Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Weekend In The Sahyadris

I chuckle quietly as the kids argue and fight. We are playing cricket - three of us from Mumbai and a bunch of 10-12 year olds – on the patio of a abandoned decrepit house in the village of Kelichapada and one of the kids has hit the ball out into the street and is adamant it bounced on the parapet before it went over while the rest are busy trying to pry the bat out of his hands, because ‘direct bahaar jaaye to out’. I was once one of these kids, I think to myself. Except, I was not. I am here in Kelichapada, about 7 kilometres from the town of Jawhar, nestled in the gorgeous Sahyadris, a region dotted with tribal villages of the Warli, Kukana and Kolchas. I grew up in a city and went on family trips during my summer vacations and these kids here have never stepped outside Jawhar and their only assured meal of the day is the one the village school provides.
About 160 kilometres north of Mumbai, beyond where the local trains can bring legions of daily commuters and cheap housing, lies the town of Jawhar. I visited Jawhar in February this year as part of an initiative called Rural Mania. The group works with the tribal-folk in a village near the town, to provide for basic necessities and infrastructure and avenues for generating income. But more on that later.
The town of Jawhar lies about 160 kilometres north of Mumbai, beyond where the local trains can bring legions of daily commuters and cheap housing. The town is largely nondescript – rows of small stores with decayed doors, haphazard houses and garish telecom signage – but all around it the Sahyadris rise and fall majestically and create gorgeous vistas that change colour with the seasons, browns and yellows in the summer months and intense greens in monsoon. Sprinkled throughout are the striking reds of Semal trees. Tiny tribal hamlets, clusters of thatched and red-tiled sloping roofs, dot the landscape. The ancient art of Warli paintings is still alive in them. They are simple stick-like drawings that depict profound messages on life and its harmony with nature.

During the rains, water weaves through the many fields of red millet (known as Nachani locally) on the slopes and accumulates in paddy fields and provides the region with its annual harvest. The air is fresh and the sounds of automobiles are rare and when a breeze blows the trees bristle and the grass rustles and smoke from a farm in the distance unfurls and hangs languorously in the air. I imagine the gentle guitar strains of a Kings of Convenience song in my head.
It is a place perfect for a refreshing family expedition, filled with leisurely strolls and invigorating hikes. With me are a group of ten people, ages ranging from the twenties to fifties, and by the time the trip ends, each one of us will have found something in Jawhar that will make it worth our while.

On a hill overlooking the town, stands the now decrepit Jay Vilas Palace, inside which entry is forbidden. Some structures still stand, however, and against the backdrop of blue skies and rolling hills, they make excellent subjects for a photograph.

There is a lake called the Jaysagar near the city. It swells in the monsoons and then recedes through the rest of the year and leaves in its wake, smooth rocks imprinted with intricate patterns of moss. We stroll on the lake’s banks in the early morning sun, under a cluster of trees, and the water is clean and blue and resplendent and there is not another soul in sight.

There are two waterfalls near Jawhar and they do not run dry even in summer. Dabhosa, around twenty kilometres away from the main town, is the more popular. Somewhat closer, is the lesser known but equally pretty Kal Mandavi waterfall. To reach it requires a short but steep hike, perfect exercise for the younger members in the group. Kal Mandavi rarely sees visitors and its pleasures can be had without intrusion.
There is another, less pretty, side to Jawhar, and that brings us back to the Rural Mania initiative. The region is one of the worst in India on the issue of malnutrition in children and the initiative’s primary objective is to provide balanced meals for the kids at a local village school. Each weekend, a group (such as the one I am in) travels there with supplies of grains and other necessities and spends a day with the locals.
The village – Kelichapada - is a tight little cluster of low buildings. The road which leads to it rises abruptly into a hill beyond and a short walk up provides a vantage from which the entire village is in view. Against the backdrop of low rolling hills, it forms a grand sight. The sun sets directly behind the village and for a few precious moments, the houses turn into elegant dark silhouettes with soft reddish edges. Roosters loiter on the street and rarely react when people walk past, except for when a kid chases after them. Women carry vessels from a well outside the village throughout the day. There are DTH dishes on the roofs of several houses, a curious detail given how expensive they are and the frequent power-cuts in the region, and when I ask a local, I learn they are remnants from a ‘goodwill gesture’ by a political party during last year’s election campaign.

The village-folk are warm, friendly people. Most of them can only speak Marathi, but language, really, is only as much a barrier as one allows it to be. People get along perfectly well with simple monosyllables and broad smiles. We hang out with the kids for a while, playing board games and cricket. The extent of the effects of malnutrition become clear only when we ask what age they are, and they turn out at least 3-4 years older than what we estimate from their appearance.

We leave the village after dark, pensive but also warmed of heart, and return to our splendid holiday cottage. A light rain falls and the air is cool and we stay up for a long time.

Article First Published on Livemint in slightly modified form here

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Ulan Bator: A City In Flux

Unending Steppes
The train rounds a hill and we catch our first glimpse of Ulan Bator from a slight vantage - a sprawling cluster of low buildings, a great deal of it tin and asbestos and rust. What we see is unremarkable, neither particularly disappointing nor exhilarating. The city lies there modestly and without pretension, like a great many cities that lack unique character or iconic structures do. Nevertheless, the sight lifts our spirits up considerably since, for many hours and miles all we have seen are panoramas of empty desert and steppes, jaw dropping for a long time until they have become something close to mundane.
By the time the train reaches the Ulan Bator railway station, it is past ten in the morning. The sun is already high up and it is warm and bright and will remain so for many hours. It is July and summer, and the days never end.

It is not often that one spends a week exploring a foreign land without it being central to one’s itinerary. But that is how it is with Ulan Bator on this trip; our expectation from it, at best, is that of a side attraction in a larger, grander scheme – the Trans-Manchurian rail trip from Beijing to Moscow. There is something wonderfully liberating with traveling to places without preconceptions; the disappointments are muted and the joys, unexpected and intense.
Before the trip, I have, of course, spent time reading on the internet about the city of Ulan Bator and Mongolia in general, to learn of the country beyond the embarrassingly little that we already know – the Gobi Desert and Genghis Khan. Ulan Bator, I learn, has moved - physically moved - a number of times since it came to be in the 1600s. For a long time, it remained a monastery on wheels and its accompanying ecosystem and moved to wherever the land was more fertile and the fauna abundant. The Ulan Bator of today, in its present location, was established in the late 1700s and remained there.
The impression I get, from reading, is of a city and a country that have remained, until recently, cocooned in age old customs and traditions and a way of life that is still sparse and self contained. Mongolia is half the size of India and still remains mostly uninhabited. It’s entire population is a fraction that of Mumbai and Ulan Bator, its capital and largest city, accounts for 1/3rd the entire country’s population, and yet, is about as populated as, say, Jabalpur, but only half as densely.

