19 December, 2012

I Am a Woman in India


I have had my breasts fondled.
Not by a lover,
but strangers on a bus.
I have been gyrated against
as I navigate the city:
packed like sardines
they are more depraved than animals.
I have had penises flashed at me
whose owners I know not;
they only come with a pair of lust-laced eyes
and a soulless smile.

I can hold my own on issues
about the environment. 
I can wax eloquent about literature and music.
I am told, I am the future;
and for a moment I am bent into believing
in the bubble I have bought into.

But every morning,
I cower.
My ego slouches 
as it is castrated at the hands of
crotch-clutching goondas.
I have lost count:
there are too many to fight.
I may be liberated. And educated,
but my fire has been doused.
Neither rhetoric nor review can
bring me solace.

And so, I turn the other cheek.
I have become deaf to the whistles and
blind to the lewdness.
I adjust my dupatta
and look straight ahead
as they line the streets and pucker their mouths.

I am just a woman in India.

Written in response to the gang rape of a 23 year old in the city I call home. I have travelled in white-line private buses with 'Yadav' flaunted on their flank. I have been harassed and fondled, eve-teased and ridiculed. I am part of every woman that gets raped. I want to risk asking why

Update: Interesting perspectives by The Delhiwalla and Ankit. Deconstruction of the issue by Anand Soondas.

07 December, 2012

Let Me Be Your North Star


Rudderless
you sink 
as much as you swim;
broken compass and
battered conscience in tow.

Unanchored
you oscillate
one uncertain whim to the next;
highs and lows bleeding into 
an orgy of emotions you no longer feel. 

You seesaw between
the devil and the demigod
your brittle world 
waxing and waning towards
an ambiguous extreme.

As you fumble forth,
blinded and wounded,
will you not let me
be your north star?

02 December, 2012

Blue

You 
walk through these pangs of yearning with your eyes open, 
sure measured steps. Calculated. Calm. 
You know just when to 
pause 
and when to 
breathe deep;
almost delicate, you 
dance 
avoiding memories and hopes. 

I'm a naive fool you know. 
I bluster forth, 
blindfolded. 
Knocking into dreams, 
crashing into brittle hopes and breaking them 
hurting myself on the splinters. 
As I clutch at the future and measure it with the past.

20 November, 2012

Park Parody VIII (St. James Park)



Autumn colours have lit it on fire -  fiery oranges and humble browns, mellow yellows and soulless blacks. People pull out their cameras, all shapes and sizes, all makes and prices. I watch them watch Autumn. Does anyone hear the trees wail as their leaves die? I hear their distraught shrieking. Tormented, I run my hands over their trunks, press my forehead against their rough exterior. The leaves pirouette down and the trees rustle in mourning. Exhausted, I find a bench, for my heart is too full of their sorrow. My eyes drink in the world that passes by. And I am almost transported to my favourite garden. He squeezes her bottom and I am at once a voyeur - an eavesdropper to their intimacy. People walk past, in a hurry to be somewhere, any where. Their feet fall fast, smudging the leaves out of existence, till they are black; as black as the tar they fall on. The birds look flustered. The cold is disconcerting enough and to add to that the melodrama of autumn... Languages, all tastes and tongues, envelope me - a lady talks of a cello sitting in her attic. A man explains the sequence of the different seasons to his little girl. I shut out the chatter till it is a faint murmur. But can you calm the voice in your head? As thought upon thought unfolds in a messy jumble, I surrender.



This is the 300th post! It has been quite a journey from those first few posts. Thank you for walking along : ) 

17 November, 2012

November


I spiral down,
an autumn leaf.
Soon to become
yesterday's dirt
or tomorrow's soil. 



05 November, 2012

Why it is you and not Facebook that is the problem

Picture from Orlandeli 

There is a constant grumble I hear from people about the bane of our generation: Facebook. It is one of those things people love to bash up. We like and we share, we poke and we post but we also crib and we crib and we crib. By defending Facebook, I often find myself on a lonely island. People look at me in incomprehension. "You're trying to tell us you don't waste time on it?" "Are you saying you actually have that many friends?"

I explain. I don't use Facebook to nurture my friendships. I know and accept that the 560 people on my account are not my friends; not in the sense I understand the import of what being a friend is. They are a list of people I know (some well, some not so well) and link with from time to time. Facebook to me however, is a tool. It is a place to gather information about things I am interested in; a literary event next month or perhaps a screening of Moonrise Kingdom close by. It serves as a venue to subscribe to interesting insights from organisations and people I am interested in personally and academically. It is a place to network with former classmates and colleagues; no, not to become 'friends' but to perhaps discover similar interests and as a result, form an interesting 'peer group'. A long-lost school friend on Facebook whom I used to edit articles with is now my favourite critic. No, we aren't the friends we used to be, we acknowledge we have grown along different paths, but we have, through Facebook, found that there are bits of our old selves that exist and are still mirrored in each other. Facebook is not where I disclose my inner torments, it does not serve as a solace for loneliness.  

