Conversations overheard in a coffee shop.

The young girl behind the order kiosk of the famous coffee chain looked hard at my bill. Other than charges for coffee it had charges under a multiple heading that could give anyone a headache. She was young a fresher & struggling with the bill.

I took a guess, asked in Marathi– Is there a problem?

No Sir, she replied but in Hindi!

Mariachi band music played on the speakers, another staffer spoke in Kannada, two housewives gossiped in English at the table. 15 years back this place used to be all farm land. Like the girl staffer, everyone spoke Marathi.  

Will this app work?

Of course, sir!

How many people can you get to join ….?

The ‘of course sir’ guy leaned back – saying a lot without saying it. The ‘questions’ guy stared at him. He was dressed very differently from the other, his mac was open to an excel with digits all over. There was a third guy with them who observed the play between the two men while enjoying his cold mocha shot.

It will work sir – don’t worry.

The third man said it. The others had a worried look after that. They left soon after – the questions guy didn’t touch his capuchin no. Even though he paid the bill.

He – Will you have your usual?

She – Just no sugar. I’m trying to –

He left before she could complete the sentence.

The housekeeping guy swept close to her feet. She shot him a look; he backed away without looking at her kept sweeping backwards all the way to the service area.  

She – What took so long?

He – Que.

He stood for a second with his mask on & the tray still in his hands while he answered. Something I couldn’t hear. They left in a while. The housekeeping guy took extra care to clean all traces from their seats.

When did you get back to India?

A couple of months ago.

They were middle aged – one in khaki shorts, other in blue jeans – trying hard to be casual.

Are you going back?

I can but I won’t.

He looked at him. They smiled. Both knew that wasn’t true.

Can we sit here? he asked.

He was wearing a silver-grey golfing t-shirt a size larger than his frail size. She was in a colourful cotton salwar kameez white with green & red motifs.

This place is for people to work – she said.

But we are retired – he was tired of standing – so he sat down anyways.

We can sit here – she assured him and sat next to him to give company. 

Even if we don’t work – he smiled at her as he looked at a girl lost in her laptop on the other side.

They laughed at their joke without worrying about work.

Why are you sitting here?

They looked at a younger version of them towering over them.

What happened? He asked

This is for people who are working. We can sit on the other side.

We are happy here – he said.

But we can sit there by ourselves.

Come on let’s go – she said

But we just sat down – he protested.  

She got up. their younger version stared. Finally, he relented. They went to the corner where people who don’t work sit down.

The shops are filling up again

Good

Means more people will use the rest room

Good

More work for us

Doesn’t make a difference.

I heard them while I was getting into the loo – talking in Marathi. They stood outside the divided rooms marked gents & ladies. Masks on chin, grey in their hair, gloves on their hands, they stood next to each other and waited for people to leave so they cou

In a while I saw them before the coffee shop. A giant glass façade separated us. If I changed my angle the coffee logo hid their faces. I sipped on my coffee, watched them before I got down to write this piece when I looked up , they were gone. All I saw is the lady staffer struggling to read yet another bill..

The old man who loves street dogs & holy smokes.

This was at my dad’s place a while back. Early morning, I was out for a walk/run, when I saw the old man for the first time. He was sitting near a large tree, petting street dogs while enjoying a smoke. Problem was the tree & where he was sitting. Read on…..

The fitness bug had bitten – three days of straight exercise.  Walks, Surya namaskars, yoga stretches – you name it. It got to a point where in 24 hours I went for a run the night before & the next morning I did it again. Experts normally would shake their heads at this kind of routine – but I was no expert. Besides all the stuff I do is light, just about 20-30 minutes. And am really glad about these two runs, especially the one in the morning.  

I was running around dad’s place, a gated community of sorts. Because the gates are always open & the security stopped nobody! Still, its nice inside as the buildings bunch up at a distance cutting out the noise & pollution from the main roads. There is a line of trees planted around the periphery of the society that surround the entire space forming a natural walking track. Though at places the road is uneven, patches of gravel & dirt with potholes. Still beats running on dusty polluted roads outside with traffic swinging from both sides.

