Sunday, March 29, 2009

Kafka on the Shore

“I want to own a farmhouse”. I replied thoughtfully, when my father asked me, “What is it, that you want to do with your life?”

In retrospect, I think this question must have cropped up in his mind when he must have seen me, his 25 year old, intelligent son with big eyes, doing nothing, staring blankly towards the roof, wasting his potential and dawdling away time.

But my big eyes were lost in a parallel universe, consisting of my imaginations, fantasies, music and food. And it seemed only natural to give the most honest answer. Also, I have always had this strong admiration and fascination for the life of a farmer, working in unison with yourself and nature.

“Do you even know what a farm is?” My father brought me down to the harsh world of complexities.

“What is the most important thing to run a farm in an arid region like Rajasthan?” You answer me this question, and I promise, we will go to a real estate agent to show us some agricultural land.

It was my chance to converge my parallel universe with the harsh world of complexities. I could actually live my dream life.

“Manpower...”  I replied hesitantly.

My father gave me a disgruntled look and just left my room without pursuing the matter further.

I have this amazing collection of dictionaries in my room. I picked up Oxford dictionary of difficult words and looked up “arid”. To my surprise, it was absent in the dictionary. The concept of difficult is relative, of course.

I looked up the word in another dictionary, Oxford’s 5000 words you must know, and there it was, defined neatly as an adjective for dry, parched, barren land. I carefully stacked the dictionary and all the words inside it, back at its rightful place, on my bookshelf.

All tragedy arises out of your defects, mine being a miniscule vocabulary. I thought.

I have never been so grossly incorrect.

The question my father had asked was a sitting duck; it contained the answer in itself, for all practical purposes. Water should have been my obvious answer. Rains in Rajasthan are as rare as raining cats, dogs or fishes.

I better start reading all these books I have, I promised to myself, looking at the plethora of books I had in my room. The latest one being Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. I had borrowed this book from my friend and promised to return after reading. I have this awful habit of making hollow promises with no timelines and objectivity.

“I am leaving for Pali, to go check on my convalescing friend.” My father said. “So you better get ready for some driving lessons.” His voice was still reverberating reproach for having given such a dumb answer.

I wanted to tell him that I had figured out the correct answer but I guess he meant me to move my lazy ass to the shower and putting on clean attire.

Also, I prepared myself mentally for the driving lessons.

Pali Marwar, a small town 70 kms south of Jodhpur, is famous for its Gulab Halva, a sweet which has a rich taste of mawa, rose essence and pure ghee. It also has, the not so famous, Government Hospital where I was born. Nonetheless, I am proud to be born at a town which offers such delectable delicacy.

We left for Pali, half an hour later.

“What is wrong with you today?” My father asked.

I clenched the car steering harder and sieved the road for an approaching truck, a cow, a pothole or traffic lights. But all that lay ahead was the straight, grey highway.

“You are driving fine now”. My father completed and smiled.

My father has a sense of humour.

Assuming it as a compliment, I felt relieved. Also it would have been yet another, tough question to answer for the day.

Villages with strange names like Kakani passed us by on the high way.

“Do you know what this village “Kakani” is famous for?” My father asked me in a friendly manner so as to start a conversation.

“Handmade Durries”. I answered confidently.

My father was seemingly impressed. The answer came as a deluge after my arid answer in the morning.

“How do you know?” He inquired.

“I read it somewhere”. I replied nonchalantly.

It was true. I had read it on a highway sign board, a while back, while my father was juggling with CDs to put on his favourite Shammi Kapoor music.

About 40 kms southwards, a small village called Rohet came.

“Is this village famous for something as well?” I asked with new gained confidence.

“Oh, then you will have to take the next right.”My father pointed in the direction of a divergence ahead.

I carefully guided the car onto the kachha road going into the village Rohet. After seeking directions from an effusive Paan waala, we managed to park our car in front of the majestic RohetGarh Haveli. At the same time, I would be correct in saying that the very intricately painted, artistic facade, fails to do justice to what lies inside the Haveli.

“Wow!” Is all I managed to speak.

Owning a Haveli would be so much better than owning a farmhouse. Who needs to work in unison with yourself and nature if you can have your own Haveli replete with all modern facilities and servants abound. Also, manpower would be more important to run this huge Haveli than water.