Facebook  and my time spent on it is never a contradiction. I take the good parts and have no problem in ignoring the unnecessary. I don't chat on Facebook, I don't upload pictures from my travels. I share an occasional article I'd like people to read, and I like the occasional picture that makes me laugh. Facebook to me is a phenomenon that helps me connect to the things I like. It is, in a way a customisable channel where I can choose what I want. Like someone said recently, MS Word is a word processing software. If you want to get that chapter written, you have to think of it. Word will help you organise and manage it, but you still have to type it out. Similarly, Facebook is what you make of it. You can grumble how you barely know the 726 friends on your list and how you waste all your time on Facebook. Well, don't. You have a choice. And no one is going to make it for you. The whole game of deactivating one's account to 'disconnect' and 'take time off' amuses me. Don't you see? It is not Facebook that is the problem, it is you. 

*                   *                 *
We (and by that I mean urban, educated 20-something Indians) are living in an increasingly solitary age. None of my friends (most in their late twenties or early thirties) are married, something quite unheard of just a generation ago. At my age, my mother was married, ran a household, was bringing up a daughter and was well-entrenched in her job. I on the other hand, am studying, am far removed from domesticity, and do not have either spouse or child. Something is afoot. The structure of our social space is changing. Caught between family that keeps one threaded to a place that is familiar but often conflicting with our notions, I see many people live by the "friends are the family we choose" axiom. And many people, I see extrapolate that to "the more friends I have the better". Facebook helps us reaffirm this myth. But as Deresiewicz, points out in his must-read article:
"The more people we know, the lonelier we get.
This weekend, I set off, mufflered against the chill, to meet a friend. Bruised by disturbing events in both our lives, we found laughter crinkle our faces and we chattered incessantly; the warmth of a friend well-loved enveloping us both. We threw out ideas to each other, hop-skipping from one beautiful tangent to another, we gobbled a freshly cooked meal, we laughed into our coffees, reliving memories from another time, we walked about, and shivered at the end of autumn. When we returned to our own homes, she sent me a link to that website I wanted. On Facebook of course.

Follow up with some Seinfield Seinfeld.

16 October, 2012

Letters: Rajasthan


My Dear,

“On really romantic evenings with myself, I go salsa dancing with confusion.”
~ Waking Reality

I have a confession to make. Behind your back, I’ve been allowing myself to be romanced by the very charming Mr. Italo Calvino and the more I succumb to his charms, the more I realise how you live your life like a piece of literature. Swooning in the throes of your highs, few and very far in between; then collapsing into the dark depths of your own construction. If your life was to read like a book, it would be an impassioned portrayal of a boy’s compulsive courtship with tragedy and simultaneous affair with the almost noble quest for balance.

I look at my life, and it is less extraordinary, its peaks and troughs have been smoothened out by what I believe is a valiantly guarded calm. I have learnt to seek, and find my happiness in the details, winning each battle as it comes and leaving the larger tragedies to sort themselves out, believing they will, if only I give them a chance. But swimming in this uncertain calm, I know my life will never be narrated in extreme emotions, there will be no romance, for it is pain that makes a beautiful tale. Sometimes thinking of your tremulous living, I turn a torrid green, for the grass always seems greener on the proverbial Other Side.

As I rummaged through Calvino’s Difficult Loves, his language sometimes hung too heavy for my taste, but I ploughed along and was always rewarded for my determination.

He put the token in the slot, dialed the number, listened with beating heart to the distant ring, heard Cinzia's "Hello...” still suffused with sleep and soft warmth, and he was already in the tension of their days together, in a desperate battle against the hours; and he realized he would never manage to tell her anything of the significance of that night, which he now sensed was fading, like every perfect night of love, at the cruel expansion of day."
~ Pg. 65, The adventure of a traveler 

The other day, I picked up another collection of stories. Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, if you please, by the unsettling Mr. Richard Yates. It reminded me of that summer afternoon we spent watching Revolutionary Road, the story of the hopeless breakdown of an almost-perfect couple in post-depression America. I had been unable to concentrate on the movie, with your toes wiggling up my salwar shyly, you being 'forward' in that abashed way you have; I find it quite adorable. Watching the climax where she forcefully aborts her baby was gut wrenching and I felt a strange quiver too, as if my uterus was shuddering in her pain.

I have, of late, acquainted myself with introduced myself to a favourite of yours. The talented Mr. Chekhov. It seems fitting that in these lonely days, your favourite short story writer promises me company. I picked up Love and Other Stories and no matter what reviews and literature critics say, I found it a dull read. There were highs and lows, but I couldn't connect. Perhaps love has bruised me into nonchalance. What a frightful thing if that were true!

It amuses me that sitting here, in a rather forgotten part of Rajasthan, I romance the contemporary greats; American, Russian and Italian. I converse with them and peek into their tales, dipping my beak in an era I fancy, taking away straws from their boughs to build my own little nest. If there was anything to ever plead a case for Solitude, it would have to be the Act of Reading. I find in it company and joy, passion and challenge. How often have I spirited away my loneliness with the written word! I should get back now, for bedtime beckons. And you know I can’t sleep without some well written words crowding my mind space.

