Lessons

The Jungle Book: So What Makes You As You Are?

I watched The Jungle Book, and as is my habit, went on to read its reviews. Personally, I found the movie to be very interesting, but for its original story that hails from Rudyard Kipling, not because this particular adaptation was so great. The 3D effects were spectacular, but I was a bit surprised to note the lack of humor in the movie- I certainly felt that there was a lot more scope for a few jokes. Compared to the other animated greats like Tangled, How To Train Your Dragon, and The Incredibles, the Jungle Book fails quite sadly.

Of course, Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book has been read, understood and interpreted widely in terms of postcolonial theory and imperialism, for Kipling was the unfortunate author of the poem The White Man’s Burden. But the aspect of the story that I found much more captivating were the results of the nature and nurture effects, which goes back to the old argument concerning the development and growth of any being- what is more influential, the genes or the environment?

In the figure of Mowgli, the debate is personified quite literally. Left in the jungle at a very tiny age when his father is killed by the tiger Shere Khan, Mowgli is almost adopted by the panther Bagheera and from then on, raised by a pack of wolves, and called a ‘man cub’. But Shere khan is determined to hunt Mowgli down and finish him off, for he is sure that the ‘man cub’ will grow up to be a man and be the natural enemy of animals as all humans are, for he believes that the true nature of a man cannot be taken away from him.

Shere Khan has a point-Mowgli might have been raised amongst wolves but he struggles to be one like them, lagging behind as his brother wolves sprint on and the wolf elders try again and again to teach him how to live and behave like a wolf. He is constantly reprimanded for using his ‘tricks’- using to his advantage his separated fingers and agile grip to move around and operate stuff that four- legged mammals possibly could not. He is regarded warily by everyone in the jungle, for quite obviously, he walks on twos instead of fours.

But on the other hand, Mowgli is more a creature of the jungle than he was ever of the human world- he speaks the language of the wolves, the panther, the bear, the tiger and the king of the Bander-log. He runs and climbs faster than any human is probably capable of, having been raised among animals. He’s uncannily adept at picking fruits, berries and honey off heights. But more importantly, he identifies himself with the world of the jungle, rather than the world of the humans, and so, is dismayed when he realizes that he will have to go to the human village in order to survive the menace of Shere Khan.

This, right here was, nature versus nurture, but with convincing arguments for both sides- this embodiment of the debate is precisely why I find Mowgli so fascinating.

Let’s go back to our general daily life to understand what can be regarded as a more influential factor. For Abhishek Bachhan, while having given a couple of stellar performances in Guru and Yuva, could not be said to have possessed the greatness and the larger-than-life aura of his father Amitabh Bachhan? Rahul Gandhi, with generations of political blood behind him, hasn’t really displayed the political cunning and ambition that was expected of him. Sunil Gavaskar, one of the greatest cricketers in the world, never could bring his son even close to the success in the cricketing world that he himself had achieved. These are the examples which not only had great, professional genes, but also bustling environs where their skills could flourish.

To the contrary, we have countless examples which defy odds- Shah Rukh Khan did not have the acting lineage and business acumen that many of his contemporaries did but yet he went on to become India’s star. We are all aware of Modi’s chaiwallah story, how he became the prime minister of the world’s largest democracy from being a mere chaiwallah at one point of time. J.K. Rowling’s is another rags to riches story, where she went on to write the world’s most popular and highest selling book series, while living on the state’s allowance, being as poor as one can be without being homeless, with a child to take care of? It was certainly not the conducive environment that resulted in their dazzling success- then were their parents hidden geniuses that managed to pass on their abilities? Perhaps not- perhaps there are other factors that are in play. Yet it cannot be denied that talent can rise in the unlikeliest of places.

Many years back, Virginia Woolf wrote of Shakespeare’s sister- a sister that he never had. She wrote about his hypothetical sister, who might have had Shakespeare’s genius, but would have died anonymous and unknown because her talents would never be allowed to flourish and develop in a world so stifling to women. She wrote that if a woman is to write, she must have a room of her own and adequate money that would provide her with the comfort to write. A room of her own, she said- the private space free of anybody to introspect and write.

