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. 

Leaving

“You have gone insane, haven’t you?” She asked me from the between the curls of hair that fell on her face. 

Her irises appeared darker than before, literally like bottomless twin pools. That I could drown in and not surface from. I had doubts if I would even try to hold on to the hands of a rescuer whilst I drowned in her eyes or any other pool in general. I had begun feeling like an ascetic from the past few days.

She reiterated the question, had I gone crazy. Her words felt like wisps of air escaping her brown lips, which were otherwise tightly pursed, awaiting an affirmative answer from me. I had begun wearing sunglasses in the house to keep out the excessive day light. She pulled them out from my face and I shut my eyes into darkness.

When I opened them again, in the clear afternoon light she appeared feral. Exasperated with my muteness she stood up and began pacing up and down the room. She hadn't evolved much in the last six or seven months that I hadn't seen her. I had imagined she would be unrecognizable. But why would she even alter at all?

I told her. “You haven’t changed much. You haven’t changed at all.”

She approached my chair and placed her left palm on my right knee and sighed deeply.

“You have to move on”

“I have. I mean clearly I have”

“You have gone insane, is what you have done”

“You make it seem like I had a choice”

“Oh don’t be silly. We had talked about this. So many times, over and over again”

“Well clearly, now that you've seen the aftermath, you must conclude, I am not the one for the talking”, I said hoping she would calm down with my ridiculous retorts.

“Honestly, I don’t have time for this. I have to get back, I can’t be gone for such long. You take care and, and just get your shit together”

“Yeah sure, get my shit together I will” This was more disgusting than expected. 

“You should go.” I paused. “Because if you stayed any longer, you never know, what I might do.”

That didn't slow her gait but she turned and looked at me. “What does that even mean?”

“I’m kidding. I’m joking. You of all people should know that”

“Can we just talk for five minutes, before I leave?”

She came closer and sat on the floor, with her legs crossed, instantly persuading me to climb down from my chair.

On the floor, she held my hand in hers and began speaking in slow wisps again.

“This is the last time you’re seeing me. I am not coming back. Never again. I want you to know this.”

I stayed mum, feeling rough in my throat, having nothing to say.

She spoke again. “I want you to tell me that you know you are not going to see me again”

“You sound like you are the one that needs some convincing”

“Shut up. Do you want my husband to explain it to you, how all this works?”

The mention of him crashed me back into reality. For a stretch of the hour I had imagined she was here for my sake and my sake only.

“Say it!”

“I know, I know you’re not coming back”

“I strongly urge you get a life. Listen to me, see someone else”

“Why don’t you fix me up with one of your single friends?”

“I can’t stay involved. But there are lots of women. I am told there are some dating apps and some real nice young things. You've always been lecherous, you would know everything”

“Serious accusation alert!”

“C’mon we know each other. We don’t have to wear facades.”

I broke her off in the middle. “If we know each other, why the fuck did you even leave me? Why did you abandon me? Why did you break my heart so irreversibly?”

Before I realized, I was screaming at her. She put her hand on my mouth to quieten me I guess but nothing worked.

And the next minute she was gone.

She had vanished so neatly, it was almost as if she had never been here. That’s exactly how people go. People who have made up their minds to go, they just leave so immaculately, the one left behind often is seen trying to grab on to the air that rushed in to fill the vacuum of sudden absence.

Flight

We hadn't ever flown together. But this flight, we were taking together. So together. But we hadn't planned it much. He was an adhoc kind of man. He texted to check if I had reached the airport. I hadn't. I wasn't running late at all, in fact I was ahead of time. And he was further ahead of me. When I was in the washroom peeing, he called, where had I been? Clearly he was bored and wanted some company, even if it was mine. I calmly went about things and found him in the exact place he'd told me he'd be at. So far we were doing ok.

He looked different. Not very different. But not exactly the same either. There were strips of difference. His face had a rugged 9 am charm. He looked like a man who was about to tell me a story. Usually, he would appear extremely taciturn, always carefully choosing his words. But not this morning. He asked me if I wanted to eat. Nope, I was gonna have a brunch in the air.

Quietly, we began the endless walk in the airport, through longish isles, taking escalators down and up and then vice versa. Looking into stores, clothes and toys and other travel memorabilia that people liked to pick up at twice the price. But we just looked at and passed them non chalantly, while making mildly awkward yet conscious small talk. I kept smiling hoping that would break some of the  ice, and he responded too, not smiling as much, but a little bit here and there.

When we reached the departure gate, we had over an hour to kill, oh an hour. Why did I even have to wake up that early, I was going to have to simply strangle this extra hour to death and drink its blood. There were hardly any empty chairs. We found an empty half row in the distance. He sat down and I didn't sit on the adjacent chair, thinking that would be too close. I placed my bag in the chair in the middle and he followed suit. This proximity was bearable.

I was afraid the silence was gonna get haunting. I kept looking away as if waiting for my entourage to join me, but no one was coming. We both knew. This time, he invented chit chat topics. We got up at adequate intervals to drink water and pee. We guarded each other's stuff like obliging copassengers. Talked quite much before we boarded.

In the flight, the stewardess wore zing nail paint and her fingers looked delicious. I was gonna have to spend the two odd hours staring at them, I composed myself. He was seated next to me, but on the other side of the aisle. I noticed his shirt had tiny flowers, flowers really. I was wearing black, I cannot recall why. After we took off, we talked in signs across the aisle and sometimes bent over to hear the other person. It felt close and comforting. In an aircraft of a hundred people, a stranger who was less strange than the other ninety nine, yes it did feel sweet.

He has always been sweet, his sweetness can be utterly disarming so I had to tread on thin ice around him. I did not want to fall for him. I knew I wasn't capable of falling anymore, but I was not ready to tempt fate yet. I bought noodles. He ate a pack of nuts, but barely. He had a coffee, I had a Diet Coke.  Later, when we were above the sea, and flew over ships that appeared and disappeared between thick nimbus clouds I expected some turbulence.

Even when everything is going normal or sub normal, I have this slightly irresistible temptation to jump off. But the flight was smooth. When we landed, he waited for me by the conveyor belt since my bag, as usual, came out the last, the very ultimate fucking last, I kid you not.

Singularity

Sitting alone in the balcony
Turning thirty five in four years
Fifty, in exactly nineteen
A few years forth, dying, unheard of

Days go by
Nothing changes
Incessant callous waiting fill hours
Erode weeks and fortnights

Suddenly it's two thousand and eighteen
Past July
Seems like only yesterday 
Was new year's, when I sat in the balcony too

No sight of babies
Or the money
Or the glory
Or the awry badass writer of fiction 

I've nothing but this 
Singularity
It's not that I don't talk to folks
But slowly I've burnt the bridges

Bridges that connect me to the outside
Nobody comes in
And I never get out
In spools of dreamy thread, entangled I lay, singular 

Too spoilt to move
Too rigid to break out
Waiting to merely age like your average human
And die out, unseen of 

Deranged

My home is in major disarray. It smells. Of weird smells and squished bananas and leftover chocolate and sweat, perhaps. I can't say what more precisely. It almost has some captured odours of regret that it has mixed with real smells. Regrets that I didn't probe enough, that I didn't try enough, that I got carried away. What it doesn't recall is that there was no space to maneuver. Since the beginning, since the time I was mere stardust, I have never truely felt empowered. It's nobody's fault. Just that I haven't felt real power, over anything or anyone else. I have felt also too ashamed to seek out support. Right since the beginning I have been too weak and hapless. And since I am shy, I have never liked company per se, and people, I have been shrouded in the darkness with myself. I have shrunk and shrunk and shrunk, therefore into non existence. It's a quagmire I am trapped in. I have trapped myself. Now it has gone out of my hands. I truly cannot control how I feel, how I think, how I process thoughts and store memories. I am powerless even over myself, so weak I have become, I feel deranged. There is no love. There is not much hope. Just a bottomless hole. And I am shooting into it, into it deeper and hoping to see something, someone to hold on to, but I don't, I cannot. I sit in my smelly house in afternoons through long nights, waiting for sleep that doesn't even show up. And I don't know how to get out of here. 

