Enjoying an Emergency

I was part of a party that admitted a not-too-old man to emergency at the Fortis Hospital on Bannerghatta Road. We went in at 10:00 PM. When we came out it was 2:20 AM. While we waited for the unfolding tests to end and thereafter for the reports to come in, we washed out hands again and again with sanitiser. They had planted bottles of the fluid all over, and they had large signs that told how to avoid contracting swine flu. Feeling thus secure, we watched cricket on the monitors above. In the pauses between matches, when the talking hosts came on, we went in to look after how our man was doing.

They wouldn’t let us stay long periods. “Radiation,” someone cried and shooed us out. Other times, a guard in blues came in and asked us to leave and we asked him back to leave us alone for a bit. He was nice. But everybody there was nice. We went out and waited, and watched cricket—re-runs of the ongoing World Cup cricket. The Indians were beating big, larger muscled others in the game, and, even as I felt guilty to be entertaining myself while our man suffered inside, I felt happy that Indians were faring so well in the cricket department.

But the hospital itself was world class. Quiet efficiency prevailed. Emergencies came in one after another. The triage went on in murmurs. People waited, they asked questions, and they sat and waited and went back to the nurses’ stations, and in all this nobody lost their cool. We didn’t mind our own wait, because we saw how work was going on, and in the end when we left we went out knowing our man was going to make it.

His hands have coin-size sores at the knuckles, he has such sores on the knee caps, his calves and feet have swollen and are dimpled with larger sores, his haemoglobin count is 6, he cannot breathe and is on oxygen, there’s mostly white in his lungs, and the slow-marching lines on the monitors shout bad news even to the layman. But our patient is going to be all right. We saw that in the attentiveness of the nurses; we saw it in the manner of the doctors; and most of all we felt it in the thick kind voice of a Dr. Richard whom I may never see again.

Maadeva at Magen David Square

Magen David Square, Tel Aviv

Magen David Square, Tel Aviv

At Magen David Square there’s graffiti on the top storey of the tallest building on the spot. A lone busker sang to accompaniment from a large black box that he’d parked by a bench. Maadeva didn’t read the graffiti for what it said and what it meant, he registered the image and thought it good enough for a picture. It was four in the afternoon, and deliciously bright, but he’d checked and learnt that the sun leaves at five this time of the year in Tel Aviv. It was chilly even when he stepped out of the shadows. After he’d inhaled the square for a time Maadeva turned toward the pedestrian street—HaCarmel—to check if he could buy something thick enough to wrap round his camera, for the times when he needed to shove it into his Tumi-brand business-cum-leisure backpack.

On the edge of the square he looked into the shops. The ladies’ leggings displayed before them gave him an idea. Walking down the street, he stopped before a heap of monkey caps, bought the cheapest, deepest one. The vendor said, “todah” with much gratitude, as though the 10-shekel sale meant that much to him. Packing the cap in his bag and with the camera still in hand Maadeva walked down HaCarmel and, not finding a photo-op, and not enjoying the covered bazaar that HaCarmel is for a distance, and sparse of sun afterward, he turned into Shefer Street, and entered Nahalat Binyamin Street, which arcs back toward Magen David Square.

Binyamin was brighter, more cheerful, and pedestrian-only as well, flanked by vendors of watercolors and art-printed bedsheets and pillow covers and varied art objects and trinkets along its length. Maadeva quickened his pace. It did not occur to him to take a picture of a prominent art store that bore an Indian name: Kashi. The name surprised him so. The store had a near-identical twin on the opposite side, and the twin bore also the same name: Kashi. It was a tall store, and it was lean, and it seemed sort of pricey and exclusive. In some way it was suggestive to Maadeva of the real Kashi. He remembers the store now to be orange-colored, but it was perhaps saffron-painted, so as to suit it to its name.

Back in the square the busker’s energy had risen. The man was black, but not African, and even if he was African he wasn’t Sub-Saharan. He was black more from being sunburned all his life unto his present middle-age, and his face was creased with lines so thin they looked like they’d been drawn with a scalpel. Deep, thin lines on smooth, clear skin. The man was dancing to a mid-East tune, perhaps an Egyptian one, or even Lebanese, maybe, but definitely from somewhere close to Israel. Maadeva raised his camera to the man, noting how when he danced his legs showed up as skinny, whereas his jacketed torso displayed a better girth. The busker looked into the camera but he wouldn’t smile. He did attempt to make an impression on Maadeva, though: He stamped his heels harder when the camera was on him.