Yours,
M

[March, 2012]

10 October, 2012

Glass




What you held was beautiful
it sparkled like a million glow worms
and you, you poor little fool
thought it was made of diamonds
when all along
it was little grains
of plundered sand
it fooled you
for it mirrored the sun
making your view
a kaleidoscope of rainbows.

And when it fell
it shattered
like the glass it always was
"but diamonds don't shatter", you cried
"diamonds are forever."
the horror
in your eyes was
mirrored in those thousand glowing pieces
a thousand tears spilled
a thousand words silenced
a thousand worlds teetered
a thousand deaths lived. 

02 October, 2012

To Sangram

To Sangram, the explosive paradox, whose life was neither lengthy, logical or deliberate

Camouflage

That nose...

Always the one to wear the pants in the family

Baba Sangram presiding over morning yoga sessions



The Grand Old Man

11 September, 2012

The Last Laugh

For more Peanuts, go here

somebody once told me that
my laughter doesn't reach my eyes
i'd laughed it off
but a queer corner
within my mind
(the one that hoardes
old heartaches
and new wisdom)
recoiled.
It doesn't like confronting the truth.

somebody told me today
that i am the happiest person he knows
how wonderful i looked when i laughed,
for i laughed not with my mouth,
but my voice and my hands
and my eyes.

that queer mind-corner chuckled.
it has learnt well
how to shroud ambiguities
and iron out contradictions.
my face is calm:
cruising on auto-pilot.
as my laughter reaches my eyes
and my sorrows fill my gut.

07 September, 2012

Letters: Winchester



Dearest,

Here, breathing in the fragrance of a dying summer, I realise, it takes a love affair to make you feel lonely. The pleasures of Solitude seem a hollow promise I was lied about. Oh the laughable irony of it all! I find myself face to face with Loneliness and I refuse to make eye contact. I fight, with all I have. My books, these words, poems trailing on notebook margins, complaints gurgling up my throat.

“Zindagi mein jab tumhare ghum nahin the
Itne tanha the ki hum bhi hum nahin the.”

There is a queer romanticism in writhing in loneliness. I admire and abhor it with such passion, confusion blurs my emotions into a wobble sometimes. Literature, my sole comfort has also turned its back on me – no one loves a mopey person. As days leaf through me, I oscillate from one alarming notion to another. They get uncomfortable when I talk loopy, for I am not meant to. I am the sane, balanced one. I make the right choices and meet the deadlines. I wake up when my alarm rings and laugh at the right places. I am not supposed to crumble. I am not expected to write that note.

“I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel,
I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real.”

The sun was a benevolent orb today. I went alone, and felt liberated in my own company. Winchester is a beautiful little town, and I walked into its famous Cathedral. A sermon was underway and the choir sang, their angelic voices echoing off the ancient walls. An ephemeral calm descended over me and prayers found their way to my lips. I walked past Jane Austen's tomb, her bone-powder and dust seemed more alive to me than many living people I knew. I shadowed the path Keats used to walk centuries ago. He wrote his Ode to Autumn here you know. My blue dress fluttered, a little too gaily for my taste. I walked briskly, as always. It was a rare day: calm and leisurely. 

“When your weight adds to mine
We’re weightless for a while”


I might be sleeping well, but I dream no longer.

02 September, 2012

The Ugly


I sit subdued. In the yellow light pool that the lamp breathes on me. I have just watched Gone Baby Gone. It follows the story of Amanda, a 4 year old girl who goes missing in an ugly part of Boston. As the tale unfolds, through a young local detective’s eyes, things get murkier, a cocaine powdered trail is unearthed, and everyone seems suspect. As the tone gets greyer, one realises, this was never meant to be an easy story. Alcoholic, coke-snorting mothers and gun-toting, foulmouthed men litter the scene. A few moral men try to do The Right Thing in a largely amoral world. Little Amanda is too young to comprehend the decisions being made for her. The movie ends on a discouraging note. Amidst the moral questions raises, it uncovers an ugly picture of humanity I find myself far removed from.   

After a while, I lie down. I shift about, the quilt frowns, annoyed at being misarranged again. I struggle to find a good spot, but you can never be really comfortable when reading Bukowski. His words are ugly and disturbing – just as he wants them to be. I can almost see the crusty old man smiling at my discomfort, as I hungrily gulp his harrowing words about abusive parents and a childhood coloured by violence and hatred. An America from another era, and I meet the same stories. Lives lived in fear, vacant dreams shattered and left to evaporate. I follow little (Hank) Chinaski as he grows from a bewildered child to an angry teenager to a rudderless young man. He uses his fists and boisterous talk, because he has learnt that the ugly and the poor are never loved. Again, I am isolated. I have not lived these words, I have never known them and am bewildered (and sadistically curious) at the world they paint. 

