The Woman in White

It was a clear day when I found myself in the Thane Transport Bus Depot – waiting inside a State Transport bus, called a Laal Dabba (‘Red Box’ for its sheer unpretentious looks) going to Mahabaleshwar – I had to go to Mahad, a small industrial town – some 200km south-southwest of Mumbai. The bus was full of rustic folk – my old trousers and shirt bore stark contrast to the dirty white drapes and shirts of the menfolk (with an equally dirty Gandhi topi to match). The womenfolk had colorful sarees worn in a way to make it easier to work in waterlogged fields. The already narrow aisle space was cramped by heaps and sacks – mostly lumps tied up in bedsheets.
And it being a weekday most people were elderly – so I practically stopped searching for a pretty face – still the seat next to me was empty -and I was hopeful.
Then there came this young female – dressed in a white Punjabi suit – an old man had come to see her off – as luck would have it she came and sat next to me – she took the window seat and I slid to the one beside.
The man left off – and I did not realise when the bus started moving.I opened my Times of India – though from a corner of my eyes I was studying the occupant of the window seat – I could not place her.
She was not pretty but quite good-looking – but what seemed bizarre was that every effort had been made to make her look unattractive – her wrists were bare – no jewerlry on ears or nose either – no Bindi – the suit – pure clean white, seemed to be made and worn so as to the conceal the protrusion on her bosom – the hair were just clumped together in a heap. There was a small metal badge on the left of her chest – the etching not legible. All this put my mind into a turmoil – I finally came to the conclusion that she must have been widowed – recently.
The woman seemed reluctant to talk (that’s never been a problem with me). She seemed to be curiously interested in the Page3 of Bombay Times I was holding (which splashes images of the Who’s who of the city’s burgeoining social circles – men and women fashionably attired holding wine-glasses in one hand).
I donot remember how I broke the ice – but it did and I finally  got to learn that she was a member of the Brahamakumari Samaj, the spinsters’ union. She turned out to be surprisingly talkative from the point onwards – she could speak good Hindi and I was able to see the world through her eyes – a world where all men were looked upon as brothers (brought over by years of brain-washing) – and then there were Mothers and sisters – she stayed in an Ashram in Mahad – preaching virtues to brothers and sisters who visited the Ashram – controlled by mothers – there was supreme mother she refferred to as Mamma. I tried shifting her focus from the doctrine she preached to, herself – I wanted to know ‘Why’
It seemed she had been ‘donated’ to the Samaj by her parents – and since her teens she’d been part of this – she could visit home once in a while but they were proscribed from doing some common things like watching TV and reading newspapers and ofcourse making friends wth men was unimaginable.
I wanted to ask her if she never ‘felt’ anything – but was at a strange loss of words – I thought up a ploy and told her since she thought her Mamma was her idol whether she never wanted to become a Mother – in the true sense – that of having kids.
That switched her to thinking state – I looked intently at her – she looked beyond – still thoughtful – mayabe I could imagine a sigh escaping ? – no there was no sign of dissapproval – nor of contempt for me for making such a prepostorous suggestion.
Talk thinned – Mahad came – I helped her to her solitary suitcase from the rack above – she thanked and asked me to visit her Ashram if I could find time.



A photograph…a body…a man…bare torsoed…covered with polythene…a singular hole in the chest…Death’s sting…lying on snow…two uniformed men by the side…a green paramilitary vehicle in the background.

A girl, six-something, in school, unaware of the meaning of Death, circulating this image in the class (which her teacher confiscated)  – image of her father killed in action in Kashmir.

