It's Diwali Eve. There's light. And sound. Some flowers. Lots of smiles. Some flared nostrils. A lot of bravery. People are shaken. The ordinary and the important. Everyone is talking to everyone. Just checking, bhai. You know. Terrorist-sherorist, bag-wag, bomb-shomb! Kalyug hai!!

People are exchanging 'What they were doing when it happened?' stories. There is silent fear. There is loud abandon. No need to cancel the party, yaar. Oye, haar ni manni. We aren't scared, yaar. May be we should talk about something else. Saturday's party rocked, no? Hmm… well. But the DJ from Lahore… great music man. By the way who was missing?

No, not on TV, in real life! The channels are anyway just competing for TRPs. Yes I saw that. The burnt hand? On TV, where else. Yes, but they could have spared us the blood. Just too bloody, man. SMS. A friend's friend's friend's mother has been found missing. Shit. Tried the hospitals? Tell him it's okay, he'll find her, not to worry. Another SMS. The friend's friend's friend found his mother.

A certain Mrs Jain. He found her dead, at that hospital morgue, where some people were fighting over a burnt body. Oh, umm… I am sorry, man. My sympathies for the friend's friend's friend. A call. Are you all right dost? Yes, what will happen to me. I was worried. Hmm. Called home? Yes… did… ahem will… Hello, home? Am all right. Good, but we never doubted that. Never mind. No, no tell us. Delhi had blasts. What? Where, how, who?? Are you all right? Safe? Yes. Please watch TV, sometimes. Hmm goodbye. Have a call coming.

Call says… But I just left the place a few minutes ago. Hmmm. I was planning to go there, next day another friend says glumly. I am glad you didn't! I could have been there too. Walking into, past a shop selling... umm death.

But tonight is different. It's Diwali Eve. It's a night of vengeance. Revenge through music. The apartment block is throbbing with DJ music and the number of the night is Kajrarey. The Apartment Youth Club has decided to go ahead with the Diwali Nite. The party is, as they say, rocking. The occasion is life. Which is actually a party, where some people live. Some pass out. Some get get drunk and start fights.

And there... there goes a whistling cracker. Bright blue-green sparks. And flying flames. It's Diwali Eve. And it's revenge with music. Dance. And 'harmless' paper bombs.

You're Big Hearted Dilli. Way to go!!
Delhi has seen many battles and sacks. But this was by far the most cowardly. I, like so many Delhiites, am shocked at the cold logic of the slaughter. The time of the year. The timing. The areas. Nothing could have been more evil in intent and scale than yesterday's blasts.

I cannot for the life of me understand what cause this is that blasts its way through people's homes and livelihood. Rips open bodies and turns a city in celebration into a city in mourning. Turns a living city into a smoking charnel ground. What kind of justice are these people seeking? What kind of 'better world' are they trying to bring about? What kind of freedom are they fighting for?

I can understand war. Fighting an armed and ready enemy. But this I cannot understand. Will not understand! Even animals have more nobility in their aggression. This is cold and cruel slaughter where the knife moves slowly but expertly, like a violin bow, slicing through flesh, muscle and bones without pity or emotion. It's a technique meant for maximum blood loss.

Incidentally, it also has a name.

It's called Halal.

Bleed your victim slowly, while saying your pious prayers.

This is the way I see it now.
But I am willing to be convinced otherwise.
Ganesh was a shoeshine shop. He also changed soles. Repaired them, sometimes. Sitting under a bitter neem tree, he hid behind three lines of soles. Different sizes. Different material. Rubber and leather. Ganesh had a steel scrubber with which he sandpapered the soles before balming them with glue. Then he'd leave the soles to dry. Actually, to partially dry. So they weren't sticky. That way they stuck better, he explained once. Ganesh liked trees. Not enough left, he used to say. But I am old. The trees will be born again. I will too. Ganesh, the changer of soles, used to tell me and himself.

Maya was the daily press. She was a door-to-door news service. News in exchange of cups of tea and biscuits. In her free time Maya was also the funnies and sillies. She kept the rickshawallahs entertained with her jokes and imitations of people. Maya ironed clothes for a living. With her heavy, fire box she removed creases and frowns. From clothes. And faces. She even left laugh lines in the middle of clothes. One trip to her table and the clothes came back laughing. Maya put her money in the gap between her breasts. A habit from the days of more 'holding power'. Now, 'they' were a loss-making unit. Much money went down the drain, through them. But Maya didn't care. As long as she had a good laugh.