Another unique thing about our place are its street dogs. There are quite a few staying both inside the colonies & on the track outside. Kind folks from the apartments feed them, kids play & most importantly they can sleep or take shelter under parked cars without anybody chasing them away. Sure, they gang up & create a ruckus when home dogs come out for a walk but otherwise, they are very friendly & wise.

I had befriended a couple of them – both black coated skins, one a young rogue with patches of white, the other older one was an even black pure as silk skin. They would come happily nodding their tails at me. it was during the run that I also kept an eye out for them. that’s when I saw the holy smoke.

At a turn I spotted one, ran towards him. Usually he spots me & runs towards me. This time he didn’t see me. I thought that’s because his attention was diverted someplace else. I made whistling sounds – mistake. My breath got all caught up in the whistle, I began wheezing that lead to bout of coughing. Had to stop running as the coughs refused to go away. As I coughed, I looked up. now the dog was missing from my view. All I could see towards the side was a parked van & beyond that was a tree.

The van parked was obstructing the full view of the tree. My first guess was one of the dogs or both were underneath the van -maybe eating something. But as I neared the van, I saw white smoke rising from beyond it & near the tree.

It was an old tree – griped & grey with veins sprouting all around. It looked graceful & majestic. People had tied religious white threads around it, a raised circular platform was built around it. On the platform were little frames & idols of different gods & goddesses. There were steps leading to the raised platform, even a place to sit. Here, I discovered the reason for the smoke & the disappearance of my friends.

My first guess was right, both my friends were missing because of food. They were eating biscuits that a balding old man was feeding them. The reason for the smoke was his lit cigarette that he had kept to one side. While he was lovingly feeding the dogs who didn’t mind the nicotine or its rising flames one bit the smoke was busy paying homage to the gods & spreading tobacco love all around. The old man didn’t so much as glance at me as I continued to run.

I was hurt. Forget the old man – my four-legged friends had so betrayed me – all for a packet of Marie biscuits! The hurt must have shown as the big aunty who walks 10 rounds each day stared at me. The helpers at grocery store smiled, the security personnel waved, I kept scowling. The words treachery, traitors, trolls, and al lot of other T’s crossed my mind as I ran to again reach that corner with the tree.

How old men just don't give a damn.

The old man was busy reading his newspaper. He had put the cigarette out. Again, he didn’t look up. I slowed down to take a closer look at him. The grey specks of a two-day beard were showing, his t-shirt was shabby, hair unkept & his sandals were worn out.  I took a couple of pictures from a respectable distance without being intrusive. He didn’t notice as I walked away. As I did, one of my friends came up to me. I stood to the side. He looked up at me, then looked towards the old man. Went and sat at his feet. I moved on.

After my run, I asked the security guard I knew. He told me that was the old man’s routine. Said he spoke very little to anyone. That people left him alone & that he also kept to himself. At home I recollected the old man again. I thought of his eyes –  he had dog eyes, the same like my four-legged friends. He did care – but not for those that walked & ran around to stay fit. He was beyond all that. his eyes saw things the same way the dog’s eyes did. Live, love & let go – everything else is just Holy smoke.

Sunset

The half moon, high up, directly above the bald head. The rising sea, thudding into the rocks that make an arbitrary shore. Soft murmurs of people, riding the wind along with the sound of the waves. A pink and magenta sky, fading into a dull violet in the east, punctuated by the moon.

A little distance from the sea, the city roars on. Here though, there is space to breathe, think, feel, be.

Nemesis

I open the book and stare. I feel it stare right back. Maybe, whatever is around us is staring too.

The page is what it is — blank. My state of being is giving it meaning. Right now, it seems menacing and i wish to hide. In that blankness, are opportunity, choice, hardship and whatever else i wish to ascribe to it.

I do not ask the page for its own views. I am still to learn how to interact with it.

