Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Blur of my 20s


"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."

Of all things I didn't expect my '20s' to resemble the opening line of "A Tale of Two Cities".

Everything overlaps in my memory. I can't pinpoint what happened when.

My 20s has been a blur: the years, the events, experiences, people who drifted in and out, people who lingered, the hard-earned and the surprise successes, the vicious cycles of failure, the ennui of adulthood, the simple or extravagant joys, deceptions and lies, the foolish heart that refuses to learn lessons, the heart that has learnt to be and even accept indifference, journeys of self-discovery, the indirect search for the meaning of it all, nights of fervent prayers, indulging in frivolities, still reading books with the same love and worship for the written word, still being the pampered daughter and doting sister, paranoid driving, learning compassion and responsibilities, healing others and not just because it is a job, learning the hard way to follow the advice of my parents, waiting for I know not what, laughing at how far I've come along yet how long I have stood still, sometimes mourning an untarnished memory, kicking myself often for wavering in the most important thing in the world-discipline, uncertain steps into writing, accepting deficiencies and along the way accepting myself, wondering what my ten year old self would say when my dreams of a settled career and being happily married and traveling the world by the time I turned twenty seven seems impossible now, telling my ten year old self that it's okay the way things are now and meaning it, still skeptical about most of the people I meet, creating my own happiness, and not even close to learning how to cook.

When I was sixteen, a person who was over twenty-five was OLD, a fossil. Today I have turned 26. I don't feel like a fossil. I have yet to embark on many journeys. I have yet to find the utopian true love. I have yet to get kicked in the guts by life and learn few more lessons. I have yet to find contentment. I have yet to make my parents proud. I have yet to travel to places I've read about in books and compare my mind's imagery with the real beauty. I have yet to do something meaningful for the causes I believe in and support.

Miles to go...


(Photo Courtesy: kikimatters)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hills

“Mod”, the movie I watched this weekend. I had always been a Nagesh Kukunoor fan, enraptured by his simple storytelling in Dor and Hyderabad Blues.

Loopholes and unwanted subplots abound; there is an unimaginative “Mod” (turn) in the story, and few sequences were rushed and repetitive. But I didn’t want it to end.

I wanted to keep watching the sun peeping through the misty mornings of the charming hill town of Ganga, waking up to steaming cups of coffee, the unhurried existence, rides up the winding mountain roads in an old bike, the quaint clock repair shop, the delightful “Kishore Kumar fan” father, the fun and assertive aunt, the girl wooed by poems and poetry and the tender love story bloom. The movie had so many elements that I liked and wanted to see more of, but sadly they reached a plateau a bit too soon and got lost in the cacophony of the titular “Mod”.

But I would watch this poetic fable again, despite shortcomings, for it’s a Kukunoor film and he delivers some of the charming elements I looked forward to. Just like I would keep returning to every Pamuk novel, even if certain pages get tedious, because of the familiarity of prose that speak directly to me; I would return to “Mod” again.

The hills did it for me.

I explored another small hill town, Shillong, in the book I had been reading in stolen pockets of time over the past fortnight. Shillong had always been a favorite weekend getaway, owing to its proximity to Guwahati. The unruly rain that disobeyed all weather forecasts, tree-lined paths, frosty mornings, the old world charm of cottages and churches, the buzz of the market selling shoes a size too small for me, the cafes and eateries with impromptu performances, the rock music fans, the kwai chewing gentle souls, the undulating hills, waterfalls and brooks veiled in lush greenery; I had been a good tourist and fell in love with all these long ago. I never gave much thought what it would be like to live in Shillong, the town that held strawberry pie bake-offs, skinny dipping contests on New Year’s Eve, and has created generations of people who breathed music and religiously held Dylan concerts. I never wondered what it’d feel like waking up to the cold, invigorating air and a foggy breath every morning of my life. Or what it would be like to walk the rain-washed, grey pavements on a regular basis; will the rain depress me? Will the pine trees smell equally enticing after I rest under their shade for the fiftieth time?

