Hiding

I am living in hiding.
Pretending;
That everything's fine,
With my many untruths and half truths

My axis, although is twisted
I am always losing balance
Because my chest is heavy with weight
And my legs are light with fear

This lying business
Is anything but easy
My nights are comatose
But if I wake up, can't ever get back to sleep

Dawn brings in an unwanted reminder
Of all my lies
And the cracks in my life
Face dug in a pillow, wanna sleep forever

My unsolvable problems
Which are because of no fault of mine
I am guileless, please listen
Just can't anymore, I can't

Hiraeth

Summers are harsh. Sometimes, unbearably so.  Hence, a plan was duly chalked out. Nayana's parents' were woefully concerned about her education. Particularly, her father. So when Nayana told him that she couldn't stand the summer heat during the intervals between her multiple tuition sessions during the day, her father had to immediately put on his problem solver pants and get down to action.

March had only just ended and already the sun beat down relentlessly. Colleges and schools had closed down for a generous three month summer vacation. But the tuition classes decided this was an opportunity to finish half the syllabus and increased the frequency of classes. Nayana lived far from the city and took the bus, to and fro. In the intervals between, say tuition classes of Physics and Biology, she didn't have a roof to be under.

Nayana did not have many friends. It was right about that age that she had stopped making friends. The ones in school had gone to separate colleges and had lost touch. The new class mates remained just acquaintances, laboratory partners, bench-mates but were never promoted to friends, probably because of the lack of prolonged one-to-one exposure.

Problem solving pants wearer father, in the meantime found out an old relative in the city, bang at the median point of all of Nayana's tuition locations. It was an old lady, a cousin or an aunt, once or twice removed. She lived alone in a duplex house with a garden and a backyard. Such opulence, Nayana thought when they visited her for the first time to make acquaintance and ask for shelter from the summer. The aunt was delighted. Nayana and her father were relieved.

The old lady didn't have much of immediate family to boast of. Her son was married to a white woman and settled abroad, probably divorced, with three children. Her daughter was also married off, to someone in the merchant navy. The aunt's husband had died long ago. She basically spent entire days tending to gardens, going to temples and cooking a small meal for herself.

Nayana didn't strike a friendship right away, she never does. But with time, there grew a quiet camaraderie between them, they had over half a century between themselves in age, notwithstanding. Nayana would arrive dutifully at about half past ten in the morning, when her classes began as early as eight. Then both of them would savor a lunch together on the aunt's mosaic-top dining table, which would usually be adorned with an ornate vase of fresh flowers from the garden. As the aunt went back to her siesta, or to flip through a magazine, Nayana would leave at around one and be back at three. Nayana took to the aunt's habit of tea and salted biscuits in the afternoon, sitting with her in her netted garden chair and be off for a final class at five from where should would directly head home.

Nayana would be treated by the aunt with glasses of lime juice or lassi to ward off dehydration. Sometimes, Nayana's mother would send packets of sweets through Nayana to thank the aunt. But soon they realized that the aunt was a diabetic and all the sweets were getting back to Nayana's lunch plate.

Some days, the classes would get cancelled, or Nayana would just bunk them saying it was too hot to go out. Together they would lay on the bed, in the moist air of the air cooler and flip through magazines, or watch matinee TV before drifting off to sleep. Though it surprised her parents, on some nights Nayana would just call home to say she would spend the night at the aunt's and go home the next day. Dinners would be special with some fish or prawns. Nayana would read the aunt's Woman's Era magazines till late in the night. Some of them had fiction. Stories about women, young and old, their problems, lives, solutions, joys and sorrows.

Nayana juxtaposed her future with the lives of those characters. At that time and age, nothing was definite, nothing was decided about the future. It never is. But back then, she felt this certain amount of control or say she had and felt that she could mold her life the way she wanted. Her life was definitely not going to be like this aunt's, married off at eighteen, twice a mother at twenty three. But the aunt's life suddenly didn't seem bad at all, with oodles of leisure, magazines and a garden.

Nayana sometimes stayed an entire Sunday or two and helped tend to the garden, loosen the soil in the potted plants, add manure, water them. She plucked drumsticks and papaya, by just standing on the roof. There were bananas too, but those took too long to ripen. There was a once a big jackfruit that ripened and it was too big to eat for just two people. So both of them walked from neighbor to neighbor distributing jackfruit as a gesture of goodwill. Nayana was surprised everyone knew the aunt, despite the fact that she didn't venture out much.

The three months of summer were over in a whoosh. Once college reopened, Nayana couldn't once go back to visit her aunt. Something mysterious stopped her. Probably, she didn't know what she would say now that their time together was a choice and not a compulsion. Probably, she wanted to keep those months of summer untarnished in her memory without any interventions from any other time in the future. That summer, a bounded stretch of lapsed time, she could travel back to from time to time and gape at with glorious wonder.

Ghost

We the children had been asked to come over for a lunch feast on the river bank, on the other side. There were six or seven of us, me being the eldest, including cousins and some neighbors. It was winter, days were short. We had taken baths, gotten dressed and walked in the mild sun crossing the kilometre or so long bridge on the swollen river to the other bank. The fires had been lit, the cooking had started. Some of us helped chop tomatoes and coriander. Some of us went to the backyard of our host and uprooted some pineapple shrubs. The pineapples were then peeled and served on leaf plates with black salt as a pre lunch snack of sorts.

