Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Saving The Day

The nights are damp and cold and windy. A vague reminder of the hills. It rains and stops and rains again. I love it. Cold autumn weather. Sweatpants and flannel shirts and scarves weather. Soft blue quilt weather. Hot cocoa weather. Curl up in bed delving into stories or weaving new ones weather. Petrichor weather.

There was a light drizzle when I walked back from work yesterday. The road was wet and shiny, reflecting the old oak trees that lined it on either sides. I stepped into occasional, unavoidable puddles; and my bag bore the brunt of the slanting rain. But the wind that whooshed through the trees was so cold and magical, I didn't want the walk to end and be cooped up in a dark, cramped hostel room. So I decided to head off towards the centre of the college campus, nearly four kilometres away. The evening light and overcast skies threw beautiful shadows on the grand buildings and brought out every shade of green in the foliage.  The impending rain was a thrill, waiting to see how far can I make it before it pours down.

The collage centre has landscaped gardens,  a temple, large green fields, numerous tiny eateries and a central library housed in a grand, opulent ochre building with brick red domed roof and balconies. Of course, I went to the library.

It was already past the hours to issue new books, but I liked to walk through the huge circular hall lined by tall, never-ending wooden shelves stacked with several thousand  books. And the narrow corridors that led off the hall into various sections of rare books and manuscripts, the linguistics section, the book stack housing novels old and new, the arts and sciences sections, research sections, and journals section. It was my own personal heaven. I stayed browsing books till the sun set and tall, yellow lamps were lit in the garden outside.

I took a rickshaw back to the hostel, the magical wind still howling around me. I missed something sorely then. Or maybe someone. But soon I was back in my warm room, munching  banana chips, sitting crosslegged on the bed and studying about paragangliomas while "Rocks On The Road" played on my phone. My room-mate came from back from (supposedly) "evening" shift at the hospital well beyond midnight and after an hour of giggles and conversation, she created our routine 'ambience' to bring about sleep, that is switch on the air cooler. Even when it is biting cold outside because we could no longer fall asleep without the pleasant hum of the air cooler.

In the morning,  she left for work at eight.  And I found myself unable to get out of bed. Head exploded with pain and fever burned every inch off my skin. I called up a friend who readily agreed to replace my duty at the department till I felt better. I spent a couple of hours gathering the strength to walk the few steps to the medicine cabinet!

The day was spent in my darkened room, buried under two blankets, sleeping fitfully and aching for home. I longed for company, someone to just sit by me for a few minutes. For reasons unknown to me, I dreamt of you. Got teary-eyed and went back to sleep.  It was only towards three in the evening that my fever broke.

The feeling of utter loneliness and crying continued. I wondered if it had anything to do with the pent up worry about my mother's recent cancer scare. Or was it just hormones? Or maybe it was an embarrassing pining for lost love? I hadn't ate anything since the past twenty hours.

Just then my phone rang to inform me that the books I had ordered online would be delivered in five minutes. I had no choice but to walk downstairs to collect them. Holding the neatly wrapped package of books in my hand brought about an instant change in my mood.  I suddenly craved food and went into the dining hall and quietly had a hot meal of rice and rajma.

Feeling strengthened, I returned to my room and set about cleaning it up and opening the door to the balcony to let in fresh air and some pale sunshine. Then with eager fingers I unwrapped the package to unravel the books.

Maus- Art Spiegelman (A graphic novel that is one of the most personal retelling of the Holocaust)

Mr Penumbra's 24-hour bookstore-by Robin Sloan (The title is enough to intrigue me. Books about books and bookstores. Porn for me.)

Delta of Venus- Anais Nin (I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the sexual escapades of Henry Miller to even Khushwant Singh. But I had never read erotica written by a female author. This book would be a welcome start)

So in the bleak mess of damp weather,  high grade fever and loneliness,  the books and the stories that awaited therein managed to salvage my day, and reinstate my autumnal love. Books always save me.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Poem

You who never arrived 
in my arms,
Beloved, who were lost from the start, 
I don't even know what songs 
would please you.
I have given up trying to recognize you in the surging wave of 
the next moment.
All the immense images in me -- the far-off, deeply-felt landscape, cities, towers, and bridges,
and unsuspected turns in the path, 
and those powerful lands
that were once pulsing with the life of the gods-- all rise within me
to mean you, who forever elude me. 

You, Beloved,
who are all the gardens I have ever gazed at, longing.
An open window in a country house-- , and you almost stepped out, pensive, to meet me.
Streets that I chanced upon,-- 
you had just walked down them and vanished. 
And sometimes, in a shop, the mirrors were still dizzy with your presence and, startled, gave back my too-sudden image.

Who knows? Perhaps the same 
bird echoed through both of us 
yesterday, separate, in the evening... 

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sunday Thoughts

For quite some time now, I had been totally ignorant of my sligtly blurred view of the world. I considered as normal  the soft rounded edges of everyday objects, the pale hazy light that bathed my days, and the flickering letters on the television screen that involuntarily brought about a frown as I tried to read them. I had never been modest about my eyesight; boasted openly about the ability to withstand years and years of reading late into the night under inadequate lighting, and that too with eyes that weren't fortified with the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin A (being a vegetarian who hates vegetables). My delusion shattered only a week ago while waiting at the airport when I could no longer read the flight schedules displayed merely a couple of metres away.  Instant panic. Outcome: Splurging on a pair of geeky glasses that appealed to the reader in me. And while at it, I decided to chop off my hair too. Weirdly liberating, no more distress over styling them and making sure they behave. Starting off autumn with a completely new look which disturbingly correlates with my childhood fascination for Winona Ryder!

..........................

