Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Whenever she springs her alter-ego on me, I feign dutiful surprise and return her greeting obsequiously with folded palms. Her nose-ring and her Kanchivaram zari smile down at me in unison, she has guessed that I’ve broken through her disguise to recognize her and she has accepted defeat. But this won’t be her last unsuccessful masquerade, for she feeds her mystery fretfully like the nervous mother her undernourished offspring, living in dread of its demise.
My toes perform faint approximations of what her fingers, unfailing compass to the pliant sails of her voice, accomplish so that I can follow her through her voyage. But I always drown midway.
But why do I listen to this voice that employs a grammar I have no conception of?
She tells me that this was why Tamil happened to me, so that I’d hear this song and say, yes, my language is the most beautiful in the world, that my language was made just to be sung into this song.

Twelve years of protestant schooling obliterated every congenital trace of respect or my roots I'd grudgingly accommodated through daily routines of carols and scripture tests and The Lord's Prayer the aftertaste of five-times-a-day prayer. Tamil wasn't just gauche and blushingly inappropriate for conversations, it was an illegitimate child born out of a pariah dalliance, to be kept within doors lest it stumble out bawlingly through the inevitable slips of the Tamilian accent or sneak into discussions of with a braying drawl or a turncoat syllable.

Though I shook this careless disguise off my Tamilian pronunciation, choosing hetch over haitch, par-ent over pay-rent, prepone over advance( of course, I didn't go as far as to make jeros out of zeros. I drew the line within touching distance from respectable coherence, but out of reach from stifling demands of accuracy and propriety) I still retained a faint contempt for my mother tongue. Tamil got ticked every time I was asked for my mother tongue in spite of that vague apprehension that my possession over it was incomplete. What I own isn't a hereditary right to speak, write and read in Tamil with native pride, but merely a lease to speak in Tamil with my blood, a lease that will expire at the same time my parents will.

English was what I thought, spoke, read and wrote in. Rather English was what made me speak read and write. And most importantly think. A belief that I cultivated early on in my anglo-infatuation, a belief that I still hold dear is that of all the languages I'm fluent in (English, Tamil and I add Hindi hesitatingly here) none provides asylums to the osmotic surprises of my itinerant unfiltered thought the way the membranous layers of English do.

Having disinherited Tamil suitably, my religious identity came next. All that the Bible classes of my fashionably Christian first school taught me was to develop a scathing scorn for Hinduism while two Vishnu Sahasranamam-chanting and Sanskrit-verse-reciting years in a staunchly Tam Bram setting served only to strengthen this scorn into something more general. It evolved into distaste for the dictates of organised religion, a distaste that loosened the nostalgic claims of Christianity over me and my reverence for it crumbled into contempt. If I'm agnostic, it's purely by accident. It is merely accidental that I deride idol worship and Hindu rites in the same breath as evangelism and the myth of immaculate conception

Like everybody else, three and a half years of university life in a far-flung location removed from the reeking tambramness of my environment returned me successfully to my roots and has sent me back to my hometown with a firmer conviction of what I constitute, with respect to religious and regional identity. What I was suffering from at that time, July-2005 wasn't an identity crisis as much as an identity famine. I had been poring over entire shopping racks housing innumerable variants of Tamil-ness. The concert-hopping Sudha Raghunathan fan who listened to Illayraja on the sly wasn't right. Nor was the quiz-champion, force-fed Mridangam lessons who was now in the initial throes of a disgustingly clichéd obsession with porn.
The salwar-clad temple regular who hummed Bollwood numbers as she circumnavigated the deities in turn wasn't me, nor were my intensely literary peers who discussed Ponniyin Selvan and Byron and in turn.

Over 20 years I've exhausted several shopping racks, every Tamilian I’ve met has been held against my ideal, tried on for size and rejected. Some were rejected in the long contemplative privacy of the trial room after several battles with unwieldy tags, hooks and holders, and some in the discomforting tightness foretold by the very first glance.

I remember my first ever Cactus Flower meeting in detail for a reason that is completely disconnected with what I feel for the magazine. Two senior girls (you should have figured out by now that they were both Tamilian), one each from the batches of 2003 and the 2004, left the meeting cycling one-handed. It was the coldest of my three Januarys at BITS and to expose your fingers to that frost even if you were just keeping beat to the kriti you were practicing would have been a terribly dangerous thing to do. Through the gaps betrayed by two ungloved frozen fingers battling to darn a hole-ridden veil together, I managed a glimpse of the face hidden out of sight.

The tune has been into my memory since then, and though I lost their last notes along with the sight of them I know with the audacious surety of groping in pitch darkness, exactly how the song will end.

Raagamalika is the not the most obvious way to renew a reluctant acquaintance with Carnatic music, especially when I’d barred my ears to music of all kinds and was musical barren-ness under the successful pretence of being tone deaf. I’d never imagined that I would feel more of a TamBram simply for having attended a few performances through Raagamalika/SPIC MACAY or for having seen two women fall in love with the same mysterious stranger at first sight, strike up different conversations with him only to meld their first encounters together into something prettier than the slurring beauty of first-time speech with your beloved.
.I’d seen people live out a million versions of TamBramness, either consciously or unconsciously by associating it with meanings unique to their own selves and yet I hadn’t realized that expression of ethnic identity wasn’t a collection of templates to choose from, but something I had to create on my own. There is more than one way to be Tamilian, to be Brahmin or to be that oxymoronically composite being, a Tam Bram, I could choose to create my own or not at all, and I’d still stay true to what I am.

