Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Indian Dream

‘I could hide ‘neath the wings,
Of the bluebird as she sings,
The six o’ clock alarm would never ring.’

Dawn in south-west India comes relatively late. I cannot hear the bluebirds. But I can just about make out the first threads of light outside the curtains. Five hours of sleep. But that must suffice.

‘But it rings and I rise,
Wipe the sleep out of my eyes,
My shaving razor’s cold and it stings.’

Everybody else is still fast asleep as I am by far the first person to leave for work. The usual morning rituals are a routine affair, carried out at breakneck speed. A hurriedly grabbed pack of Tiger biscuits must do for breakfast. In spite of all this, I am still late for the 601. Wondering once again why my company is possibly the only one in Bangalore not offering office transport, I frantically wave down another bus.

The 502 to K.R. Puram. A busy route this, full of office-goers, daily labourers, fruit and vegetable sellers and the like. Seats are out of the question. But today there is just about enough place to stand without threat of being compressed to half my usual volume. All I can think of is getting to Tin Factory before 7.30. Any later and the traffic at K.R Puram junction will double my travel time. I get off at 7.35. ..

The 319 E to Hope Farm. The traffic is tortuous and the crowd suffocating. I have visions of a red dot next to my name again in the lab sign-in sheet. India’s largest FMCG company has not yet wholeheartedly embraced the idea of flexi-timings.

He is obviously a newcomer to this city. Slight of build and hesitant of manner, he asks where he has to get off to get to a tech park. Not ITPL, that cynosure of all eyes in India’s technology world. One of the smaller ones that dot the Whitefield area, for the main part hosting companies that are not quite in the same elite league. We strike up a conversation. He is in a hurry to get to an interview. Perhaps limited by my college years and experiences, I immediately assume he is an engineer called for an interview scheduled as part of his college ‘placement process’. I soon learn that he has just graduated from high school and is going to a BPO’s office because he read they might just be willing to hire right now. This is what he has been doing for two weeks now, traversing the entire city, having travelled two thousand kilometres from home to get here in the first place...

The 333 E to Brooke Bond. Somehow managing to get off without shoving one of the schoolchildren crowding the footboard off the bus, I swipe my card at the entrance and head for the lab at the fastest pace I can set without violating the company’s sacrosanct safety rules. I sign in at 8.29 and all is well. At least for today.

The PRA in the lab and the senior-most person on my team (with the exception of our manager) calls me over to discuss some relevant literature and discuss the previous day’s data. There are important questions to be answered before the clock moves to 8.45 and our manager walks in to start the morning meeting.

And thus the day proceeds, the open tea areas at ten where we take in the immeasurably lovely Bangalore weather, experiments to be run in the lab and pilot plant, the canteen at 12.30, special meetings for communications, new projects and other initiatives, all the way down to 5.30 when I sign out and head for the gym. Much of our work is organised around the labs and categories and functions we work in, but here, research, design and deploy come together and talk about anything except surfactants and process equipment. Most people live right next to the office and the after-hours games and other activities make up their social life.

I slip out of the gate at 7.30 and wait patiently at the bus stop. Many a time, it comes only at 8, but I am not inclined to take any chances. The 600 to Kammannahalli is a lifeline in the evenings. Missing that implies changing three buses again, including one from the horrifyingly crowded Tin Factory stop. Or travelling twice the distance on an alternate route through the heart of town.

The conductor knows me well by now. He asks why I was not there the previous evening. Some days, he lets me pay the additional two rupees on the next day in case I do not have change. The bus is quite empty at this stage, something that will change noticeably once it gets to ITPL and the other office areas.

‘Asking only workmen’s wages,
I’ve come looking for a job,
But I get no offers...’

He is on his way back ‘home’ after another fruitless day of job-hunting. He has just come back from his village in east India. He used to work in a cheap hotel in the city. His father died suddenly and he had to go back for the last rites. When he returned, he found that he no longer had a job or a roof over his head. Leaving his belongings with someone he knows at K.R. Puram, he goes looking for another job every day. He is running out of time though. Soon there will be letters from home, asking for money from their only remaining breadwinner...

