Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The woman with the bag

Shivaji Nagar, Bangalore

I was walking from Shivaji Nagar bus stand to my office in Indian Express building. It was a routine 5-minute walk usually made interesting only by some beautiful faces, smiles and glances that one might come across near the two bus stops. But the week before last, my attention was caught by an old woman with a bag who led me to introspection.

I saw her first on Monday morning in front of the building with the board Dutian Furniture. The door of the shop was closed and no one else was around. She stood with one leg on the first step in the staircase and the other on the cemented ground, the former supporting an old bag. She was searching for something in the bag and seemed quite occupied with this activity. Her sari looked old and no longer colourful, and I concluded that she should be one of those unfortunate poor women who needs to beg or pick up rags in order to survive and feel life.

I did not see her in the evening, and the incident would not have remained in mind, if I'd not seen her again. On Tuesday morning, as I walked past the shop, lost in some thought, something struck me. I took a couple of steps backward, and saw that she was there. I then understood what had struck me. She was in the same sari, and almost exactly in the same position (the right leg on the stair and the left on the ground), the bag resting on the right leg and being searched intensely for something which just did not seem to have any intentions of allowing itself to be discovered. I looked at my watch. It was almost the same time - maybe 5 minutes or so later - when I'd passed this place the day before.

On Wednesday, I expected to find her the same there at the same time and it turned out to be correct. The bag really did not seem to have what she was searching for, and quite probably had nothing significant in it I stood for some tiem and watched, but she did not notice for her preoccupation with the bag continued. I concluded that she is probably more unfortunate than I thought her to be. Has she lost her mind? Has her will become too different from the rest of the society? I felt sorry , though i suspected that she might be quite happy this way than otherwise. I even started to attach some philosophical angles to her act of searching the bag (some typical ones like does it symbolize man's search for absolute truth and happiness in an empty life?), likening her to the great Naranathu branthan(http://www.naranathubranthan.com/) but then withdrew from it suspecting its cruelty.

On Thursday morning, I had little doubt that I would again find her, but did not. Well,were my conclusion was premature? She might have been just arranging the items in her bag after her ealry morning's work of picking them up. But why almost exactly at the same time, in the same position, and with same concentration on all days? As I looked at my watch to confirm the time, I suddenly felt the urge to ask myself '"what about you?". The answer was simple but striking. On all four days around this time, and many days before that, I was walking by the same road after getting down from the same bus, going past and looking at the Dutian Furniture shop stairs, with the same bag on my back, and probably very similar thoughts. "Well, just routines of life" I sighed, and absolved the old woman of all my earlier conclusions.

And then I realized, that on the fourth day of the week, she had successfully found some way to break her routine. Where might she be? At some other place, searching the same bag? No, I should not be so pessimistic. I pictured her, standing near her shelter picking up jilebis from the bag for her grandchildren and showing the day's collection to her daughter. I pictured her in the queue for the latest movie in some theatre in Majestic picking her from the bag her earnings to buy the ticket. I pictured her, throwing away the bag into the Ulsoor lake, after she got a new one, and continuing to collect new things to fill the new bag, fresh and excited. I fetl happy for the her in my pictures, and felt s surge of inspiration.

On Friday morning, I reached office via a different route. I'd left my bag and mobile at home for a symbolic beginning . I spent time in the bus chatting with the stranger next to me, instead of reading the novel of my routine. These were some initial steps towards making a refreshingly different day at office. And so it turned out to be!


Friday, September 09, 2005


HP, Indian Express Building, Bangalore

The first diary i wrote was more than a dozen years back. I do not remember what inspired me then to continue it meticulously for a year, for there was nothing secret about and in it. The diary was meant to be accessible to all, and contained factual descriptions of a lot of things that happened around me - cricket scores at our ground, visitors at home, sometimes newspaper headlines, and so on.

That also happens to be the last daily diary of that i wrote. Again I do not remember hoiw it suddenly ended, though i would like to beleive it as a time when i decided i've had enough of being too regular. The problem with conventional diaries is that the blank pages in between expose how idle you are. Maybe I did not want to have blank pages, and ended up having no diary.

Soon postal letters took the place, and i really enjoyed them. Now the reader was no longer anonyous, and i could tailor the facts accordingly. Maybe it was the first time i started thinking about what others would love to read. The feedback for your words would come in the reply, and it was eagerly awaited. The scope was much greater- . the letters had in them the past, the present, and the unknown future, with the facts sometimes adulterated and decorated. They taught me to use words with sensitvity and emotion and i enjoyed the exercise.

A couple of years later, and i was doing my bachelors then, the number of letters that i wrote and received started coming down. Most of the time were spent with friends around and there were a lot of interesting things happening. Letters written then would have been much more eventful and colourful, but as it happens almost always, you are too much immersed in life to have any time to record it. There were oments of regret too, as i realized that i was oving farther from the old freinds at an interesting stage in life. However it could not be reversed and in my final semester there, i did not write a single letter.

Then, we came to Bangalore's IT industry and the email came to us. Simple and powerful. Instantaneous delicery. The quick replies. Less effort. The flexibility - choice of how may and who to send to, the groups, the forwarding. There was a slight loss of individuality however, the hand-writing and the corrections, but it was more than compensated by the fact that people, who had never written letters, started writing emails and some of them were quite a joy to read. I loved the variety in the words and became an ardent fan of diversity. There were emails of love and hatred, of importance and mischief, of facts and fiction, of fun and gloom, of dreams and reality, of boredom and excitement and so on. Contacts with many old friends could be re-established and reading and writing emails became fun and an integral part of life.

But unlike the letters and the diary, the email had a much shorter life. Rarely were the emails re-read, and it became difficult to search and locate esome of the more interesting ones given the quantity of emails that were in the inbox. Also it was a time, in my final semester at masters, when i'd re-started serious reading, and my love for words was growing. In an attempt to preserve some of my diary-like emails, i put them on a webpage. By this time, the reproduction of event in words had gained an identity which was quite different from the event itself, and there was always distortion of facts in an aim to make it interesting.

Last week, two years after the webpage, i got an email saying that the server which hosted the pages will no longer be available. It is a signal for a change, and so here i'm blogging for the first time, and hoping to enjoy it. Looking forward to writing more and getting some comments too. I plan to put some old ones, which were on the webpage that is no longer there, with the correct dates if possible, so you might find some blogs dated older than this one.

That's long enough for the first!