I had been born and raised in the plains, where the pollution and dust to greenery ratio escalated every year. I need a Shillong break every year, but will the small town charm captivate me for a longer period?

I found answers in Anjum Hasan’s “Lunatic in my Head”. The book had piqued my interest because of the author’s origins in North-East India. The prose is subtle, poetic and rich. It follows the lives of three individuals who are strangers yet are bound to each other through acquaintances, circumstances and destinies. They lead parallel lives with events ranging from joyous to that of disgust, occurring almost simultaneously. The central protagonist is the small town of Shillong, how it binds them, shapes their destinies, creates in them a desire to escape and finally their reconciliation to their place of existence.

There is Firadaus, a thirty something lecturer who is entangled in her world of completing a PhD thesis on Jane Austen’s work, a young Manipuri boyfriend, an orthodox grandfather and submission to living her entire life in Shillong. The second character is Aman, an IAS aspirant, who feels Roger Waters writes songs inspired by his letters to him, and has a group of rock enthusiasts for friends. He loves a Khasi girl for whom Pink Floyd is just another band and this depresses him, along with his IAS preparation, his aloof parents and his own timidity. And there is eight year old Sophie who loves to smile when her parents smile, and convinces herself that she must have been adopted. Her world is about a mother who was pregnant a for a tad too long, a father who hopes for a job to fall into his lap, a kind Khasi landlady and her disturbingly provocative son, her school and the constant need to please Miss Wilson, her novels and the character of Anna.

These three lives are entwined subtly, each individual unaware of each other’s presence till they intersect for a brief moment once. The narrative is compelling and experimental, and the characters and subplots are well sketched out.

Nothing extraordinary happens in small towns, cocooned from the rest of the world, moving in their own unhurried pace. This happens in Shillong too. This happens to Firadaus, Aman and Sophie too. Nothing extraordinary happens, there are no twists and turns. The monotonous existence, the claustrophobia that brings about a longing to escape, the love of familiarity and fear of unknown that binds the residents of such towns to it; all such emotions are well-depicted in the book. Emotions, landscapes, individuals all come to life in Hasan’s vibrant prose. The melancholy of this small town that tourists overlook is palpable throughout the narrative.

I loved the book and highly recommend ' Lunatic in my head'. The hills had done it for me again.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Autumn: Cottony skies, Ghibli magic, Banned Books, Lemon Cake, Pasta, Phase 3, Basho, Earthquake and Empty Bank


I would always be partial to November, as it gave me to the world and mostly vice versa.  September comes a close second, autumn subtly coloring up my life.

I got a new job. I am not ecstatic about it. It’s a government job (the mere sound of which nearly mars all possibilities of excitement) at a remote corner of Assam. But it’s preferable to studying at home the whole day till my exams in January. It’s just the right pace, 5 hours a day; the puzzle piece that fits into the jigsaw of my exam preparation and the solitude I seek. The place is so remote it’s like the 1920s.  A car passing by on the dusty road becomes the discussion of the day at the market. The people are laid back and “adda” is the widely practiced local sport. Only solace is the unsullied green fields, the trees, cottony skies, the dew-laden mornings; and a pristine solitude.


 September introduced me to Studio Ghibli movies. My breath often forms a solid lump of joy in my chest, as I watch and relish idyllic visuals, marvel at imaginations, and relieve my childhood. I cling to these movies like an oasis of pure, stark joy. I watch them alone on evenings, in my room, on my bed. 'Grave of the Fireflies', 'Whisper of the Heart', 'Only Yesterday', 'Arrietty', 'Howl's Movng Castle', 'Kiki's delivery Service', 'Princess Mononkone', 'My neighbor Tortoro', 'My neighbours-The Yamadas', 'Ponyo' and 'Spirited Away'. I don’t rush through them, as I usually do with things that interest me. I am slowly savoring each visual, each word and each feeling that it arouses in me.



