Bottom of the Pyramid

One of the toughest realisations in life is that you're going to be average. And nothing more. Mediocrity is no crime. Except it seems like one. All the time. Forget average, you might as well be below average. Bottom of the pyramid. And your only achievement would be that you survived. Lived to tell your tale. Or better, keep mum about it. Losers are my type. But more definitely when they are the quieter kind. There are always going to be the virtuous others. Who are richer, prettier and more glamorous. Fuck them. You be god damn average. Or poor, ugly and pale. With nothing to say. But just be, already. Just be. Even if it means starting your days thinking that you can't do this anymore. Even if it means laughing at other people's pointless humor. Even if it means ageing and getting fat and getting spotty skin and tired bones. Even if it means counting to the last penny. Even if it means failing at every plausible objective you set for yourself. Even if it means being ambivalent and un-opinionated. Even if it means looking down at yourself. Even if you realize, every passing day, that you are the bottom of the fuckin pyramid. And that, no matter how hard you try, you can't get any better. Still be. Right there. At the bottom. Where you are. What you are. Whatever you are.

The Dung Beetle

Once when I was four or five or six. Years of age. I was a stout little girl roaming around in umbrella cut frocks. You know frocks that swelled up like an umbrella. A dung beetle stung me a bit. On my left hand or right. I don't remember which. Memory doesn't work that way. And you know that. Just that it was either hand. Probably, my right. And it swelled up like a dung beetle itself. Blew up like a balloon, my little hand. It began to smell weird. Nasty. I didn't think I would ever get my original hand back. In my little head, I was so worried. 

But, it did get better. The swelling went down. The pain went away. I must have been happy. And as usual, relief must have overshadowed my happiness. That's the way it works for me. Mostly I am so worried and then, so equally relieved that I strangely, accidently forget to be happy.

There's this kid that lives upstairs. I meet him in the elevator sometimes. When our times match. He has got plump rosy cheeks. We don't have nothing in common. But sometimes, I go up to his floor, bid him goodnight and then come down to my floor. Translucent human attachment, this. Even if I have had a bad day or good. Even if he has had a bad day or good. He stands there, with his backpack on and a smile on his face and waves me goodbye until I vanish downwards. 

His mother left them. Both him and his father. His father, whenever I see him has wry heart ache written all over his face. As if he has lost himself. Forever and ever. And nothing would cure him. His eyes are as sunken, as his son's are bright. His son, is a miracle. 

I see him chasing butterflies in the garden downstairs. To capture them for a moment between his cupped hands and then instantly release them. Colorful butterflies, dozens, flock the magnolia trees. I hope he recognises the colors. I pray that his vision opens up. And so does his mind. Everyone tells me, he is slow. What a horrible thing to say of a child. 

I am afraid, that a dung beetle might sting his tiny little hand as well. It's three decades after. Dung beetles might as well be, extinct. For all we know. It's not even the same garden or the same flowers. But I wonder. 

To Choose is To Be

In some concocted way of mine, I have finally established that I have a choice. Choice is all the freedom one can demand. And claim. And have for her own. Isn't it. And after years of impatient limbo, I have established that in some spaces, I shall have my say. Sometimes this say comes at the cost of money. Sometimes at the cost of a sore throat and incessant screaming. And baby, I am a crier. I am. It can't be classified as nagging, what I do. I secretly, heinously, stick to my point. Quietly, sometimes, without a word or shriek. So I am uncorrupt from within. And exercising my choice in secrecy. It's quite twisted a concept. But choice comes at the cost of secrecy sometimes. After plenty of second chances, I am having things my way. Raw, cooked, baked, fried, salty, sugary, whatever it is, it's something I have picked and let me have it, shall we. 

I have anecdotes of being a conformist. Even now, in this era of independence in my life, I am more a conformist than a rebel. Because life is easier being a conformist and frankly my dear, I don't give a damn. I am beginning to have very few priorities in life. And areas I am a conformist in, don't involve those priorities. At all. So, I choose easy because, I like easy. Haven't we all wailed enough. Enough of rebellion already.