Home for a week. Back among my books. Insane conversations and convulsive laughter. Food I grew up eating. Familiar horizons. Cloudy skies. Long nights. Lazy afternoons where nothing much happens. The beauty of it. Midnight drives. Music. Sleep. Books. Sunrises. Cuddles. Getting used to the subtle changes that can occur in a span of three months. The small corner shop no longer sells the delicious homemade bamboo pickles. The baby next door is no longer adorable but a monster of a toddler who pees on my new sandals for fun. The joy of financial independence, the comfort of ticking off 'save for a rainy day' or similar sayings from the to do list. Falling in love with gutsy Canadian female authors who have mastered the difficult art of keeping a story short yet detailed; Munro, Mavis Gallant, Joyce C. Oates. Nightly escapes into Studio Ghibli landscapes. Erasing a decade long love, and trying to be nonchalant about it. 'Happens all the time'. Songs and books about unrequited love reaffirm how common this malady this; unifying us, the moon-gazing insomniacs, the poetry-spewing loners. Reason and logic applauds my attempts to avoid love: old and new. And yet, wildly flattered against my better judgement by the quiet and undivided attention of a boy who strategically places himself at my frequent haunts and does nothing more than look up everytime I arrive with a gaze so tender and engaging that I can't but momentarily forget my resolve not to meddle with the matters of the heart for a long time to come. Sigh, what can one do! *not suppressing a laugh here*

..................

The night before I was leaving for home, I greedingly (and hurriedly) borrowed a few dozen movies from my batchmate and loaded them on my laptop. Day 1 at home: Watched alone the Three Colours series movies. Day 2: Watched Malena with a friend. Gasped, fumed, cried, sighed. Day 3: My little cousin wanted to watch a fun, animation movie. I scrolled down the list of new movies and came upon one that said "Human Centipede" and immediately conjured up the image of lovely hand drawn cartoons depicting the story of maybe an arrogant prince cursed to be a centipede until he gathers a motley of oddball friends, fights a dragon, rescues a princess and transforms by the kiss of true love. The entire (potential) story flashed through my mind in a matter of seconds and I smirked inwardly at the lack of originality in choosing a movie title. I summoned my little cousin to sit beside me, opened a pack of tomato flavored chips and bursting with naivete and in full confidence of my infalliable judgement of movie titles, dear reader, I clicked on the movie link. Unspeakable horror! Something died in me that day, something that can only occur when you reach the pitch black bottom of the well of utter shame. Lessons learnt: 1. Never predict a movie's content by its title. 2. I will continue to surprise myself by reaching new depths of embarrassment owing to my innate impulsiveness.

............

Night after night after night, a fragment of you always drifts in; momentarily peaking an old urge, an old love; and then fades away into the nooks and crannies of locked up thoughts. Just a flicker of what never was.
........

A cure for my Sunday evening blues: Read Dorothy Parker. Augment it with a Madonna song from the 80s. Pasta. Welcome interruption by a long telephone call by a friend who has seen up close the entire spectrum of things that I can mess up and yet stands by me,  merrily chatters on, fitting in an hour-long conversation topics as diverse as Modi at Madison, Huntington disease, boob sweat, farting co-workers, mutual funds investment, the pros and cons of wearing polka dots on a date, planning itinerary for a 'someday' trip to Paris, the joy of reading books about books, autospell horrors and if time permits, maybe that thing called love. Followed by some writing-a long overdue letter, a blog post, journal entry, a haiku maybe; the content becomes immaterial for a while, the joy is in writing itself, letting the words take shape on a clean, blank page and see where it leads you.

..................

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Of Wishful Thinking and Inertia

One of those days. Cooped up in a darkened room.  Black oversized tshirt and grey track pants. Bloated. Sadistic uterus on a torture spree. Umpteen cups of ginger tea. Lying in bed, listening to chirping birds, losing track of time. Aching for home. A book comforts for a couple of hours. Work forgotten. Inertia worshipped.  Solitude. Sleep. Slowness. No thoughts. No plans. No 'to-do' list to strike off. Everything awaits behind the bulging door of tomorrow.  But today I give up and crave quiet companionship more than my usual preference for solitude. I  want someone to make me another cup of ginger tea, hold me, listen to 'wild heart' on my old ipod, and whisper stories throughout this long, blue, autumnal night. But then, its so difficult to realise simple wishes. Definitely, one of those days.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Welcome Darkness

Memory is a tricky thing. For years and years, despite the subconscious awareness of certain truths, a simple hope persisted against all evidences that were out to mar it. If you love someone with every fibre of your being, surely a day would come when it would be understood, valued and reciprocated. Naive sentimentality, in retrospect.


Yesterday I heard the words I had always known and secretly dreaded, loud and clear. No roundabouts. No vague references. No sugar-coated assurances. The plain, simple truth. That love isn't enough, sometimes. I thanked him. For his kindness in finally saying it out loud, canceling all the earlier vague replies and gestures, ripping of every shred of hope. I just turned off the light and slept off. Part of me never wanted to wake up and face the gaping hole that the lack of hope and his absence would cause. I woke up though, late, and on a wet pillow.

The overcast skies and heavy downpour echoed my mood. I skipped breakfast. And then lunch. I didn't smile at my friends and colleagues. Formalin vapors in the histopathology room became the ready excuse for my reddened eyes. I missed home. A lot. My bed. My books.


I didn't know why was I mourning something I'd always known. Maybe it's just the death of hope. There'd never be any reading between the lines, no searching for subtle clues of love and caring. "No matter what I say or what I do, how many more decades I wait for...he would never love me", I said it out loud. He would never love me. Yes. Fuck it. Why am I crying out a river for him then? As if on cue, part of my mind fell into absolute darkness. I can no longer recall having loved him. It was just that sudden. Just that complete.


The upside is the vast expanse of time before me that is no longer wasted in daydreaming, checking if he is online, writing to him, worrying and worrying some more. I decided to get some food into me. The unpalatable hostel food won't do, and I ordered in my favorite dishes. An hour of delightful banter and racuous laughter with my friends followed. I read for pleasure last night. With a free mind. Love had crippled me. Amplified my negatives. Maybe I'm not cut out for love. Maybe it was the wrong person. The wrong time. Maybe I should just concentrate on creating my own happiness...books, hills, travel. The simple joys. Love should never again be the centre of my happiness. It is risky. And foolish.