Being jobless for a month and half, had a weird effect on me. I went on a spending spree knowing fully well my dwindling finances. I added the color purple to my wardrobe, and made Flipkart.com rich by a dozen books. I have an upcoming exam and can’t afford to indulge in the luxury of reading a dozen novels. But I hoard them. My mother has banned nine of these books from my life till January. Her threat is a real one, a new lock on my library evidence of her resolution. She doesn’t trust me when it comes to a few things in life, and reading novels stealthily tops the list. Many a flashlight had been angrily flung to the floor and sacrificed during my childhood, when my mother discovered it aiding a new novel to keep me awake beyond 3 am. I am 25, I have few bank accounts, I can drive, I can finally cross roads during rush hour, I can eat alone in restaurants, I am a doctor, I can call myself almost an adult; but I dare not defy my mother’s rules when an exam looms in the near horizon. So, the books are banned. Not the MCQ books though.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Words





 In old library
Read Dante by candlelight,
As moths ate words.




A pregnant red bus
The faces unnerve you,
An old friend waves.

 




I draw the curtains,
Killing a patch of sunbeam,
A peeping neighbour.







Insomnia,
I watch silvered shadows walk
On a moonlit path.



A mute observer
Veiled in leafy vines,
Chameleon of a door.






Old tales revive
As one combs a sister's hair,
Time halts to smile.





 

(Photo courtesy: millyonair.files.wordpress.com, lucasusual.com, 123rf.com, www.kershisnik.com)

Monday, September 5, 2011

I wish I was in your class again.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'."

You might remember me only as a face in your classroom. But I will always be grateful for your support, belief in me and guidance at crucial points of my life. I feel blessed to be your student.

This is for you:~

Ma'am Deepti Singh: For that encouraging smile, a pat on the back, and developing a healthy competitive streak in me. And it touches me that you remember me even though it has been fifteen years since I last sat in your classroom. You were, are and will always be my favorite teacher in the whole wide world.

Sir Bijoy Handique: You were a lot of firsts for me. You were the first person to notice the 'biggest introvert' (me) in the classroom, the first to appreciate my work, the first to believe that I could achieve something big, the first to create a genuine interest to learn something instead of mugging up for exams and what do you know, you were even my first crush! I will always like history :) And the fact that you still remember me as the little girl in a grey skirt, wearing tiny, hoop earrings and traveling to school in the old fiat...delights me no end.

Ma'am Manjula: Your smile comforted me on the first day of kindergarten. You taught me the alphabet. You didn't laugh when I said that I sent my sports shoes to the 'barber' for cleaning!

Ma'am Ruprekha: I still remember the first thought that crossed my mind when I first saw you, "If my grandmother dressed up in chiffon sarees and wore lipstick, she too would look as beautiful as Ruprekha Ma'am". I think your maternal aura made it impossible for anyone not to like you. How you patiently listened to my fanciful imaginations about ETs, doppelgangers and the ghosts in the school church!

 Ma'am Anita: You were the woman of 2011 in 1994! You made learning such fun. You brought beautifully crafted jewellery boxes to class when teaching about indigenous craftsmanship of Jammu and Kashmir, you taught us to appreciate the beauty of a song's lyrics (the example was 'ek ladki ko dekha toh aisa laga'), you striked the perfect balance between being amiable yet someone we didn't dare anger!

Sir Joseph: You introduced me to the world of books...novels, poems, short stories, essays, and even limericks. You let me borrow 4 library books every month when the rule was a limit of maximum 2 books. You played chess with me and didn't make a big fuss when I bunked PT class. You also bought me pastries in the school canteen, when the queue was long. You are awesome :)

Ma'am Srivastav: You always saw through my trick of feigning stomach ache when it was my turn to read a passage from the Hindi textbook, but you didn't scold and embarrass me in front of the class. You gradually let the love for the language grow on me, even though it never reached substantial heights. But you managed to hold my hand and walk with me through my living hell of writing Hindi essays!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Rain



I nestled my face against the half open windowpane, a book on my lap as I watched the clouds veil the sun and paint the sky a sharp grey. The wind blew in a stray leaf through my window; it was from the tree that I wake up to every morning. I picked up the papery leaf, and placed it on page 96 of the book I had been reading. It can wait.

