Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wendy Cope mirrors my heart, gives 'Two Cures for Love'


Today I discovered Wendy Cope's poems-pithy, lighthearted, unpretentious and achingly familiar. Read them out loud and slow. Do the words mean anything to you?

Worry
I worry about you-
So long since we spoke.
Love, are you downhearted,
Dispirited, broke?
I worry about you.
I can't sleep at night.
Are you sad? Are you lonely?
Or are you all right?
They say that men suffer,
As badly, as long.
I worry, I worry,
In case they are wrong.

Some More Light Verse
You have to try. You see the shrink.
You learn a lot. You read. You think.
You struggle to improve your looks.
You meet some men. You write some books.
You eat good food. You give up junk.
You do not smoke. You don’t get drunk.
You take up yoga, walk and swim.
And nothing works. The outlook’s grim.
You don’t know what to do. You cry.
You’re running out of things to try.

You blow your nose. You see the shrink.
You walk. You give up food and drink.
You fall in love. You make a plan.
You struggle to improve your man.
And nothing works. The outlooks grim.
You go to yoga, cry and swim.
You eat and drink. You give up looks.
You struggle to improve your books.
You cannot see the point. You sigh.
You do not smoke. You have to try.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Happy Birthday, Devi


Stay blessed, and madly in love.

I don’t remember how we ended up as friends. I am just glad that we did. We value the same things in life, we have hearts drunk on love, we enjoy solitude, we vouch for the off-beat. We had awkwardly hugged each other (I guess the only time in the decade that I had known you) on the day you had left to start off a new life in a new country. We are never expressive about how much we love each other; it is understood and treasured. Bruised egos often got better of us and we had spent long months sulking over petty arguments, and then one day we would miss other so much, and without any apologies and explanations, our conversations took off from where we had left it. We had seen each other at our best and worst; and I had learnt resilience from you. You also taught me by example to follow my own heart, and not bother about others’ opinions. I am still learning to do that.

The Forgotten Dialect of Heart

The Forgotten Dialect of Heart


How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it all wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.

-Jack Gilbert

Known, Realized



Once he had bought a fancy pair of shoes and asked her if she liked them; she thought of them as a tad ugly, but had nodded her approval. He had a defiant walk. His eyes were always laughing, almost mocking. People thought of him as arrogant, but he wasn’t; he was just tactless. He had lovely hands; not long and artistic fingers, but it was rough and reeked of hard work. In the old photographs that she had hunted up, he wore spectacles. He was rude, but not to her. He thought he worked smart and delegated duties well, but often ended up offending his peers. He didn’t care though. He was not tall, he was not dark, and he was not at all handsome. He was always in a hurry. He spoke rapidly and it was difficult to comprehend his words. He had a home in the hills. He loved trees. He loved picnics too. He kept his car spic and span. He valued the few friends that he had. He had a shy smile that curved up slowly on his face. He blushed easily, and too often. He raised his brows in greeting every time he met her. He encouraged hard work, never demanded it. He was extraordinarily helpful. He didn’t believe in small talk. He was always well-dressed. He frowned a lot, especially when he was studying. He was quite attached to his family. He was frugal. He spent a lot of time on the phone. He had a wit that took time getting used to. He laughed heartily. She had assumed that he loved books. He was moody. He was restless. He reminded her of her.

That was all she had known before she fell in love with him.

Me

My existence fleets among three worlds; discrete and non-overlapping. The primary world is the one where I have my duties, responsibilities, my family, attempts to conform to expectations and correct my shaky career; it's the practical world, where things don't come easy, where A is A, where love has no place, and monotony is accepted as a rule.

Then there is my secret world, the one that I escape to often, where books lustily beckon me to lose myself in them, where music lulls me into serenity, where obscure movies from Iran or Poland or France creates in me a new sense of wonder, where happiness can be sitting under a tree and reading a good book, where a blank page and a pen offers so many possibilities, where I am inaccessible to everyone, where I am me, without any obligations, without any worries, just indulging in unadulterated joy.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

You Must Allow Me To Tell You

I imagine I am in love. And as lovers of book lovers will tell you, we have a thing for creating an ambience that mirrors our mood. I have a new and highly customized playlist on my iPod. Today I dusted a thick tome of Jane Austen's complete works and placed it on my bedside. 1336 pages, and in minute print. I like the arduous challenge of tackling a thick tome, more so if it is the re-reading of old novels; I cherish the anticipation of coming upon certain sentences, the thrill of encountering the familiar twists in the tale; but mostly the joy is in reading words that reflect the state of my heart. I would wallow in the warm glow of whatever it is that I feel as I read about Mr.Darcy and the likes. Sadly, my beloved John Thornton isn't included in this collection.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Weddings


