Monday, December 31, 2012

Midnight Girlfriends


I've friends in town. but the ones closest to my heart are scattered all over the world. The statistics are as follows: 3 in US, 2 in Delhi, 1 in Noida, 1 in Pune, and well, 1 is in Guwahati, but is perpetually tired after a hectic day at the bank, so it doesn't count as being near. An occasional phone call, a funny email, frequent texts, 'liking' stuff on social networks; that's the current platform where friendships have shifted.

It's no one's fault; life moves on, career and marriage decide the course of our lives. Thousands of miles deter that staying up all night to talk, long days of shopping for the best bargains, excited whispers of a new romance and the loud screams that follows, sitting quietly over a cup of coffee, and never letting our inner child lose in the mayhem of adulthood. I do feel a sense of loss; but I accept the inevitable.

But technology has narrowed this chasm somewhat. It connects three of my girlfriends every midnight with me. There is this Wisconsin bombshell, a bundle of wit, who has me laughing my guts out every night with her hilarious stories. She is always on the invisible mode on chat, and I'm never sure whether I would be disturbing her at work if I send her a hello. But she invariably sends me a message few minutes before midnight; and our talkathon begins! We talk about our fathers and the funny situations they land up in so often; reminisce about college days and gossip about the ones we shared the classroom with; we worry about our negligible love lives and the reluctance to do anything to salvage it; she teases me about my 'innate romantic streak'; she is exasperated with the men I fall for; we discuss the silliest topics ever on the face of this earth; and confess to each other the queries in our minds that we would be too embarrassed about asking another individual. Often we go, "yeah, me too!" She is a ray of warm sunshine at midnight!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Shame

Last year, I was on night duty in the obstetrics& gynaecology department of a hospital and towards the early hours of morning, when all the babies that were supposed to be born sometime in the night were born and lying snugly against their mothers, and the doctors were enjoying a rare moment of calm, a young girl of fifteen and an EMT wheeled in a girl who was completely drenched in blood from her waist down.

She worked in a call center. A cab dropped her at the gate of her house every night. That morning she had told the driver that he needn't take the trouble to turn into the her lane, he can drop her there, which was just a minute away from her home. Hers was the second house to the right. I keep repeating this sentence in my mind. How many times I had said it myself. It's okay, I can walk from here. It's okay, you can drop me here. But that night sixty seconds away from her home someone gagged her, pulled her into the bushes and raped her. When she didn't reach home at her usual time and her phone turned unreachable, her younger sister called the cab. When the cab driver replied that he had dropped her half an hour ago, she called her neighbour and they went out into the street, already fearing the worst. They found her unconscious and bloodied right in the middle of the road. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Where Do You Look?

On an ordinary day when you are leading your ordinary life, doing those ordinary things that you do, your ordinary heart decides to jump to your throat and refuses to budge. You begin to wonder how long a moment is. You wonder where you are. You let your limbs turn limp. And seriously, where do you look?

You say the things you don't want to. You don't say the things you want to. Sometimes you babble. Sometimes you nod your head too much. Meanwhile you finally understand what Hugh Grant meant when he said, "Surreal...but nice".

Sometime later your heart might still be ectopic. You might still not know where to look; so you look up at the sky and notice the shards of a big white moon shining at you through a leafy canopy. Why is it shining on your ordinary life? And why does that make you so happy?

Sometimes you dread a moment, lest your heart somersaults in a loop. But when it happens, you don't question it anymore. You don't want to know the answers. You are simply thankful for a moment of quiet serendipity.

Surreal is nice.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Shadows and Sounds

The window in my room looks out onto the window of another room, so close that I can hear its occupant sigh on silent nights. I am finicky about my privacy and have kept the shutters down ever since this adjacent building has come up. My neighbour does so too. We see each other's shadow move on the white shutters on blindingly sunny days. On most days though, we are just sounds to each other. A sigh of tiredness, peals of laughter, blurs of distant conversations, something breaking with a loud crash followed by angry curses, shooing away pigeons from the window sill, the click of high heels, and occasional sobs; we've heard each other for three years. My mind is accustomed to blend these sounds from a veiled life into the background.

She is young. And in love. I could hear her mumble discreetly late into the night, on the phone with her lover obviously. The incoherent mumblings are often interspersed with muffled laughter. A shared joke perhaps. Sometimes I hear her hurl a book onto the wall, the loud thud waking me up. A fight. I know I will be hearing sniffles and "All I Know" for long hours. Sometimes a song grows roots in my mind and I'm unable to shove it out for days. It gets irritating then. I like the days when she plays old Hindi songs. Today it was Kishore Kumar. 'O Mere Dil Ke Chain' will play in a loop in my mind today. She has a melodious voice; every morning I hear her sing the aarti and try to synchronize my quick prayers with it, as I can't sing to save my life.

Duet: Destiny. Words.

I underestimated the mercury drop and woke up with numb feet, which have a predilection for sticking out from under the quilt. Tiny, warm fingers linked with mine; and I cuddled my little cousin till sunrise. In this tranquil dark hour I  purged my mind off the chaos; the irrelevant thoughts, the laughable hopes, the self-induced melancholy. Yes, what I'd been subjecting myself to IS really stupid; creating unnecessary boundaries, wallowing in illusions; I was battling a memory from which I'd been wiped off a long time ago.

I dropped my mask for a while and tried to blend in. I was myself. But the volubility confused people. My friend reminded me that the way I see the world, is not how the world sees me. People are used to the rigid mould I had carved for myself in the early years. I don't fit into that mould any longer. Where do I start anew? 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Books This Week

Show me a girl in love, and I'll show you a one-track mind. I had drifted off into daydreams, I worked myself into subplots of the book I was reading; it was all very distracting and made me a slow reader. But in the past week I had tried hard to get some much needed diversions, and succeeded. Four books. Aah! The reader has snubbed the lover. The Uncommon Reader, Captain Corelli's Mandolin; English, August; Quiet Days in Clichy are already in the 'read and relished' pile.