I don't think this contradiction makes sense to you. Life is confusing and my ideas are very fluid. But it's good to have run-off-the-mill-random Sunday night on which I feel free. Freedom is a huge thing. Very huge. It's bigger than the fucking universe for me. Raise a toast, shall we. 


How did we get past all the shit. Those must have been small steps. For every step we took, we went back half a step. Distances traversed felt negligible. We felt static. Coagulated. We felt we should probably give up. Fuck it, we thought. But on most days, we hung on. Got resilient, if that's the word. For the better and for the worse, we are here now. We shattered egos. Melted hubris. Quietened banter. Made peace. Now it feels unbelievable. From where did we derive such power. Such deafening arrogance. How strong was that will. We should take sometime off and appreciate the effort in humbled glory. Because of not this, then what. If not now,  then when.

Learning to Duck

Why was I walking on the road? And not on the sidewalk. Because years ago, when I was younger and possibly, fairer, I had tripped and strained a muscle on my right toe, all while walking on the sidewalk. And not on the road. Was it the left toe? I can't remember. But the pain had stayed for years. Vanishing at times for weeks and then reappearing for months. Some doctor suggested I take an injection in the cartilage. I imagined the pain was psychosomatic.

But I lost my confidence on the sidewalk forever. I prefer the road. Even if it feels like buses would run you over. Or autorickshaws would graze past your shoulder. It doesn't matter. You can always duck.

Also walking is my meditation. I am always lost in thought. And more so while walking. And the sidewalk has those bumps and semi circular iron rods, or arcs sticking out from them, probably to pick up the covers off the manholes. The sidewalk mostly runs over drains. And I tripped over on one of those thingies. I still do.

I never grow up, do I ? So I prefer the road. Like very much.

Shy Malaise

Your ovaries probably have a cyst. Or a couple of them. The shooting midnight jabs of pain you feel below the abdomen. Yeah, that. Cyst they say. Very common. Oh you would feel rather left out if you don't have one of those.

Or it could be the bloody appendix. All that oil and ajinomoto and refined flour is going to show up someday. Because sometimes that jab of pain is toward the right. Sometimes, the left. You can never be sure what is wrong with you. You can sit and brood. And get a few scans done. But nothing ever shows up.

No concrete sign of illness. But you know not all is well. There is something wrong with some organ. Something is unhinging somewhere. Somewhere the blood is choking. But you can't ever know what. You live in pain. Dreading a malaise, but too shy to confess.

Then there's the head. The brain. The channels and tubes that connect the eyes, the nose, the ears and throat. Something is definitely up with that. There is a casual pain in there somewhere always. There is migraine, the unforgiving friend of everywoman. Or spondylitis.

Enough of pills have been swallowed over months. Strips and boxes of them, yellow, red, white and off white, oval, circular, tubular, have been downed with tiny sips of water. Before and after meals. With neatly memorised instructions. Also blood drawn in syringes tested numerous times for lipids et al. And x-rays of heads, searches for the sinus. And so and forth.

But the pain always does come resurface. After a few days, as and when it feels like. Without warning. Without fear of retribution.

This malaise demands to be endured. And to top it all, one dreamed on a recent night that one was dead. Dreaming about one's own death. I wonder what that's called. And more than that, the realisation on waking up, That. Indeed. One. Is. Alive. What is that called?

The Marooned Marriage

Syamali had very less memory of her first times. Like she couldn’t remember having had her ears pierced for the first time. The memory of that first prick, the sudden gushing pain had been erased from over the years. She would have the wholeheartedness to remember the areas around that memory, as in remembered she sat on a wooden rickety chair on a veranda and feared toppling down as someone had held the dangling flesh from her  left ear tight and done the needful. But she couldn’t remember the pouncing of her heart or the blood chasing up to her brain, the fear of the impending pain.