Psychology partly made the answer for me, if not fully. From what I understood, the biological genes set the extreme limits, but the human will and determination is free to exercise within those limits. With a healthy and happy environment, the children do have higher odds of leading more satisfied lives. We cannot possibly overreach our genes, but the limits do give our environments enough scope to lead lives as we would. For not everybody had the comforts of a private room, yet great writing is known to have come up from the messiest of places. For people are known to have survived on lonely islands, swum great lengths and eaten fellow human beings if the time called for it- yet they couldn’t escape the confines of their own biology.

This is precisely where Mowgli becomes so relevant- Mowgli, as a human being, cannot help but use his fingers and limbs because he simply can. But he can easily climb trees and run extremely fast because he had been taught so; he can speak the language because he grew up conversing the language. In the end, he is the most content in the ‘Mowgli way’, his own way of living comprising a mix of both human and animal behaviors. And that is what we must strive for- limited as we are by our own generational advantages and disadvantages while becoming more and more like our parents every passing year, we can always learn from the past and forge a new to the future,  to be set as an example by others.

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What does it mean to be traveling in India?

A single or a couple of women taking a trip in India comes with its own volley of problems, as every step of the way throws up a new challenge. First of all, you cannot do the most travel-esque thing: hitchhike. A method tried and tested for travel experiences that remain unforgotten, in a country where the news is full of horror stories about crimes against women, it is a privilege only accessible to well-built, thrifty men, as we give up dreams of our very own Motorcycle Diaries. Or so common sense will tell you.

Worries begin as night falls- while big cities are notorious for their crime rates, small cities have that eerie sense of abandonment post nine pm, of perhaps police being not so readily available, of people misconstruing your purpose, of stumbling across barren land and little connectivity. As women, we choose to spend the extra cash, but not compromise on safety- we try to stay in downtown areas, tend to peek in buses to check the male-female ratio before hopping on, and generally beware of accepting any unsolicited help. We take extra care about where we stay, about the homestays we pick, about the hotels we decide on, as often enough one hears horror stories about hotel staff mixing with local goons to harass you.

And then of course, for the cherry on top, there are always judgy uncles and aunties who are only too happy to show you your place. In our train back to Delhi, a middle aged couple was surprised to find that the two of us girls were out by ourselves, asking us whether we were too fond of adventure, their eyebrows raised so high up that they threatened to get lost in the hair on their head. Of course, there are many, many of us who do go out on our own, who do hitchhike, who do take trips while staying on a tight budget- but a general middle-class consensus remains, that for a woman to travel alone in India, without an external support system, is just not safe. I do not suggest that these problems for women are exclusive to India- but perhaps I may suggest that they exist more so in India?

A night in Jodhpur and all of us sat together, conversations taking us to places unexplored. A French girl traveling to other states of India after a three-month long stint in Leh, a German out to experience the whole of south and south-east Asia, another German with similar travel plans, an Indian guy bagpacking across the entire subcontinent with a goal to know every corner of all our twenty-nine states over a period of one-and-half years- and of course, us two girls, our travel plans seeming increasingly tiny in front of their ambitious ones.

Suddenly though, the equation changes- there are foreigners amidst us who have their own set of problems. They don’t know the language, they stand out for their differently coloured skin, and are obviously not so aware of the culture of a place- additionally, in a country like India, where culture can vary so greatly every few hundred kilometres, it can get all the more confusing.

They begin to relate their experiences, one of which happened right in front of us- some of the locals extremely keen to take pictures with these whiter skinned people, simply walk up  to these foreigners and stand next to them, asking their friend to click a picture. It is bizarre; the French girl exclaims that it does not make them feel like celebrities, that it makes them feel like zoo animals. That is the gap- it wouldn’t be the locals’ intention to make them feel like zoo animals; perhaps they just act out of curiosity, and do not find any other way to express themselves since they cannot speak a language common with them.