Yes, memory is a tricky thing. The sudden darkness that fell over certain bits of it, has blunted the pain and makes it so much easier to go through the day. Essential coping mechanism. I'm meant to survive everything on my own. And maybe it's a good thing.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sunday

The door to the balcony is open. The wind orchestrates a pleasant and familiar harmony; coursing its way through the tall trees. The sun glistens a warm yellow on my stretched-out legs . A collection of short stories by Mavis Gallant lay on my lap, dog-eared at page 72 . My hair smells like green apple, a new shampoo. Memories are dug out from the archives and relished at leisure; haphazardly, recklessly; that shared look, that sigh, that day, that book, that song, that blue door, those lanterns dazzling the evening sky, those friends, that magic wind in the hair, those waves, that smile. A foamy brown moustache proudly adorns my upper lip, as I delay the pleasure of licking off the last drops of cold coffee. I find myself humming old songs of Kishore Kumar, the same songs that my father used to hum during the weekend drives, nearly two decades ago; and I remember listening to them, sleepily curled up on the backseat of the car. A warm, lazy cocoon envelops me today, this very moment. These rare moments of solitude pursuing absolutely nothing, but indulging in the slow life and the simple pleasures of the senses-a good book, some good food, a familiar scent, a warm touch, an old melody-is all I require to replenish my energy for the approaching week. What would life be without good, old Sundays?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Finding My Day

I lacked discipline in the most elementary level of leading my life. There was no routine, no defining habits. Odd working hours, interspersed with frequent night duties; bizarre sleeping habit oscillating between insomnia and near catalepsy; using meals only as sustenance, gobbling down food indifferently; reading and writing erratically; allowing people and circumstances to disrupt my attempts of an organized day; I was drifting through life without any direction. My family often chided that I was in my late twenties and yet as disorganized as a toddler! The hours I kept were discordant with my family. But I couldn't go through life trying to mold my days into a routine set by others. I needed to function according to my own habits, and I wanted keep it flexible too. And finally I have found a routine that suits me.

In 'What I talk about when I talk about running', Haruki Murakami mentions going to bed at sundown and waking up with the sun. My immediate thought was, "Is he mental?" But then I asked myself what important tasks kept me busy at night to scoff at other people going to bed early. Apart from bi-weekly night duties and occasional night outs with friends, I spent them dazed in front of the television, surfing the net mindlessly, delaying dinner and eventually sleep, only to wake up groggy the following morning. I am not married, I don't have children, and not obliged to sync my life with anyone else yet. So, much to the surprise of my family and friends, I've started going to bed frighteningly early, at about seven pm, on the nights when I don't have to work or go out with friends. It suits me, as my energy starts to slump after a long day. Dinner is at six. I chat with my family and watch television for an hour before retiring to my room, and I no longer stay awake for hours battling insomnia, going to bed at this early hour befits me. I drift off to sleep within minutes.

I wake frighteningly early too, at midnight! I had always found the hours between midnight and dawn magical. Time seems to expand in these quiet hours, and I work better in the solitude. After freshening up and drinking some tea, I sit at my desk to study. Textbooks are better tolerated at this hour and my mind is more receptive to learning. But restlessness starts to set in by three am.

I shut the big fat tomes of pathology and begin my favorite time of the day, where I can accommodate all the things I love. Mostly I sit by the window, escaping into unknown lands and forgotten decades and centuries-14th century Iceland, 1950s Boston, 1920s Paris or 1990s Shillong-through the books at hand. Imagination runs rampant. I finally have enough time to read, unhurried and undisturbed. Sometime after four, the day starts to dawn and it never ceases to delight me, this first light.

Depending on the weather, I go for a walk or do yoga. No longer do I have an excuse to avoid exercise. And I surprise myself in looking forward to it! I had enough of gyms and the diets that I had never been able to follow beyond a day. I never lost weight, or gained  it all back. I lacked discipline and my poor self-image didn't help either. I have discovered that the simple acceptance of accepting my body the way it was and not being hassled about attaining a certain weight within a certain time frame has removed my distaste for exercise and stubborn lethargy. I love walking, the simple act of moving my limbs, listening to my favorite music-Greg Brown currently-a mile more, and one more, and one more after that. Maybe it stems from my love for swimming, the movements of limbs in sync and the meditative state of mind. 

By five I am back home with a real appetite for food. A sumptuous breakfast follows, none of those bland oatmeal or other health foods. I really indulge in this first meal of the day. Various permutations of the following; paranthas with a dollop of desi ghee, buttered toast with fluffy omelette, fruit juice or milk, poha, idlis, paneer sanwiches, spaghetti; pile up on my plate.

An hour of writing follows. I have often wondered at the productivity of my favorite authors, churning out books at astonishingly frequent intervals. Like everything in life, in the absence of an innate talent, only persistent practice will hone the skills one wants to develop. Writing is no different, it requires the same discipline and effort. The flow of ideas and words is directly proportional to the time one invests in writing. There is so much to learn, so much to unlearn, and so much to experiment with. I had given up on fiction and never had the patience and dedication to write anything apart from short stories. But I am trying to build the habit of writing a few hundred words every day that would hopefully realize my dream of penning down the stories that had been trapped in my mind due to sheer laziness.

By seven thirty am I have showered, read the paper, checked mail and facebook, and ready to face the rest of my day. I never used to have time to do anything, was perpetually tired, wasted time on activities that didn't bring about any personal growth, and neglected my health. Now my day seems to have miraculously expanded to accommodate everything I want to do, all the books I want to read, study attentively, write, have sufficient sleep (five hours works for me), no longer shun exercise, and finally eat with a healthy appetite.

Disruptions still occur in my routine. Emotional outbursts, unavoidable circumstances, sudden big tasks, travels, family troubles, illness and most often other people make my routine an absolute mess. Instead of fussing about these breaks, I have learned to allow flexibility and slowly get back to organizing my day that suits me the best. There are no set formative years of life, experimenting never stops. Maybe someday I would have to adjust my life around another person, but till then I love beginning my day at midnight.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Heartache of 'A Manufacturer of Reality Without Basis'


The upside of insomnia is that she no longer misses the sunrise and the accompanying avian orchestra. She sits in a patch of dappled orange light that creeps in through the window, her bare legs pressed against the cold tiled floor. A shy smile explodes in memory. She breathes in a name.