Similarly, she couldn’t memorize how she had been kissed for the first time, though she still hid within herself faint relics of the man. The boy. Sinking in that moment, she was swept  off by the suddenness of that act, the intrusive affect of a foreign tongue in her mouth and how surreptitiously they had met after he had handed over to her a dozen sleazy letters swearing his love.

She had touched twenty and would graduate in the two months. And that would make her a B Sc in Chemistry, a degree that would be pretty forgettable and would erase itself off the yellow moldy certificate lying in the bottom shelf of her almirah, monsoon after monsoon after monsoon.

In the weeks following up to her final exams, Syamali was delivered a string of letters from her lover behind the bamboo bushes. These ones were more explicit with carefully worded descriptions of what more would he have done had she not left him abruptly that afternoon, pining for more. She callously left them under her mattress, sometimes reading them numerous times under her dim table lamp before she fell asleep on them. And then suddenly with an alarm of bare protectiveness for a man’s love, who she had barely seen once in what can be called seeing, she hid them amongst the pile of her old books from her previous years.

A few days after that day of the first kiss, Syamali has been shown to Natraj’s mother. Natraj’s mother seemed to inspect Syamali like a school headmistress trying to point out a speck of dirt in a child’s Saturday white uniform. Syamali sat nearly trembling in fear, her hair tied in strings of jasmine, the jasmine that she had planted, watered and protected from strange chattel throughout. 

Syamali was not asked if she could cook or boil dal well enough. She wasn’t even asked if she herself had tied the sari she was wearing. She had. And Syamali wasn’t obviously asked if she foresaw a faint possibility of the loving the man she saw locked in his mother’s eyes. But she did see the man though. Through his mother’s round eyes, held in place by dark circles on a menopausal wrinkled face. 
The session was vaguely out of line for what it had been for the couple of her older cousins who had been shown in the same room with the creaking sofa of jute and springs that placed old buttocks comfortably enough for a few dozen minutes or so, before they slightly shifted, to the sides. Some of them had even been asked to sing, stand up so that the jewelry they wore around the waist could be evaluated for what it’s worth.

But not Natraj’s mother. After she left that day, tiny children from their neighborhood pored over the ring on her right ring finger and Syamali sat perplexed breathing in exactly what had happened. She clutched between her fist  rupees three hundred and one which was to ensure that the prospective  groom’s mother had not drilled a hole at the expense of the sweet meat and sherbet bought on her pretext, taken on a long discarded plastic serving tray and kept before her.

That night,  Syamali latched her door from the inside and fished out those letters from that sleazy lover from among the leaves of moldy pages. Those words titillated, arose her sleepy nerve ends. And in that half dream like state, she flipped through. Reading, forgetting, creating memories and simultaneously erasing. Carrying nothing along and yet living momentarily that meticulous of a love life. One sided, one and a half sided rather. As only the left half of her was involved. The ring that adorned her right ring finger, kept that half of her outside of the charm of that hallucination.

Switching between her antithetic halves, Syamali didn’t sleep much that night. She carried those burnt eyes into writing her exams a week later. A bit of that burn stayed in the corners of her eyes, when Natraj wed her a month later.

It was early in July. The lush leaf green outlived the pale grey blue of the gargantuan clouds that roamed around like loafers all day and kept everyone suspecting so as  to when they would rupture. Before or after the day that would be photographed and pasted on albums with roses on their covers and lie untouched on the bottom shelves of Syamali’s closet, monsoon after monsoon after monsoon.

Mango leaves twirled about thin ropes of jute were strung across their thresholds and banana plants uprooted from their backyard and fixed on either side of the stairs that led up the veranda to the door. The walls were whitewashed, the odor of quicklime stayed and nauseated Syamali as she packed suitcase after suitcase for her sister-in-laws, gifts for her nieces and nephews, sifted through the gold that lay on her bed, sewing together her broken heart, stacking those godforsaken letters under the sheath of her bridal suitcase. Bits of that indefatigable infatuation with a unabashed man hung lose in between the dowry she was meant to carry two days later.