The bus climbs onto the bridge at K.R. Puram and for a few moments, I can see the lights for miles in this city of dreams. The long line of cars and buses honk impatiently on the jampacked roads stretching in every direction. The Lee showroom will soon be visible in the distance, marking the spot where I get off and walk the remaining four hundred metres. It has been exactly five years today since I left home...

‘Seasons change with the scenery
Weaving time in a tapestry
Won't you stop and remember me
At any convenient time?
Funny how my memory skips
While looking over manuscripts
Of unpublished rhyme...’

The Indian Dream. This is my day. A small part of it. There are so many of us. Software, electronics, consumer goods, automobiles, call-centres. Roadside eateries, autos, shops, construction sites. Stories of a nation on the movie. Told without the help of GDP and per capita income growth rates and highest salaries at business schools. Stories of hope. Stories of heartbreak. Yet the dream stays alive. Of a better day. For us and our friends. For the strangers who play the extras in the dream. For our families, whether they are in the upper middle class apartment in Calcutta, or the drought-stricken village barely two hundred miles from there. A dream of a day when the hope will, by far, outweigh the heartbreak.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Lingering Shadows...

‘I saw a shadow touch a shadow’s hand...’

A late morning scene whitewashed by the dawn rain. Home after two turbulent years. Who knows how long it will be again? And how many things will change even further in that time? Already the realisation is upon me that you cannot cross the same river twice. Yet there are aids that a blurred memory eagerly seizes upon as a welcome time-machine. Old friends, for instance. And cafes.

‘Voices leaking from a sad cafe,
Smiling faces try to understand,
I saw a shadow touch a shadow's hand...’

Across the table on Lansdowne Road, our conversation is sometimes animated, sometimes quiet and sometimes the silence speaks for itself. We look over the present and look to the future. But, for the most part, we turn to the past that is interminably woven forever into the strands of our lives. It has been a long time and many, perhaps too many, people have vanished into the mists of those years. And even the ones who hover on the fringes of our consciousness exist only as blurred outlines, shadowy contours who threaten to vanish into the same oblivion of time and distance and indifference. We have endured, our friendship has survived six years of these very same elements that have wiped blank the slates on which so many other treasured relationships had been scripted. So, now we piece together the fragments of our collective memories to bring these shadows to life again and let them flit about on the wall where they try bravely, but in vain, to roll back the years and persuade us that they alone are real and everything in between has been an illusion, not the other way around, as we have come to believe. In the comfort zone that we have allowed ourselves to inhabit for this suspended moment in time and space, we let ourselves be persuaded for a while. Yet the forces of habit and changed circumstances are too compelling. Soon it is time to leave and we tell ourselves that the shadows no longer exist, that we recreated them for this pleasant interlude and now we have destroyed them again till another such rendezvous afford us the luxury of looking back again.

‘Past shadows dark and deep,
My mind dances and leaps in confusion,
I don't know what is real,
I can't touch what I feel,
And I hide behind the shield of my illusion.’

The tall economics undergraduate at Presidency berates me for my laxity in keeping in touch. He talks about the unanswered emails and the broken promises. I do not say much for there is nothing that can be said. If we had turned the clock back to reveal two schoolboys in place of the young men who sat at the food court at Forum, the discussion in all probability would have centred on upcoming quizzes and team compositions, debate motions and practice timings, club meetings and fest schedules. Interspersed with our thoughts on leadership, power, ethics, honour and a million and one similar irrelevant subjects...

‘Can analysis be worthwhile?
Is the theatre really dead?’