The Uncommon Reader has been reviewed as a 'bedtime story for adults'. It is that good. A delightful capsule of wit, reading, libraries and even a queen. The repercussions of being a royal and a reader too. I learnt the word opsimath; a person who learns late in life, and I think I'm one too. I wish I had a Norman in my life; someone to discuss books with, and who would suggest what to read next. But definitely someone without any specific preferences, like Norman had for gay writers. I will carry this little book in my handbag always. For a quick pep up.




Captain Corelli's Mandolin. I had searched nearly all of the bookstores in Guwahati for this book. I never ordered it online. I wanted to chance upon it among a pile of books and relish a moment of quiet serendipity. And I did, when I found an old, worn-out, almost tattered copy buried under a pile of cookbooks in Daryaganj book market. It has a war, but it is about love. All sorts of love; laced with lust, platonic; and the one where it is "what is left when the passion has gone". I enjoyed the latter. The narratives are scattered; the reader can't rest. Pelagia and Corelli. Read their story. My wait was worth it.



Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Midnight Haiku


shackles unleashed
running wild every night
imagination

dancing in the dark
across an indigo sky
unspoken words

drumming her fingers
at the end of a long day
an insomniac dreams

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Known

After years of dabbling in drama, thriving in crisis and being bored of the predictable; one tends to crave the intimacy of the known. There is an overwhelming urge to give intuition a chance. What is the simplest wish? Just the feeling of coming home. Similarities that bind, differences that intrigue.

This known is subjective. Sometimes it is intuitive; when the unknown feels known. It's like deja vu. You know. They know. You know that they know. They know that you know that they know. Yet, who knows? Geometry goes for a toss when parallel lives serendipitously intersect. Words feel superfluous; redundant almost. But vulnerability is fiercely hidden. We submissively hand in the reins to uncertainty; and it curbs what feels known. Why this restlessness?

Souls get stirred by cryptic connections. Somewhere along the way the unrequited loses its allure. Waiting tires you. So does making things happen. You want things to happen because they are meant to happen. You want your feelings mirrored, with the same intensity.

You want to give in to cliches and be loved for who you are. You want to be vulnerable in a safe cocoon. You want to know someone inside out. You want to know where exactly you stand, and revel in that knowledge. You want to put your feet up and relax. Maximum relaxation.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The One about Nothing

It's appropriate irony that a few days after I declare that a distant reader makes me a prolific blogger, I can't think of anything to write. I don't want to write about love. Its tiresome. I don't want to write about what could be, I'm too preoccupied by what is. But I write about it again.

I get awed by certain attributes and achievements-intelligence, wit, good writing skills, honesty or kindness-and the ones who possess them in abundance. I put them on pedestals. There isn't any room for envy; I just can't stop gushing about these exceptional people for a long time thereafter, which greatly amuses my family and friends. They shake their heads and say, "Let's see if you feel the same few months from now".  I find their irreverence to these talented souls nothing short of blasphemy. I idolize these people, building the pedestals higher and higher after every interaction and a rare look into their dazzling personalities.

I get tunnel vision and only see what I want to see. But with time, inconsequential details that I used to overlook earlier becomes glaringly evident, and often knocks down the pedestal an inch or two. Anything could lead to it. Sometimes they can't spell (loose instead of lose), or their vocabulary is generously peppered with verbal trash like dudes, gals or 'sure thing ya'! I want to run to them and put my hand over their mouth to stop them from sprouting such words so often. Most often they lack sensitivity and have inflated egos, which I had liked at the beginning as 'sexy arrogance'. Few of them are sexists. Sometimes the witty one-liners fail to produce even a flicker of a smile. Only three persons continue to stand on the pedestals I had erected, but I won't name them. I don't want to jinx it. So many have toppled over.

I take care never to fall in love with someone I have put on a pedestal, as it can be tragic never to harbour a hope of it being reciprocated; the possibility seems so absurd and improbable to me that I avoid it. I fall in love with the accessible. The mediocre. The ordinary with an edge of extra-ordinary. The rude boy. The bookworm. The poet. The one with a frown. The one with strong hands. The one that makes me laugh. The one that listens. The one I love to listen to. Sometimes even the accessible becomes inaccessible. And the wait never seems to end.

"Find someone new who appreciates your love", I was told recently. If only we could vacate our heart and accommodate it with a new person so easily. I go back to my favorite passage from Aimee Bender's short story that describes with such clarity how I feel this moment.

"…it’s brutal to imagine the idea of meeting a new person. Going through the same routine. Saying the same phrases I have now said many times: the big statements, the grand revelations about my childhood and character, the cautious revealing of my insecurities. I have said them already, and they sit now in the minds of those people who are out living lives I have no access to anymore. A while ago, this sharing was tremendous; now the idea of facing a new person and speaking the same core sentences seems like a mistake, an error of integrity. Surely it is not good for my own mind to make myself into a speech like that. The only major untouched field of discussion will have to do with this feeling, this tiredness, this exact speech. The next person I love, I will sit across from in silence, we will have to learn it from each other some other way.
 (Aimee Bender)

 And sometimes there is an exception, and it scares the hell out of me.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

What Is Love?

When the cab drew near, the first thing I noticed was his teeth, a block of white that made up most of his face. Thin girls wearing skinny jeans on their non-existent hips; a beggar at traffic junction pleading about a mother with chronic indigestion; Sardarji with an extra large turban, a car shaped like a frog (Beetle!!); frothy coffee moustaches; and even my nose blowing (I have a bad bout of cold) made him laugh. I would have been offended had it not been for his child-like glee; he is just twenty-two, a couple of months younger than my sister.

