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In the midst of blasts and fireworks across cities …

July 26, 2008

[While this post is also posted on my blog, I want to add a small qualification as to why I have put this up on Kafila as well. This post goes out on Kafila in the optimistic spirit of peace and wisdom in our hearts in the midst of the various blasts that have been taking place in different cities across India.]

(I write in the spirit of my words and in submission of myself to my vulnerabilities and to the present …)

One blast here,

One there,

One everywhere.

Today here,

Tomorrow there.

One blast here

And one blast there.

So that is what we, in various parts of the world, have been hearing about in the last two days. And yet, the indifference on my skin remains. It only thickens. But I remain sensitive to more mundane issues that concern me/bother me/sit on my mind/nag me. And what is sitting on my mind as of now, is that beautiful feeling of vulnerability and the thought of what it means to be vulnerable in the city. The feeling of vulnerability is beautiful as of now because I write in the solitude of music, my words and my difficult and vulnerable self, shut off from the noise of the blasts and of the noise of the crowds that existed in my space a while ago.

So we (i.e. me and myself and my difficult self and my vulnerable self) write about vulnerability in a city. As there is no ‘city’ in the sense that we each make our own city and carve our own niches that we eventually call ourselves and city, so also there is no one universal feeling of vulnerability. Let me lay out some of the many vulnerable feelings that I feel from time to time these days:

a). Being woman in a live-in relationship with my boyfriend and a strange battle that has been going on between my mind, my boyfriend and his family;

b). Being somewhat unemployed and attempting to work through meaningful relationships rather than work for money only (and that darn inflation);

c). Taking the courageous risk of getting a house for myself in this city in the middle of my unemployment, an act that I am experiencing as a leap of faith, sometimes a great feeling and sometimes a scary feeling;

d). The destiny of being Muslim at a time when bombs burst in Bangalore and Ahmedabad and who knows where else …;

e). Figuring out the law and rules and regulations concerning various things and various relationships in a city whose language, both spoken and unspoken, I am still figuring out (what if I make mistakes …);

Now, this list might seem little, but then, it is a little too much on some days when I am unable to resist anymore. But hey, hey, this blog post is not about me. It is some kind of a random effort on my part to meander a little here, a little there and get to somewhere …

So, there are these vulnerabilities and on some days, when I feel vulnerable, it is terrible and on some days, that feeling of vulnerability is like the feeling of a warm chocolate melting in my mouth and sweetening my frizzy hair and the skin I wear on my person.

So what does one do when one is vulnerable? And that too vulnerable in a city? Well, well, it is not like I am “alone” here in this city. Despite being well connected, it is that feeling of not knowing the spoken and unspoken language of this city, that makes me feel vulnerable. And what happens when I feel vulnerable? I seek out people! And here is the story of one person that I have sought out in perhaps one of those subtle moments of vulnerability. This post is my account of that person, that person who is one more stranger in the city that I have tried reach myself out to, to hold her hand when she did not mean to extend one, and to express to her that in that moment of losing myself, when I found her, I found myself, that she helped me to hold myself together without even ever meaning to reach out me. I sought her, I reached out to her, and she did what she was expected to do – she responded!!!

So her name is V. She is my hair stylist. Now well, would it not be true for us, somewhat stylist urbane women, to reach out to our beauty parlours when we are dying with all those mad thoughts in our heads and don’t know where to go! Well, I was not in a mad state when I happened to meet V. I was very much sane, saner than what I am now.

I want a hair cut.

She smiles.

I want a hair cut.

She continues to smile.

Err, I need a haircut, where do I sit?

I am busy today.

So I will come in the afternoon.

I am busy then too.

So I will come tomorrow.

I don’t come to the parlour on Thursdays.

So when do I come?

Hang on, I will remove my diary,

and she removes her diary and asks if Friday is okay.

Tis’ okay, but I need a short haircut.

Open your hair. Hmmm … you need it cut in a way that you are able to leave it open. When you tie your hair, you look old.

Uh, well …

Okay, come on Friday, wash your hair before coming.

