Odd Jobs

1
He works as a security guard. Far from home. Like two nights and one day away. That's very far in train terms. He sees his family only twice a year. Going home for Diwali is a constant. And once more, whenever the opportunity fell through. He speaks a different dialect. And lives in a single room asbestos shack. He cooks his meals on a solitary stove. Three neat meals everyday. Rice and dals and rotis. Sometimes chicken too. Aromas fill the air around his one roomed existence. Apparently, he uses garlic in everything. Whenever I see him, he is slicing garlic, chopping garlic, crushing garlic in his stone pestle.

2
She works as a sweeper for the municipality. Wearing one of those fluorescent jackets over her tattered sari, she would sweep the sides of roads. She collected polyethylene bags and plastic bottles and gutka sachets from the streets that somebody forgot to put in the garbage bin and put then in her sack which she would finally load into the garbage truck. She worked with poise. As if there was no hurry. In her own comfort zone. She would smile at other women like her and at the end of it all share their harvest. They plucked whatever was worthy from the trees on the land beside the streets that nobody owned. Be it drumsticks, or wild spinach, or papaya or pumpkin flowers or guava. There was never much. But how much ever there was, the sweeper woman and her friends took their shares in the pouches they made from the ends of their saris.

Erosion

A well-rounded two year old baby. Her plump cheeks. Being held like a cat would be. Flagellant. Like a worm. There is a certain glee on her face. And a lump in my throat. Because life is far from cake. It's so hard sometimes, it's not worth bringing another person in between us. To suffer it all from the beginning and till the end. The end doesn't come easy.  Slowly, but steadily dreams are powdered. And blown off like dust. Food doesn't taste as good. Days turn into a bore. Love was but a rumour. We thought it was real, but only it wasn't. Now we are stuck in a mesh of equations, unknowing if we are a variable or a fixed element. Love was but a rumour. Dreams don't be anymore. Where we had envisaged, to be, and where we truly are. It's not worth the little baby girl. It's not. Really not. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Second Hand Sorrow

It was the peak of summer. The sun beat down almost relentlessly. There was no sign of any rain or breeze. Skies were often clear, unabashed blue. Roads shone in endless mirages.

His grandmother fell ill, just around that time. She was old. But there is no such age beyond which one can say that a person needn't be. Anymore. So she was that way. Old, ill, under the constant care of her children and grandchildren. He was terribly attached to his grandmother. Almost all his childhood memories would have glimpses of his grandmother pickling mangoes or grinding pulses or de-husking rice or simply sitting between all her grandchildren and telling stories to ease long afternoons of summer vacations. And no wonder he missed her and was miserable to see her because everyone thought that she was too old to be now.

He was delicate and sensitive. The phase that we were in then, I was yet to see his sentimental side. He never expressed emotion per se. He cracked jokes, I laughed a lot. And that was about it. A few times things had gotten out of hand where in emotions had come into the picture. Like I had messed up someplace and I needed someone just to talk to and not merely make jokes. Or the time he forgot to wish me on my birthday and was apologetic like a bunny. Like that. Apart from such occasions, never had he ever brought up feelings, sorrow, fears into our conversations. We had been very safe that way. Very insulated from each other.

So when he spoke about his grandmother the way he did, I felt very unprepared. Sometimes providing consolation is not one's forte. What can you do? But I genuinely felt for him and I told him everything was going to be okay. There are hospitals and doctors and everything. But deep down we both felt, this was it. I discarded that deep-down-feeling as my ingrained pessimism and told him that I truly-deeply felt his granny was going to be fine.

And I don't know how, but he got a rush from what I said. Instead of being sad, he planned to go and see her. The temperatures would make the journey impossibly hard. But I didn't have the heart to stop him. He was like a child to me and all I could do was quietly obey and execute whatever he wanted to be done.

I packed him some fruit and a few bottles of juice in his backpack. Literally squeezing his clothes and laptop for space. And saw him off at the bus stop. He didn't text me on reaching or to tell me how things were. I didn't bug him either. Space was an important thing. And suddenly I felt like an egotistic bitch. I am that way, nobody can help me.