He took us to Chandigarh; and waited hours at parking lots while we shopped and visited old monuments in Delhi. And one of the reasons my trip has been enjoyable so far is because of the stories he tells me. He explains to me the lyrics of corny Nepali songs, and insists I explain to him the meaning of the songs in the sole English album (Rihanna!) he has in his car. He calls me Didi, and is unapologetic about barraging me with questions about Assam. Are there Nepalis in Assam? Does everyone have tea plantations? Didi, bhaal matlab achcha na?

He ran away from home when he was just eight, and his maternal uncle (mama) sent him away on a bus to India. He returned home after a decade. Without knowing a single word of Hindi, and under the pseudonym of Ravi, he worked as an orderly at a hospital in Noida. Later he worked as Viren the cook at a police canteen, as Nitin the babysitter at a sprawling household, and finally as Deepak the cab driver.  This is his real name; after years of answering to strange names he has finally got his name back. He has proof of identification, a driving license, and a single room flat with a pretty bride in it. He belonged now; he isn’t afraid of deportation anymore.

He asked me, “Didi, when will you get married?  My mother used to say that girls should get married by thirty. Time doesn’t stop for them (referring to the fertility clock).” I replied that not everyone finds love as easily as he did. He replies, “Arre Didi, sab kismat ki baat hain. When I worked at the police canteen, I was in love with a Haryanvi girl who worked there too. Very robust; she was a foot taller than me. She wanted to marry me. When I went to Nepal after a decade, my father threatened to commit suicide if I married that girl. Within a week they got me married to Pavitra. But I am happy now. My wife is very nice. Aap photo dekhenge?”

He gave up his teenage love to marry a stranger. But when I see her photograph, I realize why he is smitten. A round face with flushed cheeks, smudges of kohl lining the narrow slits that are her eyes, and a large red bindi on the flawless young skin. She looks happy and this makes him happy.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Things I Don't Tell You

In the recent months I've experienced such an abrupt prolificacy in writing that often the content gets butchered in favour of frequency.

I think of you as my only reader and hope that the essence of what I want to convey doesn't get diluted or misinterpreted in the transit. I write for you because I would never speak to you. I don't know if you are even aware that I write, but hope that serendipitously you would stumble upon my blog someday. The only drawback is the constrained range of topics that thoughts of this particular reader brings to my mind.

I write an hour before dawn, sitting cross-legged on my bed, impatiently drumming my fingers on the laptop, wondering what would I like to tell you today. Sometimes I have little to say, sometimes I have to remind myself about this lone reader's attention span. I am unable to contain the things I'd like to tell you; it's a chaos that I look forward to each day.

Today I woke up at four-thirty am in a familiar yet relatively new city. The sun wasn't up yet and it was freezing outside. So, I switched on the bedside lamp and started reading the book my sister gifted me yesterday, "The Groaning Shelf" by Pradeep Sebestian. This is a book about books, about unabashed bibliomania! I think of you and wonder if you would frown in amazement that I'm just a small fry among bibliophiles.

As the grey early morning light suffused the sky, I slipped on an over-sized black pullover and walked out to the terrace. It wasn't an impressive skyline but the familiar stillness of dawn that greeted me. A sliver of the moon still hung unsure in the sky. An aircraft flew by uncomfortably close. A scary pigeon stared at me the entire time I was on the terrace. Do you know that I'm scared of birds? Hitchcock and a pair of huge swans are responsible for it.

As I sit on the edge of the bathtub waiting for it to fill up, my thoughts drift to you again. I eat eggs for breakfast and wonder how do you like your eggs. Fried? Scrambled? Omelette? I laugh hysterically over my sister's antics and wonder if you would find them funny too.

I've traded my dream of travelling to the distant hills to visit the accessible Chandigarh due to lack of travel partners. I'm somewhat disappointed. By nine in the morning we were already on NH-1. There were so many things that caught my attention. I saw a woman standing on the sidewalk and she was nearly as tall as the lamp post, 6'5'' at least. I gaped like an idiot, till I realized it was making her uncomfortable. I saw acres and acres of naked fields that would be luxuriant next spring. And there were the fauna; the horses, the bullocks and even an occasional camel! I saw turbans in every possible colour; aquamarine, peach, lilac, brick-red, you just name it. Old women with pendulous breasts carried large bales of hay on their head. Liquor flowed freely on this route. And so many expensive cars that I don't even know the names of!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

When Can You Be Sure?



"They are young now, and in love. He meets her family over dinner. Later she takes him up the stairs into her room. They can’t stop laughing, and roll all over her bed. He has brought her a song, not a lame song shared by others. They listen to it together; lying on her bed, he taps his fingers to the rhythm, she stands with her hand on his knee.

She sat in the car and watched him flung his wedding ring into the bushes. She waited for him; he got into the car and slammed the door. The next moment he gets out and runs into the bushes to search for the ring. She helps him. Even in the throes of despair when their love was ready to topple over into unseen depths and never recover, they have this moment of frantic search for the remnant of earlier vows.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Smorgasbord: Books, Badminton in Winter, Sketchbook Snippets, Chaudhury!

My trapped soul celebrated its freedom today by splurging on books. There's a hole-in-the-wall bookstore in Panbazaar where the books are stocked from floor to ceiling, obscuring the walls from view. Orgasmic! The tottering piles overwhelm me, but I linger for hours as I leaf through one book after another. I had missed them so dearly during the self-imposed three month hiatus, I actually sniffed a new book! I am sure there is a name for this book fetish in a therapist's heavy tome somewhere. I bought six books today; my December is made. I will be in Delhi and Noida for a fortnight, starting this weekend, and I plan to visit Daryaganj's Sunday Book Bazaar again for some cheap bargains. Can you hear my squeal of pure delight?