Carnatic music joins a list of tastes I’ve acquired not for their own sake, but for the symbolism that I’ve saddled them with. Falling in love with representations rather than their underlying reality is a folly I’ve grown to relish.

The December breeze lulls me into sitting there before the pandal long after it has stopped carrying her song. Nothing teaches me the meanings of an unknown word better than people do, people who live out the meaning for me, people who don’t know that their existence is encompassed by a single word, who make me scrape out that word from the bottom of my consciousness, offer it to them and utter gratefully in the intoxicating bliss of comprehension “This is you. This describes you as well as you describe this.”
Does her song teach me the meanings of swara, tala, alapana- the petty change of secrets that she keeps hidden from me, stashed hopefully in hidden piggy banks ?Of course not. Her treasures don’t lie buried in that small change of syntax and jargon, but at infinitely deeper fathoms that neither of us can guess at. While I can always single her out of her insecure attempts at disguise, I can never truly comprehend her and yet she refuses to derive comfort from the fact of her invincible mystery. But she is no less an enigma for her routinely awry attempts at impersonation.

Do I trust my genes to work out that mystifying calculation that sets her notes so celestially into their places? Of course not. I’m no less an insider for my eternal ignorance.

Monday, November 17, 2008

"It's as if the tube lights are there on purpose to make the rubbish glow." The gust of your whisper throws the window open when you survey the garbage-strewn view that it frames. I liked the dump, for its fluorescent glint was my unfailing night lamp that studded the ground below me with polythene diamonds. Sterile garbage- its crinkled gleam, plastic defeat and benign refusals are free of the odours of struggle.
Sterile unlike my memory, an odorous memory that suffers the sanitizing storm of a clattering garbage truck at your command every morning. Though you're gone, your schizophrenic spores of doubt have ripened my memory into an ageless senility. Night after night, I drink tea out of the styrofoam hallucination of "Maggi Soup" only to wake up wondering if I'd drunk tomato soup or elaichi chai. Whether your eternal youth has blinded me to the fleeing burglars of my own youth. Whether my 52- month-night in your arms turned me into Rip Van Winkle, gone astray in my own backyard after having lost my reins on time.

I’d been writing alibis for an entire lifetime, the looped alibis of discontent, till I found you. You inoculated me against pretence, by weaning me off that compulsive game of darts where I aimed interminably in vain for that impossible bulls’ eye of my dream self, that perfect me that I never attained. Dearest, in learning not to disown you, I learned never to disown myself ever again. The sole souvenir salvaged from your four-year-lease of me was my true self.

I made an ossuary out of plundered graves, hoping to pass it off for my ivory tower of contemplation. Whenever I stretched across that skeletal scaffolding to reach for fresh coats of white paint, the skulls rattled tunefully to your laughter. Were you reminding me that I was resting upon the bare bones of desires that weren’t my own? Or that our tower of Babel would cave in to entomb me?

I love you enough to embrace eternal exile, sans elegy, sans grief and sans shrine.
Though you walk away with that satisfied smile of successful exorcism on your lips, you’ll remember. In the corners between the bricks that strain to remember and those that strain to forget, your careless finger will catch a stray sliver of dusty memory unawares. When you the slash through the offending cobweb, one-fingered and shuddering, the spider will tug heroically hard at your finger along before dying its stubborn death and your heart, if only for a frozen instant, will tremble in reminiscence.

I don’t want to cry, but if my inky tears swim their way across blank paper gulfs to stain words into them, will they bring our handheld silences back? I don't want to hold you to ransom, but if promises seep into my lips in the form of kisses, will they buy me one more hour of your winter sunshine? I don’t want a second chance, but if my straitened silence breaks into a mutiny of sighs, will they be quelled by your backward glance?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Saying no...

"Are you awake? If awake, are you tired or sleepy? If no, are you free? If yes, could you please talk to me for half an hour?"

Yes. I send these kinds of SMSes in the place of “Are you free now?”. That long-winded question, actually a nested questionnaire, which lays out excuses neatly in pyramidal pigeonholes of possibilities and levels of reluctance can only be the product of a heart that desperately seeks to soften the sting of "No." Not for me, the petitioner but for the petitioned. Not an attempt at lessening the effort of hearing "no." but of saying it. Self-addressing postage-paid envelopes so that my friends can despatch their rejection slips effortlessly. Discovering loopholes in my no-guilty plea and including them in my defence so that I get maximum-sentenced promptly. I love the fact that my friends relish building a monstrous snowman of refusal minus the inconvenient frostbites of scorned sulking, that they can run up debts of endless refusals with the confident abandon of them being written off by me, a moneylender offering infinite credit. Sometimes I believe that people love me best for saying “It’s OK. No problem.” Tirelessly. Just as I love people for saying no all the time. For saying no in every manner.

The brusque firmness of the busy “no”s that brush away your verbal grit off their ears with a quick shake.
The outstretched arms of the cheerful no that emphasize unavailability through a shrug and then hug you in consolation.
The fiercely awkward no of the self-conscious that portends studiously casual ignorance of your glances, waves and smiles for the next week.
The whispered no brimming with the futile regret of people who like me, have pronunciation problems with the word.

