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

Flying Lessons

The other day, I walked around in the flea market, a lot. Several kilometers. My feet began to ache above the soles of my flat shoes. The road got to them. I was trying to shed some loneliness that day, wanted to get home late at night and then sleep.

On a long stretch of such walking, I entered a by-lane and crossed several soothsayers. None of them oozed clairvoyance. In fact, they looked like business women, down to business. Sitting on their haunches, with a photo of a beautiful goddess adorned in roses and a cloth spread out and some loose change sprung on it. A couple of young girls were having their palms read. I had some curiosities too, thought I should ask. Unforsaken wishes. A plump and pink baby, a spunky little breezy apartment, flight to a distant land, a bit of success, and so on. So I paused, but the soothsayer spoke an alien language and there would be the dearth of a translator, among the dearth of other things. So I didn't pause any longer.

Came back home to find that a pigeon won't budge from the pot that housed my hibiscus house plant. Turns out that was a hot breeding spot for pigeons. She had built quite a nest with twigs and leaves. If you've noticed, I've written quite a bit about these pigeons, how much I have tried to help them nest. And just when I thought they were an infertile clan, she laid a pair of eggs under my favorite plant.

I thought I would keep the eggs outside the pot, on the floor, the moment the bird left, and she would come back and carry them away, to wherever. But she didn't budge. For days, never left sight of the eggs. Warmed them endlessly. I waited for her to give up. I knew she would. Those eggs never hatched, I've seen before.

Whenever I watered my plant, the mamma pigeon would scowl at me, flutter her wings and scare me away. Suddenly on a Saturday, I sensed movement under the mamma. The eggs had hatched and the baby birds with their eyes shut were there, like dollops of flesh with tiny hair and eyes shut. I was overawed and quite happy to their family. The father visited diligently.

Over the next week, I saw the parents, alter and sit on the baby birds to keep them warm and feed them mouth to mouth. I sprinkled left over rice and water. The baby birds grew quickly, swelled up. Their hair slowly grew thicker, their tough black beaks became prominent. I was afraid they would poke me in the eye.

I kept giving them rice and they kept growing. Their parents visited less often. The two babies took up most of the pot, there was not much space for the mamma anymore. Given, it is the monsoon, it rained on several nights, throughout. One night I woke up at 4 am to the sound of thunder and went to the balcony to see if the birds were doing okay. I pulled the pot further inside, where the rain couldn't reach and covered it with an umbrella. The mamma who was there, thought I had caged them all and fluttered like a mad woman. And escaped, leaving her children in my peril.

But they returned in a few. To reach the baby birds how to fly. The babies thought I was hostile, probably. Because I would sit by the pot and talk incessantly and softly to them. Clap my hands and make them stand up and sit down to my claps. Whenever I watered my plant, they would flutter their new wings and try to scare me away. Nevertheless I sat with them, waiting for their parents to return, with food of their kind, and more stories of the world, dreams, perhaps, a few.

The babies had grown very big and they had covered my pot with shit. I googled the lifespan of pigeons to find out when they were flying and vacating my space. I am to leave for a break in a week or two and if they birds didn't fly away by then, it would be a problem, because I am planning to give the plants to a neighbor who would water them when I am gone and I clearly can't give it to them with the birds in it.

The papa bird gave them flying lessons, sitting on the ledge of my balcony. Soon enough, one of the baby birds, flew away, to the glee of her parents and of me, and of her brother. I waited for her to return at night, I was worried she was so new, she might fall off the branch of a tree or something. I have seen pigeons sleep on telephone wires, and let me tell you, precarious! But she didn't return. I am hoping she's alive and well. But her brother, the other baby bird, who is the bigger one, fatter one, hasn't been able to fly.

And I cannot fathom why. Perhaps, he had heard a scary story or two. Because I've checked, his legs and feathers look normal to me. He's just afraid I am hoping. The parents come sometimes now, counsel the bird, who is almost a fully grown pigeon now. But to no avail. All he does is stand up and sit down. And flutter his wings when I water the plant or throw some food on him to make him try to fly away. But nothing works.