The demons of last night make her laugh, the ones that pushed her into that deep gorge of abject loneliness. But in the light of the day, fears diffuse into tolerance, yearnings diffuse into work, hurt diffuse into smiles and everyday conversations. Only hope hovers throughout; quiet, blazing, naked.


She sketches dandelions in a red notebook. Words are no longer familiar, but have turned clumsy and awkward at the loss of a particular reader and even the hope of him.What comes after what? Syntax? How does one write the bare truth? How to avoid the excess, the decorative pathos? Why even write? For whom?

The books lied too. Year after year after year. About destinies, hope, wild surges of courage, persistence, never giving up, and that synonym for infinite tenderness. And to think that she had let in these infernal books, these voices from centuries old graves, into her life, allowing them to pile high on the floor, spill over from cabinets, cram the drawers, and lie under her pillow every night. And that synonym for infinite tenderness, why the books brimmed with it and she had frolicked in that abysmal saccharine hell!

This memory of hers. Utterly hopeless. It forgets the contents of the day's lunch and the microscopic features of dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans. But it remembers a sharp gaze hidden under bushy eyebrows and plastered onto a frowning forehead that was directed towards her a decade ago. She remembers every rushed flow of words to have come out of that particular mouth. She remembers each gush of warmth that coursed through her year after year after year just at the thought of the bearer of those bushy eyebrows. 

And how that infinite tenderness that she had read about engulfed her then, engulfs her now! What makes it infinite? Mitosis? Meiosis? Binary fission? A self-perpetuating ache? She doesn't know. It just was, it just is.

But what is? What really is? Isn't she just an easily disposable extra in his play? A fleeting drama queen? "A manufacturer of reality without basis?" That's how the bushy eyebrows measured her infinite tenderness. She cried and she laughed at the absurdity of it all. Why her? Why him? Why them?

A loud cough brings her back from introspection. The world is awake now. Her father asks for the newspaper. He is eager to discuss politics. She obliges with equal enthusiasm. Her mother pops the fistful of daily medicines. She hands over a glass of water. Her heart bursts with love for them. And yes, this is her play. In the light of the day, fears diffuse into tolerance, yearnings diffuse into work, hurt diffuse into smiles and everyday conversations. And hope hovers; quiet, blazing, naked.


But that infinite tenderness, I tell you. Slays last night's demons.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Stormy Seas


Some nights things swoop in. Unexplained dread. Cold sweat. Insomnia. Restlessness. Panic. Loneliness. An army of fears. Veiled vulnerabilities. Teetering at the edge of this gaping dark hole of consciousness, arms flail helplessly towards an anchor of comfort, an anchor of the familiar. And it becomes the perfect hour to shatter delusions and realize that there is no anchor, and never will be. I sail my own stormy seas.

I am not brave. But I can endure. A decade ago if anyone had forewarned me of the hurdles that laid in store for me, I wouldn't even have had the courage to get out of bed. I would have just remained motionless petrified of the calamities that would befall me.

It astounds me that I had been through it all-career setbacks, broken and bruised heart, grave illnesses or loss of loved ones, abuse, several medical emergencies, drifting apart from the people who mattered, really bad decisions, financial errors-and I had survived it, accepted responsibility for it, learned few lessons, misted the unpleasant memories, wiped the dust and blood off my fallen self and moved on. Moving on. The next step. That is all that matters.

I still get scared, so very scared of the problems at hand, and at the nadir of distress I just want someone else to live my life for me. Sometimes I miss a re-assuring grip on my hand and the words, "Don't worry. I am here for you". It would neither dismiss problems, nor drive away fears. Just be a source of steady comfort and encouragement. The lack of it disheartens, but never detains the journey.

The next step has to be taken, another day has to be lived, problems have to be solved, fears have to be faced. Expectations can often weaken and delude. Sail your own stormy seas.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

M


"Was it not you I sought all along? I am here, always waiting for you. Did I lose you, each time, because I didn’t recognize you? Did I lose you, each time, because I did recognize you but was afraid? Lose you because each time, recognizing you, I knew I had to lose you?"
Umberto Eco

"I’m doomed to love you, I’ve been rolling through stormy weather
I’m thinking of you and all the places we could roam together"
Bob Dylan

The Missing Five Months

Amateur astronomy. Deneb. Antares. Polaris. Supernova. Daylight Comet-1910. Reading. Exploring.

Margaret Atwood. My Hero. 'Life Before Man'. Bored, fractured hearts. Here, there, everywhere.

Malignant cells. 40X, 100X objective. Euphoria of diagnosis. Changing lives, timely or untimely.

Fluffy omelettes. Creature of habit. 7:30 am. Aroma, taste, solitude, thoughts. No conversations.

Navy blue zippered dress. 2011. Never worn. Muffin top. 2014. Hourglass. I see it now.

More unaccustomed earth. Giant leap to the opposite end of the country. Another leap soon.

Airports. A big brown bag. Coffee. Books. Goodbyes. Reunions. Constant motion. Move me.

Sleep. Sudden, unanticipated reprieve from work. Cloudy days. Naps. Dreams.

A particular man. Gone. Gaping void of a wasted decade. Now what?

Nephew. Two feet tornado. Foo Foo. Cuddles. Endearing attempts to bite off my cheek!

Highway. Aimless wandering. Unhurried. Finding self. Losing love. Ali, Hooda, Bhatt, Rahman.

Freedom. 2am bike rides. Stargazing. The boundless universe. Free, free, free.

Friends. Valued. Understood. Infinitely. For life.

Midnight rain. Raindrops chasing each other on my window. Don't stop.

