The Mexican Paratha

Dated: Late January, Early February, 2017. (Yes. I am slow.)
I happened to be typing Mexican and google suggested “Mexican Paratha”. Google knows me! 🙂

This is about a work-trip from February this year. I haven’t got much to say; why have I written this piece then? Because the poems (from the trip) need some context and what better than my travels?

I spent about a week in Los Angeles narrowly avoiding the frenzy following the ‘Muslim’ travel ban; yet due to some hesitation (and tiredness) I had to go through an extra round of questioning. I reached my Airbnb home and went through a bit of a harrowing experience getting into the Airbnb apartment only to have my host reported against. My host was an Indian muslim.

I often see hard lines between the outsiders and the locals. Votes need enthusiasm, enthusiasm requires polarisation, polarisation needs incitement and incitement needs enemies and who better than an outsider? This is an age old political ploy which refuses to die. I used to think my city, Kolkata was different but suddenly I have felt the tides turning against me. I no longer feel welcome. (https://scroll.in/article/768248/in-bengal-why-is-kali-pujo-being-wrapped-under-the-banner-of-diwali)

A Home It Must Have Been

Broken ledges and a grey façade,
Long had the colours faded,
The tree with the twirling yellow flowers
And the bitter fruit
Which one must not eat
For the poison it carries.
The verandah for cats on a winter afternoon,
And paper boats during the rains,
The narrow alleyways
Where the sound of wood reverberated with the shouts of joy and despair
While the glass lay shattered on the floor.
The friendly store from that other street
Had all that one may need.

Oblivious, a child whiled away hours
Looking intently for the glimpse of the hummingbirds
As the bauls passed by
Singing some distant song
(That) he wished (that) he could understand.

This ain’t your home or so you say.

The house still lays as grey as it had been,
A few more ledges have broken down since,
The cats laze around while the crows caw,
But the friendly store from the other street
Lies in tatters
And no wood sounds in excitement anymore.

Not all is the same
And not all has changed.
Still,
Every gust of wind brings forth a memory
Every drop of rain enlivens a forgotten dream
And yet you say
That I do not belong.

You may be able to explain this to me;
It is possible that I may understand.
But will he understand,
That little child
Who is still swimming in the depth of the baul’s song
As alien to the land now
As the land considers him to be.

Although I have much to say about this, I will stop here and wait for another day.

I was too busy to roam around Los Angeles. Although I did try to take a few nights off; the traffic often destroyed my well-laid plans. Thanks to my brother Vedant for showing me around a bit and Laura for some excellent suggestions it wasn’t a complete waste but yes the Santa Monica beach needs more definitive time. One of the best attractions for me would have been the theatre and music scene in the city but this I just couldn’t attend to. Of the few joys I could attend to, my diary speaks (watch La La Land):

City of Stars

Long lost is the brightness of the day
And the hills that I have climbed
Feel only in the pain of my thighs.

I am tired.

Yet,
Rather than falling to the ground
I choose to float
For where else will I find
Such a dazzling of stars
Close by and far
Reflecting across the infinities.

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The picture was taken atop Griffith Observatory. Traveller’s tip: The Hollywood sign is not lit up for the night.

Another something which  caught my eye was at the UCLA mathematics department (thanks Nivedita Bhaskhar for the picture).IMG_20170227_164658869

Yes! That is an eye at the end of the corridor. When I was standing close to it, I could not figure out what the picture was about. It was only when I went further way, the dots which seemed random up close came together to form the eye. Doesn’t this embody abstract thought? While details can often seem scattered, overwhelming and misleading the bigger picture can string together these sparse pieces into a simple, beautiful and illuminating theory. I felt inspired. Despite my initial self-doubts the visit was professionally successful. The city needs a more wholesome visit again.

From here I flew to Mexico city and took a bus to Queretaro arriving somewhat late in the night. This was my second visit to the city. Last time, I had zipped forward to Peña de Bernal; this time I wanted to zip forward to the old city San Miguel de Allende. Alas, it wasn’t to be. The taxi that I wanted to take to the bus station decided to take me for a ride. I noticed this way too late and started to make a lot of noise. He dropped me in the middle of the highway from where I walked back to the city centre. It was too late to go to San Miguel.