But Maadeva lost interest in him soon as he’d closed the shutter. His eyes had fallen on the cobblestones, on the dark, deep, sharp-edged shadows of people moving on it.

Magen David Square, Tel Aviv

Magen David Square, Tel Aviv

Maadeva won't be Charlie

Maadeva is confused.

Four months ago, he took a young European couple to his coffee plantation. The trio started a walking tour soon after they arrived, right after they'd had a round of coffee. The place raised the spirits of his guests after the somnolent 220 kilometer drive from Bangalore and, after the long walk round the place, when the group were back at the plantation bungalow, the guests sighted a cow at the back of the labor line a short distance from the bungalow. "Holy cow!" the man cried and, checking himself, turned toward Maadeva to look for possible offence on his face. Maadeva kept his eyes on the cow. He scowled and, unable to think up a response, stared on at it. I don’t think Maadeva will ever come up with a response. He's not good at that sort of thing.

They spent two nights on the plantation. After dinner and during long drives they took in the coffee district, the couple asked to know how Hindu traditions help make life's decisions, and how Hindus address big and small problems. After a time it became clear to Maadeva why their talk centered so much on that subject. The lady was faced with a deadline to make a choice between admissions she'd landed at Oxbridge, and at an Ivy League institution. The man was desperate that she should choose England, for their relationship had just begun, and he'd told Maadeva over drinks in Bangalore how pleased he was regarding how well the affair was going. He was just as keen as she for some help from Hinduism, or Marxism, or anything at all that would help keep her nearabouts him. Maadeva struggled for something that could look like a Hindu response, because poor Maadeva is the regular Hindu who knows only a few rituals of his culture, and very little regarding the philosophy that lies beneath his blessed religion. And, moreover, his roots are the Sudra's, and the Vedas and the Upanishads or any other scriptures were seldom mentioned during his upbringing.

And so the cow is no more holy to him than it was to his guest—though he's been party to ceremonies that involve the cow, such as when his homes in Bangalore and in Malnad were house-warmed. On both occasions the priests dragged in a reluctant cow and it snorted all the time and slipped everywhere and dropped copious dung along the length of the house and the green slime splashed on fresh-painted walls. Both times Maadeva put vermillion and turmeric on the brow of the hapless animal, wishing for a quick end to the misery of beast and himself, fearful all through for lacking in devotion, of what that meant for his life and his prosperity.

Maadeva doesn't eat beef. But he doesn't eat lamb either. Or fish. Or chicken. Or even egg, if he can help it. He drinks flavored milk but the smells of cheese nauseate him. In theory it shouldn't matter to him if someone mocked a cow before him, even if the cow was his. But he lost all warmth for the young European after the Holy Cow Incident, and he is confused. He wants to know if his feeling for a friend is so shallow, and is so easily shattered.

A French colleague brought up the Charlie Hebdo tragedy at lunch a day after it happened. She had asked to share his table at lunch. He’d read the news, but it hadn’t moved him. The colleague had wanted to observe silence in the hall where she works in Maadeva's facility. Maadeva was silent, and afterward when he spoke he told her how a bomb had taken down a woman only three weeks ago on Church Street. It was news to the woman because she’d been away in France for Christmas at the time. To that news of the bomb in Bangalore she was silent.

Of course, the woman who’d died was only an aunt from Chennai who was visiting her nephew in Bangalore.

“We are upset because of the attack on our freedom of speech,” she said. “And our liberty.” Maadeva registered that, and rather liked what she said and how she said it. “They make fun not only of Moslem people, but also Christian people and Jewish people.” Down the week Maadeva gathered that the men who’d died were beloved artists in France. They were household names, Time magazine said—though Charlie Hebdo printed only 60,000 copies a week. Maadeva gazed at the photos of the men who were shot. Nice faces; good men’s faces. Faces of intellectuals, gifted artists. A regular Moslem or Jew or Christian wouldn't be able to think up a response to the satire of those deep-thinking men. A man of faith would be just as confused as Maadeva, not wanting to be thought of as bigot, not wanting to be seen as lacking in humor, and not wanting, at the same time, to have his faith taken as meat for satire. Specially by a foreign man, or a man of another faith, or a faithless man.