I bought the following books:
1. Nabokov's Laughter in the Dark
2. Atul Gawande's Better
3. Upamanyu Chatterjee's English, August
4.  Henry Miller's Quiet days in Clichy
5. M.J.Akbar's Blood Brothers
6. Tishani Doshi's The Pleasure Seekers.

I start with August this December.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
This cold is a poor fragment of the winters of my childhood; it's almost reluctant. But December is here and I shake out naphthalene balls from the folds of the woollens. Often I wake up as a Jedi warrior with my ears warmed underneath a hooded sweater. My mind rushes back a dozen winters when the winter sun held so many opportunities for happiness. There were the oranges, peeled and succulent, that I ate with sticky hands; and the naps I took, curled up on an old mattress on the terrace, and a book would slip off my hand as the sun got mellower.

We used to set up a badminton court every winter, and I had a hard time controlling my enthusiasm as I watched the coral coloured net stringed between two bamboo poles, the boundaries marked with chalk powder and even outdoor lights being put up, so that we played badminton late into the night, often after dinner. I was competitive and wanted to keep score, but my sister threw a tantrum every time I insisted on it. She found it an insult to our blood ties, but she was just scared of losing! My youngest uncle was my main competitor and we were ruthless on the court.

My grandmother had a grimy coal stove over which we toasted our feet every night. And as I got into bed, Ma would cover me with a quilt still warm from being sunned on the terrace. Then there were the picnics, but that's another story.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Judge Me


So, you think you know where I am coming from. You label me. You don’t say it aloud, you don’t have to. The implied can speak volumes.

I am far from being non-judgmental too. I try not to be, and it takes a lot of effort to come out of my own confined perspective, step out of the sidewalk, march onto the other side and know what it is actually like to be someone else. It’s tedious, but worth it. Opinions are created in a jiffy. I like you. I don’t like you. Opinions are based on others' opinions. Why bother to know for yourself? Who has the time?

When I was posted as an intern at the Nephrology Department, I was overworked and constantly irritated. A 40 year old man who was admitted for dialysis. Every morning, after the clinical rounds, he tried to tell me about his life, his job as a school teacher, his daughter and his political views. I reluctantly indulged these conversations for the first two days. Then I avoided him. He felt confused and hurt by the sudden restraint in my demeanor. But I justified it to myself that I can’t always have a sunny disposition or have enough time for every single patient I encounter. His continued attempts to converse with me irritated me enough on the fourth day and I told him quite coldly, “Well, unlike you, I have work to do.” I had already formed an opinion about him in my mind, a social leech. He didn’t bother to talk to me after that. I cringed inwardly but I just let it be. I came in to the ward at 9pm for the night duty. I found him asleep, and tiny hands wrapped around his neck in an embrace, as his daughter cuddled next to him. My heart melted. It was the exact way I cuddle up to my father. This man was a devoted father, loved his family, and tried to keep upbeat during his illness. I had hastily decided he was unworthy of being heard based on few minutes of interaction. I knew it was unfair and felt ashamed. This is just a minor example. We do it more often than we are aware of. Every single day.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Subdued Chaos

The week has been a subdued emotional chaos, halting at unlikely spots, sometimes a little too long, sometimes defying reason.

I read about the hotel manager who had lost his wife and children in the 26/11 incident; he had re-married and has a two year old child now. I tried to imagine what he must have felt holding his newborn, the morbid deja vu of life coming a full circle, the trying attempts to build a new life around the debris of an irreplaceable loss, battling flashbacks of holding other tiny hands or the pain of losing the woman he had committed to love for life. I mourned the fragility of life. Why do we ignore it? Why don't we love with abandon? Why don't we do what we really want to do? Why do we hold back? What do we really treasure? I am still trying to figure out the answers.

After his retirement my father works from home now, and I spend half an hour every day typing and mailing his daily work report because he is stubborn about not using the vile computer. Sometimes I find it tedious, and ask him what he would do when I'm not there. He asks cheekily was I planning to go somewhere in the near future, and I blush at the implied notion of matrimony. We grumble every evening, but when I see him jot down his reports on the black notebook that he carries everywhere, and know that in few minutes he would stand awkwardly beside my bed, clearing his throat and trying to gain my attention, I can't help but smile. I like being useful to him in these little ways, and it brings a quiet satisfaction.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

27

Change? Hmm...

Wiser? Hah!

Happier? Calmer.

Richer? Dwindling zeroes and scary decimal points on the bank passbook.

Lover? Born again!

Monday, November 5, 2012

My Father's Stories: The Last Jog

 He tells his stories in the afternoon while my head rests on his belly, bobbing rhythmically to his breathing and occasionally shaken by convulsive laughter. The anecdotes evade any chronology or pattern; they are just random, like all memories are, flitting from this to that, a decoration here, an omission there. These recounting of snippets from his life and of those around him aren’t always original, I’ve heard nearly all of them multiple times throughout the years, but it’s a testament to my father’s art of story-telling, the finer nuances of his hand gestures, the adequate peppering of inconsequential details, the gradual build-up of laughter and its patient wait at the threshold for just the correct time with pauses so befitting, and a sense of observation so keen that my mother can’t help feeling the suspense of how a story would end, despite hearing it umpteen times in their thirty three year old marriage!