I think this one is a homing pigeon and has found its way home. 

Thirty-one

The other day, I was reading through the Wikipedia page on Winston Churchill. Not quite reading as much as looking for quirks. Tiny  little things worth remembering. I went on to the pages of his children and grandchildren. Several spouses of theirs. And children again. All perished. Some of disease. Some of misery. Some of boredom. But all dead and by gone. Erased in history, except their black and white pictures.

A man who was powerful enough to stop a war or cause a famine, he is gone, obliterated. And his progeny much the same.

It gave me some perspective. I am going through a limbo. When was I not? But this is also one of the several limbos I have been through. I think when I die, my life would have been a series of such limbos conjugated back to back, with a very washable glue of memories.

I am thirty one. I was quite depressed (not because of that, personally I think, ageing is fun) because of the goings-on. I am beginning to imagine I am prone to certain things. Like biochemically. Like some of those women whose Wikipedia pages I've visited, someone's (third) wife, someone's (illegitimate) daughter, mentioned in passing, who were prone to depression.

I know for a fact, that I am slightly bi-polar, if I may. And prone to a few things that make me less capable of controlling how I feel. That transpires into a lot of aspects of how I live and generally, be. But my mood swings are violent and totally out of control. Since, I am a very inward person, with very few outlets, these things are beginning to crush me in a very novel way, like none of my past limbos have done. There is quite a bit of curdling and swirling and crying and screaming going on, inside my head.

Nevertheless, Winston Churchill died, vanished from the face of the earth, without a trace. So will I. One day. Sooner rather than later.

Happy thirty-one!


Grandmother

Grandmother rushes in at midnight to the river front to stand and watch a bridegroom’s passing procession. The lights and the crackers and the trumpeters and four bearers carrying his palanquin. A stream of lights passing by the river front could be sighted from our rooftop as well. But their reflections on the black water, and the grim blue-grey sky would be experienced firsthand only if woken by the firecrackers, you grab your slippers and walk briskly and reach the river front about time. And grandmother would clearly be the one woke and running. Along with a bevy of grandchildren. 

At half past two on school day afternoons, grandmother would sit in the courtyard in the shade of the gigantic red hibiscus and from a plate of jaded silver, feed lunch to the same bevy of grandchildren. Grandchildren of all shapes and sizes, even the ones who are barely weaned from their mother’s milk would sit, cross-legged, quietly, even though in their hearts fluttered a dozen alibis for skipping siesta. Grandmother would make spherical morsels and keep them on the rather bigly plate. Each morsel would have mashed rice and dals and curries and veggies and with a touch of pickle on top for easing the swallowing. Each morsel would have a name on it,  one for the father, one for the mother, one for each brother or sister, one for a fairy, one for the moon and so on, till the plate was wiped clean. Each belly fed to full after grandmother’s hand went about clockwise in circles, several times.

Then in siesta time, came the stories. Of moon-faced monsters and old demonesses that lived on champak trees, having kidnapped the souls of young and pretty princesses. Grandmother’s eyes snapped asleep sometime in the middle of those fairy tales, her voice whirred and the grandchildren knew, this was their cue to get up, one by one though, and quietly tiptoe to the playground outside. 

Grandmother was also the takecarer of the oft recurring midnight hunger pangs of the grandchildren. She was the one who rolled in somewhat-semi-sweet-semi-creamy milk-powder out of the can, in left over rotis. Rolls that fed hungry children who shared their grandmother’s ancient antique empress size bed, rolling from its edge to edge, several feet, drenched in Disney world dreams, and slept behind clay walls, under thatched roofs.

Grandmother, when septuagenarian or octogenarian, when semi paralyzed with senility, slow fried egg plants, walked to the living room and sat on the sofa, half-watching TV, half daydreaming, waiting for one side to cook, fry, char, until she walked into the kitchen and flipped them over. 

Grandmother, this, grandmother that. 