Caring for Plants

Wherever I go, a tree accompanies. Imagine me, walking with a tree. It's not like that per se. But wherever I have been, a tree has been beside me. In my childhood bedroom, near the window rose a coastal coconut. I saw entire monsoons through it. Near my current bedroom, my neighbors who I have never encountered, have a coconut grow right through their house. It's not a courtyard, but almost. Tonite I see the moon through it. When I was a toddler, at my grandmother's, they had a hibiscus in the courtyard. It shot up to the roof where it mixed with the tendrils of the rangoon creeper. Red velvet hibiscus flowered amongst vines that weren't its own, but almost. Now I keep a potted jade plant at my desk, and water it not more than twice a week. I keep the plant for company, for I am a lonely lonely person. I am a very lonely person. Ironically so because alone is the way I want to be.

I have potted plants too, but they are permanently in convalescence. Never has it been that all of them are happy and fertile and flowering at the same time. Sometimes, one is broken by the wind, one is overwatered, one is yellowing in its leaves, one has forgotten to flower, one is recovering from autumn, so on and forth. They wilt and come back to life, but never at the same time. Clearly, I am not a carer. I have my own moods to handle. Sometimes I get away for weeks without a house sitter. Sometimes I just don't love them enough. But mostly, I keep losing hope. Mostly I am hopeless. That's the reason I have plants accompanying me everywhere, to keep the hope flowing. But I abandon them, they abandon me, it never goes well. It's not the mutually beneficial relationship I would want it to be. Nobody ask the plants, because they can't speak.

A sickle shaped jamun tree stood on the other shore. Of the river. Boughs of it bent on the water, like a lover. With the complicated emotions of a paramour. The boughs remained the same, except for a few leaves that fell off and the new ones that sprouted, but the river constantly changed, the water of it, changed every godamn instant. The boughs tried to remember the lover of last night in today's water and found nothing to connect then and now. Yet, they somehow ended up loving the river everyday, because they had fallen in love with her once. Back in the day. When its water had been an omniscient monsoon green and frothy, and also in spring when the water had been crystal clean and the boughs had seen their own impeccable reflection in it.

Thus, now they gotta havta love the river in summer too, when it doesn't even exist. 

Dirty Dancing

Won't you come outside with me?
I know, inside is more fun,
Clearly.
The lights are dimmed and disco
And we're dancing

Like there's no tomorrow
Sans any bodily coordination
Clearly
We're too high to dance
Too high to stand, or sit

So, I whisper
Into your eyes,
'Wanna go out in the dark, with me?'
You push back the hair behind my ears
And whisper back, 'in a minute'

Outside, it's 2 AM
No earthly hour this
And the sea's running wild
Tides are high and water's splashing
With delirious intentions

We are squeezed in between,
Land and sea
And standing still,
But no matter how hard we try
We're shaking, shivering and dancing

You keep your distance and ask
'Now we're outside'
'Whaddya wanna do'
I say, 'Nothing'
'Let's go back in, shall we'

Suddenly, I remember
For the briefest moment
When you'd bent down to whisper
Your lip had touched my ears
And then a current passes through me

Nausea

When she was a little girl of nine, her mother gave her a sliced lemon with salt every morning. She was a nauseous girl and the school bus, with its sweaty kids and shut windows and the gas fumes on the road made her want to puke. Her head rolled and her stomach turned. The lemon helped, somewhat in the forty five minute onward bus journey in the morning.

But there was nothing when she returned in the afternoon. No lemon, no salt. Nauseous and with too much saliva under her tongue, she would keep looking at the watch on her wrist and count minutes for the bus to drop her at her stop. There was no respite, but one.

There was a senior girl whose hair stood like a dense tree on her head, and she also wore thick spectacles with black frames. The school bus took somewhat of a detour to drop this senior girl home. And every day before she got down at her stop, the bus moved through a few narrow streets full of snack shops. Any street food her nine year old mind could imagine, was being sold there, undoubtedly. And more. 

Those streets saved her, those smells warded off her nausea and wafted through her nostrils into her stomach. Her mouth salivated and she waited patiently to eat whatever mother would have cooked the moment she stepped into home. She nick named it the street of spices, through which the bus traveled hardly for seven minutes or eight, but she waited and counted minutes to get there. 

Also, there was this friend who saved her some egg rolls from lunch. His mother worked with her mother and hence they were friends. They sat side by side in the library period and hence they were friends. She loved his slimy egg rolls, hence they were friends. She got him a band aid that time he scraped his knee playing kho-kho and hence they were friends. They lived nearby and their bus stops were consecutive, hence they were friends. 

Their friendship bloomed like a concomitant to the chaos of their nine year old lives. Yet she was so nauseous and she imagined, why he was not? 

Girlfriend

I've spent quite a lot of my life in classrooms. A lot of long, very long years in classrooms, let me spare you the details. But I don't remember a single word of what I was taught. Like nothing. Only some deeply embedded basics have stayed with me. But beyond that, nothing could pervade my razor thin attention span. 

And, years after, all I can recall is the Zoology lab. It's funny because I hated Zoology. It was one of the papers of Biology, which itself I had chosen as an optional because, I  like to keep options open, I like to reduce regrets to the minimum. But I had zilch  interest in Biology. Okay, Botany, yes, I have loved plants. But Zoology was the creepiest subject, in like ever. Why would I remember the Zoology laboratory class?

Probably because the lab assistant had a real toothy grin. And her smile stretched  from one end of the mouth to the other. Like Julia Roberts. She looked nothing like Julia Roberts, but just the smile. And she smiled sarcastically, most of the time. Like when she was sure when we didn't know what the correct answer to her question was. I for one, didn't know what the correct question was, most of the time. I have no idea how I passed. 

Or it could be because, in the other laboratories, they made you stand and do the experiments. Chemistry and Physics, I stood in the labs for hours and hours and my feet ached. I literally wouldn't be able to feel my ankles. But in Zoology lab, we would get to sit and dissect a frog. Or look at an octopus or a snake in formaldehyde. But I am not sure, if merely comfort would sustain a memory so long. 

I ran into the lab assistant teacher lady a few months ago. Somewhere. At a wedding, at an exhibition, at the mall, at a sports tournament, at the theatre. Doesn't matter. I might have just dreamed her up. But it brought back memories of my Girlfriend. My girlfriend when I was seventeen and she was seventeen, we sat side by side in the Zoology lab. She was the one, oh she was so beautiful.

And I don't mean your conventional beautiful when I say she was beautiful. She had a bony face, and was rather thin (some men like to hold on to some flesh), and she always talked as if she had a mouth full of saliva. The mind remembers the most pathetic of things, but the mind is right. One day I saw her wearing a long sleeved dress and the entire sleeve, right from her shoulder to her wrist was embroidered to reveal her skin through the holes. 