On Sunday he admired France and felt shame that Indians have never managed such a show of solidarity. He felt respect for the dead and the mourning. But he also felt confusion. The dead had shot acid arrows of wit at people of another faith, unafraid and uncaring how deep they'd pierced sensibilities of people for whom their faith is a serious matter. Also, the folks they’d shot at were incapable of fighting back with equal wit, not being blessed with the centuries-old tradition of satire. For the death of the cartoonists, Maadeva felt sorry. He felt sadness for the police who died defending them. But he felt no grief, he noted, and wondered about himself.

And so he thought it best to bury his thoughts, and he went to work in peace at his factory on Monday. And read on the Internet during the break that Charlie Hebdo were printing a million copies with the Prophet on the cover. The Prophet, saying, “I Am Charlie.” In step with that news, Angela Merkel had confirmed she’d join a march of German Muslims in Berlin to show solidarity with her four million Muslims. “The Europeans are so cerebral,” Maadeva thought. “They’re so evolved.” He bent down his head and went back to work again, but in the evening over dinner he told his wife when she handed him a puffed-up hot phulka, “it’s all so confusing…”

Being Bad at the Dublin

The Dublin, ITC Windsor Manor, Bangalore

The Dublin, ITC Windsor Manor, Bangalore

I was on my second beer at Dublin, with Dire Straits coming down the speakers overhead, when Girish Karnad came in. I was rather enjoying the local beer, Kingfisher Ultra, which comes in a pint size bottle. Karnad came in with a lady about the same age as him, and they were soon joined by another couple, and the foursome took without a fuss the table that Ashok the bar captain pointed to them. Karnad had a bad throat. He blew, and hawked, and improvised varied ways to clear his throat—but the irritant that was lodged there wouldn't go. He ordered for a Shiraz. "Indian,” he asserted. In the next minutes as he progressed with his drink he cleared his throat less and less.

But during the times he worked his throat he didn't raise his hand to the mouth. Instead, he indulged in his preoccupation with ever increasing sound. Of course, the man was Girish Karnad, and he was only the other day on stage at the Chief Minister's inauguration, and he has acted in films, he has made movies, and he has written plays and poetry in English and Kannada. He has earned stature enough to disregard the niceties. Also, his companions were as comfortable with him as he was with himself. I liked Karnad's composure myself. From the moment he arrived until the time he left, he never once looked about to see who else was in the bar, he didn't seem to want to know if anybody had noticed him, and he didn't look to observe things in the place. He was unto himself, his throat, his glass of red, his companions, and talk of people’s homes here and abroad. He recommended most a writer's home in Goa to the other man at their table. "You must visit her sometime. It's worth it."

I decided to switch to wine. "I've got The Chocolate Block," Ashok told me, thereby checking me from ordering any other. I asked to see the bottle. The MRP for it was labeled ₹2900 on the bottle, whereas a glass of it cost ₹2000. But of course, I was paying for the time, even if I was paying so much. At any rate, watching Karnad in his private moment seemed like a good time to me—there was a focus that beer had brought upon me and I trained it all on Karnad while sparing a little for REM whom I was enjoying in the meantime, who had come on after a spell of Aerosmith. Losing my Religion, my favorite for years, played in three versions among other REM hits.

I didn’t like The Chocolate Block.

The Dublin, ITC Windsor Manor, Bangalore

The Dublin, ITC Windsor Manor, Bangalore

There was more talk regarding that writer in Goa. "I suggested to her to do a writer's workshop there," the lady before Karnad said. She spoke with a trace of a British accent, which she might or mightn’t have affected. She was the one who picked the eats to go with the drinks. But the party didn’t stay for long. After one round of drinks Karnad asked for the check and when it was handed him he exclaimed “I can’t read a damn thing.” Binny the waiter hurried and brought an LED lamp. When he walked out Karnad held his hands clasped behind him over his butt, just like the late Nehru, head bowed and the face grave. In the bright lights at the door all four appeared the senior citizens they really were—even if their gait was brisk.

I watched them go and counted the blessing of being in the city, where important people turn up at next tables. It's only weeks ago that I read Girish Karnad’s short play: The Dreams of Tipu Sultan. Karnad is no favorite writer of mine, but long years ago, in my youth, I'd admired him in the role of Praneshacharya in Samskara. Let me confess now that, more than anything, there’s this thing that I’d once aspired to be a writer myself.

I ate spaghetti aglio e olio through the silence that followed their departure.