Then there are some instances which are not so funny, some which are just plain awful. Foreigners raped on the beaches of Goa, raped while they are on drugs, robbed as they try to ask around their way, fooled into things much more sinister. It is not just limited to foreigners; as the two of us girls walked around in Pushkar, a bunch of local guys begin to follow us, asking us which country, which country. When we do not answer, they try and push each other on us, so they may accidently brush against us and every time that happened, the whole group would cheer.

There are smaller problems as well- imagine leaving a valuable bag at some place you visited, some table you sat at, in the excitement of the day, imagine accidently leaving it behind at a shop, a restaurant or in a taxi. I make this statement without referring to any stats, because there can be no reliable stats for such a thing- you’re just less likely to retrieve something you left behind or lost in India as opposed to in other touristy countries. It is easier to find something you left behind, or dropped on the way, in a country like Singapore, or Germany or Switzerland.

But why? Is it because people are more dishonest here, more deceitful? No, maybe not; maybe the problem is that we don’t have the kind of systems in place that will facilitate the search of a lost item. We don’t have effective Lost-and-Found management at tourist places, we have police who are overburdened and have better things to do than find your lost wallet and they have no problem even telling you so- it is perhaps because the system doesn’t support us that individual acts of such assistance are more rare. Of course, experiences are always subjective- you could have lost your bag in Singapore, never to be found again, and found a lost one in Punjab. But on an average, I would not pick up a wallet lying on the road and make an effort to report it to the police if I know that it’s going to take away too much time from my day and earn me additional jeers from the authorities themselves.

These are among the many factors that make traveling in India not just dangerous, but consistently difficult, and that is a terrible shame, because India, with its endless history and multicultural demographic has monumental potential. Every state has so much to teach you, with effects of an increasingly globalizing world palpable on the local population, that traveling in India can be one of the many great experiences of your life.

But as the night went on and the Jodhpur air cooled down, we began talking about the other side of India, the side beyond the gruelling heat and inconvenient transport, the side beyond the dilapidated histories and the forgotten lives. The side which sheds light on the warmth, the brilliance and the beauty of cultures which believe in communities, in helping each other out, in looking out for more than just yourself.

They relate experiences and instances where the generosity of the people has exceeded anything that they have ever witnessed- the simple gestures by which the locals welcome travellers in their homes, the way they ask them to sit and have a meal with them, to share their food and understand where they come from. I hear that and I can’t help but agree- seeing a baraat passing by the main road from our balcony, all of us rushed down to witness it as the groom and his family pulled us in with them, made us dance, and asked us to come along, to be a part of their festivities, to share their happiness. They asked us, as we stood in our dishevelled hair and random pyjamas, they asked us to come along.

When our German friend caught an auto in the middle of the night to buy cigarettes and upon reaching the shop, realized that he had no money on him, the auto guy generously offered to purchase them for him. When in the train, the judgy uncle-aunty who disapproved of our trip, also made an extra effort to visit us and check whether our unconfirmed seats got confirmed. A couple of years back, while on the train from Goa to Delhi, we befriended an old, sardaar uncle who never fails to call and wish me on any festival, who never fails to wish me on my birthday, more than two years after we met him that one time.

There is something about this country that makes traveling here an absolutely maddening and an absolutely heart-warming experience. The range of people you will find here, there is little chance that you will find it anywhere else. Perhaps its still not too clichéd to say that here you will find that something else too, maybe a method in madness, a beauty in disarray, but it is something that works.

 

 

Life is like that Chilli Crab

[Image source: http://www.loverofcreatingflavours.co.uk/2015/02/like-hot-birds-eye-chilli-singapore-chilli-crab/]

After the travels of a long day which had now turned into the night as the city buzzed with clinks of wine glasses, bursts of laughter and the clatter of knives and forks, the sounds of dinner, we were starving. Starving and tired, so we could have collapsed anywhere, after a busy and exciting day, on our first trip outside the country as adults, we really could have collapsed anywhere.