Not that I hadn't seen skin before. I had seen skin before. I had seen her bare arms, probably. But I cannot say what that dress did to me, I fell in love. Even today, I can see her thin wrist with a coppery bracelet with her initials dangling from it. And  her bony hands, with the veins showing, and the mild blue nail paint on evenly filed nails. What a view it was for parched eyes, from having seen mummified reptiles for too long. And since that day, till the end of college, I was deeply in love with her and held on to every meagre idea that gave me the hope of loving her a little longer. I decided to take a deep interest in Zoology because that was her favourite subject. There wasn't much success there. 

But I helped her with her Physics experiments which I was relatively better at. Helped her solve a Math problem here and there. But in no other class, did I have the access to her, the way I did in that Zoology class. Man, those hands. 

Omelette

They weren't lovers. Definitely not lovers. They worked together. In an old building that looked out through yellowed old translucent glass windows. Their seats were a couple of aisles apart. They weren't introduced. They met when a bunch of their colleagues were having lunch in the cafeteria one afternoon. And they got talking. Not so much to begin with. But one day later when both of them accidentally showed up for lunch late. They shared a meal. It was an intimate experience, sort of, sharing home cooked food always is. His mother packed his lunch. She packed her own. She stuffed rotis and curries and pickles and salads into her box. Biscuits for the afternoon, oranges in winter, mangoes in summer. Sometimes a spare banana. He got rice and at least three kinds of dals, she teased him. He teased her right back, about her small portions and if she was on a diet. She teased him back about something. And then right back again. And that's how they became acquaintances. After that they got talking slightly more, but not that much that people would talk, you know. Not that many cared that much, nevertheless.

Sometimes they would ping each other on the office chat messenger and synchronize their lunch times. It was good to see a familiar face. The cafeteria felt like an untamed place, with many many strange faces. They would often choose a table at the distance, in the corner and eat staring out the muffled glass windows, staring out at birds and trees and traffic and sharing tit-bits of their day so far. 

Then one day he asked her to make him an omelette. 

His family was vegetarian. He sometimes had eggs back in college. But now that he stayed at home, he hadn't had a good greasy omelette in a long time. He mentioned something about an omelette seller on his college campus who sold  good stuff in their hostel corridors and was the only thing to  look forward to while they crammed notebook after notebook on the night before exams. He sounded nostalgic. 

So she said she would make him a nice omelette and he could have it for breakfast the next day. She gave it her best though, but back then she didn't know how exactly they flipped those things over without breaking them into pieces. She googled the tactics and after a few failures, finally succeeded in bringing him an omelette. She actually learned this skill only for him. Because she never liked omelettes. Fried eggs were more her kind.

They met for breakfast and she eyed him tear into her omelette with such excitement. Though he commented she could have managed with lesser green chillies. Yet she could say what a good time he was having.

Many such mornings came by and went past. Slowly, they kind of fell apart though. He wanted someone hotter. Hot girls lived in big cities, so he transferred and moved out. She stayed back and met someone there. Right at home.

But every time she flipped an omelette, he quietly tip-toed back into her memories. 

Obituary

From time to time,
I've wanted
Beautiful things for myself
As a treat, for going on

Tonite, I want one of those
Big transparent umbrellas
For when it rains on foggy days
And a cold sun doesn't show

I would hide under
My big transparent umbrella
To be only seen,
What paradox

But paradoxes can't stop me
Not tonite
Honey, because
Today, Donald Hall died

A gentle soul
With massive pools of eyes
Senile, yet lovable
Brimming with sorrow, overflowing, almost

Donald Hall has passed
What a day, oh
June 23, from old age
From a life, so satiatingly lived, perhaps

I kept googling him,
From time time
Just to check that he was okay
Breathing, alive, writing

It's like one of those things
Which I indulge in
As a treat for going on
But I forgot for a while

And he died
Quietly, oh
What will happen to words now
Who shall write them, like he did

As my worthless little tribute
To my hero,
Tonite I shall indulge
Want more things and umbrellas

Go easy, treat myself
Just for going on
Despite, in spite
All the sorrow he caged in his eyes

Your Wife

Your wife, she, looks a little bit like me. Not exactly like me. That would mean you married her out of your spite for me. But I know, she has some of her my traits. The way her hair falls, or how her eyes are cute, lips are thin. Or how she ties a sari. Or how's she's just so plain. No unreal sheen comes along with her. The kind of sheen that often attracts men, she desperately lacks it. Although, there is this thing that she is so completely ladled in her innocence, that it makes up for all dearth of sheen and undoes other lacunae, if any. She's much like me. I am not like her. She's like me, however. Corollaries aren't gonna hold, you know. 

When we were, you know, together, I always thought if I was your original kind of female. I mean if released in a jungle of women of all kinds, would you pursue me? Probably not. I must be bonkers to assume that. But with time, I began believing either one of the the following facts could be true.

Either, you actually like nerdy lost women. Who had an air of awkwardness about them. Who weren't entirely fluent in their thoughts, fluid in their motion. You kind of felt drawn to that, imperfection. Staggering aberration of perfection. That you liked women as they came, for real, flawed, loving, with a mist of sorrow, with a heart full of love. Or, that I had changed you. Metamorphosed you from the skirt chaser that many men come as, to someone more genuine. Who could see through clothes, and even a little bit of skin. That I had made you the man you are. And then left you. 

Quietly, on your own, you didn't pause to give a fuck. And went ahead to find someone like me. 

Goin Home to Hide

Goin home after several months
Since November,
Yeah, it's been December,
And the rest of this year

Has been this long,
Precisely cuz
I wouldn't know
What I would do there

Breaking this routine could be
Harsh on my peace
But I can't be here nomore
So I've booked my tickets

I am going home to hide
Ain't gonna meet nobody
Just stay in my room
Draw the curtains shut

Nobody shall enter
Nobody shall leave
And I will stay as shielded,
As could be, and camouflaged

So much so that
My mother won't know
That I am home and hiding
Seven days

Living in mild brown daylight
Sipping teas and swiveling in my head
Goin home to hide
And regather myself, but mostly to hide

Girl.

A strange thing happened. Years ago, I met a girl on the train. I was travelling cross country, it was a longish journey. Over forty hours. I don't remember where I was headed or where she was headed. Usually I won't talk to people on a train. On general principle, I wouldn't talk to you. I wouldn't talk to anyone. I do not like talking. Or listening. Only listening sometimes a tiny bit, but never talking. That must be why I don't know any people. Like you know, the world. I think I know about twelve people, in the world. I never wonder why that is.

So my train journeys used to be extremely lonesome, and hence delicious. I would read, watch, observe. It was a natural caccoon. If trains didn't smell as much as they did, I would live on a train. But I met someone I knew on the station, not directly though, I knew someone who knew him. And he happened to be seeing her off. The girl. This girl. Our berths were adjacent and it was understood we were going to take this journey together, given we had our destinations in common.

The girl, she turned out to be quite vivacious. She was so lean and so young and so garrulous, she grew on me. Throughout the forty hours she talked, except when we slept. She guarded my luggage when I went to pee and vice versa. Somebody had told us that thieves would inject sedatives into water bottles of naive folks on train and later when they passed out, they would loot them inside out. Life is so precarious, so on the edge of the razor, like literally anything could happen. She said she had an eye on both our bottles and that that precariousness made everything so special, any sip, any morsel, any breath could be our last. Yet she didn't stop talking.