Soon, it was coming down really hard. Sudden. Unexpected. Gratifying. I heard it on the tin roof, felt it on my outstretched hand, breathed it in as it soaked the garden, saw it glisten on the new road, and tasted it in a warm samosa and mango pickle.

I watched the rain for an hour, as it cocooned me from everything that bothered me in the recent past. I had said too much, messed up priorities, and hurt many. Relying on a memory that blocked out unpleasant incidents and repressed mistakes, I tried to lead a normal life; but kept on making the same mistakes over and over again. The brain was quick to mask them before I could learn my lesson. I lived in illusions to make it from one day to the other.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

She defined it

The morning rush of patients was over; monitoring vitals, sending laboratory investigations, prescribing medicines and all the relatively small yet hectic duties that internship brought were done with for the day. The patients were in their beds and that provided her some rare quiet moments. She pored over the books that would enable her to cross yet another threshold of her medical career, a postgraduate degree. She concentrated on the questions, mentally eliminating choices and zeroing on a single answer. Confidence surged and ebbed with every guess.

Two hours passed by. Apart from a casual chat with the nurse on duty, there was nothing to interrupt her studies. Few seniors came by later in the evening, and she updated them about any changes in the patients' conditions. Her duties lessened and she closed her book and waited for nine pm when she could finally go home. Everything seemed dull. She looked at the clock, the minute hand mockingly refused to budge even after what seemed like an eon.

Then he walked in, a confident stride. He had come for his evening shift. Suddenly she became aware of how heavy and awkward her hands felt; and not knowing what to do with them she picked up the book in front of her. Emoting a bilaterally equivalent expression became impossible and she was stuck with the right side of her face trying a hesitant smile, while the left eyelid drooped and the nostril flared. She took in furtive glimpses of him without being too obvious. She was acutely aware of the fact that he stood a few inches away from her and that was her cue to freeze. The simple task of handing over a patient file to him made her sweat glands go into an overdrive. He was totally oblivious of what his presence was doing to her, he probably didn't even notice that she existed. Time seemed to gallop now, and soon it was time for her to go home. She cursed this relativity of time!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

4am Haiku


A lone maple leaf,
Orange in a sea of grey,
He caught my eye.








I wait for the sun,
My room will glow orange,
Like the brewing tea.





Long winter night,
A tear soaked pillow,
Dry by morning.








An empty inbox,
With a thousand mails;
 I wait yet again.








To a day in June,
Wind back all the clocks,
He sat beside me.









A withering past,
Turns a fresh page of life, 
I draw a rainbow.







Pine tree woodlet,
A home in the hills,
Love has an address.







A sunlit fjord,
Eyes alight with laughter;
Many drowned.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Letters

I beg anyone who has ever been in love to remember how one usually hurries home after dropping the letter in the box, rapidly gets into bed and pulls up their quilt in full conviction that as soon as one wakes up in the morning, one will be overwhelmed with memories of the previous day and look with rapture at the window, where the daylight will be eagerly making its way through the folds of the curtain.”

~Anton Chekhov

I read and re-read these words written a century and half ago, and marveled at their relevance even in the age of BBM, emails and tweets. I had clicked the ‘send’ button in Gmail, instead of dropping a letter in the postbox, but I felt equally overwhelmed by delightful anticipation on sending a letter to the one I love.

The Chekhov quote reminded me of those days of taking out time to pen a long, hand-written letter. I had not received such a letter for more than a decade. Email is the more available, more convenient option. So is a facebook wall and SMS. And there’s always the phone.

But how I miss writing long letters! I am terrible at making small talk, and overcompensate for it by writing long mails. That’s the most important reason I write. I can give some form to my thoughts and feelings, which become blurred in course of a conversation.