Thou shalt not…

“No, listen. It’s not like that. Let’s not fight.”

I looked up from my Kindle. The girl at the next table was saying that to the young man with her. He’d risen. She got up after him, and they went to the door and out, and when they stopped on the third step on the stairs outside I relaxed, seeing they’d returned to calm conversation.

Starbucks Sadashivanagar

Starbucks Sadashivanagar

It’s Christmas, a time to settle quarrels. I’ve been long assured that. I’m glad for that concept, having given offence to so many people through my life. I imagine them forgiving me, and I relax, and look to the year ahead with the best intentions. This Christmas I’m reading Ramana, and I was at 29% of the book at Starbucks when the young couple broke my concentration. I have picked up Ramana after finishing Eckhart Tolle, after responding to his insistent prodding toward the Timeless Now. Tolle has my gratitude. Only, why did it take me so long to get around to the Power of Now? I’ve had to grow so much to get to the concept. But that’s all right. The past is not real, as Tolle argues. Only the moment on hand is real. At any rate, that American writer has brought me round to our own Ramana Maharshi, whose like message precedes Tolle’s.

There at Starbucks, in pauses from reading, I noted that decorations for Christmas were muted. In a basket by me where I sat, there was a short bunch dry green grass, only so thick as my wrist, and tied to it were globules finished with shiny red paper. There was another basket of the kind by the bar counter. On the merchandize shelves six feet from me, two small cartons with mugs in them were tied one with a red ribbon and the other with a blue one. On the door was the customary wreath, made of the same grass, the same red balls. That’s it. I looked outside for the red Christmas lantern. They didn’t have one. But they hand a stand-up banner on the steps, in Xmas-red and white, with an exhortation on top: Unite in Good Cheer.

Why are Starbucks skimping on Christmas? Are they reflecting a general mood? Are they speaking the sign of the times here at home? In these ghar vapsi days?

A group of four took the table the boy and girl had vacated. There was a woman in black among them, who was blessed with a generous volume of voice and a matching disposition, and she laughed and spoke both at once, and all the time. I couldn’t hear the men in the group. The lady spoke of food. She laughed on the subject of food. Punjabi food. I haven’t seen many people who speak of food with love and laughter in such large and equal measure. I commend the lady for her disposition, but I was having trouble reading on account of her. She was loud in her laughter which when it peaked rivaled a star soprano’s highest. I remembered Tolle just when I thought I’d had enough—an approach he teaches. In a situation like I was in, you surrender to the present moment and allow your consciousness to fall on the irritant and the effect it is having on you. Consciousness will flush the pain clean off you.

I went back to reading Ramana. In short periods I looked up and attempted self enquiry, just as Ramana advocates it.

The long celebrations of Christmas have always bored me. If traveling in the West during the time, the boredom has been intense. For, in Europe and the US corporations invoke Christmas from November on, and feed you myriad gift ideas and shove the celebrations in your face at every turn. Christmas trees reach the heights of the atriums where they’re installed. Colored lights and streamers and other Christmas paraphernalia cover commercial streets and shopping malls. Being of another faith, their public fuss takes my mind straight through to the spreadsheets and powerpoint presentations that have worked out strategies to wring greater sales during this Christmas over last year’s. Being an outsider to the scheme, I cannot see Christ in the Christmas of the corporations. The celebrations on the street follow me through to the hotel lobby, and they take the solitude out of my room. I wonder at the stamina of the Europeans and the Americans who can take a two-month long celebration of a festival on this scale. But of course, they are in the warm, tight, loving embrace of the corporations.

There at Starbucks, how the lady at the next table was giggling! And the pace of her speech—it was so fast. She was speaking in English, but she delivered it with inflection and accentuation that followed her native Hindi. Tolle recommends a technique that dissolves irritation and returns you to the present moment. You observe the silence beneath the sounds assaulting you. You seek out the silence that envelops and subsumes all things round you, which silence extends outward as well, all the way to the skies. I looked out the cafe window. Up above, it was blue and bright in the December sun of Bangalore, and rightward of me the sky was covered in a film of very white cloud. It was all very good. I did discern the silence. I was on my second cappuccino that moment, and at the end of the bottle of water that always accompanies my coffee.