We got down at obscure stations and ate choiciest of snacks, filled our bottles from filters on the platform, chatted with random people, almost missed the train a couple of times. We stood at the door, felt the wind. Stared down bridges. Back on our berth, we imagined what the world looked like through the almost opaque glass window in the AC compartment. She told me about the doctorate thesis she was working on. Something in marine biology, I recall. How she wanted to study molluscs and snails and the like.

In the last four hours, I opened up too. Started talking. Like really talking. When I don't assess the impact of my words on my audience, I really talk. I talked for a few minutes perhaps. Then silence took over. Her station was two stops before mine. We bid an awkward goodbye. I would never know where that awkwardness stemmed from, we liked each other of course as co passengers, there was nothing else there. We exchanged numbers. But we were not going to stay in touch; perhaps we both were aware of the impending loss of touch; gradual falling away of an infatuation that wasn't even here, in whole. 

Impact Winter

The asteroid hit a couple dozen miles east of Japan. The stupid thing could have hit anywhere; in Siberia; in the Sahara; Himalayas; I don't know - Antarctica, for all I care. But it hit the sea, off the coast of Japan; in the shallow North Pacific. Where many wars had been fought, by brave men; mere decades ago. Where ships had been sunk, where many still stood guard. I am not saying had it hit Antarctica, we would have been saved. We were doomed anyway. If it hit anywhere on land, anything combustible would catch fire and vanish into ash in seconds or start a fire burning for half a year. If it hit the water, deep water bodies, covering three fourths of the surface, a tsunami would be inevitable. Either way, the atmosphere would be filled with dust, or particles larger than that; particles of all shapes and sizes, particles that aren't particles at all. We, the living, would breathe that dust and asphyxiate. It would take minutes to travel to all parts of the planet, this apocalyptic dust. But more than that, they would freeze out the sun, you know, the sun light would would be refracted back into space because the atmosphere would become so much thicker and opaque. So we would all freeze to death. Probably before, we could even begin the asphyxiate. Mass extinction in seconds. Everyone freezing, holding hands, breathing in ice air and jamming our lungs, blood vessels bursting, eyes popping out, strands of hair standing up in universal goosebumps and not thawing. Nothing would thaw; ever again. Within a few more minutes, most of all this, most of this all, would be under tides and tides of deep blue-green, deep turquoise water. The North Pacific, the Atlantic, very own Bay of Bengal and Arabian, who have been shyly touching beaches for decades, would rise together in a giant upheaval and take back the earth. Some would say, the water would recede. Some would say, let it stay. Either way, we, the dead and gone us, would be shrouded in Impact Winter for longer than an afternoon. 

As you know I

As you know me
Quaint woman I be,
Slightly aloof
Always hungry, perhaps
But mostly aloof, very

Lost, in a world within a world
Handicapped,
With the fear of everyday
Every hour
Paralysed with mere shame, of being herself

Sometimes
When you focus on me
For a moment or half, inadvertently
You wonder
Why she be the way she be

She could be alright
Afterall
What could be so massively wrong
With this woman
Why ain't she normal, just

Then you try to
Figure me out
One night when I am drunk
Or, when I am quipping literature, or
When I'm blurting about my favourite TV character

You lose interest
Look away
Find other things,
More engaging
Less outrightly taxing, unrewarding

Just about then
I look at you again
Return the look that is
It's not my first time
You know; I be who I be



The Egg-seller & other stories

When I was a child, and this I write from honest memory, my world was much smaller. Not that now, I live in a larger world. My world remains the same size, or perhaps, it has even shrunk to convenience me. But I know that there is something huger beyond my sight. Something vast and intractable. As a child, I had no idea.

I walked a few hundred meters to my aunt's place where my school bus picked me up. Spent the whole entire day at school, picking which battles to fight, and which to let go. Was dropped off exactly where I had been picked up. I stayed at the aunt's till my mother got back from work. In the evening, I sure ate some noodles and watched some cartoons. Did my homework and went to bed. I remember the orange grey light that filled the rooms. The papaya trees that grew just outside the window, beside the ones laden with drumstick, always tempted me to stretch my hand out and pluck one. We lived on the first floor. There was a thorny tree full of sweet berries just outside my parents' bedroom. I could stand on the bed and clutch a fistful of berries.

But the egg-seller broke the routine. I am not saying, there were no other sellers. There was the little girl, my age then, selling balloons and flutes and loudly playing them in the streets. There were mobile snack sellers in the afternoons, candyfloss, fruit cakes, ice-creams. There was a quiet grocery store man to whom I was sent with money to buy noodles.

On my trips to the grocery store, I noticed the egg seller next door. He sat in a cabin with an asbestos roof, with a face that gave away nothing. He looked neither happy, nor sad, neither content, nor dissatisfied, neither angry nor impatient. He looked like nothing. Just a middle aged man who sat at the edge of his cabin selling eggs in paper pouches to whoever came by. People said he was a wholesaler and had bought much land and property just by selling eggs. Perhaps, they were just stories, we would never know now, would we.

But what attracted me was the pungent smell of boiled eggs, emanating from his shop every evening. He had a helper of his own, who chopped onions and chillies back stage. The egg-seller neatly pealed the boiled eggs and split them into two with a thread strung out. Then he would place the egg on a small piece cut out of newspaper, sprinkle the onions and chillies and most importantly black salt. I think the black salt was the ingredient that made the customers come back.

Whenever I had extra money, I would go there and chomp a couple of eggs. Whenever guests came to our place and asked me to show them around, I took them to the egg seller. I would take my new acquaintances and introduce them to the egg-seller. His cabin became the cynosure of my tiny little word. The center of everything. 

Equilibrium

I spent the weekend by myself. All by myself. I came home on Saturday morning, in the wee hours. I had been drinking till midnight, wherever I had been. After having passed out, suddenly my eyes split open in the sunrise. I made my way home. People were hardly up, though. Except for dogs in the street, some flower sellers, perhaps, with an early mound of chrysanthemums.

I got in and shut the door. I spent the entire day trying to get past my hangover. For some reason(s), I hadn't been sleeping well the past week. Like four to five hours a night. Usually, I would like to get at least six. Even having a glass of wine wasn't helping. The alcohol, coupled with insomnia, made me worse. Towards the afternoon, I got some broken sleep. I slept more in the evening and woke up at night. Ate something and slept again. Overate actually. Needed my body to cool down.

After so much sleep, my mind felt at rest. I didn't wake up until eight thirty on Sunday. When I woke up, I thought it was like five. And that I should go back to sleep some more. But then it was eight thirty already. My head wasn't hung over anymore. It felt light like a bird.

I changed into nicer clothes. I had been wearing my six year old torn frock since Saturday morning. I ate some poached eggs and ran out to get some plants. I surprised myself with how much I chatted with the man in the nursery. I asked about weird plants and ended up poking my fingertip in a dangerously disguised thorny flower. The nursery was by the lake. So I intermittently gazed at its black waters. A part of me wanted to take leap and never resurface. Then I distracted myself with the plants.

I bought a shrub of cream hydrangea. I had read a story with hydrangeas in it, when I was a child. Those hydrangeas were red. Mine were just cream. Such a mysterious little plant, I thought. The nursery man warned me that too much sun would kill it, it grew well in the shade. Also I got the pink small button rose. Back home, I rearranged my plants in the balcony, as per shape and proclivity for the sun. The soil got under my fingernails. I tied my creepers to sticks with threads. I also tried to contain my wildly outstretched bougainvillea tree with a string. I thought, this would give it some shape.