Blue Sky Tower and other impending constructions

I read of life on the unending slopes, of living inside portable tent-like structures called ‘ger’ - a nomadic existence, harsh and unforgiving and only occasionally romantic. I imagine men with hard weather-beaten faces on horses, tearing after their prey - sometimes animals and sometimes other men. Men with double barreled rifles and enormous knives and immovable moralities.
A country lost in time.
And yet, inevitably, in the past few years, I read of slowly stirring ambition. Of minerals and mining and exports and industry and forecasts of economic analysts. Of traffic congestion and pollution. Of social unrest and crime. Of a developing Ulan Bator skyline, tall glass buildings, sometimes casting shadows over and sometimes illuminating, ancient monasteries.

And so it is that when I reach Ulan Bator, I am still unsure what my expectations from it are. How much of it will still be austere old world charm and how much, fast cars and supermarkets?
We find a cab that agrees to take us to the hostel we have booked, near Sukhbaatar Square – the centre of town. The cabbie quotes us a rate that sounds absurdly high until we calculate it in Indian Rupees and decide there isn’t a point in quibbling. One of the great joys of traveling to Mongolia is that the Indian Rupee buys nearly 30 Mongolian tögrög (pronounced as Tugrik) and one is able to experience a sense of wealth a bit like what the Europeans and Americans must feel when they travel the world.
From the cab, in fact even before we get into it, we observe amusing contradictions – the signage on the railway station, in the shops and on advertising hoardings are a quirky mix of the Roman and Mongolian-Cyrillic alphabets - ‘Restaurant’ written in the Roman and then below it, the restaurant’s name in Mongolian-Cyrillic. Advertising hoardings with English punch-lines but unreadable product names.
The logic, names in the native script and the nature of the utility in English, is obvious and sensible for a city that is gearing up for international relevance.

There is no particular architectural style we can discern, the buildings are haphazard, multi coloured and of wildly varying sizes. For much of the way, we travel through what appears to be the main avenue of the city, and supermarkets and restaurants and fashion stores and tattoo parlours dot both sides of the street. The women are dressed in modern attire and have legs to die for.
The monasteries, wherever they are, are well hidden.
And then there’re the vehicles and the streets. The roads and signs are built for left hand drive, but most vehicles we see, including our cab, have the steering wheel to the right. There are, of course, cars with the steering on the left as well, but throughout our time in Ulan Bator, we continue to see as many cars of one type as the other, and it is impossible to say on streets without dividers, which way one is expected to drive. It also makes for heart-stopping experiences throughout; imagine yourself in a car with a steering wheel on the right side overtaking a car from the left on a street without a divider or on s two-lane highway, with the oncoming traffic hurtling towards you. It is like overtaking from the wrong side in India with the added challenge of traffic from the other side coming straight at you.
When we have the chance, we ask some locals about this and they explain to us how, in recent times, with increasing affluence, a growing number of cars are imported from Japan, instead of from China or Russia, and since Japan is unlikely to customize its vehicles for quantities as low as what Mongolia requires, the Japanese cars come as is, with the steering wheels on the right.
One of the stray bits of information I have come across from reading of the country is that injuries and casualties from collisions and road accidents in Ulan Bator have gone up substantially over the past decade.
Now I know.
Our hostel room, crammed with several two-storey beds, has a small balcony that opens out on to the street and offers a partial view of the Sukhbaatar square. There is room for two people on the balcony at a time – the rest of it is occupied by clotheslines and empty beer bottles – and early in the mornings and late in the evenings when the room is full, there are forever two people on it, smoking, while several others wait expectantly for them to finish. During the day, however, when everybody is out in the city, one can lean on the parapet and watch the world go by, undisturbed. In addition to the Sukhbaatar square, the balcony also offers an uninterrupted view of the Blue Sky Tower, one of Ulan Bator’s famous new high rises. It does tower over Ulan Bator’s skyline at the moment, but in truth isn’t particularly high, and with its odd shape, resembles a shorter, better fed, Burj Al Arab. The brilliant blue of a cloudless sky, uninterrupted by the presence of other tall buildings, reflects off its glass exterior, but I suspect, as the city grows and other intimidating structures grow around it, the tower’s resplendence will wear off in more ways than one.
By happy chance, we find out that our presence coincides with Mongolia’s national festival of Naadam - a week of obscure sports competitions (wrestling, horse-racing and archery) and general revelry. Competitors from across Mongolia turn up for the event. Most of the action takes place inside the National Sports Stadium, a large circular ground with spectator stands around it, very much like a cricket stadium. We are not sure how tickets to the event are to be procured but a helpful lady at the hostel assures us that, once there, entry into the stadium will not be a problem.
Naadam: The Stadium
We walk to the stadium, which is only a few kilometers away, and on the way, we see lines of makeshift stalls and bicycles on which meat is being barbequed and sold. We ask if it is horse meat – one of our primary motivations during the trip is to try as many varieties of meat as we find – and are told that it is the meat from Mongolian wild asses. It is thick and chewy and, with a smattering of salt, pepper and lemon, tastes delicious. Later in the evening, we will eventually also find horse meat and ox tongue at a restaurant, and taste both, but by the end of it, the street side wild ass meat will remain my pick.
When we reach the stadium, like the good lady from the hostel foretold, a number of men crowd around us, asking if we’d like to buy tickets. They obviously quote rates well above those mentioned on the tickets and explain to us that the seats they have to sell have the best views, but we desist and locate the official ticket counter instead. Tickets to the most expensive stands are indeed sold out, we are informed. We consult amongst ourselves and decide that we are unlikely to be able to make sense of the games and their rules anyway and the importance of a better view will likely be lost on us. We buy tickets to the cheapest available stand.
Wrestling at Naadam
We reach after the Archery event is already completed and the wrestling competition is underway. Several rounds occur simultaneously, all over the ground – sets of two wrestlers, enormous but not too flabby, dressed in sumo-like attire and a fully clothed referee overseeing the action. The objective, from what we can see, is to force the opponent down on the ground. The rounds last for very little time, less than a minute; how long can two similar sized people go at each other without one of them losing balance? After a wrestler defeats his opponent, he does a ritual dance, a small lap around his fallen opponent, arms raised, with large lumbering steps in slow motion and ends it with a pat on the loser’s backside. It is a unique sight, grown men such as these prancing around like this and I wonder if some of them turn up in formal attire at the Blue Sky Tower on weekdays.
Sukhbaatar Square: The Black Statue in the centre is Genghis Khan
The Sukhbaatar square is a large open space, tiled and predominantly white, surrounded by busy streets on three sides and the Saaral Ordon (Government Palace) on the fourth. Throughout the day, it remains crowded with tourists, the elderly and the noise of traffic. Right at the centre is a statue of a man on a horse, pointing at something in the distance. On the side of the Saaral Ordon, under an archway with huge columns, is another statue, that of a portly man on a throne, staring benevolently at the world. Genghis Khan.
I recall a conversation with a friend, while we wandered around the Prince of Wales museum in Mumbai, some months ago. After we had walked past a line of statues and busts of important figures in our history, my friend remarked how, sculptors in our part of the world, almost always chose to sculpt their subjects, kings and Gods, in imperfect shapes, pot bellies, sagging cheeks and an overall lack of muscularity, an approach markedly different from their counterparts in Europe, where every sculpture looked like it had just stepped out of the gym. We wondered why that is. With Kings, one could perhaps make a case for them preferring realistic reproductions to the Europeans’ preference for ideal bodies, but what about Gods?
The other statue, the man on a horse, we learn is of one Damdin Sukhbaatar, after whom the square is clearly named, although, at the time, we have no idea who he is. I assume that he must belong in the same era or thereabouts as Genghis Khan, during Mongolia’s glory days, but later learn that he was in fact at the forefront of Mongolia’s struggle for independence as recently as the early 1900s. Wikipedia tells me he is considered the Father of Mongolia’s revolution, clearly their most important figure in the modern era, and yet, incredibly, I have never heard of him until then.
It must be so with innumerable figures in history, their statures immense and secure for all posterity in their own countries and yet completely ignored elsewhere. And there must be countless others, whose names even their own people no longer remember.
How does one know what will travel through history and how far? What will be important or relevant for generations hundreds of years later? Art, I suppose, travels through time better than wars and conquests and revolutions and social change, for a work of art retains its form forever while society and the lay of the land remain in perennial flux. Any notion that an empire once established, a country that becomes relevant for a time, will remain forever so, is laughable. And yet, in the shaping of human history, who is to say which is more important – creating great art or leading a revolution?