Seeing a little diner, not crowded, not loud, we went inside and slumped on the chairs, with bags on the table and sighs of relief, oh how we slumped. Starving stomachs look for one thing, and one thing only: the menu. We picked it up and scanned, up and down, left to right, judging, deciding, for each meal on a holiday is precious, an empty stomach is precious. It enables you to taste and explore, to literally take in the country, to smell and touch and feel what the place is made up of, how do they live, what do they eat; a meal can tell you so much. So each selection in a meal needed to be carefully curated: is it the local flavour? Can we get something like that back in India? Will we get to try something new?

We discussed and debated despite our rumbling stomachs, and finally decided our order, the highlight of which was the Singaporean Chilli Crab. After the day that we had and the hunger that had struck, we could want nothing more than the gorgeousness of the Chilli Crab. Smiling a satisfied, deranged smile, we called to be served. “Yes, we will have three steamed buns, two cokes, chicken..” I began and ended proudly with the Singaporean Chilli Crab. There. Done. Dusted. I almost sat back and turned away but the server made a pained expression. “What happened?” I asked her tentatively. “No have,” she said, as we looked around in confusion. “Chilli crab, no have”, she repeated.

Our grief-stricken looks said it all. But collecting ourselves and moving on from the disappointment, we searched the menu again for a replacement. Nothing appealed to us as much as the beautiful chilli crab. Okay we tell you after some time, we said. She nodded and left. We frisked through the menu once again, up and down, left to right.  We talked some more, appreciating, praising, getting impressed- aah, what a skyline, what roads, what transport. How immaculate it is, everything in order, everything on time, what variety, what food, oh it is dynamic, very dynamic, very fast, changes every six months, has to change, lives on tourism, Clark quay, what a place, dazzling lights, delightful bars, stunning riverside…

And so came the coke. How cold and refreshing it was, with the little bubbles, so we’d go to Universal tomorrow, yeah the Universal Studios, yeah its one of the four in the world, Hershey’s store, the giant roller coasters, the Hollywood walk of fame, and came the chicken and the buns, and don’t forget the mini New York, we have to go there too. We ate a little, talked a bit, but waited and then waited some more, for the star dish, what we saved up for, oh and also the safari, yeah we must, Bugi’s street, Orchard road, they have slow service, very slow, hope it will be worth it..

Remember Mike, and we laughed, yes Mike, the Mike who drove us, he said you girls are crazy, as we waited, we laughed over Mike, what Mike said, how we laughed, we laughed on how we laughed, and we waited a little bit more, and I’ll have a nice dessert after this, me too, oh me too, and then again we waited some more, as the tissues lay unruffled, too white, too clean, waiting with us, hoping they would hurry, and the chicken got over, and the buns were rejected, and the coke lost its fizzle and then we finally decided to call out once again, call out for the highlight of the night, call out for what was taking so much time, too much time, we had been waiting so long for the exquisite chilli crab, and I opened my mouth to say excuse me…

And with a jolt of understanding, a dawn of realization, a surge of comprehension, we looked at each other: in stupidity, in foolishness, in inadvertent neglect, in distractedness. Our head in the clouds, all throughout the meal, as we waited to be served as we talked about our grand plans and this day and that person, we had been waiting for the chilli crab that would never come, because it never existed. Too much talking and excessive excitement made us forget that we had to order a replacement and like idiots, we sat and waited for the chilli crab, after being told that they don’t have it, imagining it getting washed and grilled and spiced, when that never happened: the chilli crab simply did not exist.

Many times, we make up things. We see something, read somewhere, hear someone, and we take it all together and make it all up in our head. We create our own idea of it, which materialises soon into a solid, tangible, living, walking, talking person in our head who tells us that this is how it is. It makes our should be into is, and seeks to impose our fantasies on the world outside of us. Life is one of those things. We wait for what never was or will be.

