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 chocking. 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.

A Decade

Now my life comes to surmise this building. Yes, the time has come. There is a drink on the rocks. There is a kitchen in the corner and cups and saucers don't clean themselves. How stunning. There is a sink, that fills itself up. There's a bunch of dried curry leaves in the bottom drawer of the fridge, if anybody cares. Life is dry. Life is good. How can anyone describe life with adjectives. Wouldn't that be judgemental? It is what is is. By itself, in its own absolute singular capacity. I do not choose to describe it with adjectives and demean it. You wouldn't believe, this is the only place wherein I speak up. Because it's a one way road. I am not the one that confronts. I am the one that quietly places an opinion on the table and vanishes. It's my audacity that you don't want to see and I don't want to unleash. 

My neighbors today, got a row of potted plants today. What looked like a shrub of green chillies and mustard seedlings in those pots, I hope I am wrong. The building needs more flowers. Women on floors other than mine have acquired entire corridors to plant cacti, crotons and money plant. Money plant is actually Devil's ivy. Now I didn't know that. The woman who planted them so generously told me. They also have bougainvillea by the bunches. Red, pink and white. Some women have entire trees on relatively tiny pots, one of tamarind for instance. A tree literally standing on a tiny little pot.Some women have their own hanging gardens of potted plants. Table roses and the kind. But still, the building needs more flowers. 

So I got three potted plants. Not three, four actually. One, the holy basil. Two, moonbeam. Three, hibiscus. And the fourth one is clitoria. Yes, the one that looks like the female-holiest-of-the-holies. They are pretty low maintenance, they don't flower much, but I check on them twice everyday. Sit with them and think. When I have time. I wish I had more time.

I started blogging exactly a decade ago. Not a day has gone by when I didn't wish I had more time. More time. More time. More time. 

Terminus

I am not Holden Caulfield. I am more together than that. Nevertheless, there is always a drought on my face. As if I have lost my way. The blood began surging up my temples. It was almost audible, it was so loud. My skull was increasingly unable to keep the noise within. I felt like a cola. I walked to the nearest parlor. They don’t keep colas anymore. They had skimmed milk and yoghurt and juices of about hundred and twenty nine kinds. But no cola. This was a place for kids may be. Then I looked around saw. Lots of kids. Toddlers, hand holders, some with honeysuckles in their mouths. This was a mistake, meeting this guy at a place that was for kids and their mommies. Gross mistake. But it was too late to change it now. And anyway, one could always go to the next floor of the mall. And drag the conversation to up there. Or to the basement garage where scores of cars are parked in abandon. Some cars have lain so much dust on them, they probably have been lying there for months. The owner has forgotten where they parked their car and gone back from a party from the pub on the roof by hailing an Uber or something. And suddenly they haven’t found their car after waking up and went looking. Tracing back their steps from last night. That would not be a passable theory though. Because the first place they would look out for would be the parking of the mall. But not if they had gone pub hopping. From one to the next to the one after that, losing count, going absolutely crazy, painting the town red and yellow and all the shades of pastel there are. And waking up like a total amnesiac. That would be a good story, yes. Definitely. I checked the time on my phone again. It was 11:37. What was keeping him so long? I texted him asking where he was. He was delayed at the hospital he said. I didn’t call because hearing his voice would give me the shivers. So I just texted. And he was at the hospital where he had come to see his grandmother who had been put on the ventilator two days ago. Somebody had sent him downstairs to the OTC medicine store to get something and he was just about catching the bus to the mall. I was at least forty five minutes away by bus. And boy! Was I secretly relieved or what? I could still pull away. Compress myself into my shelled cocoon, tell him I couldn’t wait any longer because the assistant of the ENT specialist had called. An operation had come up around 3 pm, so my appointment had been proponed to like 2 pm. Yes, that sounded true. No more sweating. No more shivering. I could lie and get away with it. He belonged to one of the water tight containers in my life. Just like everyone else. My life has lots of water tight containers, did I ever tell you? Everyone I know is in a separate one. I like no links between two characters in my world that doesn’t verify it through me. So if I lied to him, and he was a well-kept secret, I might as well get away with it. He would never find out. Except that he would get that feeling. That I didn’t want to be seen, just yet.

An Excerpt from::: A Tryst at Terminus. 

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.