The Square in the Morning
I return to the Square again early the next morning, around seven, and find it silent and desolate. A few stray pigeons hop about and an old couple occupies one bench. There isn’t a vehicle on the street, not a single on. The rays of the sun fall glorious and golden on the face of Sukhbaatar and his horse and on the buildings beyond, which the previous evening, had remained hidden behind their own garish neon signs.
I walk a block and then a little beyond it, until I reach the end of the city. It ends abruptly and without fuss; a street leads to the very end, buildings still on both sides, and then turns away, and beyond it lies the vast Mongolian landscape and nothingness.

Pretty Monasteries
A little later, after everybody else is up and we have had a dull breakfast in a fast food joint, we explore some of the city’s monasteries. They are tucked away in various corners, away from the main thoroughfares, and still retain something of their air of isolation, peace and tranquility. It is a gorgeous day, the sky bluer than ever, and the stark colour tones of these monasteries stand proudly against this backdrop. The prayer wheels are bright and golden and we see our faces reflected on them.

Prayer Wheel
At the square, on the way back to the hostel, we find much fanfare. There is a long procession of men and women in outrageous costumes and they dance and make merry and pose for pictures with tourists without asking for money. It is a ritual procession, we learn; an integral part of Naadam. It is quite a sight.
We have booked a ‘ger’ camp someway away from the city for the night; chosen from several such camps strewn at intervals from Ulan Bator for many miles, because it is the farthest we can find. It is on the banks of a
Naadam: Ritual Processions
river - the Kherlan River I later find – and, by late afternoon, we are on our way to it.
We leave the city behind in a matter of minutes and for the next hundred kilometers, apart from a few stalls that sell fermented horse milk (delicious) and men with enormous eagles on their arms which they rent out to anyone wanting a picture clicked with it, encounter no habitation. The terrain remains uniformly green; in the distance we sometimes detect herds of sheep and wild ass. The highway is narrow but sufficient, since there is hardly any traffic on it. I suppose, if Mongolia succeeds in transforming itself into an industrious, prosperous nation, they will have to do something about the width of these highways in the future.
We take several breaks along the way, walk on the grass and have our pictures clicked from low angles - reclining on the highway, with the road continuing on behind us and then disappearing over a hill.
The location of the camp and the scenery is everything we’d imagined and more. The waters of the river are a deep, wonderful blue and there are stretches of tall yellow grass on the banks. The green rolling steppes stretch out for as far as we can see in every direction. I imagine characters in a Terrence Mallick film moving slowly and nonchalantly in this landscape, with outstretched arms and enigmatic expressions, to a Wagner and the sun’s flare on the camera lens.
It is a place for the recluse writer to spend months in and produce a masterpiece from. We have one day and busy ourselves with taking pictures.

The camp is spread over a large area and contains several ‘ger’ huts and is cordoned off by knee-high wooden fences, like ranches in Sergio Leone films. There is a shooting range even - bows and arrows and a buffalo skin for a target. We try our hand at it for a while, fail miserably, and spend the remaining sunshine walking and rolling on the grass and staring into space. The sunset when it comes, is golden.

We stay awake through the night; inside the tent, a fire burns and we sit around it and drink rum. We step outside, every now and then, and take a look around the landscape, now moon-lit and ethereal, and sigh deeply before returning to the tent again.

By the time it is morning and we are done with breakfast and with the hopeless wondering about why we cannot stay back for a few more days, it is time to return to Ulan Bator.
We reach Ulan Bator with many hours of sunlight left. There are a few other places we have planned to see – a museum here, another monastery there - but when we get to the city, our heart is no longer in it. There is already an overwhelming sense of melancholy; we will leave the next day, we know, and never return.

And even if, someday, we do, who knows what Ulan Bator and Mongolia will have turned into.