We build expectations around something that probably never existed, and then irrationally, we wait for it, wait for it to turn up, without cause, without reason. We build up ideas that say, this is how you should be when you are 21, and this is what you should wear at 40, and this is what elegant is like, and this is the money you should have by 35, and this is the number of countries you should have seen by now, and this is how college is, full of nights that don’t end and days that give way to nights..we always wait for a life that will be one day.

Life isn’t something out there that you will do one day; life is here and life is now. Life will never reach that ideal that you always made for yourself; at every age, and every day, you will wish you had gotten up a little early, or done more for your health, or not have eaten that extra dessert, or said yes to that offer, you will always wish for some kind of do-over. You will never arrive at a stage in life when everything will be perfect from then on. The chilli crab that you ordered will never come, no matter how much you wait for it, because that chilli crab you made up for yourself never existed and you were too busy thinking of other things, waiting for the non-existent chilli crab.

And so I say, life is like that chilli crab we never got to eat. It is nowhere else, but with you, all along, and it really isn’t that chilli crab you thought it would be.

A Patch of Green

On a hot morning in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, I met a Chinese acquaintance who could surprisingly speak very good English, facilitating our conversation, as we headed towards a cultural park which I wanted to visit. A long metro ride ahead of us, we went on talking about one thing then the other, this habit and that tradition, India and China, life and the Universe.

Very soon, as had to happen, with a person like me, very soon, we landed on the subject of movies. Who didn’t like movies? At the mention, he felt compelled to give me his very honest opinion- his face went glum, his voice lowered , a shadow of disappointment fell over his person. “I will not tell you to watch any Chinese movies. Here, we do not like a lot of Chinese movies; they are very stupid. They have no story at all, just a bunch of stupid fighting scenes, some stupid love story, everybody always beating each other up. All of them are the same”

I looked at him, amazed, making no effort to hide my expression. How many times in ourselves, in our friends, in our families had we said the same thing about Indian movies? How many times have we scoffed and dismissed Bollywood commercial films, dismissed them for their exaggerated nuisance, spurned their stupidity, their absurdity, their distance from real life, their nonsensical nature? “That’s what we also think of our movies, sometimes”, I told him, giggling.

“What?” he asked me, flabbergasted. “Why?! Here, we LOVE your movies. I haven’t seen a lot of them but the ones that I have, I loved. Especially I have seen 3 Idiots and PK, and they are amazing! In my college, all my friends love these two movies. They are so full of life and so funny. How can you not like them?”  “What, and I love your movies! Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee- come on!” We both burst out laughing.

With a shake of the head, a hint of a smile and a dawn of realization, I understood the secret to the universe. What is yours will always suffer your criticizm, your rebukes, and your disappointments. It will take your praise and present its flaws, it will lay bare in front of you, in its stark honesty and nakedness. What is not yours, however, will escape the glaring eye; we will never know their problems and their dreams, we will never know what it is like to be them. We can always guess, but we might never know. So what we belittle here could be celebrated there; what they deride there could be extolled here.

But more importantly, I learned that you could be sitting in the most beautiful and lush sprout-wielding, cherry-popping flowerage, but the grass? The grass will always, always be greener on the other side.

MUSIC TO MY EARS

It became an unspoken rule that every vacation I’d take, I had to have a trip song- that one song which would transport me back to the place, flashing memories and moments alongside the beats of the track, making me wonder how perfectly the song fit the mood of the trip, as if the singer had cut out and moulded it just to fit my days, as if it had no other purpose but to make me reminiscence. So in Goa I’d see colourful clothes and gold beaches pass by on Kid Cudi’s ‘Pursuit of Happiness’, thinking of how amazing life was, how wonderful its fruits, how young and wild and free we felt at this moment, singing and dancing and hurtling forward without a care in the world even if it be that one night. And in Mcleodganj I’d match my pace to John Mayer’s ‘Slow Dancing in a Burning Room’, skipping along this tiny little hill, curiously talking to the locals, understanding how time literally slows down at a tiny place like this.