I kept on looking at the beautiful architecture of the Haveli. At the centre of the Haveli, was a big open space boasting an exquisitely maintained garden. The garden had well trimmed green grass, flowers and trees, big and small. In a corner here, shade of tree there, lay benches and desks, placed deliberately but beautifully camouflaged with nature.

These little hidings seemed soaked with pleasant memories of an aimless chat, a moment with oneself, a gentle kiss, a good time reading, a small afternoon nap. I could also spot a few peacocks roaming in complete peace with their habitat.

We entered the reception area where a heavily built, tall man met us smilingly.

“How may I help you?” He sounded like the manager of the place.

“We were just passing by and my son wanted to see what Rohet is famous for?” My father said.

“You have brought him to the right place.” The towering manager, Rajput by the looks of his moustache, replied with well deserved pride.

He narrated the historic battles, Thakur Dalpat Singh had fought in Marwar and rewarding his bravery, the king of Jodhpur gifted this Haveli to him in 1622 AD. Rohet became one of the most important fiefdom of Marwar.

 Now the Haveli has been converted to a heritage hotel. The hotel provides 30 rooms, all having a different interior decoration, a swimming pool, top class Rajputana service, confusing number of cuisines and probably the only time you can live like a king.

I was dumbstruck by the luxurious simplicity of the place.

“Well let’s go now.” My father declared the time to leave.

“No.” I replied.

“Is it possible that I stay here, while you can go to Pali and meet your friend? You can pick me up on your way back. I really like this place.” I begged.

I don’t know whether it was the desperation in my voice or the Handmade durry answer, that guided my father to acquiesce with my harmless request. But, I know that I was happy to get a good 2-3 hours to spend in this parallel universe of mine.

My father asked the manager’s permission, who willingly agreed. Also there were no customers in the Haveli at this time of the season, so I could peek around anywhere I wanted. My father left and told me to meet him at the gate of the Haveli, when he gives a missed call on his way back.

I went to the reception desk to thank the manager for his generosity.

All of a sudden, a big, burly dog appeared from behind the counter. He was this huge German Shepherd with a strong jaw. He stood with his front paws on the reception desk and his face directly in front of me. Contrasting to his majestic personality, his demeanour was very serene and placid. He was like the Haveli itself.

I was startled and took a few steps back.

“Don’t worry. Jimmy is a disciplined Rajput dog. He doesn’t get into small fights, he only wages a war.” The manager assured from behind.

“He is so big; for once I thought you had transformed into a Dog.” I said jokingly.

He received my smart mouth with good spirit and offered it a cup of tea. He introduced me to his dog- Jimmy.

“Jimmy happens to be my pet name as well.” I said meekly.

“But you won’t make as majestic a dog as him.” He replied smartly referring to my skinny looks.

“Do you want to see the Haveli?” He asked.

“Sure, if it’s no bother.” I tried to hide my eagerness.

“No problems, we even have a guide to give you a conducted tour.”

“That wouldn’t be necessary. I will find my way.” I longed to spend some time alone in the garden.

“But he is already here”. The manager handed me Jimmy’s leash.

“Jimmy, you see, is an intelligent dog. He is so intelligent that he will give you a tour of the Haveli all by himself and bring you back here. All you have to do is take his leash and follow him.” The manager said patting the dog roughly.

I looked at Jimmy, the dog, in amazement.

“What, you think only homo -sapiens are the intellectually evolved species” Jimmy said in a kingly voice.

I thought I heard the dog talk. I must get my ears examined.

 “You know I am ashamed to share my name with a weakling like you, but since you happen to be the first human I am able to converse with, I will show you the best place in the Haveli.” Jimmy the dog spoke fluently.

“You are most kind.” I managed to say, coming out of my amazement.

I followed Jimmy to my parallel universe of imaginations, fantasies music and food.

“Is this best place, in the garden, behind one of the giant neem tree?”I expressed my desire to go to the garden.

“No, I will take you there later.” Jimmy said with authority.

I was dragged to a room on the first floor, neatly marked 115 in the Haveli.

“This is no ordinary room, this is room number 115”. Jimmy said, showing me around.

“You can read numbers as well.” I was astonished.

“I can even do arithmetic, though I prefer using calculator now. Doing additions is such a waste of one’s mental capacity.” Jimmy said using his paw to scratch his chin.

