Unhappy Diwali

 Image: Unsplash

Image: Unsplash

There were two instead of the one regular when I turned the corner of 1st Main and 5th Cross. They were leaning forward, peering, but they couldn’t see what was happening on 5th Cross from where I approached them. The dogs hadn’t the courage to come to the very end of the street and find out.

They weren’t firing crackers on 5th Cross. Still, seeing me, and probably thinking I was the creator of the sounds all around and the coloured lights exploding above, the pair turned and bounded back along 1st Main. I watched them until they disappeared after a gentle curve in the distance. Strange. They must’ve been through a few Diwali experiences, being full-grown dogs, not puppies. They were acting as though the apocalypse was upon them.

It was my turn to get apprehensive when I completed the length of 1st Main, went all the way down 3rd Cross, and turned into 2nd Main. Even before I got there, I could hear the serial explosions, loud and unsettling.

The chain ran about fifty meters along the middle of the road. About ten meters of the chain had blown, and cracker after cracker was sparking off the next in line in rapid succession — like a runaway machine gun, cruel, violent, with not a hint of the celebration of a good thing.

The man who’d perhaps lit the chain walked along it, in step with the crackers going off. A bunch of young men watched the scene, and they and the man by the chain were surely one party from a posh dwelling close by. The light from the streetlamp above had lit their hair, and it had caught their high-fashion silk sherwanis as well, which gleamed golden and silver.

I glared my nastiest at them. They were engrossed in their play, but after a long while, with the thudding of the crackers still going, they looked up. Seeing me looking as I was at them, they were surprised. They turned away.

The 2nd Main is the widest in my neighborhood and is host to a half dozen strays. They were all far down the road, in a single united pack, cocked and looking and perhaps whining a little.

On 3rd Main, where I live, after I’d walked a few paces the explosions from 2nd Main ended, but there was still a maddening din in the air, from fireworks going off all over town. They assailed the ear, the eye, the nose, and, most terribly, the heart. When I reached my gate, there was a little white fellow whom I’d never seen before. His tail was tucked in, and he was shrunken, and he was too much in fright of the sound and the fury to make any sign for help. Round his neck was a collar.

All dogs in my neighbourhood are so dressed in cute collars — the kept dogs behind the gate, the strays outside. It is an act of duty and kindness performed by most homes on all streets. The folks will allow none to be taken away by the catcher.

I opened my gate wide enough just for me. I slid in sideways. I closed the gate after me, and when I reached my front door, I looked back, to be sure the dog at the gate hadn’t somehow followed me in.

I hope this Diwali was perfect for you.

Starbucks On Church Street


I was sipping a short Americano with soya milk. A short lasts me an hour. Two shorts over two hours is my usual at Starbucks.

On my right, a Sikh, and with him a man who could’ve been Japanese, or Chinese, or Tibetan, but was probably North-East Indian. The table on my left, not taken. The table further left, the last of a row of four two-seaters, taken by a man aged about forty-five, his coffee served cold in a glass, the straw wet on the table. He was concentrating straight ahead.

The Sikh and the North-East Indian both wore shorts. On his feet the Sikh sported black flip flops, and his companion, green soft-shoes. Both men appeared to be marching happily through their thirties.

“The moment the idea hit me I thought of you,” the Sikh man said to the North-Eastern, who laughed. They were bent toward each other, the Sikh’s forearms were folded on the table.

“Believe me,” the Sikh said, it’s true. And it’s no small deal. There will be only millionaires in this thing. Cool forty-million.”

For businessmen in Bangalore, the dollar is the currency of choice, although sometimes they settle for the euro.

A woman walked toward our row, tray in one hand, handphone over her ear, held there by a raised shoulder. She slid under the table left of me. My eyes were on my Kindle (open to Less by Greer) but the black of her skirt and the white of her shirt flashed on my eyes when she curved in. I also took in how she arranged her tray, the croissant, and coffee — her workday breakfast, I presumed.

“He was very good,” she was saying into the phone. “He has energy. He’s aggressive. He’s the guy I want for a partner.”

Her listener — a female voice issued from the phone — said something.

“No, no,” my neighbor answered. “Vikas is too calm. He is too settled under his skin. No energy. His vibes are terrible, I tell you.”

Meanwhile, the Sikh was better detailing his proposal. He was saying, “Let me explain why you’re the perfect fit for this.”