Memories & Istanbul

Not at First Sight
My first vivid recollection of the Bosphorus is, strangely, not of the first time I saw it. I know, of course, when I did see it the first time – on the bus from the airport to our hostel in Sultanahmet – and it must have been as majestic and as resplendent as ever. But try as I may, I cannot recover this image. It is, perhaps, lost in the labyrinths of my memories forever. There is a story in here somewhere, of a man lost in a maze of his own memories in a quest to find a particular image – a story that a Borges might have fancied.
It is the view from the rooftop café of the hostel that I do recollect. A warm sunny July afternoon. The red chequered table cloth. The beer (Efes). The quaint white-gray houses that lead up to the waters. The vast muddle of buildings on the far side, indistinguishable from one another. The occasional dome and minarets of a mosque. Sea gulls. Everything in shades of gray. In Elif Şafak’s delightful novel “The Flea Palace”, a character muses about how her memories, of every city she’s been to are, defined by a particular colour. Except Istanbul. Istanbul, she says, is devoid of a colour. In that moment, taking in the city as it spreads around me, I understand what she means and yet, disagree with her.
For right through the middle of the muted shades, flows the legendary Bosphorus. It is just as I have imagined for all the years since I first knew it existed. Its famous waters sparkle in the afternoon sun – turquoise and white and turquoise again – a gentle shimmery haze hangs over the many boats and yachts and sea vessels that bob over it. If this cannot define the colour of a city, nothing can.

What other Colour does one need?
I traveled to Turkey for 10 days with two friends in July 2011. Now, almost a year later, reading about the turmoil the country is in at the moment, my mind, invariably, takes me back to those 10 days and it occurs to me that I must document them as best as I can, before more images slip away into that unforgiving labyrinth like the first view of the Bosphorus has. As I write, I realize that I recollect a great many scattered images in glorious detail while large chunks in between have gone missing. I suppose it is comforting to presume that the brain intuitively retains only the best and the most important bits, but really, can one be certain?

I remember, for example, a mundane breakfast in one of the many by-lanes that thread their way through İstiklal Avenue. It isn’t our first day in Istanbul. We are in a café; the tables set outside on the street. We eat what we have eaten pretty much throughout the trip – simit (ring-shaped bread with sesame seeds) with cheese and tea (çay in Turkish; pronounced chaai).  There are two old men sitting on chairs set out for them next to us. They share a newspaper and a cup of tea. There is no table laid out for them. They are regulars. The street is quiet and peaceful at this hour. I remember sounds – the swishes of brooms, the unseen scooters on another street and the sirens of ferries. Why do I remember all this?

İstiklal Avenue, incidentally, is right in the eye of the storm that Turkey faces today. It is where the fiercest protests have been. It is where the voices against Erdoğan are the loudest. From having spent several hours there, it is not hard to understand why this must be the place. It is in İstiklal that Istanbul is at its most modern, most liberated - or most ‘western’ if you like.

İstiklal Avenue
I remember the first evening of revelry in İstiklal. We have spent the day visiting the main tourist attractions of Istanbul – The Topkapı Palace, The Blue Mosque, The Aya Sofya, The Basilica Cistern. They are all overwhelming structures, each of them; it is impossible to not be overawed by their grandeur. But like most tourist attractions anywhere in the world, they have long become limited to that identity. They teem with foreign visitors and profiteers and the discordant sounds of several languages spoken all around at once. All of this cannot take away from the splendor of the architecture and the building themselves, but it robs them to a great extent of the unique sense of place and feeling they could evoke in the centuries gone by. As an outsider, the feeling one is left with inside The Aya Sofya or The Blue Mosque is exactly the same as if one were in the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The Blue Mosque

And so it is that we head to İstiklal for the evening, having been simultaneously awed and underwhelmed by what we have seen during the day, with high hopes of an exuberant evening. My cousin, who is incidentally in the city for some months as a visiting faculty at the local university (Man, how I hate him!), has assured us that there isn’t a better place to be in after the sun goes down.
He meets us at the Sultanahmet end of the Galata bridge near the Grand Bazaar. We walk on the bridge over to the other side as the sun sets, the inimitable Istanbul skyline behind us. On both sides of the bridge, we see hundreds of men – tourists and locals, rich and poor – fishing. Their fishing rods are placed on the parapet, the lines plunging to the water below. Next to each man lies a basket or a vessel to hold the day’s catch. It is a unique sight.

Fishing on the bridge

The bridge deposits us into Karaköy (Galata district; for the football minded, this is where Galatasaray belongs) from where the Tünel – a two coach shuttle train inside an underground tunnel – takes us to İstiklal.
An astonishing range of colours and lights and smells greet us. There are neon lights of every conceivable colour; the shops on either side, the quarters over them, the spaces between them – they are all covered in these lights. The street itself stretches out ahead of us and although it is only a few kilometers before it opens on to Taksem Square, just then it makes us believe that it never ends. All around us there are food stalls and restaurants and cafés and pubs and turku bars (dimly lit spaces with live Turkish music). Somewhere in the middle of all these, there are the unavoidable McDonald’s and Subway; we are grateful to find that they are both nearly empty.


On the street, there are hundreds of thousands of people, walking. They scarcely pay any heed when the famous antique tram passes through, perilously close. They step aside at the last moment to allow the tram to pass and it is only in those instants that the tram lines on the street are visible. There aren’t many people on the tram; people are happier looking in from the outside than the other way round.
We start with a turku bar. Inside, a lady and her troupe sings for the customers. Her voice is boisterous and interspersed with exaggerated quivers and the main accompanying instrument is the bağlama (or saz – a Turkish version of the guitar with seven strings), both of which are in line with what we have seen in Fatih Akin’s enchanting film on Istanbul and its music - ‘Crossing The Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul) and we are, therefore, absolutely thrilled and speak of Sezen Aksu in barely constrained voices. We drink Raki – Turkey’s own aniseed flavoured drink – from tall glass flutes. My cousin explains to us the ritual that goes with drinking Raki – two flutes, one filled with raki and the other with cold water, a sip from one and then the other, and enormous plates filled with fruits and sometimes some form of meze. They have built rehydration into the ritual, he tells us. If one were to adhere religiously to it, no amount of binge drinking would lead to terrible mornings after.