It was already afternoon by then. Soon the sun would set and it would get chilly. Someone lit a fire and the children sat around it and sang songs. Somehow the lunch was getting delayed further and further. Nobody knew why though. Either some spice would go amiss and someone had to be sent to the market to buy it. Somebody would spill the rice on the mud. Stuff like that. Totally random. But all working in tandem to keep us hungry longer. Soon the children got irate. Also we ran out of songs, silly games and gossip. 

From time to time someone would come and tell us that it won't take much time now. It was almost done. There weren't many people anyway. Including the children, there would be about a couple more than a dozen. The river meandered by swiftly under the bridge. Someone suggested the children go and see the cabbage and tomato fields, just to pass the time. So we went to inspect the cabbage and tomato plants. It felt eerie. The host was a friend of our father. His house was the only house for miles around it seemed. Or may be the trees covered everything so well, it was difficult to figure if you were alone or there were houses nearby. But there was not much noise. Only a blanket of tremendous silence and solitude. 

When we returned from our sojourn, the cooking had finally been concluded. We sat down in rows like a disciplined lot and ate rice and curried chicken with lots of potatoes off banana leaves. The curry had a strong flavour of coriander leaves. The flavour of the coriander mingled with the dry odor of winter and created a concoction that time cannot erase.

It was dark out by the time we finished eating. We began walking home. The water shimmered in the moonlight from atop the bridge, the children strayed and started leaning on the bannister to stare at it. They returned only after stern warnings. After we walked out from the bridge and started walking on the bank of the river, home wasn't that far away. I breathed some relief. But for something instinctive inside me, my feet won't let me slow down. I held the hands of the youngest kids in the group and asked the rest to stay together. 

Then suddenly something really strange happened. I must have turned back to talk to someone or shout out to someone who was lagging behind. Suddenly a breeze got caught in my hair. I felt a cold gust on my face and when I opened my eyes, there was an old man whizzing past us on a cycle. Now it feels even comical. But then I froze. I am not sure if the others saw him or if it was just me. But his face was white, his teeth protruding. He said something to me while laughing, almost gaffawing. Probably something about the feast, or if I was  afraid of getting home late, or simply just how I was doing. I don't really remember. I can't actually hold a memory that long, it has been decades. But I remember his eyes, so bright in that moonlight, so brazenly unafraid, that ghost. 

My first impulse was to scream bloody hell and run. And that's what I did. I left all the hands I was holding and ran. Ran like I never would again with eyes closed. Thank goodness nobody fell into the river and everyone stayed on the road. I reached home sweating and panting with my cousins intact, only assuming that the neighbour's children reached their homes too. Realised the next afternoon that they did when all of them came out to play. 

Hydrangea

I had to travel, suddenly. Usually all my trips are planned before hand. That way I stay calmer. But this trip, sudden and unexpected, I simply couldn't get out of. It was November. The beginning of winter.

My return flight landed at 1 in the morning. I decided it would be safer to sleep at the airport instead of taking a cab home in the middle of the night. I would rather take one of those buses in the wee hours of the morning. So I tied all my luggage to my hands with my scarf and slept on one of those uncomfortable airport chairs in the arrival hall.

It was a strange night. Each time some flights landed and the conveyor belts started running, there would be a crowd and I would wake up. I would check if my bags were alright and try to sleep again. There was nothing precious in the bags except some cards and some cash. But they were all I had so I was obligated to stay alert.

Also I wasn't the only person sleeping on those chairs. There were like a dozen other people. But each time I woke up that night, the set of people would have changed completely. It was like waking up in a new place.

Anyway, it struck 5 and I assumed it was then okay to venture out. I took a bus which moved unusually fast because there was no traffic. There was no one else, just us. A bunch of strangers, waiting to be home.

The bus dropped me near the lake which is about a mile from my place. So I took an auto. On the way, I saw the nursery owner opening shop. It was about 6:30 but still not totally lighted outside. The nursery owner was arranging a rack of potted blue hydrangeas on the outside. That image stayed with me. The hydrangeas looked like hundreds of tiny blue birds captured in a glass ball.

I got home and slept some more. Woke up around 10 and decided to take the day off. The trip had taken its toll and I wanted a personal day. I made noodles and coffee, sat on the patio and ate it all.

Then I went to the nursery and bought a potted blue hydrangea. I usually stay away from instant gratification. If I get used to it, it may get chaotic. But this time I took a chance and got myself just what I wanted and immediately.

It changed my mood totally. I was overjoyed to have it along with my other house plants. I had read about these flowers in a ghost story as a kid. Blood red hydrangeas in the middle of a damp forest, infested with a ghoul. And I had ever since been fascinated with them. Hydrangeas seemed mythical and magical and I had one of my own.

I just couldn't gather that truth inside my chest.