St. Mark's Cathedral, Bangalore

St. Mark's Cathedral, Bangalore

It struck me that Starbucks were going easy on Christmas in more than their decorations. The music coming down from above was jazz. Herbie Hancock. Not Jingle Bells. When Herbie Hancock was done and John Patton came on, I heard him out and changed my mind about Christmas 2014. I decided I must go to a Church somewhere, and listen to hymns and carols. And say “Merry Christmas” to someone, anyone. So I went out and drove to St. Mark’s Cathedral, which is a nice presence on the corner of MG Road and Lavelle Road. I see it daily on my way to work, but I’ve never gone into it before. They had plenty of parking in their compound when I drove in. They weren’t singing when I walked in, but the nave was most becoming, there was a differently done manger out front, and a large black turkey was on the lawns, flashing the fan on its rear to a large white goose. I took pictures. I shot the building, the aisle, the altar, the doors and the windows and the painted glass in them. Done shooting, I sat in the pews, and picked up a little book: The Book of Common Worship: The Lord’s Supper. It opened at page 4, where the First Commandment jumped at me.

I closed my eyes. I’m game for any command on a good day…

Through the Blue Glass

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They’re still. From where I am, I can count seven fronds in four levels. At precise intervals, the one on top picks up, like it has seen something ahead and recognized it, and it flies upward and does a dance and drops to its normal state. A moment thereafter the fronds below sway side to side, as though they’ve seen that something too. The action lasts a few seconds, and then they’re transfixed in their places again, and they wait for the next wind.

I ask myself, what if it's not the play of wind? I see no wind; I feel no wind either, here in my closed-up room in the office. Could they be merely talking to one another, swaying and nodding as they communicate, talking also with the clay pots and walls and tiles and the black-painted steel columns here in the courtyard by my door? Have they been addressing me as well? They must’ve noticed that I'm gazing at them, while I'm sunk into my couch, watching the light fade on them this fast-dimming evening.

The thought comes: Have the palms hypertension? Have they a blood-sugar problem?

They're not in health. There’s green in them, but there’s also much yellow along the middle of their blades and on the edges of them. The yellow should mean they’re undernourished. (I learnt that in Malnad from the foreman on my coffee plantation. He was telling me about the areca, which are a lot like palms.) There’s yellow also on the spines of the fronds, plenty of yellow, but that seems like a sign of youth in the knee-high to chest-high palms. The yellows glow as I watch, whereas the greens are dull, dull like the reds on the blackened terra cotta tiles, like the grayed sky that peeks through the canopies of the Singapore-cherry round the courtyard.

The paint on the courtyard wall is cream, a paler hue than the yellow in the plants, a cream that’s been drained since the time the wall was last painted. Red soil is splattered along the lower levels of the wall. Baby palms line it. They're one with the wall and they’re not swayed by the wind; the ones that sway are the taller palms just out the door to the courtyard.

I point to the plants when my wife--who works with me--comes into the room. I tell her how they are yellow. “Their spines are supposed be yellow,” she says, "they’re an expensive variety. And they're not really yellow. See?”

Flower Power

It is the time of the red flowers. Shy bottle brush are drooping in their trees, looking down as if they’re eager for a bottle to clean. They’re everywhere, but they’re withdrawn in the foliage whereas the spathodea on the tops of their trees dominate. They are held up to the skies by lush and long green pods that have opened the way palms open in prayer. To their tips the flowers reach for the skies, and then they drop to the ground.

The spathodea are large. They’re the size of city toads and they are fleshy and when you step on them they squirt juice and they bother the sole. They are fallen in large numbers everywhere, and whereas the freshly fallen are red, the flowers that’ve been dead longer rot to colors and a structure that reminds me of decomposing vermin. There’s something about the spathodea in life and death that makes them seem animal, even if a small one. I cannot discern a tenderness in them that I expect in a flower.

Over at Wikipedia I learnt that the spathodea companulata is an invasive species. Like the human! In this year I’ve watched films showing apes taking over the earth; and blight and dust enveloping the planet; and hapless humanity fleeing through a wormhole to interstellar places, finding new homes with “pleasant gravity”. How about the spathodea, I’m thinking. How about a story in which our blue planet turns a saturated red?

Happy Deepavali

Folks have fled the strictly-business city of Bangalore, gone home for Deepavali. For a week the traffic will be tolerable, such as it was this morning when I arrived 15 minutes ahead for work although I’d started late.