It's not out of weakness (a popular attribution) that I refuse to refuse but of memory. I remember the unquestioning concern of the nameless KVCLRI student who rescued me from ticket less ignominy in a PTC bus. His guilelessly warm smile was an infinitely greater gift than his three rupees that kept my change-deprived hassled self from being kicked off the bus home.
The senior who noiselessly switched her socks and shoes for my overlarge sneakers when I was left stranded shoeless and electric shock-vulnerable outside the MT-II E-Mech lab. I cherish her thoughtless spontaneity more than the deduction of a 15-minute detour in the quest of my shoes or the addition of 1.5 marks to my lab total.
The never-said-hi acquaintance who spent an uncomplaining hour applying eyeliner over uncooperative eyes quivering problematically with the silly thrills of dressing up for batch-snaps. Her final fatigued nod of satisfaction has lingered longer in my mind than the smoky eyed picture that I presented that day.
The kindnesses I’ve received, from strangers, the best of friends and everyone in between and beyond these brackets, may not be lifesavingly Samaritan, or breathtakingly generous and yet, it's not the magnitude of the deed but its sincerity that keeps mine breathing. A portable dilator that frees up oxygen passage for my acquiescence every time it asphyxiates in the toxic clouds of doubt.

Being grateful and expecting gratitude are two faces of a desolate planet, a planet across whose skies my comet tail will never wag. Gratitude, after all is a foul word.

To love without second thoughts but to be parted sans a fleeting goodbye and a backward glance. To throw real hard and then miss by a mile. To transplant seeds from plastic packets labelled politely with question marks to the slushy fertility of ready assent, and then get fenced out of the mangrove. To lend freely but square your shoulders and swallow knots of your longing while walking back empty-handed.

I hoard these, not as the heartbreaks nursed selfishly by the romantic, or the poverties prized by the self-denying, or as virtues paraded by the fakely self-righteous. I hoard these as simply, as mindlessly as a narcissist would the scars of her battle-wearied body and the flaws that profane her once-upon-a-time-perfect visage. I wouldn't ever swap them for a monotonic lifetime painted in the million perfectly white shades of yes.

Monday, October 13, 2008

October chills.Autumnal aches.

Why is this the perfect temperature to inspire melancholic remembrance?

He engraved hieroglyphic silences all over the marble seats of my worship - bold, curving, and mysterious. What was I trying to decipher from the carved tablets of his inoffensive silence? A faded past? A coded instruction? A map leading me to forbidden treasures? Or a sacred truth? I wish I hadn't set out to learn the alphabet of his silence.

I tossed my words reverently into his beautiful muteness, watching those hopeful coins sink into that wishing well, spreading smiling ripples across his face. His shoulders retrenched my emotional landslides as my constricted sobs bounced away harmlessly from his padded silence. Word and tears were infinitely more pleasurable in his arms, when his fingers planted tousled forests in my hair while uprooting tangles of nightmarish weeds from my consciousness and dried my dripping nose while moistening my scalded soul.

His forays into the language of my solitude were stumbling yet successful, hesitant yet happy, desperate yet delightful. The wonder of hearing his alien tongue traverse the scores of my favourite mental melodies endeared them to me more than anything else could have. Those words melded more harmoniously with his roughened lips did than my lips ever did. Our wrong-footed kisses shattered ancient curse-laden seals to unloose pestilential beings that escaped through his mouth to plague my memory to eternity.

And the jarring notes…
His laughter that rose nervously in a wheezy titter, like a bawdy joke ascending to a coarse crescendo.
Mouthfuls that vanished in rude gulps as he cast furtive looks around like a rat hurriedly nibbling away at stolen food
Those barbaric notes that clashed cacophonically with mellifluous background score of his silence whenever we warred in our common tongue of rhetoric.
They battered the door that kept us locked within the delusive bliss of an x-ray lab, as it churned out chronicles of chronic fractures in our transient tenderness. But the noisy intruder was knocking savagely from within the room, not outside.
When all the casts were removed the skeletal frame of our intimacy collapsed. I was semantically adrift, I, who’d read his silences better than his speeches. Futile was my makeshift dictionary of his silences when his simplest utterances eluded translation. Did I lip-read in the darkness that smouldered angrily, darkly, icily with the warnings he mouthed in despair?
Did I throw away those parchments in a spasm of blank exasperation, that prophetic script of tragedy inked in a potion of invisibility?
His fingers had stiffened into a coiled fist within my clasp, a snake arching its muscles into a tight bow before striking. Had they been free, they would have formed a fortification around his ears, barring auditory gates of attack from my voice. A child's instinctive strategy to soundproof himself to admonitory words.
His eyes pulled down shutters in a silent bandh against the incursion that his ears suffered.
He looked away when I said, "I love you."

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Today, for the third time, in two weeks, I conducted an unsuccessful search for "Ramya.K" on the placement notice board.That's a nice euphemism for rejection. While Shell took two weeks (while I was engaged in an enthusiastic preparation of a Goa itinerary) to figure out that my application wasn't worth a second glance, UOP actually got me calculating how long it would take them to despatch the offer letter.

IOCL, the intended saving grace, taken for granted for confident three years ("If nothing else, IOCL." ), scorned at, mocked, and yet secretly vulgarly desperately desired, finally had the last laugh. Denying me the luxury of rejecting a PSU career proffered on a platter must have been sweet revenge for that invisible traitor in my head who's been heard me rile all along.

