The Yellow Brick Road

We didn’t use to care so much,
Well, we did –
It was just about different things,
About stars
About the wind
About futures
About breath
About touch.

Somewhere along the line, Srishti
Somewhere along the road
Things became coloured
Reds
Blues
Yellows.
We became pieces in a never ending sky, Srishti
We became unstable and uncontrollable
Screaming, for a thousand years
About the words
About the numbers
Always, always, always, ignoring,
The hands behind the carefully written notes.

It was a fight, Srishti,
A war
With intermittent battles,
To get our numbers up,
To win, always,
To be popular,
To be the generals
Of scattered armies in a world
Where stars are the only ones looking for guidance,
Where the universe itself is smoky
And the moon and the rivers are dying.

And we
We looked for the yellow in the road
We needed the best
The biggest numbers
We needed the God that had destroyed the universe
We needed heaven when earth fell apart
When schools end
Colleges start
And when planets die
Souls are lost in quiet sighs.

Srishti, it was the dream
Heaven’s touch
Achieved in numbers
The constant yellow of the brick road
A golden opportunity
And as we stopped caring
About stars,
The wind,
Futures,
Breathing,
And touch.

We achieved God
The only problem, Srishti,
Was that we forgot earth,
Just as much as God forgot about us.

Written by Tanvi Chowdhary

Featured image by Stuti Pachisia

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Flight/Fight

We had been waiting for over twenty minutes on that flyover in Munirka. I wasn’t worried, there was still an hour before the counter closed, and we had already checked in. I’d tell that to myself a lot that night – we have already checked in. I would cling to those words like a life raft that would take me back home. As soon as we were within a certain radius of the Airport, the traffic intensified. The car moved at an aching pace. I felt claustrophobic, surrounded by a sea of cars that stood as a barrier to going back home.

The city was on high alert after a surgical strike. Was this surgical strike going to eliminate my mid-semester break, too? The helplessness got truly maddening when I came within eyesight of the airport. That was when we started wondering if we could walk to the airport, if we should walk to the airport. Ten minutes before the counters would close, were we really hedging our bets by lugging our fat bags to the airport? It seemed nearby but I didn’t see any trolleys around and walking is a whole other ball game. The traffic would soon relent, I hoped. I had been hoping that for the last 40 minutes and it had only relented enough to keep me out of full despair, but still in agony. The sickening thought of not going back home for Pujo crossed my mind, but I was ready for my Home Alone 2 moment. I was not going to lose the money we spent on these tickets. I was preparing to run across the airport to the plane, all the while chanting, “We have already checked in! We have already checked in!”

The driver  picked up his smartphone to end our ride. The application asked him if he was sure he wanted to do that before reaching our destination, another moment to consider just how much time it would take to get to the airport on foot. I was also beginning to wonder if there wasn’t some way to call IndiGo and tell them to wait for us, to let them know about the hellish traffic situation outside. Then finally, the cars began to move. In a minute or two, we had reached the airport, Disha got us a trolley. We paid, and the cab driver wished us luck. Our Home Alone 2 moment was here.

***

Diya hauled the bags on to the trolley and I steeled myself for a run. Then, just like Harry and Ron at King’s Cross in the second novel, we hit a wall. People were being let in through only two of the many sliding doors that led into the airport and my heart sank as we joined at the end of a long line. The woman at the beginning of the line was having some trouble with her ID, and as I was bouncing on my heels, I saw the second gate. We started running again. Within another minute we were finally inside the Indira Gandhi International Airport.

And within another few minutes, we found ourselves at the end of another much longer line. Should we say something to these kind people who were standing in front of us in the line? Isn’t there something like a final call when they ask if there’s anyone in the line who has to board xyz flight? Diya, to whom I was directing every question and anxiety, only kept chanting, “We have already checked in!” and “oh, look, the line is moving…” The knots in my stomach were becoming agonizing now.

At 7:10, 10 minutes after the counter was scheduled to close, we finally reached the counter. For the life of us, we could not ask the dozen or so people in front of us if we could cut the line. The man behind the counter looked at our tickets. I hopefully began hefting our fat bag and suitcase on to the conveyor belt. And then, he pronounced in a solemn tone that the counter had closed.