‘In the now late afternoon,’ the debates about military strategy and Keynesian economics seem to have lost their edge. And there are no practical problems to solve – no delegation to be put together at lightning speed, no school honour to defend, no unhappy crowd of students to deal with over pass distribution. Ignored emails by themselves are not much of an issue. But what of the underlying malaise? How do we get back in touch with each other’s lives? How do I convey the substance of all these months that I have spent in a distant place that is now more familiar to me than this city I call my home? You ramble on about my shortcomings and my strengths and the things I do wrong and right and what they foretell about my future. But little of the person you speak of from memory now remains. Try as I might, I cannot break this glass bubble around me to reach out and touch you. Every time I think I have broken through, I am still no closer to you than I was. For the bubble around you is strange and new to me. To find a way through it needs more time than these few hours we have. Maybe someday we will be back here with enough time to unravel both these layers. Yet who is to say that by then there will not be even more layers around both of us that will not take more time than we have even then for us to cut through to who we used to be?

‘You're a stranger now unto me,
Lost in the dangling conversation.
And the superficial sighs,
In the borders of our lives.’

The clouds are back in the evening sky and angry raindrops descend upon the city returning home in anticipation of the weekend ahead. Oblivious of the shower, I make my way to my third cafe rendezvous of the day. Even more than the other two, my destination on Ballygunge Circular Road is one where many of my fondest memories converge – from schooldays as well as from the semester breaks in college. Now both school and college are behind me and many of those same memories and the people who were part of them are beyond me. I know the chemical engineer from Manipal can relate to what I am feeling. College has been an incredible time in a remarkably unique place. Yet before college, there was a time and a place and a culture which both of us were fortunate to be part of, one that nobody who has not experienced can comprehend. But years and perhaps decades later, the ones who lived it will look back with wonder to a life that can never be again. It took us a long time to acknowledge the end of that era. Yet, sometimes, somewhere, the clock turns itself back and those days rise anew to claim us, to envelope us within their tempting, but tragically chimerical embraces.

‘What a dream I had,
Pressed in organdy,
Clothed in crinoline,
Of smoky burgundy,
Softer than the rain...’

In Calcutta of a wet summer’s day, the shadows still linger. They intermingle with the drizzle falling silently past the diffused rays of the streetlights and dog my homeward bound footsteps till I mentally retrace the entire area stretching from Lansdowne to Victoria – every metre of that route bound to at least one tumultuous memory or the other. In the closing entry for my school diaries, I had written of a solitary guitar that whispered softly of life and loss and love. It whispers even more softly now, but I can still make out its hushed strains providing the rhythm for the dance of the phantoms that accompany me. I had touched many a shadow’s hand...and they, in turn, touched my hand, my heart and my life. Many years ago, we paused to gather up all the happiness, joy, friendship, and love that life had to offer to weave an eternal summer of a million multicoloured strands. Then, all too soon, different yellow brick roads summoned us, we said our hurried farewells and embarked on the journeys on which they led us...and summer moved on...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Children of an Equal God

‘They came flying from far away, now I'm under their spell,
I love hearing the stories that they tell.
They've seen places beyond my land and they've found new horizons,
They speak strangely but I understand.’

Japanese mecha animes are something that a lot of nine or ten year olds are enthralled by. However, for this not so tiny tot, it exercised a hold on his imagination that was even stronger than the customary obsession with cricket. With all the inherent innocence of that age, I readily believed that giant battle robots in deadly combat and evil aliens out to enslave the planet were as real as the whacks of the ruler that I repeatedly received for daydreaming about them in class. With increasing age and increasing (though much slower) wisdom, I reluctantly abandoned those happy fantasies, but discovered the more conventional world of aviation. And secure in the knowledge that these dreams had at least a tinge of reality, I readily fell in love with planes ranging from the biplanes of the Red Baron to the Tomcats and Fulcrums of the modern era. Airframe, engine, speed, performance, armament-I lapped it all up. Lucky enough to have a fellow enthusiast for a close friend we endlessly discussed Spitfires, 109s, 262s, Phantoms, Foxbats and the like. On one occasion this enterprising twelve year old decided that now that he possessed all the knowledge there was about planes, it was high time that he designed one himself. In all solemnity, I drew up a design complete with all specifications down to chord thickness ratio and thrust to weight ratio. However, as may be expected all these years down the line, I would refrain from subjecting my masterpiece to the critical eye of any aeronautical engineer!

‘You'll never say hello to you,

Until you get it on the red line overload.
You'll never know what you can do,
Until you get it up as high as you can go.’