Prolonged rant for missing out on a job I wanted solely for egoistic reasons. My dualite friends, either from naive empathy or detached saintliness have been resisting the urge to point out that my placement woes when narrated 26 times in various states of fatigue, sleepiness, through just-rejected-smses, oh-this-company-tomorrow-i'm-so-getting-the-job-and-chucking-it announcements sound err repetitive. Placement woes? I've been placed in a likable firm that I'd never intended to apply for. It's not my job status itself that bothers me, but the uncertainty, the bullying, the unfairness. What's been my undoing are my "But I've always...." thoughts. But I've always been the best. But I've always laughed at people who believe in luck. But I've always predicted my chance of success with accuracy and sense.

1. Is it overconfidence, thinking highly of yourself and constructing lofty ideas of your worth , because the world has always agreed with your standards while rewarding you?
2. Is it stupid to believe that you'll get everything you want just because you've always gotten everything you've wanted?
3. Is it arrogant to be justifiably cocksure and then dream big?And stare hungrily at what you might never possess, what might not be right for you? And spurn what you've already got?

I wish I knew.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Of thoughts and translations...

My uncertain mumbles drip all over our conversation, a leaky fountain pen over blotting paper. Not comprehending the thickly untidy words that I've scratched, frowns spread over his face as fast as those ink stains on my blotted consciousness. He looks at me impatiently before seizing my hand. Like a child being taught the script, my hand is enslaved within his larger steadier hand and we traverse the page together, my pen at his command. Straight parallel ruled lines, wide even margins, underlined sub-headings, small regular letter formations, cursive convent-school elegance. No trace of my exaggerated loops, my flatly rounded vowels, my undecipherable dots and crosses, my illegible scrawl. I don't thank him for the forgery and his eyebrows shoot up scornfully at my ingratitude.

I don't want my heart de-cluttered of its fears, the broken furniture of my judgment rearranged, my under-the-pillow secrets to be lifted, folded neatly and hung in glass-doored shelves and open showcases, the broken windowpanes of my perception replaced. And definitely not the way he intends to spring-clean my space. But he does exactly that. No wonder I approach confidences with the confident dread of being misunderstood. A confidence becomes an invitation to vacuum-clean my soul and suck it clean of the dust that my life has collected. Every cobweb sliver I lose is a mutilated memory, a betrayed love and a disinherited lesson.

I weave the gossamer of my sudden smiles and warped recollections, the association I make, the symbols I venerate, my inexplicable tears and intangible longings into a magic carpet that would transport him into my head. But he tears it apart it strand by strand into disparate threads of coherence, snips them into uniform lengths, stuffs them scientifically into separate postmarked envelopes and mails me through every conversational post-box we encounter on the way. "There you go.” he says. "This is what you should think." I want to fling those lying envelopes at his face, unopened.

When I speak to him, I'm instructed to pack my thoughts into batches of toilet paper-tightly rolled double-layers of gentle cellulose, unprotestingly adsorbent, evenly perforated sheets that are torn, soiled and thrown thoughtlessly back.

Outgrowing that hungry-eyed desperation to be understood is painful. Every intimacy is a tour of my self for the other person. But it’s not a guided tour. Nothing in my control. I want to show them around my world- its gates and walls, its pleasures and perils, its sights and sounds at my own pace. But they make their three-day package trips with their self-authored guidebooks for company. I want to walk them through my gardens and fall asleep together under boughs and vines to the songs of my night birds, but all they care for are neatly arranged preserved flowers and baskets of fruits to take back. I want to take them on walks along my beach and get them to paint my sunsets in their favourite shades. But they go on all-expense paid cruises along my coasts, never setting foot on shore, and carouse through the evenings, oblivious to my sunsets. I want to accompany them on star-lit treks throughout my forests, valleys and mountains, tell them about the landscape, the skies, the trees and the beasts that shape my existence. They visit zoos and throw crumbs for the caged beasts of my pretenses. I want them to be an insider to the stink of my drains, the seclusion of my deserts, the grime embracing my slums, the bumps on my dirt tracks, the costs of my living, the smog in my air and the poverties, glories, secrets and spaces of my life. But they return from their slapdash tour, smugly seat belted in the business-class illusion that they can claim to know me now. Completely.

I don't have to translate my thoughts into words, expressions, and sentences to make my mind see what my heart knows. I don't have to shake my mind by the shoulders and cry out unhappily "But you don't get it. I feel this way. There is no explanation. No reason." Obviously I'm no tourist to my self.

Why do thoughts need to be expressed at all? Some thoughts are serene jetsam. They are happy being the ocean currents of my mind, treading the same paths, caressing the continents of sleep and rest, floating joyfully among the unconscious seas of my mind, dictating the cyclones and monsoons of my moods, eternally alive yet unexpressed. Some thoughts drown and disappear into the whirlpools of forgetfulness without resistance while some dematerialize in the salty spray of growing up and learning.

Some embark on a quest of expression, holding on to the flimsy logs of feeling, oar-less and wordless but not sensation-less.
The course that a conversation takes can either maroon them in tongue-tying islands or provide sea-faring winds for a safe and quick passage. Bias unleashes gales, the storm of contempt punctures leaks and upends the raft, icebergs of silent neglect make noisy dents, and a mere smirk becomes a squall.

Finally the shipwrecked arrive naked, thirsty and still-sea-sick on the shores of speech, having experienced the grief and joys of entire lifetimes through the rough and tumble of their 5-minute voyages. Birth. Death. Love. Loss. They aren't the same thoughts that had set out clinging to the logs of now-meaningless sentence-skeletons that had begun the marine dialogue. What is done to them? Held at the harbour and imprisoned as illegal immigrants. Pulled up roughly and questioned. Accused of identity theft or taken for somebody else.

