretend that I am one of the bollywood heroines struggling to make a life for herself in a big bad city (Yes, I am filmy that way). In that little endeavour of mine, I always hog the window seat, put my headphones on, and transform myself to a world where I am the sole protagonist, watching the life pass by me. In those moments, I usually ignore the mosquitoes hovering around my legs, the dingy ambience of the interior of the bus crammed with seats that do not allow even a 5’4 being to sit comfortably. The occasional slap on the exterior wall that echoes on my delicate thighs is also conveniently ignored. But that day was different.
It so happened that, just as I was prancing around in yellow mustard fields with the Badshah of bollywood chasing me playfully; I was thumped to reality in a screeching halt. And that is when I noticed two boys sitting next to me, one on top of another. The sight amused me and the fact that they were sitting on a seat meant for ladies didn’t bother me much as there weren’t anyone in sight who probably needed it more. They weren’t much of a nuisance to me either. In brief, I was least bothered. Until, my eyes caught hold of a lady manoeuvring through the crowd and finally settling just an inch ahead of where I was sitting. I noticed she was pregnant. Visibly pregnant. To see her standing in a crowded bus holding onto the bar like for her dear life, I felt unsettled. I gave the two boys next to me a couple of minutes to stand up and give away their seat to her. Then a couple of more to the lady to demand for her seat. None worked. It was my turn now. Timid little girl that I am, I didn’t poke the boys but stood up and hinted at the lady to take mine. The boys readily gave way to the lady as she struggled to get to the seat. That she did as I now took her place, the laptop bag dangling behind my back. I couldn’t help staring at the blatant nonchalance smeared on those two faces, laughing and giggling amongst themselves. In my head I already reprimanded them in a ‘go-to-your-room-you-are-grounded’ sort of tone. Their indifference annoyed the hell out of me. Not because I was having to stand. I am all for equality and as long as I don’t run the risk of being groped oh-so-innocently by middle aged pricks, I am fine standing. But I was annoyed because I had been brought up to pull away chairs whenever I see an elderly person standing. Basic etiquette. Good manners. The lack of it in these two young educated boys bothered me. Yet, it was just the beginning.
The beginning of many such hour long journeys to and fro work when I found myself hopping from one seat to another, generously giving away seats to sometimes an old man, or to a lady armed with petulant kid, or to anyone who needed my hard earned seat more than me. Sometimes I have been told off too when I misjudged someone’s age and offered my seat (An oopsie moment there!).
To be honest, I am no Mother Teresa. There are times I pray that no old ones, young ones and pregnant ones get in and worse, stand anywhere near my radar of moral conscience. Sometimes I try to feign sleep or look the other way but my moral values so intact in me get the better off me. They can always sniff out the potential ‘sitters’. I must say, while I feel like a queen in doing my act of kindness, I can feel heavy stares on me from the laidback co-passengers. And i swear, sometimes I can even hear their stares muttering “oh please Miss.goody two shoes…take the Nobel prize already”. I don’t mind that though. The fact is, I am a shameless Miss.Wannabe goody two shoes. I mean I could have been wannabe hi-fi deadly criminal, or a wannabe dhoom like slick & sassy thief or a wannabe miss.richie rich. But I want to be miss goody two shoes. And I will not rest till I am one. But never have I ever felt anyone taking a hint from me and rise above their seat and their mentality. This makes me wonder too. Am i overreacting? Is it not such a big deal? Fortunately or unfortunately I can’t think of anything that can negate my reaction to this whole scenario.
This brings me to my dear Guwahati bus riders, including yours truly. Let’s not forget to grow some etiquette and kindness in our bones. Let’s go back to our moral values that we learnt in our kindergarten and warm them up a little. Let’s stand up for something seemingly trivial yet can get you a blessing or two. Let’s just be good. Trust me; it is an easy peasy job.