Pheku was the Jack of hearts. Young, good-looking and also a master story-teller. But Pheku couldn't write. Pheku took chai to the shops and the clinic. Somedays in the waiting crowd at the clinic, he'd find someone who would return his smile. Or maybe just look him up, smilishly. And Pheku would come back grinning, with a story. Actually, a 'pichchar' with Pheku as hero. And director. But Pheku liked to lose. The heroines in his stories always ended up saying, 'But Pheku, you sell chai'.

Chhedi and his Grandpa lived under a staircase. In the day their house disappeared into a neat TV carton. At night it rolled out on the landing. Chhedi slept with his mouth open while his Grandpa sent hourly coughs up the staircase so the Sharmas knew he was keeping a good watch. Chhedi was born to give trouble. Chhedi would quote his Grandpa whenever he saw it coming, which was often. Because Chhedi, like his Grandpa, had an easy temper. Most times his fights were over the name his Grandpa gave him. Because it meant Hole-maker.

What? Was the name of the guy who discovered the steam engine. Invented! Ok, invented the steam engine. Who was Watt? Some guy in England. But who was he, really? Who? Hu is some guy in China. Who is Hu? Think he's the PM of China. Could be the president also. One of them is Hu? Who? I dunno exactly. Also, Hao is somebody in China. How? How is who? He is well. But who is he? Someone in the Government. How do you know Hao? Know-how of what? Oh... through the papers. But what could be Hao? No Watt is no more. He died. I mean what is Hao in the Goverment? How would I know these things? Must be in the papers. Ok, how was Watt? What? Meaning Watt. Meaning what? No, Watt as in the engine guy. What was the name of the engine guy? Watt it was. Or wait, what did his name mean? Think bulbs. What bulbs? Bulbs' wattage, that Watt! Ok, that what what?
A black patch
of concrete--
broken stars
in coal tar,
on a big-moon
night, grinning
under a mercury
lamp, a few
dry leaves get
hit crossing
the road
by a whiff
of silver
taking them
off course into
a pool of clean
and settled rain
water, collected
two days ago,
the leaves
now wet and
laid-back float
like lazy tourists,
looking up at
the big moon,
the mercury
lamp glaring
at them for
being free.

Written this afternoon, a few hundred hours after the 'real thing'.
(Elephish: Mariamman Teppakulam Pic by me)

The bridge that connects the East with the West also overlooks a cluster of islands. The islands are green and in parts washed in black industrial silt. The river, of course, is black, lazy, and exhausted. Impervious even to sunrays.

On one of these islands is seen an elephant, sometimes two or even three. Seemingly walking on the river. On its black and tired waters. The elephants hover above the river, like black clouds on stilts, five in number. From the bridge the elephants seem puny and out of place, grazing, or what looks like grazing, keeping a conscious distance from the herds of buffaloes nearby. These elephants have become individualistic. They have abandoned their herd instinct. Or maybe they've found another herd in humans for whom they now work. Or perhaps, elephantine memory is just a human construct.

The elephants live here.

The road to the East is littered with hand-painted signboards. Yahan Pe Haathi Rehte Hain. 'This is where elephants live'. The hand-painted signboards point to a cluster of slums. The elephants live there. These are showelephants--like showmen and women--earning a livelihood by gracing special occasions in gold and velvet caparisons. When not showing they are slumming. Living in the worst of human habitats. Far away from their natural homes in the forests.

Diagonally across, on the other side of the river is the State Secretariat, where laws are made and amended. It's a FACTORY OF LAWS in there.

But the elephants don't know that. They also don't know that there's a law against showanimals.

If you go to the East often or if you live there, you'd find these creatures on the road, ferrying their masters from one special occasion to another. Sometimes, you can also see them carrying sheaves of grass and leaves. Their humble pies.

At home in the slums, these elephants eat their humble pies and dream of being human, in another life.
Gyanocologist: One who finds gyan in strange places
Dharmasuitical: A company that has different rules for diff people
Vairagra: A pill for old sannyasis/yogis
Department of No-clear medicine:
For no-clear diseases
Karmatitis: Khujli caused by past deeds
Laabhorotory tested: Tested for profit-making
Acute arthritis: Confusion due to multiple meanings
Dayabetes: Too much sweet compassion

Ceramic, wide
sticking out
of a wall
like a tongue.