My pen offers asylum to these ineffable, undefinable, and fragile castaway thoughts. It doesn't demand identity papers and passports, doesn't deport them to their unreal homelands or sentence them in courts. It accepts their stateless state,feeble incoherence and the amnesiac silence of their youth. My pen averts its eyes from the wordless nakedness of my thoughts and offers them a choice of clothes. Every word I write is a wondrous robe. Wondrous because my thoughts have chosen the perfect cut, colour and fit every time. Whenever I read something I've written, I know that these erstwhile hollow-eyed refugees are now drawing premature pensions, leading lives of middle-class contentment and fully-clothed dignity in their single bedroom apartments of posterity .I know that they are finally home.

I write because it's the purest composition of what I feel, the form transmuted by nobody else's responses but my own. Sympathy matters more than syntax, acceptance more than agreement, respect more than reason. And only my pen knows that.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

She never lost the habit of muttering to herself. When you set out to be perennially inaudible, your efforts will be as awkward as those of the moist-mouthed straining to restrain a shower of spittle with cupped hands. Afraid of her words flecking people, she dreaded the way they would be wiped away in that conspicuous yet wordless gesture of annoyance that created a wet embarrassed silence in its wake. Only, they took saliva more cheerfully than vagabond words. There were those self-embalmed whispers that nobody bothered to excavate with an exasperated "What were you saying", then those perfectly audible words orphaned in conversational holocausts called arguments. And there were words that got left behind. Like a child is led by hand towards a crowded train only to be left fearfully clutching the hand of a stranger instead. Or the words that actually succeeded to fall in step with the militant march of a discussion. Those words hurt the most. She'd always sweep the floor furtively behind those footsteps, dispersing the defeated dust of her trampled words away from her asthmatic being, struggling to breathe in the clean air of feeling. Or the words that simply got lost. Wandered off into the nothingness of providentially incompetent tongue- tips, choosing it over the nothingness of human ears and hearts. Drowned in those narrow rivulets of clarity separating the wilderness of being misunderstood from the greater wilderness of being understood. Went on indefinite exiles to faraway forests where they wouldn't be dispossessed, dismissed or disowned.

When you spend a lifetime being unheard, you know that all those words don't just melt into silence. She knew that. Memory accounted for each and every stray sentence- uttered and bitten back, shouted and apologized for, constructed and broken down, stored and formatted, typed and backspaced. Memory maintained ledgers, conducted roll calls, and extracted penalties from the truant thoughts. After a lifetime of losing thoughts, she understood that the chaff of that memory-sieve would be tossed into that ever-present black hole that ripped them into forgetfulness.
But sometimes they escaped whole. Sometimes. Stayed behind within her. Lingered. Befriended memory enough to come out of incognito. Then befriended memory so well that they went out for a stroll together sometimes. A jaunt with the jailor. First the words would come out in an astonished breath, astonished at the audacity of infiltrating voices. Then they would recruit question marks into their forbidden ranks the way you spell out a foul word politely instead of enunciating it. Then their daring grew, the questions became increasingly insistent, assumed the tone of assertions and dropped their inquisitive masquerade. Replaced the question mark with the full stop, the "couldn’t"s with the "can"s, the "wouldn’t"s with the "will"s, the "might not"s with the "is"s.
Sometimes they bid for the freedom of validation with their repetitive lull. The final words that were puked into her tear-drenched pillow every tea-stained night.
The first words that etched themselves on her soul during the acid attacks of love.
The words that betrayed her exhibitionist streak when she muttered to herself in solitude, working hard at looking drowned while trying to jettison her true self that she had mistakenly unearthed in a sanguine farce of a treasure hunt.
Words that went around her head like a self-righteously orbiting halo propping up the demolished remains of sense, defining anew the topography of her sanity, where gagged exertions eroded her truths into monosyllabic scripts and well-rehearsed dialogues.

And she lives on, proofreading sent mail and deleting sent messages, rephrasing others’ sentences and reliving others’ lives, memorizing silences by the second and pounding all-night conversations to a forgotten pulp, embracing the anesthetic simplicity of slang and eluding the aesthetic aptness of words-those words, unlike wisdom, that would never give up on her. Ever.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Chasing Mirages. Again.

I belong to a generation of students (defeated and victorious) who have been through the IIT-JEE grind. Despite two years of punishing coaching schedules, my peers’ fascination for competitive exams and “premier” institutions hasn’t dimnished.

Déjà vu is unmistakable – engineering aspirants who, three-four years ago had devoutly attended JEE coaching are now filling up benches in CAT classes. It's easy to see parallels between IIT and IIM, charismatic brand names that are venerated in India. Ignoring the inherent contrasts in the nature of CAT and JEE, their resemblance is strong in other respects - intense competition for limited seats, loads of feverish applicants struggling through endless mock tests and three hour classes, anchored by visions of hefty paychecks and jobs abroad, and the escalating success of the coaching monsters spawned by these exams.

There is nothing wrong in the pursuit of a successful engineering/ management career or in aspiring to enter elite schools. What is troubling is the unthinking way in which we make the leap, heedless of aptitudes and needs. We owe it to ourselves to draw our own maps rather than go astray, following signposts.