Just about that afternoon, some godforsaken force ruptured the clouds. It must have been the angst of the man she left behind. The man she left behind to move ahead and see the tall and olive eyed man that was Natraj.

Out of that old lover’s spat and also out of the sighs of every man that had ever laid their eyes and lusted for the form of Syamali, the rain couldn’t cease for the coming two days. The bamboo poles that held upright the tents, the shamiana to be, were almost washed away. Damp smells prevailed in their household with the gloom of a wedding that may or may not be. There was no power, the inverters had been exhausted. The kerosene generators made so much noise that it added a tinge of migraine to the existing nausea.

Scores of those unheard of relatives, aunts of aunts, unborn cousins until Syamali’s older cousins’ weddings, old discarded widowed toothless grandmothers were all left behind. None could make it drenched in the rain. The roads were clogged, the buses stopped plying. Other channels of transport were unknown then.

The mandap had to be shifted to the roof because their entire house was flooded till the knees with water. Little fish swam under Syamali’s bed as the bridal suitcases were stacked up on one another swaying in a delicate balance, just like her mind.

As an answer to an uncountable number of prayers, Natraj arrived on the evening of the fate-less day, an hour behind schedule. Carrying along-with his father and his younger sister and her son, decked up like a younger groom. His father breathing in deep sighs and explaining how they had to get down a hundred times over and walk in mud holding their slippers in their hands because the rusty old ambassador wouldn’t push the weight of all the people through the rain ditches. His sister began about how they had to start from home in the morning and how a two hour ride took them day long, and how much she needed to pee as she hadn’t had the chance to do it all day. Her son, toyed with Syamali’s red veil and asked her how long her hair was, that he found the big knot that held together her mind that time, to be some plaything.

The roof had been waterproofed with multiple layers of tent cloth, the floor, dried and carpeted. Not a drop of rain fell through. Only the neighbors came to eat, the grand dinner arrangements made by Syamali’s older brother, now talked about in the past tense were the most discussed matter around when the vows were read out in Sanskrit. Not a word of which did the fatigued girl with a bit of a burn in the corners of her eyes, understood.

Yet they sat as the rain lashed down incessantly that night and the few guests that were talked about dams breaking down, about the government opening sluice gates selectively to flood unfavorable constituencies and choosing to sweep away certain patches of population and leaving the others to thrive for no fault of either.

Amongst airs such, and in the heat of the sacred fire, sandalwood paste, vermillion, grains of rice thrown about and stuck between strands of their hair, their fates were tied for keeping safe each others’ secrets, holding on to hands through the thick and the thin, for a destined period of time. More than to stand by each other, to actually stand each other. To be blessed with the capacity to live through and not yet to get incapacitated through mundane human insanities that breeds a lull in every marriage after the first gushes of passion are done with.

Being Pronouns.

A man was wearing straight cut jeans. A man was coming out of the bank. A man got into his car and slammed the door shut.  Upon seeing a girl, he retraced his steps and tried to contain the shock on his face with a stretched out smile. A girl stood in the parking lot, equally stunned if not more. What had it been, ten years? A man had been so much in love with a girl. Dire obsessive meticulous love it was. Now a man looked at the girl as if in a girl he had spotted a long extinct bird. A girl said hi and a man took out his hand from the pocket to shake hers. It was all extremely awkward. It was a sunny hot afternoon in June. A girl was out for a drink of coconut water. And a man was at the bank. The years had made a man's face plump and a girl's face bony wrinkled and dusky. A girl felt a man's sweaty palms and said, 'So hot, I wonder how much longer, the rains are going to keep us waiting.'

'Oh I met them on the way while driving down here. They definitely must get here tonite.' A girl giggled. The months and years submerged between the infinite lines on her face.