I see a man. In the 11 PM darkness. His restless perambulations on the roof top. I can only make a silhouette out. It's dark but yet not dark enough. In the faint light of distant street lamps, I can draw his rough outlines. Is he walking this way because he has to burn his dinner up before he falls asleep. Or has he a story. Is he smoking a hard day away. While his wife has nodded off on their tiny double bed downstairs. Has he a little son in a Spiderman suit. And a little girl who sleeps holding her stuffed bear. Their room painted in cartoons and their toys astray as his exhausted wife catches her breath in the hall. Our perambulating man has to make it to the end of the month, pay the rent and the fees. And the milkman and the launderer. And for the loans and the groceries. How long will this last. Time will pass. Kids will grow up. It will get easier with time, it should. But is his life a means to an end and all it is, is that.

In a blink, I turn into his wife dozing off downstairs. Or his son in the Spiderman suit. I pass through them like light would pass through a ghost. I am him, I can feel his heart beating within mine. Is he an abberation, an apparition, a figment of my drugged imagination. Then I become the solitary woman staring at it all from the distant balcony. 

Behind me, the lights in my bedroom are dimmed. The air is cooler than evening's. My legs are up on the grille of the balcony. I sit here nearly hidden from the world. Behind my clothes strung out to dry at night. Or so I think. Or so I imagine. But the man can see me clearly. Or my silhouette only. And imagine things about me, as I do. About him. About my many a daily crises, about the chaos in my pretend peace, about my trash of three days that hasn't been taken out. About my inane loneliness. And my simultaneous inability to cohabit my space with another. About my unfinished stories and my lame ambitions. About the bangle stand behind the mirror that my mother gave me years ago that broke many times, and everytime it broke I set it up again with glue. The glue that is holding me together right now. 

This faint light, is faint no more. We can both suddenly see so much about each other. Too much.


In the corner of the bottom shelf of spice jars sat the good old jar of asafoetida. That jar was as old as her wedding. It was a wedding gift. Yes, a jar of asafoetida. Heengu. It came in a huge trunk of spices, in which, as someone had quipped during their wedding that both the bride and the groom along with their future children could be accommodated. And happily. In that trunk came bottles of ghee and oils. Tins full of flour. Rice, obviously, gunny sacks of rice came separately, to feed the bride's new family through the famine, if need be. But the trunk, it contained, lentils of half a dozen kinds, and semolina and  vermicelli. And nuts and cashews. If the bride felt like making dessert for her nieces and nephews. And a cart of vegetables came separately. But the trunk, it contained papads and badis for a lifetime. And along with it all, it contained all the condiments a kitchen could imagine. From seeds of coriander, fennel, cumin, mustard, pepper, cardamom and cinnamon, bay leaves and the list seemed to go on. In fact, the trunk contained a neatly written list of all its constituents. That list ended with asafoetida. To the fag end of that long slip of paper, was scribbled in motherly handwriting, asafoetida. The queen of spices. 

After getting married on that benign winter day several years ago, Manini had moved around quite a few places with her husband. Several cities into which he got transferred. Changed houses as many times or more. Had two children, one three, one one and a half. A son and a daughter. In each of those kitchens she cooked in, all her spices were used up. In the slow process that life is. Packed in the lunch box her husband took to office, or for the pakoras she sometimes fried on rainy afternoons, in the rice tasting ceremonies of her two children, in some of the parties and functions at her house that she had hosted. She had fed herself and her family of three. Sometimes, she bought new packets of spices and used them just so as the make spices she had brought in her wedding last longer. She wanted to carry a bit of home with her wherever she went, after all. 

It's a strange phenomenon how the mention of the word home made so many chords string her heart. First two decades of life that she had lived in her father's house and shared with her brothers, the recent years she spent at her husband's, where she had given birth to his children. Sometimes, and no matter how hard she tried, she felt this duality of having two homes and being homeless at the same time. Ironical. Nevertheless, Manini tended to her young children and her husband, visited her parents on most summer vacations. 

Her bottles of condiments though, perishable as they were, ran out over the years, One after the other. This bottle of asafoetida, due to its frugal use probably lasted the longest. Every other day that she cooked lentils, she added a tiny pinch of asafoetida into the oil before spluttering it with curry leaves and red chillies. For a brief fraction of time, just the smell that emanated from a pinch of asafoetida sprinkled on hot oil filled every corner of her kitchen and reminded her of home, wherever that was. Her father's. Her husband's. Or somewhere in between. A chunk of her own piece of heaven. And Manini cringed with Hiraeth.   


Hiraeth is a longing for one's home, but it's not mere homesickness.
Hiraeth is a Welsh word which doesn't translate well into English. 

Who You Be

I don't keep a good track of time. Because what is to it. Every realization that such and such quantity of time has passed, you only feel nostalgia. And along with nostalgia, a tinge of sorrow. Helplessness because we have been so callous in life. Though we have been extremely savagely prudent, we have managed to be callous, nevertheless. So I don't appreciate keeping a track of time. I keep no album. No journal. Nothing. And it feels liberating, living like this, deliberately, without a care for time. Living life day wise. Hour wise. Week wise, at most. But not in any longer tranches of time. 