I worshipped pilots. Not content with just anyone who could fly a plane, I read up as much as I could about fighter aces. I liked Manfred von Richtofen of course, but Erich Hartmann-the Second World War ace with a score of 352 aircraft shot down was my idol. Other names nobody of my age (or most other ages for that matter!) had heard of also became commonplace to me. To me, a fighter pilot was the highest evolution of man, the perfect human being, the crème de la crème of any era. As for almost any other teenager, Top Gun simply reinforced that image. It was the one thing I wanted to do more than anything else in my life-every other career seemed so mundane and downright contemptible.

‘Is a dream a lie if it doesn’t come true,
Or is it something worse?’

To this day, at the oddest of times, an overpowering feeling of regret and frustration runs through me...

Progressing beyond the fierce dogfights of the Second World War and with the internet in general and Wikipedia in particular a veritable gold mine of information, I came across the aces of the jet age. I looked particularly for Indian pilots, but unfortunately, no Indian pilot after independence had ever shot down more than two aircraft. Patriotic duty done, I turned to the glamour boys of modern aviation-the U.S. Air Force and Navy with all their legendary aircraft. The longest war fought by these two services was in Vietnam and here I came across another hero…

Randall ‘Duke’ Cunningham flew F-4 Phantoms in combat in Vietnam from 1968-72. One of the earliest products of the Navy Fighter Weapons School (Top Gun), he shot down five enemy aircraft along with his Weapons Officer Willy ‘Irish’ Driscoll and the two became the Navy’s only aces of the Vietnam conflict. After his tour of duty, he became an instructor at Top Gun. Many of his experiences were indirectly used in the movie, including the scene where Maverick (Tom Cruise) hits the brakes and forces the enemy to overshoot. Duke subsequently went into politics and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1990. It seemed only fitting that one of the country’s best and brightest should now go on to serve his country at an even higher level.

‘Don't you know that all my heroes died?

And I guess I'd rather die than fade away.
These days - the stars seem out of reach,
But these days - there ain't a ladder on these streets…’

Randall ‘Duke’ Cunningham is now serving an eight year sentence for bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud related to Defence contracts at the United States Penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona…

‘Though nothing, nothing will drive them away,

We can be Heroes, just for one day.
We can be us, just for one day.’

On 9th July, 1945, a new diplomat arrived as First Secretary to the Swedish Embassy in Budapest, Hungary. Nothing in his life up to this point had marked him out for any distinction whatsoever. Having trained as an architect in the USA, he was unable to find a job after his return to Sweden and his wealthy and influential relatives had to repeatedly step in to help him find employment. But today, Raoul Wallenberg is the only person other than Winston Churchill to be made an honourary citizen of the United States, has been mentioned in the Guiness Book of World Records for the ‘Most Lives Saved’ and has been honoured in different ways by over twenty countries. For in 1944-45, Wallenberg saved more than 15000 Hungarian Jews from certain death in gas chambers. He did this by issuing fake Swedish documents to the Jews and then identifying them as Swedish citizens trapped in war-torn Hungary. On some occasions, he climbed on the roof of the death trains and calmly proceeded to hand in the documents through the doors that had not already been sealed, oblivious to the fire from the Nazi guards, and then demanding that the prisoners be released as they were Swedes. Near the end of the war, Raoul Wallenberg was arrested by the Russians and has never been seen again…

‘I, I remember standing, by the wall,
And the guns, shot above our heads,
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall,
And the shame, was on the other side,
Oh we can beat them, for ever and ever.’

There is only one member of the Nazi Party buried at Mount Zion in Jerusalem. This opportunistic businessman, like many others, had sought to profit from the German invasion of Poland. He hired Jewish slave labour and a Jewish accountant to work in a factory he had acquired in Poland. But by the end of the war, he was destitute because he had spent his entire fortune bribing German officials to classify his workers as essential labour and so keep them out of the death camps. All his business ventures failed after the war and he had to be supported financially by the people he had saved. Derided as a traitor to his race in his last years in Frankfurt till his death in 1974, his own wife summed him up thus-‘He did nothing exceptional before the war and nothing exceptional after it. He was fortunate therefore that in the short fierce era between 1939 and 1945 he had met people who had summoned forth his deeper talents.’ Decades later, a film about this unremarkable man won seven Academy Awards . The name of the character portrayed by Liam Neeson in this movie was Oskar Schindler…

‘No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,
(There they alike in trembling hope repose)
The bosom of his Father and his God.’

