Memoir / Essays: The Ferris Wheel


Vandita Dharni

 

Life was a ferris-wheel of highs and lows for me. The highs were always uplifting but the lows always badgered me with an existential crisis. Deep in the recesses of my mind, I was battling an avalanche of depression. I had lost my mother to cancer in the October of 2017 and I could fathom my entire world collapsing after her demise. Two years hence, a profound interest in the macrocosm had sprouted within my being. It dawned on me that somewhere the connect with nature and people had diminished with my hectic work schedules and the invasion of social media that made me addicted and unsociable. Yet I knew I wasn’t going to succumb to the vermin. I began retracing pathways of life, unravelling the ones I hadn’t traversed before, surging on towards the ones I wanted to and chartering my own paths too. I was on a quest, searching for answers to questions that plagued me, leaving me in a conundrum.

I had fallen in love all over again. The ‘City Green’ just captured my heart and I let it grow veins and arteries into my flesh that craved for pure oxygen. Parks were the hub of creative impulses and the ideal place to introspect about life, delving into its mysterious facets and myriad hues. Sometimes, life would snowball into dimensions unfathomable, creeping over Hibiscus hedges that skirted along the lawns and on other occasions it lay entangled in Bougainvillea creepers espaliered to walls of houses overlooking the parks. There were parks in every sector, each with their own distinctive features and aesthetic layout. The muse within always inspired me to explore these serpentine pathways where the dew of nature’s bounteous gifts would douse my restless spirit.

Often, I’d undertake long, arduous walks through picturesque landscapes of the garden city of Chandigarh, now my permanent home, trying to reminiscence and capture snatches that could enliven my foggy spirits or pulse an adrenaline rush in my veins, but to no avail. Memories of Mumbai would still haunt me like dead echoes from the blighted past. We had moved to Mumbai for two years in 2008 on account of my husband’s transfer and the concrete jungle had stifled my free spirit. I was never enamored by the skyscrapers or skylines, being a small-town girl. That year I remember Mumbai, the invincible city was struck by its worst tragedy when the terrorist attacks took place. I remember how distraught and panic-stricken we all were. I was teaching at the Cathedral and John Connon school then and the most horrific news was from my class. I had lost a student who was living in a suite at the Taj with his family as his father was a Manager there and also the parents of another student from my class were mercilessly gunned down at the Oberoi Trident hotel. How devastated I was! Yet I had a firm conviction that time was a great restorer. Soon the scars would heal and recover. The verdant expanse of Chandigarh made me shut out the gloom of those bitter memories.

My walks were a flashback of memories that would propel me back into time. My childhood was spent in Allahabad, the city richly drenched with the legacy of the Nehru’s. My mother who was a lecturer of English at a degree college once told me how the Nehru family once took up lodgings at our villa at Bank road since Anand Bhawan was under some construction. She knew I was always intrigued by ancient stories and how I had the knack of weaving some myself. Her passion for poetry, music and writing had rubbed off on me to a great extent. She was an overprotective mother ever since my two pattering feet and strawberry pink hands cradled her joys. A thyroid problem wasn’t detected for many years and when it was diagnosed and medication given, she conceived me the very same month. So, when this little dumpling was birthed, she left no stone unturned in lavishing her motherly affection that bore rich dividends. She was certainly the best mother I could have asked for.

When I was four, my parents sent me to the most reputed convent school in Allahabad. As an adolescent, I realized that subjects like Mathematics and Science were not my cup of tea and I often daydreamed during these classes which were too drab for the poet in me to engross myself in. These lectures were barricades to my freedom, gripping me with frustration. I remember how my father, an eminent psychologist in his field, would motivate me to raise my own bar rather than compete with other classmates. But now that my parents weren’t there anymore, I gradually weaned myself off my visits to Allahabad, my hometown after my mother’s demise. Although, I am married to a doting husband and we have two grown up sons, the pangs of loneliness still persist in my languishing soul. My meanderings into time are so riveting that they often awaken a nostalgia of these bygone days.

Two years ago, while ambling towards the joggers’ track in the Topiary park in Sector 35, I often noticed tawny squirrels frisking about, chasing each other on the velvety grass or nibbling hard, brown nuts thrown at them by some benevolent passers-by. Stray dogs marked their territory, mapping isolated corners to chew dry bones and left overs they would fish out from a garbage bin nearby. Birds would often roost there, cheeping merrily and creating a ruckus. Old couples would saunter blissfully in groups of two’s and three’s, gossiping and guffawing aloud at the recollections of a past occurrence. Young boys loitered around, vying for the attention of the opposite sex. They wore t-shirts with eye-catching captions. I recall one such fellow named Raj, a neighbour’s overly pampered son with spiky hair whose t-shirt bore the most ludicrous captions like ‘I’m Single and Ready to Mingle!’ or ‘I Love the Opposite Sex’ splashed in bold crimson letters. Those were the days when the movie bug had bitten most youngsters who wanted to behave like the cool, hip and macho men, flaunting weird hairstyles and shades portrayed in the movies. Young girls on the other hand were a tad smarter. They would romp around in their t’s and shorts, taking obnoxious selfies, while their roving eyes were rivetted in their direction. The only pre-requisite for a selfie was a pout or a victory sign and the company or ambience was of little consequence.