On my vacation to Kasol, staying in a cute, little homestay after returning from a daunting trek to Kheerganga, the weather was gloomy, the sun had set, and our corridor was abuzz with our excitements, the smell of smoke, and the rumbles of the stomach, when suddenly played Chet Faker’s ‘Gold’. The first time it played though, I was busy running around and never paid attention- the next time however, I couldn’t help but adjust it according to the place we were in, the mood of the moment. Because the song played at the time that made me pay attention to it, in a homestay on a dark evening in Kasol, it will forever remind me of the night, those people, that furniture.

Music, then, has a funny way of attaching itself to moments of your life. A simple, random collection of sounds bring to your brain a host of emotions: if some remind you of the car ride with that one boy, some remind you of the person who always went mad dancing on those songs. Songs, then, become right on occasion, in the sense that the moment makes the song, instead of the other way round. A song is never right or wrong for you essentially- you just make it so. So my kind of music and your kind of music is just a testament to what surrounded you and I, for there really is the fact how a lot of us went about loving typical Bollywood numbers in our childhood to Avril Lavigne-like teen obsessions, and then finding even those embarrassing, moving on to our rock and alternative and EDM.

Different sorts of music has different sorts of ambience, which also includes what we refer to as a particular style of a musician or a band; whatever you listen to also starts defining your ambience, and so, it is your own moments and memories that determine the ambience of the music and your memory of the music. Some years ago, I used to go for swimming early morning and would always keep a loud song for the alarm- now that song always reminds me of the smell of chlorine! The song is never right or wrong, the music is never good or bad- its just you and what is around you that makes anything, if at all.

It’s all about the money, But

[Image source: http://www.tv.com/news/breaking-bad-how-much-cash-was-in-that-storage-unit-29497/]

A lack of money is often seen to be compensated by possession of spiritual wealth- they don’t have a lot of money, but they are good people, which is what matters. Often, it is implied that limited monetary resources help inculcate good value and morality systems in people. Then the converse must also be true- an overhaul of wealth would signify a debauchery of the mind. In the same way, the city and the village binary is also used- people in villages may not have as many facilities as city life provides, but atleast they have peace of mind.

Power corrupts, and in most parts of the world, money is power. But then we can ask- is this discourse appropriated only to comfort ourselves in our shortage of money? When we maintain that we do not have money, we also maintain that we have something that money can’t buy- spiritual contentment, tranquillity, a clear conscience, honor, dignity, and blamelessness. We validate our ways of living, and put ourselves on a higher pedestal- so what if we don’t have money, we have some things that money can’t buy.

MasterCard banged all the right doors when it said, “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.” Money might not be able to buy abstractions, but it sure can buy everything tangible, which makes you think, who said there isn’t happiness in money? In a consumerist world, it can buy you the best of apparel, and the best of household possessions- thereby, it can buy you admiration, praise, style, and envy. Money can buy you travel, and by implication, it can buy you not just good times, but also practical experience. Money can buy you the best of medical services, and the most prestigious of education systems. It can buy you nutritious food and personal safety. More often than not, it can buy you time.

And yet I would assert, after everything seen and done, money is not the answer, and it is never the answer. Money, when you look back and realize, whether now or at the end of life, is the least enjoyable thing.

A scene in Breaking Bad intrigued me. Walter White, a man dying from cancer afraid of leaving his family penniless and debt-ridden after his death, turns to making methamphetamine, and quickly makes unthinkable amounts of money. But the drug business was never so clean and simple. In the process, he is forced to commit several crimes, not the worst of which was murder, and turns into a hardened criminal, breaking bad, losing the trust, love and respect of his family, and especially his wife, Skyler.

“Take a drive with me”, Skyler asks of Walt and leads him to the compound where they have been storing their money. They enter a room full of money, so much money that even ten generations of their family could not exhaust it, living in luxury. There was so much money that it was impossible to count it anymore- “How much is this?” Walt asks her, to which she says she has no earthly idea.

