Flying Lessons

The other day, I walked around in the flea market, a lot. Several kilometers. My feet began to ache above the soles of my flat shoes. The road got to them. I was trying to shed some loneliness that day, wanted to get home late at night and then sleep.

On a long stretch of such walking, I entered a by-lane and crossed several soothsayers. None of them oozed clairvoyance. In fact, they looked like business women, down to business. Sitting on their haunches, with a photo of a beautiful goddess adorned in roses and a cloth spread out and some loose change sprung on it. A couple of young girls were having their palms read. I had some curiosities too, thought I should ask. Unforsaken wishes. A plump and pink baby, a spunky little breezy apartment, flight to a distant land, a bit of success, and so on. So I paused, but the soothsayer spoke an alien language and there would be the dearth of a translator, among the dearth of other things. So I didn't pause any longer.

Came back home to find that a pigeon won't budge from the pot that housed my hibiscus house plant. Turns out that was a hot breeding spot for pigeons. She had built quite a nest with twigs and leaves. If you've noticed, I've written quite a bit about these pigeons, how much I have tried to help them nest. And just when I thought they were an infertile clan, she laid a pair of eggs under my favorite plant.

I thought I would keep the eggs outside the pot, on the floor, the moment the bird left, and she would come back and carry them away, to wherever. But she didn't budge. For days, never left sight of the eggs. Warmed them endlessly. I waited for her to give up. I knew she would. Those eggs never hatched, I've seen before.

Whenever I watered my plant, the mamma pigeon would scowl at me, flutter her wings and scare me away. Suddenly on a Saturday, I sensed movement under the mamma. The eggs had hatched and the baby birds with their eyes shut were there, like dollops of flesh with tiny hair and eyes shut. I was overawed and quite happy to their family. The father visited diligently.

Over the next week, I saw the parents, alter and sit on the baby birds to keep them warm and feed them mouth to mouth. I sprinkled left over rice and water. The baby birds grew quickly, swelled up. Their hair slowly grew thicker, their tough black beaks became prominent. I was afraid they would poke me in the eye.

I kept giving them rice and they kept growing. Their parents visited less often. The two babies took up most of the pot, there was not much space for the mamma anymore. Given, it is the monsoon, it rained on several nights, throughout. One night I woke up at 4 am to the sound of thunder and went to the balcony to see if the birds were doing okay. I pulled the pot further inside, where the rain couldn't reach and covered it with an umbrella. The mamma who was there, thought I had caged them all and fluttered like a mad woman. And escaped, leaving her children in my peril.

But they returned in a few. To reach the baby birds how to fly. The babies thought I was hostile, probably. Because I would sit by the pot and talk incessantly and softly to them. Clap my hands and make them stand up and sit down to my claps. Whenever I watered my plant, they would flutter their new wings and try to scare me away. Nevertheless I sat with them, waiting for their parents to return, with food of their kind, and more stories of the world, dreams, perhaps, a few.

The babies had grown very big and they had covered my pot with shit. I googled the lifespan of pigeons to find out when they were flying and vacating my space. I am to leave for a break in a week or two and if they birds didn't fly away by then, it would be a problem, because I am planning to give the plants to a neighbor who would water them when I am gone and I clearly can't give it to them with the birds in it.

The papa bird gave them flying lessons, sitting on the ledge of my balcony. Soon enough, one of the baby birds, flew away, to the glee of her parents and of me, and of her brother. I waited for her to return at night, I was worried she was so new, she might fall off the branch of a tree or something. I have seen pigeons sleep on telephone wires, and let me tell you, precarious! But she didn't return. I am hoping she's alive and well. But her brother, the other baby bird, who is the bigger one, fatter one, hasn't been able to fly.

And I cannot fathom why. Perhaps, he had heard a scary story or two. Because I've checked, his legs and feathers look normal to me. He's just afraid I am hoping. The parents come sometimes now, counsel the bird, who is almost a fully grown pigeon now. But to no avail. All he does is stand up and sit down. And flutter his wings when I water the plant or throw some food on him to make him try to fly away. But nothing works.

I think this one is a homing pigeon and has found its way home. 

Thirty-one

The other day, I was reading through the Wikipedia page on Winston Churchill. Not quite reading as much as looking for quirks. Tiny  little things worth remembering. I went on to the pages of his children and grandchildren. Several spouses of theirs. And children again. All perished. Some of disease. Some of misery. Some of boredom. But all dead and by gone. Erased in history, except their black and white pictures.

A man who was powerful enough to stop a war or cause a famine, he is gone, obliterated. And his progeny much the same.