I close my book and put away my specs. The lamp is eased of its luminance. I think of my childhood, coloured vibrant with laughter and love. If there were tears, they were wiped away; if there were fears, they were stood up to. I was brought up by strong women and kind men. I had enough to eat and the occasional ice cream too. I had a school to go to and a home to come back to. I was taught to be curious. I grew up believing strength and weakness were as important as each other. It was not perfect, someone always had a better pencil box, but I grew up happy. 

I am worn and I close my eyes. In the nebulous in between world that is neither awake nor asleep, words and scenes from the movie and book coalesce into a continuous ugliness. I wished I could hold Amanda and teach her how to draw V-shaped birds. I always used to put them in my mountain-house-pine-tree pictures. I wanted to give Hank some peace, telling him fighting wasn't the only way. I wished to give them the hope I was brought up on. 

29 August, 2012

Where I learn that it is fashionable to read Bukowski nowadays

I walk into a well-worn bookshop:
the kind with geriatric book-people
discussing obscure book-things
in those jaundiced book-voices;
laced with too much coffee
and drenched in puddles of yellowing lamplight.

I ask for Ham on Rye
"A second-hand copy please."
A deep weary breath and then 
"My dear, Dear," ol' Gerry says, clucking his tongue as if
I had said something quite unfashionable. 
"You'd have to have a pot of money 
to be able to afford a second-hand Bukowski."

Wide-eyed, I blink an unfashionable-blink,
give him an unfashionable-halfgrin,
and mutter insignificant nothings
in that unfashionable-mutter that comes with
drinking too much coffee
and being drenched in puddles of yellowing lamplight.

I then walk out 
with a shiny new
hideously bright 
white-paper-ink-fresh edition
of Henry Chinaski's sorry lifetale.



"...there is a loneliness in this world so great 
that you can see it in the slow movement of  
the hands of a clock.
people so tired 
mutilated 
either by love or no love..." 
 Excerpt from 'The Crunch' from Love is a Dog from Hell

10 August, 2012

Crosstalk

Picture from: Can'trememberwhere


i've taken the bypass on humanity
it's the long road home

hop skotching 
from one time warp to the next 

i take it everyday

quick sharp little paces
along this meandering detour

where I find not 
a face I can lay claim to.


I'm reading two books at the same time:
yaa-haa, that is my idea of fun.

Vivekananda meets Murakami meets Boo-caw-skeee
a drunken sphaggetti bowl of meanderings.

on a great day, I eat some cherries
and bin the seeds out my window.

How far can I spit?

I down my wine water
and curl into a bubble. 

as the morning dew steams the window pane.

08 August, 2012

Letters: Reading


Dearest,

It’s getting cold here and you know how I shrivel up in the winters. I become a cranky wrinkled prune, wrapped up in quilts, romancing a book and refusing to step into the chill. How I would relish a cup of tea made by you. Remember how I’d asked you for step-wise instructions on how to make tea just like you, but we both knew, even then, that I’d never make it. I think half the charm of drinking tea is having to not make it yourself. On grey days like these, I love snuggling. Perhaps even more than kissing, but I can see you shake that planet-sized brain of yours at something so blasphemous, so I won’t elaborate.

After days that seem more like months, of lying in my lonely bed and conjuring you from my memories, (rather unsuccessfully for they languish my dear, your absence leaves them so threadbare), I’ve buttoned and laced up. I’m determined to brave the cold. To fight this Solitude-induced Snuggle Starvation that threatens to engulf me. As soon as I walk out, my nose turns an unflattering shade of plum. I rub it with my mittened palms and remember how your hands laughed as they ran over its limited surface. “Such a small nose! And so flat!” “It goes perfectly well with my face”, I’d retorted and you’d made peace by planting a kiss on it.  

Ek zara chehra udhar kijiye inayat hogi
Aapko dekh ke badi der se, meri saans ruki hain

In this wintry mood of sombre longing, I find myself on the periphery of the lake. It’s my place of calm – familiar, yet engrossing. In summer I had picked blackberries here, the plump berries collapsing into delightful mush as I picked them, staining my fingers a passionate purple. Then I had discovered a raspberry bush in late autumn and the scarlet fruit perked up many a lonely walk. I have seen the trees around this lake change colours with the seasons. Like tragic skeletons after the fire of autumn, they now stand disrobed, skeletal shadows of themselves. Summer saw them show off such enviable greens. Rich olives and fanciful limes, shades merging and dancing in the summer sun, how warm the world seemed then! The thought of summer reminds me of that sweltering day we had fought to escape it, sweating by the bucket, two filthy lovers hounding Delhi’s parks for some respite. I struggle to shake myself out of one reverie only to collapse into another.

We're not the same, dear, as we used to be.
The seasons have changed and so have we.
There was little we could say, and even less we could do
To stop the ice from getting thinner under me and you.