I had just seen her silhouette framed on the thin curtain of my room window on sunny days. I had never met her nor talked to her. But we had been privy to each others' lives for almost three years now; hearing muffled sobs, hummed songs, angry curses, unrestrained laughter, nervous pacing, bored yawns, incomprehensible snatches of conversations; just by the architectural accident of adjacent windows. A month ago I wrote about her here.

Yesterday was her wedding, the culmination of a romance to which I had been a forced audience, as if it was played on a radio that I couldn't turn off. Her mother had invited our family to the wedding, despite no prior interaction and belonging to different housing complex; maybe because the families had seen each others' most intimate items of clothing left to dry on the balconies at the back (which again faced each other); or could identify a shared liking for pickled olives, the bottles of which were left out in the winter sun in both homes; or because we are Indians and our weddings should accommodate all humans in the periphery of a hundred metres, apart from the typical stockpile of relatives, friends and vague acquaintances.
So, last evening I reluctantly wore a coral red dress with a sort of fishnet lining over it and a little too much glitter for my liking, but it had fitted my mother's idea of appropriate wedding wear. Soon, my cousin and I, awkwardly followed our mothers into a stranger's wedding. I was worried about what to answer if someone asked how do I know the bride or the groom. I didn't even know their names, having never read the wedding invitation card. But I sat among those unfamiliar faces, covered in that coral fishnet thing. The bride's mother greeted us as if the past seven generations of our families had been inseparable friends, but her effusive greeting made it feel like we belonged.

Dilemma

Consider for a moment that you are in love with someone you can never be with. 

What do you do? Do you let the person know despite knowing that certain hearts are out of reach? Or why even bother complicating things? Why risk getting hurt? But, what about the nagging regret and unrest of not saying what you really feel? Then again, what about the even more nagging regret and unrest of saying what you really feel and not hearing the answer you wanted to? Is it worth being rational and not letting emotions rule your life? Or is it worth being emotional and living in the moment? Why hold back what makes you happy? But then again, what if the happiness is momentary and when faced with rejection will lead only to a long phase of sorrow?

Why take risks? Why not take risks? Why bother? Why not bother? What should you follow, reason or intuition? What do you do, tell or shut up? Then again, why pursue love? Isn’t it tiring? Isn’t it scary? Why not wait for it to come to you? But then again, what if the wait is never-ending? Will you be courageous enough to say what’s on your mind irrespective of the consequences? Will you be courageous enough to let your heart get broken? Or will it be foolish enough? When does the unrest end? Why is it so hard to say what you feel? Why is not knowing so hard? Why is it so difficult getting from one day to another?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Vulnerability

Vulnerability is tricky. It can make us feel human. But its exposure creates uneasiness. Sometimes it brings about an intense fear, of exploitation, or of misinterpretation. Then there are the ones who use it to manipulate, to cling. That’s the dark side; it’s a thin line, and it’s blurry.

How do you mask vulnerability? Especially when it's exposed, and now, you are so scared. Can you ever feel safe to peel off the layers and layers of masks you wear, unearth the memories you have suppressed, speak about the past that had shaped you, tell about the things you are scared to lose? Will it be understood, valued, safeguarded? How can you ever be sure? Sometimes you feel safe, intuitively, or maybe even a bit recklessly, and then the very next moment you feel scared, and stupid for saying things that are too precious in your life. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Smorgasbord: Recklessness, Procrastination, Dating a Bookworm


