It was day two of my new job today. After a day of classroom discussion and planning meetings, I was finally walking back home from a busy day. A busy day. I have not experienced such a thing in the last two years because I have only spent time doing the things I want to do. It felt good to have a busy day. I was walking down the road I have walked on for as long as I can remember. Past the modern school that has transformed from a small pathshala in to a grand establishment in the span of my lifetime. The Delhi winter is just peeking around the corner. The evening sun was large and the very hint of a nip in the air gave me that feeling of renewal that only a change of season can bring.

I heard from behind me someone calling out.

“Babu! Babu!”

I looked back to see a richshaw pull up from behind and stop by my side. It was a familiar face. I knew it right away. Especially the toothless grin. For as long as I can remember, he had never had any front teeth and always smiled with only his canines making him look silly. He had less hair and it was grayer.

“Remember?” he beamed.

“Yes of course! Are you kidding?” I replied with excitement.

“Where were you all this time?” I asked.

He said he had gone to his village. I did not bother asking for how long he had been gone for because I honestly did not remember. He carried on reminiscing.

“The gentleman from number 7 flat. He also remembers me. I used to drop his kids to the bus stop when they were young. He asked me on baqr-eid whether I wanted some meat. I said Sir I am a loner. I won’t be able to cook it.”

He said this last with a shrug. I asked if things were all right in the village. I got the feeling maybe he needs some help but he seemed energetic and well so I did not want to offend him. He was smiling a lot. The same toothless grin but his eyes seemed to shine more from age.

“Well, now I’ll see you around I hope. I have to be going now.” I said.

“Where are you going? Study? Duty?” he said.

I said I was going to my work.

“Oh! You’ve become a professor!” he said.

“I’ve become a professor!” I echoed. I did not bother to add that it had only been two days. He went into a bit of a reverie. He said it was a thing of happiness that the kids he took to school in his rickshaw for years were now all doing well.

“Someone is a professor, someone is a doctor, someone a big man in the police. I’m very happy.” he said.

I realized I still don’t know his name. He offered to drop me if I was in a hurry but I declined.

“I’ll see you when I get back,” I said with genuine hope.



A Severed Kite

It is as if my childhood has returned. Afternoon naps, being home while parents are at work and going on cycle rickshaws. Although I pray, meditate, rest and read willingly in stark contrast to my younger days.

I signed up for a cleanliness drive on facebook. An anonymous group of citizens who do what they call “spot fixes” around the city. I met a very well spoken guy in the market and we were joined by a group of school children being herded along by their teacher. The school runs a citizenship program and the students who sign up are tasked with joining these types of efforts. The task was to scrape away sticky posters and bills from electricity boxes (or whatever those things are called, switchboards?), then sweep the surrounding and finally paint the skirting that goes around the park in white and geru (a beautiful deep rust colored paint that is locally produced).

When you are doing work in a public space, wonderful things happen. You lose all self-consciousness. How you look, what you’re wearing, who is looking at you, whether your belly is a little too big nowadays, what kind of statement you are making. Your gaze becomes focused on the work. You are being useful. All questions of identity and appearance simply vanish. You have earned the right to be there and everyone just sort of gets with it. You develop an intimacy with the street and it starts to feel like your home because you are taking responsibility for it. People seem less scary and a kind of healing starts to happen. I totally understood why people who violated some law and sometimes even serious convicts are given community service. It is a blessing disguised as a punishment.

It is very easy to cross the line from this new found confidence into entitlement and sanctimonious self-righteousness.

I remembered that it was the very lane of the market where as a teenager I had once gotten into a fight with my friend’s boyfriend. Rather, he had come from behind and pushed me to the ground. I remembered because I had fallen on a bicycle and as I painted a tough spot on the skirting, I had to pick up a bicycle and move it to the side. The memory immediately came back. Cycles in Delhi, the old skool ones have a specific type of weight and make a loud noise when they fall.

Later on, my parents came to pick me up from a coffee shop in the market and we all went to Old Delhi for a wedding. They had to pick me up a change of clothes from home that I got into in the coffee shop bathroom, not showered after three hours of hard work. I didn’t care somehow. The sweat on my body had dried in the cold air conditioned air of the upscale coffee shop and the evening felt cool. I felt energized and ready for a night out. We went deep into the old city. We had to park at the school where my mom and I work and then take cycle rickshaws to the marriage hall. As a kid, I remember when we would go to Aligarh to see my nana (granduncle) we would have to pile all the stuff and ourselves into two cycle rickshaws because one wasn’t enough for all of us. Having been in cars for the last decade or so I had forgotten this kind of simple problem of commuting as a family. My parents got into one rickshaw and I in the other and just like we would do with my mother and nani (grandma) in Aligarh, I looked back at them from my ride, smiled and waved. My father told me about the neighborhood in a loud voice.

The marriage hall was colorful and more like a big house with a courtyard than a formal venue. So used to big, noisy and garish Delhi weddings, it felt simple and unpretentious. More importantly, a guy was roasting kebabs on a coal fire and the smoke from the meat was intoxicating. I was ravenous. The hosts fussed around us because my mom is such a big cheese and we were brought food to our table. The most delectable mutton qorma and sheermal I’ve had in a while.  A long while. The taste was only partially because of the solid Old Delhi cooking. It was also because of how I had arrived at the table. Good meals start hours before you actually start eating.

It is as if my childhood has returned. My father told me that when he was a child, his father would take him from Bada Hindu Rao to Old Delhi on the tram. For a fare of 25 paise.

Days like this can only come with complete abandonment. Completely forsaking your dreams and vain desires. One of my favorite lines from a tv series I watched as a kid.

Zindagi ko kati patang ki tarah udne do.

(Let your life fly like a severed kite).

rickshaws_at_stationCycle rickshaws at Aligarh Railway Junction