However, I remember, faintly though, deeply loving myself. Loving yourself is a good thing, no doubt. But I was a narcissist. I don't judge you if you are, by the way. But I don't like being one. It's a huge waste of time. But then what is not. If you are not the artist or the muse, your life is a ludicrous waste of time. But I was arrogant. For no apparent reason. I wasn't even pretty. That I wasn't pretty played over my fucking head a lot. I overcompensated the lack of being loved. It's basically sort of playing defense. But in a twisted sort of a way. 

After a long time, I cannot tell you how much time exactly, because I don't keep track of time, but after like a dozen rejections or so, I learnt my lesson, that beauty probably cannot be attained. And no matter what you do, you be who you be. And nothing you do, believe, can ever alter that truth of truths. So I shed the arrogance and compensated the lack of love with deep compassion for the self. Yeah. And it's been working. I guess. 

Beauty is an enormous, unmerited gift given randomly, stupidly. Khaled Hosseini

Many Mirages

I've seen you for years.
Been seeing you:
Watching over you
And now look
I am stuck with a tonne of memories
Not knowing what to do-

Remember that time
That August evening
When we stopped by a tree
For a quick smoke
And in the dark, lit the cigarette from the other side
Burnt our lips and laughed so much.

Remember the homes,
We have lived in
Middle aged clingy apartments
Our clothes drying on railings
Piled on chairs..
Heaped on the bed

And the getaways
Particularly that one-
When we passed out in the bar;
In mid afternoon
Boy, were we high!
Don't recall puking, but I know we did and a lot

Do you remember,
Conversations and walks
Comparing our tastes
Among authors and makers of cinema
Couldn't have been more divergent
But, we were both alike in being different, for sure

All these years
We have both grown older love..
Ain't nobody gonna deny that
You've grown larger in my eyes
From a boy to a man
And then you've shrunk back

You're many men. Many mirages
Probably, it's just me hallucinating.
And drugging myself unnecessarily
With your bygone memories
To squeeze out sleazy poetry
Yeah, that's how it works

But I clearly recall.
Your grey eyeballs
The li'l bald patch, you were so nightmarishly afraid of
The neat buttons on your shirt and rolled up sleeves
And how you altered conveniently
Between being many men and the One for me.


Do you remember the dim lit alleys. And cafes with bowls of water and petals floating amongst floating candle flames. Have the slightest memory, do you. Of the long nauseous drives, uphill and downhill and then uphill again. Do you remember, how our friends hooked up and went for long walks leaving us behind, alone, alone-together and writhing in unbearable adolescent solitude. Seated on wooden benches under tall, very tall pine trees, picking up pine cones from the ground and counting them. And those long sun less mornings of fog mixed with steamy breakfast. Memory is a tricky thing. You forget the obvious. But store these tiny irrelevant details. Like the big flat-screen TV. Or the aimless strolls uptown and getting lost. And then not finding a cab on the way back and getting caught amidst a hail storm. Do you still think of late night, almost running into dawn, parties. Do you remember the first time you held a drink in your hands while another girl mixed up vodka with rum with whiskey and danced and puked. Do you remember watching, and being watched. And how the feeling of undiluted lust was. When you lusted for a man, so blindly without considering parameters of beauty or money, just lust. Pure lust, on plastic chairs, holding drinks in plastic cups, until dawn, under pines. And then witnessing a gorgeous orange sun crack the sky and washing off that illegitimate lust with all the pragmatism you could gather. And walking back to your room and taking a really hot shower. You could never claim what was not rightfully yours. Nevertheless, you smoked in disquiet corners in insomniac parties and imagined poems. You wondered what it would feel like to doze off on each other's shoulders and wake up in the touch of undiminished love. Even if things didn't work out much, you thought of dinners in cafes of floating candles on rooftops. Same rooftops that were too tempting not jump off from. Yeah.

On a slightly different note, do you remember home. Unbearable summer days and sucking off seeds from melons. And forest fires. And rickshaw rides of total absolute liberation. Do you remember long chats and unacknowledged affections. Do you remember splitting the cheque on a date to make it look platonic, how fearful were we. Do you remember wearing capris and skirts and hiding your bosom full of love in loose immortal t shirts. Do you remember the earphones and endless playlists on loop. And windows media player. Do you remember boat rides and swooping bats. Propositions and heartbreaks. That could never be healed. And walking back in the rain, plucking wildflowers. Strange train journeys and waking up bare feet because your slippers were stolen. Staining your fingernails in flower juice. Do you remember grainy pictures and unsophisticated phone cameras. First touches, shoulder brushes and kisses in the dark. How naive were you, how unloved were you darling. Do you remember. Chomping off platefuls of noodles and gravies in garlic sauce, and espresso, all that. Yes. Do you remember being ugly, particularly. 

Picture courtesy: Ukiyo-e