Enough has been said about the evils of our education system, the distressing effects of coaching on learning attitudes, parental pressure and the lack of awareness and imagination that characterizes most career decisions. It’s not awareness that we lack, but courage to see our selves, our dreams, and our abilities in a truthful way and do the right thing. Soon, the quick-fix dogma of “Choose science stream, get an engineering degree and then an IIM MBA” will be elevated to commandment status. We end up chasing the same mirage on every road.

Monday, July 7, 2008

What's wrong with Dasavatharam?

Distributors would say, "nothing at all". Opening with 29 shows a day in Mayajaal and Sathyam, 10 a day in INOX, subsequent shows of the movie managed to attract second-timers, third-timers, with voices turned hoarse with second-guessing inspired punch lines and fingers numbed with applause (Gult-bashing and Bush-bashing are united by the unanimously enthusiastic response they provoke. Even weak jokes are heartily humored with bursts of laughter.)

An unpretentious commercial movie that never made any brave promises of providing an uplifting intellectually stimulating movie experience doesn’t deserve criticism. Especially if you, like myself, do not require uplifting intellectually stimulating experiences to make your trip to the theatre worthwhile. It cannot be crucified for falling (significantly ) short of genius when it only set out to be a formulaic mass movie saturated with sure shot attention-grabbers - Mallika Sherawat, a sensational opening sequence that can chill the blood of any fanatic Iyer/Iyengar, a gargantuan star cast with a crowd of uselessly recognizable faces littering every frame, yawn-inspiring action sequences, “excellent” (I wouldn’t know the difference) camera work, and passably peppy (and from what I hear, popular) tunes elements that are sure to get the average Tamilian to gloat over 120 well-spent bucks. It cannot be hailed as one of the best things that have happened to Tamil Cinema, nor is it a Kamal Hassan Masterpiece.

My enforced ignorance of the aesthetics and structure of Cinema and theatre isn't going to make my first attempt at a movie review any easier. Dasavatharam is only the third movie I've seen in 2008 (after some forgettable RAF movie (the only surviving fragment in my memory is a conversation about Chinese gang wars that followed) and then Sex and the City). That should give you an idea of my cheerful indifference towards visual arts in general and cinema in particular. My infrequent excursions to movie theatres (I haven't watched a single movie on my computer) have been dictated mostly by the force-fed inclinations of my companions, with my non-existent taste in movies reluctant to raise even perfunctory protests.

What I liked about Dasavatharam was that the makers stuck to their vision of the movie throughout the three and a half hours- An unembarrassed Pot-boiler. It never betrayed its genre for even a second, though offering a self-apologetically atypical (of commercial Tamil cinema. ) script, it resorted to tried-and-tested gimmicks to ensure that the treatment of the script is conventional . Of course, the heroine has to be insipid, irritating, and absolutely helpless. Of course, the audience should stifle cries of “What else?” And “not now” when the guy and the girl discuss wedding plans immediately in the wake of a chase (that would have drained superhuman reserves of stamina and wearied the most romantic “maid-in-distress-gallant knight” inclinations) in the backdrop of death and disaster. Healing properties of Misfired bullets, opportunely switched luggage, serendipitous tsunamis, and extremely predictable co-incidences (fancy a Japanese martial arts master screaming “Tsunami” on some TN beach and rushing to guide the guy and the girl out of trouble with the adroit boat-handling ease of a Jap fisherman who’s outlived five tsunamis), miracles pulled out of thin air and deep seas and lazy scripting minds in search of shortcuts, super-conscientious, super-brave super-lucky hero, a super-bad killing machine for a villain, and the audience-favorite game of “spot-Kamal-there’s Kamal”- come on, if this isn’t classic commercial cinema, what is? I found out to my amusement, that Most of the pre-release buzz about the movie being off-beat (with some hyperbolic reports going as far as to use the term science-fiction to describe this attempt where science is just another bit-role, a neglected extra) was unfounded. His "multiple avatars" sparked reactions from the audience that can be compared to the recognizant sighs of an indulgent parent cooing over an overexcited child's capers in a Fancy dress contest.

An unwillingness to resolve the issues (I hate it when people ask questions during the out course of a movie/book only to leave them in the question mark intact at the end. Why talk about Science vs. God, faith vs. reason, mining vs. Mother Earth as a mere gesture of lip-service to the supposed theme? ) that the theme (s) of the movie raises can be traced to indifference. A callously knitted meandering patch-work script that glories in being hackneyed (like XXXL sweaters that sacrifice snugness to live up to a mistaken measure of the right size) for the sake of accommodating as many avatars as possible. Hastiness in developing a screenplay that strives to be clever, only to appear contrived. Fighting dreadful fears of straining the scant capacity of a mass audience to comprehend science while exploiting their infinite capacity to appreciate infusions of morality, entendre and appeals to religious sensibilities.

Other Voices might praise research (?), production values, attention to detail, screenplay, and cinematography, whatever; there again I wish to desist from ignorant misuse of cinema jargon hence my voice will not join this chorus. Rare instances (that evaporate as quickly as your impressions of Kamal’s fleeting attempts at acting) of original humor, delicious timing and the occasional lines of sensible dialogue can redeem the creative conscience of the movie. Your disgust for the movie will only intensify at the sight of the Director’s victory-dance and the accompanying self-glorifying hero- song(a la Rajini, except that they got the order wrong. It’s at the end rather than the beginning), the pointlessness of which will only serve to remind you of the more maddening pointlessness of other scenes in the movie.