Along the way, I looked up often from my reading. The world looks clearer as the end of the year approaches, and I relish the details that hit the eye when I look up from my reading and look out the window from the back seat of the car: The cloud and the sky, the lines on leaves, the texture on stone in the walls, and the varied hues of flowers. The sight will get better every day until December, even January, and so I am happy. I’m traveling only two weeks this quarter—to the cold parts of America in November—so that leaves me a lot of time to enjoy home.

I’ll not spend all Deepavali in Bangalore. I’m going to Malnad two days, where there are only trees round my home and there’s not another house in sight, whether I look out from ground level or from the decks on upper floors. The offending sounds are faint, except for the occasional tractor that violates the ear from a far distance. The cries of birds and the stridulations of the restless crickets are welcome, of course. Here in Bangalore, even with the immigrant population absent, the rest set off cracker-chains in quantities that make me irritable, and my dog scared. But I’ll come back to Bangalore for the remainder of the week—to experience the city when most people are gone from it, which happens only during Dasara, and Deepavali, and the odd long weekend.

Something else has thinned too, and I don’t know why. There are almost no posters of politicians on compound walls or on the parapets of overpasses along my hour-and-a-half drive to work. I noticed only a short series of posters of the our Chief Minister, of his smiley face with good teeth and gray stubble, pasted by organizers of a yesteryear celebrity’s birthday with the Chief Minister as chief guest. That’s it. There are none of the other posters of ministers and legislators and corporations and youth leaders and budding others.

Even the movie posters were few when I looked for them. Having seen them, I read the names of them: easy names: Belli (Silver); Bang Bang; Power; Cigarette; Neenade Naa (I’ve become you); and Chinnada Bete (The Hunt for Gold), which title has the exhortation beneath it, “Play Bold, Play Gold.”

And I noticed a change I hadn’t observed until now: Hollywood movies are no more promoted via posters on the scale they were in the past. I saw not a single Hollywood poster during the ride to work. It is the year of horror movies at Hollywood, it seems, and you get to know what’s on at the cineplexes via the Internet. That’s all right. It’s not walls and billboards that tell you everything these days. That task is usurped to everybody’s joy by the smartphone.

Happy Deepavali, all.


I wrote this last week, published it today…

Behave yourself!

I’ve taken a four-seater table at Cafe Noir on the terrace at UB City. I’ve opened a book to read.

"Behave yourself," I hear on my right. A fair fat young man is shouting at a dark-brown waiter. The waiter isn't taking the abuse, his eyes are gleaming back, but he can't raise his voice in return. So he is glaring at the the fair guy with anger of a purity that comes forth only when innocent. The two men are before the ice cream counter, and two kids who belong to Fair Guy are screaming for their treat.

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"Call your manager," shouts Fair Guy, “call the manager!" The waiter can't stop glaring at Fair Guy. He doesn’t move from behind the counter. Somebody else calls the manager from wherever he's gone, and he comes in a while, stands by Fair Guy and speaks in the softest of voices. "Who's this guy, man," asks Fair Guy, pointing all the fingers of his right hand at the waiter. “He says I can't stand here!" At this accusation the protest on the waiter's face intensifies and his eyes struggle to suppress rising emotion. The manager smiles. Seeing the rebellion on the waiter’s mien, Fair Guy tells him in an even tone: “Behave yourself! Who the f* do you…” The manager smiles on, and he speaks to Fair Guy in a voice softer than the ice creams before them. Fair Guy and dark guy burn down each other with their stares. Moments pass. Fair Guy loses his heat; his tone turns to a whine: there's no threat in it anymore, and the volume of his voice has dropped and is level with the manager’s. He asks for the ice creams the kids have chosen. The kids haven’t noticed anything amiss. They’ve been jumping to look in the glass for a glimpse of their favorites. Done at the ice cream counter, Fair Guy turns, glances round the cafe, and his eyes meet mine for an instant.

He pulls a phone from his pocket and pecks at the keys. The frown on his face and his set eyes suggest that he's calling the owner. To have him tick off his opponent, perhaps. Is the owner an acquaintance of Fair Guy? The owner is French, he's bald, and reserved, and nice. I know him, in that we’ve greeted each other during past visits. He’s not in the cafe today. In a while I realize that Fair Guy is calling somebody else. He's calling his wife who has split for a while, and is checking out the SingKong restaurant across from Cafe Noir. He spots her before she answers his call. By now he and his kids have moved to the table right of mine, and the kids have climbed to the seats. "Behave yourself," he tells the tiny fellows, and walks toward the entrance to wave to his wife. He has the phone clasped to his ear.

