Singapore: A walk down memory lane

As I stretched myself or rather parts of me out of the window to get a better view of the surrounding outside, I ended up with my body hanging oddly on either sides of the window and my abdomen on the window-sill of the NUS hostel room. While I was staring right downwards towards the ground, the rain suddenly started. It caught me unawared, unprepared.

I have been a mover throughout my life. The list of cities of which I have been an inhabitant is pretty long–Bhuj, Chandigarh, Tezpur, Gwalior, Bokaro Steel City, Mohanpur/Kolkata, Ghaziabad/Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and now Singapore. (Yes, I know Singapore is not a city, it’s a nation. But it doesn’t feel like one.) These places offered distinct aroma as I passed by them at different points in my life, and they influenced me variedly. Each one of them had its own unique character. But somehow they all seem to unite when it rains. As if the rain washes down all the peripherals–location, language, buildings, trees and birds around. And each one of them, I have found, stands naked.

During my stay in Singapore, countless times I was asked, “How is Singapore? Do you like it?” In response, I usually just mumbled some words.

The very first glimpse of Singapore I got was when I peered through the airplane window. It must be three in the morning according to local time. As the captain maneuvered the flight to get it in the right position for landing, I saw the peninsula’s extended arms and legs fighting with the extent of the nightly water. Just one mistake from the captain, and the sea waited for us. Amid the dark, ghostly sea, the living city held the beacon of assurance. The civilization dazzled with bright lights of varied hues. I have not witnessed a better testimony of mankind’s skills and abilities. Stargazers complain cities produce light pollution. Allow me to tell you otherwise. They stare into the wrong direction. They should look for stars on the earth, not above.

Changi airport didn’t attract me much. No, don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t fail to rise to the expectation of an airport belonging to a developed country. However, Delhi T-3 airport is also fantastic. So, Changi had its own glamour but I was more curious to see outside, lest it was just an illusion like the one at T-3. As soon as one leaves T-3, one finds the Bharat waiting for you. The first feeling that hit me as I came out of it at dawn was of amazement. Tip-top roads with ultra-sensual and courteous cars (They wait patiently for the pedestrian to cross the road first. On many a occasion, I felt not much comfortable in making luxurious cars wait for me and I waved my hand asking them to pass by. But they insisted on me crossing the road first.) zooming past. Skyscrapers which gives you neck-ache if you try to see its highest level. All structures oozed out efficiency and decorum. I found Singapore exactly as foreign countries are shown in the Bollywood.

Singapore is a place where you can get anything  you want. They don’t produce much but they have the money to import anything you wish. (I bought imported Indian red onions there. ) Not only goods, it looks like they imported even the famous tourist spots of the world. There you can emulate the experience of visiting places all over the world. You just name any place, and they would definitely have a place that looks like that. If you want to just sit around and chat in the European eateries which have their tables placed outside on the cobble-street, go to Holland Village (The streets are not cobbled, but you won’t miss it much.). If you want to dine in the restaurants facing sea, just like Venice, then Riverside and Boat Quay would cater to your needs. If you want to enjoy American amusement parks, go to any of the numerous parks of Sentosa Island. If you want to soak in the ambiance of the Hawaiian beach, go to the beaches of Sentosa Island. If you want to experience what it feels like to be in the corporate area of the Wall Street, Raffles is the place for you. Since, Singapore has a sizable Chinese population, you can’t miss China Town, which attracts souvenir-hunters looking for not-so-costly gifts for their distant relatives. And if you start feeling nostalgic amidst all these explorations, go to Little India and have some Indian food. You would find flowers being sold outside temple (yes, there is one) with Tamil devotional songs playing in the background. That was the only place there where I found scant regards was being given to hygiene. It did look like Bharat-effect.

The downside is I didn’t find many things which were uniquely Singaporean; unless you say that trait is Singaporean.

So, how do you define the identity of a Singaporean citizen? For me, Singaporean culture is defined as something that evolves in a place where you put together Tamil, Malay and Chinese. (The official languages are Tamil, Mandarin, Malay and English).  This does give a cosmopolitan face to it. I think the unique feature is perhaps it is the only English-speaking Asian developed country. (Yes, they don’t need to give TOEFL exam).  Moreover, you would find them to be friendly if they are not busy with their smart phones, which is rare. (Okay, now there was this man who appeared too-friendly. His sole occupation seems to chat with Indian students at the Indian eatery whoever came within his range. He seemed quite good at befriending them and making them comfortable in a short span of time. I heard many a students pouring out their life’s goal and ambition while they chatted with him.)

The downpour had stopped by the time, I came out of the stupor. I didn’t realise I had got myself completely drenched by then. That was my last day in Singapore. And I had a lot of packing to be done. I hurried through my to-do list and I went for the lunch.

By evening, more or less I was done with most of my things. But there was a growing sense of dread within me. Wasn’t I suppose to feel elated at the prospect of going back to home? I double checked my to-do list. I didn’t find anything I was missing. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling quite uneasy.  This increased  to its peak with the jolt I received at the moment when my flight’s wheels left the Singapore ground. Then I understood. More than forgetting my stuff, I was afraid that I might have missed out some place there. Or I might have missed exploring some facet of Singapore. Idiot me! Of course, no matter what I would miss the whole place.