In the end the makers of the movie will get away with their not-guilty plea.If you accuse them of breaking promises (that were never made), creating unrealistic expectations (that obviously weren’t have been fulfilled) , it’s time you reviewed your subscription to whichever magazine carried that reverent review/impressive report/ glowing preview. Commercial cover-page-exclusive-scoop-sneak-peek journalism and commercial cinema make a very potent cocktail indeed.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The excuse of having lost steam is ridiculous when you’ve been systematically dismantling the engine. Finally I have reasons. A) I forgot what it felt like to write fearlessly without fearing the merciless self-flagellation I’d subject myself to when I read my work again B) Words C) Heartbreak

It's been a year since I've written .No; ignore all the posts that happened between August 2007 and June 2008. I believed, till an hour back that writing for me was finished, in its dying throes. I dreaded turning into those adults who’d read my stuff admiringly just to add a wistful "Ah, I used to write too. That was so far away. I've never been able to do it again."

All these half-hearted posts and hesitant stories that I've referred to were failed resurrections. Bleak attempts at resuscitation. I was convinced that I'd lost voice, and that my fingers would never again tauten gratefully in that uniquely pleasurable way whenever they pressed Ctrl S or clicked a ballpoint pen shut. That I'd forget what I was like to settle down oblivious to discomfort with pen and paper, stained fingers, cricked neck and numb bloodless legs (the immovably weighty excitement of orchestrating a genesis in my head.) Memory is the most vital thing for a writer, and I don’t mean factual and list-like memory here. I forgot. I forgot everything. I forgot the high of writing a story just to get to an ending, not caring whether it was good or not (Later in the barrenness of my third year, I'd keep rereading the stuff I had arrogantly laughed off as "amateurish" and wish I were 17 and writing ten-minute stories again.)

Like most Madras households, we use mineral water (in cans) for drinking. A vessel, perilously placed between the kitchen and the fridge, exposed to the potential onslaught of hurrying maternal feet, was a constant presence under the unpredictable tap of our can for a long time. Sometimes it would be a mild trickle that tricked us into forgetting to replace the vessel every now and then, sometimes a regular drip-drop that kept us awake at night, sometimes when the fatigued tap unscrewed itself loose under ungentle hands, and the water would shoot out in a long-repressed jet that would drench the knees of every trouser in the vicinity. Finally, tired of waiting for those maintenance guys to replace the tap, we tied it up with a cloth and the tap was finally silenced. EPC Secretary ship nearly did that to my writing style. The prospect of writing Editorials for a newsletter, which had definite precedents and policies for every single thing, but what constitutes an editorial, is no ointment for a bruised uncertain writer. Except for five editorials, none of them gave me the reassurance that I had indeed said what I'd set out to say.

I knew I was in trouble when I started turning my nose up at the appropriateness of "of" in the place of "in" and "at" and whatnot. When I started sneaking in spelling corrections and suggestions on improving grammatical constructions under the pretext of posting comments on the blogs I read. When I stopped seeing the soul in a piece and mused instead, about his choice of tense and the hurried termination of his sentences, wondering whether he lacked the mental capacity to keep track of long sentences.

Words words words all over again. I set too much store by them. Expected to come up with the perfect words, the perfect sentence every time. It never happened. I'm no human dictionary. I forgot that I was writing, not solving The Guardian crossword. Words, how easy, how treacherous, how mutable, how insignificant. When something's bursting inside you waiting to erupt in a scream, it chooses the best words, the best form for itself. Have you noticed, people rehearse speeches, punch lines, proclamations of love, lies, but they never ever rehearse for abuse?

You have neither the time nor the opportunity to decide, in the heat of writing (or yelling) you’re just lulled into believing that you chose all those words. The words chose themselves. You don't need a great vocabulary or that glorified "writer's instinct" for coming up with the perfect word. The perfect word doesn't exist. You rake the driveway of your consciousness for that long-lost key of that perfect word, the thought, a traveler in a hurry has walked, sometimes never to return.

I had a brilliant time as Sec, but when I started playing inner editor to myself, I censored, gagged, cramped and nearly killed my writing. I was scared of being clichéd. Of sounding unoriginal. Of writing anything that didn't have the confident imprint of a "mature" writer. Anything beautiful and sacred ceases to be easy when you strip it of spontaneity, trust and simplicity to reduce it to technique, rules, jargon. Like Sex. Like intimacy. Like Art.

Earlier, I’d wait till I was all alone at home to write, I'd dream of beautiful secluded retreats where I'd be "inspired" to write. I'd protest while being served food, fretting over that tiny flickering light within me that would be extinguished by the lazy satiety of a full meal. Over how I wouldn't get back to my computer with that fever of finishing what I’d begun. Right now I'm painfully within earshot of an extremely loud television playing a rerun of an exciting Ind-Aus match. And the distracting thuds of fours sixes wickets and the pasted afterthought of post-production commentary didn’t have me groping fearfully at dark corners of my mind for fragile web-spun silvers of ephemeral thought, and hoping that they haven’t disappeared in the vacuum-cleaner drone of everyday life.