I look at the lake now. Its surface is frozen at this time of the year, but just about. The water slides over itself in broken sheets of glass. The ducks paddle about in small huddles and I have again forgotten to bring the bread I’d kept aside for them. They look at me expectantly, hoping for some crumbs and then seeing me empty-handed, turn away, shaking their beaks disapprovingly. An evening from another time, we had fought over the phylogeny of ducks and geese. I had been trying to find you in the maze of our favourite gardens and you’d said, “I’m where the ducks are.” “You mean the geese”, I’d said and saw you sitting on a bench, surrounded by their white cackles. I’d smiled as I saw you (I still marvel at how my face always manages to do that when it sees you, no matter how sombre the impending conversation). Those smiles, are my way of telling you (and my incredulous self) that after all this while, I still skip heartbeats. I had watched you see me and get up. The geese (which they undoubtedly were) scattered and looked for other prospective feeders. We had been standing on opposite banks of the pond that day and smiled across the expanse of water. I’d followed your steps watching you make your way to me, it had been a mellow evening. No one looks back at me across the lake today and I carry on walking.

A cold wind has started blowing and my hands feel lonely within their mittens. I look up and see a battalion of clouds march into my share of the sky. Have you ever wondered about how clouds must feel at being pushed about? Do they have existential crises as they are blown into and out of shape constantly? And what if they are having conversations and are metamorphosed mid-sentence? What happens to all those lost words and incomplete thoughts? Does the wind gobble them up the way it feeds on my pathetic little wishes? I meander along such significant wonderings and tread back home. As I’m latching the gate, a black Labrador smartly turned out in a red and blue checked coat greets me. I smile at him gratefully. He sees the vacancy in my eyes and immediately knows the winter is making my soul shudder. The underside of his jaw is white with age and I respectfully wish him a warm evening. In return, as we pass each other, he rubs his cold nose against my hand. It is fleeting, so imperceptible, I could’ve imagined it. But either way, I felt it and gratefully smile back at him. 

Tonight, that nuzzle alone will have to keep me warm.

Goodnight, love.
[February, 2011]

Chapter 1

27 July, 2012

24 July, 2012

Unspooling


"I write, I write to be heard," he said.

"I need a witness to my life as it gently unfurls. Can you be a Lover to my feverish engorged words? A misplaced muse to my molten moods? Stroke your flesh of its revulsion; despair makes me rude. Embrace my trembling lines - a mother to my wounds; a windbreaker to my angst, if I speak out too soon. My laughter will fire a cratered Moon in your skies. The stealth of my secrets shall lie forbidden in your eyes. Go on girl, romance my mundane, lick, oh lick at the profane. Will your ears err to hear me here? A magician needs his audience, a murderer his perfect mistake. Dance to my wretched tunes, darling, I'm a music-maker on a break."

"My life demands its witness - all I ask is to be heard."

[The inspiration for this was, of all things, an SMS. So it goes.]

28 June, 2012

(Bi)Cycle Diaries

[Warning: It’s long and it’s winding. And after a point, the point I seem to be making becomes cyclic (this was a pun I intended, but...). You've been warned.]

A friend recently asked me, “Do you want my cycle? I’m leaving town and I’d like to give it to you.”

Now for most people, this is not a life changing question. You either want to grab the gift horse with both hands: bridle, saddle, stomp, poop and all. Or you don’t and walk away with a nonchalant “Naah”. But the question flung me into quite a quandary, one I’m still recovering from.

Can I explain with another question? Of the people you know, how many cannot ride a cycle? I don’t know what people you are hanging out with, but I have the somewhat dubious distinction of knowing not one, not two, nope, not even three, but an entire four people who cannot cycle. And yes, all of them are way beyond that age when you’re supposed to be cycling your way to freedom. And yes, woefully, I happen to be one of them.

*                            *                            *
I trudge back into time and see what really happened to usher in this grave happenstance. As a snotty 2 year old, I owned a fancy little tricycle. Parrot green in colour, it looked like an offspring of the modern day autorickshaw, sans the pollution and the hood of course. It was my trusted stead and I, its somewhat unrestrained mistress. I’d cycle to and fro the little gallery of our little house, pudgy limbs working furiously to reach the mythical finish line. I’d whoosh to the balcony, in a frenzy of legs and flying hair, clocking times that would put a Little Lance to shame. Ting tong went the bell and off I’d rush back, pedal, pedal, pedal, Chandni to the doorbell! Of course the grownups with their talk of “do not open the door” (how could I? I was barely a foot or two off the floor!) tried to dissuade me but my daredevil driving continued unabated. A year later, I grew taller (yes, there was a time I was actually into that kind of thing) and no matter how I tried, the tricycle threw a tantrum and refused to be driven.

So there is no denying that I was off to an incredible start. But in the journey that should have replaced the two rear wheels with one, I lost all bearing. The tricycle was abandoned, forgotten and rusting into an unflattering greenish-brown, and I found myself courting the slopes ofMussoorie. The biped in me outshot the bipedal and for a blissful few years, I walked, those same pudgy legs carrying me around, as whooshy and breathless as ever.      