Writing. Words. Purpose. Passion. Syntax. Relearning.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Red Notebook

I have a red notebook, small, softbound, pages with round edges, that I write in whenever I find myself unable to penetrate the sudden fog of numbness that surround me at times. I have been writing in it. Purposeless, solitary words. Doodles. Scratched out names. The idea of a short story. Lists. Snatches of half-forgotten lyrics. Just to avoid dead ends. Just to board a proverbial train and leave. 'Never look back', I wrote and wrote. Misplaced priorities. Misplaced love. Misplaced trust. Misplaced dreams. Just the thought of putting everything in its right and deserving place in my life is exhausting. But pulsating with the hope that it is never too late.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sweet November

It always seems full of possibilities to me, the month of November, and I eagerly await its advent every year. This time certain unforeseen circumstances and a heart bereft of hope has added a dreary tinge to my beloved month. So, I called on my inner list-maker and set forth to remind myself why I love November. 
There is this brisk wind that ushers in the indigo nights in November. Cue to rummage through the old trunk and find that large, blue sweater with sleeves that overshoot the hands. And the never-ending nights hold umpteen cozy scenarios for me: get under the covers and start a marathon reading session, go down memory lane and rescue fading memories with the combined efforts of family, coffee and conversations with friends at a dimly lit cafe with misty windows, linger on a simple meal of spaghetti with garlic sauce and top it off with some red wine, and go on long drives without any destination.

Nothing feels more alive than sinking into a cold, silken sheet of water. Here public swimming pools shut down towards mid-month, but those early morning swims in November-shivering, gasping for air with each dive, awakening every single pore in the skin-has its own charm. Like a cold shower on a cold morning and cursing loud as you get dressed with shivering hands. Quirky fun.

The bleak weather can sometimes mar the enthusiasm of even the most ardent celebrators of the month. I tackle it by exposing my senses to uplifting cues. Singing along really loud to the songs of Lighthouse Family usually does the trick for me. Or else it is an evening of heart-warming Persian cinema, kinky Spanish movies, melancholic Polish films, witty British movies, dramatic Indian cinema, feel good Studio Ghibli anime or the emotionally manipulative Hollywood romantic comedies.

The joy of running a finger against the spines of books in my shelf that encase stories, entire worlds, that are yet to be explored by me! Here is my somewhat ambitious reading list for November: Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
Silent House by Orhan Pamuk
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
Toba Tek Singh and Other Stories by Saddat Hasan Manto
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

This echoes my exact thoughts throughout the entire year and I get an unexplained boost every November to rectify it. I want to do everything, try everything, risk everything. I want to banish 'No' from the vocabulary for the entire month. The advent of my birthday in mid-November acts as a tangible reminder of the passing years and a ready reckoner of mortality, and catalyses the crazy impulse to try and cram a lifetime in this very month. And this utterly stupid instinct occurs every damn year.

Despite the mass commercialism of love with precocious-bodied Cupids and syrupy Hallmark cards in February, for me it will always be November that opens the doors of love. Is it some magic in the crisp air? Or is it the long nights that scream intimacy? An ordinary, hurried glance from the one you love can make you smile throughout the day. You roam around blue-nosed but with a twinkle in the eye. Midnight poets and stargazers are born. A happy anticipation hovers around every thought. Will he, does she, when we, maybe...

  Waking up to the stillness of the world bathed in the pale light of an early November morning brings forth an unparalleled joy. Spending a few moments in solitude absorbing this unhurried and quiet beauty can fade away the chaos in the mind and the sorrow in the heart, even if briefly.

The near naked trees clothed in dying autumn foliage, the flock of birds that traverse foreign skies to land on the shores of a lake and call it home for the winter, the fog that envelops everything in sight, the very sparseness of the landscape in November sets the foundation of a fresh start with the new year looming in the near horizon.
November? A steaming cup of coffee and a good book. Period.
And serendipitous moments like this.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Changes

 
Home. Sanctuary. A father whose cushiony belly serves as a pillow as we talk about everything under the sun; his rhythmic breathing a cocoon of comfort and assurance of protection from every harm. A mother whose quiet, shy smiles light up the days. A sister who is a tornado of joy and fun. A room full of books. Laughter resonating through every molecule of this home. Flowers blooming on the windowsill. Cozy nooks resplendent with warm sunshine. Memories, so many memories; the good overshadowing those of despair. And you, a happy secret full of possibilities, encased in my heart throughout the years.

Life changes in the ordinary instant.

Home. Threatened sanctuary. His face is gaunt and unfamiliar, and his belly is no longer my pillow; but when the thin limbs pull me into an embrace, my cocoon of comfort reappears. Her smiles are infrequent but just as warm and heartening. Her fun quotient has increased as she tries to fill up the gaping holes of fear and despair. The room is full of books I've been meaning to read, someday soon, maybe. It is his hacking cough that punctuates the stillness of the night air. The flowers have withered, winter blossoms weren't planted this year. Cozy nooks are still resplendent with sunshine, but the days are shorter. Memories overflow, and I grab them hungrily. And you, no longer a secret, but a melancholic reality of severed hope.

The familiar and the loved still exists, yet everything has changed, tinged with a fear of losing it all. Why did it have to creep in? I try, I try so hard to overlook this constant fear and sink back into the comforting monotony of ordinary days where nothing ever happens. I work crazy hours. I escape into stories about unseen generations. I try not to dwell on the flatness of the landscape that surround me and miss the hills anymore. I'm home, yet it is like viewing my life through a misted window, blurred and reminiscent of carefree times. My love for you no longer bubbles with happy anticipation and unobtrusive joy, but with a need for quiet companionship as I can't bear the thought of even you fading from my life someday. I live in a new place; new responsibilities and new goals cram my days. Weeding out the disposable and unnecessary, my life is sparse now, a handful of friends, family and the occasional exchanges with you. Life has changed in the ordinary instant. But in all its sparseness and fragility, oddly enough, I am content and happy. Is it changing perspective? Is it the only choice visible to me? Is it better resilience? Or have I just learned to let in the changes? Or is it your presence? I have no clue; but whatever it is, I wish it continues to see me through it all.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sputnik Sweetheart