“है अँधेरी रात पर दिवा जलाना कब मना है?” (The night may be dark but who has stopped you from lighting candles.) Keeping Harivansh Rai Bachchan in mind, I decided to make do with what I have and roamed around Queretaro. A visit to an excellent restaurant (Tacos el Pata) nearby made me extremely emotional:

 

I write:

Una Phulka Grande

Golden grains ground to flour
Neither too fine
Nor too coarse,
Gathered in a bowl not too large
And teased with water drops.

Slowly knead to a ball of dough
Softer than the dusk’s afterglow
And smoother than an eagle’s glide,
Ready to be round up into smaller balls
Each, more or less
Of the same size.

Able palms do pick them up
And roll them in flour lest they stick,
Flattening them into circular discs
Neither too thin
Nor too thick.

Now they can be laid on a hot tawa
And when small bubbles do arise
Flip and cook them on the other side.
Flip it one more time
And rest it on an iron mesh
Here comes the real test:
If all has gone well
The smaller bubbles will coalesce
And the hearts begin to brim with pleasure
As the phulkas blow up to become much bigger.

Now they can be taken off the heat
And two finger can tear apart
Pieces which can support
Many a delectable tastes.
Life would be so bland
If it weren’t for my phulka grande.

Ah! The joys of good food.

It was the Día de la Constitución in Mexico (or the Constitution day); a hundred years ago the Mexican constitution had been approved in Queretaro. Hence the president of Mexico had decided to drop by for a visit; this brought together people of all kind. There were long rallies and protest due to a sudden rise in the fuel prices (and hence inflation). 

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Mao, Stalin, Lenin and Marx went to a bar…

Security was tight. As I went closer to the venue I met more people who were less pissed and more excited about catching a glimpse of the president. “Bloody communists!” someone said after I asked him about the protests. One gets such a different picture depending on the way he looks.

One of the high points of the city for me was not the food, the protests or the fancy buildings, it was walking around. It was the weekend and the streets were full of life. The entire city comes out to throng the narrow lanes, vendors were selling wares and food, street performers were trying to dare and impress while musicians serenaded; the atmosphere was festive. As the evening fell, the city squares saw men and women of all ages break into couples and fall into embrace as they danced to the sweet violin.

The city by itself was very pretty I must say.

From here I made my way to St. Louis Potosi a small town a couple of hours away. The journey was eventless except for the passing of the languid desert landscape dotted by cactii and shrubs and a many unnamed bus-stops often empty except when they were not.

Solitary on a Lonely Bus Stop

I saw a solitary man
At a bus stop
On my way to St. Louis Potosi
And far-far away
All I could see
Was an ocean of sand
Dotted by cacti.

Where was he going?
Where had he been?

I thought to myself,
Perhaps he was a swindler
Waiting for his next victim
To pick him up,
Or possibly he had been
On a bus only to realise
That his destination had changed,
Or maybe close by
He had some treasure found
Or better still
Adventures across the desert abound.

But I saw no lingering of hope
Or the tumult of joy
His eyes wandered
But his mind seemed still.
Suddenly my eyes played traunt
And I saw
With the constant sifting of sand
And company
Him at peace with eternity.

Mexican towns are full of character and St. Louis Potosi was no different. But in this town the attraction was lesser the city but more my hosts, my dear friends Felipe and Marcela. The days were spent chatting, relaxing and sometimes trying to do work (the latter we were less successful with). Extravagant dinners coupled with Indian (I cooked) and Mexican delicacies dotted my days. Cactus, Rompope (a wonderful sweet drink), grasshoppers and various kinds of mole (calling it a sauce would be a transgression; it is prepared with chocolates and a large variety of  spices. I have plenty if you want to try it) filled me up completely; not to forget the various street stalls which only a local would know.

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Evening sets in at the Plaza de Armas and sets fire to the beautiful buildings of the city.