I ate lunch. Quietly, alone. Sometimes, I imagined I had a baby in my arms. But mostly, it was me alone. There was no space for hallucination. No time for spirits. Just us, mundane, loner human bodies. Loitering around on Sunday afternoons, binge-watching TV.

By nightfall, I knew I would tear apart. So I baked a cake. To gradually steam off my inner volcano. The cake was substandard. But the sugar did me good. At night, I reheated some of the leftover curd chicken. I didn't let anything clutch me. I stayed free.

Unencumbered, hence I slept at eleven.

Monday morning, I went to work. It stormed like crazy in the evening, because this day couldn't contain the summer anymore. I came home to see, my bougainvillea was broken in the wind. Perhaps because, I had tied it. Had it been free, it would have swayed and saved itself.

Ridden with shallow guilt, I untied it immediately. My heart bubbled  inside though, I had always loved its scarce white flowers. So I sat on the floor and waited. 

Cost of a Poem

How much is the cost of a poem
I wonder
But wondering not allowed, I know
It's Zero
Z-E-R-O

It costs nothing. It values nothing
Ain't nobody gonna buy your poem hon
For there are thousands of others
And no one's gonna wanna read this shit

But I could approximate
It costs fifteen bucks.
Cost of the cigarette that induces it
Plus the taxes

Sitting on your ageing ass
Staring into semi lit April night
Alone in the balcony
Of a suburban one bedroom

Smoking and thinking of the
Many many thoughts you missed
Living an ordinary life like this
You decide to not deny yourself, from being who you truly be

And write a poem at the end of the day
But does it matter
When there are thousands like you
Poetry ain't ever gonna get you a buck

You're gonna be sitting on your ageing ass
Watching the fifteen bucks go up in smoke
Alone and denying yourself further
Don't know from what exactly though

So S-T-O-P
Already
Cease this relentless embarrassment
Quit. Leave it. White out

Sunglasses

Can't remember where I kept my sunglasses
Last I recall seeing them in the sun in the sand
Sun and sand, glorious, golden
After that, I don't know where they went
Think I borrowed my brother's
Maroon brown tinted aviators
For us, big and wide faced progeny
And the sand had scratched the glass minutely
Through which I saw lines in the sky
But after that, not a clue
Also I had my own very own, bluish one, perhaps
Bought with first salaries
Alibis for virile getaways with girlfriends
To cloudy resorts, filled with wild Jacaranda

Now I think,
At my semi ripe age of thirty and one
That I should wear my sunglasses, only all the time
While chasing cabs
On walks replacing siesta
In evenings, while walking out a store
They won't complement me, for I am ordinary
Dangerously ordinary and pale
Further, I wear flats and loose clothes to hide flab
But still, if I wear them sunglasses, all the time,
Would appear that at least,
I tried to be a cross between myself
And something posh
For now, for me, this is enough, just about 

History

Erosion of memory is an indispensable part of healing. One forgets, one gets past, one heals. When she was younger, she didn't believe she would one day be able to comfortably forget. In the angst of young and unrequited love, she strongly believed that one actually never forgot anything, only with time learned compulsively to get by. But as she grew older, it got real. It was actually possible to forget. And it wasn't necessarily an active activity. Memories faded quite automatically, passively, quietly. And before she consciously took note, many chapters of  her life had been lost. Suddenly she felt possessive about her past, however lackluster that had been. She felt unfairly dealt with, after all.

It felt so recent anyway. Once she started scraping off the surface, she counted with her fingers the number of years that had past, since. Not many. At least, not that many. But her slight wrinkles told her a different story, that she's older now. With a totally different set of  priorities. But then again, when did this happen? When did she get so old? She felt as if she would undo the Venetian blinds in her cubicle and see him on the other side. Through the glass, he felt immediate. He suddenly erupted from the past and felt so so so damn close in time and in space. Like he had jumped out of that continuum into this.

But the truth was far from this midday hallucination. He was nowhere around. You know how actual physical raw time space work. Once someone has passed, someone had passed. They ain't coming back for good. That said, how can memories be unfair. How can they self destruct? And so easily. Feeble recollections of events haunted her, grazed on her mind and taunted her. And she couldn't remember any further, any deeper. They had been so particularly staunch about keeping no memorabilia, there was nothing to cling to. How sometimes she jumped into the traps she herself had built.

Probably this doesn't make much sense. But she couldn't understand how she could totally completely absolutely forget a man who had loved her and who she had almost loved? Subconsciously she thought of the others like him in her life, and had nightmares about them. But never anything on him. How strange. How quietly he exited, never to reappear again. So much history gradually decayed in her mind and she didn't even realize except for now.

If she undid the blinds, just now, would he still be there though. She pondered.

a

In a, the man hid within the child and the child took refuge in the man. Things came to an abrupt end six years ago for them because she couldn't take the ignorant child that showed up when he was trying hard to be her man. Back then, a had been striving for real, he did all the right things. But she couldn't do justice to his efforts because she was young. Twenty-five can be a flimsy age. And she was not as mature as she thought she was, thinking back from the current day that is. Time is a simple scale, keeping a decent record of the events in her life, but at the same time, it is immensely illusory. Time gives her ideas, and can concoct chimeras. Though she could have been a truer version of her self at that age, but she hadn't fructified that much back then. a imagined her to be as innocent as she seemed, but in her mind, she was much smarter. Sometimes when a put her in her place, she was mortified. But a leaned on her, despite all his gathered cynicism and practicality of a thirty (something) year old man. He resigned to loving her because he couldn't believe even after having lived through broken relationships for so many years, he could land someone so naive and juvenile and beautiful. a immediately grabbed her with both hands (metaphorically) and asked her to be his, in the not so subtle language of flirtation cum mild anger cum frustration cum i-am-smarter-than-thou innuendo. At twenty-five however, she thought that she was like forty-five and had no time for a. Because after shitty over geek-ed teenage years and dull college life and terrible work life, she was so done with all this. Blinded by her magnified self image, she couldn't completely understand and appreciate when a told her that she was so young, almost like a sapling and all this would fall in its place when she was a's age. Really, it would. He even held her hand and consoled her. That now what looks unbearable would feel like child's play later down the line. And that there were newer chapters of life, they could explore together, if she gave him a little space in her heart. A tiny space, is what a had asked for her. Ironical, as it may sound, her heart was empty then, except for the erogenous ideas that filled it thanks to her heavy social conditioning. And yet she wouldn't give him that tiny space. And repeatedly put him in his place. And that's when the man in a would take backstage and the child would show up. Irritated for he found no reciprocation for his feelings from her, flabbergasted at how she could let such an opportunity of love just pass her by, a thought was she that dumb after-all, contrary to his ideas of her. And she would assume that a was just flirting because he wanted to get laid. It all melted down to sex, after-all, didn't it.

But, if you can fall in love with someone post-facto, that is, a very long and abstracted post-facto, with six years between that and now, today, when she ran her fingers down those old conversations of theirs, refreshing them in her exhausted memory, she understood a from the perspective of a thirty (something) year old woman that she now is. And a makes tremendous sense. Bless him. She fell for him, post-facto. And if apologies work this late, she's sorry too. 