Turku Bar

Soon, people on other tables get up and start dancing and swinging and singing along. Much drunken merriment ensues.
We leave the joint near midnight. The street, it appears, is even more crowded than when we left it. We eat Dolma Kebaps (one of the great joys of traveling in Turkey are the innumerable words that one recognizes from Hindi) at a busy, cramped restaurant; they are delicious. There’s also Ayran, which is basically buttermilk, and Baklava. The Baklava is so heavy it could easily pass for the main dish.
We head for our hostel in the small hours. At no point, during all of this, have the lights dimmed or the crowds thinned.

I remember a particular conversation with a young local who spoke half-decent English. We meet him on a ferry ride to the eastern shore of Istanbul. He is studying film at a school in Izmir, we learn, and immediately hound him for the names of Turkish filmmakers. We mention Nuri Bilge Ceylan (he is thrilled that we know of him and teaches us to pronounce the name properly) and Fatih Akin. Fatih Akin is German, he states quietly. He recommends other names that we hear for the first time – Dervis Zaim and Zeki Demirkubuz. In the last year, I have seen films by both men; they are brilliant.

I do not remember a great deal of detail of the hours we spent in Kadikoy, except a half hour we spent in a cafe. It is on a little known street, where we spend a half hour sipping tea.

The place is a cluster of tables with green velvety tablecloth and on most tables, old men sit and play cards. Their attention scarcely strays from the cards they have been dealt and even when they pick one and flick it carelessly on to the table, their eyes are glued unwaveringly to the ones that remain in their possession. Their teacups are never empty. A large man refills them every few minutes; nobody on the table notices him do so.

There is a particular moment there that has stayed with me -- a man about to throw a card on the table and the large man serving tea standing between him and the window behind just so a shadow covers the player but not his card (a seven of spades, I think, though I am unsure if my memory can be that precise).

We take the ferry back near sundown, and this time, the domes and minarets and everything else form silhouettes against a gradually darkening orange sky. The waters of the Bosphorus are no longer turquoise; they too reflect the sky's orange. Some of our best pictures of Istanbul are from then.

Is it then that our memories are slave to the pictures we take? I wonder while I write. Is it then that the fact that I remember so much of certain passages and nearly nothing of others is merely a product of the pictures I have or have not taken?

I haven't a single photograph of the Bosphorus when I first passed by it. But I remember so much else that is not captured in pictures, that can perhaps not be captured in pictures.

I remember searching desperately for ways to grasp the concept of Huzun, as I have imagined it, from reading Orhan Pamuk's fascinating memoir on Istanbul. Pamuk describes 'Huzun' as it applies to the residents of Istanbul -- as individuals and as a people. 'Huzun', he explains, is a Turkish word, without a precise English equivalent; it defines a state of mind in which one experiences a melancholy that comes from a mixture of great spiritual loss and hope. Istanbul evokes it, according to Pamuk, through the awareness of its glorious past and the realisation that the city's greatest era is, perhaps, left behind forever; a forlorn pride that the people of Istanbul experience throughout their lives.

Although I have spent hours in the neighbourhoods Pamuk actually describes -- Cukurcuma, Cihangir, etc -- it is, in fact, in Kadikoy that I recall sensing this feeling most palpably -- perhaps because the old, short buildings, red-gray and decrepit, the damp streets, the old people gathered in cafes such as the one I just described and a general sense of artsy decay remind me of Kolkata -- a city that I believe will understand and embrace Huzun as much as Istanbul does.

It is a great city, Istanbul -- to me, the greatest city I have seen yet. The sights are breathtaking. The people are warm and friendly. The women are gorgeous. The food is sumptuous. And the memories of it still left to me are incomplete and haphazard but filled with indelible images and cheerful vagueness.

And there's the Bosphorus.

Backstreet's Back, Alright!

Its been a long long time since anything's happened on this blog apart from posts being removed. I had started to think I might give up blogging altogether, and I am still not convinced I won't, but for now, I've decided I might as well keep it going, shamelessly posting links to other websites where my name has appeared.

It also allows me to let some of my previous posts slide down the page, where not many will see them. It is inevitable, I suppose, that one's own creative output cannot age gracefully. That everything one has written in the past, when revisited years later, appears frequently embarrassing and sometimes cringe-worthy. And that one shouldn't be too hard on oneself in such matters. The same, perhaps, goes for one's choices in films and music (refer title of this post) and yahoo chat ids.

But really, some of what has appeared on this blog earlier, is very nearly utter bullshit.

A couple of years from now, I might start finding the articles I've written today to be as embarrassing, but we'll see what to do about that when I get there.

So here're 6 travel articles I wrote for Rediff over the past few months. The latest of these is a month old, so presumably, Rediff won't mind duplicate versions floating around the internet.

Rediff Links:

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Saving Money

Classroom sessions ended, twice every year, at the end of a semester, well before the exams began. The intervening period – ‘Study Leave’ was the college’s name for it – comprised of a marked increase in alcohol sales, comfortably above the annual average in Dhule. The nights were spent in frenzied binges that ended, near dawn, when hands could no longer guide a glass to the lips. Bodies lay sprawled in hostel corridors and out on the street until they were deposited into a room by sweepers. There, they remained until the next evening, covered in slowly drying, flaking sweat and, often, not much else. And then it began all over again. It is likely that, had the weeks of soot and grime been washed off these bodies during such times, it’d be found that their complexions had turned decidedly fairer, for the Sun hardly ever shone upon them. They may as well have been living on the Arctic Circle.

In the middle of all this, there came and passed a mock examination that the college conducted in anticipation of the actual university exams. Not even the most dedicated students appeared for it, choosing instead, to go back to their homes and spend that time studying on their own, while being taken care of by deliriously happy mothers . Kaushik, too, chose to go back home.

The going back itself, he had turned into an adventure. Since there wasn’t a train station in Dhule, the prescribed and widely used method of travel was buses, privately run, that looked like they were occasionally cared for. There were several that plied, daily, between Dhule and Ahmedabad; a ten hour ride through the night while one slept as comfortably as is possible on a reclining seat. This, however, wasn’t Kaushik’s preferred travel plan; he took the groaning, cracking at the seams, stiflingly crowded state transport bus. It rattled along minor streets, instead of the main highway, and stumbled frequently into empty bus stations, where it shuddered to a stop, thus nullifying whatever little wind its motion artificially created, and remained for interminably long periods. He rode it up to Surat, a city of much wealth and enterprise but no aesthetics, halfway between Dhule and Ahmedabad, having slept fitfully throughout.