However, he directed us to counter D10. Stupid with anxiety, I said – “but we have already checked in. Can’t you just take our bags?” The man looked apologetic, but only repeated himself. I turned around to look and our trolley was gone. “They even took our trolley away!” I shouted at the man, as if that was a compelling enough reason to relieve us of our baggage. “Ma’am  ko ek trolley lake do!” the man behind the counter shouted to someone nearby. “You go to D10, I’m coming with the luggage.” Diya told me.

So, this time, I ran. I well and truly ran, like the McCallisters in Home Alone 2. D10 was crowded, there was no distinct line, everyone was jostling to get to the front. There were two women behind the desk. I managed to hand one of  them my ticket, amidst the madness of other troubled passengers. She looked at it for a moment. “Sorry, ma’am,” she said, not sounding sorry at all, “you cannot board the flight.”

***

I was ready to break into tears. This could not be happening. There were others around us who had also been sent to D10 to be given the bad news. Everyone pleaded with the personnel there. Another girl was also headed to Kolkata and asked if we too were on the 7:45 flight. Everyone there talked about the unprecedented traffic outside. “Please” was getting us nowhere. Of course, they would just love it if we missed this flight and paid an obscene amount for another ticket. I began to feel angry. There were still 35 minutes left for departure. They were simply holding us back, I realized. The long wait outside had given me enough time to stare at the print of the boarding pass. “Boarding closes 25 minutes before departure” the boarding pass told me. I had also recently gotten a text message telling me that boarding would happen from gate 7B; it had also reminded me that “Boarding closes 25 minutes before departure”. It was time to be the indignant customer.

Right about now, I had my fight-or-flight response, rather, fight-for-flight response. I reminded the IndiGo personnel at D10, again and again, of the information their messages had drilled into me. We already had our seat numbers; they were the only ones holding us back. The stone cold logic of a well-informed customer won and we were allowed to pass. Our entire luggage would have to be carry-on. One of their personnel accompanied Disha and I to Security Check-in. We had finally overcome our inability to cut to the front of the linlso our bags probably told everyone we were running to make a flight.

Adrenaline had kicked in and we were running with the same fat bags that we had worried would make walking to the airport impossible. Even if we were not running, we were at least moving as fast as was possible while simultaneously dragging our bags, sans trolley. We thought, at every point, that someone would stop us. In the departure lounge, as we rambled to gate 7B, my phone rings. I know it’s our father. You’d think he’d know better than to call now. If anyone knows when our flight is supposed to leave, when the counter is supposed to close, he does. Yet, knowing that we are probably running for our lives right now, he still calls.

I tell him that we are running and hang up. We descend the escalators and can see that the area around gate 7B is empty, but the screen above still shows the words “Final Call”. (To think that the stupid people at D10 weren’t going to let us go while it was still final call.) There was still someone there to scan our tickets, he makes a few calls, and we are allowed to go! We run to the doors leading to the bus and the guard over there doesn’t even check our tickets. People finally wanted us to make it! Even though the woman near the bus questioned if our very large bags would be allowed on, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

***

I heard the doors of the bus open, but the door that I was standing in front of, remained firmly shut. The only other passenger on the bus, a man with a far smaller suitcase than ours, dismounted from the door near the driver’s seat. Yet again, I dragged the heavy black bag across the bus. I saw the number on the plane and then stared at my boarding pass. Flight number 6E 176, it said. But on the plane, it was… what was that? Could we have possibly been led to the wrong plane? I had been unable to rid my mind of the various Home Alone scenarios, and here it was again. What if we get on the wrong plane? And so, I asked the bus driver, “Yeh kya flight 6E 176 hain?” like he was driving the plane and not the bus. He nodded.