Impulsiveness will be my nemesis, someday. You tell me, "Be careful not to bump into that wall, you will get hurt". My restlessness grows and is vented out only when I kick the wall and limp on my bruised feet, content in the knowledge and first-hand experience of the pain of kicking a wall. I need to know things for myself. I will hear the advice, read the wise words, nod approvingly at the sermons of infinite wisdom and caution; but in the end, I'll run headlong into that wall, you know, just to make sure. Instant gratification, sometimes it provokes the impulsive behaviour; the irrepressible urge to let something be known, to go somewhere, to recreate a memory, to meet a certain person, to write for myself, to just escape. I never foresee the ramifications of acting on my impulses; I just do it, because that's what I want to do at that very moment. I had once told someone that I loved him, after knowing him for just a month, knowing fully well that the answer wouldn't be what I wanted to hear. One day I woke up before sunrise and set off on a long drive, with no destination in mind, just because the road didn't end, and it felt like an escape, from I know not what. Yesterday I told a near stranger things I had never told anyone, aware of the uneasiness such revelations will cause, and on a reckless intuition that they wouldn't be shared with another individual again; just because I felt like writing it down and telling someone, "Hey, this is me, you know. I know resilience." Nowadays, I speak up if I feel something is wrong, not worrying about revering age, or giving undue consideration to the consequences that would follow. My mercurial temper had tapered down over the years, I am surprised and somewhat amused at my own patience. I am not too optimistic about the eventual dwindling of this recklessness and impulsiveness that creeps up on me without any warning. Someday, hopefully, life would make a person with calculated moves and measured words out of me. Till then, I will continue to wear my heart on my sleeve.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Insomnia


www.christopherwalkerart.ca
In Calvino’s Difficult Loves, a man tells a woman, “At this hour of the morning, people who are awake fall into two categories: the still and the already.” I used to be ‘already’; but, often nowadays, I am ‘still’ awake at four in the morning.

I sleep fitfully, drifting in and out of it, resistant to any pattern. I am in bed by eleven every night; making the familiar nest of my fluffy pillow, warm quilt, a thick tome, a bottle of water, cherry lip balm; and lying in the yellow cone of light from the reading lamp, I write in my journal before curling into the comfortable fetal position. Last night I read few chapters from Trollope’s Barchester Towers. Often I am distracted by messages from insomniac friends or from those in separate time zones. Sometime before one am, I drift off to sleep; half-smothered by the thick tome lying on my face. I would wake up a few minutes later, surprised at the lethargic pace of time. I reply to messages, read few more pages of the book, alternating with short cycles of sleep.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Smorgasbord: Ismat Chughtai, Come Here, Dead Ends

Last year I had decided to incorporate the works of eminent female authors of Indian origin into my reading list, the ones beside the predictable list of Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri and Kiran Desai that my generation identifies with. I started with the novels and memoirs of Kamala Das and Indira Goswami. I began 2013 with the short stories of Ismat Chughtai. They are unabashed, titillating, disturbing, provoking; they tell about the underbelly of conservative and orthodox households, about lost loves, about the lives of women from various nooks of the Indian society, and about the relationship dynamics in large households. In the anthology I had bought, there were stories about a dejected wife who embraces the devotion of the female servant whose rough hands massages her creamy white back and legs, and lets the servant do questionable things to her under the dark cover of a quilt every night; about a rogue Englishman, with  a glass eye, who stayed back even after India gained independence and tentatively tried to start a family with his Indian maid, under the mocking eyes of the very people he ruled; about an adolescent widow outcast from the household when the heir of the family impregnated her; about the lost years and love of two passionate individuals who never gathered the courage to confess their feelings; about the a pampered daughter-in-law plagued with the grief of serial miscarriages and the fear of her husband's remarriage, witnessing the ease of birth of a child in a moving train; about how the craving for restless soul soured once it was possessed and tamed; about a tortured painter's obsession with the thin line between pure innocence and veiled provocation of his subject. Ismat Chughtai is unconventional, hence unputdownable.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Uruka

Tonight is the Uruka feast and I am away from my hometown. Even if I had been there, the rush of arrangements to erect a large tent on the ground, gathering firewood for the early morning Meji, cooking enough food for whatever fragments of the family were present would seem like such a poor replica of the Uruka feasts of my childhood, it’s better to abandon the feeble attempts to recreate it. People grow up, move away and priorities change. Families fragment, takes roots in new places, and jobs or other obligations prevent them from returning home. I blame it on the convenient scapegoat, ‘circumstances’.

A decade and half ago, on this night, I would have been buzzed with excitement in leading a pack of ten unquestioningly obedient cousins in preparations for the Uruka feast. I’d order them around, assigning a few to the peeling of peas and potatoes, few to guard the bamboo fence on the far right boundary of our grounds, and the rest to just follow me around to be assigned for little tasks as they came up. I did nothing but revel in the sense of authority they bestowed on me. The women would be decked in their finest mekhela sadors, and the men could be mistaken for political cronies in their starched white kurtas. An enormous tent would be erected on the lawn, the responsibility for which would always fall on two of the most enthusiastic members of our household, the house-help (who had been with us for more than 26 years now) and the driver da. One word would persist throughout the night, chaos.

