U or me

Life moves fast
Years pile up
2009 between '14 and' 08
A bit of '06 somewhere in there
Although I remember nothing 

Except for what has pained me
But I forget almost time, in its entirety 
The inconsequential hours & months
Mail exchanges with strangers 
Calls lasting into nights, breathless cycle rides
Pictures, guileless selfies, minute long videos 

A mammoth of life is locked in those
And they're casually & effortlessly erased
Perhaps because we're not meant 
To hold on to every tiny thing
Else how would we wallow in everyday misery 

Now if I recollect hard
I can contain my entire thirty odd years
In a few hours
That's how shrink worthy I am

Also how much I remember of me
Is exactly as much as I remember of you
Funny as it may seem, it be true
And our chords run so deep
Honeybunch Sugarplum
My bespectacled darling 

When I scram through my memories 
I cannot know
Which-one is you
And which-one is me


The Girl

The girl was a girl no more. At twenty-seven, she could be a woman, full-fledged. But still she was a girl because that's how girls are referred to.

The girl shared an apartment with her two friends. She has her own bedroom which she had adorned with fairy lights, mirrors, house plants and stuffed toys. However the insides of her head were disheveled. She was dragging herself from one day to the next. And barely

She had just broken up. It had been a steady relationship of what now seemed to be her entire life. But they had lived in a different cities for a while and the distance had wrecked havoc.

The girl got lonely a lot. Tried new things with her hair. Clothes. Shoes. She read poetry, racy novellas even, just to stay put. But nothing worked. Her ex dumped her. Both of them were distraught. But they had to let go when they still could. 

Although picking up the pieces of her life was blindingly difficult, there was no other way to go. Nowhere else to be. 

The girl could not manage to get out from the bed in the morning. She decided she would quit her job and live off her parents for a bit. Immediately she took up a hobby she had always yearned to nurture. Pottery.

She made vases. Ugly and ordinary. But the feel of clay in her hands made her accept that most things are malleable. After months, she could make a half decent vase. The girl put them up on Instagram. 

Then she wanted to cook. She wanted to cook so much that there was no end to it. She still hadn't managed to tell her mom and dad exactly how unemployed she was. She used the last of her savings to buy the dishes and groceries. 

She started a kitchen and hand delivered meals to single people who lived nearby. She didn't get to rise with her head above water for months, but getting out of bed was no longer the biggest obstacle in her day. 

She cooked and packed lunches and dinners like it was nobody's business. She dressed in ordinary clothes and walked to deliver the meals. She was unrecognizable when compared with her previous self. But she had begun. To heal.

The girl. A Girl. 

I write because I too seek to heal. Because I seem to somehow know that I am too damaged to create anything beautiful. I would so rather I wasn't this way

Sujata

Sujata wore a blouse with puffed short sleeves with her usual chiffon sari that day. It was a humid afternoon in Howrah. It was just before lunch time and she was busy assembling lunch. Her husband would be home in minutes. She had filled the bitter gourds with spiced potato and was about to leave them in the frying pan, when the bell rang.

Sujata took on a lot of work. Mostly house work. Sometimes she hauled bags of groceries up the stairs. She cooked three meals for her family, washed and cleaned, folded piles of laundry etc. But she never showed any exhaustion. Perhaps because she went about tasks at her own pace, like a swan. For instance, when the bell rang, she didn't leave the gourds to open the door. Rather she saw them crackle in the oil, washed her hands, while wiping them with the end of her sari, walked to the door.

Sujata pulled out a chair for him and while he sat there scrolling through his phone, she served him several dishes that she had cooked since mid morning. Steamed rice with tempered dal, little aubergines dipped in besan and fried, a small salad, a bit of leftover chholey and the potato stuffed bittter gourd that came last. Husband had a silver jewelry shop in the market nearby and always showed up for lunch. Next would be her father in law who stayed in a room in their house and came out for necessities like food and water. He didn't like the outside much since he had a television inside the tiny room he had. Sujata sometimes served him lunch inside. But that day he had chosen to come out.

After him, Sujata's son would reach home from school and eat lunch while narrating his day to his mother. Sujata would listen to all tit bits and ask a question or two in return. Sometimes, even more folks showed up after that, unexpected, brothers, or sisters who were in the area, friends and guests. After feeding everyone, Sujata would sit with whatever food was left in a bowl alone on the dining table and eat. Slowly, at her own pace. Later she would make a cup of tea and vanish into her room for a bit before emerging to start making dinner.

That  day when she went to her bedroom after lunch, her husband was on the bed, watching the news. She often pondered whether he chatted with that old mistress of his. But she had stopped asking him that question a few years ago. Accepting had made it easier, albeit only a little. The moment she lay on the bed, he sat up and left. 

Sujata breathed deeply and thought if she should fold the laundry or speak to her son. Then she peeked out the window. It was a cloudy day, perhaps the clothes wouldn't have dried completely. So she decided to lie down a little longer. 

Her mind meandered for a while before she sat up to sip from her tea cup.

Suddenly her head rolled. The feeling traveled down her body like a thunder. Her chest felt tight and she fell on the floor. Her breathing paused. 

As per pupils closed, her thoughts stretched out a bit longer. Next in the room would be her son who would rush in after hearing the thud. He would probably call his father. Then perhaps, some neighbors or relatives. Her daughter who studied engineering and lived in a hostel, one night away, would probably be the last to arrive. 