“So what’s so special about room number 115?” I asked

“It is the room where Wiliam Dalrymple, I assume you know modern literature, wrote his famous book, The city of Djinns.”  Jimmy had a slight British accent.

“No way, you are kidding me.”

“I know William Dalrymple has been to the most obscure and interesting places in India. But this is way out of the question.” I countered.

“A rajput dogs never lies and if you want to cross, you can always search your collective human brain, google.”Jimmy replied with a bark in the end.

“You know computers as well”. Jimmy never ceased to amaze me with his eruditeness.

“But the reason I brought you here, is that I want you to sit here on Dalrymple’s desk.” Jimmy pointed his paw towards the desk.

“Ok.” I obeyed.

The desk was quite comfortable. Proper illumination and pleasant breeze filled the room. I f I had pen and paper, I would have written something myself. I checked his drawer; there were a few pencils, yellow with rubber at their ends, papers and some books still lying there.

I browsed the books to find some Japanese books lying there. Amongst them only one had an English title. I took it out, and read its name- Kafka on the shore.

“That’s a god one. You should read it.” A voice behind me said, in a thick Scottish accent.

I saw a silhouette of a balding man, in his mid forties, wearing a khaki trouser and a white shirt.

“I didn’t mean to scare you. Let me introduce myself.” The voice came from the apparition.

“I am William Dalrymple, author people say, but I prefer to call myself a historian. I am currently working on my book- The city of Djinns. It’s about these strange interesting places I saw in and around Delhi. Have you ever been to Delhi?” The ghost was making small talk.

I have been to Delhi. But somehow making conversation with a ghost of a living person seemed strange even in my parallel universe.

“How come you are here? Shouldn’t you be in London or wherever is it that you live.” I asked.

“Oh, yeah I miss the royal society of literature back home, but I like this place so much that some part of me always remained in this room.”

“Anyways you can leave now, as I am writing now and I don’t like any company except for Schubert’s sonata in D major.” William’s ghost said rather rudely.

My scientific, rational human mind had been wiped clean and I was enjoying my newly found parallel universe of talking dogs, ghosts and who knows what.

Jimmy led me to a clearing in the garden. This was the place I wanted to be, the moment I entered the Haveli. There was a white marble bench in shade of a big neem tree. I sat down facing the tree bark. Jimmy lay near me, with his head resting on his paws.

“You can sit here for some time, till I take a nap.” Jimmy said, struggling to keep flies away from his face.

The setting was immensely peaceful. A few birds chirped occasionally to keep me from hearing silence.

On the tree bark were etched a few lines. On close examination I was able to read them

“Kafka sits in a chair by the shore,                                                                                                Thinking of the pendulum that moves the world, it seems”

I don’t know how long I sat there, reading these lines over and over, but when I opened my eyes, Jimmy was gone.

A peacock was standing in his place, instead.

“Jimmy is gone after Mia, the cat. Today he will kill the stupid cat. He was too merciful for too long.” The peacock spoke in a female voice.

“I can understand that you too can speak, but how come you have a female voice. Peacocks are male, aren’t they?” I raised a genuine doubt.

“You see, biologically I am a female, and my sexual preference is also female. So I am like a female gay trapped in a male’s body. For the record, I do like the feathers, they are so colourful. You can call me Leonard.”

I was confused.

“Give my regards to your father. He is waiting for you on the Haveli’s gate.” Leonard Co-Hen reminded me. I checked my mobile but there was no battery.

I wanted to say thanks to Leonard, Jimmy and the manager, but decided against it. I didn’t want to keep my father waiting.

As I rushed to the Haveli’s gate, my father pulled up his car. I was exactly on time.

I sighed relief and took over the driving seat from my father.

He was looking disturbed.

“How is your friend? Is he going to be alright?” I expressed concern.

“He has two fractures and it will take 3 months for him to walk normally again. And just because he wanted to save a dog from getting hit, he rammed his car in a tractor.”

People are drawn deeper into tragedy not by their defects but by their virtues”. My father concluded.

I drove in silence.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Spirituality and Villages

I was late to wake up, the hostel body clock had not yet unwound. The only thing that can wake me, other than the aroma of food, is

“Jimmy! Wake up now; it’s time to get up”. My father said. He has this particular way of saying it loudly but in a rhythm of some old hindi song. It is a command and a shock at the same time.