I read Haruki Murakami's 'Sputnik Sweetheart' a couple of weeks ago and found it a surreal and captivating tale of longing. Sumire, the protagonist, has a shaggy mane, reads voraciously, writes until the wee hours of morning, and lives in a tiny apartment crammed with piles of books. She is also obsessively in love with a woman, Miu, who is seventeen years older than her. Miu, harbouring crushed ambitions and a loveless marriage, is equally fond of Sumire's company but doesn't desire her. And there is K, the narrator, who has been in love with Sumire for long years but her aloofness in matters of love and longing, had curbed all his initiatives to reach her. They talk though, they talk a lot. She likes the way he explains things to her and doesn't hesitate to call him up at 3am from a darkened phone booth and talk for hours, with a cigarette dangling from her mouth. They read books together, he is the only one allowed to go through the first drafts of her novels that she had abandoned midway; and he listens to her with such an endearing attention that is reflective of how much he values her presence in his life. Books, chaotic minds full of innumerable questions, a latent ennui, repressed love and longing bind them together. And then a series of bizarre events lead to Sumire's disappearance. Each character is sketched haphazardly, but it is the gaps in their stories, the details beyond the veil, that makes them intriguing. Loose ends abound and the disjointed narrative might put off a major section of readers, but I simply couldn't put it down. Miu crosses their lives, but K and Sumire slowly discovers the unnamed, subtle, unhurried, and unquestionably devoted love, that they had searched for years in the wrong places, in each other. Or was it all just an illusion? This book is more of an acquired taste for the thin line between the surreal and the real, but I loved it.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Particular Moment


There is this particular moment in my day. A little before dawn, with orange arteries spreading through a dark blue sky. There are few particular songs that I scroll down to on my phone playlist. Some old, some new. There is this particular attire that feels like second skin. An old, faded grey t-shirt and powder blue shorts. There is a particular nook I settle into. Sitting cross-legged on the wide parapet wall of the terrace. There is a motley group of particular companions. Birds on electric wires, a cow with magnificent horns lying on the side street, few early risers. There is this particular wind. Not a breeze, but a brisk wind, that feels pleasantly cool on bare skin and untames my hair.

And there is this particular person I think about.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The One That Escaped the 'Drafts' Folder