The City of Deads

Floor of cloud stares
beneath your feet,
bounded with wide
red-hued horizon.

Far away it hides
the paradise
you were looking
long back.

Snow landing invites
you to set your foot
on the fluffy white,
to pause for a while.

It asks you to listen
the saga of the kingdom
that lived long ago
up above the land.

A grand tale
set in white,
freezed in their
last moment of life.

Some of them died
in terror or grief.
Others showed valour
in their troubled time.

Light caresses the dead,
shining fleetingly
on their face giving
a new lease of life.

Only to be taken
away the next moment
when it rains.

(I came up with this poem when I was going on a flight and staring through my window towards the setting sun in the horizon with clouds all over the place. A scene of beauty and pure joy in the eyes of the world seemed to convey to me something else. )

ऐसा तो नहीं था …

ऐसा तो नहीं था
कि मुझे पता ना था ।
ऐसा तो नहीं था
कि मुझे अंदाज़ा ना था ।

ऐसा तो नहीं था
कि मैंने सोचा ना था ।
ऐसा तो नहीं था
कि मैंने सुना ना था ।

फिर भी कम्बक्ख्त!
उस पल के लिए
मैं तैयार नहीं था ।
शायद खुद को ठीक से
परखा ना था ,
या खुद को ठीक
से बाँधा नहीं था ।

खैर ! दिन के सूरज ने
रात के अँधेरे से
बचाया कब था ?

The Fall

A bridge creaked,
shivered the shivering
two souls that wanted
nothing but love.
Silence embraced them,
neatly fitted
into the pattern
only time could tell.
Her wide eyes looked
below into the water,
mind deciphering fate
skipping the present.
The storm closed in
seeing the undecided
vulnerables stuck
on the fork.
“How was it before?”,
blurted out the loner
desperation to know
her well and his pain.
The bridge got a whip,
the thread got taut,
the bridge got a lash,
the thread got twisted.
The free fall began
as freely as the star lost
her way in past distant,
ignorant of her moon.
Wind swished past
the silent ears which
the words pierced
and led to the collapse.
No, No, she could’t be
someone else’s queen,
unacceptable to the
falling romantic fool.
In her fruity voice,
she could not help
but ask, “Are you
there or got lost?”
With a loud thud
he hit the surface,
only to find himself
back onto the bridge.

To be read or not to be

Usually, I hate to write autobiographical blogs. It exposes you. It puts you in the spotlight when you don’t want to be. And it is boring! Whose life is interesting without any of the traditional spices added to make a story tick? Instead, I prefer to write stories and using the anonymity of characters, I keep pouring myself out. The only indication a reader gets that these characters might not be that fictitious, not that unrelated to me (okay, apart from the relation that they are the characters created by me) is that I put my blog-stories under category ‘Not so fictitious’. Then I wear a satisfied (smug?) look on my face and invite readers to decipher which part of the character belongs to me, which part really happened, which are figments of my imagination.

It is not that I have a huge blog following. My readership would certainly come under one of the tiniest one on the face of the earth. But there is an important reader who never gives up on me, or rather how hard I try to get rid of him, he never leaves me alone. He always reads my blogs (and I can feel his prying eyes on me as I write), never get easily satisfied unless he gets what he wants. Sometimes, I love him, but more often I hate him; and not less importantly, sometimes I simply grow neutral to him. So, although the readership base may be not so large, but it’s quite significant  for me(yes, there i said it. I am an egoist) to keep them satisfied.

The size of the readership once worried me and it had my attention. I used the usual dirty tricks of going to every damn blogs on WordPress.com and liking their posts or entire blogs without bothering to read their posts or know what their posts are all about. It did work for some time. I started getting good number of likes on my blog. No matter how less effort I had put to stitch together the words/ideas to come up with a pitiable story or poem, I got enough number of likes to fool me that I am doing a good job. However, I realized that there are some rules to follow if I were to remain in their favorites list for a long time. The first rule was to keep posting. That was easy. I kept churning out poems or short blog-entries on day-to-day basis. Now, the other rule — to engage with them. I was required to go to their blogs and like their posts. Not only this, I have to comment (that’s the difficult part unless you want to make fun of yourself, and blabber in the comment section without bothering to know what the post was all about.) It’s not that I am an introvert. I don’t hate engaging with strangers.(In fact, I am more of a professional when it comes to engaging with strangers in the real world). But I found that reading somebody else’s blog is not my cup of tea. It had nothing to do with the quality of blogs I read. Somewhere deep inside, I decided to utilize my blogging time to write my new ones, instead of spending time on somebody else’s blog. For me, blogging means to write blog. (Throughout the day, I get or have to read somebody else’s work. Here, I get to make others read.)

Gradually the likes tinkered down. But I got used to it once I shut my eyes to all popular blogs. It gave me freedom not to post anything new for months. I utilized this to write longish short-stories. I planned the plots, characters, moments, and then penned them together into my stories. And sometimes, I do nothing at all. I try to keep my eyes and ears open. Away from the scrutinizing gaze of the readers (except the intruder) , I just keep waiting for an idea that would possess me as I go along with the thing called Life.

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