Mother of Pearl

I live in perfectly good weather;
Yet on April afternoons, I'm sure
I will yearn for rain torrential
Whirlwinds and broken boughs
Of middle aged drumstick trees.
And roads laden with layers and layers
Of leaves, of all colors, brown, yellow
And black. Tremendous clouds in the sky
Colored like the Mother of Pearl
Impending and grey premonsoon.
Gusts of sea breeze, blowing apart
Our calmly gathered selves.

In May, the summers that bake you
That turn the house into an oven
And start distant forest fires
The floor that burns your feet
Eyes see the chimeras at noon
In Forty Eight degrees of Celsius
Dust and more apocalyptic dust
Thirst and buttermilk, and sugarcane juice
And endless bike rides to nowhere
Except an orangish red hot sky
Mangoes in full bloom, almost rotting
Everything so hot that it skins your soul
Feels like retribution for being merely human

I live in perfectly good weather.
But I miss the heat and the rain.
Call me crazy, yeah

Pieces

Do you have it though, still. With you. Did you keep it? The piece of me that I had given to you. That you had taken from me. In 2010. In 2011. Toward the end of 2012. Some months of 2013. You never let me be. You came back always. Every year for a bit. To unshackle me. To make me go wild. To make me implode. And in the end of the roughly annual excercise, I gave you a piece of me. Like a trophy. Something to slide you buy until the next interval in exile. When you would pop up again. Like it was a trivial non-incident. Per your whims. And per my fancies. As if it was nothing. As if you'd never left. I gave you those pieces. Of me. Scrapes of my soul. Did you keep them though. In some office drawer. Or in the kitchen cabinet. Or in the pocket of an old shirt. Like the receipt from a first date. Like an eyelash you made a wish with. Like the butt of a cigarette you shared. Like poems scribbled on tissue paper. Like dreams and memories of dreams. Etcetra. Did you keep them though. Did you think to keep them even. They clearly have no worth. You're a smart man of calculations. You wouldn't keep them in an ideal world. But in the flawed world of our flawed love, I would secretly hope you had kept them, even half a decade after our hearts have thawed. So, did you keep those pieces. Be honest with me now. You probably owe this to me. In the very least. Did ya 

Finale

Find prequel here

He came in at 3:30 in the morning. In the night. Julie must have opened the door. Usually I would set an alarm for that sort of thing. To wake up and usher him in. But somehow, I hadn’t. It was a Saturday. I woke up much after 9, by that time he was up and about in the house. In the tiny balcony with pigeon nests and the potted croutons, in the living room by Julie’s recent cacti. Julie had shaken me awake when she left for work.

“He’s here bitch!”

“What? Who?”

“Oh c’mon. Your lover. Boyfriend. One night stander. Whatever you two are calling it”, she whispered.

A lot of reality sunk in. My chest felt heavy, filled with smoke, dry and sorrowful. I shut my eyes and smashed my face on the pillow, attempting to sleep for another half an hour or so.

My room was still dark, only streaks of sunlight entered through the gaps in our deep maroon curtains. I heard her walk out and shut the door close, softly. I heard her make an excuse to the person outside, probably sitting on the cane chair in the living room, which was the only place to sit in there in our minimalistic nine hundred square feet two-bedroom. Apart from the guest mattress on the floor where he most probably had slept his early morning off.

After that, probably around 10, I walked out of my room toothbrush in hand, eyes still closed. Mouth still foul. I heard him the kitchen. He was fumbling around a little bit. Probably looking for material to make tea. Those soft sounds made that heaviness in my chest return. I walked up to the kitchen threshold. He turned to look at me.

Three weeks ago we had met again. After that one day dalliance in his apartment in his city. After what four or five years of an on and off unpleasant and yet wildly tumultuous almost one-sided affair. From my one-side. Three weeks ago, he had met me to tell me, he was serious about it all. Suddenly, I was the only woman. That incident, of the telling me so, had make me irreversibly nervous with joy immediately. But sometime after all that joy had reversed.

“I don’t think we have got milk. It was my turn to get the milk, I am sure I forgot”

We didn’t have a fridge, a few months ago the old one went so bad we had to sell it and never got around to buying a new one.

“We don’t have a fridge, we buy everything once in two days, and everything goes bad”

“Let’s go buy a fridge then”

I put the brush in my mouth and half smiled at him.

“There must be milk powder, here somewhere”

I pointed to the sugar and tea packets and pulled out the sauce pan from the pile of clean utensils and went back to brushing my teeth.

I turned away from him to shut my eyes and remember what he looked like a moment ago. He was in khakis and a button down shirt. He didn’t wear a sweater or a jacket anything. His sleeves were rolled up to the elbows, I could see his fair hands. The sun shone on orange on his chin. Bits of beard stood on his cheeks. There was no goatee. His pants were rather lose. Or maybe they were alright. I needed to assess them again. His feet was flatter than regular people’s feet. His toes almost made him look perched, like a bird. His toe nails were clear, thick, yet clear. Unlike mine which always had tiny bits of nail paint stuck on them, weeks’ sometimes months’ old. I was wrapped in a shawl. It covered my loose onesie sleeping dress with animal prints, elephants and giraffes and rhinoceroses. I wondered what he must think about that.

I reentered the kitchen after wiping my face dry, with the face towel strung over my shoulders. The tea was boiling by then. I saw him again. He was smiling more now.

“Good morning to you”, he said smirking, as if to ensure that I was totally up.

“Same to you too”

“I leave at 4:30”

“Oh”

“My flight back is at 4:30, so I would clear your house by 2:30, is what I meant”

“Julie likes you, you can stay longer if you want”

“I like Julie too, decent girl”

“I am sure you two would make each other very happy”

“Yeah and so would her Dubai based fiancé, I should hope”

“Oh, she told you”

“Yes of course, had a nice chat with her in the morning. We talked every day and how come you never told me she’s getting married in three months”

“No, we didn’t talk every day. And I didn’t think you would like to know, too much information.”

“But I would like to know if I am getting married in three... seven months”

My mind felt hollow, the foul smell in my mouth had returned. He focused his eyes on me, while I pretended to strain the tea into the cups. I handed him over his making sure our fingers didn’t touch. I cupped mine, trying to absorb all that warmth into my ice cold fingers.

I took a sip of mine, it was milky and sweet. The way I liked my tea, the way I had told him a dozen times I liked my tea and about the severe importance of tea in my mornings and afternoons. He was still holding his cup by the handle, he hadn’t started sipping it yet. As if he was waiting for some kind of answer. A few minutes into the act, almost exhausted by the tension of waiting for my answer, he resumed being normal.

When he had told me three weeks ago that he wanted us to get married, I had told him I didn’t believe in proposals. The sounded very archaic, very Jane Austen. He had never read Jane Austen, and I was very sure a man like him liked his answers in yeses and nos. Not similes and metaphors. Definitely not quotations of great fiction. Pushed further by my continuing silence back then, he had asked me to think about it. Like seriously consider.

I had tried very hard to cover my shock and awe. My temples were hot, my hands were cold, and my heart was going wild. We were at the coffee shop just outside the airport. I had gone to see him off. Just like he had come to see me off when I had been to his place. It had been a cloudy and dull day. I had taken the day off. My phone was getting inundated with calls from work which I had to take because I was their slave. But now when I wanted the phone to ring, the bloody call never came. He was holding my hands on the table, subtly so that people wouldn’t stare at us. And he asked me again.