Coffee

Here,
Drink some more coffee
You over-caffeinated zombie
To sit up and keep eyes wide shut

Because,
Life is full of problems
and then,
Life ends

Abruptly,
Perhaps, as most ones say
You wake up one day
And find nothing

Not the quintessential nothing of daily depression
But actual nothing, 
A forever-void for real
That's the end, no tunnels, no lights, no nothing

Until then,
Hang on to coffee
Short on sleep, short on peace
And overflowing, almost bursting with regrets; wait;

Hang on 

Saturn

Did you know
That Saturn
Has an aurora borealis too
Just like ours, I mean
Who woulda thought

Also, did you know
The coconut tree in my backyard
Stunned me bad, last night
It cast this huge shadow, on my neighbour's wall
And I thought was that a ghost

When I spotted it,
Inching closer to my kitchen window
I stood staring at the shadow's leaves, sway
Below a half moon
And rushed to the bedroom to check the real tree

In the years I've lived here
Never seen this shadow
Not once, and suddenly tonite
Am rushing back and forth, kitchen, bedroom
To and fro

And alternately glancing at Saturn's aurora borealis
Looking so damn photoshopped this
But it's real, shot by a passing Cassini or
A Voyager, or something
It's like a million square miles

Can u imagine living in it
Under it, and gazing up
Tonite, suspended between shadow and light
I imagine I do.
Somewhere under Saturn's North Pole and submerged in its orange aura.


Phase

An effective way to get past a phase, any phase, is to let it run its course. Just bear it for a certain amount of time, instead of constantly fighting it. And the phase, will begin to feel that you are soft, mouldable, yet somewhat indestructible and it will leave you alone. So it's up to you to now decide what is a respectable amount of time you must spend bearing the said phase. Is it a week, or a month? Sometimes a phase goes on for years, to be honest. It becomes so inbuilt in your life that you cannot separate, like, draw a distinct line, which characteristics are yours, which are the phase's. In that case, perhaps, you have lost. Or the phase has. Or it's just a tie. Like in any kind of competition.

But the most wicked kind of phase is the one that keeps coming back. It never completely leaves you. First few times it catches you, you fight it. Then you bear it, then ignore it. But it keeps coming back. You simply lose out on all methods and don't know what to do anymore. It leaves you in peace for a month or two and then down a week or so you realise you got it again. It's merciless. It wrings you of all your potency. It's basically a slow but persistent process of self decay.

For instance, you remember how I baked silly cakes on every Sunday afternoon for over a year and a half. No matter how far from decent the cakes were, or how many containers I broke, or how I had no eggs left for Monday ever. Nothing could get me rid of it.

Then, do you remember smoking. Nicotine has been my closest accomplice. In many many of the acts I have participated in, it has stood by me. When everything else stood me up, I had it. So that's a phase, that keeps coming back. It keeps away the blues with its greys. It does a good job of giving me the short lived illusion that I am as calm as I could humanly be.

Then there were times when I would embroider, till my eyes hurt. I would learn new stitches and make them. And screw up old dresses with new thread. Other times, I would do origami and play around with glitter. Paper flowers with gold borders. Also I invested in real plants, like real alive plants. They were like my pets, my friends, and when they flowered, I felt like I had children. And when they died, my world came crashing down.

Then, again, do you remember lulls. I mean, I keep having these lull phases. They are like a limbo. Nothing is practically still, for the sake of all that is holy. Everything is moving and fast. I am chasing cabs, and climbing stairs and ordering groceries, doing my daily walks, talking on the phone, behaving all normal, drinking two cups of coffee at work, daily. There is this facade of normalcy. But inside, I am extremely quiet. As in there is a vacuum inside my entire body. And a mellow realisation that almost everything of value has been lost. And no amount of love, or time, or rest could even begin to help me fill myself back up. And in phases of these lulls. I would lose my mind for brief instances and scream and cry. Like really loudly, biting into pillows and stuff. So when I'm doing this, am I running the phase out, or am I fighting it with all I have got? I couldn't tell you.