The next day, he texted me that his 'aai' had passed away. 'Aai' is what one calls their maternal grandmother. I felt a tug in my heart. I cried and couldn't sleep at all that night. Still didn't know what to text him back.

Inertia of Rest

Lately I've picked up a rather weird habit. Before falling asleep, I listen to some guitar instrumentals, read my own poems and cry. Yes. And my nostrils block. But the nasal drop is in the top flap of my backpack on  the living room sofa. And nobody is gonna get that for me. So I turn sides half the night with a blocked nose and develop a slow yet stringent insomnia.

I've been living alone for the last six months or more. And it's one of the best things that has ever happened to me. There are fewer issues to be dealt with. Lesser questions to be answered to. Lesser conversations to be faked and alibis to be phrased. It's better. Definitely much.

But there's nobody to get you the nasal drop from the living room, in the middle of the night. Everything has its pros and cons. I learnt this phrase at the tender age of sixteen or a bit later. May be twenty-one. When I had begun having opinions about things. And I repeat it to myself very often.

I've never had strong opinions about many things, nor is my voice that loud. I am not that type of person. I am a classically mild person. A classically mild person who keeps a journal. In a layman's language, I am your typical run-of-the-mill loser. I am not trying to get anywhere. Except putting in all my might to avoid paranoia.

As I wrote, I read my own poems and cry. When there are at least three half-written-probably-abandoned stories waiting in my laptop for my collection of short stories. But the words wouldn't just come to me. Right now. 

Someone, probably a well wisher had anonymously commented long ago and had asked me to get myself checked if I had one of those syndromes. Asperger's syndrome. Because I am so completely shut off. You know. I felt offended immediately. But not anymore. Also another old friend/companion-of-sorts had written that life comes a full circle. That there is as much joy, as there is sorrow.

I am realizing that he is right. And waiting for my nose to unblock by itself.   

An Introduction to Murakami

I wish I could write listless fiction. Like Murakami does. A story needn't have a beginning or an end. Either. It can be, peacefully be, a random extract from time. Happenings of a day, or an hour, or a lifetime. It needn't even carry any direct meaning. Or a climax. Or a moral. A story in itself is a being. It begs no justification. It can be about a man getting random telephone calls all day, or making spaghetti brunch for himself, or listening to records, or taking a train alone. Or an elephant vanishing into the blue, or an insomniac woman driving around all night, or a man with nothing but a strange sounding name. It can be about me-you. It needs a faceless narrator yes, one who is neither happy, nor sad. Who is neutral enough to merge with Murakami's canvas. And his sole job is to narrate, read out Murakami's fucking brilliant mind like a dispassionate reader. Isn't the man a genius? And genius is clearly an understatement. There are days, when all I can fantasize about is reading him. He addicts me. With his bare words. I don't know how to stop. Or to look the other way. I am obsessed, with him, like I am never with other stuff. 

Probably, I love him so because in his incomplete unpredictable abrupt endings, I have snuggled up to a new found comfort that not everything is entitled to a meaning. And things can be, just because they are. Just for the sake of being, and nothing else. And I am otherwise so fatigued with jumping to conclusions and drawing deductions that I find a certain relief in Murakami. It's okay. It's normal. And even if it's not, that's okay too.

That's okay too. Because Murakami says so. 

Memories from April

It was a summery afternoon. I felt like watermelon dessert in vanilla ice cream. The kind that comes into vogue every time the season changes. Summer dictates a lot in our lives and you know how much I detest her for that. Anyway, I genuinely craved for the dessert. How neatly, 'twas served on a bowl held up on a tripod stand, as if it were the godamn chemistry lab. The watermelon cubes, de-seeded and mounted upon by three scoops of vanilla ice cream. Very geometrically symmetrical. It was perfect for the onset of summer. And that only. Later months of May and June, nothing, absolutely nothing helped. 

There was no remedy for summer, then. The cranky air cooler had a history of mood swings. It worked if it felt like. No lassi, no sugarcane juice would stand by you. The air was hot enough to give you blisters. We sat for hours inside the ATM. That was the only placed that was air conditioned. Until it too gave up one day. 