For now, the page is a page is a page and every word is a choice. I can learn to be friends with it or i can treat it as the enemy forcing me to make a choice.

I do neither. I sit. Facing it. And breathe. Again. And again.

Inhale, exhale;
Length, breadth.

The page seems a mirror of my own self.

I focus on the breath. I know i will get out of my own way.

Twisted life lessons learnt during late night travel.

9 in the night, at the bus depot in Panjim, Goa – beach capital of the country. That late night travel would teach me life lessons with a twist – who would have thought!

An hour earlier .. …

Evening in goa Tourists, snazzy eats, pubs, casinos i – big bright lights & party feel.

Surely i should get a late night bus right! ? I said to my friend S. He shot me a look. Soon we left for the bus depot.

Bus were parked , barely any lights and very few passengers. I thought of the bright lights in the city and barely some distance away it’s this deserted depot! That brings me to lesson no 1 –

Always look beyond the bright lights!

Finally i found the enquiry counter. A moustashed man was sitting in the cabin surrounded by glass & aluminium bars around it.

He looked up, I asked – Madgaon?

That side-, he pointed towards a corner & added – hurry.

I ran towards the bus, stopped, turned to run back. I hurried to S’s car, took my bag, warmly embraced S before i jogged back again in the opposite direction.

TICKET COUNTER – the words attracted me. I rushed to the mutliple stalls, saw a man behind one of them busy toying with his tobacco pouch.

Madgaon ticket ? I asked.
Next stall- he said without looking up.

I muttered a curse as I tugged my 20 kg backpack & snaked back around the iron bars to reach the other stall. I reached there only to find the same man there. I was about to repeat myself when I observed the two stalls the same man side by side.

The stall he was standing at was clean and neatly done. The other stall where I saw him rolling the tobacco was a mess of crumpled paper, remains of dinner and tobacco powder!

Lesson 2 – Keep your work life seperate from your personal – at all times!

He punched he ticket, said – that’s the bus, go now.

The urgency in his voice made me run to the bus, abckoack and all. I scampered in now all sweaty from the walking and runnig abd didn’t stip till I climbed into it. Only to realise it was empty. Not even the driver in his seat. And that’s when lesson number 3 flashed –

Don’t rush things – even when pushed!

I looked carefully, found one guy asleep a few rows to the back. His shirt matched the seat covers that merged him into the background. As I took a few steps he stirred, stared at me , gave a disappointed look and shut his eyes again.

I looked around, found just the right seat. It had a lot of leg room, also space to place my backpack ahead of me. I took it. The ‘Reserved for disabled’ tag didn’t bother me. Nor did anyone come to check or tell me otherwise. Afterwards another guy came in, he checked at least 3 spots before chosing a spot right behind me. Then the driver came. Luckily he took his designated spot! And that was lesson no 4. –

Darkness reserves opportunities – grab them!

The bus crawled out of the city. I surfed the net. Behind me the guy was listening to local news aloud. Sometimes there would be silence for a bit then again I could hear it. I guess that was the net connection. This despite 4g, despite prices going up thrice in 3 months. Earlier prices wiuld be in check because of state owned Internet companies. Now they were shut or sold off to private players. All part of the internet for all plan. Now that explained the lag. The bus reached the higway and cruised.

I began work on a blog post about dog body language. In 20 seconds realised i knew nothing on the subject. I looked out the window, the bus was flying , behind me the chief minister proclaimed – No one can stop us now.i looked back at my phone seached tbe big bad net & found the info. In 2-3 seconds I turned back surfed the internet got random pieces of info – stitched and hammed the piece just in time when reached Madgaon. And that’s lesson no 5 –

When stuck – persist, stick to the plan , eventually you will make it .

I got off the bus -found a the bike pilot who would take me to the main railway station. I did not negotiate with him as it was too late in the night After a good twenty minutes of riding he took me to a spot near the rail tracks and said – Sir if you get down and walk 5 minutes you will reach platform number 3 and then you can hop over to any platform.