And so, we were finally about to board the plane. But my mind was conjuring up yet more hurdles for us. We hurtled towards the ramp that leads up to the plane’s door. I sent a prayer heavenward that they were not stairs. We were at the end of our tether and any more hefting felt impossible. The men standing by the ramp checked our tickets, tore a piece off and didn’t say anything like, “you can’t board the plane with that much baggage” like they did in the absurd nightmare scenarios in my mind.

The airhostess smiled as we came panting into the plane at long last. In my imagination, the aisle of the plane was so narrow that we would be unable to carry our bags to our seats. So, either we would have to carry them coolie-like to our seats and then place them in the overhead space or just leave them there, next to the door of the plane. But we managed to drag our unwieldy bags to 6E and 6D, our seats. 6F, the window seat, was empty. I wondered as I struggled to stash the bags in the overhead space, if that seat belonged to the girl at D10, who couldn’t board the flight because she had not checked in. It probably did.

I was still breathing loud and fast as I sat down at last, homebound. The last hour had been unusually long. A family of three entered the plane. I didn’t remember seeing them at D10, so maybe, they were even more late than us. But they, too, must have checked-in online. 6F remained empty. Diya and I felt bad for that girl who missed her flight, she was as old as us. Her hair was coloured, she was wearing a bright green shirt, makeup… Even though, under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t have cared much for one another, we shared a kind of kinship of distress in those frustrating five minutes at D10, shouting at IndiGo personnel.

Finally, there was a soft ding and the airhostess announced that boarding was complete. We were texting our parents, looking forward to the episodes of Crisis in Six Scenes that we had saved as our in-flight entertainment. Our hand baggage was occupying 6F, and before the plane took off, Diya moved to sit next to the window.

After the plane landed in Calcutta, it was announced that the baggage in the cargo would be arriving at belt number 5. At least we wouldn’t have to wait for the bags to arrive; the evening’s woes had at least enabled this final, little relief.

Written by Aishwarya and Priyanka Kali
Featured Image by Sanna Jain

I See You

Some facts:
The number of jokes about the US election
is more than the number of people now scared for their lives.
But jokes aren’t a bad thing,
Especially if elections could be won
by measuring laughter.

Pressure isn’t a bad thing
when it’s 120/80.
When you squeeze someone’s hand
All your life flows into them,
through the rivers bursting on your hand,
the entire 120/80.

Sometimes you need
jokes and pressure,
like the last time you tried
to communicate with someone,
and you tried to laugh,
but ended up coughing together.

Written by Anushmita Mohanty
Featured Image by Hitashi Arora

The Crosshatched Meeting of Overlapping Circles

Despite all their sharp edges, labels can be affirmations and assertions too. They appeal to man’s yearning for certitudes, an eagerness to simply settle and be at peace. We gravitate towards easy definitions, and for many, part of the answer comes easy. Others live off of bits and pieces of borrowed legacy, are mute in a room of relatives, and go shifty-eyed when asked where they come from. There is a constant, nagging pressure in us, born out of that same longing, to be sure about at least this one part of ourselves in an ever-more-confusing world, to say with conviction – here, this is where I belong. For a certain section of an older generation, hometowns become more than where they come from; these are also the places they will return to. My parents, for example, will attest to this. People like me will not.

As children of metropolises, what we pride ourselves on is the multiplicity of the identities we possess, that we can slip into or out of, as the moment demands of us. Arrayed against us are our parents, who belonged to a culture that was distinctly, uniquely, their own, well-loved and precious. Even as they transplanted themselves into the strange landscape of the city, they knew exactly who they were and what they would, at the end of it all, come back to. Their children, on the other hand are set down against, and grow up with, a diversity that is incredible and awfully confusing, all at once.

Our parents’ sense of identity is drawn from their attachment to their homeland, along with all its palpable history, language, customs and society. Ours is a bit all over the place. Till I was 7 years old, we lived in an old colony in Sarojini Nagar. We shifted, and that was the last I ever thought of it. Those had been the first seven of my formative years, but I have never felt any nostalgia for my childhood home. In hindsight, there was not an awful lot I was leaving behind. I can remember no ties I was intimately bound in. As I theorize now, we were rather like an island, isolated and self-sufficient, and I doubt there was the sense of community that, say, my parents felt back in their hometowns in Kerala. Diversity is variety, and that, they say, is the spice of life, but sometimes, it’s just a fancy word for difference.