As they stand in front of a future full of luxury cars and yachts, condos and summer houses, glitzy parties and unshakable glam, their whole lives stretched out in front of them where they wouldn’t have to work a day in their life and yet live like royalty, Skyler looks at the pile once again and says to him, “I just stack it up, keep it dry and spray it for silverfish.” Millions and millions of dollars, a dry stack free of silverfish.

“Walt,” she tells him, “I want my kids back. I want my life back. Please tell me- how much is enough. How big does this pile have to be?” as they both stare at that meaningless pile, bereft, empty, speechless.

In another scene, Jesse Pinkman, Walt’s partner in meth-making, got his cut of the deal in the business, but having a more troubling conscience than Walt, he is unable to spend that blood money. In a deranged state in the middle of the night, Jesse drives across the town, throwing stacks of dollars, in front of every home, finally collapsing at a deserted park.

It may be all about money- life may be all about money. Money for treatment and money for college, money for survival and money for luxuries, money to win and money to lose. Money to get you out of jail and money to protect you from bad neighbourhoods, and yet

Money is the least enjoyable thing. Possessions are useless unless they can be shared with someone, and travel, dry, unless the stories can’t be laughed over dinner, unless souvenirs can’t be brought back, unless it can, again, the experience can be shared with someone. Money can’t buy you the practical experience that travel brings along with itself without immanent curiosity, without an eagerness to explore. What fun is excellent food if had alone, or worse, with sycophants and sullen faces? What good is time, if there is nobody to return to? Money can buy you a living, it cannot buy you a life- it is always that something other which comes along with the money that makes life meaningful.

Being a Sport

It was late afternoon and the metro was warm and cosy; the crowd was suddenly your friend, and the otherwise incessant chatter like the caress of a soft hum. The ‘general’ compartment was filling up fast, and noticing the last empty seat, he rushed, quicker than his friends, and sat; sighed, leaned his head against the back, relaxed his feet. Loosened, shuffled, and opened his eyes again.

When he saw his friends sniggering, nudging at each other. “It’s for ladies only,” they said, pointing at the green sign above the seat. “Perfect for you.” He shook his head at their taunts, smiling back sarcastically in return, but worried inside- should I get up? It’s peak time, some woman was bound to claim her seat. Yet, he wanted to enjoy those few minutes of rest just as he wanted to join his mates, stand up, be their equal. So he sat back.

The doors opened.

She entered, wearing a bright orange jacket, straight hair, laptop bag in one hand and a large handbag in the other. She scanned the compartment, and finding all seats occupied, plonked her bags on the floor, held the railing and stood facing him.

His friends laughed louder.

Ab toh uthna padhega,” they said. Now you will have to get up. Urging, jeering, laughing. He could not ignore them and more importantly, he could not ignore her and her right; bhaisahab, he would hear soon, uthenge zara. He closed his eyes for one more second, relishing in the stillness, and then opened them determinedly, resigning to his fate.

He half-rose.

Baithiye, baithiye” she said, laughing loudly, touching his shoulders, forcing him to sit down at what he believed had been reserved against him. Surprised, he settled back down, looking at her bags, his friends, and then at her. Her laugh was sparkle, her eyes playful- she glanced back reproachfully at his friends who were jeering even more loudly now. Smiling mischievously, shaking her head as if to say, nice friends.

In a bit, he relaxed again and his eyes shut, oblivious to the ladies only seat, to the lady who stood in front of him and her rightful seat, to the “doors will open on the right”, and leaned back in peace, in contentment.

Is it love at first sight? No.

Her magnanimity? Not really.

This

is spirit. Spontaneity. Love and cheer, on a cold, January day.

In the sweat and grime, hostility and spite, in the rat race, in the overpopulation and the muck and pushes and impatience, it is being a breath of fresh air.

This is what, is called being a sport.