Sunday, November 30, 2008

Back, At Last, For Good

Yes, I finally have a laptop. And no, it’s not pink in colour. After nearly three months of patient waiting and almost-total lack of blogging, I now have the gates open again to the world I actually inhabit.

I haven’t done much exploring since I last wrote, and there isn’t really much to talk of in terms of experience and novelty. However, I have had the opportunity to do some interesting reading, have a few intriguing conversations and learn a little more about living on my own.
When you are in Singapore and decide to go exploring, you invariably end up in a shopping mall. Naturally, when you see swanky buildings all around, some architecture that leaves you marvelled at the ingenuity of the human brain, dazzling lights that entice and enchant, you cannot help but be drawn to the glitz and the splendour, no matter how much you admire simplicity and plainness.

So it was that, on a couple of occasions, I ended up in shopping malls, riding up and down the escalators, getting lost in the milling crowds of diverse humanity. The variety is flabbergasting- and yet, sometimes, when you are not quite in the mood for it, there might be a tinge of sameness and boredom to it all- the same shops selling the same stuff in different avatars.
At night, I look out of the huge glass windows at the rows of lights on the streets, glittering out of the windows of the box-like houses, made distinct only by the people that inhabit them. An unnaturally voyeuristic desire to peep into those windows creeps up; what are the lives of these people like, how have they decorated their houses, what kind of food do they eat, what are their dreams and aspirations like? In the end, I come to the conclusion that perhaps there isn’t much to separate one house from another, after all. Sameness. All over again. Monotonous in one way, reassuring in another, especially when you are in a foreign country.

The library has been one constant factor, one pillar of support, so to speak. It never allows me to lapse into self-pitying bouts of homesickness. There is always comfort to be sought from long, hard days (or nights, because I work in shifts) in books of various kinds. Literature, religion, and a little bit of contemporary fiction- that has been my reading over the past couple of months, and I’m really trying to go beyond the boundaries that I seem to have unconsciously set for myself.
So many of my thoughts have lain dormant, haven’t found an outlet and died away unspoken. Not that they were spectacular or would have changed the world; still, it always feels good to let some of your weirder thoughts come out in the open, see how people react to them.

At this point, I don’t have a clue as to what I’m writing. These weeks of literary inactivity will take their toll, extract their pound of flesh, no matter how much I might have composed in my head. Revenge from what you love best.

I have Celtic music playing in the background. Haunting, soft, and transporting me to the Highlands. I can almost see the long-haired man in his kilt, standing high up on a cliff, his maiden hanging on to his arm, leaning on his strength, both looking out on a clear lake, feeling the power of nature and of love. What visions good music can conjure up! Celtic tunes have the most magical names- sample this: Solitude, Soft Day, Celtic Dreams, Eventide, Morning Rain, Halcyon Memories, Reverie, Ciara’s Tune…I have found some good Celtic music here in Singapore- an interest that will hopefully develop and bring with it knowledge and travel.

Those moments of disillusionment still persist- am I really in a different country? Is life really galloping by at such a pace, have I already been here for nearly three months? At times, it seems like a really short period of time to account for some of the long, arduous days that have gone by; at others, it is incredible to think I’ve been abroad for three months already. Abroad. I. Who grew up mostly in small towns, enjoying the sequestered comfort of anonymity and home. Setting up my own niche in an alien country, liking it and enjoying the feeling of getting lost among strangers.

Oh, I could go on writing tonight. All the lovely stories I’ve read want to tumble and slip over one another, beautiful scenes come to mind- is it the music, or is it just me? The excitement is not palpable, yet it bubbles and simmers underneath, quietly rising to the surface, tempered, though, by some inexplicable, unknown element. What this element is, I cannot quite figure out. I’m not even trying to. There is no harm in being quietly controlled in terms of emotions. I have not known myself to be overly gregarious in the past few years.

Christmas is around the corner. A month away? Sure it is; but the shopping malls here tell a different story. Look at the lights, the brightly decorated Christmas trees in every possible nook, the shoppers (not quite symptomatic of a festival in Singapore, maybe, because shopping seems to be the express purpose why people come here in the first place), the quantities of wonderful things to see and buy- makes it seem like there is no poverty in the world, like it is always full of Christmas cheer, that the smiling salesperson by the display of toys has not a care on his mind. Somewhere in the distance, a baritone rings out, exulting in the arrival of Christmas. However, I wonder if the excitement wouldn’t pall in a little while; if this early anticipation of fun and goodies is not taking away a bit of the spirituality that ought to be associated with the occasion. I don’t mean that zealots should take over the world and preach doctrines to everybody that goes by. However, there does seem to be something rather commercial and artificial about all that is being associated with Christmas. The real purpose seems to be buying and selling, intentional or not. That said, I cannot help confessing that wandering through the aisles of gift shops, I felt the urge to buy uninhibitedly and give away- only, here, there is nobody to give to.

It is maddening that I cannot connect to the Internet yet, and shall have to wait another day, perhaps more, before I can update my blog and connect to the world that is really mine. Along with the books now, there is going to be something more to look forward to. Life, as I always say (barring in moments of extreme pessimism), is indeed beautiful.

PS: This was typed out yesterday, when I was yearning to blog and couldn't connect to the Internet. Happily enough, the wireless problems have been sorted out, and I don't think I shall sleep tonight, because I have reconnected with the world I've been missing for so long.

Monday, November 03, 2008

An Unlikely Backpacker

And what do you know? If conditions are conducive enough, if the gods are kind, if the heart rules over the head and impulses take control too quickly for resistance, wonders happen. For instance, my walking up and down the streets of Singapore all alone, exploring, feeling like a tourist and enjoying it, stumbling upon interesting sights and sounds- this is a wonder, if you know me. Back home in India, I was never fond of venturing out of home. Now, however, I crave for opportunities to set out like a backpacker, pretending to be a backpacker and sniffing out all the nooks and crannies that attract people to this big city, or little country, however you choose to look at it.