The sun often swallowed up these musings in a steaming cup of masala tea that I would purchase from a nearby tea vendor, Ranveer. He updated me on all the ‘goings on’ in the surreptitious lives of corrupt men and their agendas to gratify their insatiable thirst for wealth. I would ponder if life was only reduced to binaries of power versus money, love versus sex and religion versus secularism. But there were honest men like Ranveer who possessed a strong character and didn’t surrender themselves to the vicious nexus of power-hungry wheeler dealers. Ranveer would sculpt me the weirdest interpretations and I had to keep nodding in approval or he’d forget an essential thread to link the plot that only got murkier each time. I firmly believed that every word spoken by him was God’s truth, every grain of it.

On one particular visit to his tea-stall, I noticed a stocky gentleman, a dandy in a motley-coloured, outrageous attire. He alighted from his swanky black Rolls Royce car, wearing a fluorescent green turban, white trousers and a matching green psychedelic shirt. He flashed a smile at Ranveer who looked a bit intimidated by his belligerent demeanor. Later, when the man toddled off with his goons without paying for his tea, Ranveer apprised me that he was a local hip- hop singer who had tie-ups with the underworld. He even changed his cars every year. A car was a status symbol for the high society and Page three celebrities. Cars could enhance or tarnish their reputation, depending on their brands. Life was so complicated for tycoons and bureaucrats that I could scarcely bring myself to envy them. I preferred hailing from a middle- class family with minimal demands and expectations. 

Talking about shady people, I met another one twenty years ago when I had recently relocated to Chandigarh. He happened to be a distant uncle who had amassed a lot of wealth and priceless acquisitions which I later discovered weren’t his own but belonged to others. Uncle D would pick up things from shops on the pretext that he’d pay up later when he never really intended to settle bills in the first place. Within a few months, his wealth and assets escalated disproportionately to his real income compelling him to leave lock, stock and barrel from the city. I thanked the almighty for infusing us with wisdom that we did not fall into his sinister trap and lend him anything. Our relationship had soured already when he tried to dupe a close relative’s family on one such occasion but he was unsuccessful.

There were other intriguing encounters that I can faintly recollect now. The walks in parks were quite stimulating and eventful back then. I recall meeting this elderly lady- J, an ardent birdwatcher, no ‘negative connotations’ please! Whenever she found me, she would latch on, giving me a well-documented history about the numerous species of birds she had encountered on visits to the bird sanctuaries. We would sit down on a bench and I’d give her a perfunctory nod occasionally, while she’d update me on their life span, food habits and even their mating. I wondered how such a plethora of knowledge had gone in vain. She should have become an Orinthologist, or at least transformed me into one. Within a few days, I decided to upgrade myself to a different park to vent my frustration and stretch my fertile imagination, being a poet. I sought recourse in another one close by, but before I could continue my musings in this new found paradise, I realized I was being stalked. A street dog had taken a queer fancy to me and he decided to follow me like ‘Mary’s little lamb’. If I happened to go to pick up groceries or get myself a relaxing hair spa, he would be parked outside faithfully with a Cheshire cat grin, waiting for me. Finally, we parted ways one day when he found himself an emaciated little pariah mate. That was the end of the stalking and I was glad he had found lady love at last.

My nature walks continue to enchant me to this very day and have given me a whole new perspective on life. Despite the fact that Covid-19 has confined us to our little microcosm, the walks have expanded into a repertoire of moments that would have otherwise been inconceivable. They rejuvenate me, dispelling negativity associated with the deadly virus. I still adhere to the norms of social distancing, especially with the ‘bird watcher lady’ in sector 35 and ensure I keep my mask, head phones and other protective gear on at all times to avert unnecessary intruders. But the irony is that we can’t camouflage our souls behind those masks of indifference that distance us from the world.

The vicissitudes of life envelop me, yet I have learned to shrug them off and move ahead, shedding my inhibitions dauntlessly. From the pusillanimous child to a spirited woman, the journey has been long and gruelling, yet it constantly ignites within me a fire that will never get extinguished. My life has been a raw onion as I peel off its layers that sometimes sting my eyes or tug at my heartstrings unfolding a new facet of myself. At times I feel I am a mirror looking at a new face each day. The faces might be transitory and may intermingle or vanish, yet the memories will still remain etched to the soul that is overflowing like a river in spate.

Bio: Vandita Dharni hails from an eminent family of educationists. She is a gold medalist in English from the University of Allahabadand also earned a Ph.D. degree in American Literature. Her articles, poems and short stories have been published in Criterion, Ruminations, GNOSIS, HellBound Publishing House and International magazines like Immagine and Poessia, Synchronised Chaos, Guido Gozzano, Sipay, Our Poetry Archive, Written Escapes, Primer Antologia De Poetas Del Proyecto De Unamos Al Mundo Con La Poesia- Mexico and Poleart, Albania.

Her poem, The Endangered Tiger was given an honourable mention in the Guido Gozzano. She has published three anthologies, Quintessential Outpourings, The Oyster of Love and Rippling Overtures. She has edited anthologies and has also reviewed several poems on poetry sites such as ‘Poetry Review’ on Facebook. She has been honoured with the Poetic Galaxy Award 2018 by the Literati Cosmos Society, the World Poetic Star award 2019 by the World Nation’s Writers’ Union, and the Rabindranath Tagore Award for Poetry in 2020 by the Arpita Foundation at Brindavan, Mathura.

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