It gave me some perspective. I am going through a limbo. When was I not? But this is also one of the several limbos I have been through. I think when I die, my life would have been a series of such limbos conjugated back to back, with a very washable glue of memories.

I am thirty one. I was quite depressed (not because of that, personally I think, ageing is fun) because of the goings-on. I am beginning to imagine I am prone to certain things. Like biochemically. Like some of those women whose Wikipedia pages I've visited, someone's (third) wife, someone's (illegitimate) daughter, mentioned in passing, who were prone to depression.

I know for a fact, that I am slightly bi-polar, if I may. And prone to a few things that make me less capable of controlling how I feel. That transpires into a lot of aspects of how I live and generally, be. But my mood swings are violent and totally out of control. Since, I am a very inward person, with very few outlets, these things are beginning to crush me in a very novel way, like none of my past limbos have done. There is quite a bit of curdling and swirling and crying and screaming going on, inside my head.

Nevertheless, Winston Churchill died, vanished from the face of the earth, without a trace. So will I. One day. Sooner rather than later.

Happy thirty-one!


Grandmother

Grandmother rushes in at midnight to the river front to stand and watch a bridegroom’s passing procession. The lights and the crackers and the trumpeters and four bearers carrying his palanquin. A stream of lights passing by the river front could be sighted from our rooftop as well. But their reflections on the black water, and the grim blue-grey sky would be experienced firsthand only if woken by the firecrackers, you grab your slippers and walk briskly and reach the river front about time. And grandmother would clearly be the one woke and running. Along with a bevy of grandchildren. 

At half past two on school day afternoons, grandmother would sit in the courtyard in the shade of the gigantic red hibiscus and from a plate of jaded silver, feed lunch to the same bevy of grandchildren. Grandchildren of all shapes and sizes, even the ones who are barely weaned from their mother’s milk would sit, cross-legged, quietly, even though in their hearts fluttered a dozen alibis for skipping siesta. Grandmother would make spherical morsels and keep them on the rather bigly plate. Each morsel would have mashed rice and dals and curries and veggies and with a touch of pickle on top for easing the swallowing. Each morsel would have a name on it,  one for the father, one for the mother, one for each brother or sister, one for a fairy, one for the moon and so on, till the plate was wiped clean. Each belly fed to full after grandmother’s hand went about clockwise in circles, several times.

Then in siesta time, came the stories. Of moon-faced monsters and old demonesses that lived on champak trees, having kidnapped the souls of young and pretty princesses. Grandmother’s eyes snapped asleep sometime in the middle of those fairy tales, her voice whirred and the grandchildren knew, this was their cue to get up, one by one though, and quietly tiptoe to the playground outside. 

Grandmother was also the takecarer of the oft recurring midnight hunger pangs of the grandchildren. She was the one who rolled in somewhat-semi-sweet-semi-creamy milk-powder out of the can, in left over rotis. Rolls that fed hungry children who shared their grandmother’s ancient antique empress size bed, rolling from its edge to edge, several feet, drenched in Disney world dreams, and slept behind clay walls, under thatched roofs.

Grandmother, when septuagenarian or octogenarian, when semi paralyzed with senility, slow fried egg plants, walked to the living room and sat on the sofa, half-watching TV, half daydreaming, waiting for one side to cook, fry, char, until she walked into the kitchen and flipped them over. 

Grandmother, this, grandmother that. 

Coffee

Here,
Drink some more coffee
You over-caffeinated zombie
To sit up and keep eyes wide shut

Because,
Life is full of problems
and then,
Life ends

Abruptly,
Perhaps, as most ones say
You wake up one day
And find nothing

Not the quintessential nothing of daily depression
But actual nothing, 
A forever-void for real
That's the end, no tunnels, no lights, no nothing

Until then,
Hang on to coffee
Short on sleep, short on peace
And overflowing, almost bursting with regrets; wait;

Hang on 

Saturn

Did you know
That Saturn
Has an aurora borealis too
Just like ours, I mean
Who woulda thought

Also, did you know
The coconut tree in my backyard
Stunned me bad, last night
It cast this huge shadow, on my neighbour's wall
And I thought was that a ghost

When I spotted it,
Inching closer to my kitchen window
I stood staring at the shadow's leaves, sway
Below a half moon
And rushed to the bedroom to check the real tree

In the years I've lived here
Never seen this shadow
Not once, and suddenly tonite
Am rushing back and forth, kitchen, bedroom
To and fro

And alternately glancing at Saturn's aurora borealis
Looking so damn photoshopped this
But it's real, shot by a passing Cassini or
A Voyager, or something
It's like a million square miles

Can u imagine living in it
Under it, and gazing up
Tonite, suspended between shadow and light
I imagine I do.
Somewhere under Saturn's North Pole and submerged in its orange aura.


