Signs of the times, you know. The subtlest things sometimes alert you to things that have changed. Three days last year on the college campus where I -- being frank here -- lusted away five delightful years, and I kept thinking to myself: something has changed, but what? I mean, lots had changed, but there was something that I could not put my finger on, and it began to bug me.
Then it struck me: the chairs in all the chai and snack shops were the ubiquitous moulded plastic horrors. No more moodhas, the elegant contraptions of thin bamboo and bicycle tyre that were such a familiar part of my time there. (I once tipped over someone I knew as she leaned back in her moodha, which she didn't find funny at all. But as someone said, that's another story).
And when I realize that it is the absent moodhas, much else comes into perspective. There is a new supermarket on campus. There are ATM machines here and there. There are internet connections in every hostel room. A cellphone hangs from pretty much every passing student palm.
And there are no more moodhas. Times have changed.
Last month, in a tiny town on the Konkan coast south of Bombay, I had another such moment. Four women walk past, loads of water balanced on their heads: an always remarkable feat in itself, but a sight so familiar as to be unremarkable. The water is always in metal vessels, often three or four balanced on top of each other in a tower rising from each feminine head. As this time.
But wait a minute, only three of the four women have the little tower of vessels. The fourth? Well, she trundles past and she has a load balanced on her head too. And it is water too. Only, it isn't in metal vessels. On that gleaming and tightly plaited head, which she turns slightly to give me an incurious look, she carries a fully-loaded plastic 5-litre Bisleri bottle.
And for some subliminal reason, I've been searching for moodhas ever since.