The St. George’s Fete Day was something to look forward to. That particularly year, it flaunted a spectacularly spotless blue sky, the kind you have to squint to look up to, a cool pine-scented breeze, the kind that makes you crinkle your nose appreciatively, and a whole riot of stalls, the kind that make you whoop with fun. What more could a pigtailed 11 year old ask for? Armed with all of my precious twenty rupees, I headed to stall after stall, a hoop there, a softie here, a huge candy floss that coloured my tongue pink and a dive for a coin in a tub of soapy water. We giggled, as only a gaggle of friends can, we ran around hiding and seeking our way through the day and were generally exhausted sooner than we dreamt we could be. Around lunch-time the mike boomed, “We shall now announce the winners of the St. George’s lottery.” I hadn’t bought a ticket and now, in the throes of fatigue, couldn’t even muster the energy to fake some anger. I flopped beside Veronica and her cousin from Goa, the very despicable, Calvin incarnate, nose-digging, girl teasing Austin. He’d pull my pigtails, gloat he was in class 7 (which supposedly made him way older than me, I was in 6th), outdo every trick I laid claim to and was generally the perfect person an 11 year old can find to detest. The mike boomed into life again and called out ticket numbers. One by one, people won dining mats and books, lampshades and movie tickets. Finally, it was time for the grand prize. A shining new cycle, red and silver in colour. Even I, the biped who didn’t know how to pedal, drooled over it, and suddenly I broke out of my reverie (yes, the one in which I cycle my way through Austin, vanquishing him from the face of this planet forever and ever). In what seemed like excruciatingly slow slow motion, I watched Austin whoop and punch the air and then run up on his silly feet, up to the makeshift stage, to collect his brand new cycle! He grinned and posed, spiked hair and blue shorts, all trembling with unrestrained energy. Ugh.

The rest of the summer holidays were painful. Austin showing up in every Chor Police game, riding his fancy cycle and stealing away my friends. Austin steadfastly airing my dubious distinction of being the Uncyclable One. And then one day, he did the unthinkable; he coaxed me into sitting on the cycle, pandering to my pride, for I was too proud (and yes, brazenly foolish) to admit I was scared to get on that unidimensional mode of transport. I got on and he wheeled me down a slope, shouting at the top of his voice all the way down. Eyes shut, the very picture of timorous fear, if I remember truthfully, I never forgave Austin for that gut-wrenching ride. Years later, I did (grudgingly) thank him for whipping the fear out of me. But summers in the hills are short, almost as fleeting as fables and fairies and a few days after the ride I was to never forget, Austin was gone. The holidays were over, the red cycle was packed and carried away to far off Goa. We mumbled promises to keep in touch, and of course never did (oh the naivety of those Wonder Years).
   
And soon I was shipped off to boarding school myself, where cycles and such adventures were relegated to history. And I remained illiterate in the language of all modes of transport. I’d listen to other girls' cycle-infested stories jealously, how they’d cycled to school at home, how they went to tuition on cycles, how they’d play and cycle and cycle and play till I had had enough. It was OK for me not to KNOW. I’d be FINE.
*                            *                            *
Years later, in another city, with another circle of friends, I found myself worrying over the carbon footprint of travelling by bus vs. car vs. carpools vs...yes, yes, cycles. The thought still rankled; it was never going to be an option for me. In my jhola chhaap milieu of environmentally conscious concerns, I’d have to forfeit the cycle. I trudged on, braving the bus and wearing out the soles, turning my stubborn back on cycles. Each time I wore my Re-cycle T-shirt, I’d feel like an imposter. I am a Walker, I convinced myself. That’s what I did, I walked. I couldn’t learn now, I thought to myself in mock horror. I was too silly to admit I’d like to learn, still too small to be big enough to ask for help.

*                            *                            *
On that very pitiable note, I relocated to a place where cycling was the norm. My supervisor cycled to university, my friends brought their groceries on their cycles, even the dogs ran behind cycles as I continued my lonesome trudge on foot. Then one sunny Sunday, Shri hollered at my door, “get out of that room. I’m teaching you how to cycle. ” I cowered and made hollow excuses, retreated and feigned illness, but he was adamant – he wouldn’t let go a chance of making me uncomfortable -  he was what Austin would have grown up to become (or so I believe in more generous moments of nostalgia). Shri soon pulled me out of the confines of my cave and into the sunshine. Parked outside was his bike. And half the Indian student contingency of Reading. This was going to be quite a show! And so it came to be that I, Chandni Singh, resigned to be lifelong Uncyclable One, learnt how to cycle, not with cymbals crashing and hair flying (as I’d secretly hoped), but flaunting my unflattering chappal-pyjama-champu-oiled-hair attire, falling and flailing like a caterpillar leaning to fly, bruising and bashing better than like any self-respecting goonda.

Being the lazy lout that I am, it was only many months later that I cycled again, this time along the lovely Thames, trembling each time a dog or cyclist came my way, shouting out my novice status to every passerby (the cyclists laughed, the dogs turned up their noses) and generally trying to avoid falling into the water (oh yes, I don’t even know how to swim, what did you think?). 