To You (yes, you),
 
I always feared that someday my little world will sprout wheels and flee when I am looking the other way. And exactly a month ago, I realized that there is nothing half so distressing in the world than having your worst fear come true. My father was diagnosed with cancer. The shock of it unsettled and scared me more than I could ever express to anyone. There was no time for sadness, anger, denial. Actions and decisions-prompt, deliberate-was the priority. The next 48 hours were the busiest I had ever been; running necessary medical investigations, researching probable hospitals for treatment, talking to oncologists, making travel arrangements, sorting out finances, applying for leave at work, haphazardly packing a slice of my life into a brown suitcase and backpack (completely unaware that I won’t be coming back for at least a year), and flying to Delhi. In an instant, an ordinary instant, the giant hand of fate scooped me up from my carefree, pampered existence and landed me with a thud with the entire responsibility of my family on me. No longer could I go on being taken care of, and banking on the security of having parents who will make everything alright. I had moments of indecisiveness and worry about whether I was making the right choices, but there wasn’t anyone I could share my anxiety with. I realized that the concern of relatives and friends will be restricted to well-meaning queries and minor tasks. Mostly, I am on my own. And will always be. This sky-rocketing of responsibility and worries about what the future held kept me up many nights, and I desperately wanted to talk to you; but that would have been preposterous and unduly imposing of me. So, I wrote you letters that never left the drafts folder. A week into the sudden upheaval in my life, my father’s treatment started and the next chaos followed.
I got a post-graduate seat in a town in Gujarat that is on the diametrically opposite corner of the country from my home. In the past, I would have been ecstatic at the opportunity to study in an institute renowned for its pathology curriculum and expertise. But torn between the desire to take care of my father and the allure of further studies in a good institute, the circumstances resembled a cruel joke. I decided to give up the seat and try again the next year, but my family and certain other people whose opinions I valued and respected repeatedly encouraged me to work out the dilemma by joining the college and monitor my father’s treatment details over phone, and if possible plan short trips to see him frequently. When I weighed my options, I realized that any further delay of a valuable academic year would have far-reaching implications on my career, finances, my plans to look after my family, and certain social obligations that come with being a female on the wrong side of her twenties. So, I had lengthy talks with my father’s doctors, taking re-assurances from them about the pace and quality of the treatment, booked travel tickets, packed my bags again and was off again after less than a week’s stay in Delhi.
The flight to Ahmedabad was frightfully early. The last thing I saw through the blur of my tears, as I entered the Terminal 3 airport, was my father and sister waving at me. I am a quick learner, and by then I had learnt not to dwell on the sickening pangs of sadness that welled up inside me at times. Soon, I was lost in the queues of fellow travelers. I sat next to an elderly NRI who watched me gingerly take a bite of the sandwich that we were served during the flight and piped up, “Don’t worry. In Gujarat, they serve only vegetarian food.” I was to realize soon enough that it in fact was an agonizing truth for even ones like me, who don’t eat meat but thrive on eggs and prawns and fish fried in mustard sauce. I reached Ahmedabad just as the sun flushed the early morning sky a mellow orange.
By then the jolly, old man had regaled me with anecdotes about his son’s perpetual confusion in amalgamating the suave yet detached lifestyle of the west and the slightly clingy yet familiar comfort of his Indian roots. His monologue didn’t cease even as we drove through Ahmedabad to the bus stand in the taxi we shared and left me with little time to soak in the sights and sounds on my first moments in Gujarat. I took a bus to Rajkot where I had some work at the university. The conversation around me was a vague, alien blur of ‘su’ and ‘che’ sounds. A lone well amidst a vast green field; languid stares of the cattle on the road; heavily wrinkled old women sitting in a huddle to soak up the sunshine; rows of giggling school girls with pig-tails, riding their bicycles were sights reminiscent of the ones I had encountered during my rural posting a year ago. Rajkot is an emerging city, with a splatter of high-rises, multiplexes, expensive cars; and yet homely and familiar to someone like me who has travelled from a similar town. By five in the evening, my work at the university was over and my shoulders drooped under the weight of the heavy backpack. But I slugged on to the nearest bus stand to catch a bus to the town that would be my home for the next few years. Having been chauffeured around town all throughout school and college, my experience of commuting on public transport is zilch apart from the occasional autorickshaw rides. As the next day was Raksha Bandhan (the enthusiasm of celebrating which is nearly comparable to Durga Puja in Assam), none of the private buses were available; and I found myself in a restless crowd of unfamiliar faces waiting for the one or two free seats in each of the public buses plying on the highway. On my left stood a hefty man with a bush for a moustache, and sitting dangerously close on my right was a cow with horns capable of tearing open a man into two neat halves without any effort. I wasn’t street-savvy enough to push my way through the crowd and hop onto any of the buses. I felt zillions of miles out of my comfort zone. I managed to get into a bus at last, paid the fare and waited for the conductor to miraculously produce my seat in the jam-packed bus. But he grinned at me, showing his paan-stained teeth, and said, “Uppa uppa”. After a few seconds of confused silence, I realized that I was supposed to hang onto the bus rail and stand all the way up to my destination, with the agonizing burden of the backpack that weighed more than all the rocks on earth (or so it seemed). I reached my destination just as it was bathed in the soft blue light of dusk. I took an auto to the nearest hotel and checked in. Having never stayed alone in a hotel, that too one with gaudy pink bed-sheets and eerily quiet at night, I was bit apprehensive and was overwhelmed about adding yet another experience to the ‘firsts’ in my life, all in the span of a day. My paranoia of the unknown made me push a heavy chair against the locked door of my hotel room. But after a refreshing shower and pushing some dinner down the gullet, sleep overpowered my fears; and as I woke up the next day and watched the bustling town through the window, my irrelevant fears dissipated.
The next couple of days were spent in a whirlwind of settling down in this new place- setting out early in the morning to college to compete the admission paperwork, orienting myself to the department and getting introduced to the seniors and the faculty, utilizing the hectic lunch hour to get a local phone connection and transfer bank accounts, getting scared by the tornado that is duty at the blood bank, shopping in the local bazaar, returning back to the hotel with arms laden with buckets and clothes clips, eating Gujarati thali or greasy ‘kadhai paneer’ dinners, updating myself on my father’s treatment, and drifting off into a dreamless sleep. I filled the hostel form for temporary accommodation and the warden directed me to the girl’s common room (a dormitory reserved for freshers). So, at seven in the morning of the next day, I checked out of the hotel and dragged my luggage into the first floor of the hostel I was supposed to stay for the next ten days. A boy answered it, sleepily rubbing remnants of sleep from his eyes with his knuckles and looking just as confused as I felt. Turned out that all the girls who were allotted the common room were either staying out of campus or shifted into rooms of senior residents. A frantic few phone calls later, I found a senior’s room to store my luggage and attend my classes meanwhile. The college was set up in 1955, five years before our college was built. The architecture is Gothic, with high ceilings and ragged stone walls and pigeons roosting in every possible corner you can name. The campus is huge and I still haven’t seen it all. The hospital, medical college, trauma centre, faculty quarters, the innumerable hostels, 24 hour canteens and library, wide grounds, tree-lined roads, archways; all in one campus, and not separated by a long road uphill like ours was. It is slightly shabby but nice. I like it.
