Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cherai Beach Resort

It’s five in the evening, the tide is coming in. We leap in the waves and are baptised by salt water, again and again. We laugh, fight, cry and enthuse, cocooned by a shared illusion that time makes no difference, age is immaterial.
Every year or so we endeavour to find our ancestral home in other places, the extended family gathering in a two-day simulation of long-ago leisurely summer holidays. The strange thing is that we do find it; somehow the patterns that were established then reproduce themselves. It’s a combination of collective memories and the fact that each of us has felt the same influences, even if in different ways.

But each “family meet” also brings poignancy, because we’re the last ones to know. My nieces and nephews will establish their own patterns - nice ones probably - but the images of the houses we came from, the timbre of the voices that touch a chord deep in the gut and even some of the food will go out with my generation. As always I’m haunted by the urgent thought that it’s up to us – me, actually – to record the stories, gather the recipes and hold it all in trust for the kids. I don’t know why it seems so important, but there it is.

Earlier that day, we sat at long tables beneath stirring coconut trees, deep in the satisfaction that only fresh fish, perfectly made, can bring us. The voices that surrounded us came from our childhood, and a boat rocked beneath us, like a cradle in transit. Meanwhile, water lilies bloomed outside our doors, picturesque backwaters lapped at the fences and a pink dolphin lay unaccountably dead on the beach up ahead.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Encounter with a rude runner

I ran into him recently. Or perhaps I should say he ran into me; I merely walked into it, unawares. Sunlight was slanting at the right angle through the leaves, the sky was the correct shade of blue, the trees had breathed out a fresh consignment of oxygen and I had hit that point in my exercise where one feels like a well-oiled machine. Then he came jogging up and told me that “only old people walk” and that at my age, I should be running. I patiently explained that walkers are not lazy runners, that I hate running and love walking, that the health benefits can be accrued either way and everyone must do the exercise that gives them pleasure. In response, he started to give me tips on “transitioning” to running. When he urged me to use an upcoming marathon as my goal, he confirmed what I’d suspected all along – he’s a run-for-a-causer, close cousin of the candle-light-vigilante, so he wasn’t going to relinquish his righteous ignorance easily.

I explained much less patiently that re the marathon, I couldn’t imagine anything I was less interested in, except maybe skiing. He gave me a pep talk on saving the planet. I asked him sweetly how him running a marathon was saving the planet. He side-stepped the question like a good evangelist should, switching to a discourse on carbon footprints. I reminded him that a marathon involved ambulances, TV and refreshment vans, sponsors’ vehicles, track-keepers’ cars, police motorcycles, thousands of little plastic water cups and the garbage trucks that presumably needed to come after. He called me a cynic and said that India needed more believers. I told him India’s problem was too many believers. And added that I could argue for the Olympics, so he should just move on. And set a good example by moving on myself.

I wish I’d thought to ask him what he meant by “old people”, considering the oldest cyclist on the 900-km Tour of Nilgiris was 60. But I did manage to out-holy him a few days later – I met him buying bread and found that he drove one kilometre to do it, whereas I had walked two. Idiot.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Closing time

My concert finished fairly early so I decided to take the Metro home rather than a bloodsucking cab, with a (more and more likely to be) surly cabbie. Mostly, I took it just to celebrate the fact that I could and found myself unexpectedly on the last train to Jebel Ali.

I got on at Burjuman and had a long ride ahead of me. (As with everything else, the deeper you go into Burdubai and Deira, the more “real” the city becomes. The Burjuman station is properly confusing, crowded and large. Also, it’s underground, which gives it the right sort of air.) That late train was surprisingly full – of the girls and boys who work in the malls, gym instructors, lifeguards and RTA police going off duty. At every stop, hoardes of chattering young people got on, having thrown off their invisibility with their uniforms. The train was abuzz like at no other time. Some people were greeting old friends, others were making new ones. Several, who weren’t working the next day, were brandishing barbecue materials and inviting fellow passengers to parties.

News of upcoming sales was passed around, as were job vacancies and apocryphal tales of employer iniquity. At least, I hope they were apocryphal, but this being Dubai, you never know. Formidable policewomen dissolved into groups of girls discussing mascara and heckling the new male recruit on the last shift at the next station. Four boys in a corner, any of whom may have helped me buy shoes at some time, were discussing increasing the repertoire of their band. Another group was engrossed in various kinds of reading material, crosswords and Sudoku, looking up only to greet yet another member who got on at some other stop. In their midst, a stunningly beautiful Somali girl stood emptily in a private patch of silence, probably living the other kind of Dubai dream.

A couple stood at the partition between two coaches, too shy to look at each other much but not too shy to hold hands. The policewomen derived much entertainment from this, but were kind-hearted enough to do it privately. The faceless checkout girl was clearly memorable to the coffee shop supervisor who was looking out for her at the Dubai Mall stop.

Walking home from the station was fine along the main road but got uncomfortable when I entered the Greens, because somebody in their wisdom had decided the streets needed mood lighting, and the mood is Hitchcock. But I soon realised that the silhouettes of serial killers were caused by people walking their dogs and the ominous car parked in the shadows had a blue light on top. And as I passed it, the polite, uniformed nod from within held all the security of the noonday sun.

A few more steps brought me to the chatter and lights of the restaurants and supermarket, but I left them behind too and came to the path by the silly lake. I can understand people from Northern Europe not connecting stagnant water to mosquitoes, but there’s no excuse for all the Indians who must also have been part of it. They didn’t even have to invent any solutions – I just spent three days at a resort in Cochin where they’ve used fish to great effect to keep the mosquitoes down. My first thought when I saw all the picturesque water there was the hope that my mom would have remembered the mosquito repellent. She did of course, but I didn’t need it at all.

Anyway, silly or not, the lake is undeniably pretty. Whispering rushes, flowering trees, an imported (I’m told) bird or two muttering drowsily in its sleep, wooden bridges reflected in water, the brightness of the stars undimmed by city lights. Positively ill with atmosphere, as Bertie Wooster would say. I’m not even sure there wasn’t an imported cicada or two out there. It’s all artificially created, but there’s nothing fake about the chilly desert air or the clear desert sky. At night in the Greens, all the paving and topsoil can’t hide the fact that it was built on desert and not long ago. In fact, I myself remember the time when it was sand. It’s a strangely reassuring thought.

Blog Archive