Sunday, June 23, 2013

Vishu Pharmacy

It was a sizzling summer afternoon in Chennai. I was walking along a residential lane in T-Nagar, thanking the shady respite of the trees along the way. I spotted one of the names of the shops that had been around from my childhood, Vishu Pharmacy. From what I remembered from ten years ago, it used to have its name written in blue and white paint with a rusty shutter that would be half-closed at lunchtime. It now looked hardly recognisable, having been refurbished with a glass entrance and white countertops from where you can choose the medicine you want. Previously, all you had to do was to give Vishu maama, the owner of the pharmacy, a piece of paper with a doctor prescription and he would go magically into the depths of his shop and return with a silvery snip of tablets and a small candy if you gave a convincing puppy look. I peeked into the shop for old times’ sakes and there was his wife, Lakshmi maami, bent over a table, looking closely at a computer screen. She looked older, but was dressed the same, wearing a freshly starched cotton sari with a strand of jasmine adorning her greying hair tied in a bun. ‘Hello maami’, I said and to her credit, she just needed to readjust the spectacles on her nose and blink intently in order to place me.  ‘I was just chatting with my grandson on Skype’, she proudly pointed at the webcam on top of her screen and at the screen that was showing a crying baby in diapers. After making appropriate clucking noises at the virtual baby, I was taken into the swirl of family gossip, even without asking. Both of her sons were in the US, one had done his Masters and the other a Phd, and both were married to girls from ‘good’ families.  They apparently spoke with her constantly over Gtalk and Whatsapp. I smiled indulgently at her technical vocabulary. ‘You only have a Bachelors degree?’ she asked disapprovingly, emphasising on the ‘only’, when I decided to head gingerly towards the exit before it came to questioning other matters of my life that would end at the topic of the aforementioned babies.

The encounter at the pharmacy made me think though, about people in that generation who had worked hard in order to educate their child and watched with pride as the aeroplane took off to the lands of opportunities beyond. What remains now is the transfer of advice, recipes, laughter and photographs over the ether. It would be hypocritical of me to judge, what with my folks being in a similar position, but I couldn’t help wondering if this was a cause for pride, a passing phase for a generation, or something that has become a way of life. Whatever it was, I couldn’t help smiling when I passed through the shop again later at night and saw Lakshmi maami’s face engulfed in the indigo halo of the reflection from a computer screen.

Monday, April 29, 2013

French window

In the feeble afternoon sunshine of Paris, I walked out of a bakery with a jaunty spring in my steps, with the anticipation of biting into the delicious smelling almond croissant that I clutched preciously in my hand in a rolled-up brown paper bag. I found an empty bench overlooking a small park where a group of kids were playing with a dalmatian. They were making a lot of noise and one of the windows lined with red flowerpots in the balcony opened. A man, looking very French with his shirt unbuttoned, leaned outside the window balancing a cigarette as well as a wine glass in the same hand. He looked at the gaggle of dogs and children quietly, with the mild thoughtfulness of someone watching fish in an aquarium. He caught my eye, raised his glass amiably without smiling and went back inside his apartment. I bit into my croissant, wondering if he was returning back to a round table littered with an open bottle of wine, cheese and baguette crumbs.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Talking to strangers

So where are you coming from then?’ asked the old taxi driver who picked me up from Aberdeen airport.
'I’m so sorry for you, dear. What with all the crowds, pollution and rude people. Not like Aberdeen. What a beautiful city’, he pointed out, taking one of his hands away from the steering wheel to wave flamboyantly at the dark granite buildings that passed by. 
If I had been sipping a drink, I would have choked on it. I sulked silently for a while and then, looking out of the window, I slowly realized that what he was looking at was not really the grey mangled mess of buildings and petrol bunks. What he was really looking at was a city where he had friends with whom he could laugh over a beer, a couch where he could sit with a loved one and watch bad television and a dishwasher over which he could fight about whose turn it was to do the dishes. The reason we love the cities that we do, I realize, is not really to do with the personalities of the city, but with the experiences that we take from it.


