This blog is for a dear friend, confidante and boss. When I was going through a particularly bad patch, Shiva said to me “ these are horrible things to happen to a person. True. But, your life is too large for you to let such small things come in the way of living”. And yet he let something as trifling as malaria get him. At the risk of sounding clichéd, without Shiva I wouldn’t be where I am now or writing this blog at all. Even if I have known him only for a year, I am glad I knew him at all and I wish I had known him for longer. This blogpost, that I wrote a week ago, is about this city, Bangalore, where I have shifted for a month now. My being here, doing the job that I do, and living a different life is partly due to Shiva. Shiva Dhakal, you had no business to go.
It has been a month since I shifted to this city. A city, that now, seems full of glass office buildings and a city that is reeling under the impact of The Great IT Exodus. Bangalore is where my grandparents settled after my grandfather’s retirement and have lived there since, some 30 years almost. Which means I have been visiting Bangalore almost every holiday? For me, Bangalore meant a good time, my grandparents, no school, vacation, cousins and friends to play with, relatives, and all that is old and traditional.
This time it is different. I am here on work. So good times are fewer and farther between. But they still are in steady supply.
For a start, this city of parks has not changed much in that respect, at least in this neighborhood. I remember going to Krishnarao park with my grandfather and playing in the playground there. I now go to the park for my walks. A multitude of health conscious folk and gossip lovers descend on the park every morning rather early and traverse the same circular path every day. Down the road is Lalbagh which I go to off a Sunday. This vast and beautiful space of greenery and trees and lakes is truly exotic for this Bombayite. To have them so accessible is a dream come true. Shiva loved nature, he would have loved Bangalore.
Over the past few weekends, I got to check out three places to eat. First, with Aparna, Vinita and Sruthi, I had a hungry breakfast at Vidyarthi Bhavan. We waited for close to 30 minutes standing like hawks over other people having breakfast and keeping a look out for emptying seats. When we finally did sit down, we were famished. We had the idli, vada and masala dosa. The masala dosa and the filter coffee were to die for. Definitely, a must if you are in Bangalore any time. Second, I went to Maiya’s for lunch with Nikki. We went up to the Gujarati part of the restaurant. The food was good but not great. I mean, nowhere near those awesome Gujarati thali places in Bombay like Samrat and Panchvati. Koshy’s, on the other hand, was a delectable find. I went there with Sam and a brood of her lovely friends. It is this really old café-type setup, famous for its kerela food, but I had their fish and chips which was also good. Shiva loved fish, he would have enjoyed this place. Also this marked my first drinking outing in Bangalore. Sadly, when I asked for more rum and coke, I was told it was too late. That’s right, Bangalore closes all liquor by 11.30. Shiva would have laughed at such a rule and wondered how I lived here. Shiva would have enjoyed a gastronomical exploration of this city. Shiva loved food.
I must tell about my first client at work. Yes yes, there are things like client confidentiality and all that, so no names and such, but still it makes for an interesting story. It’s a hospital that is looking for marketing solutions. They are a ‘boutique’ hospital. And I had to google that myself. Meeting up with the COO was even more interesting. He waxed eloquent about what the hospital offers and why the prices are so exorbitant (because of the state-of-the-art technology etc). And then, he launches on healthcare in India, how ‘Indian’s culturally don’t care about people dying on the street. Thought running through my head: how posh for a man so concerned about public health and the ‘Indian mentality of not caring’ to be heading such an exclusive luxury facility? Shiva would have wondered what I was doing with ‘boutique’ hospitals and laughed at my predicament. He would have said, “ its ok. You can do it”.
This weekend, I spent at Valley School, that alternative education school of the Krishnamurthy Foundation Institute (KFI) in the beautiful, green outskirts of Bangalore. I had gone there for a workshop on rhythm, art and movement. There was dancing, singing, carpentry and drawing and painting. All of which I did. The greenery of the valley beckons and I see myself a frequent visitor there. If Shiva had come for this, he would have escaped to visit the villagers and break bread with them assuming they would have some delicious food.