DTF

Funny, how when I thought about a date, only food came to mind. I saw dimly lit yellow restaurants with red decor. Heard the clink of cutlery and thought about soups, hot and sour, or cream of mushroom, fried chicken or salads with my favorite dressing, breads, lots of breads and oodles of noodles. Surprisingly my mind never strayed to dessert. Someone I knew said they would skip dinner but not dessert. Not me though. I would indulge in ample amounts of both, in their natural order. But I never would fantasize as much about a cheese cake as I would about, say, a bowl of ramen or steamy dumplings.

And what was more shocking was the fact that I never invested mindspace on the man. I obviously chatted and listened. And occasionally flirted. But, I never obsessed. I was cool. Twenty-seven, and not particularly looking. But not shutting the doors entirely either. I had, what you would call, an open mind.

I had many serious infatuations, followed by not-an-affair kind of affairs with mostly emotionally unavailable men. Then a couple of medium term relationships, one in grad school and one at the work place. The former didn't last the distance, after graduation, like I had assumed it would not. The latter did not survive because, well, I grew up.

So now there was no room for drama. I was down to DTF. Although I was no Charlie Harper, I had shed most of my shyness like an old skin. And I was meeting with a guy I had run into on a dating website. We were meeting over egg rolls and other street food, out in front of a park I used to frequent.


Winter

When in sixth grade
In the middle of a school fete
On a crisp December morning
I told my plump teacher of Math
That I would miss class for a week or more
Flowers in her hair, and brows squeezed 
She asked what was I upto
We were going up to the Himalayas 
Yes, in winter
Brows immediately apart
She asked me to have some fun, please

For hundreds of miles
In a bus with nausea as a co-passenger
Families with kids, old folks 
The single and unattached
And people of all other kinds
Packed with our bags and suitcases 
Embarked on a journey north ward 

Sometime around Christmas
When the twelve year old me
Woke up in the morning 
I saw snow capped mountains 
I, literally I had never seen snow
Several mountain ranges away
But snow, nevertheless 

My eyes were awed
And I felt completely woke
I rolled down the window
A chill caught my cheek
And I felt my mellow unviolated skin
Crack in the cold
That honey, was the first feel of winter

Fling

I cannot remember your face, tonite
Wide awake as my mind floats back in time
We were acquaintances, merely
You were after my good friend
And thought, I'd fix you up with her
How naive, mister
And hence you befriended me
But slowly you gave up on my friend
Because that was not to be
And that was that

Years later I visited your city 
Wild, by the sea
And you felt obligated to show me around
Or you wanted to, really
I didn't bother to know
I was elated, you showed up
Mostly, just showing up matters

You took me out for pizza
And to the movies 
To stake dinners with candles
It felt funny because I really dressed up
Skirts and heels, so not me 
You teased me and stepped back
We had been careful about crossing lines 

I treated you to a sub, 
In a sunny looking subway on a Saturday 
Remember?
And spilled coke all over your shirt
My face was flushed pink 
And you seemed totally okay
Somewhere there we crossed those lines

You made me garlic bread 
In the middle of the night
We ate bars of chocolate 
And kissed in the dark
I wasn't the pretty one
Definitely not your type
You were far from my type too
We both knew and it didn't matter

Such was that fling
Short-lived and too casual for memory
Yet, I remember 
Everything but your face
Later, when you coyly asked me permission 
To kiss me again
I sobered up and said that's not a great idea
How you must've shrunk
I cringe to think of, now

Strangers

I noticed a framed photograph of a bunch of strangers in my living room. Next to the television. I couldn't remember why it was there. I hardly ever notice my house. Things lay, neglected and dusty. I have often wanted to have a life in which the mind is beautiful, you know. So I don't much focus on making the house beautiful. In the last decades, I've managed neither. Anyway.

I picked up the photograph and stared closely. I could spot myself in the last row. A different version of me, of course. I am, ageless, to be truthful. I was born with an older person's head. So I never feel I have been childish in the past. In the picture, my hair is tied up, I am wearing shorts and a favourite blue top. Next to me is someone I had recently met with back then.

This person, a girl, vivacious and affable had taken a keen interest in me at work. In fact, she suggested, we go out for Chinese lunch, just like that, out of the blue. I obviously couldn't turn her down and we became friends. The way an introvert and extrovert gel, we adhered to each other with a level of comfort I hadn't recently found in another human. 

This girl, she had her boyfriend introduced to me. He worked in one of the adjacent buildings. He came off as a reticent man. But when he spoke, it seemed, folks listened and intently. For some reason, could be my intense vulnerability, or me living alone, having moved into the city recently and not knowing another soul, the girl was reluctant to leave me unattended. I mean, she would hover around. And I, surprisingly, didn't rebuke her and let it be.

The couple, they never made me feel like I was third wheeling, you know. It was always like, we were friends hanging out. They started accompanying me to my Saturday night temple outings, instead of hitting the pubs in town. Who does that?

One day, the girl suggested we go the waterpark. I had never been to an amusement park. I didn't buy the idea of having an entire day set aside for fun activities. I wasn't good enough for such prizes. But she convinced me that I was. 

It was a Sunday and we took the bus to the outskirts. The day whizzed past wonderfully. I crossed the lazy river thrice. And there were tidal lakes and the joy of screaming hydrophobic strangers next to me as they drowned in waist high waves. Towards the end, we realised we didn't have a picture. So this was the last ride we took. 

It was one of those slides, roller coaster kind of thing where the cart with a dozen people crashed into the water. The picture was taken just before we crashed. Our jaws are wide open. Eyes are tremendously excited and we're screaming like there's no tomorrow.

I held the photo in my hands and realised that I had been keeping a photo of nine total strangers in my living room for over four years. The girl too moved away after she switched jobs, but not before breaking up with the reticent boyfriend. So, the only person I knew in the photograph was me. The rest were all strangers. In that brief moment, my agelessness came crashing down.