One time, he had boarded the bus and found two girls from his college, one pimply and the other plump, both love interests of friends of his, already seated. He stopped abruptly when he saw them, considering whether or not he should show himself, while scanning frantically for seats where he could be hid from their sight. The moments wasted in this state of indecision absolved him of having to make a choice, for the pimply girl spotted him and waved a cheerful Hi. He reciprocated with as much cheeriness as he could muster, given his conversational skills in the company of women. Besides, he was returning at the end of nearly six months and, in his mind as much as in others’, stank unpardonably. The second of his concerns was relieved within a few minutes, for he soon realized that they were returning home after a while too.

Of the two, his preference was distinctly for the plump one, who, as soon as the bus began to move, fell asleep. The pimply one, who Kaushik wished would fall asleep, did not. So he spent the rest of the night, grunting and offering the odd interjectory word while she rambled on about, amongst other things, how she wished to work at NASA – an ambition that Kaushik thought hilarious for he was convinced she couldn’t tell a capacitor from the resistor. When Surat arrived, he got off the bus as quickly as he could, before the girl could get halfway through an ominous sounding sentence, one that he imagined would end in a plea to stick with them for the rest of the way.

In subsequent years, especially when his fumbles and struggles with Ritika began, he looked back upon this and other occasions and wondered he should’ve been more open, tried harder to be interested.

Once in Surat, he had the option of continuing on in the bus or taking a train for the remainder of the journey. He usually took the train.

The train station was a quarter of an hour away from where the bus left him and he walked to there, feeling the slight chill of the night, no matter what the time of the year - an indication that the desert underneath, upon which the cities of the region were built, still breathed. Yellow-orange halogen lights lorded over empty streets, lightening them but not the constructions on either side, which was just as well, for had they done so, the illusion of romanticism would’ve washed away. It occurred to Kaushik in subsequent years, when he tried to recall those nights, that such streets – halogen-lit and dark at the corners where imagination was allowed to fill in the rest - always appear the same in memory, no matter what city they belong to.

The train station too, at those hours, looked like it had seen grander times. The queues at the ticket counters were short, populated only by haggard looking men off night duty or with a stack of newspapers around them. The platforms were long lines of white tube-lights and nothingness - the odd porter hurrying along, smelling of dried sweat on decayed leather, a rare sign of civilization. Sometimes, the sound of running water on utensil, flat and gradually dampening, punctuated by harsh clamours of the most recently washed joining the rest of the pile. The occasional lonely hoot of a locomotive on its way to the shed. Shuttered tea, snack and newspaper stalls. An empty bench in an unlit corner.

He waited at the station until about four in the morning, which is when all at once, a flurry of trains begins to arrive, and the world comes alive again. He never reserved a seat and therefore entered into one of the unreserved ‘General’ compartments that were attached at the front and rear ends of the train. There was hardly ever a place to sit; he usually sat on the floor near the entrance, his legs dangling outside, the wind blowing into his face, tiny bits of used match sticks, cigarette butts and groundnut shells pinching his backside. Food was passed around, offered and accepted with soiled, sticky hands and grins stained with tobacco. He overheard conversations, mundane and exotic, and sometimes indulged in them. Seats were magically found whenever an old man or woman entered the compartment. And there was much bargaining with hawkers and bickering amongst themselves– men’s loud voices and women’s mumbled responses. It was all before Kaushik had an IPod or knew of phrases like ‘the human condition’.

He reached home before his father left for work and the family had their breakfast together, over which, the two elders explained to him the safety and good sense in opting for private buses and the lack of both in how he travelled. He laughed them away, stating he’d saved more than a hundred bucks this way and pointing out how the same father, in years past - when he’d thrown tantrums for having been bought a regular pencil instead of one with a tiny plastic hand at the top which, the manufacturers claimed was to let kids scratch their own backs during the prickly heat of summer - had intoned gravely, ‘A rupee saved is a rupee earned’.

In his own mind, however, he liked to think that that wasn’t the point.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Kaushik hated spending nights away from his apartment when he was in Mumbai. He did not know why, but there it was. Even in college, after nights of frenzied drinking in different rooms and on the hostel terrace, that left in its wake a floor full of empty bottles clinking against each other, vomit, piss and spent bodies, he would stagger alone on the empty tar road that ran through the campus, shivering slightly in the morning chill, looking for a cup of tea, fancying himself to be the tragic hero of a Cormac McCarthy novel. Sometimes he would find his tea, most times he wouldn’t. But he would return to his own room at the end of it anyway.

Ashish and Ritankar had long since realized this, and so, without ever explicitly discussing the subject, it had always been understood that it was to be Kaushik’s apartment where most of their weekends would be spent.

Tonight, however, it was to be Ashish’s place. He’d shifted into a new apartment and was thrilled with its balcony and the view it afforded.

“It is like in Boston Legal!” he’d explained to the other two, “I’ve got beanbags, a small table on which to place the whiskey bottle and the glasses, we’ll be on the twentieth floor, the view’s awesome. One can sit there with one’s feet up, sipping whiskey, looking up at the night sky and down at the city lights. Just like those episodes end!”

Besides, Ashish’s parents were away for the weekend and he had the apartment to himself apart from the presence of his younger sister, who he’d assured them, wouldn’t get in the way.

Ashish’s Dad, the owner of a smalltime stocks & funds trading agency, after having witnessed his business wiped out during the recession, had had to liquidate most of his assets, including a spacious four room flat in a plush suburb of Ahmedabad to pay off his debts, and had since shifted to Mumbai with his wife and daughter. There wasn’t enough income in the family to pay the rents for two separate places, and so they’d all moved in with Ashish. The immediate fallouts of this were that Ashish had to rent a much larger apartment and that Ritankar and Kaushik were having to nod through Ashish’s incessant assertions that it was all going according to plan.

“It is going to be perfect,” he’d say, “when they spend some time in this city, they’ll start to see how I live and what I want out of life and they’ll get used to it. In a couple of years, it should all be stable, and I’ll have enough money saved to buy them an apartment in Ahmedabad so they can move back and then I’ll be free to go settle in Italy!”

“A provincial Italian seaside town. Or Tuscany.”

“Yes yes. Exactly.”

“And what happens when they start pestering you to get married?”

“Oh, we’ll see. I am hoping they wouldn’t. And if they do, well, we’ll see.”

