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.
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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.