Wednesday, 9 March 2016

A Naive Life

I'm not a happy winter person. I don't like the heat either but I'd rather be hot and dress light than bundle up. I've spent a fair amount of my life in the hills - more particularly at a boarding school perched on the top of a mountain in the Himalayas. And then, of course, I've also battled the English winters where the sun hardly shone, but the cold was more bearable and more fashionable than the winters of Delhi and Gurgaon.

These cities are not built to endure the cold. We are all geared up for 45 degrees Celsius but have no planning to combat 4 degrees or colder. I realise that we'd possibly have less legroom if we had radiators along the walls, as well as air-conditioners. But when I think about it, since I end up wrapped up and not moving anyway, I'd be much happier with the radiators hissing on the walls. It would be warm and  far better than being dressed in layers and layers of clothing, padding the limbs such that I never get a sense of how much weight I've actually put on - gorging on my favourite winter snack which is peanut brittle - more fondly called chikki. Oh, how I love my chikki - it trumps chocolate. And that's saying a lot.

It was early December and the cold hadn’t really hit us but, every day, one more room heater was taken out in anticipation. And the light Rajasthani quilt or what we grew up calling tullaies was packed away and the heavier Duvet graced the bed instead. Yes, winter was knocking and the mornings so hard to get up to. Usually, I love waking up to sunrise, but when days run into each other where fog has eclipsed any illusions of sunrise, there’s nothing to inspire an early morning rising on my part. I mean there's nothing poetic about the sun grappling with the polluted winter air in Gurgaon, is there?  

Honestly, I'd much rather have the hot sun than wake up to grey skies, which just send me right back under the covers and then I'm so late starting out every day. And that's not good, especially when whatever light there is during the day begins to diminish by 5 pm, so then I’m upset about the cold and miffed with myself too! Yes, yes, I know that it's better than the sun setting at 3 pm as I remember it during my college days, in London. But the point is that then I was living closer to the Arctic Circle and not the Equator.

I've tried telling myself that the change in temperatures is refreshing. I get it intellectually but I never feel it. There's no sense of wonder and charm in airing out the sweaters, shawls, jackets, gloves, scarves and woolly hats. It's a necessity and they take up so much cupboard space too. Not to mention how much space is needed to store them for half the year, when they're not in use. Woollens are so bulky!

If there is anything that I do I like about winters, it is sitting in the sun. But my apartment doesn't get enough sun in the right doses, at the right time, in the appropriate space so that I can enjoy it all day long. But, on the days that it does manage to get the better of the city's pollution and shine warm and bright, I do manage to soak in a little. Perhaps not enough to top up my Vitamin D quotas but it's better than nothing.

This December, there were many flats being repaired or renovated and the cacophony of drills, hammers and screeching marble cutters resounded. In winter there’s no white noise of the fan or air-conditioners to mask these noises during the day but it's a much worse situation at night. I hear my neighbours' telephone conversations. I can hear them pull the flush, draw water from the taps and their music too. And to hear their children scampering above and below in the silence of the night, when I’m all bundled up in my duvet, is almost as torturous as the hammering three floors below and to my right or left, during the day. For some reason, everyone seems to speak louder during winter and each morning when the building's cleaners arrive, I feel as if I'm in a fish market - the racket they make is unbearable. I've no idea what they get so animated about and, nine winters on, they haven't altered the natter that grows louder as the floors rise higher.   On more than a few occasions, I've also been woken up in the dead of night, alarmed by dheenchak music. The guards that man the adjoining E and F towers were found enjoying some Bollywood music with their radios or phones blaring as if the night was theirs to do anything, just to stay awake. Even if it meant that residents, who are light sleepers like me, were compelled, against their will and desire, to keep vigil with them.

And on the subject of noise, the preferred season for noisy Indian weddings is also the winter months. So, most evenings, my redial number is the local Police Chowki where the munshi and I go through the same ritual every evening. The phone rings and a male voice says: “Namashkar, police  thaana Palam Vihar.” And I respond, “Namashkar, mein Celebrity Homes se bol rahi hu" Someone somewhere is playing very loud music. “It's too loud, apne ghar mein chaen se baith nahin sakti, could you please send someone” and more in that vein. Sometimes, they fail to identify where the music is coming from and I get calls from the riders on their beat. My phone is perpetually on silent mode, so they get voicemail.

These days Vodafone sends a message for each call that goes to voicemail so I know which number has left a message and can choose to check or not. And with these calls from the riders, I opt not to because I haven’t a clue where the music is coming from in any case and it’s a pointless conversation that adds to my angst.  At some point, the next day, when I need to retrieve a message from a known source, I listen to numerous such messages they have left that never go beyond hello. "Hello!" And then a few more aggressive and exasperated "hullo, hullo, hullo" and then on an aside - "koi nahin baat kar raha hai" - and then something unintelligible that fades into silence. And it never changes. Voice mail is a funny thing; even my driver can't bring himself to leave me a message on it. I know that my friends too complain about leaving a message because they refuse to talk to a machine. And many have stopped calling me altogether - which pretty much means that I'm the one that has to do the calling. Especially since almost all now have adopted the stance of uff! It’s impossible to get you on the phone, so we've given up calling.