One of my uncles would be responsible for buying firewood for the bonfire, Meji, set to be lit the following morning. He would spend the entire evening arranging the firewood in various permutations and combinations to avoid being asked to assist in other chores. Another uncle would gallantly ask the womenfolk to move away from the large vat set atop a fire, surrounded by whorls of peeled vegetables, soaked rice, mutton, numerous containers of spice and oil; as if to suggest that his cooking skill was fine enough to be displayed only on festive occasions, just like the new and shimmering clothes everyone wore. Modesty wasn’t a virtue we valued within the family and this would be proved again and again in the night that followed. Bragging was rampant; about who cooked the most succulent chicken, who fried the fish to just the right amount of crispiness, who was the best poker player (and my youngest uncle slyly emptied the wallets of his elder brothers later in the night, every year, some people never learn, especially one of my uncles who always took this defeat to heart and sulked for days), who could imitate the nuances of Bhupen Hazarika’s vocals better (and the uncles would be humming various songs throughout the evening in what they thought to be a not so obvious way of outdoing each other, especially when one of my cousin fuelled this feud by strumming the guitar to accompany the songs of one of the uncles at random, infuriating the rest).

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Why (do I) Travel?


Have you ever seen the flight of a Hornbill framed in orange skies lit up by the dying rays of the sun?
Or woke up on a winter morning to the sight of powdery snowflakes chasing each other down the window pane?
Have you walked deep into a forest and looked up into an eerie green light filtering through a leafy canopy made of trees that resemble the lithe limbs of a ballerina?
Did you feel the goosebumps on every inch of your skin when you held your breath and plunged into the depths of the icy, blue water just as the sun was rising?
Have you gladly let the waves carry you into the sea after a long walk on the hot beach that almost burnt your naked feet?
Have you seen a young monk moonwalk on the cobbled steps of a monastery before being overcome with giggles?
Did you ever sit by the pond at a remote village and threw pebbles at one of the two large and luminous moons?
Have you ever let your hand be bathed in the light filtered through a lattice screen built centuries ago with red sandstone?
Have you stood atop an old embankment as a wild river licked your feet?
Did you ever witness hordes of marijuana-puffing, saffron-robed, malnourished sadhus with long, matted hair dancing around a phallic symbol?
Did you ever go gallivanting in an unfamiliar hill town and stumble upon a tree with blossoms as pink as the cheeks of toothless toddlers that played underneath it, and by a gurgling brook no less?
Did you ever chase the sun on a lonely highway and watch its melting orange hue suffuse the sky?
Have you ever gulped in lungfuls of air after getting down from the car at an impulse and racing your cousins down the entire stretch of the road leading to your ancestral home in the village?
Did you ever share a first kiss on the terrace of an old guesthouse overlooking the sea, as the evening air caressed your warm faces?
Have you ever hung motionless in the air letting yourself be softly blown around by the wind and a strap around your back?
Do you know the vertigo of looking down the long, winding roads you had drove so far?
Have you ever sat cross-legged and drank tea in a tree-house?
Have you ever hidden inside a stack of warm, golden and somewhat itchy hay?
Did you ever light a fire from scratch?
Have you ever turned a corner and found an old bookstore and decided to dump planned itinerary to browse out-of-print titles for the rest of the day?
Have you ever pushed a stew of unidentifiable objects down your gullet just because the host was a smiling old lady in her nineties, and because you were just so hungry?
Did you ever buy a dozen amulets because the old man who sold them had such pious, believable eyes?
Have you ever dusted off frost from your hair as you watched huge sheets of icy rain engulf a valley?
Did you ever secretly believed that there was really a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and walked around a bent in the hill road to check?
Have you ever been on a boat, as curved as a bow, in a lake filled with lilies?
Did you ever eat fruit right from the tree?
Have you ever laid down in a large green ground, with tiny white and yellow flowers, and identified faces in clouds?
Did you chat with a co-passenger on a long, train journey and he/she's now one of your closest friends?
Do you have a restless soul and impatient feet?
Do you need any more reasons?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Names



Lips touch briefly and the tongue strikes the roof in quick succession. A name forms. It rolls around the mouth claiming its place. It is uttered in whispers. No one hears it; no one sees the pink tongue swirl delicious syllables. It’s just another name to the world, but the world to the one who will always turn back at the sound of it. Fingers trace its ebbs and crests; up and down, up and down, on the last page of a book. It is a secret pleasure in the course of a mundane day.