As a kid, I first learnt the English alphabet, and went to an English-medium school. My grandmother taught me to read and write Malayalam, her native tongue. Hindi came in last, despite it being the currency of everyday interaction with Delhi-ite classmates. I knew how to count in English first, a little later and more limitedly in Malayalam, but rather shamefully, almost never in Hindi. (Even now, God alone knows what the Hindi word for thirty-one is.) Today, Malayalam feels stunted in my mouth, and Hindi grammar in my hands is a strange slippery thing still. And there are days when no language sits quite right on my tongue, and in the recesses of my mind, my thoughts are in a curious jumble of the three.

Every summer break, we travel to Kerala, from a more familiar habitat to a less familiar one. To our parents, no doubt, it is a sweet homecoming, a reunion with the smells and tastes and sounds of something that is incontestably home. The first parting from it would have been a difficult, emotionally harrowing experience. I doubt I would be heart-broken if my search for greener pastures led me beyond Delhi. It is currently home because it is familiar, but time makes the mysterious, known. My instincts are attuned to Delhi, but my emotions stay well out of the equation. It is after all, not someplace that I identify a whole gamut of cultural markers with.

This is a generation without roots, it is said. We respond royally that we, in fact, are global citizens. We can, and do, feel comfortable and just fine anywhere in the world, thanks. It is difficult to say whether this is more or less fulfilling than the more easily sketched identities of our parents. It is simply a matter of difference. We know just enough to have an insider’s perspective and an outsider’s objectivity on one-and-a-half cultures. Growing up with plurality makes us a little more tolerant, a little less suspicious, but also a little doubtful about our own place in the world. We do not have a primary identity perhaps, some singular sense of self that can be asserted with unflinching certainty. Instead, there is a malleability there that is, I suspect, as frightening to us as it is to our family.

Let us not choose then. And let us embrace this not-choosing.

Let us not surrender to the pressure of becoming comfortable in one skin, but see, instead, with this double vision all the time. Let us tiptoe along the border of often ill-melding cultures, falling sometimes one way, often the other. Let us always launch into complicated explanations of familial genealogies when someone asks where we come from.  Let us nestle right into that liminal space where we are neither wholly of one nor absolutely of another.

The longed-for constancy can perhaps be chanced upon differently. Maybe we can decide to swear by something else altogether – follow that age-old adage that home is where the heart is. And the heart doesn’t know places; it knows people. My family’s base camp might be Kerala, but my loved ones are mine.

Written by Swathi Gangadharan
Featured image by Sanna Jain

COUNTDOWN

60
59
58

 A loaded vest fits snugly on my slender frame. It clings to my torso comfortably. My loose salwar-kameez flutters against the breeze and I hear memory murmur…

Rude grunts of one-sided lust
Overcome subdued screams of despair.
A pair of eyes hidden in the dark
Cry silent tears behind coarse greens
Tracing paths of teardrops behind armed lines. 

45
44
43 

My dupatta flaps around my braided hair, tamed by branded rubber-bands. I feel the texture of memory…

Sleek shiny metal fits into fingers
As hands run over the surface
Of carefully crafted earrings
Hanging from earlobes pierced by bullets,
Dancing around armoured smiles with AK47s for teeth. 

38
37
36

I climb the steps of the abandoned warehouse, adjust the ‘PRESS’ badge dangling from a noose-like ribbon around my neck, and peer at the scene from the rooftop. A large crowd chants his name and memory tickles my nose with the smell of…

 Freshly mowed grass fighting with dirty boots
Kicking unconscious bodies of suspects.
Suspicion forces batons onto battered frames
Pain satiates rifle-butts
And torture grins over bloody carcasses. 