The only option for food apart from foraging from a nearby forest, was Spicy Spicy Indian Curries. Ravenous, I entered this restaurant as cheerful strains of blended sitar reached my ears. It was a huge restaurant but was quite empty, except for an old Scottish couple discussing what could possibly be meant by Motor Panneer. It was a pity, considering the restaurant had beautiful views of a gushing river and prancing rabbits. ‘From India, madam?’ asked a young Indian waiter, whom I wouldn’t put a day past twenty. ‘Yes, from Chennai’, I said, watching his face slowly crease into a wide smile. ‘Been there, long time ago. Beautiful temples, madam. Still, very bad autos’, he said his face turning into a frown. I chuckled loudly. With every stop at my table, he ended up dropping some narrative about his time in Chennai. The manager of the restaurant, looking rather stern, came to my table apologizing for this boy’s behavior saying that it was his first day at work. I doubled my tip and wished him the best of luck. With the gushing behavior of someone who doesn’t know what to exactly reply, he blurted ‘Long live Chennai’. So shall it.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A picture

The horizon is filled with an endless sky that blazes under the scorching sun. The ground is covered with mud that glows a rusty red, a simple and honest color that makes you wonder if this is the true color of the Earth, the color that the ground we walk upon was originally meant to be. Thorny acacias, camphor trees and giant plaintains stand completely still, as if they are entranced by the music from a singing sun.

If ever there was a place on Earth that makes you think of the beginning of it all, it is Africa.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Some rain, some sun

At 5 am, the city looks like a fun-fair that has closed for the night. Like a stilled merry-go-round, the London eye stands quietly as the Thames flows gently by its side. The mannequins in the shops are taking a break, with no shoppers to beseech. It is dark and cold, with an apologetic rain falling on the entire landscape.

And just like that, I go through a tunnel of clouds, and reach the sunny little town of Pau, in the south of France. Autumn had still not fled in the part of the world and Pau is dressed like a bohemian, wearing an effortless outfit of random colors that makes it look happy and carefree. Lunch in the French workplace comes with wine and even on a work day,  savored over an hour and a half. I marvel as to how anyone gets any work done at this pace. The meeting room is surrounded by glass, overlooking the mountains of the Pyrenees in the distance. An hour to the beach, and an hour to reach the mountains if I want to ski, says my cab driver in broken English. Unfortunately, I say, shaking my head, that I was there to do neither. The cab driver doesn't understand that one could actually visit Pau without a trip to the mountains. I smile, saying that I will be back just to do that.

By the time I return to London, the night has grown tipsy with rain and the city lights smear like lipstick across my cab window. Tired and drained, I drag myself into my house to find myself greeted with  the smell of freshly cooked food and a hug. At that moment, I thank the random sequence of possibly pointless events that has led my life to be shaped exactly the way that it has.

Monday, October 29, 2012

I saw

Somebody's spurned declaration of love
on a burnt piece of paper, singed at the edges
and lifeless on the ground,

an autumn leaf.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A lot to like

It starts as a fairly innocuous walk from one tube station to another in London. But then, by a complete fluke of weather and moonlight, the city assumes a more charming, otherworldly air as it takes us in through its cobbled roads that shine from the afternoon's rain. Through the sheer glass walls of a piano shop, I can see music waiting to be written through shades of mahogany and ivory. A homeless man lies hugging a dog before the turn into the glitzy road of The Ritz. It's hallowed interiors are guarded by  golden-buttoned, top hat wearing men who look as serious as anyone can look being dressed like that. Similar looking men in waist coats carry oak handled umbrellas shielding damsels into their waiting Rolls Royce - a swish of silk and a gentle hum and they are gone. A few steps away and I can see the Big Ben at a distance, cradled through trees, a few ticks away from midnight. I peek into the glass walls of an art exhibition. A one eyed man looks back at me. 

'Old books, manuscripts and autographs' says the italicized font of a rather grand building that has a door knob in the shape of a lion. I give a mild giggle at the sign, as the London eye twinkles like a blue bangle near Buckingham Palace. Most of the walkway is closed for building the viewing platform for Olympic events. 'London 2012' is written across the blocked walkway, in a font that almost looks like the letters are crouching before taking off for a sprint. We find an alternate path, through a little road that looks lined with Victorian houses - 'Alexander Fleming lived here' says a small, hard to read sign near a door. I feel a twinge of pride in my city, thinking, so do I.