I didn’t like the cheesy voice he said it in Why don’t you take me towarrs platform no 1 instead? I asked a bit sternly.

Well sir, it was far …this is neat …you can…you know – he hemmed and hawwed . I was having none of it, ‘You have to take me to platform no 1. Am not paying you and then walking around with this big bag!’ I said with finality.

Having no choice he turned and made his way to platform number 1. It was a circutous way that took a good 5 minutes on his bike. And he wanted me to walk all the way, imagine.

Sir please give me 50 more he pleaded. I put my foot down – nothing doing. Finally to get rid of him I gave him 20 more. All the while feeling he wanted to get the better if me and I didn’t let him. Till I reached platform no 1 and heard the announcement

Train to Bangalore leaves from platform no 3.

As I walked my way back to platform no 3 the last lesson came to me

The only person who can outwit you is you.

Pain in parts

He didn’t seem in pain. But something was wrong I was at R’s house when I asked –

What happened?

This….

R showed me his hands. A red rash had broken out in patches on both his hands.

Will you still be attending the gig?

Oh most certainly!

This is because of stress, i said.

Could be, he countered, will only increase if I don’t go out.

I watched R – my friend, my brother from another mother. I said nothing. Before leaving i glanced back at the raging red that were his hands.

Next day morning

I sat on my bike when the call came. The name displayed – M. It kept ringing & ringing, I let it. Too early in the morning to hear his sorrows. Interestingly his number on my cell displays as M with couple of heart emojis next to it. M displays in white, hearts in blue. All set against a black background.

I could never store a number like that – not because I don’t want to but because I don’t know how to. But M could have done that. M can be like that. The call rang till it died down. I left it at that.

Traffic signal.

The new track was good. I wanted to add it to my playlist. I looked up – signal still red. I reached in my pocket, removed my mobile – on the main screen it displayed – L’s message. My eyes flickered – I read;

Am on the train

How much longer? I typed. Then went back to the music tp add it. For that I had to tap on the heart symbol.

Three hours, she messaged back immediately. I had not expected her to, she usually took time.

How’s the leg? I typed – a part of me not wanting to ask, a part of me still angry with her for going away when I had asked her to stay. Signal turned green, honks, vrooms, dust, the works. I had to ride ahead. No other way.

Still swollen, wrapped in ice packs, her reply. I stopped just ahead of the signal to read m, then I didn’t wait, moved on.

A great sadness & grief surrounds me. I know it will be like this for some time. Before it will not. L’s last message. I read it only after my journey had ended. Too late by then.

Next evening.

Let’s have dinner before I head back.

Usually we finished work and went home. But I wanted to delay going home. Luckily my buisness partner S agreed.

Let’s go to that Asian food place

Let’s

To reach the place we had to cross a traffic signal. This was near her place where we met often. It was late evening, long shadows and all.

I looked left-right and crossed the busy junction in a flash. Then I turned back. S was still standing there in her blue dress on the other side.

What happened? I cried out. Almost. Stopped myself just in time.

Because I remembered – she has something known as ‘Retinitis pigmentosa’ – that leads to tunnel vision. This means she gets stressed at crowded places and footpaths, especially in the evenings. And this was a really busy junction. So obviously she’s stressed.

I walked a little further, crossed the road again at a distance and went back near her. Her focus was only ahead on the road. I said in a casual voice –

Okay now let’s cross over.

Wait, she said nervously.

Relax. No vehicles.

Okay – she said. Then she put one foot forward quite unsure. The next and the following ones were steadier as I walked besides her continuously talking about some stupid thing or the other. I saw the sweat on her forehead, betraying her calm face.

Thank you – S said once we were on the other side.

For what?

For crossing over.

How do you know? I asked in surprised disappointment.

I just know – S smiled. We walked ahead silently avoiding the footpath and taking the busy streets.

Sunday sea-side.