 

The city was a crisscross narrow lanes with low-lying buildings. There was thus not much place to park. Hence

We went for small trips in and around the city. One such trip was to a dam nearby. It was beautiful and all that but the cherry on the top wasIMG_20170206_151445961

There was a gentle slope and a few plastic crates; the kids and adults went crazy. Some slid sitting in the crate, others head first, some would climb on top of one another and some would run half the way to get some extra pace. On the ground stood people like bowling pins waiting to be bowled over. Simple as it may sound it was one of the best parts of the trip!

Marcela’s niece had a small accident; after treating her my friends made sure to allay her fears and took her for another sliding trip. Fear is a strange being. My propensity of being fearful is well known and I can’t expound it enough. It is only recently that I have started facing them; reluctantly though (https://nishantchandgotia.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/the-chicken/). There were many times on this trip (and in the recent past) that I have gotten to face fear and hence I recently wrote:

Fear

O fear! O fear!
You are a dear friend
And though it may so seem
I do not despise you.

There have been times when I was angry;
You must understand
That we have our differences:

Do you remember those nights
When you ran shivers down my spine
And kept me awake
Clenching my didi’s hand.
Oh! That reprimand!
Or when you froze my legs
On that hot summer’s day
 At the side of the swimming pool
And the following ridicule!
You surely do remember
The many times
You have buckled me under my knees
And those pretty ladies
I couldn’t dance with
Because you thought
That I was too weak.

It is possible that you were right
But you should have let me try
At least.

I complain
But please do not leave my side.
For I have suffered so many times
Alone on a mountain under snow and ice,
Struggling for breath under the rising tide
Stifled by the smell of urine and blood
Lying on the sidewalk
Flayed by rocks
With a broken wrist
And in a daze
Whenever we have parted ways.

The gift of caution is precious
And hence I proclaim
I am no longer ashamed.

Fear! Oh Fear!
Keep protecting me
For life holds many pitfalls
That you notice
Which I may never be able to see.

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This picture signifies a sort of national sensation in Mexico. Felipe and Marcela took to a close by region called La Huasteca (a well-forested and watered region, read my lips GREEN; such a relief coming from Israel). The region with many beautiful pools, caves and waterfalls and what one may do with a rope?

This was close to Puenta de Dios which had wonderful underwater caves: beautiful shimmering turquoise water reflecting on the limestone and stalactites. Sadly for the fear of my camera (https://nishantchandgotia.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/cameras-dont-float/) I did not take it in.

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We got to the caves by swimming in the pool below; this picture hardly does any justice to the region. By the way people (including Marcela) were jumping  in from all sorts of heights around the pool. I stayed put and decided not to show off my diving skills.

 

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Phool khile hain gulshan gulshan…
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Marcela taking a break from diving from heights and posing in front of a waterfall

We roamed around close by areas breathing in the green and the beautiful. Alas! That was that and it was time to head back (to Israel).

I do get over my fears eventually it seems (though awkwardly most of the time).

While my family members and friends are extremely intrigued with this kaya palat (change), my sister notes the expression on my face and remarks “Nothing has changed.” I shake my head and accede (though unwillingly). I hope nothing ever will.

On my long bus journey back from San Louis Potosi to Mexico (city) I thought to myself that usually I take off at least some time and travel alone. I love travelling on my own but in this trip I sort of realised that travelling with a couple of friends can also be pleasant. In a very cliched way, if I consider life as a journey I am not sure what I prefer; I value my freedom and solitude very much but at the same time I wonder what it is like on the other side. Curiosity, peer pressure, societal pressure, I am not sure what it is but who cares? Nothing changes anyways; I have a feeling that I don’t want anything to change either. The undercurrent of my emotions on the other hand betray my words. Or do they? I don’t know.

Lost Love

I have written so many odes,
Mesmerised
By the hum of the lost tune,
The tangles of the flowing hair
And the evenings of incessant silence.
Yes!
There are many voices which return
But they return as mere echoes.
Echoes:
Those hollow words and empty sounds.

My love floats out as a bubble,
Innocent and fragile
Resting on the whims of the wind
And the perils of touch.
I wonder why
I still hope
That maybe it shall traverse all its troubles
And reach her someday;
Maybe then
In her reflection she shall find
That I am still entangled
In the web of her flowing hair.