(A door in Zanzibar)
The blue door from ‘Notting Hill’ stuck
on the wall paper of my memory
The glue must be super-strong.
A rectangular passage into a special space.
Simple and warm, fun and messy,
Open and cozy with many possible cups of tea.
A refuge for troubled souls, a place for stories to unfold.
A semicircle of glass perched perfectly on top.
Long panes elegantly framing from top to toe.
The door sat in the centre like a king.
The slit of a smile in the middle welcomed guests
Like messages, notes, post and parcels in.
They said it was draught-proof.
Not too heavy, not too light.
The coir mat outside often had a black cat sprawled on it, claiming ownness.
A few yards away a waist high metal gate
sang a little note every time it opened
and another, every time it closed.
A flower basket dancing on one side
with pink and white petunias, ivy and pine,
grabbed a chunk of the sunshine.
Whatever the world threw at us,
The blue door made okay.
It took us in its fold of laughter, healing and trust.
One day one of us left and never came back.
The blue door waits and waits. So does the cat.
Surprisingly her train was on time. Today she was careful. She went to the correct platform. It was 12 noon. There were only a few people around, looking lonely. She boarded a quiet coach and was happy to find her favourite, forward-facing-window seat with a table, waiting for her. The only other person there was a young man sitting by the window opposite, immersed in his phone and lost in a world of his own, between the big black and red headphones planted over his ears. Both his feet, with shoes on, were resting on the seat opposite. Her head rankled aloud and she was filled with such severe disapproval that she nearly turned around and left.
But then she stopped. He was only a kid. In a strange way he reminded her of her son, even though he looked nothing like him. She could speak with him. What was the worst that could happen? She approached him gently and got his attention.
“Please would you mind putting your feet down?”
“What’s your problem?”
“Feel free to disregard what I say. I just wanted to share my perspective with you. The grime under your soles gets transferred on to other people’s clean clothes and children’s hands. It can make people sick. That’s all. Thank you.”
She smiled and backed off. She sat at the seat she had ear-marked for herself, just on the other side, across the width of the coach. From the corner of her eye, she saw both his feet descend to the floor. With a nearly imperceptible smile she continued to pretend to be looking out of the window and he continued to do the same and the world went by…
This forgotten book-mark in a book being revisited after two years is an origami crane – a symbol of healing in Japan. A school kid had given it to me at Hiroshima as a token of gratitude for helping him practise his spoken English.
Paper folding started in China in the first century and reached Japan in the 6th century. Here it was cultivated as an art of understatement. Origami suggests. It implies without announcing outright. It intimates without brashness. In Japanese folklore, a crane is fabled to live for a thousand years and is held in high esteem. It is believed that folding 1000 paper cranes brings the folder’s wishes come true.
A young girl called Sadako Sasaki survived the Hiroshima bomb when she was only two years old. Less than 10 years later she was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow. The disease progressed rapidly and the prognosis was not good. She set out to make a thousand paper cranes. She could complete 644 before she died on Oct. 25, 1955, less than a year after being diagnosed. Her classmates, family and friends made more to bring them up to 1000 and buried them with Sadako.
Her story captured the imagination of the country and the world. Today, we recognize the crane as a symbol of peace and hope.
“She let out both the pain of our parents and her own suffering with each crane.”
“Her death gave us a big goal. Small peace is so important with compassion and delicacy it will become big like a ripple effect. She showed us how to do it. It is my, and the Sasaki family’s responsibility to tell her story to the world. I believe if you don’t create a small peace, you can’t create a bigger peace. I like to gather those good wishes and good will and spread to the world,” said Masahiro, her brother.
Peace and hope to Sadako and to us all.
“Take a left and the M2 is right there. You can’t miss it”, said the man giving me directions. He had no idea what I was capable of missing. When I reached Bangor, I knew something was wrong. I stopped the car in a lay-by, rolled the window down and asked someone walking their dogs, “Can you please tell me the way to Antrim?” They tried unsuccessfully to hide their shock and amusement, asked me to turn around and go about 20 miles in the other direction on the M2.