You have bad memories with that place? Does that place brings a bitter taste in your tongue and nudge a part of your memory that you had kept carefully locked? Do you always ask the rickshaw to take you the longer route because the shorter one gives you a glimpse of that God damn place? Do you hate that song now which was once upon a time ‘your’ song? Have you stopped listening to it ever since that night? Does that song remind you of the butterflies that are long dead in your stomach, the last fluttering of their wings, the parasites feeding on their bodies? Are you tired of escaping?
I urge you to do something today, the first thing in the morning. Take a good long shower. Wear your favourite lingerie. Get dressed up or dress down. However you always preferred. And then when you get in the rickshaw, ask him to take you the shorter route. Get down at that place. Invite all your friends or be alone. However you want to. And spend the best of your time there. Maybe order the dish of the day. Maybe carry your favourite novel and read there. Wink at a stranger. Smile. Do whatever it takes to make your heart smile. And while you do that, play that song on your headphone. It’s been a while you listened to it. Now that’s a lovely song, isn’t it?
What i am trying to tell you is that, honey, it’s time you stopped running and started building – new memories and your life. Go back to that place again and again till you create a memory that you never have to lock.
So that next time bad memories pass you by, all you are reminded of is the best memory you had.
|| He had always been one of those. You know the-unromantic-silent-brooding-Mr.Darcyish-angry-young-man variety, who you hate at first and then fall hard in love with later. The one who doesn’t believe in romantic gifts, sweet nothings, goodnight kisses. Get the picture? Yes, that’s the one.
So, basically that means no birthday gifts, no valentine’s day gifts, no anniversary gifts, and no surprise gifts (of course). Though that made him utterly cute and adorable somehow, this time she decided she wouldn’t have anything of that sway her off her feet. She wanted her gift this time.
“You never give me anything!”
“What else do you want? We spent such splendid times in these three days. Isn’t that enough for you?”
“You are just so lame. So unromantic. Sometimes I wonder how you even fell in love with me!”
“Who said I did?”
“Acha sorry baba! Now smile, I have to catch the train. You take care okay.”
And before she could hug him one last time, he left.
Next morning, she woke up with red swollen eyes and a wet pillow. Damn! These long distance relationships. Damn! And as she carelessly ran her hands over the wardrobe to look for her lenses, she found something clumsily wrapped in a newspaper. His old blue T-shirt. With a note that said – “Obviously I am poor. Hope this second hand thing helps.” So typical of him. She smiled. He always knew how to make her smile.
A year later they broke up. Little did she know, that T-shirt would be the only remnant of him with her. The T-shirt that has now turned grey. Pale. Crimpled. Like the T-shirt, the memories have faded too. Bit by bit. Layer by layer. Colour by colour.
The funny thing about memories is that when you look back at them, they are so alive. Vivid and colourful. Ever-lasting. And ever-revealing. ||
|| I am not going to tell you her story. She and I have a deal. Whatever happens in the kitchen, stays in the kitchen.
But her story is the many stories I have known, heard and seen. That have helped me to dare take a step forward after being pulled back thousand steps behind, to build my castle each time the waves wash it away, to sit on cloud 9 everyday, to see the silver lining in every cloud, to wake up every morning with the same gusto after a hundred “ give ups” on my routine, to dream, to fight, to dream again and mostly to be happy. They taught me to find happiness where it belonged: my heart.
Because that smile you see in the picture is despite a hundred dreams shattered and the beginning of twenty others. I am lucky to see that smile every single day in my life but if you look around, they are everywhere. Maybe there, under that bridge that you just crossed. ||
Published in The Instagram Generation (Facebook) on the theme Dedication
|| When you are done giving her life
When you are done capturing every single moment of her childhood on a camera
When you are done buying candies and silly frocks for her
When you are done crying for every bruise or mosquito bite on her skin
When you are done clapping the loudest for her on stage
When you are done dolling her up
When you done teaching her to eat her greens
When you are done planning her first ever vacation in Manali
When you are done drilling values and discipline
When you are done teaching her the jobs of the head and the heart
When you are done making her a happy human-being
She wants you to go out there and gift yourself a smile
For making her, her
And just for being you. ||