But I’d tuned out of him and his friend. The thin high confident voice of the lady on my left had taken possession of my ears and my mind. Her voice and something about her presence suggested this was a woman in her twenties. By now I’d registered that she was very fair, but I hadn’t seen her face yet, I didn’t see it at all, because just then I shut my Kindle and rose, deciding that this morning, one Americano would do.

Because, you see, in just a few minutes the men on the right and the woman on the left had force-fed me three shots of stimulus, adding to the effects of the Americano, sending me high and making me addled. On top of all that, I‘ve been wearying of business for some time now, and lately any talk of commerce hurls me outdoors, gagging, seeking fresh air.

Walking out, I saw the man at the end of my row still looking straight ahead, to the wall where cups and coffee-presses and other Starbucks stuff were on display. Tall man. Grey hair gifted with a touch of bounce and wave. His skin had the sheen and texture of the rich and accomplished, but his eyes were soft and collapsed and watery — the eyes of the defeated.

It was sunny when I stepped into the street, Church Street. It was not hot, it was not too cool. I chose to walk off the sidewalk, away from the shadows, thinking of Vikas whom the fair lady had so vehemently rejected. With what eyes was Vikas seeing the world, this calm man whom I don’t know, whom I’ve never seen?

Mutha and Brother

All vehicles were whizzing by, and we could only ask two children who looked like brothers and were selling Kannada evening-papers. Their dark-brown faces were clean and sharp. They knew the landmarks: Food World and HDFC Bank before it, Bata Shoe Store on the left, Food Bazaar on the way—establishments beyond their use, but which they knew. They gave clear directions eagerly. Then the younger, shorter boy demanded that we buy a paper for two Rupees. His brother thought him overly opportunistic and tried pulling him away: yey, baaro! But he was stubborn and we bought one and I asked him his name: Mutha. We drove on and I saw in my mirror the older boy still chiding Mutha.

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Saturday Evening: Inox

All cars are out Saturday evenings. If people aren’t going to the pubs they are headed for the malls. Sujaya had two tickets for a Bollywood movie at Inox in the Garuda Mall: a gift from someplace where she’s been spending money. She was keen, so we went. It was as I had feared: we were constantly bumping into people and knocking elbows with them. I peered into the shops while riding the escalators: Mango was empty; many more were empty and were looking into aisles milling with people up to their doorstep. The jewellery shop was full. We were late, and I wanted to escape to the top floor and into the movie-hall. There the movies had begun and the aisles were empty except for a couple hurriedly buying popcorn in American-size tubs—one leg toward the food-counter and the other toward the movie hall, the rest of their body-parts similarly divided and inclined. The toilets were clean, the air-fresheners were effective and a soft disorienting light adequately benumbed the senses. The movie-hall was half-empty, though it was a Hindi movie rated with a good number of stars in the morning paper. The seats were plush, and the sound was strong and sharp. I haven’t, until now, experienced movie-theaters with this comfort in India, and have been seeing films only at home. I’ve stumbled on a new pastime.

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Swami Brahmanandaji

Swami Brahmanandaji telephoned for us to do the arti on stage for his yajna last week. To be asked by him is an honor, so we went. I cannot be religious in public: one has to lose inhibition, close eyes, look inward, do body signs, and pray—not easy for the self-conscious. There before a large picture of Krishna, Sujaya held the deepa, I cupped the bottom of her palm and we struggled to be in sync: I tried fast turns and she forced a slow pace. Then I realized that if the deepa went off it would be a terrible omen. Fear and discomfort shook my hand and the flame fluttered. It was a long arti, our hands went round and round, accompanied by song. When done, we offered the deepa first to swamiji, then to the devotees. They stretched their their arms in our direction, hundreds of arms, reaching for the flame, hands cupping the vision of it from far, absorbing its power and its blessing. They chanted, eyes half-closed, some eyes imploring, some rapturous. We held the object of their devotion, standing behind it, standing over them, seeing a sight only for God to see. I glanced away.

As he preached, swamiji often withdrew from talking, closed his eyes and took deep breaths. A profound peace came upon his face when he did that and compounded his radiance. Now we were down in the audience, in communion, and his peace descended on us. He said the things we’ve heard in other sermons but they came home with fresh power. His eyes shone. When he smiled, which he did when he spoke in jest, lines appeared and settled easy on his face—a picture of peace. Two hours went like two minutes.

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