And in the bleakness of low-light winters and the cold, that I'm not really too fond of, I now miss the warmth of many conversations too. But, my latest accomplishment has been heartening. And riding my pink cycle I pedal around, within the perimeter of the condominium, enjoying the freedom of wheels, being out in fresh air and more - more so when the wind doesn't catch my ears and freeze them. But thankfully this winter it was not quite cold enough for that – at least not for long, so I enjoyed my 10Km cycling run each evening with a light jacket, which doesn’t qualify as heavy clothing, so I didn’t feel like a plumped up chicken all ready to be baked. Well, there was that one week, or was it two, when the winds howled and it did get quite chilly. But addicted to my cycling, I just had to get out, so I bundled up with gloves and hat and scarf and sweater and jacket and sometimes even two pairs of socks!

 I found myself droning on and on, albeit silently within myself, about my winter grouses, before winter actually hit us and then more so when one was swathed in woollens. At this point the droning really began wearing me down, more so than the woollens. I hate that uncomfortable voice in my head, complaining and complaining and complaining about the cold, but more than the cold, the noises that grow louder in the cold weather. And the noise in my head was about to explode, when on one of my cycling rounds, it was around my 3rd or 4th round, when the noise abated enough for me to 'think' and hear that voice inside my head. A voice, unheard but heeded, which silently bade me look at the flowers.

In that instant, I felt chided for being such an ungrateful whine-bag, remembering that one of the blessings of winters here, were the flowers. But, having said that, our hot, summer season does sport radiant Gulmohur, drooping sunshine-yellow Amaltas and my favourite, fragrant Frangipani. And, as I pedalled on, treading the yellow dribbles of shedding Gulmohur trees, I was reminded of how bald they looked in colder climes - like skeletons in the park. But yes, at the right angle of viewing and when the street lamps are lit at night, they do cast interesting shadows on the circular building at the far end of the complex, popularly known as the 'Gol' building, even though it is named Celebrity Suites.

It's horrid to be chided, especially by one’s own soul, for not being grateful enough. It’s even worse than the complaints one drones on about. It’s horrid to see, how not in control of my mind I am prone to be. It's horrid, horrid and horrid, to be chanting complaints but I just can't pretend to be grateful and delight in wonder at the marvels of the world when the noise of discontent fills my head. And, to top it all, deride myself for allowing them to go on and on and on and eventually create the life I have - that noisy cacophonic existence instead of the peace and quiet I desire. I mean it's horrid because, at night, I can sit for a while listening to the peaceful hiss of silence and am ready for slumber, when my youthful neighbours will stomp into their home at 11pm and begin to party. And that is when I've just about appeased most of my stress to settle down for the night.

I’ve been working with the idea of subconscious patterns trying to fathom this whole concept, so I do ask myself, what is it that I think, what thoughts are creating such a cacophonic life? Is it really a reflection of the noise inside my head? I mean, I know that the spiritual masters say I must take responsibility for my life because it's what I think most of the time that's creating it. That it is not what I want but that unconscious chant inside my head that is manifesting this life as it unfolds. The philosophy being that what you focus upon is what you get, so if we are obsessing over something, afraid of its impending doom, it is said that we are more likely to get that instead of what we would prefer instead. But, then I think: what about between 2-4 pm every day and all day Sunday, when the labour isn't permitted to work? Or when the Police do manage to track the wedding or party and persuade them to tone it down? Or when my neighbours do pay heed to the guards carrying my complaint. Does it mean that it's time-bound? And this too is created by me, because I have been vocal about these guidelines? But it's the norm for all buildings in Gurgaon. So does that mean that everyone living in condominiums carry the same unconscious chant inside their heads?

But the thing is that I have learned that I can't control the complaining chant by snubbing or suppressing it. The only way I can still the mind is to allow it expression. Anything else is nothing short of anarchy. But, when I can speak to my heart's content and be heard, it's peaceful. It's blissful and the world seems a much more charming place. 

That day, as I cycled around the block one more time, I cribbed about the fact that I couldn't control the misery chant anymore and said out loud, to convince no-one but myself, that I didn't need to control it. And that’s  when the shy blooms of white chrysanthemums beckoned me stop, get off my pink ‘Miss India Gold’ bike and take a long and hard look at these flowers that exult and bloom in the season I dread the most.

I took out my phone and zoomed into those talon-like petals that were opened wide, the sunshine yellow centre of pollen-filled stamens, inviting the birds and bees. Defenceless in their vulnerability, they remained motionless, a mere flicker in the occasional whiff from the breeze. I zoomed in close and then moved my lens around and my attention was caught by the young buds. The full blooms were daring and bold in their approach, knowing they competed with each other and that there were hundreds of pots around - all white, all perfectly formed, all awaiting a visitation- the moment they were born for. The moment they unfolded for, that moment of bonding to diminish the divide - that sense of separation. But it was the buds, each curled sepal, uncurling, unfolding, stretching - one by one, slowly opening up, that were more sensuous than the emboldened flowers on display. 

I zoomed in with my phone camera, and closer still, until all I could see were blurred hues of yellowish green merging into white. Moving out, the camera selected the buds again and this time when I looked, I saw the petals as if they were claws reaching out to life, clinging to each moment. And I wondered why, when all that was in store was the cold and the noises of being, undisguised in the chill.

Which, we were incidentally spared this year…..