Summers gave way to very typical blossomings though. The smell of raw mangoes and the relentless nostalgia of first love, sometimes. I don't remember if I fell in love in summer. Now memories don't work that way, do they? I feel a mild loss when I look back. A mild one, yes. 

The mountains would turn grey from all the dried grass and leaves. And catch fire. It was a scary thing, the way those forest fires looked at night, up from the roof. Where I sometimes spent hours trying to forget the stifling heat in the house. As if ghosts had come back to life, or as if the fires would not be quenched and would spread to the plains and burn everything with them.

But you, in addition to getting me that glorious watermelon dessert, got me a dozen other consolations. Nothing bad was going to ever happen. You even took me boating, to take summer off my mind. To the park at one end of the city that had a lake. And that lake had huge trees across its edge where bats lived, probably. And when you paddled too close to the edges, a swarm of bats would swoop right over your head. 

How I clutched on to the sleeves of your shirt then. I panicked and couldn't find your wrist in the dark. And you told me that bats were blind. And that they can't even see me. How reassuring was that. 

Bibliography


One autumn, I picked up Jhumpa's 'The Lowland'. A cyclone hit us then. Metaphorically and literally. Then months, probably years later I remember picking up a distant suggestion. 'The Book Thief' by Markus Zusak. That book has made me a WW II fanatic for the rest of my life. Probably after this, Murakami happened. I chanced upon 'Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman'. You must know there is a charm in not completely comprehending what is being read. Murakami enthralled me with that. I had 'Norwegian Wood' then. Soon after, totally by chance, discovered 'The Diary of Anne Frank'. After that, I must have tried 'Kafka on the Shore'. But Murakami's cats and faceless men, kept me awake longer than I could handle. So gave it up. Then Jon Krakauer's 'Into the Wild'. Christopher McCandless stayed for a long time in my mind. He might never leave, to be frank. Also let me confess, I tried reading 'Jane Eyre' and 'Persuasion' somewhere in the middle. But failed. I also tried 'The Great Gatsby'; but Leo's face kept coming to my mind. To Fitzgerald's displeasure, read Hemingway's 'Old Man and the Sea' though. Sometime, somewhere. In between. Couldn't go back to 
'Moby Dick' after a few days. Out of the blue, started '1984'. George Orwell's dystopia soothed my jarred nerves for sometime. And then, J D Salinger's 'Catcher in the Rye'. The last story I finished would be Murakami's again. 'Tony Takitani'. Meanwhile, tried reading Plath's 'The Bell Jar' more than a couple of times but it depressed me so much that the book and I mutually abandoned each other. And out of fear and mouth tottering respect for Woolf, yes, lets call it that, shall we, never finished 'A Room of One's Own' and 'Mrs. Dalloway.' And probably I would never know, what the woman writes about. Rand's 'The Fountainhead' changed me forever. I still am saving 'Atlas Shrugged' for the next decade of my life; which starts in slightly more than a year. Yes. It's lying in my bottom drawer. And Roy's 'God of Small Things' needs to be reread. Something that had so generously enthralled me, is now beginning to fade in my eclectic memory. 


  

A Story

Sometimes, the stories you write, don't let you sleep. At night. 
Your eyes burn all day through. Shamelessly, unbridled, your two eyes look red. 
Like you made love all night, through dawn and didn't, hence get a wink of time, to sleep. 
But that there was no real person. 
All night, you stayed up, making love to your story. 
And not getting enough of it. That's the libido of an idea. 
A plot, that is driving you insane, almost as if it's new love and raw lust.  
Each time you touch it up, undo and redo twists and turns, create pages, paragraphs and moments, it is the equivalent of touching the lover's body. 
Feeling for curves, squeezing soft flesh. 
Every pause in writing and the distant stare are like assuming and finding his arms in the pitch dark. 
Waiting for fiction to come to you is like waiting for his next surprise move on you. 
Like the act of love, writing a story is a two way thing. Being the subject and object in the same sentence. Being made love to and making all the good endless love, to him.   
The men and women you are constantly creating and disintegrating, the narrations of their face come alive so strong and so real that their faces stare back at you from the screen and you can't sleep no more.
It's like Frankenstein. But a good one. This story of mine.