Phase

An effective way to get past a phase, any phase, is to let it run its course. Just bear it for a certain amount of time, instead of constantly fighting it. And the phase, will begin to feel that you are soft, mouldable, yet somewhat indestructible and it will leave you alone. So it's up to you to now decide what is a respectable amount of time you must spend bearing the said phase. Is it a week, or a month? Sometimes a phase goes on for years, to be honest. It becomes so inbuilt in your life that you cannot separate, like, draw a distinct line, which characteristics are yours, which are the phase's. In that case, perhaps, you have lost. Or the phase has. Or it's just a tie. Like in any kind of competition.

But the most wicked kind of phase is the one that keeps coming back. It never completely leaves you. First few times it catches you, you fight it. Then you bear it, then ignore it. But it keeps coming back. You simply lose out on all methods and don't know what to do anymore. It leaves you in peace for a month or two and then down a week or so you realise you got it again. It's merciless. It wrings you of all your potency. It's basically a slow but persistent process of self decay.

For instance, you remember how I baked silly cakes on every Sunday afternoon for over a year and a half. No matter how far from decent the cakes were, or how many containers I broke, or how I had no eggs left for Monday ever. Nothing could get me rid of it.

Then, do you remember smoking. Nicotine has been my closest accomplice. In many many of the acts I have participated in, it has stood by me. When everything else stood me up, I had it. So that's a phase, that keeps coming back. It keeps away the blues with its greys. It does a good job of giving me the short lived illusion that I am as calm as I could humanly be.

Then there were times when I would embroider, till my eyes hurt. I would learn new stitches and make them. And screw up old dresses with new thread. Other times, I would do origami and play around with glitter. Paper flowers with gold borders. Also I invested in real plants, like real alive plants. They were like my pets, my friends, and when they flowered, I felt like I had children. And when they died, my world came crashing down.

Then, again, do you remember lulls. I mean, I keep having these lull phases. They are like a limbo. Nothing is practically still, for the sake of all that is holy. Everything is moving and fast. I am chasing cabs, and climbing stairs and ordering groceries, doing my daily walks, talking on the phone, behaving all normal, drinking two cups of coffee at work, daily. There is this facade of normalcy. But inside, I am extremely quiet. As in there is a vacuum inside my entire body. And a mellow realisation that almost everything of value has been lost. And no amount of love, or time, or rest could even begin to help me fill myself back up. And in phases of these lulls. I would lose my mind for brief instances and scream and cry. Like really loudly, biting into pillows and stuff. So when I'm doing this, am I running the phase out, or am I fighting it with all I have got? I couldn't tell you. 

Leaving

“You have gone insane, haven’t you?” She asked me from the between the curls of hair that fell on her face. 

Her irises appeared darker than before, literally like bottomless twin pools. That I could drown in and not surface from. I had doubts if I would even try to hold on to the hands of a rescuer whilst I drowned in her eyes or any other pool in general. I had begun feeling like an ascetic from the past few days.

She reiterated the question, had I gone crazy. Her words felt like wisps of air escaping her brown lips, which were otherwise tightly pursed, awaiting an affirmative answer from me. I had begun wearing sunglasses in the house to keep out the excessive day light. She pulled them out from my face and I shut my eyes into darkness.

When I opened them again, in the clear afternoon light she appeared feral. Exasperated with my muteness she stood up and began pacing up and down the room. She hadn't evolved much in the last six or seven months that I hadn't seen her. I had imagined she would be unrecognizable. But why would she even alter at all?

I told her. “You haven’t changed much. You haven’t changed at all.”

She approached my chair and placed her left palm on my right knee and sighed deeply.

“You have to move on”

“I have. I mean clearly I have”

“You have gone insane, is what you have done”

“You make it seem like I had a choice”

“Oh don’t be silly. We had talked about this. So many times, over and over again”

“Well clearly, now that you've seen the aftermath, you must conclude, I am not the one for the talking”, I said hoping she would calm down with my ridiculous retorts.

“Honestly, I don’t have time for this. I have to get back, I can’t be gone for such long. You take care and, and just get your shit together”

“Yeah sure, get my shit together I will” This was more disgusting than expected. 

“You should go.” I paused. “Because if you stayed any longer, you never know, what I might do.”