As he brings her in, a couple from the table left of mine notice the party and rise. They’re about the same age and they’re all friends. They embrace and exclaim loud greetings and part. On my right, Fair Guy's kids gobble up yellow ice cream that's been served them. Mango flavored, I guess. Fair Guy and his wife join the kids but they don’t sit. In a minute they leave. I presume the bill has been paid in advance.

In the silence afterward, I look for the dark waiter. He's at the bar, shaking hard a drink.

This Week's Commute: Of Lakes and Rains and…

I chased a Jaguar. I've long stopped desiring premium possessions but this one was blue and sleek and I wanted a full view of the thing in motion. The car progressed in spurts, leaping each time the congestion before it cleared, and I went after it in step. I was so intent on tailing it and its driver was so intent on testing its strength, we both went thudding into pothole after pothole, brand new potholes from last week's unusual rains. They dealt cruel knocks to our cars, but of course the Jag's driver wouldn't have felt them on account of his best-in-class shock absorbers. I didn't feel them either, but I sensed the knocks my car was taking. I lost the Jag before a Hyundai dealership where I slowed and it sped. Two new cars were coming out to make their debut, decked up in streamers and ribbons. The sight of them sobered me, and I stopped pushing my car.

I've been watching the potholes grow in depth and number over last week. Each night's rain opened new pits by morning, and made wider and deeper the existing pits. We watched them while going to work, and cursed them after each thud and bump when they jerked us out of reading or writing or fiddling with dials on the camera. Returing in the evening, we were overwhelmed by the pouring rain to notice anything else--we were one with the driver as he maneuvered through the flooded streets. The monsoons are being fierce on their way out this year. All these years they'd leave drawing nobody's attention; now they're making awesome curdling sound and flashing incessant blinding light. The downpour stops around the time we reach home, and then it comes back and wakes us after we've slept, and keeps up the son et lumière for a couple of hours, and we lie awake and wonder at the show. We worry for those who haven't a roof.

In the morning, though, the news isn't about the roofless. It's rather about those who've built homes in low-lying areas, areas where the waters have again and again warned people not to build.

Yesterday morning, such news was slapped on us. We'd been having a good drive. We went fast enough through Sankey Road and High Grounds and the Stadium Area--all the way until the end of Brigade Road. There, at Victoria Cross, barricades and frantic policemen diverted us rightward into Richmond Road, giving us no advice on where we could get back on track. So we skipped a few side streets and entered one at a distance, hoping a wide arc would do the trick. No luck. We arrived in a maze filled with cars and bikes and we traversed streets I'd never seen before--Alexandria Street, Wellington Street--and passed apartment blocks with wistful names: Aspen Wellington, Farah Garden (with a tiny lawn before the block). We wormed round and round through ever-thickening traffic, and decided after a half hour to attempt an even wider arc, and came out of Langford Town in which we were and turned toward Double Road.

There by phone I learnt the reason for the worse-than-usual traffic, a layer of mess on top of the daily mess. Last night's rain had drowned houses in Anepalya on Hosur Road to the sills of their windows. The tenants, who had only the previous day baled out knee-height flooding in their homes, had come to the highway and blocked the traffic to air their plight. No public agency had helped them the day before; no help was in sight now.

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I'd seen this inevitability last night going home. The rains fell on top of us in such volume and there was so much water round us that we went with water seeping through the crevices of the vehicle. Some cars had stopped altogether in the middle of the streets, and some were abandoned on the side. In Langford Town which I have mentioned above, the waters swirled and came down at us like tight masses of ropes thick as thighs, each turning with its own fury and looking ominous and purposeful. It realized after a while where that swirling body was going. It was heading to reclaim the lowland which is now the Hockey Stadium and which was once without doubt a lake. One lake of many that are now drowned in concrete. The problem at Anepalya is the same. As in so many places in Bangalore. Whose fault is it that the folks of Anepalya built their homes on a lake bed? Theirs who built? Theirs who tenant the building? Theirs who allowed the lake to be drained for the buildings to come up?

I don't know. I have fresh worries. Today, not too far from Anepalya, in the special court in the jail precincts of Parappana Agrahara, they're going to pronounce judgement on a corruption case against the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. The verdict is expected to go against her. Her men will show off their loyalty on Hosur Road which I've mentioned above and which is the highway to my home.

I'm bracing myself for them.