My father is a funny man, he could always make me laugh with his quips; but I never fully appreciated the veritable treasure of his humour until I too started to look for it in the little incidents that populate our lives. One mundane morning, we were sitting in the verandah reading the newspaper when we heard a cuckoo bird’s call. Others might close their eyes to lose themselves in this melody, but I tell my father how the cuckoo bird lays their egg in the crow’s nest, and later the parasitic young cuckoo destroys the eggs of the very crow that had raised it as its own! My father listened to it and, without looking up from his paper, he replied, “Hoboi aru. Kauri'r mukh khon ebaar monot pelua sun, dekha tei burbok jen nalage janu?” (That’s expected. Try to recall a crow, hasn’t it always looked like an idiot?) His deadpan humour gets lost in translation here, but I can’t help my snorting laugh every time I spot a crow.

I’ll write a series of my father’s stories on my blog now. No linear chronology; not all of them are hilarious; some are too preposterous to be fabricated even; some are so daring, I shudder. These are just random tales I want to share, about my father’s childhood in a village near Jorhat, his college years, his ‘angry young man’ persona at the start of his career, carrying off astounding acts of rebellion to convention and authority, and mainly his detailed observations of the people around him. Today I begin this series with an incident that occurred to one of his friends. I won’t elaborate every detail. I just assume you will imagine it quite well from what I chose to tell.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

november night


in a room with turquoise walls
the radio plays a syncopated hum
and sitting in low wicker chairs
he kisses long fingers and a palm

gazes, unsure and shy, form memories
of navy boots tapping on a wooden floor
of a black dress veiling soft white breasts
stubborn curls, open smiles, and more

mildewed curtains and hearts flutter
lips blow cool air into steaming cups of tea
the trivial, everything, makes them smile
and eyes crinkle in shared gaiety
 
the unsaid runs parallel to the said
each moment unmasks a vulnerability
will she, does he, when we, maybe
a november night rife with such possibility
 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Book Spine Poetry from My Library


The Waves,
French Lover;
Memoirs,
A Moveable Feast.
 

If On A Winter's Night A Traveller
Lifting The Veil,
Great Expectations;
Girl With A Pearl Earring.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Quiet: The Power of Introverts


I have been reading about the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking. Here gregariousness is revered and is often a survival requisite in careers and building relationships. A talker triumphs over a listener. Everyone is always 'preparing a face to meet the faces it meets'. This pressure to sell oneself, the preference of personality over character, can be overwhelming for the introverts who want a little quiet and solitude in their lives, and yet don't want to lose out opportunities to the hyperthymic extroverts.

One remains unaware of this anxiety in early childhood. I used to spend hours holed up in a nook reading my favorite comics, watched Sunday cartoons, sketched trees and rivers, while the rest of the children in the neighbourhood broke windows with cricket balls. My participation  in their games was quite enthusiastic, but when night fell I also needed to chase fireflies in our garden, oblivious to amused stares. Adolescence brings awareness of preferences for spending time alone or not being able to break in to conversations with ease. Introverts have a small group of  friends and engages in one-on-one conversations rather than be part of a rowdy, large bunch of friends at school/college. They prefer to blend into the crowd, cringing at any unwanted spotlight. It isn't 'social anxiety' or 'inferiority complex' or 'depression' as many helpful souls had termed it in an attempt to diagnose quietness. Introverts can be chatty, but only with people they are comfortable with. They don't start blabbering in front of complete strangers in order to emphasize friendliness. None but my closest friends understand why I let calls go unanswered sometimes or spend nights in with a book and revel in some much needed solitude. It's not a rude avoidance of any social contact, introverts just need their own space to recharge and dive in to do the things they love.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Where's My Corset?


Dark, rainy afternoons. Feet under blanket. Austen. The Bronte sisters. Dickens. Hardy, Thomas not Ollie. Brooding, plain-looking men with intelligent eyes and mocking smiles. Women with proud tilt of a slender, white neck, and mouths that were not rosebuds meant for saying just yes or no. Lots of grey, weather and attire. Untamed shrubbery. Parsonage and vicars. Panting, star-crossed lovers. Unabashedly emotive conversations; each sentence a squeal of love or sorrow. Rich men, poor women; poor men, rich women; endearingly predictive equations. Dissatisfied wives. Eloquent discourse on love and religion. Cruel, authoritarian relatives with a favoritism towards middle-aged aunts. Moors. Long walks in the garden. Courting as opposed to dating. Dressing for dinner. Intense gazes. A lot of swooning. Chimneys. Law books. Hansom cabs. Maids in waiting. Delicate laces and fans. Stubborn people. Opinionated people. Difficult childhood. London. Paris. Voyages. Sisters, similar. Women who want to write. Whirling petticoats. The trials of the fallen rich striving to manage with the bare necessities of at least two maids, one as a constant companion and ro brush one's hair at bedtime, and the other to help with the mundane household chores, along with the undeniable requirement of a cook and if residing in the countryside, a gardener. One can have four personal employees to cater to comfortable living, and still be poor.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Stuck Inside

Stuck Inside
60 days till exam.
61 days till freedom.
124 days till the verdict.


Surges of pleasure in this dark abyss:

1. The Complete Haiku of Basho.
2. Studying in bed.
3. Dairy Milk Silk.
4. Willie Nelson.
5. Sunrises. Early morning rain.
6. A Rubberband journal and a purple pen.
7.Catnaps. Coffee.Catnaps. Coffee. Catnaps.
8. Blue shards of sky through the leafy canopy outside my window.
9. Cuddles. Laughter. Family.
10. Legitimate excuse for a loner to avoid small talk. Exams.
11. Quiet by Susan Cain.
12. Birthday anticipation.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Step-by-Step Guide of Having A Stroke.

This article is meant for medical PG aspirants, but everyone is welcome to read their plight.

There's a new cause of stroke that I am contemplating to request for inclusion in the next edition of 'Harrison's Principles of  Internal Medicine'. The cause is rare, affecting only people of ages ranging from 24-27 years, who are bound by a common variable of 'dreams of attaining a post-graduate medical seat'. It's 'The Deccan Chronicle' newspaper.