I rattled with my passive aggressive shit told him he didn’t have a ring. How was that even considered a proposal? Doesn’t he watch romantic comedies? The smile from his face vanished. He was angry now. I had hurt him. He had the upper hand now. The color of his eyes changed, the lengths of his breaths lengthened. His tone changed when he spoke next. This love was a constant power struggle, a tireless battle of egos.

“What kind of ring would you like?” he had asked in a bossy commanding kind of way.

“That’s beside the point.”

He hadn’t even told me that he loved me. All that had felt very weird. I, who with all her conviction knew that I loved him deeply, which was probably a serious infatuation to begin with but had rapidly turned into a serious attraction and then into love in a matter of days. I had been in love with him through days and weeks and months, even when he had vanished from my life, even when he had forgotten me for other things, I had waited for him desperately through all that. That moment I was happy too, despite being terrified and in between I felt so full with that joy, so overwhelmed that I felt I would rupture. But I didn’t know how to behave. I must have emanated very contrasting signals.

“Let’s go and buy a ring now, we can do that”, he said sounding normal, less angry.

“You will miss your flight”

He could have said he didn’t care. I would have loved to go shopping anyway. I have never been with anyone to the airport who had missed a flight. I was very punctual and careful. Never missed a flight bus or train. This could be exciting. In that instant, had he bought me a ring I would have said yes. Back calculating from the posterity we always project ourselves into, I would like to think so. But he had said that the next time he would get me a ring definitely. For sure, without fail.
We had parted that day rather confused, me particularly in sort of a daze. Had he been planning on revealing what he did and asking what he wanted of me, he would have been relieved but I was too perturbed to even answer. My past came rolling back at me.

I had taken the bus back from the airport even though he had insisted on putting me in a cab. It was just afternoon, there was no need to take a cab, it costed thrice as much. It was a long ride in the bus, I had cried amongst strangers who appeared as if they couldn’t see me cry and wipe my tears away and then cry again and repeat.

I imagined him in his flight, quietly reading his thin travel books, not books on travel, but thin books that he bought just because they could be finished within the span of two flights, one book for every journey, half on the onward, and half on the return. I imagined him on his stop over. In strange airports, in new cities, amongst people who looked very alien. Alien air, alien water, longing for the familiarity of home. I imagined him listening to songs. Imitating singers in his soft husky whispering voice, sometimes. And I held myself back from crying. I obviously couldn’t marry him. We had been through a lot of shit. This was just not feasible.

More so because I had found out a lot more than I would like on that visit. He had swiftly converted into a man of clay from a man of dreams. His fissures were only too visible. His flaws real and within reach. His gaunt face within reach to be plundered with my kisses warned me of all the past he had been through. I warned myself to tread lightly, to tread with tremendous caution because he seemed fractious and anything I might attempt may crumble him, just. I was so frozen with restraint, I just sat that and observed him, go on and on.

He held me in his arms, and we had sex a few times but I as so much in stupor that I couldn’t break out of it. He asked me to snap out of whatever it was keeping me but I was clearly rendered unable to. He re-narrated stories from his childhood but somehow the humor from those had vanished. Unlike the first times over phone when he had narrated them and I had laughed and laughed and fallen for him, this time his telling me in person felt charmless, serious. For instance, how once he had mistakenly seen his father conducting an operation on one of his patients had battered him as a child and he couldn’t stop puking. Or how he had driven their new car with his mother to test drive the thing and they had gotten lost, finding their way out after half a day and running out of petrol. I didn’t know why I had been amused earlier but then I couldn’t just see it anymore. It was the shock of reality that went on.

In my room we had opened the bottle of wine he had brought for me, his first gift of any kind and perhaps the last too and we swigged it from paper cups and then when we were very drunk, directly from the bottle. Julie had excused herself for the entire weekend like a conscientious flat mate and we had cooked a meal together or two, before deciding to order food, Chinese, Thai, whatever I had in my whims and fancies. He entertained me, he tried. But somehow he seemed to have a shortfall. Sometimes he failed by thin margins, sometimes by large irrecoverable ones.

Probably I was too much into myself. But then I asked him about Cora, his college girlfriend. We had never brought her into our conversations. She was beyond reach, just like the few boys from my past. But now Cora had risen from the past. And he would have to spill the beans about her. It turned out Cora was not just limited to college and they had continued seeing her for a couple of years after graduating. She was vivacious and pretty, he showed me an old photo of theirs on his phone. They both looked sheepish and sleepy in their sweatshirts, almost like twins because they were both lanky, almost equally. They looked as if they were drunk with love.

“So why did you two put an end to it?”

“It was mostly the working in separate cities that did it, primarily. Also she was really into a new colleague when she had just started working”

“Oh my gosh, were you jealous?” I stressed on my surprise. Because he played as the cool chap all the time. His emotions under his control, firmly. He never broke down, barely even fumbled. But the color of his face changed on the mention of this.

“Not exactly. But she was far too ahead with him to even look back at us and regret”

“Oh you poor baby” I mocked him very sarcastically, because I was quite high.

He forced his mouth on mine and bit my lips hard and wouldn’t stop until I apologized. I was afraid it would leave a mark and I would be embarrassed to step out. But it left no such mark. I had made him sad reminding him of all that. Just to balance the scales I told him about a certain someone in my past as well. Someone I had briefly seen, over half a dozen encounters a few years ago. For a few months wherein I had been temporarily abandoned by my permanent paramour. He laughed and continued working on some more bites I would be embarrassed about the coming week.

Even with the scales assumed to have been balanced, something didn’t feel right. Upon probing further, it dawned upon me that he met Cora several times when I was even so desperately flirting with him. He justified that he was always looking for some sort of closure with her because she was his first and he always wanted to make sure there was nothing left, not even the slightest, before walking away.

I could have spilled some more truths to balance the scales on that as well. I had engaged in a friendly romance with a friend for a couple of weeks, but not to explore any untaken chances. Only merely to fill the vacuum that newly begotten youth had got me. But I believed this wouldn’t go down well, if I told him about that friend. You never know how territorial men could get. And if he was territorial, or anything of that sort, some secrets were better kept sealed.

“So where is Cora now? Are you guys keeping in touch?” I pinched him again.

“Should I? Do you want me to?” he retorted, sounding authoritative.

“I don’t want to get into your business. But you never know, if you left their some chances unexplored. What if there might be something, I wouldn’t want you to blame me years later saying that ‘Why didn’t you tell me to check with Cora one last time’ and what would I do...”

He cut me off suddenly by asking “So you intend to be with me years later

“Haven’t I been always there? Except when you have brushed me aside me for women from the past, or other newer hotter women, or work commitments, or family affairs, or your friends, or women from the past, or newer hotter…”

I suddenly realized I was wailing. Very loudly, my throat hurt, how loudly I was crying. He held me on his lap and comforted me by pushing me into a ball but my crying wouldn’t stop. I thought I would free myself from his clasp and run, but there was nowhere to go. I gave in and couldn’t stop crying either.

“I have loved you, always. Always, through my entire fucking life. Since the day I met you. I have loved you”, I heard myself loudly confessing. All the drinking had done the trick. I couldn’t see his face because I was looking away, we were both looking in the same direction, at the walls. “But what have you done to me…”

“It’s okay, it’s gonna be okay, baby”, he whispered and smothered my neck with kisses from behind.

Shortly after I must have fallen asleep. I must have passed out for two hours or more. I could feel the cramps in several parts of my body, I woke up with a jolt and sat cross legged on the bed. I must have scared the fuck out of him. He must be petrified, oh my god.