Left and right is manageable but east and west is a bit much. North and south add further complications. My emotional and physical dependence on the Tom-tom is apparent from the panicked state I get into when it decides not to play. I feel abandoned without it. I can proudly claim to have successfully managed to go round in circles, despite a working sat-nav. Communication gaps between man and machine are inevitable. The small advantage is that the machine is not programmed to yell at me when I make a mistake. In a zen-like manner it states ‘recalculating’.
That’s our code. Si and I have chosen it as the most appropriate declaration at times of misunderstandings. It is a way of buying time, naming and identifying the probability of approaching danger. Luckily we haven’t had to use it much.
Time to go home. One home to another. Travel. Separation and reunion. Heartbreak and excitement. Holiday over. Leaving. Letting go. Impermanence. Detachment. Being in the moment. Missing. Loving. Longing. Again.
Packing. Lists. Hair bobbles. Slippers. Tooth brush. Weight. Zips. Last minute shopping – pens, refills, stationery, spices. Last day catch-up phone calls. Savouring every morsel of mum’s food – aloo-methi, stuffed bhindi, whole masoor daal and the best carrot halwa in the world. Horse-shoe shaped bean cushions. Chipping nails.
Passports. Flying. Queuing. Security. Sitting. Turbulence. Films. Food. Writing. Reading. Crying babies. Unsettling. Elbows. Water. More sitting. Napping. Tiring. Gaining half a pointless day. Messy hair.
Express train. Tube. Over-ground train. Uphill walk. Home. Blue door. Letters. Disable alarm. Freezing! Cats. Tea. Plants. Watering. Mowing. Unpacking tooth-brush. Slippers. Pens. Laundry.
Sitting on a cold brown leather sofa. Living. Dreaming. Slipping from one moment to the next. Breathing. Being. Loving. Missing. Longing. Again.
All over the country, money is the hot topic. A month ago, the Prime Minister of India implemented a plan with the aim to remove black money from circulation. He declared two major cash denominations invalid – the 500 rupee bill and the 1000 rupee bill. These two are also commonly used in everyday lives of most people. The public has been given time till the end of December to deposit these bills in a bank , up to a certain limit and withdraw valid currency of 100 and 2000 rupee bills instead.
This has inconvenienced and caused damage to thousands of simple hard working people, farmers and businesses as the timing and execution of the plan has been appallingly poor. Yet, people have coped so far as they believe they are now participating in a cause that is for the greater good in the long run. As a by-product some people have realised that they don’t need as much as they think they do. Houses of worship and orphanages have been inundated with huge anonymous donations in the soon-to-be-invalid bills. Perfect strangers have helped each other out in various ways to help them tide over this crisis. Ingenious systems of barter are springing up in the face of this financial famine. There are horror stories, funny, sad and angry stories and people are talking to each other a lot more.
The most amazing thing to watch is the masses form queues outside banks. Orderly queues stretched over long distances on to main roads, around blocks of shops and on to open grounds. In all my life of knowing India, this is a first. Personal space may not be understood and respected by all but patiently forming and maintaining queues for many days and hours is an inadvertent gift of demonetisation.
Back in Delhi for a few days. Any excuse.
The warmth in the air is welcoming but wrong for this time of year. I remember the city being submerged in a cold mist in early December, famously disrupting flights and traffic. In the absence of central heating, the houses used to feel the same as being out in the freezing open. Getting into bed was like plunging into icy waters. Getting out was the same. Electric room heaters had most of the family huddled around it in the evenings. Afternoons were spent on the terrace extracting some warmth out of a feeble sun, sitting around a news-paper, eating roasted peanuts and sweets made from sesame seeds and jaggery. Sweet masala tea was an essential part of every other hour and caloric intake, never a consideration. The multiple layers of clothing worn round the clock made everyone look uniformly shapeless.
Today most people are in jeans and t-shirts. Even a jumper is too much. The sun shines brightly and a blanket of smog smothers the city. The ‘normal’ Air Quality Index lies in the ‘hazardous’ range and yet life goes on as ‘normal’.
A lovely young lady meets me on the staircase and she is one of Saagar’s closest childhood friends. She has finished her graduation and has been in a job she loves for the last 6 months. We give each other a big hug. I silently give her my blessings even though my heart disintegrates yet again.