21
20
19 

I make my way through the crowd, push past enthusiastic supporters with an apologetic smile and fix my head into a knowing nod to assure my cameraman. Nervous sweat trickles onto my lips as memory tastes…

Smoky ash swimming in freshwater,
Rendered stale by the stillness of algae-filled lakes.
As paradise flicks salty tears into the bosoms of its people
Salinity floods lives confused by
Legal terminology and censored news.

10
9
8

I discretely press a button resting behind my kameez and bestow a 1000-Watt smile on the Minister. The electricity of my grin begins the countdown as I ask a flattering question. The Minister chats like an old acquaintance while his bodyguards restrain the crowd. I see numbers flashing past…

5
4
3
2
1

 Fireworks spin around our bodies
Cracking bones with light and sound
A loud disclaimer rends the air
And fatal blasts leave smithereens behind
To decorate currency-garlands
With soil drenched in my people’s blood. 

 May peace be with you.

Written by Tript Kaur
Featured Image by Kanishka

 

Seven Days of London

“Walk straight down the road, and you come to a nice little pub…”

The beginning of most of the responses I received on asking for directions in London. London is a big city. It is an endless sprawl of white, terraced houses and centuries old red-brick buildings with a generous sprouting of towers here and there. And parks. Lots of parks. Parks in which I could see myself ten years down the line, unwinding after a day spent in a cab, calculating which of the twenty-one Gloucester Roads to take, before the well-meaning driver decided to lunge down a random side-street for no apparent reason. That’s the thing about cab-drivers in London – they are extremely polite, friendly, and safe. However what’s slightly (only slightly, mind you) odd, is their absolute reluctance to admit that they don’t know the direction to your location. Hear the overtly casual chuckle in their voice once they finally have it figured out, and you’ll know why it’s said that the British have certain idiosyncrasies which you come to accept with time.

For instance, you don’t talk on the tube. You don’t talk on the tube when you need to ask what the next station is in case you’ve missed the previous one; you don’t talk on the tube if your fellow passenger’s bag occupies more of your lap than his; you don’t talk on the tube if you’re about to die. And while in the tube, you certainly do not have the ultimate luxury of making small talk. As a foreigner I had a hard time, nearly choking myself on occasion, trying not to laugh at the hilarity of the dumb silence. But it’s a different world above altogether. Londoners love conversation once they’re out of the bowels of the earth. Although a reserved sort, most of them love to chat you up about the most unusual and insignificant of things, such as seats on the London Eye and bacon sandwiches. And the weather. Always, the weather.

Perhaps it was these very peculiarities that made me feel the way I did about London. The way the parks looked like places I could come back to. The other side of the planet, a different timezone, the very people whose ancestors had colonised my country. Yet geography and history faded into oblivion as I waited at the bus-stop in Knightsbridge. During my weeklong stay, I had turned a hundred identical street-corners, walked a hundred alleys – alleys which promised quiet and shadows, alleys in which you missed a lover; alleys, also, which reminded you that you were enough on your own. Enough to read London in Blyton and Dickens, and enough to explore it all by yourself with a little help from strangers and Harry Beck of the London Underground Map repute.

London was unique in the way it functioned as a metropolis. In a foreign city, you’d expect to experience a constant dissonance from ‘home’, and/or the fear of missing out. Never having had a home-base in twenty years, the first was out of the question for me.

But London, a city bubbling over with history and art, never made me choose between the Tower Bridge and Portobello Market. There was an air of familiarity in getting treacle pudding from the cafe across the street; a sense of accomplishment in figuring out which Eastbound train to board. And the final triumph of childlike glee came at being asked for directions to Westbourne Terrace. In seven odd days, London had a made a home out of itself. It was the most satisfying blend of heritage and modernity, of vinyls and headphones, headphones patiently waiting at a traffic light with no cars in sight. It was a blend of silver rain and silver sunshine. In seven odd days, London made me want to stay, and that was enough.


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Vagabonding ft. Chai
Ramblings from the life of an insomniac Lit major living by Stevenson’s aphorism: “The great affair is to move”, and trying to make sense of life and its squiggles.

Written by Deyasini Chatterjee

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Column icon by Sanna Jain
Featured Image by Hitashi Arora