That didn't slow her gait but she turned and looked at me. “What does that even mean?”

“I’m kidding. I’m joking. You of all people should know that”

“Can we just talk for five minutes, before I leave?”

She came closer and sat on the floor, with her legs crossed, instantly persuading me to climb down from my chair.

On the floor, she held my hand in hers and began speaking in slow wisps again.

“This is the last time you’re seeing me. I am not coming back. Never again. I want you to know this.”

I stayed mum, feeling rough in my throat, having nothing to say.

She spoke again. “I want you to tell me that you know you are not going to see me again”

“You sound like you are the one that needs some convincing”

“Shut up. Do you want my husband to explain it to you, how all this works?”

The mention of him crashed me back into reality. For a stretch of the hour I had imagined she was here for my sake and my sake only.

“Say it!”

“I know, I know you’re not coming back”

“I strongly urge you get a life. Listen to me, see someone else”

“Why don’t you fix me up with one of your single friends?”

“I can’t stay involved. But there are lots of women. I am told there are some dating apps and some real nice young things. You've always been lecherous, you would know everything”

“Serious accusation alert!”

“C’mon we know each other. We don’t have to wear facades.”

I broke her off in the middle. “If we know each other, why the fuck did you even leave me? Why did you abandon me? Why did you break my heart so irreversibly?”

Before I realized, I was screaming at her. She put her hand on my mouth to quieten me I guess but nothing worked.

And the next minute she was gone.

She had vanished so neatly, it was almost as if she had never been here. That’s exactly how people go. People who have made up their minds to go, they just leave so immaculately, the one left behind often is seen trying to grab on to the air that rushed in to fill the vacuum of sudden absence.

Flight

We hadn't ever flown together. But this flight, we were taking together. So together. But we hadn't planned it much. He was an adhoc kind of man. He texted to check if I had reached the airport. I hadn't. I wasn't running late at all, in fact I was ahead of time. And he was further ahead of me. When I was in the washroom peeing, he called, where had I been? Clearly he was bored and wanted some company, even if it was mine. I calmly went about things and found him in the exact place he'd told me he'd be at. So far we were doing ok.

He looked different. Not very different. But not exactly the same either. There were strips of difference. His face had a rugged 9 am charm. He looked like a man who was about to tell me a story. Usually, he would appear extremely taciturn, always carefully choosing his words. But not this morning. He asked me if I wanted to eat. Nope, I was gonna have a brunch in the air.

Quietly, we began the endless walk in the airport, through longish isles, taking escalators down and up and then vice versa. Looking into stores, clothes and toys and other travel memorabilia that people liked to pick up at twice the price. But we just looked at and passed them non chalantly, while making mildly awkward yet conscious small talk. I kept smiling hoping that would break some of the  ice, and he responded too, not smiling as much, but a little bit here and there.

When we reached the departure gate, we had over an hour to kill, oh an hour. Why did I even have to wake up that early, I was going to have to simply strangle this extra hour to death and drink its blood. There were hardly any empty chairs. We found an empty half row in the distance. He sat down and I didn't sit on the adjacent chair, thinking that would be too close. I placed my bag in the chair in the middle and he followed suit. This proximity was bearable.

I was afraid the silence was gonna get haunting. I kept looking away as if waiting for my entourage to join me, but no one was coming. We both knew. This time, he invented chit chat topics. We got up at adequate intervals to drink water and pee. We guarded each other's stuff like obliging copassengers. Talked quite much before we boarded.

In the flight, the stewardess wore zing nail paint and her fingers looked delicious. I was gonna have to spend the two odd hours staring at them, I composed myself. He was seated next to me, but on the other side of the aisle. I noticed his shirt had tiny flowers, flowers really. I was wearing black, I cannot recall why. After we took off, we talked in signs across the aisle and sometimes bent over to hear the other person. It felt close and comforting. In an aircraft of a hundred people, a stranger who was less strange than the other ninety nine, yes it did feel sweet.

He has always been sweet, his sweetness can be utterly disarming so I had to tread on thin ice around him. I did not want to fall for him. I knew I wasn't capable of falling anymore, but I was not ready to tempt fate yet. I bought noodles. He ate a pack of nuts, but barely. He had a coffee, I had a Diet Coke.  Later, when we were above the sea, and flew over ships that appeared and disappeared between thick nimbus clouds I expected some turbulence.

Even when everything is going normal or sub normal, I have this slightly irresistible temptation to jump off. But the flight was smooth. When we landed, he waited for me by the conveyor belt since my bag, as usual, came out the last, the very ultimate fucking last, I kid you not.