A Precious Memory

I remember that evening well. Not just because I had laughed myself silly. Mostly because I had waited a long time for it. He was all of a year old when I first set my eyes on him. And I just wasn’t able to break the ice with him. I had tried candy, toys and all sorts of goofy faces. But he just wouldn’t come to me! On a good day, I’d be greeted with a reluctant smile and half a wave, gently prodded by his well-meaning parents. And it bugged me to no end!

Until one evening, he accompanied his father into our living room. He took his time to acquaint himself with his new surroundings. He wandered in and out of rooms, and finally made his way towards me. I saw him take tentative steps, my heart brimming with joy! He apparently wanted to play.

We went to my bedroom, the air laden with expectation. I scrambled to locate some remnants of a childhood I hadn’t spent in that room. A not-so stuffed tortoise and a teddy bear crafted out of cardboard came to my rescue! The tortoise was the last of the stuffed toys the mother had given me. And I wasn’t ready to let go, just yet. The bear was a colourful reminder that the room still belonged to a kid!

For the next hour, we alternated between the two toys. He wanted to why the tortoise was so thin. Did he need to eat more? Why was he unable to bend the bear? What had I named them? Could he take them to school with him? I tried my best to keep pace with the storytelling. We communicated in very functional English, but exchanged a lot of nods, smiles and laughter that evening. I had finally crossed the chasm and become an ally.

He took the toys with him home that night, in protest that our time together had been very short. And I couldn’t wipe the silly grin off my face!

Book Review: Amir Khusrau – The Man in Riddles

Title: Amir Khusrau: The Man in Riddles
Author: Ankit Chadha
Pages: 96
Price: Rs. 299

amir-khusrau-the-man-in-riddles-original-imaezzrrv4jvkzygAnkit Chadha’s Amir Khusrau: The Man in Riddles came to me wrapped in a yellow envelope, sooner than I was expecting. And it was tough to let go of it, as soon as it revealed itself.

Part verse, part prose, Amir Khusrau is an absolute delight to touch, to read, to admire. Beautifully illustrated by Urmimala Nag, it is a mélange of colourful motifs, intricate patterns and evocative imagery.

In the introduction, we are informed that “Khusrau would often compose verses to describe each collection of poetry he wrote. When taken together, these introductory verses can form an ode or a poem of praise.” Therefore, Chadha selects 20 riddles (each attributed to Khusrau) to introduce Khusrau to the modern reader and acquaint us with his poetry and legacy.

We learn that poetry was only one of the many facets of his larger-than-life personality. And Chadha highlights that Khusrau’s poetry is typically layered with two meanings: One, which refers to the daily hustle-bustle of life, and the other that touches upon the spiritual aspect.

A riddle is a puzzle, wrapped up in words, which we have to decipher. “Each word is a clue, visual, a tiny part of a larger picture.” There is some amount of wordplay and one must pay close attention to the imagery that the words evoke. The answer lies close to that.

Every riddle, a few lines each, (with an accompanying English translation) is followed with insights and snippets of information that reveal Khusrau’s personality and the era he lived in. It is a little bit of history, a little bit of literature and a little bit of culture. I fondly recalled all my history classes in college!

Did I solve all the riddles? Nah! I only got a few.

But Amir Khusrau: The Man in Riddles is easy to read and follow. I flipped through it in less than an hour. But the soul wasn’t satiated. So I reread it. And once again. I read bits of it aloud, to enunciate and savour each syllable. But it got over too soon. Next, I imagined how Chadha would have recited these lines (I’ve watched him perform the Dastangoi, and it was a treat)!

The Notes at the end of the book will help clarify and dispel a few doubts that readers might have upon reading the verses.

I leave you with my favourite riddle.

Jiske wo pairon padi,
Uska jee ghabraaye
Bahur dukhon se qadam uthey
Aur raah na nibdi jaaye

Whoever’s feet she touches,
He is left to seethe
Makes it tough to take a step
Or find a way to breathe

Do take a minute to decipher it. Also note how well the translations read!

Solve the riddles on your own, take a friend’s help or simply savour the sound of each word. And you’ll soon find yourself immersed in the life and times of a fascinating poet, mystic and musician.

An Innocuous Question

He pinged on WhatsApp, asking if I could meet him in Bombay next week. Only I don’t live there anymore. And neither does he. I reminded him. And then it hit him. It had been sent to the wrong recipient.

It was an innocuous question. One that I’ve asked people often myself. But here, even the intended recipient wasn’t in Bombay. It would have been a flight’s journey for both. And thanks to mistaken identities, I was now aware of this exchange.

I know both well. Happily married, as social media would inform me. With partners they had picked for themselves. In jobs, they I knew they had carefully chosen. In cities, they had wanted. And it was an innocuous question. But something about the exchange nagged me.

Would it be a clandestine rendezvous? Or was the spouse invited as well? Did the respective partners know? Was he going to be in Bombay specifically only to meet her or he had other business. None of the answers to any of these questions matter to me. Perhaps, they don’t to them, either. But I felt uncomfortable, having been privy to this exchange.

Today, I have no idea if the intended meeting took place at all. But each time, I see happy shiny family portraits on Facebook (of them or other folks); this innocuous question reinstates itself into my head.

Consent

He was a senior executive. Interns and freshers looked up to him. With awe, respect and a tinge of envy. He was suave, popular and a trendsetter. One Friday, he ordered a round of shots for everyone at work, after an evening of binge drinking in the office. There were a few groans and protests. He ignored. It was her first week at work. He singled her out for two shots. She squirmed. He resisted. Coaxed her. Pushed the glass towards her. Cheered her. Egged her on. Everyone gathered around her. And she gently, reluctantly, parted her lips. Still squirming.

*****************

I was in a saree shop. Admiring the colours and patterns, in search of a new outfit for a wedding reception. And the lehenga saree revealed itself on a mannequin. An over enthusiastic sales guy offered to drape one on me. An aunt nudged me forward. Before I could even examine myself in front of a mirror, the said aunt captured a quick snapshot of me. For my daughter abroad, she said.

*****************

She was yet to celebrate her first wedding anniversary, when the mother-in-law apprised her. She was to hand over her bridal saree to a cousin in the family. She complied, meekly. It was returned to her a week later, after being cleaned at a local laundry, with the embroidery coming apart.