I wake up quickly and become presentable to meet Maya, a single, female, 32, from US who had come to our place, in Jodhpur, through a social networking web site.

“You are kidding me”

“How they come to your place?”

“Why do they come to your place?”

 “What web site is this?”

“You get to stay with foreign chicks”

These are some of the common responses my friends give me every time I tell them about foreign travellers putting up at my place.

Well, that’s what you get a when you put together empowering IT technology and a man determined to be powerful, my father.

The magnitude of the age of our foreign guest bothered me, in comparison to other parts of her ASL, as I combed my non-existent silky hair locks, but the name Maya somehow breathed promise.

“Meet my Son, Jimmy.” My father introduced me to Maya.

She looked like a typical foreign traveller, with a pair of cotton, coarse grain, semi- transparent Pyjamas which look very comfortable and must be very cheap. A black open shoulder top with a ‘Hare Rama, Hare Krishna’ printed light cotton cloth covering her bare shoulders. She was carrying a sling bag with all the foreign tourist essentials of medicine, camera, bead necklaces and tissue papers.

She was five-four, with sun burnt skin and average built and appearance.

“Hi Maya, I am Jimmy. I did my BE in Computer Science and then worked for IBM for about 1 year. Then I did my MBA in Marketing, and now I will be working for Maruti.”

 I said without pausing for breath.

She was expressionless.

 I was stunned.

 With an introduction like that I had killed all chances of any further conversation. I vowed to unlearn the answers I had learned for company placements and also whatever formal education remained in my brain.

 “You know, the company that makes cheap Indian cars! “

I tried to make up, but the verdict was clear.

After a few cursory glances and words about how much time in India, where you going next, how much you like India, I gave up, and left to have a cup of tea with my mother.

My mom is the most adorable creature in the whole world. Like every spoilt child I can say this with the most conviction.

“The maid servant has not yet come?” My mother was concerned.

“This Maya girl is not that great looking.” I am on very friendly terms with my mother.

“I have to get clothes from upstairs.” She reminded herself.

“I want to eat Dal Baati today.” I love my mother for her culinary skills

“I missed my favourite daily soap yesterday.” She resolved to watch the repeat telecast.

“I think I will bath today.” 

Even my mom was surprised at this.

We finished our tea.

We have this very special relation where we understand each other perfectly without having any real conversation. She resumed her chores. I flipped a few channels on our new big TV.

“Get ready every one. We are leaving in 10 minutes.” My father said.

 His particular style of speaking makes it a command and a shock at the same time.

And indeed, we have locked our doors, squeezed in our Maruti, with me in the Driving seat, Dad beside me and Maya and Mom at the back seats; we embark on our journey in exactly ten minutes.

“Go Straight”. My father said.

I obeyed. I lifted the clutch pedal too quickly and the car jolted to a halt.

“What was that? You have forgotten to drive?” My father said.

“So where are we heading?”  I said as I managed to put the wheels in motion.

Now I am not a bad driver, in fact I am a decent driver, but somehow the occasional little mistakes that happen while you drive, start happening a lot more often when my Dad sits beside me.

“We are going to a nearby village; it would be good experience for Maya to visit rural India.” My father said.

“It would be a good experience for me as well.” I said

“The newspaper boy was asking for payment.”  My mother continued from where she had left.

I knew my mom would enjoy the rural visit as soon as she gets her mind of her assumed daily duties. But Maya, she would evaporate in this harsh weather and extreme climate. And she wouldn’t understand anything about rural life. Still, she could take some pictures with village people, to show off to her friends, back at her country.

“I am really excited to go to a village.” She was speaking to my dad.

I hope the village sun won’t steal your excitement. I said in my mind.

Watching funny sit coms can give you a refresher course in seemingly smart, slapstick one-liners. Meanwhile, I managed to dodge a rapidly approaching city bus but crashed head on with my father’s dismissal of my fast depleting driving skills.

“My journey to India would be incomplete without this. I feel a cosmic chain of events taking me to this village.” Maya thanked my Dad for fulfilling her destiny.

I watched Maya in the rear view mirror, waving her hand to school going children. The children waved back enthusiastically.

“India is so full of energy. Everyone is so eager to share and help.” Maya complimented the entire Indian population.

Don’t these foreigners realise it. I pondered. Can’t they see that they are the monkeys in the zoo; and all Indians are just waiting with peanuts in their fists?