If and when I get married, I would want my husband to write letters to me. And patiently read my long letters. Even when we are living in the same house. It sounds silly, and probably is so, but I always want to experience the intimacy and the pleasure of exchanging hand-written letters.

During my childhood, summer vacations always brought letters from friends, cousins and pen pals. Pen-pals. Yes, I had a few. Just the very idea of communicating with a faceless person, who was from a different culture and country, and comparing notes with them during the growing up years was very exciting to me.

But as it happens to most things as time goes by, the child-like enthusiasm to write to a pen-pal faded away, and so did the pen-pal. I didn’t care anymore about sitting down cross-legged on my bed with the pen and letter pad on my lap and writing to a friend I had never met about my experiences in school and the books I had read in a scraggly script, oblivious to the rest of the world for a blissful hour. My parents got a telephone connection one summer and the new thrill was talking to my best friend every few hours about how many pages of history homework I completed, the latest songs we heard, and gossiped about how the new girl in class was such a big gossip. It was again the more available and more convenient option to communicate. Why waste time writing letters and waiting for days to receive a reply when I can just pick up the phone and talk? Letters faded away from my life. And I didn’t even feel their absence.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Evenings


As the starry sky slowly shelters us,
I want the moonbeams to shine on you;
Reminding you of a love in utopia.

Thoughts fleet across the evening sky,
Like fireflies, aglow with love;
I wonder whether you think of me too.

An echo of you saying my name,
A shared laugh, a walk with you;
Nostalgia thrives, and I'm near you again.

Giving up on hope is never easy,
I surrender to its futility;
Even love seems near in this evening air.

I watch the evening drift into night;
Ending this indefinite wait, come,
Just hold my hand; words can come later.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

That Old Diary




There's something about opening an old diary with its moth-eaten faded brown jacket; leafing through the smooth yellowed pages and breathing in the faint odor of memories cocooned over years. The writing is familiar but the words seem to tell about long-forgotten stories, and I feel guilty about prying into my own thoughts, as if delving into the mind of another person.

Memory can be a tricky thing and we modify, glorify or amplify it over the years. But the old diary quietly holds onto our real memories, good and bad, unchanged over the years. Few instances seem so new I wonder whether it actually happened to me. And some feelings are so out of sync with what I feel now I am left wondering whether I had actually imagined those feelings! It its like reading fiction.

Sometimes I feel sad reading the innermost child-like thoughts of a younger version of me; unsullied by grief or mistakes, blissfully ignorant of the harsher lessons of life awaiting her. I feel elated at her joys, want to comfort her when she had a bad day, encourage her, warn her about wrong judgments and protect her.

To get to the end is exhausting; it's like living many lives. There's a sense of wonder that it's me all along; all those experiences, all those thoughts shaped by what life had to offer and how I tackled it. It's still me who had loved so passionately, laughed so heartily, worked so hard, wept so quietly and felt so much over the years. That's how I came into being.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Vulnerability

A brown shirt,
Laugh lines,
Impish gaze,
Beautiful hands,
The way my heart stopped,
A much loved voice,
Vivid images,
Memories nonetheless.

Took a chance,
Said out loud;
Vulnerability exposed,
Bruised and abused.
Numbness prevailed,
Hope died a slow death.
Past lessons reviewed,
Same mistake, yet again.

Fell in love,
Gave my heart;
Unasked for,
Unwanted, a pesky burden,
Tossed away ever so far.
Cumulative hurt,
Bottled away again,
As busy life awaits.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

A Simple Question


Do you see me?
Do you sense my eyes on you?
Do you appreciate my caring for you?
Do you know I go out of my way to help you?
Do you fathom the long waits I endure just to catch a glimpse of you?
Do you observe how clumsy, apprehensive and nervous I am around you?
Do you notice the smile I can’t hide each time we meet?
Do you detect my avoiding you at times just to calm my pounding heart?
Do you understand how scared I am about trusting you with my life?
Do you perceive my eagerness to know you like I know myself?

Do you realize how hard it is for me not knowing what you feel about me?
Do you know I love you?
Do you?