Thursday, April 19, 2012

ALIVE AGAIN!

I know at the end of my last post, I'd promised my next one would be in a lighter vein. I guess that was not to be. What one writes also reflects their inner state of mind & mine has been pretty muddled. Lately, I haven't been myself. I'm not the quintessential happy-go-lucky guy but I do believe I know how to take most things with a pinch of salt (Those that I don't, pinch the people around me in a nasty manner beyond description). However, I'd been in a dark space of mind for the last month and could not find joy in anything & in anyone's company. Perhaps what best described my predicament were these lines from Shakespeare's Hamlet,  where the protagonist confesses that "I have, of late, but wherefore I know not- lost all my mirth" or lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya's questioning words in a song for  Dev D: "Kahaan Chali Gayi Hai Saali Khushi" (where has the bloody happiness gone?). I even went as far as to wonder if I was suffering from a mild form of Anhedonia!!! Silly me!

A dear friend, Maryna Langenhoven from South Africa, had this advice for me when she sensed that mere consolatory words would not suffice:

"It always helps to get distance, so objectivity can step in. Keep the objectivity, and clarity will step in."

Well said Maryna. In your words, even though I could not put my finger on the reason for my listlessness, I did realise that I needed to go away from my current surroundings, to travel again; to have time to myself, to ask myself some questions & to count my blessings.
*****
Giraffe spotting at the Nairobi National Park
Nairobi is where I always find my laughter; where I unearth my happiness, where I rediscover my inner peace. I also lovingly call it my sasuraal (in-laws home), as there was a time when I would be here twice in a year. So it was but natural that after a gig in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania (where the highlight was a melliflous, poetic evening by bhajan specialist Anup Jalota), I could think of nothing but visiting my friends in Nairobi. A phone call & flight schedule change later, I was with good friend Shelina, whose hospitality is well-known in Kenya and around the world, her gorgeous national-level swimmer daughter Talisa, passionate musician Alisha & the rest of the lovely extended family. I've been to Nairobi before & have done the safari routine (though a visit to Masaimara is yet on the cards), so this trip was purely for sit-down, meaningful conversations & to reflect on life. The weather was alternately pleasantly warm & cloudy and the first day/night went by in a joyful blur, with a relaxed few hours at home and then a 21st Birthday party which went on into the early hours & had everyone from teenagers to the elders having a good time. I danced till my feet ached & my mind was full only of happy thoughts.
From Left to Right: Alisha, Shelina, Talisa and their adorable dogs Whisper & Diesel 
On a glum rainy afternoon the next day, news of two boys dying in a car accident was broken to the family. It turned out that they were the same energetic, full of life blokes from last night's party who were heavily intoxicated when they departed this world. A heaviness descended on the conversation as the ever-obvious but seldom realized fact dawned upon us: life is unpredictable & can be mercilessly cut short, if that's what's written in our destiny. A sombre afternoon was to be in store for us. It definitely wasn't the most ideal thing to happen in view of what mood I was in.

But later that night, once the pall of gloom had lifted, a fantastic lunch had been had & a terrible, terrible Bollywood comedy half-watched, a barrage of emotional thoughts flooded an impassioned conversation I & Alisha were having about music & life in general. Even as we listened to a neat live band Calabash at the Black Diamond (where the lead guitarist played a compelling solo with his teeth!!!!), we animatedly discussed the futility of putting off life till later. The events of earlier that day had permeated into our thoughts. Why wait for tomorrow, or five, even ten years in the future when today, right now is all that we might have? Shouldn't we open our hearts to every moment we're alive in and face both joy & adversity with a zeal, a smile & a realization that life is short but beautiful, that we must learn something from every experience, good or bad? In the haze of music & good alcohol, we promised we'd live our lives to the fullest!
The Calabash Band. That's the lead guitarist playing with his teeth! Alisha as guest vocalist
As we laughed, marveled at the guitarist, grooved along with the enthusiastic Calabash (who've been playing together for over 15 years but still performs witha lot of love & laughter) I even got approached by a woman of questionable intentions!!! With mirth & mischief in my soul, I slept well that night, one of the few times in the recent past.

The following day brought about a quick visit to the National Park. One of the spots brought back long-lost memories of a picnic I'd had there with my erstwhile disbanded music group F4. Was that really four years ago? And had we actually thought our fellowship would last forever? There was foolish optimism & relentness passion in our dreams back then. While the passion is still raging strong four years later, standing at that summit I wondered where the years had gone by.
The angel who walked into my heart while it had wandered away in old memories. Nairobi National Park
Some curio shopping later (which involved a lot of bargaining!!!!), I was already on my way back to the airport. Oh, that sinking feeling when you must go back when you clearly don't want to... I must say, from personal experience, that it is worse than any heartbreak ;) The goodbyes weren't tearful but a person's hug can tell you a lot about how much they are going to miss you. They were heartily received, and lovingly given in return. True enough, I would miss them all...
Maya and I at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport
As I waited to board my flight back to Mumbai, I noticed a most heartwarmingly adorable & gorgeous 6 year old prancing around. Her name was Maya & she is easily one of the most energetic, happy, camera-friendly children I've ever come across. She confidently yet innocently chatted with most waiting passengers, took her mark & raced against herself! She'd be back soon, panting & refusing to acknowledge that she was tired. Rather, she'd remark that all that running made her feel alive! Uncannily enough, I was listening to "You're beautiful" by Nikhil D'souza. Looking at Maya, I couldn't help but think that this song could easily have been about this beautiful child, whose real beauty was her innocence! As usual, the thinker in me couldn't stop ruminating: what happens to the child in us when we grow up? Where does that spotless innocence go? It would of course be foolish to behave like a child when one's past a certain age but we can still retain our childlike goodness, can't we? Or are we duty-bound to become crafty, cunning & deceitful to survive in a world overrun by the the wicked?

Nairobi does that to me. It makes me think, a lot!

Of course, the city is not all rose-tinted. It's not the safest of places, especially for the rich; their houses are spectacularly fortified. So while you marvel at how spacious & tasteful their interiors are, you can't not see the barbwires, the high tension cables, the numerous security guards, barricades, CCTVs, iron safety doors & motion-detecting sensors. But that's all compensated for by a generally genial air, all year round good weather, a laidback attitude, the greenery and good people. This is where I've always had time to sit back, think positively and take back happy memories. With so much love, joy & beauty around me, I realised that whatever had troubling me was way too insignificant and unworthy of my attention in the grand scheme of things.

As I trudged on towards the aircraft, I saw something that brightens every compulsive traveller's day: this signboard, which depicts a hope of coming back again, a chance to meet old friends & an opportunity to make new ones, never saying goodbye...

Nairobi, you never fail to liven my spirits. Thank you my friends for giving me a place in your house & hearts. With you, I find my serenity again...