It was this impulse that prevailed over the sterner stirrings of common sense Saturday afternoon, and led me to achieve what weeks of planning could not- a trip through Chinatown.

On my way home from the library, armed with four books, my reading supply for the next three weeks, I made the sudden decision to go to Chinatown. Knowing full well that my head was fighting a last-minute, losing battle with my heart, I stepped off the train at Chinatown station, and thus began my adventure. For I did not know where I wanted to go, which exit to take. I headed for the locality map and studied the names of the places around the station. The hotels and the law courts certainly did not appeal to me; Temple Street, Pagoda Street and Culture Street, though, had a definite touristy ring to them. Besides, these seemed like the areas most likely to house a monastery (let me explain here that visiting a monastery has been one of my cherised dreams ever since I set foot in Singapore).

So off I went through Exit A, stepping right into the narrow aisles of shops selling jewellery, souvenirs, clothes and watches, keeping the sun away with their roofs drawing close together. Behind these stalls are numerous restaurants and shops selling antiques and Chinese medicine. The upper storey of each building is old-fashioned and quaint, with wooden windows painted blue, green and yellow, one facade adorned with red elliptical objects. One of these shops, though some inexplicable incongruity in the middle of a Chinese settlement, is home to a Cuban cigar enterprise. Maybe I shouldn't be too surprised at it, after all, for this area is a confluence of nationalities, settlers and tourists, where Austrian bread and German sausages ( are sold beside Chinese incense. No Chinese music here, though; I hear Dancing Queen at one stall, Ronan Keating at the next. Any Chinese pop seems like an aberration.

I decided to leave the shopping for later and just walk through the streets. There is something simple, timeless and charming about these old streets and the antiquated architecture, making an old-fashioned heart feel fiercely protective of them. Looking upwards, you see the quaint buildings juxtaposed against soaring, ambitious skyscrapers; this, a quiet little world much removed from today, thriving and flourishing, inviting people to experience what was, once upon a time. You feel a sympathy for it, as it stands there gracefully like some of the less fortunate elderly, making a mute appeal not to be misunderstood and shunted out in the wake of younger, sprightlier settlements. How I felt the contrast, coming away from the starting, sputtering fountains of Bugis Junction, the splendid facade of the Intercontinental, the designer boutiques where people spend till siezed by guilt, the cool dim comfort of the library.

(The Unlikely Backpacker's exploring will continue into the next post, as the real thing is yet to come, and requires quite a bit of detailing and patience- the monastery, the story behind the Street of the Dead, and any other exploring that I might manage to squeeze in before my next post.)

Just Another Day

Before I set out to write what I really mean to, I must mention that the day has begun on a rather disappointing note. Felipe Massa losing the title to Lewis Hamilton by just one point, and that too through a freakish, improbable incident, is not very good news for someone who has admired the little Brazilian since his Sauber days. Oh well, there is always another season to come. At the moment, I am terribly glad I don't live in England, for it would be difficult to live with the deifying that the British media are probably already giving Hamilton.

Now, for a few days, I shall probably be writing my posts down on paper at home and then typing them out when I manage to find a computer. I have realised I am not good at writing out of my head in full public glare, thanks to all the mistakes I can think of in my last post. (No, don't try to go back there and nitpick- I have smoothed out most of the glaring ones.)

Sunday - 2 November, 2008

Flashes of lightning streak the folds of ghostly white cloud that shrouds large swathes of the smooth midnight sky; blazes of gold and silver, sinister and unearthly, a momentary grimace before the sky lapses back into its deceptive peace, broken intermittently by the blip of an aeroplane.

The television blares in the hall and I shut myself up in the bedroom I share with another girl. When six girls share an apartment, moments of absolute privacy are hard to come by, and yet, there is no intrusion or interference, which is almost as good.

Unfinished stories, hopeful dreams and fantasies continue to take shape in my head, little shoots seeking nourishment in soil more fertile than the kind they are currently planted in. They want to break out and become real.

The beautiful, ethereal sunsets still enchant me, swirls of clouds in amazing patterns, a different one everyday, lit up by the fading rays of the dipping sun- such beauty in parting! The most incomprehensible shades of rose, amber, gold and violet are spilt from the palette of the sky and splashed across folds of blue canvas every evening, never failing to surprise and stupefy with their glory and sheer loveliness. This, interrupted by spells of sudden, unexpected rain- the weather is one thing I really shan't complain about.

I find myself alone at home at times, and I cherish these few, rare hours of absolute freedom and privacy. I write, read, make disastrous, not-to-be-spoken-0f-secret-like-the-dead attempts at cooking. I always thought I liked small, cosy houses- I realise this house isn't too big for one person, after all. With so much space at your disposal, you can assert yourself and tailor niches to cater to each different mood, let the house exude your personality. I see the first unhealthy stirrings of materialistic ambition here- for I would love to have an apartment of my own someday, stacked from ceiling to floor with books, looking out at mountains and the sea, colour, fire and sobriety all packed into a bit of space all my own.

Oh, by the way, did I mention I am also discovering Enid Blyton's food here? While no Indian living in England has yet given me a satisfactory description of an English tea, I think I have made reasonably decent progress here, having discovered chocolate and blueberry muffins and gingerbeer. There is much else I could discover, but for my vegetarian preferences, which I guard fiercely.

And so life goes on, with unanticipated surprises at every turn, new realisations, adventures and experiences.