Saturday, July 26, 2008

Tough as nails

My maternal grandfather - "Dadubhai" as we grandchildren used to call him and as he used to call us grandsons had a certain aura about him. Images pulled from as far as my conscious memory goes always seem to project that one single image of him. He was not a very large man, no, not at all. In fact, if I can retain such a lithe figure when I reach his age, I would consider it to be a major achievement. But in his diminutive figure, he seemed to carry so much weight, every pound of his worth 5 of ordinary men. The fact that he spoke so little added to the intensity of his eyes which would register a spark of surprise only when a goal was scored in any football match he would be watching on TV. Even his final days when he had become old and infirm could not snatch the power he could exercise merely through his eyes!
His legend was built even more around the stories we had heard of his younger days, none of which - in a most self-effacing manner came from him. Stories about how he had to leave his home village in Bangladesh for Kolkata on an extremely short notice with the local police looking to arrest him for being an active revolutionary for India's freedom. Stories about his genius at playing bridge and mathematics, about how he was a magical football player didn't do him harm either. You'd need just one look at the man, and then you wouldn't doubt the truth in any of these stories. The clinching proof if any was required is the fact that my dad, like most married men not the greatest fan of his in-laws still has that awe in his voice when he speaks of Dadubhai's carrom and mathematical skills.
Dadubhai was never the most emotionally expressive person around. His affection for his grandchildren would at its most extreme assume the form of his knobbly, tough hands stroking our tiny palms. But his presence in the room was like a giant umbrella under which we would play unfettered. A sporadic guffaw would bring to our attention that he was indeed keeping an observant eye on all our activities. I remember being especially fascinated by the little box of smooth wax matchsticks and the packet of Navy Cuts that were always by his bedside. He was a regular smoker and when he was not in the room I would pick up the packet of cigarettes and revel in the strange odour of unburnt tobacco that I love to this day. I frequently wondered to myself whether this was the secret to his iron-clad mystique.
It's been years since Dadubhai and a few years later Dimma passed away but we've still got some furniture from my grandparents' Salt Lake flat. The chief attraction for me among these is the folding camp bed which would be opened out in our honour whenever we stayed at the Salt Lake flat. Mom and grandmother would tell us exciting instantly made-up stories about being in a jungle as we lay in darkness on the squeaking 'folding khaat' as we kids called it. But now when I see the bed gather dust in the corner, the first image that it brings up is of this simply dressed man who would without a word open it out for us, smile a sly smile and go on with his routine ways. If there was ever a man whose idealistic, dependable character spoke through his behaviour, words being superfluous, that was my Dadubhai.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New York

No, I haven't been there yet. 4 long weeks of inhabiting the US of A, and I still haven't found the willpower to propel me there. But I am so tired of incessantly writing about my apartment that I've decided to stop doing it. All I've managed to do is one measly trip of about half an hour to Boston and that's about it. Cape Cod for three continuous weekends was beautiful but Sandy Neck beach is hardly the place to feel the pulse of urban America.
The fragment that I've seen of Boston is alluring. Sitting outside the Walmart superstore of our one-horse town Taunton waiting for our cab to show up, I was beginning to form the opinion that the USA has only obese, ugly ladies. But a subway ride through Boston caused a rapid and most welcome change of opinion!
I am curious about what New York will be like. Images of Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge and the windy tunnels in between the squabbling skyscrapers of Manhattan spring to mind. And also a very unlikely image of its sewers because of the memories of my favourite cartoon show. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon show was probably only as intelligent as it sounds, but I absolutely loved the show as a kid. It was a weird mix of American cool with pizzas, skateboards and teenagers and Japanese style complete with senseis, ninjas and pop philosophy to boot. These 4 fellows (the Turtles) were the quintessential urban New Yorkers and it's not hard to imagine them coolly saunter the mean streets of the Big Apple, with special Ninja skills at their disposal. Thanks to their adventures, New York has an active, bustling presence in my imagination even before I set foot there. I don't expect meet Leo, Mike, Don and Raph (That's them, the 4 Turtles) on arrival but if their pretty reporter friend April'O'Neil wants to interview me, I'm all game. It is time for me to stop daydreaming and get back to real life planning, you think? Well, I am on my way albeit slowly. At least it's been an consistent effort for all of my 23 years. I am still trying...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Freaky as they come

This is really freaking me out. Just a couple of days after my own bucket list post, I watch the movie "The Bucket List". For the uninitiated, a bucket list is a condemned man's last wishes, the things you wanna do before you figuratively kick the bucket! I watch the movie to find my list creepily similar to Morgan Freeman's character. Ride a fast car! Check! Do an African Safari on a Land Rover! Check! Spend a day at the Taj Mahal! Check! Gaze at the Pyramids from the Sahara! Check! Sky dive! Check!

It's even more ominous when I consider that I wrote that list casually, without even wondering whether I really wanted them to come true. These thoughts were like flotsam on the sewage canal of my thoughts that I picked up and I find them in resonance with a Hollywood scriptwriter's. Coincidences like these that are too shady to considered co-incidences tend to give me the goosebumps, and not exactly of the pleasant kind. It is not a perfect method by any means, but it does keep the suspense in my life alive.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Home Alone

Now that the 4 week transition period that I had with my colleague whom I replace here at on-site is over, he's back home in Calcutta. Leaving me to fend for myself in the vastness of America. Not that I'm hating it too much. The thrill of an unscripted adventure tingles my senses. Then I look across the devastation that is also known as my studio apartment and rest my eyes on the place I love to hate. That place is the kitchen.

During my time in Calcutta, I religiously avoided any kitchen activities by buying cooked stuff off the street. But Taunton, Massachusetts is hardly the place to search if I were looking for good ol' 'tarka dal' and 'roti'. So the dull pain of having to cook my own food lingers on like a reluctant rain cloud. If there is one activity that makes every lazy bone of my body groan in disgust, it is cooking. So much effort is put into that one single act and cursed with my culinary skill set, the effort just is not justified. I did manage to stir up a semi-palatable dish of cauliflowers and potatoes but the thought of having it to do it every day for the rest of my stay here gives me the shivers. The aesthetic nightmare that my flat is right now is a side issue, considering the criticality of whether I'll be able to perform the basic survival act of cooking myself food. Walmart is always there like an old friend with its kilometres of stacked packaged foods, but also like an old friend doesn't really care how good or disgusting what is being served is.

All factors taken into account, I am still elated with the idea of being alone. Being able to drop off to sleep whenever I feel like it without offering lame justifications to raised eyebrows has to be at the top at the list of the guilty pleasures I intend to indulge in. Leonardo Di Caprio needed the keel of a gigantic ship and the exhilarating company of Kate Winslet to say this. I say this in the comfort of a little flat in the anonymity of suburban America with a laptop on my lap. The sentiments in the words ring true in both cases. "I am the king of the world!"