It was in this new, larger apartment where the three were to meet. And so, Kaushik was now on a train that would, in a half hour, take him there. The evening rush had peaked and there was scarcely enough space to maneuver his hand so he could pick his nose if he wished to, while he stood squashed between men he did not know, smelling their day’s work on their bodies. He had a vision of a clean, dull, dutiful wife who waits in a cramped one bedroom apartment with flaked walls, a silent dinner, an absent son out with friends and her submission to her unwashed husband’s needs on a creaky cot in a stuffy room with a creakier ceiling fan and a window unopened in years.

His train of thought was broken by a sudden elbow to his rib. A station. People replacing other people. Among the new set, a girl, young and pretty. A definite oddity in the men’s compartment. Kaushik scanned the area around her for the male classmate that, doubtless, must exist. He found him half hid behind her, a frail boy with spiked hair and acne. Kaushik smirked. Leap of faith, he thought. The man next to him looked at him sharply and he realized he’d said it aloud and smiled apologetically. He resumed looking at the girl. She wore a pink t-shirt with a white bunny on it. The bunny’s eyes, strategically placed, sparkled with what Kaushik gathered were round glass chips. The lower half of her body was obscured by the bodies between them but that she’d be wearing jeans was a safe guess. What else could she? His thoughts turned to Ashish’s sister. He’d never met her. What would she be like?

She was a pleasant looking, slightly plump girl. She wore glasses and once when she took it off to wipe with her napkin, he noticed that she had a slight squint and that she had an old scar from a stitch running above her right eye. Instinctively, his fingers touched the spot under his chin where his own stitch marks were, from a bike accident in Lucknow, when on a stormy night on an unlit single-lane highway he’d slammed into a fallen tree and rolled directly into the path of an approaching truck. He’d gotten out of the way in time; a spare tire on the side of the truck had brushed his back while he stared wide-eyed into space, expecting the impact that never came. His injuries, apart from the peeled skin on his back, were all from the fall, including the one under the chin where his face had struck the road. He remembered clearly what he’d said when he’d cried out loud just before the truck brushed past him. “Fuck Motherfucker!” He’d said it in Hindi, of course, and it struck him that he’d never thought about how, if he were to write about the experience, he would do so. Images of old Arnold Schwarzennegger film posters swam into his mind; he imagined one with Arnold’s huge face and a sawed off shotgun with “Fuck Motherfucker!” written on it in bright red fonts and underneath, in smaller, more fragile fonts, “(In Hindi)”.

He laughed out loud and they all stared at him. Second time it has happened today, he said to himself.

“Oh,” he said, “nothing, just remembered an old joke.”


“Isn’t it time we let the wine flow?”


She stuck around for a drink or two, making the odd comment, asking a bunch of questions, stemming the flow of their conversation. The other two waited patiently while Ashish answered her, explained to her the jokes and the references they contained; they walked over to the edge of the balcony and stared at the sweeping cityscape, and smoked. It was indeed a grand sight. Before long, however, she excused herself quietly and, as Kaushik put it in his interpretation of the British Accent, “retired to her chambers.”

“So how’s the novel coming along?” Ashish asked. It was the first time he’d shown any interest in the subject.

“Still some way to go,” Kaushik said, “meandering all over the place at the moment.”


“Yeah. I mean, there doesn’t seem to be any definite plot emerging.”

“From whatever I’ve read, it doesn’t have much hope for a plot, does it?” Ritankar asked.

“I guess not. We’re just a bunch of armchair losers after all.”

“Too many Sal Paradises. We need a Dean Moriarty at some point.” Ritankar mused, stumbling a few times over Moriarty.

“And a bit of yab-yum perhaps. I wouldn’t mind it certainly.” Ashish said.

Kaushik grinned, “At this point, I estimate we are miles away from either.”

“Damn. We really do need to get out of here.”


“Or the French Provence.”

“Yeah sure. After you buy your parents that house in Ahmedabad.”

“About three years.”

“Be married by then.”

“This isn’t helping.”

“Here, have some more wine.”

As the night wore, the city grew quieter. The sound of heavy tires on tar accompanied by the nasal buzz of automotive engines broke the stillness occasionally. In another setting, Kaushik thought, this could be the sound of insects. Honeybees, probably.

“When I am drunk,” Ritankar said and then exhaled deeply a couple of times, his head lulling to one side.

“’When’ was not required in that sentence, I’d say.” Kaushik quipped.

Ritankar ignored him.

“When I am drunk,” he resumed, “it seems to me my ears become more sensitive. Everything sounds louder. Clearer. The clink of glasses. Those trucks on the highway. Water leaking from that tap in your washroom.”

“Yes. Happens to me too.” Kaushik said.

“So for the hearing impaired…” Ashish began before he was cut short by Kaushik.

“Yes. I thought of that. Low hanging fruit.”

Ritankar looked at the two, a little lost.

“What the fuck are you guys talking about?” he said, exhaling thrice between the sentence.

“Oh don’t bother. We are drunk too.”

“How wonderful would it be,” Ashish said, “when we’d have nights as these ending in the arms of women we met at a café.”

“And in the mornings, when we’d wake up, to find them gone, leaving behind baked bread, jam, eggs and fruit juice on the table.”

“And on the next evening, to find them at the café again. Continue with them if we liked them or smile politely and leave with other women…”

“Lets play some music.” Ritankar interjected.

“Yeah sure. The Carla Bruni variety.”

“I don’t have the speakers set up in this apartment yet.”


When the sun rose, they were still there.

“Oh, there’s hills there! Nice and lush, too!” Ritankar pointed.

“Yes. That’s the Goregaon Film City area. The National Park’s somewhere in that region too, I believe.” Ashish said.

“We must go there sometime.”

“Yes, how about now?”

“No, not now,” Kaushik said, “I am totally not in the mood for walking jungles at the moment. I am hungry though.”

“We can go have some breakfast downstairs.”

“You know a place?”

“No. Haven’t explored too much yet,” Ashish said, “but we could start today.”

“Or,” Ritankar said, “we could go to Café Ideal!”

“But that’s more than an hour away!”

“Yes, so what?”

“Isn’t a bad idea, Ashish,” Kaushik said, “we can.”

“And then come back all this way?”

“We don’t need to. My place is closer.”

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Short Story - Words

The wind grew stronger. It howled its way into the gaps of shut windows and doors – a path otherwise monopolized by sunlight – but there wasn’t a sun this afternoon, or maybe there was, hidden behind the angry, dirty clouds, but from the ground, it was difficult to say. In the distance, thunder clapped, as did the errant tin roofs of makeshift shanties.