(My Mom was her teacher and she showed me the photograph – got etched forever in my mind as a symbol for the dispute in Kashmir)

The Matrix

I had a heated exchange with a long-time friend about the truth of the world. Incidentaly this person has not lived in India for more than seven years of his twenty-seven ; and so its not surpising that he be a patron of Indian culture – but he goes further – he’s a staunch RSS supporter and preaches Sanatan Dharma as the core ingredient of the condiment we call Indian culture. And that of a person working on cutting edge technology in the Silicon Valley,sounded quite novel.
The exchange followed due to the misconception that I was one of the Westernised, cynical Indians- raring to move West – the conclusion he jumped into when I divulged my atheist nature and my support for the (West-originated) philosophies of subjectivity (Ayn Rand) and existentialism.
I had to final shout that I was not Westernised, neither Indianised nor Orientalised.( I had to tell him that Sanskrit was my favorite language). I told him that I eclecticly picked whatever was the best of all religions,cultures,races. I told him that I was out of the Matrix – while most people in the world still were not.
I was aware of the truth of my statements only later – Wachowski’s movie gives voice to the malaise which has run amok in humankind and all violence we see around us is directly or indirectly attributable to the existence of the Matrix – or rather the Matrices.
Let me explain – there is hardly a thing called an unbiased opinion or account of anything – my friend accused me of reading history that was written by the West and so biased heavily against Hindutva.I asked him what history to read – Ramayana – Upnishads – they say they are the centre of the world – they and nobody else – its biased against West, or East or north or south – they donot take into account even the ‘existence’ of other races, cultures in ‘Satyuga’ – they finally claim that all that is diverse now has descended from Hindutva.My friend disputed the Aryan invasion theory – I guess what he had in mind was cross-Aryan invasion – the influx of Sanskrit speakers into West.
The point is ‘who do you believe’. I was an extremely gullible person once – believed everything that was told to me – so many people started telling me so many things – totally contradicting each other – that I had no peace of mind – till I decided not to trust anyone – you tell me what you think and I’ll see whether I want to accept it or not- the Self is my Supreme Court – so I decided I won’t be part of any Group that strives to become a Matrix. They want you to believe in what they want and not what you want.Your right and wrong is decided by the Matrix rather than by you yourself.Of course there can be well-intended Matrices as well – the Mission of Charity by Mother Teresa is one example – the Matrix of Compassion.
But most are ill-founded and ill-intended – but the ‘Nodes’ of the Matrix never see that truth – they transform into Agent Smith-s- the Jihad Matrix, the Hndutva MAtrix, the Nazi (and neo-Nazi) Matrix, the Marxist Matrix (which is the most unabashed one – they kill the self completely – the Jihad Matrix does so only physically), the ‘Jesus-loves-you’ Matrix.
Every morning you wake up and you run into Agents – everything said by everyone is intended at making you believe what they believe.
I wake up and see my landlady – she says that I live in the best , the most comfortable house on the Planet,I switch on TV – an ad  tells me that their product is number one (many competitors do that as well for the SAME PRODUCT),I goto to one news channel – they say that a ‘professor has been beaten to death’ I go to another and they say ‘a professor dies of stress and heart-attack’ both channel claim to broadcast only truth – the list is just enless- every moment of the day someone is metamorphising into Agent Smith for his Matrix.
I have a long standing joke wth my former room-mates – everytime we used to go house-hunting – and we would ask someone on street whether there was a house to be let – he immediately transforms into an Agent Smith – just like in the movie – he leaves his original occupation (vending vegetables , tailoring are all true examples) – all transform into a realtor – and would be desirous of Something when the deal is done.
Ofcourse ,all I am talking of could be bull-shit to you – I am no Agent Smith. Please let me know what you think by putting comments.