Doing a manly
vile, fermented
liquids of
various makes
and vintage.

Helping out what
in the mammalian
world is done
around trees and
other standing
objects for marking
space and territory.
We were learning to fly. She was our flight instructor with big boobs. The rest of her aerodynamic self was like Icarus with folded wings. She had wings for us too. Red ones from the man from Moldavia. Green for the girl from the Czech Republic. Blue for the Argentinian twins. Orange for me. And of course, pink for the American. We were supposed to get our wings to class everyday. It was a pain but it was a cross we had to carry if we wanted to fly.

She was called Antonella. And with her red sausage lips she made flying seem easy. We were all fascinated with the way she moved her lips. "Bonnn (an ennish echo inside the O of her mouth) gior-no (lips round and puckered). Come Stai (a mile-long smile)". This is how our classes began: Good day, How are you? "Bon giorno," we'd chorus back in language school Italian.

The first class was a disaster. We had to learn through imitation. "Io sono Antonella, et tu?" Sounds easy now but then our attempts were wasted by distractions. And distractions there were many. The folded wings, the big boobs and of course the sausage lips.

Antonella was our door to a new world. A world where everyone walked around with folded wings. A world where even the Chinese and the Bangladeshis spoke Italian. But Antonella wasn't one to carry a 'chipped' shoulder. She was too caught up with the joy of learning. Learning from us our little inconsequential stories. Carried to her in the sad pidgin of language school Italian.

Later when I had learnt the basics of flying she told me that she liked teaching stranieri, foreigners (though strangers is closer to it in meaning), because through them she got to see different worlds. Antonella had never been abroad. Even Rome was a postcard republic she'd only seen and read about in school books.

Her dream was to travel and see the worlds her students brought to her.

Antonella was a generous woman. She had a special place in her heart for English, the language. "Guddh mourning. Ah Inglese, mi piace molto," she used to tell me admiringly, hands clasped and eyes closed in an expression of delight and relish. When the American joined the class I was introduced to him in sign and broken English. "Zis is James, ze Americano. And zis is Dhiraj, ze Indiano!" Our meeting was followed by an English language demonstration. "Plis spik in Inglese," she looked at us with bated breath. I, of course, was glad to be speaking in English. The American too seemed like he'd missed his mother tongue. Throughout our brief conversation Antonella's eyes followed us as if we were grand slam finalists. "Very guddh. Very guddh Eenglish," Antonella said with a delicious curl of her sausage lips. "Come si dice in Inglese, 'bravo'?" Meaning what do you call 'bravo' in English?
"It's called 'too much'," I volunteered.
"Okay, it's called too much," said Antonella as she took out her folded wings for a new class.
"Are you a delight?"
"Umm depends…"
"Then where are you from?"

"I believe in mouth to mouth publicity."
"How is it done?"
"Arre, I tell you, you tell someone else and so on."

"You like Undie TV?"
"What's that?"
"Uff, that English channel with Barkha Dutt."

"Sir, you need urine taste."
"Oh it is better than blood taste."

"Your pant is wet."
"I don't think so."
"See it is also leaking."
"Please put sticker on your door so nobody touch wet pant."

"Myself in garment service."
"You mean 'business'?"
"No, Delhi State Garment, Primary Health Department."

"You have balls?"
"Okay, get them for ice cream."

"Please sir, entry from backside."
"If others see they make problem. Today trader strike, no."
-that Mother Earth may finally be shutting shop
-that we may die of too much optimism
-that we're not as smart as the ad guys make us believe
-that it's a good idea to be nice to your neighbours
-that the one thing that I'd want before The End is a party at Rashtrapati Bhavan
-that animals are better at disaster management
-that the we could do with less communication
-that the Lord moves in mysterious ways
-that we should be less greedy and competitive
-that Darwin was actually an intelligent monkey
-that we should walk more and eat less
-that globalisation is mentioned in the Vedas
-that Democracy is a lot like yoga
-that talking to plants is not a sign of madness
-that cows are the biggest humanitarians
-that seriousness is a communicable disease
-that there's more life in Mars than on it
-that sign language is good for losing weight
-that my mom is a heart specialist
-that we need to think about what we're doing here

His name in translation means THANKFUL. But actually, he’s Lost. Stranded. In India. The cuss words he’s picked up in Hindi have their inflections right. Like the locals. His time here has been devoted to ‘higher education’. A painful process for which he’s had to pay through his nose. Like the education, the fee’s also been extracted from him in various painful ways. He says now he’s too old for adventure. In his country he’d be minding grandkids. But here he’s just a name. Thankful. And he seems to like it that way.

