March 07, 2003


I wonder what is it that I like so much about this place. Indore, by any measure is not somewhere I would want to work or settle down. It is dusty and dry, the roads are worse than what I have seen anywhere in India yet and from where I am staying, it is a nightmare to get anywhere if you do not have any form of private transportation at your disposal all the time.

But I am making the most of the precious few days that I have left in my vacation and finally found the time to catch up with my reading. It has been a good six months since I had started on Isabel Allende's Paula and for various reasons, the strongest being the tragic and depressing nature of the story, I have been putting off finishing it. Now that I am through it, Paula easily fits into the list of my all time favourites.

Since then I have started on Rohinton Mistry's Such A Long Journey and it is quite a study in contrasts as far styles go. Mistry initially appears as quite thick, needlessly descriptive and constipated as far the flow of narration goes, especially when one starts with him right after one of the Latin American authors like Allende or Marquez who have the talent to make everything magically ebb and flow with the narration.

To be fair, I guess it is not right to compare most Indian English authors (with the exception of maybe Rushdie), who have it sort of ingrained in them to make the text almost intentionally viscous, to English authors from other countries. We still have a sort of self-inflicted stigma in most of our writing that takes the driving seat before the form or content.

When someone naturally gifted like Anita Desai goes into a three page long description of the coconut grove in the Village by the sea, it not only fits in with the whole text, but it also enhances it. With Mistry though you can often see the effort bogging down the narration. The transitions jarred most of the times and often there is no attempt to explore the depth of a character beyond the usual stereotype.

Besides, every cobweb in the room is not necessarily worth a five-paragraph description, even after you provide adequate flexibility towards artistic license. But the book is gradually growing on me, now that I have learnt to ignore the almost apologetic attitude towards our past as a nation and its poverty and lack of development that forms the stigma was mentioned earlier.

Back to Indore and the vacation. Of all the places I have ever been to, I find the most inner peace here and it is difficult to name one factor to attribute it to. Maybe it is the location of the house, which is set in a semi-rustic environment on a vast expanse of arid unused agricultural land with few other houses dotting the landscape before everything melts into the numerous hillocks in the distance.

There is nothing but the noise of the wind blowing gently and birds chirping all day. If you have lived for long in a place like Delhi; that is something you know you have to value a lot. There are hardly any beggars or vendors and certainly no one wants steal 30 minutes of my precious time to sell me a pair of new underwear if I can knock myself senseless enough to sign up for a year's supply worth of detergent.

All day I can cuddle up with a book in the living room with plenty of sunlight streaming in through the massive windows, or keep reading in the open verandah with an almost unbroken view of the solitary road up ahead in the distance to look at. There is a computer here though :-), which allows me to scribble all of this down, even though there is no net connection. So, when you would get to read this, it would be after I get back to Delhi on the 7th.

The perils of an almost solitary existence mean that a whole of bunch of problems are awaiting my arrival in Delhi. From unpaid bills to a bust brand new cell phone (I am jinxed with this contraption eh?) there are a zillion things that are waiting with open arms to rudely jolt me back into reality once I set foot there. Not to mention the fact that the whole place needs to be rearranged, since I had given into my landlady's wish to whitewash the place once I left for my vacation.

In a lot of ways this vacation has been a sort of a pilgrimage. The places that I have been to and the people that I have met have been elements that have caused me the majority of grief in my life to date. I really wanted to take the time out and take them out of the equation as far as possible, so that I can finally have a jab at making my own way with things, than events deciding the way for me.

In one go, I have dealt with the stages of growing up, falling in and out of love and a recent and emotionally expensive misadventure. In a way, it is sort of sticking your hand in the flame to see if it still hurts. It does, but not as much as it used to. In one go I have somewhat totally let go of a past that was certain, in anticipation of a future that is totally uncertain and vague as it can get. Cannot really ignore the irony of insecurity being welcoming, right?

At the same time the feeling of not being in sync with anywhere is growing stronger and stronger. I felt totally alienated and lost back home this time. Had a feeling that even the tourists I had met at the beaches were feeling more at home than me. It used to be different here, now I feel alienated here too. They adore me here and I adore them too, but I really do not know what they adore me for, when even I am at a loss for most of the times what I stand for.

It is something like playing a part in a script that is totally alien to you. You dance and sing along and make it look natural, but deep down inside you know that you do not belong here. Where do I belong then? I have no clue. I have more questions now and less than a handful of answers of which maybe my name and whereabouts account for the most in terms of numbers. Right now I am just nothing more than a body bag with a name, address and some tangible characteristics added in. Nothing more.

There is this beautiful sentence that Allende has written in Paula: Silence before being born, silence after death, life is nothing but noise between two unfathomable silences. Guess I am trying to extract some coherence out of that noise and going really hard at it.

Oops & Updates: Marquez and Allende are not English authors from other countries. Big duh for me on that one, did I not knock the wind out of my sails with that?

Well, I am getting sort of tired of this, but it has to be done. My cell is in the Nokia infirmary till Monday the 10th at least. So sorry to have entertained the lot of you who have been trying to get in touch with me, with the stupid Airtel message that says phone switched off. By the way, Delhi is chilly, quite chilly.