Playing audience to Les Femmes

One of the situations I dread ending up in and yet am forced into frequently is playing audience to the fairer sex. “Thou shalt talk incessantly” seems to be a trait originating in the female hormones.
My spat with the last landlady (which made me move out of my last tenancy at a night’s notice) taught me the benefits of being on friendly terms with the lady of the house, who more often than not are the de facto rulers of their premises and thus of the tenants who occupy them.
Agreed, and the fact that she (my current landlady) spoke my native tongue and was from the same district as I, seemed to help (or so it seemed then) matters. Well, so some sorrys and thank-yous later, now like in countless stories – I sneak up and down through the stairs – while passing through – and this not because I have rent pending to be paid – but , well, if she catches you – a minimum of half an hour is done for.
So usually it happens like this – I come home tired and with smoke smeared on my face and inside nostrils – and I have to get in and cook – and Her Majesty will be done with all her chores and would be waiting for her hubby; boredom borne of day-long solitude writ large on her face.
And then it happens – a steady barrage of all too familiar words starts falling on me ( and I try taking cover in the corner of the stair).Accounts I had heard so many times before – of her crazy westernised son – of his travails abroad – of his retrofitting exploits on his motorbike – of his earth shattering music system – of his countless overseas offers promising big-bucks – of his  first days away from his home,parents – abroad – all punctuated with lots of  what-has-become-of-this-generation-s – man the list is boring.
All this while I just nod my head (I did try interjecting with my own similar experiences – and then realised its futility – she was clearly not the corporate trainer who wanted the “session to be interactive”).
And then she would crib about not being able to go “native” whenever she feels like, having to take care of all the floors rented out – ‘not like you people’ she’d say – ‘can lock ,your house anytime you wish and go anywhere’ – well said I, big (monetary) returns  sure entail big responsibility ; this won’t be taken  in very well and I make an escape – ‘UP, up and away’.
There are two other tenents in her house – both from the same “native” as I – and they’re couples – young ones – I always wonder why  she won’t catch one of the their females ( that may give some respite to the young husbands too).Maybe she thinks he’s just a bachelor – and so no responsibilities (spelt w-o-m-a-n).
Which is not entirely true – I do have a woman home whose endless talk needs patient ears – my mother. She has always craved for having another female in the household,first for a daughter and now for a daughter-in-law and since she eyes me with expectations for the latter – I try warding them off by playing both the daughter and the in-law.
Whenever I visit her she would constantly keep summoning me – she would even arrange for a chair for me in the kitchen – so that I can relax while I listen to her talk and she won’t burn the food either.
And once the talk did seem interesting – all scandalous gossip from the north and the north-east where she had worked – the countless iterations of the Mallu Principal of her school having an affair with a Nepalese office clerk – and the affair goes public – waaah – that was where it all started – there were dozens of other stories followed which she repeated ceaslessly.( I wonder why women , who are such careful folks – never quite remember that they’ve already narrated that story many times before.Or maybe do they)

Of late after settling in the ‘native’ she has lost the all-married-females social circle which is the breeding ground for scandalous gossip- real and imaginary.
Now the stories are less interesting – property feuds in family – her alcoholic brothers and their failed marriages – all very depressing talk.
I usually feign exhaustion after the travel home and try dissapperaing into some ‘remote’ corner in the house – but she finds me invariably.
Well if you think that its married , matronly women who suffer from this malaise you are grossly mistaken. In the one year I gave company to this female who was my colleague as well as neighbour – she would have told me everything about her (well almost atleast) – over and over again.
And all that when she was having an intimate affair with a richie rich guy. It was absolute torture when the day of her birthday she would tell me the details of her midnight tete-a-tete with her lover at a secluded spot near the airport – ‘and then he kissed me’ she would end – and then she realised that she was talking to a guy and hide her face with her palms and say ‘…on the cheeks’ as means for damage control.
Since we commuted to office from the same locality – we would be travelling together on bus daily – she would make me sit far from her (she gets ‘irritated’ by anyone sitting closeby) and then she would tell me how her affair started , what he was wearing on their last date, which upmarket restaurant he took her last,why they quarrelled – and whether she should now call him up or wait for him to say sorry. The trend had repeated so many times , that I had learnt by-heart what she’d be saying – beacause as I’m a little hard of hearing  and would be sitting far – I would keep missing chunks – and she’s too sharp to notice – she would stop her drawl and shout – ‘what did I say?’ – mercifully – most of the time I was able to interpolate from the context. Else I would have be charged with  ‘carelessness towards friend with malicious intent’ and would have to garland her with a wreath of ‘sorry it won’t happen agian’s in order to return to normalcy.
And yet all I feel is :its all worth it – in this vast world there are very few people all these women could and would trust – and my pride in being one of them is always more than rewarding for listening to their idle talk.