Indeed I feel quite overwhelmed at present. Too much to be done and im way behind schedule. Besides I have health issues that I am ignoring and surviving on pain killers. Now I am getting used to them. so right now really wont be able to give you the time. Maybe after my show –

This was a friends reply to me on email. What happened was –

I was meeting an artist friend after a long time. We met at an old joint – tables by the sea. She had a glass of wine, I didn’t. We spoke of a lot of things – love, life, lockdown. At that point I wanted her to do a project where I document her artistic process. She agreed. Later I realised she felt frazzled and must have said yes because of she could not say me no I sent a voice note telling her please feel free to not do this.

The above was her reply.

I wrote back with a smile to take care and hope to connect soon.

I then put my head down on the table. It was aching – pain from my acidity – pain from my aches – sometimes it’s the legs the belly. I don’t know whose pain I am holding now. Is it mine? Or someone else’s?

My phone rang again. it was M. I let it ring. Till finally I picked up.

Yup?

Bro, I had a bad fall.

What? How? When?

He told me – out for a cycling trip. Wayward car cut him, scraped, his bike skid and he fell badly, been hospitalised in some god forsaken place.  

That’s when I called you yesterday.

Shit!

Which hospital? He told me. As we spoke, I began dressing up. I had no choice but to run to his pain.

Photo credit – Google images – couldn’t get tbe name of the artist. Thank you anonymous!

Funny hospital stays with my father

Dad was in the hospital again. Another surgery, a minor one. As usual I was there to give him company. We shared a room with this other couple. Guy was being operated, his wifey was telling the world about it. That’s where the fun began.

She continued talking to the lady called Mamta while moving to the other end of the room. I noticed she had left the door ajar. Amongst other things she spoke about, included her husband’s operation just getting done, about the room being congested, about me – that I was working from the room, that I may be a relative of the patient, that I was too healthy to be a patient but one never knows. Wow!

In a while, I knew all about how her Gujju husband complained of unbearable pain, which she thought was him having a bad hangover. I ignored my father whom they wheeled in all groggy, as the lady continued yapping about how she had guessed  hubby was ill. Not by conducting any medical checks. He called her by her pet name, asked to take him to the hospital while telling her to take care of his paralysed father in any eventuality. And finally she was sure was when he told her that his cheque book was in the bottom third drawer!

Suddenky sh cut shot the conversation and left the room. I eyed my dad. He was still asleep. My entertainment for the evening cut short.

Till she returned with her husband.

Dad was up, hale and hearty – no pain or other usual post op complains. That was a good sign. On the other side was Gujju man whose op was successful. The thing was unlike dad, he was wheeled into the room awake & bristling. And from the time he came in, there was just sheer entertainment.

A case in point from a conversation he had with the nurse

G – Nurse doctor told me to walk after checking my pressure.

N – I did check sir, its normal.

G – That was half an hour ago. What about now?

The nurse checked the pressure. Normal. Another nurse was in my room to check on my dad. As she was about to leave, Gujju guy insisted she remove the catheter as it wasn’t placed properly. Leaving them no choice they proceeded to do that when he complained that it was hurting, were they new at the job, was it safe to remove it?! As the nurses exchanged glances his wifey called house-keeping, not by using the calling bell, but by opening the room door and shouting. Through the ruckus dad to opened his eyes, he saw me & smiled.

Thank you, Mrs and Mr Gujju.

From that moment on, dad and me were entertained by the couple who carried on as if they were in their house. Housekeeping turned into their personal valet service – asking for all sorts of things – WIFI passwords, new mobile charging points, extra pillows, bed covers. When their demands were mostly met, they had loud debates at 10 in the night about their demands not being met! A Malayalee nurse happened to come in to check & she was forced to ask them to pipe down. To their credit, they did.

Another interesting situation happened next morning. I woke up to chatter in the background. My dad and gujju guy chatting –

G – you said your age is 82 sir?

Dad – (smiles) Yes.

G – and you have no pain at all after the operation.

Dad – no, not really.

G (sighs) you make me feel old sir

Dad smiles some more.

G – you make me feel ashamed!