True her word and true to my time, I landed at the appointed hour and V began the snip trip across my hair. And we spoke. We spoke about my boyfriends and she spoke about how she lived at Bonga, the village which lies at the border of (now) Kolkatta and Bangladesh. I wonder whether the location of her home, along a border, is as coincidental as her present gender state which also lies at the border of male and female. But this was not a poetic coincidence for V alone, because, as I discovered in my conversations with her later, we each navigate the gender border without necessarily having to be in a phsyical state of being transgender. As V mentioned to me towards the end of the snip trip,

There is nothing male and female. It’s all there, at different times in our very lives …

On leaving her parlour after the first snip trip aka hair cut, I asked myself about borders. And then, in the midst of those blasts and fireworks in Bangalore yesterday and Ahmedabad today, I realized that we have all traveled the borders of life and death; we have all been at the border of chance, of fate, of destiny and of luck. And we continue to be …

On my next snip trip, when the vulnerabilities were gripping me and I was on the border of sanity and insanity, I went off to V’s and announced:

This time, I want a crop cut, like those soldiers who have just about enough hair on their heads.

No, you can’t have that. You will look funny. Let me see. We give you some other look.

Okay, then you decide,

I said, handing over my hair and some parts of myself to V in a manner of trusting her. So how many times is it that we can trust strangers in the city? But then, V was someone who I somehow liked a lot, and could hand myself over to. I could not hand myself over in the same way to the agent who was just trying to sell me a house which was built in violation of the city’s bye-laws …

So, I liked that house but it was all violated property V. How could I get it?

Yeah, I have landed into a similar situation. You know that builder took my token money and then, I figured that he had no sanctions. And guess what, he was a Hindu, believing in Lakshmi! He said, ‘Ma, I will never cheat you!’ So I said okay. Then, we had to go through a meandering procedure where I had to register myself as part landholder and we created a document which even the sub-registrar’s office had no mention of in the rule book. But then, we made a new rule and the sub-registrar said, ‘Well, we do it we do it!’

I listened to V and at that time, when the vulnerabilities of getting a place called house/apartment/home were high with all the accompanying vulnerabilities of not knowing the law, the rules, of the possibility of being ‘cheated’ and of managing all this headache of getting a place in midst of not fully knowing the spoken and the unspoken language of this city … aaaaaarrrrrrrrrrggggggggggghhhhhhhhhh. And then, I do not remain the only one who goes through this, I felt as I heard V. What a mad, strange, and bitch that desire is to have a ‘place’!!?!!? V also expressed that bitch of a desire to me when she remembered her days of working at Bandra in Bombay:

Oh, even today, I tell my cousin, don’t remind me of leaving Bombay. I don’t want to remember it at this point in my life when I know I cannot go back and when I cannot any longer hold that regret. You know, when I was working at the saloon in Bandra, the maid there had told me, ‘give me ten thousand rupees, and I will get you a jhopda on the seaface.’ I did not believe her. I said no. She insisted and even said that she would take care of it for me. I said no because who would live among these people? No, no, not me! And ten years later, when I went to the same place, I saw, her jhopda on the seaface was now a full fledged building. Damn me!

So on my next snip trip, V and I chatted less. But I only watched, her untold and undying faith in Lakshmi. She had held on to Lakshmi, and I, without her knowing and without her permission, had held on to her. It felt wonderful. She would take the fragrant smoke in her hand and wrap it around her face. She would start her day and the parlour with this ritual. And then, when her colleague came and removed some cash from her pockets and said that this had come to her today, V calmly said, while holding my hair in her hand,

It’s Friday and it’s Lakshmi. Good sign. Keep it maa.

I don’t have much to say about V at this point in my account. Let’s put it this way that I don’t want to say anything more about her. It would spoil all the warmth that I have nurtured for her in my heart. In a rational’s dictionary, I would be an emotional fool. In my city’s experience, I have just submitted and reached myself out in the comfort of another who has unknowingly helped me find myself.

I don’t know where this relationship with V will go. It may stop right here. It may go further or farther. But the warmth that I have experienced in these few encounters with V, I just want to today communicate that warmth and the good spirit to the present which is experiencing bomb blasts. And I remain optimistic and hopeful, that this warmth and good spirit, will enable us to reach out to one another, knowingly and unknowingly.

This remains my journey from vulnerability, to V, to goodwill, and I guess we all traverse these strange and beautiful paths …

To you I remain, the conduit of words and spirit.

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