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Life, Death And Everything Else

12/08/2015 8:01 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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It rained in Mahim on the July 30, 2015. The ubiquitous Chacha -- the kind that calls you Beta and uses chaste Persian words like Parvardigar (god) -- who sells cigarettes outside our office, put the shutters up on his shop that day. My go-to tender-coconut-vendor let me in, on a major truth: tender-coconuts sourced from Mangalore taste better than those sourced from Goa. I saw some kids burst a helium balloon and another bunch laugh hysterically. And yes, this was the day that Yakub Memon was hanged for his role in the bomb blasts of 1993.

Memon's house was not too far away from where I was standing. And yet, I was drawn not to the event itself, but to the details that would have constituted its back-story.

"Any tragic event or simply an important one often invokes in me an attempt to piece together all the tiny connecting tissues."

If Tiger Memon had lived in Mahim, where exactly in the neighbourhood did he come up with his plan for retribution? An Iranian coffee shop? No Iranian coffee shop -- even the ones you frequent regularly -- would let you simply sit there, brooding. He must have ordered something. Maska-pav and chai? Not sure. I looked around for linkages. A disembowelled place called "Rupali Matching Centre" with a clumsily hung name-board fit the description of a silent chronicler. I am sure Memon would have passed by that shop, some time.

Any tragic event or simply an important one often invokes in me an attempt to piece together all the tiny connecting tissues. "You are too obsessed with nuances," a person I once considered my friend, said. Not really. I just tend to remember the finer details of a major event; sometimes more intensely than the ripples that the event itself created.

On Mach 12 1993 for instance, my Dad took the 9-year-old me to a cycle-repair shop and suggested to the puncture-expert that he should consider replacing the tube of my bicycle tyre instead of sticking black-tapes to it every now and then. I remember distinctly that Doordarshan had played Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi and 'Golmaal back-to-back, to soften the moroseness that had taken over the city. Years later, I realised, they called that kind of thing a "double feature".

I remember Andre Agassi going down on his knees at Wimbledon the year before, even as the entire world rooted for a thin-as-a-wire Goran Ivanasevic. I remember also my colony kids telling me why: Agassi with his bohemian hairdo and ear-rings was too "obviously cool" as compared to Ivanasevic who was more like a "Genius Underachiever". This was also around the time that Mumbaikars hung around their terraces adjusting TV antennas (Baba Sehgal was big back then) and rickshaw-drivers had music "decks" that still played 'Aashiqui'. I vaguely remember people saying the term "privatisation".

Nostalgia, when summoned in the context of an epoch-making event, works like a charm.

Sukumara Kurup. Easily Kerala's most-elusive criminal, Kurup had in 1984 strangled to death and burnt the body of a film-representative named Chacko, in his car. The plan was to pass this off as a case of car accident and claim motor insurance in return. Chacko was returning from a late-night show when he was intercepted by Kurup and given a lift in his Ambassador. I can't measure the countless hours I have spent on the internet trying to find out which movie, Chacko had seen on that fateful night.

For a while I thought my weird fixation with peripheral details was limited only to catastrophes. However, spates of fresh self-analysis have revealed a wider prism through which this fascination plays out.

One of my favourite stories about Pather Panchali is Satyajit Ray waking up to the sight of an owl, staring at him through the window. This happened after Ray had to abort shooting the film due to lack of financing. A staring owl according to popular Bengali myth represents good luck. Legend has it that the state government offered Ray financial help to resume shooting on the very day that he had this break-of-the-dawn experience. The staring owl, the window and Ray's possible rubbing of his eyes are to me as important iconographies of Pather Panchali as everything else.

Memories, I am sure, are recreated and not relived. They need not be authentic and it's this complete subjectivity that lends them such "photographic vividness".

"Memories, I am sure, are recreated and not relived. They need not be authentic and it's this complete subjectivity that lends them such 'photographic vividness'."

A friend of mine once told me how he remembers the day his grandfather died: they had the body in the front room with the sound of the ceiling fan merging with post-death chants, the crying of elders and children who cried watching the elders cry. My friend was too overwhelmed by the visual-aural sombreness. So he walked away from the scene and into his grandfather's room, picked up a beedi from his grandfather's half-used pack, lit the beedi and leant back on his grandfather's armchair, puffing away.

All artists who're dubbed "inventive" are invariably those who walk this terrain of "finer details" with grace. Before Tarantino made digressing into minutiae hip, Seinfeld had in its own way brought this style to the fore. And ages before Seinfeld, French new wave directors like Godard had based an entire film-movement around it.

2.55 pm.

Papers fall off a desk adjacent to me and a fella slips and falls down in pursuit. A tomcat struts through the office, surveying the room. Everyone here regards the cat as family. Someone tells me that the cat was brought here eight years ago, and after he hit puberty, had started scratching people. Consequently, he had to be castrated.

As I finish with this piece, I realise that the papers, the falling fella and the castrated cat have all become a part of the narrative. Not just elements, but things in themselves. Things I'll remember perhaps, for as long as I remember this piece.

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