How?

Let me elaborate.

Picture a girl diligently burning the midnight oil for six days a week, surviving on catnaps and caffeine shots. Sometimes the words blur and amalgamate into a lumpy mass in the middle of the page and she rubs her eyes. The clock strikes 3am. She yawns and curls up on the little space available on the bed (which she prefers over a study desk), strewn with books and a laptop, only to be awakened three hours later by the weirdest alarm clock ever: a rude rooster, a (what seems to be a) gurgling cow and the synchronized wing flapping of three scary pigeons, all of whom the universe has conspired to allocate within ten meters of her window.

This is her bed, her books, her pillows and a giant yellow turtle.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Duet: On People who Gifted Me Books. On Love.

 On People Who Gifted Me Books


Only four persons gifted me books I love and thus brought upon them the misfortune of being gushed over for life by yours truly.

Ruskin Bond's autograph
There is Mannan, my classmate from medical college, who is straight out of an Austen novel- brooding, intense and frighteningly intelligent. He was in Mussorie training to be an IAS officer and I had asked him to try to get me Ruskin Bond’s autograph. A few months later he sent me a book autographed by an author whose stories populated my childhood. Thank you, Mannan. I really appreciate the gesture. He gifted me Dust on the Mountains by Ruskin Bond.









Reading it now

There is Shakeel, a friend from high school who writes like a dream. He is living a life I covet and admire; writing and getting paid for it. Someday I hope to read a book written by him. Our mutual friend, Snata, is an amazing writer too and I’m simply happy to know this talented duo. I received a book from him today; and it was so unexpected and it made me so happy. Shakeel, prepare to be gushed over for life that would embarrass you enough to hide behind doors and duck under tables whenever you see me. He gifted me The Black Album by Hanif Kureishi.





Mystical
The third is Amrita, who is nothing short of my soul sister. We have conjoined hearts and minds. She is a quiet person weaving her own world; and it’s a beautiful world peopled with soulful thoughts. I’m glad she invited me into her world where we can talk about books, movies, love, life, men and hills. She has gifted me a lot of books including Paulo Coelho’s The Fifth Mountain.









Heart-felt essays and poems
Then there is Priyanka, who is courage personified. She brims with intelligence, wit, confidence and a passion for writing and for making the world a better place. She has taken risks in life that I highly admire; she is vibrant and full of infectious energy. She recently got into MIT as the prestigious 2012/2013 Elizabeth Neuffer fellow and it makes me proud beyond measure. I cherish you, Priyanka. She gifted me Kora by Tenzin Tsundue.







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On Love



I write about love, but I’m not a lover. I read about love, but I don’t live it. I see love, but I am a mere observer. Even when I was in love, when I was a lover, when I thought I was loved, it was emptiness and detachment wrapped in a thin crust of passion, that was a ghost of some earlier self, and a dollop of forced interest. This detachment and ambiguity of feelings scared me and I tried to be involved; I became neurotic about it and felt re-assured when I experienced symptoms of romantic jealousy or missed someone, which gave a false sense of being in love, or capable of being in love. I am often swept off my feet, but never by a person; it’s always a singular attribute: a warm smile, owning a common set of books, very often it’s the eyes, or kindness, sharp wit, ambition, intelligence, a fancy pair of shoes, arrogance, clean nails, someone who dines with family, writes poems, well-travelled, chivalry works every time too, or sometimes it’s just a mix of serendipity and hormones.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Of Serialized Dreams



I often dream in soap opera format with episodes ending at crucial junctions to be continued another night. There is no strict continuity and these dreams reside in the dark recesses of brain sulci only to resurface after weeks or months.My overactive imagination, which I consider an asset, overflows into my dreams. They make for interesting insights and even belly laughs. The characters and the narrative never fail to fascinate me in their diversity and even absurdity. It feels as if a little man, who in my imagination resembles Rumpelstiltskin, opens a secret door into my mind to weave a story every night. The dreams are vivid in all senses; I can smell the ocean air, taste a freshly baked cake, touch a sticky clot of blood, hear rapid fingers on a typewriter and speak languages that I no longer understand on waking up.

I remember most of my dreams as they get chronicled the next morning. Some are funny and has the recurring character of Woody Allen as a belly dancer who crops up without warning in random dreams. Some are sinister where I get murdered by a Sphinx or Prem Chopra. Often I fall off a cliff but hold on to a tree branch or rock and then my hand slips; I see my head crushed and oozing blood and brain that is washed away at high tide. I see Nagini swallow a certain professor of community medicine. I live many lifetimes in what maybe a fifty minute dream. Some are filled with intricate details, and few are tedious where the whole time is spent in doing things like trying to make a perfectly round chapatti and just when I am done a monkey appears and gobbles it up. I have found myself in a large dark room with a dying candle in a corner and suddenly a blinding glare envelops me and a crowd of pregnant women bring in a sand-timer and turns it over. Often I am 'happily married' to Sheldon Cooper and we live in a loft filled with books and have weekday-specific dinners.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Smorgasbord: Dating Readers, Ephron's Neck, Calvino and Me, Being Jane Morris, Birthday Blues, Wedding Whiff


via urban sketchers
I spend a considerable amount of time trying to understand how my words and actions get interpreted, because more often than not people read between the lines for non-existent revelations. I lack the social graces and the ability for small talk; I get nervous when the onus of conversing with strangers or more than one person befalls me. I can't talk about the weather, the people in front of me might not be readers and that eliminates books as conversation starters, I stare with my eyebrows raised to show interest, my mouth freezes in a half-smile and to heighten the creepiness I check the time every fifteen seconds. My tongue utters sentences that seem alien to my mind, I curse the unbearable length of a minute, I feign nonchalance and tip my head back but tip it further than I intended to and my chin hangs in an awkward thrust towards the ceiling, and heaven forbid if I have food in front of me, my lap is littered with crumbs. The  funny sentences, the smart one-liners, the queries about the pet and the travels, the sympathies about dental work and humidity-assaulted hair, and interesting trivia about Einstein or Madonna come to my mind usually a day after the end of such disastrous conversations. Despite the utmost caution with which I tread in making my point across, I often send innumerable wrong signals. My list of faux pas when it comes to interactions with people other than those in the inner circle of friends and family is longer than Sheldon Cooper's failures in detecting sarcasm.