*                            *                            *
The last trip I took to anywhere was Auroville, the ideological bubble of silence and greenery near Pondicherry, a calm haven in the chatter that is India. Islanded in our pretty little room, Auroville offered cycles and motorcycles on hire to move around. The Co-Traveller (humsafar, the Hindi equivalent is so much more romantic) wanted to cycle but my boastful claims of having learnt cycling faded at the prospect of  having to actually cycle. It had been almost a year since that idyllic Thames-side jaunt. I could fall, there would be traffic. And so the foolish fearful fib in me bubbled forth and we settled to walk. So much for being Lance. I was back to where I’d started from.

*                            *                            *
And so, when I was asked the “Do you want my cycle?” question, I dithered and mumbled, tried to buy time and wander away. But what’s an environmentalist without her cycle, what’s an Arien without her daredevil brashness? So in a spurt of misguided bravado and overenthusiasm, I have agreed to take the bike. Here’s to slopes and slips, whooshing past and (hopefully) flying hair.

[This post is brought to you by Desk DeathTM.]

05 June, 2012

Untitled


~  Bukowski (who else?!). From my latest favourite tumblr


They loved each other. A little too much if you ask me. But you wouldn’t know it if you saw them. They always sat a little apart, the way new lovers do, the kind who have yet to touch, yet to learn how intoxicating a lover’s body can be. I have no patience for people who don’t explore. Bodies of course. They never really even spoke to each other when around other people. Oh she chattered of course, saying the right things at the right time. But not to him, if you know what I mean. He’d often frown at her words, staring into the distance or the immediate, whichever caught his fancy, sometimes switching off to listen to the turmoil in his mind. He rarely looked at her which is why I wondered whether they were in love at all. I mean, she often glanced his way. Perhaps she thought he would smile back. At times it made me pity her. Come to think of it, I’d never seen them smile at each other. They’d sit there prim and proper and I’d wonder at their love. Oh but don’t get me wrong. In spite of outward appearances, they loved. Their silent divergences were mere facades, clever routines they acted out to fool onlookers into believing theirs was a story less than ordinary. Mundane on the verge of being tedious. But I was a seasoned observer, a connoisseur of the human charade. And I saw through their masquerade. Oh how they loved. Their souls reeked of it. So proud were they of their experience of love that they didn’t expect mere mortals to comprehend it. As if their version was a superior cryptogram of love, that they alone had managed to decipher. And so, basking in the glory of it, they carefully kept it away from greedy eyes, lest it should get tainted by that most feared species: an unworthy spectator.


Her, I’d known since long. She’d come over unannounced, and plop right next to you. She’d have thrown off her shoes, wiggled her way into the cushions and then once satisfied she’d found the most comfortable spot, ask in an utterly serious voice, “Did you see the moon last night?” Who asked a person like me a question like that? She did and of course it didn’t sound queer. Then she’d stretch in that way. I guess you could call it abandon. You know, the way people do when they are alone. One day she announced, “Enough of this talk of falling in love. I’d like to just liquefy into love.” Oh the things she said. In the afternoons, she’d always be slightly sleepy, she said she liked the feeling of approaching somnolence, it had the promise of undreamt dreams. Then she’d be her malleable best, purring out her responses, oozing lethargy in a particularly feline manner. She was also the most easily excitable person I knew. Once she called me and breathlessly said, “I just got these shoes and they are smiling.” She hung up before I could question such an impossibility. But she had that irritating habit of hiding things. From me, from him, for godssake, from herself. She could get quite stupid in that sense. And if you looked carefully, behind the gaiety, the flippant banter, there was an intangible barrier she fought to hide. It was when I saw him, I knew he had accomplished the unattainable. He’d found a way through.


Him, I’d heard of much later. She never mentioned people she really cared about in her multi-coloured conversations. So it was only much later that she gently whispered his name to me. Carefully, as if fearful of powdering butterfly wings, superstitious of dampening the perfection of her story. You know, he was the cloud to her silver lining, but I could see why that was what she liked about him. She was tired of people reaffirming her life. He alone questioned it, uncovering layers to her Self she didn’t know existed, making her uncomfortable enough to grow. Most of his face was hidden by a bush of beard. Too much hair for my taste, but then she had a thing for beards. And glasses. He went around with this halo of profound tragedy that he thought became him. She said not even a poet wore pain so beautifully. In the early days, I’d once called them over for drinks. He was silent, nursing, of all things, a glass of tea! She, however, drank too much, her words stilted with the embarrassment of watching her lover’s discomfort, making her as ugly as a beautiful girl can get. I was the passive observer, uncomfortable in my own house. As I walked them to the door, I pulled him aside, “Take care of her.” He looked at me as if I was too stupid to talk to and replied, “Love is quite mediocre without pain.” I looked at him, with a grudge lodged in my gut, the fucker had given her that. The Happiness of Pain. The Pain of Happiness?


Two years ago I heard he’d moved on. Don’t you detest the term? Moved on. As if relationships were houses one changed, love relegated to the rung of real estate. He’d had enough I heard. Of deceiving himself that he could be her man. His love had always waxed and waned, as capricious as his other muse, the moon. He had raged a constant battle against his insufficiencies and her pitiful attempts at reproach, till he’d snapped. In the end, it was his strengths, disguised as uncertainties that had allowed him to walk away. Overshadowed by her languid loveliness, her terrifying resolve to love him, he, the one who (he thought) deserved it the least, and whom she showered it upon the most, waltzed out of her life.