It takes great skill, courage and hard work to be be a fighter pilot. Harold Faltermeyer’s Top Gun anthem is still as moving as ever. But there are quieter forms of heroism that perhaps demand just as much courage. Courage that exists in often unremarkable and imperfect men and women. Their deeds are no less heroic because of their flaws. In fact, maybe their heroism is all the greater because they have to rise above those very imperfections. Most importantly, perhaps every fighter pilot is not so perfect after all…

Monday, December 31, 2007

Poems, Prayers and Promises

‘And talk of poems and prayers and promises,
And things that we believe in.
How sweet it is to love someone,
How right it is to care.
How long it's been since yesterday,
And what about tomorrow?
And what about our dreams?
And all the memories we share…’

‘Poems, Prayers and Promises’ was a compilation of my writing that I put together between classes 9 and 12. It was also the title of a collection of poems I wrote as a birthday present for that special someone in my life. And as 2007 passes gently into the good night of 31st December, Denver’s words keep running through my head as the signature song of a year that changed my life more completely than most have.

Five days before 2007 started, I ended a seven year long relationship. In a way it was a fitting farewell of sorts-to people, institutions, places, events and even memories that had defined and carried me through high school and college. I came back to a college which lacked many a familiar face that I had taken for granted earlier. And with some of those who remained, it was just not the same anymore.

As the year unfolded, a few old ties unravelled while others grew stronger and totally new ones formed and developed with stunning rapidity. And as the fates took their treacherous turns and I unwittingly played along, a faster swimmer free of the emotional baggage weighing me down in previous years, a series of realisations followed. That I did not like the girl I thought I did for the last two years, that maybe I liked someone else instead. Only to fall for someone completely different later. Well, at least I was spot on third time...

That I did not mean as much to certain people as I thought I did. And strangely enough, that I did not care so much about it because they no longer meant the same to me. That maybe, friends come and go and you can cling only to the precious few you must...

That the outside world was knocking and like it or not, I needed to leave the comforting confines of college life and look it in the face and spare a thought or two about what I would do out there...

That I knew nothing about love and how beautiful it felt...

‘I've seen a lot of sunshine,
Slept out in the rain.
Spent a night or two all on my own…
Had myself some friends,
And spent a night or two in my own home.’

The latter part of 2007 was one that I had always dreaded as an abyss of loneliness that I just wanted to get through as fast as possible. But once again, fate plays the strangest tricks. When the time actually came, it was the happiest time that I can remember as long back as my memories go. And I kept trying to hold on to it, to stretch it further and make it last forever, to fill those precious hours with everything I could find. Believing that by doing so, I could somehow prevent it from slipping through my fingers like the sand I gathered on the beach…

‘The days they pass so quickly now,
Nights are seldom long.
And time around me whispers when it's cold,
The changes somehow frighten me…’

Back home after a year and a half, lots of people tell me that I have changed. They are right, of course. I speak less, I am less interested in meeting new people, I hardly care about the ones I do meet unless there is something really special about them. In the past year, I have made just two friends. But they have been truly extraordinary ones.