Today I re-read this article about dating 'a girl who reads' that I had read a year earlier. I present an excerpt from the article; it's a lovely message that only lovers of book lovers will understand thoroughly.


"If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are."

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

They Haunt Me In The Shower



Five sentences crowded in the left column of the newspaper jolted me this morning. I read about earthquakes, bombings, accidents, murders and cardiac arrests everyday; newspapers make sure we wake up to witness the end of lives in solemn obituaries or gory details or just few indifferent words. But these are snippets of wars in foreign lands or riots nearer home or a bespectacled old woman lovingly remembered by her sons and grandchildren, and even though these deaths aggrieve me, their anonymity cushions the blow and makes it only a fleeting presence in my memory.

How does the death of someone you know affect you?

I don't mean the intimate circle of family, friends and loved ones or the innocent victims in distant, war ravaged lands. I’m writing about those in between, the people one might have known, met at some point in their lives and maybe had talked about the weather.

A good friend of mine from high school traced me through an online social network and we ended up sharing the latest gossip, reliving old memories and promises to meet soon. She used to ask the weird questions and when we were in the eight standard she made me choke on a burger when she asked out loud ‘Does pubic hair turn gray?’! She spelled it ‘trigonometry’ but pronounced it ‘trikonometry’. Her hands were never tired by the animated gestures that accompanied every sentence she spoke. Every night her mother shook her curly hair to drive out any mosquitoes before she got inside the mosquito net. Time and distance had faded her from being a close friend into the sphere of a mere acquaintance and I forgot about her in pursuing the mundane activities of my life. And one day I received a text message informing me that she had died following complications of a regular cholecystectomy! I wasn’t devastated or cried throughout the day. I envy people who can do that. I was sad, and profoundly so, but I didn’t shed a single tear. I was amazed at my own calm and strength in handling the emotional blow. Two years on, I avoid any conversation that brings her up. The grief refuses to ebb away in a gush of tears.

Why I need a spade?

I've an all important exam coming up in four months, and I don't dare procrastinate when it comes to preparation.One of the downside (or upside) about having a blog is that, I feel like writing despite the questionable presence of readers.

This feeling can be hazardous to exam preparation as random ideas come to me when I'm supposed to be memorizing latest drug names and their actions. And once an idea unfurls and words crowd to shape it, supreme effort is required to curb the temptation of blogging about it. I have never been good at curbing temptations and would toss my books away to start typing furiously. And since I also have the attention span of a hyperactive five year old locked in the world's largest toy store after an overdose of sugar stimulants and an espresso shot, I tend to digress from writing my blog post to read my favourite blogs, check weird cat photos on facebook, go through every item on my google reader and follow twitter trends!

By the time I push the 'publish' button, a particular species of fly (I forget the name now) had completed its life cycle and I tear the hair out of my already sparsely populated scalp in frustration. Time waits for no one and its mocking at me even now as I type these words, "1 minute = 1 MCQ"! So for the next four months, I'll activate my facebook profile, write a blog post, update my twitter status, read my favourite blogs and revel in everything the world wide web has to offer only once a month or maybe in December or when something worth writing about occurs.

Where's the spade? I need to bury my laptop in an undisclosed location.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Sentimental Reconconstructions



This summer Sameer is in love with Carol, and Ayush is in love with Priya. Last summer Sameer and Priya had gone on long drives, and Ayush had kissed Carol on a moonlit beach.

Sameer had etched in his memory the exact moment Carol had let her gaze linger on him, when they were in the arms of their respective lovers on a dance floor. He was seventeen and a purple skirt fluttering around honey-colored calves, delicate eyelids lined with kohl, and slow laughter rising in a throat had engulfed his young heart in the throes of passion. When the one in his arms knew, she had shed copious tears on his handkerchief but recovered surprisingly fast when she learned it was Carol. It took him a week to realize the swapping that had occurred that summer; he had seen Ayush’s arms around Priya on a night he was out with Carol, and wondered whether they had waited for him to confess first.
                                                ------------------------x-------------------------

He has been in love with Carol for four years, two months and six days now. In between classes he waits on a mound of soft grass and waves to Carol as she squints against the sun. They share a strip of mint gum and sit with books on their laps. They go to the theater on Friday evenings and to the beach on Saturday afternoons. They have their Sunday brunch sitting at their favorite table in a dark bistro. They rent a movie on Sunday nights and on the couch she lets his hands roam. They read late into the weeknights over cups of coffee in the college library. He gifts her flowers and non-fiction, she gifts him records and fiction. He makes long phone calls at night; she sends short texts throughout the day. They are used to this predictable companionship, the effortless love devoid of jealousies and mind games and insecurities.
                                               ------------------------x-------------------------

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Weekend


This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou
lovest best.
Night, sleep, and the stars.
-Walt Whitman
The magic hour when all the ideas are yours and the pillow is soft and the windows are open and the moon throws oblong shadows on your bed and the cicadas sing and the breeze softly brushes your feet.