That woke me up. I looked around, Gujju’s wife was missing, the wall clock showed time as 5.30. Gujju was staring into the ceiling, dad was smiling at the same ceiling. I shut my eyes again & tried to sleep.

Not for long as the staff came in to give the patients a sponge bath. I woke up & cleared out. When I was back, they had taken the Gujju out for a walk. Only the wife was in the room busy having a conversation with dad. This time she smiled at me. Now the room felt friendly as the small talk continued.

Till the soup was brought into the room.

Kiskeliye – for whom? she asked the housekeeping guy.

405 – he saw the tag and spoke. 405 was our bed.

In a minute after that, she had transformed the confident 20-year-old into a quivering, stammering mass of jelly who didn’t know why her husband had not got his morning soup like us. She retrieved what seemed her favourite weapon, her mobile phone and started making calls. This had the boy sweating & he ran out while she continued extolling about the great injustice meted out by the hospital to her husband. In 5 minutes, the boy reappeared with a bowl of soup. Which she checked, said wasn’t hot enough and had him heat it. Twice!

Then came in the Gujju guy, looked at the tray before his bed.

What’s this?

Soup, his wife said proudly.

But the doctor has told I cannot have soup or anything hot for two days! Are they trying to kill me?

My dad almost choked on his soup. The wife quietly left the room as the Gujju rang the bell to give hell to the nurses. I kept going to the loo to laugh my head off!!

Through the day, the wife would keep calling Mamta & talking in Gujrati about different things.  She spoke about how we were getting a discharge today, that she missed her home food, that the hospital has Jain food but she has her doubts if it’s really Jain food – that they may have to be here  another day.

After a while I got busy settling the bills & getting all our stuff together. The gujju guy would chat up with dad smiling and laughing till the minute a nurse or house-keeping staff walked in. Then he would be his grumpy self-complaining about something or the other.

Finally, we were ready to get out. We said our goodbyes to the man. He wished us luck at the same time told the house-keeping how the bed-sheet was too coarse which were giving him bed sores. In walked his wife with the mobile attached to her ear. She saw us with bags, asked Mamta to hold their conversation, looked at us –

Leaving already?

Aawujo ben.

The colour drained from her face, speechless at my flawless Gujrati words as I said See you soon. She smiled, left the room in a hurry to share the same info with Mamta.

Life and its differrent forms

The refrigerator seems to be planning to go on strike. That’s the first thing i am told on returning to the home in the city. Tomorrow is a holiday. The person who repairs it will be available on Monday.

“Will come at noon.”

The freezer seems to be cool yet -+ a relief! — even as a thousand smells seem to be emerging from the fridge below.

Bubbles are emerging from the cooked pulses along with a sour smell. I have never seen bubbles forming in food of their own accord. Fascinating!

There is new life here.

I am thankful for returning to the city feeling fresh. The city and its guts have me churning in them already and that is just how it is. Gratitude flows to the neighbours and their empty fridges.

All the food at home has just been heated and left to cool slowly in the cool of the night. The only thing left to do is sleep and wait for noon. Hopefully, there is life left in the refrigerator yet.

Jumbled

Words on a blank page. Words on a blank screen. No place to go, no destination to aim for. Just words on a page.

There is no thought here apart from being in the moment. Feeling the cold coming in from the foresf and the noise carrying over from the volleyball court.

Of the television a few notches too loud. Of the smell of food from the fridge that struggles to go on and will only meets its saviour tomorrow — a Monday.

Listening to the clock that ticks and feeling the heart that beats. Listening to the teeth that are being ground and the tinnitus that is a constant companion.

A full day is coming to a close. There’s lots to do and sleep to catch up on. Another story will write itself tomorrow, maybe there’ll be more.

For all that, there’s tomorrow. For today though, there are more words to write and more breaths to be aware of yet.

Some days, there are so many stories running within that seems impossible to sift one from another and share it. They’re jumbled and tumbled. All that emerges are mumbles.

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started