To a friendship that sprang up in the course of an action-packed week that took us to four different places in seven days, thank you for all those late night phone calls on the back stairs of 9th block where I could pour out my most closely guarded secret to you. For those lonely days in the vacations when you were the one person in town I could share my fears and worries and loneliness with. For a thousand times when I have stood you up or kept you waiting and you have not uttered a word in protest. For all the jokes that I have made at your expense which you have taken with your sporting spirit and astonishing lack of ego…

To the other, what can I say? That has not been said already with every embellishment of language that I am capable of. Never has anyone taught me so much in so short a time. Never have I looked up to anyone as much as I look up to you each and every day. Never have I been so very sure that I need someone around for the rest of my life to make every day as complete as it should be. Never has anyone loved me so totally and believed in me in such trying circumstances. Never has anyone fought so much opposition from people close to them and given up so much to be with me. Suffice it to say that you are the major reason I will always look back upon 2007 as the most significant year in my life and look ahead to each day knowing that it will have your indelible imprint upon it…

To old friends who have borne with me in a year in which it has been increasingly difficult to do so, I pledge my gratefulness. This new streak of selfishness that has sprung up inside me has often made me insensitive to the fact that even you have lives and problems that you need to talk about. To the best of my little ability, I will try and make amends…

To my colleagues, I look forward to doing some great work together in the months to come. There is so much that you have to teach me and I can only hope that I will be fortunate enough to learn at least some of it. To my debating team, my quizzing team, my editorial board and others I will work with, I pledge the best efforts that my talent renders me capable of.

I realise now that some things never end, they never can. And clinging on to old times simply means that you miss the joy and the adventure and the challenges of the one which beckons so excitingly. 2008 marks yet another watershed in my life-the time when I will step out of college to put into action the plans that I have been formulating and re-formulating for most of the last year. I have certain hopes and expectations as to where I will find myself, but those may well turn out to be a mirage though I hope that at least one small detail falls into place. Be that as it may, it will be a year that satisfies to the full the old Chinese blessing-May you live in interesting times!

‘How long it’s been since yesterday?
What about tomorrow…’

What about tomorrow? Only tomorrow will tell…

Never have I looked forward to a year as much as I do to this one…

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 21, 2007

I Won't Cry for Yesterday...

Cigarette smoke has a weird way of drifting on the air even when the fan is off. It forms funny little patterns and if you stare too hard, you start seeing every imaginable shape in those wreaths as they rise slowly towards the ceiling and disperse into non-existence.

"...also broke up."

"Yeah, that happened quite a few months back, right?"

And in those twenty odd words, we sum up the ending of the love and the hopes and dreams that love invariably brings of yet two more people, at least one of whom we care about deeply. More often than not, we ache for both of them. The elation, the congratulations and the happiness that fly around when two of your friends start going out is in stark contrast to the prevailing mood when something of the sort comes to an end. Once you find out if they are sure that they have made the right decision, something inside you feels like it will never feel the same again.

My best friend says that guys never know how to comfort other guys (or even girls for that matter!). But, if truth be told, there is not much a guy needs from his friends at a time like this. A squeeze of the shoulder, a nod to acknowledge the reality and a comfortable shared silence in which you reach out without any words being necessary to do so. And we wait to let him tell the story in his own way, at his chosen time. If he wants to share it at all, that is. Our friendship will not come crashing down from the heavens if he does not.

There were just two of us at that table the other day and neither of us had just been through a breakup. Yet I somehow understood what solidarity and comradeship means among men. And just how much I miss people barging into my room at 3 a.m. to brutally shake me awake and settling down for completely useless conversations that ramble on long after the first streaks of dawn appear in the eastern sky...

On another level, it is at times like this that you realise that what you have is too precious to throw away with behaviour that suits a 3 year old more than a 23 year old. If you are reading this, thank you once again for keeping us going through my spoilt tantrums. I promise I will do my bit to chip in henceforth. Stay gold!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Mirror Has Two Faces

On repeat.Over and over and over again for the last two days.Two songs.A strange selection,yet all the more poignant for that strangeness.The soft strains of one blend in subtly with the insistent guitar lines of the other.To my mind rock is a powerful vehicle for every emotion.And the electric guitar and distortion have a way of expressing pain in a way nothing else can.Clapton and Allman's riffs and solos carry an unmistakable sense of confidence and power and competence that makes the futility and emptiness all the more compelling in its sadness.A paean that whisks you back to the time when it carried in it everything that you could not put in words.Or were afraid to,for the fear that doing so would tear you apart.And then months later,you come across the twin that apparently has nothing in common with it,yet carries the same soul,just expressing it differently.