What is in a name, they say. It can make hearts race. Smiles form involuntarily. Some days there is a restlessness to find excuses to bring it up in conversations, just to savour it once more. Some days it is jealously guarded. It is strange how a name can no longer be uttered nonchalantly. Where does this trace of coyness come from? The thrill of saying a name, what with the risk of flushed cheeks!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

8th January, 2013

The nights are foggy and cold. But Asaram Bapu (or whatever he makes his motley of brain-dead followers call him) made sure that many fumed with anger last night. His opinions aren’t even worth of being spat on; but there are hordes of people who drink every word of his as the elixir of enlightment, and who will implement these absurd beliefs and suggestions in their own homes. That’s what worries me. Girls would be asked to fall at the feet of their brothers and call for mercy, to spare their honour (which we are told resides in a thin membrane; one's thoughts, deeds and the way one leads their life hardly matters, it’s all about that membrane!). They would be asked to recite a prayer when a brother-in-faith cum closet rapist leers and hovers over her. He might drop dead or miraculously recognize the sister in the woman he wanted to rape. Who knows? In the world of all-knowing godmen, the women who get raped had obviously forgotten to invoke a few Gods in her daily prayer, or crossed the threshold of her home with the left foot first, walked under a ladder, wore black, forgot to fast, or worse were atheists who jiggled cleavage, ate spicy chowmein (this was suggested by the Khap not long ago as the cause of untamed libido!), roamed the streets after dark, and basically did everything to deserve being raped! Last night I watched in dismay that woman trying to defend Asaram’s comments the News Hour debate. How can one expect a safe world for women when there exists such members of their own gender who follow the derogatory discourse of self-styled, rogue godmen as the absolute truth?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Unspecified Hiatus

I will refrain from blogging for an unspecified period of time. I go through erratic periods of isolation from any social contact, phone calls, mails, social networks, and blogging. One such phase has been long due, since I find myself blogging a quite too frequently, even for my own liking. I don't like the content myself, it's just a hollow shell of stupid wishes and self-analysis, without any real content. 

It's supposed to be a personal blog, highlighting the joys of reading, heartfelt personal essays, travelogues, creative writing, movie reviews etc. Post exam, I suddenly find myself with abundant time, and when I'm not reading, I am blogging. The blog has turned into nothing more than online diary entries, that makes me cringe in retrospect. Where are my stories and poems? Where are the stories of people I come across? I am unable to penetrate this fog of self-interest that has surrounded me lately.

So, I will put blogging on a hold. I will write in my diary instead, I received a new one from flipkart today. I will try to write a few stories or poems. I will edit and re-edit them, till it satisfies me. Or maybe I would take a break from writing altogether for a short while. I don't know yet.

I am disturbed about certain things. I am embarrassed about certain things too, however unintended and bewildering they had been. I am unable to concentrate on anything. Some realizations had hit hard. I need to purge out this emotional turbulence from my mind and not let it pour on my writings. I want to read something totally unrelated to what I usually read. I want a clean slate. I need to sort out things with myself.

I hope at least a few of the readers who lurk around my blog will miss me and await my return to blogging.

Bye.

A Book, A Tear-stained Pillow


Certain books take my hand and walk me into their melancholic core. I think about them for a long time afterwards, but I'm the passive and often distant reader. It's only sympathy that wobbles up.

But rarely I come across a book that makes me cry unabashedly. The tears just refuse to stop. Empathy is the only emotion. The heart gets involved unknowingly, one can no longer be distant. I don't remain a mere reader. Their pain is mine. Their love is mine. So is their despair.

Khushwant Singh's classic novel, 'Train to Pakistan' is the reason my pillow is wet with tears tonight. The novel is set in one of the most harrowing times this country had witnessed less than a century ago. The brutalities of Partition always makes me shudder. People, who cohabited quite peacefully, suddenly starts slaughtering, looting and raping each other in the heat of communal violence and a seriously convoluted sense of religious faith and patriotism. Lives became statistics; they kill one, you kill two. The thought of a single corpse is disturbing, the end of a life that still had so many hopes perhaps. Thousands of corpses filled in trains, floating down the river, mass graves; Singh's clear, vivid prose makes every detail achingly real.