He was behaving too normally. He looked happy in fact. I had not the slightest idea what had transpired in his head. He looked up from his phone.

“It’s time, I have to call a cab to the airport”

“Is it that late?”

“No, it’s just after 3. You wanna come see me off?”

“Will you pay my return cab fare?”

He smiled and pressed his palm on my forehead. It felt cool, a shiver almost went down my limbs.

“What are we doing!? I will go wash my face and changeup” I left in a hurry.

I splashed a lot of water on my face, still the heaviness won’t go.

When I came out he must have guessed my situation. “We will get you some coffee at the airport café or something. I am sure the airport must have something nice”, he said sounding irreversibly posh.

“I’m not so sure” I said trying to bail myself out of it.

From inside the cab, the high way to the airport shone in the filtered sunlight from a cloudy sky. The monsoon had not retreated properly. The clouds wore a dirty white color and appeared ominous. It felt as if the rain was waiting.

“I think I left my umbrella at home” I said rummaging through my handbag. He appeared pensive. Almost borderline lost. “What is it?” I asked him.

“What is what?”

“What is wrong with you?” I quickly repeated “What on earth is wrong with you?” I sounded more concerned the second time.

“Nothing is wrong. Although it looks like it’s going to rain. Too bad about that umbrella”

I laughed nervously. Attempting to keep him going in the conversation. But he continued to stare out the window. Had I succeeded in completely alienating him by my nonsensical intoxicated blabber earlier.

“This is not our usual Sunday afternoon traffic. Usually there is more. Much more”

“Oh, is there?”

“Yes I mean the cab barely moves. Also, we are hardly inside the city anymore. This is practically outskirts.”

For a minute there, he retreated and looked at me. In a manner that almost felt condescending. In a way to warn me to keep away with my fake attempts at conversation. To give up trying to trivialize what had happened earlier.

I felt depressed in there. Couldn’t wait for us to reach the airport. I almost nudged the driver on the shoulder to drive faster. I looked up the cafes at the airport on my phone, to be sure that there were no good ones.

“Like I said, no good café at the airport. I think I should just come back ASAP and have my coffee at home. Julie will be back by then. I am sure I can exploit her love for me to make me a good cup that will help me with the hangover. I after all am the broken hearted one, amongst the two of us...” I giggled hopelessly.
This time he looked at me. His eyes were between anger and sympathy. A terrible intermingling of emotions that.

“I just want to retract whatever I said earlier. I do not love you. You wouldn’t have taken me seriously I am sure. These things happen when a girl drinks so much wine”. I was meted out cold silence again.

I rolled down the windows to get in some air, casually warning the driver to turn off the AC. The cool air got into my lungs and breathed back some strength into me. “I am sure, you haven’t taken me seriously.”

I touched him behind his neck, squeezing a bit of his flesh between my fingers and in a way forcing him to look at me. I could feel the dryness in my face, my eyes singed from any lack of focus, my movements still not sober.

He appeared to be deep in thought. As if taking one serious decision after another or weighing something against something else. He looked worried, for the years I had known him to be the man he is, he appeared worried. His eyebrows squeezed up dividing his forehead into lines. His eyes looked somewhat exhausted. He put his arm around me in the seat of the cab and brought me closer.

“Okay. Alright.”

“What is alright?”

“No I haven’t taken you seriously at all.”

“Good to know. Now we can get back to indulging in what we are good at”

“And what might that be?”

“You exploring chances with Cora perhaps and I writhing in self-concocted pain of heartbreak” I sank into his arms saying this. I couldn’t believe how loosely I was behaving. It was the alcohol perhaps. I chugged in some water and relapsed into his arms. I smelled his shirt, played with his collar, his buttons. I waltzed into a half sleep.

He woke me up when we drove into the airport. I went inside. He still had a lot of time, he had web checked in and everything. He found a decent coffee shop and none of my naysaying would work on him.

We sat down and shortly before getting up to leave, he asked me the question. Then he left.

For three weeks, my recently converted two sided love affair stifled me. It shouldn’t have. Why should it? Isn’t this what I had expected? Isn’t this the best that could happen? We were finally settled to see this through.

But this made me awkward and uncomfortable. Julie told me that it was going to be alright. Obviously she was enormously happy for me, for us both, as she pointed out. But there was something ashen about her expression that made me think deeper and deeper until I lost all track of what I was thinking.

He had called me to let me know that he would return through my city in a few weeks, and on the way back would like to know what I felt. The timeline made me dread. He was calm about the entire goings on. He had come out of his shell for a sometime only, probably in the cab to the airport when he had been stuck in indecision and had expressed worry on his face. But soon after he had said whatever it was he had been weighing for or against, quietly passed the ball to my court and retreated into his shell. Inert, as he always had been to the turmoil of short-lived romance.

But my angst of unrequited love had suddenly and uncontrollably transformed into anger. We might have never made it to this point. Given my chronic shyness, had he been even marginally more ignorant of me, we would have never made it to this point. And at that point I was too stoic to let any other force get the better of me. I loathed how my fates had turned thanks to a sliver of chance. And I regretted it. It was very ironical, but I was going to refuse to him.

Obviously, he might think I was just trying to play hard to get. And if he did play hard, he might eventually get to it. But till then, I was refusing to jump to any conclusions. So I didn’t answer him in the three week interval. He even went out to buy a ring apparently and asked me if there was anything specific I wanted. I didn’t budge in my indifference.

And he’s finally here. In my apartment making tea. Giving me a timeline again by when he would leave.

“Do you want to see the ring? I got it on Tuesday. I would have sent you a photo. But wanted to show in person.” At that point he held my hands and kissed me. I looked at him in the eyes and told him we could keep the ring for later.

“How was your trip?” I asked.

“Same old, same old. Except that this time I experienced every minute of it what you had been feeling for years”

He sounded honest. Distraught even. Like he had shrunk my years of suffering into a span of three weeks and undergone it all.

“If only such fast forwards were possible!” I said, trying to sound indignant.

“Do you want me to beg?”

“Won’t be such a bad idea. But I wouldn’t recommend it”

We were getting nowhere this way. I took a shower and decided we should get some brunch. Considering it was too early for lunch.

“And you can get moving to the airport from the restaurant”

He looked perplexed and confused because he was trying to hide it. I told myself there is no going back on this. If I was letting him go, this was it. This was what I was supposed to do. Push him out for good.

I kept on going about my banter about films and books and my artsy friends. About places in the city that were a must go to. Probably, he should try them out the next time he is here. He gave me blank expressions that didn’t suit him and made him appear like a completely different person, someone I couldn’t recognize. He spoke in bits about his family. His mother, his brother, their small-town house. We had ordered a lot of food. There was some that I would pack and take for Julie I told him, the rest had to be left at the table. I offered but he paid. We stood out in the shade of the parapet, he had his small trolley with him. We were stranded in mid-September heat.

He appeared weak, vulnerable. A gust of warm wind came and blew my hair astray. He sized my face up in his hands and cupped my cheeks and smiled faintly.

“For posterity”

I didn’t stop him. He had accepted my refusal. In totality with whatever repercussions it might beget.

“Since I see no point in my staying further, I think, it’s time to hail that cab”

We hugged. I squeezed the flesh behind his neck for a bit and condensed that moment to be a source of warmth for cold years to come. Then he left and never explored our chance again.