I humbled the Indian population.

I swiftly manoeuvred the car, as a cow directed the traffic control of the road.

“You must be extra careful when there are cows on the road.” My father said.

“Your son is driving alright.” Maya came to my rescue.

She is finally over my stunning introduction. I mentally high-fived myself. May be now she can see the cool side of me, I thought hopefully.

“You know the spirit of India lies in villages.” I pushed my case further.

But alas, I had pushed my case in fields where my Dad is an expert- Spiritualism and Villages.

What followed was a discourse on the bare essentials of Hinduism, Yoga, Mythology, Village life, Local deities. In fact my dad was speaking with such fluency and humour, I started enjoying his conversation.

Listening to some beautiful poems on village life, in my dad’s heavy voice, we reached our village. Modi Joshiyan.

We entered a house and were immediately welcomed by the entire family. They treated us like old time family friends and offered us tea and snacks. After customary introduction about our caste and our village, the males and females were taken in separate rooms.

The head of the house offered us opium, the traditional way of welcoming guests by Bishnoi clan. The entire way of consuming opium was quite elaborate and was more like a ritual.

My father summoned for Maya, after taking permission from the head of the family, of course.

The apparatus for preparing opium consisted of a silver stand with two jute filters attached. The big bishnoi in his white turban took out some dry opium from a plastic bag and meticulously grounded it in an ornate vessel. Then he mixed it with water and put it in the jute filters where it collected in another vessel.

He offered it to my dad, first and then to me.

Now this part was really tricky. The man poured some liquid opium in his hand and we had to slurp it from his hand.

Well, as long it is Opium, hygiene can wait.

He offered opium to Maya as well who willingly took gulps of freshly ground opium water. The process was repeated till we could not bear the bitter taste of opium.

We were offered Mango Bite to give our taste buds some respite.

 Maya returned to the ladies room where many a village girls had come to see the fair skinned girl from far away land.

Poor Maya, I thought. She would be in a whirlpool of words she can’t comprehend.

“We will go now, to another village”, my father said, cutting short the details of the family dispute, our host had managed over a piece of land.

It was his time to experience my dad’s particular style of speaking that makes it a command and a shock at the same time.

I was told to convey our departure to mom and Maya. As I entered the ladies room I saw Maya deeply engrossed in conversation with a village girl, roughly her own size but definitely younger and arguably prettier. Maya was doing all the listening but her hand was on her shoulders and she has a smile on her face as if she understood everything the girl was saying.

I told that we were about to leave and rushed. It was the ladies room after all.

I and dad waited for the females to appear and bid our farewell to the Bishnoi’s at their huts gate. I listened to their Marwari accent and amazed how dad could understand such different dialects.

I was praising my dad.

The opium was taking effect. It is believed to make you see things clearly.

As the women delayed even more dad asked me to reverse the car and bring it front of the gate.

This was my chance, it was tricky to reverse the car in narrow village lane and if I could give this one flawless performance of precise control of accelerator, brake and clutch I would redeem my position as a driver, in front of dad. This was my chance to drive myself to glory.

I cautiously put the car in reverse and with surgical precision parked it right in front of the gate.

The opium had taken effect. It is believed to improve your driving.

The females had arrived and I geared myself up for the long drive ahead.

“I am not going with you guys.” Maya announced.

Maya was out of her senses. I thought.

 “Thank you, Vipin (dad) for bringing me to this village. How can I ever repay you? You are my messiah. You have led me to my destiny.”

The opium had its effect on her, I presumed. It is believed to make you crazy.

My father looked at her face intently. His eyes were growing bigger.

She is out of her freaking minds, she wants to stay here? In a village called nowhere. I was unable to comprehend the depths of this stupid act.

Village people will probably rape her and kill her. I imagined the worst case and highly likely scenario.

“No Vipin, I am not out of my senses. I have found my soul mate here, in Kamla. She and I just connected. We talked and understood each other on a spiritual plane. We must have common past karma.”Maya spoke confidently.

My mom is emotional but she vouched that the two were inseparable in the ladies room

My dad stared at her some more, and started to clear his throat-

I prayed that the opium doesn’t have its effect on Dad. It is believed to make you violent.

“As you wish”. My father said.

Not in his particular way of speaking but it was a command for me and a shock.