I have been reading poems. Poems about love and desire, life and death, spring and autumn, hope and despair, books and travels, men and women, days and nights, time and eternity. Poems by Walt Whitman, E.E. Cummings, Pablo Neruda, Rabindranath Tagore, Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou,John Keats and Sylvia Plath. Poems that exhilarate me, kindle flaming hopes, drown me in despair, bind me in a realm of fantasy, curl my toes, awaken myriad questions, isolate me, melt me into the unknown, swirl my soul and harbinger a good night's rest.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Years



Every morning she wrung the last drops of water out of her husband’s shirt and her daughter’s ink stained bed sheet and hung them on the common clothesline. She looked around at the wet clothes of her neighbors and became wary of the intimate glimpse into their lives through faint patches of vermillion on a white kurta or the hole in the blue sock of the professor downstairs; so she took to staring at the sky instead and thinking about the clear skies of her childhood, the myriad shades of brilliant blue interspersed with cottony clouds that seemed to follow her as she walked along the narrow path that snaked through tea gardens to reach her school. Life used to be simple and full of hope that the years will be kind to her.

She was given to bouts of incessant staring. In the mornings she watched the wobbly flesh on her husband’s thighs as he walked around the house in his over-stretched and over-starched shorts with tiny threads dangling from the fraying hem. During mealtimes she stared at the hair on his knuckles curling into rings as he dipped his hand in the dal and frenziedly mixed it with rice, the turmeric staining his palm. She watched the grain of rice sticking to the corner of his lips and the revolting sight of the half-chewed morsel of food in his mouth as he told her how tasty the biryani was. At night he burped aloud as he got into her bed and she watched his greasy hair roots, the large shiny forehead and his hands with the hairy knuckles.

She stared at her son’s collection of comic books and tried to remember the exact moment when he started stringing letters to form words. She noticed his long fingers strumming his father’s old guitar and sometimes struggling to create perfect spikes in his hair. One day he had flung at her the pants she had so lovingly chosen, in a time when he still needed her, because it now showed too much ankle. She stared at his “Trainspotting” poster while dusting his desk and the discomfort on his face when she opened the door to greet his friends.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What The Weather Makes Us Say


Why My Sister is Darwin's Re-incarnation?
It was a harsh winter in the mountains of Tawang and I entertained the poetic tragedy of being frozen to death and be discovered in spring thaw. But my sister had strong survival instincts as evident in her statement below.
Me: It's so cold, I'll turn into ice.
My Sister: It's so cold, I'll turn into a polar bear.

The Curse of The Snowy Mountain
My newly-wed friend returns after a honeymoon in the snow clad mountains.
Me: How was the honeymoon?
Friend: (loud, excited voice that reached husband in the next room) It was so much fun. (in conspiratorial whisper) But you know he is still irritated.
Me: Why?
Friend: It was so cold, he couldn't get it up...(just then friend's husband plops on the sofa next to her)..couldn't get up the mountain, you know, it was freezing weather on the trek. (Straight face. Not a flicker of emotion.)

Friday, August 17, 2012

North-East India: A Clarification

After years of indignation and crying themselves hoarse against generalized apathy and blithe ignorance, North-East India and especially Assam has been propelled into the national limelight for reasons that has only fanned the damaging notions harbored in the minds of the rest of the Indian population for whom the eastern boundaries of our country used to end in Bengal; and for the more geographically gifted intellectuals in a triangular lump of land called “North-East”.

Yes, North-East India does have its problems: illegal immigration through porous borders and its consequences, flood ravaged lands every monsoon, indigenous tribes facing years of neglect till it sprouted groups to fight for their rights but lost perspective under influence of selfish political agendas and personal gains giving birth to militancy, the constant need to prove themselves and to fight for equal opportunities and acceptance by fellow Indians, a frighteningly indifferent government at the Center with delayed reactions to the region’s problems, slow growth of industrialization, relative lack of funds and infrastructure etc.

But in the collective imagination of a large subset of Indians the ‘State of North-East’ has been attributed with a lot of misleading beliefs, and these have been faced in form of curious questions or ignorant speculations by self, friends, family and acquaintances.

This is a miniscule attempt to clarify few of those ‘beliefs’ and lessen the prejudice against North-East India:

1. Not all of its inhabitants have the convention-defying slant of eyes. It’s derogatory to club everyone as ‘chinky’; the label itself reeks of regionalism.
2. Its not about degraded moral values but a more liberal mindset; and hemlines might be high but the girls aren'teasy’. Remember that.
3. Appetites don't get whetted by the mere sight of pigeons, pigs, bulls or dogs and it’s just about ‘different’ gastronomical preferences. Respect that.
4. People don't harbor an unabashed disinterest in Hindi film music; they just happen to be connoisseurs of ‘good music’ and not limiting themselves to just one genre. And yes, they are ardent followers of rock music.
5. Guns and ‘khukuridon't lie under every pillow and everyone doesn't have at least one ‘militant’ acquaintance. People share the same dread for them as the rest of the country.
6.  People aren't (and never will be) immune to the horrors of militancy and riots; and don't have infinitely pliable capacity for facing them. An act of violence in Manipur is worth the same concern as one occurring in Mumbai. Understand that.
7.  They aren't the ‘poor cousin’ devoid of the intoxicating mix of night-life, fast cars, designer clothes, page 3 society and  iPads; and resigned to the medieval pleasures of guitar-strumming, reading a book and writing in cafes. They don't necessarily miss the fast-paced life and have been known to hold rock concerts in garages and parks; go skinny dipping on New Year’s Eve; hold strawberry pie bake-offs, flower shows and barbecues; and picnic on river banks and green valleys. They delight in these ‘medieval’ pleasures.
8. Weed and alcohol aren't kept in secret stashes in the rooms of every boy past the age of fourteen.
9. They don't have a blasphemous preference for 'English' over the national language; and barring North India, the rest of the country still struggles with their Hindi diction and continue to speak with an endearing mixing of genders in every sentence.