Today, as I was writing out a postcard to her, no one loved colourful paper like she did, I heard she had snapped. No wonder I am talking this loopy today. Mixing up memories with perceptions. Biases with weaknesses. She went and drowned herself. Oh how she feared water. I wonder if she thought of him as she gasped. I know she did. She would’ve cried into the water as she drowned in it. She liked that kind of melodrama. And he would have appreciated the irony. Her journals, each one of them splattered with her spirited stories, belonged to him now. That would be his gift and his curse. I told you, they loved each other too much. 


[Phew! This was the fastest piece of anything I've ever written. It just tumbled out of me some months ago, and I found myself tapping out my first phone-story.]

30 May, 2012

Landlocked


Yes, yes,

              I know.
              Every man is an 'i'land
              marooned on his own sea of
              contradictions and lies,
              swimming between
              the dilemmas of
              solitude
              and loneliness.

              Every man is
              settling into
              shape-changing
              sands,
              confused by
              the sanguine sunsets:
              "why does such passion
              not run colour?"

              But, what if
              islands could choose neighbours?
              little pieces of
              forgotten land
              bumping into one another
              as they float
              aimfully
              on the seas of time.

Ah!
              I'd choose an island as
              beautifully isolated
              as I dream to be.
              I'd choose an island with
              Bookshelves.
              Ah yes, that
              would be
              quite perfect.

22 April, 2012

The Sari Shop by Rupa Bajwa


Perfect on those long summer afternoons. 

I really enjoy fiction based in India. It is always interesting to watch an author weave a tale against the backdrop of familiar landscapes. Chaiwallas and dust, matrimony obssessed women and fans that whirr irrespective of which way you turn the regulator, summer heat and Lifebouy soap. Rupa Bajwa won the Commonwealth Writer's Prize for this one; a simple story of Ramchand the sari seller in the city of Amritsar (which like every other major city in India has the 'old' areas of narrow lanes and the newer parts with broad roads and fancy houses). The narration charts his efforts to realise a dream and step into a world far removed from his, where people speak in English and travel in air conditioned cars. However, the crushing revelations of the reality he belongs to, send him spiralling into an abyss of depression. As the story allows Ramchand to crawl back to sanity, Rupa Bajwa deftly narrates his resigned acceptance of the reality of his existence.

Here is a review with a spoiler. Ha don't you just love those?


19 April, 2012

On Forgiving

"Perhaps the first step to forgiveness is trying to put yourself in the other person's place."

06 April, 2012

The Nightmare



Reason 
lay putrefying on my pillow.  

I woke up
in a breathless hurry,
this heart weaving beats
in a crazed drunken stitch.
My eyes screamed
at replays of 
The Dream
stretched taught
against a canvas of terror.
Caught between fiction 
and fear, 
I wretchedly thirsted
for reality 
to get more real.
A binding silence
stitched my limbs to
my heavy sides
fetid fingers scratched
at my will. 
The sheets were drenched in salt,
a fever of sweat and tears.



I lifted a hand - rag puppet limp
and in a voice splintered by fear,
called out, "Name".
You walked in,
my Dandelion wish
I blew you into reality
and watched you
slowly sift through 
those threads of cacophony
cocooning me
into comfort.

Cross posted here

31 March, 2012

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


"Oh the brilliant wretchedness, the weariness, that one is doomed to witness among the silly people whom we meet in society here! The ambition of rank! How they watch, how they toil, to gain precedence! What poor and contemptible passions are displayed in their utter nakedness!"
Read when you've reached The Edge. 

When I started on this slim book (a mere 88 pages long!), the prose seemed unwieldly, too ornate for my taste. I grew apprehensive, perhaps I'd been reading too much 'new age literature', perhaps it was my waning patience? Thankfully, it was neither, and slowly, Young Werther grasped.

Goethe was only 24 (!) when he wrote this semi-autobiographical book, applauded as one of the most important milestones in his career. The preface states "it rose like a literary meteor in the world and carries his name on its blazing wings."

Narrated in the form of letters Werther writes to his friend, the story charts the spiral of wrenching emotions he faces and finally bows down to. For all the weaknesses of his character, Werther is strong in his love, something he nourishes and fans till there is nothing left for himself. With an almost morbid fascination, I watched him rise, on the ecstacy of finding love, even if unrequited, and then his fall into the Abyss of No Return. His introspective letters are exquisite pieces of prose and I watched Werther wade through anxieties that I have often had at different turns of my life. He too holds an immense fascination for Nature. He too echoes the feelings of jealousy and pain I have ridden. And that, for me, is Goethe's triumph. He transcends time. Werther is a young man in 18th century Germany. I, a girl in 21st century India. Our contexts could not be further removed and yet he manages to build a story that resonates.
"This confirmed me in my resolution of adhering, for the future, entirely to nature. She alone is inexhaustible, and capable of forming the greatest masters."

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