Monday, February 27, 2012

The Journey Home: The Day of Demolishing

The seasons are changing, as evidenced by the falling leaves outside the door of the house I sit in, across the street from my burnt house. I have been so afraid that the past season would refuse to budge, that I would be stuck in a downward spiral of catch-22's, of hopeless self recriminations and endless "what if"s and "if only"s. However, I am reassured that that is not so: that the earth turns, and finally, at last, the truck is parked at my burnt house; it is being demolished, with a promise of a sparkling new house in its place. The vague "they," the promised people who would work on my house to heal it, finally have faces.

Of course, this has spooked the poor grey cat who was beginning to get used to the settled soot and ashes, among the debris. Her safe house is yet again invaded by strangers and noise. I do not have the language to reassure her, and she glares uncomprehendingly at the lack of any alarm as I talk to the noise-making strangers wielding hammers and masks.

Some of my village people shake their heads at my inexplicable joy at seeing my house being brought down. They know what is to come: unimaginable bureaucracy, onerous, meaningless, repititive, defeating. They tell me that I have no idea that what lies ahead is going to be much worse, much more taxing that what is past, that this journey is not going to be smooth sailing, now that work has started; it is but the beginning.

I think of Odysseus sitting at the edge of Calypso's island in the light of the setting sun, looking out to the sea, towards where he imagines Ithaca awaits. I know that he is farther from home than he thinks, that the Universe has decreed that he has miles to go before he is allowed sleep in the bed he dreams of constantly, the one he carved out of live trees. I think of Odysseus taking stock of his assets (the arguments he would use to persuade Calypso into letting him go), arranging them, sharpening his position and pleas. I wonder if his planning is marred by all that he has lost. I wonder if he will ever find the promised, reviving sleep when he reaches his bed. I remember that his trials by no means end when he reaches home: he has to convince his home to accept him again.

I think of Rama in the Dandaka Forest, sitting on the steps of the rude cottage carved out of wilderness, contemplating the moon since it reminds him of his family, the dynasty he belongs to. He deliberately avoids looking towards Ayodhya, for fear that his brothers and mothers would sense it and miss him more acutely. He is homesick and sighs his longing, but he has no idea how much farther he shall have to go, of the monstrous unknown of his lurking destiny, which awaits for him like a demon in the darkness. He knows his home awaits him with bated breath, that it, too, will not exhale until he is gathered to its bosom. I wonder if he senses the unreasonable, unimaginable demands this home will make of him.

The moon shines very brightly tonight, so brightly that sleep seems improbable, not made for a night like this. It shines right through my burnt house, which has no walls, so one can walk from west to east in the moonlight. In fact, I can see right through the house, to the street on its other side.

I wonder at the joy I had felt earlier today, when I saw the men with hammers crashing down the blackened walls, ripping off the plywood from holes in the concrete where doors and windows used to be. How could I have felt this way while my house was being demolished? But then, I remember. The house did not look as insubstantial in the day light as it does now. As I wonder at it from across the street in the light of a sickle moon, it looks like somebody's left-over dream, transparent like a grocery store bag, a hollowed husk that will blow away in the night breeze, which will melt in the morning sun.

Tonight, I shall call the grey cat out, tempt  her with treats, so she will emerge from the shadows and run towards the little front door light, the lamps of her eyes dancing bulbs, reminding me that I have not lived the house alone. I am hopeful, tonight, that my rose bush, buried as it has been these past months under debris and ashes, shall revive: I hang my hopes on a branch sporting green thorns and leaves on an otherwise browned, drooping trunk. Tonight, I shall wend my way through the epics and borrow their hope, that the sun and the moon shall guide the path of this journey.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Laxman's Everywoman

I have Laxman's Common Man on my mind. Ever since my house burned and I have been smashing my head against a variety of Systems, I have a recognized his face in my mirrors, with my pointless umbrella that cannot shelter and my incurable myopia that the desperate glasses perched on my nose fail to fix.

It has been more than 15 weeks since my house burned, and I have been given the roundabout twice as many times, and no end in sight. I am a common person, and as a common person, am never allowed to forget how little I account for.

The mortgage company, no matter how many times I try to reason with it, reiterates that since there is no house, it cannot address or acknowledge the desperation of my situation: the computer won't recognize it and the System has no gears for such an uncommon state of the common mortgagee. The City tells me that ultimately, the burnt, uninhabitable hole in this verdant, organized town continues to be my house and expresses amazement at my willingness to drag my feet in fixing it: most uncommon response in its estimation of the responsible, common citizen.

The Association, wherein lie most of my hopes of my house's healing, made up, as it is, of common men, has transformed into yet another System devised to deflate the incurably hopeful. It has shown me documented hours spent on discussion of my Situation, of revisions of Plans, of Decisions taken, but all to no avail. Days have turned to weeks, and my queries about an estimation of when the work is to begin (which, I have been repeatedly assured, is Imminent) has joined the junk pile of never-to-be-answered emails.

My neighbors, the truly patient people, bring me little nuggets of hope: they saw a truck and could be almost sure that it was supposed to come to my place; men who looked like they knew were seen measuring and making notes; two uncommon people had a tape measure when they opened my door and disappeared from view. They too, of late, have begun avoiding my ever-questioning gaze, and shake their heads, claiming their Common Man status and its attendant cluelessnesses and helplessnesses. We find boxes of donuts, little encouragement notes, and cat treats from them, and I am conscious of the silent solidarity of my ilk.

All through my growing years, I remember R. K. Laxman's Common Man cartoons in the Times of India we used to get delivered, back when people still read newspapers as a matter of course. I now wonder what the Common Woman would look like, if Laxman were to sketch her. Would she wear that vertical wrinkle in the middle of her forehead (dislocating her bindi)? Would the upturned U of her mouth resign itself to squatting on her her chin? Would her eye sight dim with searching and scrolling through the vast Web for a dusty gear forgotten by the System? Would her hair be thinned and frazzled with desperate, impotent worry? I have placed a rolling pin in her hand, to match the Common Man's umbrella, a weapon as pointless as his.

The rains have started and the ground has thrown up its insects. I avoid going near the backyard of my burnt house, as it stinks of strange smells and has a constant cloud of little gnats. As I sit here in the not-mine place and consider my house from across the street, I wonder if I will ever forget that I lived there for so long, if it will ever heal, how long I can cling to this precipice, if I will be soon persuaded to abandon the place I'd bought and made my own, if I can ever heal with this burnt, gaping, raw hole in the center of who I am, if I am even capable of abandoning.

After all, what new beginning can empower the Common Man? He is destined to trudge along the same dusty, weary roads that run among the many Systems that control them. I better put on my bi-focal glasses, and armed with a broken umbrella and an old rolling pin, begin to scour and trample the old long road on whose side I had rested awhile to write this post.