The Pathology department is on the first floor of the medical college, and the long flight of stairs leading up to it has an old world charm. There are five sub-sections in it- Central Clinical Laboratory (CCL), Histopathology, Cytology, OPD and the (dreaded) Blood Bank. The intensity of duties of a pathology resident here is comparable to that of pediatrics or orthopedics residents back home, with 36 hour shifts at least once a week and 15-hour shifts on most days. My hope of it being a soft option (so that I could concentrate on writing) was brutally shattered in the first week itself. But being a creature of habit, I am used to resent things that I am secretly glad to have chosen. This academic course is one of them. The seniors were cordial and co-operative and a bunch of them went out of their way to make the hapless first year residents feel at home. I teamed up with two girls from Punjab and at midnight, after duty at the blood bank and a dinner of Marie biscuits, we shifted into a vacant room in the PG hostel for a couple of days, arranging a cot and mattress and light-bulb from seniors. We planned to live out of our suitcases till permanent quarters were allotted. Then we were in for the next shock. It was a co-ed hostel. First jolt, but we tried to mask our discomfort and awkwardness. The second jolt came at seven in the next morning when I came out of the shower cubicle to find a guy, wearing nothing but a towel and brushing his teeth on the sink in the same bathroom. As I relayed this news to my room-mates, it dawned on us why the hostel accommodation was free. It had common bathrooms, no maintenance, and lack of water in the washrooms at times of dire need. That was it. We vowed to find off-campus living quarters that very evening. And we did. Two days later, I shifted into a quaint little house, a half an hour walk away from college. There is a single room with an attached bath atop the wide terrace.
I love my room. It doesn’t contain a single piece of essential furniture. Clothes are in the suitcase, the mattress is on the floor, the groceries and toiletries are on two tiny plastic shelves, books are stacked in two high piles on the floor, clothes and bags hang on the wall hooks. The walls are bare, but thankfully the bathroom is spotlessly clean. Even with the negligible furnishings and bare possessions in my room, it feels like home every time I stride in tired late at night and flop down on my bed. Finally I am living alone; doing my own laundry, keeping stock of groceries, dusting and cleaning, and God forbid, even encountering my nemesis, cooking! I don’t own a gas stove, and am forced to experiment every dish on the electric cooker. I can eat only so much of North Indian food or Gujarati thalis at the college canteen or hostel mess on a regular basis. So, despite my non-existent cooking skills, I am experimenting, devouring and surviving on my own cooking. The joy of rice hitting my palate! I have a new found respect for the time-saving boons of the hot tiffin case; and most of all, my mother, whose cooking I miss terribly.
The day starts early for me. I wake up at four-thirty and study for an hour or two. Then I brew myself some coffee and walk out into the terrace and up the rusty stairs leading up to the roof; soaking in the warm aroma of the coffee, the sunrise, the slow awakening of the town, the numerous birds of all shapes and sizes silhouetted against the orange sky, the magic wind, thoughts of what the day will bring, thoughts of home and my family and thoughts of you. It is the favorite time of my day, a quiet space to wonder about the new life and reminiscence the one that I had left behind. I can’t write though; the delightful chaos in my mind and the urge to sort it out in words has deserted me. I don’t want to linger on anything, just live from moment to moment. The herd of cows gathering in a nearby field and mooing in unison works as my alarm clock and I wake up from my stupor of thoughts and memories, and get ready for the day ahead. Sometimes I forget to tiptoe down the stairs and run into the landlady and get trapped for a good half an hour as a reluctant audience to her religious sermons and neighborhood gossip. She is a good woman, but the sort who would be blissfully unaware if her audience fell like dominoes and dropped dead at her feet.
I pack my lunch bag, try to tame my unruly hair in the miniscule mirror hanging on the wall, get dressed in less than five minutes, and walk out of home sometime before eight. The auto fares are ridiculously low here, a pittance compared to the ones we have back home, but I prefer to walk to college in the morning. I pass by a sign called ‘Department of Lighthouses’ on my way. It makes me smile; I find the solitude of lighthouses and the waves crashing all around it very romantic. I eat buttered toast and gulp down a cup of Bournvita at the college canteen for breakfast. Sometimes I have a fluffy, melt-in-the mouth omelette, and it feels like an oasis of non-vegetarian heaven in the midst of people who don’t even eat onions and garlic. I am still clueless about where to buy fish. The morning passes by in the rush of OPD or blood bank. And then comes the much looked forward to lunch hour, which can vary from two hours to half an hour. I eat my lunch in the dining section of the common room, nap for twenty minutes (in the library!), and then revise notes etc. On the days when my duty gets over at six in the evening, I explore the surrounding area. I have discovered tiny shops in nooks and corners that are treasure troves of reasonably-priced commodities. The local bazaar is teeming with vibrancy and colour. I love the energy and earnestness of the people here. I like the way people welcome outsiders into their lives so warmly. Within a week, like Barney Stinson, I had a guy for every possible chore. The only difference is that here we address them as ‘bhai’. My phonebook is peppered with a string of ‘bhais’ that includes the property broker, my landlord, the bottled water delivery guy, the milkman, the washer-man, the grocery store shopkeeper, the auto driver, the Xerox shop guy etc. I took time getting used to addressing people as bhai or ben. It sounded funny in my mouth. But now I use them with a confident and familiar drawl. I am perpetually scared that I’ll slip into my Assamese ways and address senior female residents as ba (elder sister in Assamese, but grandmother in Gujarati!)
It’s a relatively safe place for women; I don’t feel anxious to travel alone after work in an auto at midnight. We even travel to the city outskirts to watch the late night movie shows in groups of three to four girls, and it doesn’t intimidate us. There are ice cream parlours, bakeries and patisseries in every block.  A big black dog with a lazy eye sits curled up o the first floor corridor of the hospital on most days. I have become friends with most of the residents from the other departments too. I haven’t found anyone from Assam though. But it is a good place to live, and I love it here.
Ten days after my arrival, my father’s chemotherapy started and he became severely nauseous and weak. I longed to be beside him. Talking over the phone with him, hearing my new friends exasperatedly but endearingly discuss their fathers, thinking of how carefree I was just a few days ago with no greater worries than a PG seat, all of these welled up embarrassing tears in my eyes. I had to visit him anyhow, even if for a day. A good friend booked my tickets and after fifteen long hours I was next to my father. He was coping well with the treatment but the radiotherapy induced mucositis in his throat caused excessive pain while swallowing food. He kept up his hour-long jogging routine six days a week. His stamina and determination to beat the disease astounds me. I spent four days with my family, and sooner than I had wanted it, I was back to work and my new life.
And here I am now, writing you this letter, that I know I will never send and you will never read. But I love writing these long letters, as in my mind you are always near and eagerly listening to my ramblings. I think of you at small pockets of time throughout the day. When I come back home each night, dead tired, I check if you are online. I won’t ever talk to you or cause you any unease, but it delights me that you are there, only a phone call away. It’s the modern equivalent of one taking comfort that the person he/she loves can see the same night sky and the same sliver of moon on it. It is a barely visible thread of connection and of naked, innocent hope; but a connection nonetheless. I will always hold onto it. It makes me forget my worries. Just the very fact that you are out there somewhere and that I love you is enough to sustain me through many a difficult day or mishaps.
I no longer wonder though if I ever cross your mind. It is laughable. And yet-yes, yet-in the middle of a busy day, you enter my thoughts and I get an inexplicable courage that eventually things will be alright. Why is it so is beyond me. The idea of you calms me down. And how I treasure it! My love for you is no longer restricted by hopes of reciprocation, it is just there...buoyant, carrying me away from everything that is wrong in my life for a precious few moments every day, and consuming me whole.
Love,
Me

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sometimes

Sometimes my life is a shabby imprint of the one I was so sure of attaining. Sometimes everything seems fragile, temporary. Sometimes I allow everyone to opine and decide my worth. Sometimes the only place I feel safe and content is tucked under the covers, at midnight, reading a book in the yellow glow of a book-lamp. Sometimes it takes supreme effort to say out loud even a single word when the right ears are missing. Sometimes I escape into nostalgia. Sometimes I fear that my little world will sprout wheels and leave when I am sleeping. Sometimes I sit and watch my life fall over the edge, calmly detached, as the shock and helplessness get blunted by the frequency. Sometimes I wait endlessly for something, anything, to happen. Sometimes I feel trapped. Sometimes an absence is achingly palpable. Sometimes I wish you will come and take me away. Sometimes I feel uninspired. Sometimes I feel lonely.