“I have no identity here,” he says with a toss of his grey and thinning mousetail. It’s part of the atmospherics! Most likely he's majored in sponging sympathy. For people, he has a knack. For places too. He knows his place of learning like the back of his hand. Paharganj means different things to different people. To him it’s a residential university. He knows its bylanes like the bulging veins of his hands.

He has a room in one of the cheaper guest houses. Cheaper in Paharganj would mean about 40 to 60 bucks a night or a monthly flat rate. When we go to his room to collect some of the stuff that he sells, he shows me around. His room is light-proofed, covered inside in fading curtains and magazine pages. To keep the light in, at night, as in a war zone. He’s not too fond of daylight either.

In the streets he is like a celebrity. People call out to him. The beggar kids know him as Toffee Uncle. But he likes to keep his popularity under wraps. A bit like his room. He doesn’t want many people talking about him. He doesn’t want his fame to reach the cops. Because they may want to make some money out of him. What happened to his papers, I ask, by the way. “Robbed,” he says without emotion. What about his embassy? “But I don’t have proof,” he says suddenly exasperated. It’s like he’s trying hard to forget something. Something whose robbing was perhaps much looked-forward-to or maybe planned. Later, over dinner, he mentions Beirut, where he spent part of his growing up years. “The world was an easier place then,” he says longingly.

In Paharganj the world’s still ‘an easier place’. For him at least. In his dictionary, work or the generation of money is a creative enterprise. He has learnt a thousand ways of making it. One of them includes buying and selling of invisible stuff. Stuff that the law doesn’t want to see sold. And people don’t want to be seen buying. And sellers don’t want to hear about it once it’s sold. Thankful sees himself as a contraband superstore. “You want E? Coke? Russian babes? Indians? No problem, I can get you anything.” The deal is simple. You show him the money and he will get you your favourite contraband.
I always look upon demolitions with mixed feelings. Most of us do too but like to keep the feelings mixed and to ourselves. In, I guess, the interest of a wider ‘human interest’. We watch silently, but with gaping mouths and moist-eyed, bulldozers work the ground, like hungry locusts devouring a field. Reducing with their steel mandibles walls to pieces of brick, doors to shards of wood. Creating debris. If you believe in the Big Bang then our Earth too was made from the debris of a cosmic explosion.

And look where we are now.

Space is there to be had. Claimed. And reclaimed. We have reclaimed land from the mountains, from the forests, from the sea. From monkeys, dolphins and other herd animals. Ourselves included. To build bigger, better buildings. For bigger, better people. To live in. And gloat. And say pretty things about architecture, progress and development.

Delhi is also the famous City of Demolitions. It’s been demolished several times over and still continues to order ‘demolition drives’ every now and then. One just happened near where I live some days ago. And I can’t deny feeling mixed and confused looking at the bulldozed piece of land. But then I saw my feelings on the faces of the ‘victims’ as well. Sitting outside their ‘illegal’ slum they didn’t seem to see it as a tragedy. Their life already seemed ready and waiting. Their bag, baggage and kitchens are back on the road once again. Their booth squats are thankfully still intact! Tomorrow they’ll start again, wherever the government feels fit to relocate them. They’ll make new homes. New kitchens. Erect walls where there were once wild, untended, unbuilt spaces. And live happily ever, till the next demolition drive.

Delhi is a veteran of demolitions. And she feels no sorrow for these people. She even takes a sadistic delight in their plight. Because for them no space is holy. None inviolable.

But there is a larger wisdom at work here. Every building is actually a re-building. Nothing is got from nothing. Land is dug out to bake bricks. Steel comes from mountains of ore. Something always has to be broken for something to come up. Some Big Bang has to occur for creation to begin. Such is the logic of creation. And such is the nature of our tragedies. In the end it’s all one big turn of the CYCLE. Phew!



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As an art practitioner I work in a variety of mediums, what you see here are glimpses of my many creative projects. If you like or feel strongly something here please don't forget to comment



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