While there, I learnt this beautiful Bengali song, that I reproduce here
Khwaja’r name pagol hoiya
Phiri ami Ajmer giyago
(Eto Kore daklam tare)- 2
Tobu dekha pailam na
Pagol Chhada duniya cholena (hai re)
*(Tui pagol tor mon-o-pagol)-2
Pagol pagol korish na
Pagol chhada duniya cholena (hai re)
(Murshid ache deshe deshe
Ei jogote koto beshe re)- 2
(Dhorte parle pabi re tui)- 2
Behest- er-I nazrana
Pagol chhada duniya chole na (hai re)
Tui pagol tor mon-o-pagol *
The meaning, in a gist, is that in searching for god/ultimate/truth, I have become crazy. I have looked everywhere and haven’t found it. I even went to Ajmer but to no avail. But that’s ok. Without the mad people/ madness, the world wouldn’t run. You are mad and so is your heart, don’t call other people mad because without the mad, the world wouldn’t run. There are many Murshid (philosphers, guides, guru, teachers) in different forms in the world everywhere. And yet you dont see the ultimate until you do see it.
Shiva has been one of my Murshids . I am unable to keep track of all that is lost by losing him.
Recently, not even as long ago as November, I had occasion to recall The Catcher in the Rye fondly. I was presented with a unique situation. A birthday gift had to be bought for a friend. I did what I usually do, asked him what he would like. He said a book would be welcome. Perfect! Theres nothing more I enjoy than shopping for books even if the buys don’t go into my shelves. But his next specification puzzled me. He said a book on economics , globalization etc or books that envision a different kind of India like imagining India by Nandan Nilekani, would be nice and definitely no poetry and novels. No poetry, I understand. Poetry requires a different sensibility that needs to be cultivated. And I, for one, prefer to do poetry reading with other people. Unlike reading novels, where I would love to be alone with a book, just the two of us understanding and unraveling each other much like intercourse. But no novels/fiction of any kind, I don’t understand. I understand not like genres of fiction like chic lit, murder mysteries, Victorian novels etc. But to shun all fiction with one stroke is unfathomable. But, he said, fiction is alright if the guy is using it to depict an alternate reality, like Jonathan Livingstone Seagull. So that was my only clue.
So I was determined to find a novel. This is tricky, if you wanted to introduce someone to fiction and get them hooked and stay hooked, finding the right novel would be crucial. I wracked my brains. My favourites, as of now, happen to be literature from the third world, about conflict, colonialism, and life. But I definitely cant give Marquez or Allende, much as I love them for the simple reason, that they are making a statement not only with what they wish to say but also with the way they say it. Magical realism can be very very irritating for the novice reader. Also latin America seemed really far away. Fortunately or unfortunately, my friend and I live in an India where we would be quicker to understand American idioms, language and grief than we will the latin American, African, middle eastern or even rural Indian. So latin American literature, the kind I had read, was out.
What about Indian writing in English? After all, Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh is my all time favourite. And it speaks of so many things. I myself am a great fan of the Stream of Consciousness style of writing. But is that safe for someone who doesn’t have a great opinion of fiction to begin with. Arundhati Roy was also good, not as good as Ghosh or Seth, I think. But the amount of hype that her book had could put anyone off. And most people who I knew had read it either loved it or hated it. Couldn’t take that risk!
What about the classics? Austen is generally considered to be a chic lit person. Dickens is tedious reading. I needed something racy, snappy and over in a week. Hardy, same as dickens and sometimes so much more soap opera’ish than even Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu thi.
I needed something that was quick to read, easy on the eyes and brain, a kind of book that would be popular among men and didn’t give any inkling of being chick lit. And it was there, just so plain to see, the book was Catcher in the Rye. Most of the boys who I know have read it, seemed to like. It is my dads favourite book. Its easy going and extremely realistic language makes it a quick read. And yet, it critiqued society all through. It was about a young American boy who has been given the axe at this school, Pencey Prep and what he does and thinks on his way home. It is a critique by a child brought up in a wealthy home with all the luxuries of life. It was closer home than any other book I could think of. It was radical.
Holden Caulfield is blasé. He finds most things people say and do in high society phony. Surprising, considering that’s the only society he knows. And he poses some of the most basic questions that all of us have asked of ourselves while growing up. Like if being a lawyer is about making a reputation or about saving people’s lives? How do you know when you save a guy’s life if you really wanted to do it or because you wanted to be a really good lawyer? These are questions that we as adults have ‘resolved’. But have we? Holden’s deliberations, in the entire book including the psychotherapy that he receives at the end are all sharp pointers to the fact that we never never really resolved these issues. We have just let society resolve them for us. And that these questions still give us pangs underneath all that self assuredness. And this is most telling as he recalls the events in the novel after more than a year after it happened, meanwhile undergoing therapy.
I gave my friend a choice between the Catcher in the Rye and Catch 22. He chose Catch 22 after a quick glance at the plot of both novels in Wikipedia. War always wins with boys! But more importantly, I will always remember Salinger as someone who wrote a book that I could use to get someone hooked on to fiction. A pastime from which I myself derive great pleasure.