Sometimes you come across a mirror where you least expect to.Where you expect a face,for example...

Eric Clapton and George Harrison were best friends.I have not come across anything that indicates that Clapton and Benson knew or worked with each other...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Wednesday Morning 3 a.m…and before…

Manipal is empty…

In a small ghost town,the stupor of a slow evening settles languidly upon the landscape of a routine summer day.A blanket of darkness descends,further amplifying the silence that already echoes from everywhere.No beautiful sunset signals the slow entrance of night-the clouds see to that.A steady rain has been falling all day and despite the brief respite at the moment,angry rainbearers still patrol the heavens to warn of their omnipresence.The ground is wet,as are the fields,and the forest far way down in the valley…and the deserted streets along which my footsteps fall…

There is hardly anyone to talk to and not much to do either.Long endless walks with no destination in mind.A little more of the endless hours that hang heavy over me through fifty one days that seem to stretch into fifty one years fall away.It has not yet been long enough for me to get used to the ghosts that replace the life with which these very same streets usually bustle.So I walk in the middle of the road yet glance over my shoulder continually to look for a speeding bike.It is hard to reconcile myself to the blank television screens that stare back at me from the common rooms of the hostels I walk past.To see the shutters of the shops that dot the roadside downed during the very hours in which the crowds frequented them.To see no one sitting on the old basketball court or under the misspelt ‘No Squating’ sign or on the steps of the Innovation Centre.It is hard to reconcile myself to the loneliness that pervades every corner of the campus.

In the entire town,I can turn to just one person for company,and her presence is a godsend.The local pub is closing and rumours about it reopening are still unconfirmed.So we go to spend what might be our last moments in that cramped semi-darkness where so many emotions have been played out,where our hopes, fears, joys, disappointments and tears have mingled for years to create a plethora of unforgettable memories seen through a kaleidoscope of whirling colours.We sit there and laugh over anecdotes of times gone by while sipping,ironically,soft drinks.

It is late by the time we step out.I walk her back to her hostel and then start the long solitary walk back to my own room.The rain has started again by this time.A soft unobtrusive rain that falls slowly,almost apologetically through the night air.My road takes me past those fateful steps and I linger a long moment there before I can summon the will to move on.I deliberately choose the darkest and usually most deserted way back so that the emptiness does not weigh down on me quite so heavily.Yet it is also the road which awakens memory after memory of our shared moments…a road that I am not accustomed to walking alone…

‘When you walk through a storm,
Hold your head up high,
And don't be afraid of the dark.
At the end of a storm,

There's a golden sky,
And the sweet silver song of a lark…’

I look up at the neon lights that throw their wavering lights on the road ahead and the thin streaks of rain that are framed so clearly as they fall past the orange glow.There is a graceful music in the rain,a rhythm in its barely audible patter on the wet street that hazily reflects the streetlamps,a certain reassurance that life goes on,that what has been will be again,that these dead streets and buildings will awaken and take up the life that was theirs,that partings are temporary and the normal order of the universe will be restored in days to come,no matter how long and painful the wait for that restoration…

‘Walk on through the wind,
Walk on through the rain,
Though your dreams be tossed and blown…’

The rain has now ended.In its place,the valley and the hills that stand sentinel on its farthest edge send forth a fog that rolls in slowly,but surely and envelops the entire hostel complex.It grows chilly but the sight is wonderful to behold.The valley is totally covered in white wreaths of mist that break and reform in a million myriad woolly shapes,sending forth yet another legion of ghosts to haunt the already besieged town.With childlike naivete,I pretend that with everything else around me,I too am floating in mid-air because no land is discernible in the east.I cannot go back to my room just yet,I cannot walk past row after row of locked rooms that remind me with steadily increasing mockery that I am completely alone in that vast building.I sit on the edge of the new basketball court and breathe in the cold night air.Once again I look up at the one lamp that tries in vain to light the entire court and I see the mists swirling about and obscuring it till a orange-tinted white sea is all that is visible.

I miss you…