Inside the old, crumbling mill, where the air smelt of rotten moss and animal excreta and where nobody had entered for any definite purpose in years, apart for vagrants and stray dogs, the two men stood facing each other. One of them wore a gray woolen cap, through the sides of which, strands of silvery white hair crawled out. The other man had a gun in his hands.

“How was that then?” asked the man with the gun.

The man with the woolen cap and silvery white hair did not immediately respond.

“Sounded alright,” he said finally, “you always have had a way with dramatic imagery. Woolen cap - Gun in hand isn’t bad at all! Sums up our situation here, quite effectively. Those first few lines though – the shut windows and thunder claps and all that – that sounded to me like you’ve been reading, or maybe rereading, Cormac McCarthy lately.”

“That has nothing to do with what I wrote!” the man with the gun fumed, “you condescending bastard!”

“Ah! So I take it that you have indeed been reading McCarthy, yes?”


“You might as well have included some Spanish dialogue, while you were at it. Given me a sombrero to wear instead of the woolen cap, perhaps?”


“Repetition. You already used that just now.”

“I am glad I am going to kill you!”

“So it appears.”


“Oh come on.”

An old mill. Abandoned. Walls smeared with soot and piss on both sides. Doors and windows fallen away, leaving behind ugly, blank gashes. A good thing in this gale. The wind’s fiercest gusts dissipate through there, the path of least resistance, letting the crumbling walls hold fort against the rest. Dry leaves, bits of paper and plastic blow in through the gashes. A smell of stagnant water, rust and piss. Strangely, there aren’t any cobwebs. There were once floor tiles, or maybe just stone slabs, but they’ve been stolen away, exposing the soil underneath, on which, now resides ankle-high undergrowth. Two men. Out of place. Middle aged perhaps. Difficult to say in the gloom. It is raining outside. They are dry. They must have been inside for a long time. One points a gun at the other. The other has his hands in his overcoat. Perhaps he has a gun too.

“You have a gun!” the man with the gun in his hand exclaimed.

The other man chuckled.

“I might. I leave it to the readers’ imagination. Unlike your narratives. All wonderfully described, all close-ended. No helpful pointers for the reader to exercise a brain cell or two.”

“Piece of shit!”

“Good. You are improving! Marginally.”

“Anyway, who’s to decide who described this better. I think yours is shit too. All lame showy minimalism.”

“I’ll decide. I am the published author here, aren’t I?”


“You want me to repeat the entire Architect response to that from the Matrix film? I have it all memorized, you know.”

“You are just a pompous piece of shit!”

“And a published author.”

“And that’s why I am going to kill you.”

“You didn’t even win the bet!”

“I don’t give a damn. I believe mine was better. Besides, I have the gun.”

“I might have one too.”


“The rain’s stopped.”


“The rain’s stopped. The wind’s dropped. I can hear the sound of vehicles on the street again.”

“Why did you do it?”


“Why did you do it?”

“Do what?”

“You know what I am talking about, asshole! Why did you ask the publisher to reject my manuscript?”

“It wasn’t any good.”


“I didn’t like it.”

“You’ve never liked anything I’ve ever done.”

“I enjoyed your fifth grade essay on your brother very much.”

They smiled, both of them.

“You are such an asshole.” The man with the gun said.

“You shouldn’t lose hope.”

“As long as you are alive, I have no chance!”

“And after I die?”

“Oh! The world will mourn your death. They’ll all be shattered. And in all that nauseating sympathy and mush, I will quietly sneak in my book. Be quite poignant. Sell well, I believe.”

“I see. So you are going to exploit my name to peddle your sorry literature.”

“It isn’t sorry literature!”

“Who cares?”

“Yes, exactly. Who cares? It will be name on the book.”

“It is my name too.”

“Who cares?”

“Repetition. Again. Your lack of creativity appalls me.”

“Who cares?” This time, with a sly grin.

“Whatever happened to your self esteem?”

“What about it?”

“You want to use my name.”


“The man you hate most.”


“Ironic. Must be tough living with that knowledge. I am glad I am not in your position.”

“And I am glad I am not in yours. At least I will be living for a while yet.”

“And then? When the euphoria of the first work fades away? The remaining years wallowing in self pity?”

“I’ll publish more. Grow out of your shadow.”

“My shadow. Yes, precisely.”


“I predict you’ll commit suicide before another decade is out.”

“We’ll see.”

“I had such a great obituary in mind for you.”


“No. Serious. I’ve spent years perfecting it. In my head, of course.”

The man with the gun, momentarily unsure, looked down at his trouser pocket while he fumbled inside for a cigarette with his hands, then all at once realized his error and jerked the gun into position again. The other man had made no attempt to move.

“Don’t fuck with me now!” he said.

“I am not.” The other man responded.

“Then what’s this about an obituary? What’s that got to do with any of this?”

“Oh nothing. Just a thought.”

“Tell me.”


“Fucking tell me or I’ll kill you right now.”

“I believe that’s what you intend to do anyway!”

“Tell me!”

“Nothing, really. I was just thinking, is all.”

“Go on.”

“I mean, this manuscript of yours, it isn’t that bad after all.”


“In fact, I think it might actually fly. Become a classic even, given the correct circumstances.”


“Yes. A legend around it. Like, maybe, a posthumous publication, you know. A premature end to what could’ve been a great career.”


“Yes. It always works out that way. Look at James Dean. There are those who think there wasn’t a greater actor. And yet, he did only three films. If he’d done more, who knows?”

“Stuff your movie references!”

“I was only saying.”

“Saying what?”

“Saying, if only you were to die, and this manuscript was to be published afterward, it could bring the glory you always wished for.”

“What about the obituary! This started with an obituary! Don’t fuck with me man! Don’t you dare fuck with me!”

“Ah yes, the obituary. Be honest with yourself. Who else but me could write a better obituary for you?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Yes. So that’s what I was thinking. A tragic death. The publication of a masterpiece. The obituary as a catalyst. A great deal of dignity in that, no?”

“There is a cat meowing somewhere.”

“In Japanese myth…”

“Shut up! I know.”

“Are you crying?”

“No I am not! I don’t know.”

“What are you crying for, you idiot!”

“Shut up bastard!”

“Oh come on, you’re the one with the gun!”

“You might have one too.”