Friend

As a twelve year old, sometimes I got down from the school bus at her place. She got down some half an hour before me. On days when there was no homework, I would while away my time with her. Her house was like a palace. We would listen to songs on the roof, where she would occasionally dance. Or just hang out in her room. Her room was beautiful with a dozen stuffed toys, framed photographs, strings of artificial flowers and a nice fluffy queen size bed with ample number of pillows. Her mother served us lunch, which used to be quite simple, rice, dal, paneer or some vegetables with pickle. After that the maid would bring glasses of juice with ice cubes to her room. Sometimes there was cake too. It was always fun. Life wasn't this complicated, back then. Or so I am tempted to believe in afterthought.

At school of course, everyone knew us as best friends. Somehow we had become a jointed entity. It was comforting to know someone had my back. I think I had hers too. We grew up, too fast. Then, as is the usual case, things fell apart. Grew apart, more so.

Four or five years later, when I was cramming something in my engineering dorm room far away, I got a call from a common friend. Erstwhile best friend's mother had died. Death wasn't such a common phenomena then, it never is. Utterly shocked I dialed the landline number of hers that I had. Her father answered and in a sorrowful tone explained to me what had happened. I did not know what to say so I listened quietly.

I met her at a temple over the summer vacations when I was home next. I don't know who  picked the temple. There was a cafe right infront of it. Yet neither of us thought of sitting there and chatting. We chose the temple and its ample courtyard with guava trees all around. It all felt densely sepulchral.

She had moist eyes when we spoke. Yet there something inside her that had gone absolutely cold. I could never fathom that. I repulsed.

Years went by. Then I got her wedding invite. It was an email perhaps. Or a facebook invite, can't remember. But my mother who had been asking about her from time to time was overjoyed and  asked me to get in touch again. Hence I congratulated her. She asked me to come over.

Recalling now, that was some phase in my life as well. I needed some getting away. I had already decided to be somewhere else on the Sunday she was getting married. And nothing could be done about that. So before taking the train on Friday night, I squeezed in sometime in lunch hour to visit her house again. I drove to the gift shop and bought perfumes: His and Hers. I can even recall the brand, perhaps Nike. Then since I was already due back at work and had a terrible whoreface boss, I sped to her home just to handover the gifts and return.

But she kept me. We sat on the same dining table we did as kids. She had henna on her hands and hair tied in a bun like she had no more fucks to give. She was very perturbed that day due to all the wedding related stress. Yet she smiled and drank coconut water as I ate lunch, rice and dal and something else. A bowl of mango pickle sat in the middle of the table. And then ten minutes after there was juice with ice cubes.

Tomorrow

Sitting here after a score of years, on the terrace of my current house, trying to gather the courage to take on tomorrow, I remembered suddenly, something.

A picnic we had had on the roof as children. It was our ancestral house. Not much of it remains now. But back then, it had quite a glory. It was summer night. Moonlight had spread across the roof from corner to corner. Half of it was covered by a champak tree. The other half was lined with summer flowers, rosemallows and lilies and jasmine. Fragrance from a distant rangoon creeper filled the cool air.

Summer days back then weren't as tough as they are now. Nevertheless they were tough. Being at home for long vacations, on hot mattresses with ceiling fans not doing their jobs enough was difficult for a gang of cousins. So when afternoon came nothing could stop us.

That week in the vacation was different though and we had to be on our best behavior. Because some more cousins from the city were going to spend time in the country with us. Fish in the pond, bathe in the river, pluck flowers in the morning, things like that. I was afraid we wouldn't get along well. I was the eldest amongst the ones at home. The visiting ones were all older than me.

First cousins, second cousins, half cousins, step cousins, if you know what I mean. Hands of friendship and bonhomie had to be extended from both sides by multiple set of parents. We all ate lunches and dinners sitting on the courtyard floor, as if it was a daily feast or something. At nights, we washed the roof and slept under the stars listening to some cousin or the other reciting a story about ghosts or theives. On one such night, someone suggested we have a feast the next day.

Since it would be cumbersome to clean a patch in the jungle nearby and dig a hearth there, and risky too because of a wild animal or two, we decided to have it on the roof. Someone from the kitchen below lent us a kerosene stove and someone fixed a light bulb on the TV antenna because moonlight would clearly not be enough for cooking.

There were almost a dozen of us washing and chopping and a few of us cooking. After a long wait, the tangy chickpea curry fashioned as a chaat and the omelettes were ready and we were served on steel plates and not on banana leaves for a change. We scattered all over the roof to our favorite places and chomped off the meal feeling extremely content.

After that I never met any of those cousins. Funny, how fast we grow up. Ridiculous, how fast time passes and yet how excruciatingly slow it mostly feels. But the craziest of all things is how these memories resurface mostly in the nick of time to give you the random courage to face. You know. Tomorrow.

Rebirth

It hasn't been that long, has it
If I try now, fiddle my toes in sand
I will find the bottom below the slush, won't I
This ain't bottomless, a thing, is it

I am willing to see colors again
And smell happy vibes in the air
I am ready to believe again
In stories that I have been told so long

I gather it's never too late
But do they mean it enough
When they say it this way
Can I undo some and truly choose to begin again