I write the way I love. That has been my undoing. Scores of people before me have used the pliant convenience of a romantic disappointment to explain away a variety of things from imprudent decisions to messed-up grades to depressed “phases” to suicidal and anti-social inclinations. I’ve said something in the context of a break up . “Sometimes you spend a long time typing a sentence, but it just doesn’t turn out right at that point of the story. Your fingers loathe every stroke of backspace because you’ve worked so hard on that sentence that you’ve fallen in love. But you know exactly what the story has to attain ultimately and that the sentence will not take you there. So you close your eyes and delete it. Perhaps, it would have fitted well within a different kind of story.” My story has suffered so many false starts, so many run-away sentences, and countless backspace strokes. I’m writing this in the wake of a deletion of a couple of long sentences. I might rethink the flow and plot of the story;but no blundering sentence can mess around with my mood or my ending. My story will end the way I want it to, irrespective of the whims of irreconcilable sentences and if they don’t blend well with the rest of the dough, you open the oven door, scoop out the hardened portions, mix willingly sweet ingredients instead and put it back in. Yeah the cake will take longer. It will get there eventually in spite of power cuts, improper ratios and bad eggs. And it will be a cake worth waiting for.

Evidently, my fixation with words has destroyed some of my relationships. Expecting people to use words in the tactful, sensitive (and sometimes absurd) manner that I did probably made life very tedious for my literal-minded friends. They never understood nuances, relied on blankly precise dictionary meaning and have always disagreed violently with me on the potentially offensive impact of our clashing definitions. Meanings. Whenever they would say something that contained even a single offensive word, I’d unerringly skip the undying layers of positive sentiment, mood and unmistakable affection straight away and take umbrage at form. I’d seize a tiny reference to the past, the most unconsciously inserted abuseTo my credit, my temper tantrums have always been quelled by even the most indifferent, reluctant apologies. I’m the most forgiving person I know and I have a very good reason to forgive easily too.

“How could you say something that hurt me?” has always meant, “How could you use the kind of words that hurt me? You could have said it in a thousand different harmless ways.” The Quarrel, for me instead of concerning itself with what he/she said focuses on the words they chose and the way they have said it. Of course, people lose patience with me- I get hurt all the time. After all they are playing an endless frustrating game of Taboo with me where the length of red listed words exceeds their capacity to remember what went wrong, to love me, and to choose. Every word they choose, every attempt at expression is strangulated, “taboo, taboo”, I keep crying incessantly and then the inevitable- they are left fumbling for the right words, which never occur to them. Because the first word that enters your head usually stays and their first words always, always gets tabooed. Vocabulary language mind your language choose your words, echoes both well-bred and boorish behavior, with temper and tact, and unfortunately for me words echo intentions. I’ve been accused of a variety of things from being touchy to acting weird to missing a sense of humor (Am I supposed to laugh with the rest of the room when I’m tripped and I’m lying face down and crying on a hard hurtful floor?) to showing off and seeking attention. I suppose I can’t let their opinion become my perception of my self. I stick to the Dreamy Idealist (read previous posts) picture of myself, rather than believe what I hear from others.

During all these furious futile battles (with warped love and twisted sentences, with empty unyielding hearts ad obstinately blank stretches of paper, with teary incoherence of unsaid things and meandering paragraphs) on the blood-splattered grounds of perceived meaning, intended meaning, and literal meaning, I forgot that it’s feeling that matters more than meaning.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


The brutal pants of the sea drifted into my ears as that inevitable silence crept into the conversation, like an awkwardly hungry stranger waiting for you to leave your seat in a restaurant. She looked at me fondly for a moment and then encircled her arms around me. “I might never see you again.” That was it. Goodbye. I stiffened instinctively within her warm embrace, like blood congealing within a throbbing bruise. The trailing red tape of Goodbye was gagging me shut with its usual armory - indefatigable silence and an overwhelming blankness. It was the certain consciousness of drowning as your arms flail about, painting desperate survival strokes that tar the canvas of Goodbye. I stuttered, waited for her to complete my incomplete sentences, and to mouth the inanities of Farewell. With a perfunctory wave the embrace broke.

I’m bad at Goodbyes. They remind me of those fancy scissors with jagged zigzag edges. “They lend a nice look to the edges of decorative paper- patterned and rhythmic.” My sister used to defend their use while making charts. “Why don’t you snip the paper of in one go, with regular scissors- you don’t need to waltz around with that plastic nightmare.” But the world, like my sister seems to prefer the latter.

I leapt into the bus at the last minute, as the signal flicked from red to green in a casual instant. I was leaving another friend, after discussing the possibility that we might not meet in a year. At least it’s better than “I might never meet you again.”

Goodbyes are like earthworms- every time you get done with the decapitation of one parting, a different head emerges almost instantly. Though it doesn’t actually have multiple avatars, this sneaky little earthworm has burrowed so deep into my mind, leaving behind earthen suds of phantasmal fears, the fear of separation being the least monstrous. And its sting seeps in long after the actual moment passes, when you’re bereft of words and tears. It hurts in the most improbable places, at the most improbable moments.

In the raspy creak of a broken-down bicycle. In the casual reminiscence of the everlastingly inexplicable tears of a hot dusty Sunday morning. In the wrinkled disgust of my eyelids when I screw my eyes shut while making my way through the debris of a demolished intimacy (meaning: hesitant glimpses of heated e-mail tantrums, tears, threats, conversations from the past.) Or was it an intimacy that was demolished before it was born? Right now I’m building a econd castle on the rubble of the first. Its certain collapse lies in my muted compliance with the uncertain terms of torture that intimacy establishes.

Goodbye, till had been the intermittent glip-glop sound of hesitant water drops making their leap into the communal safety of a bucket from a metallic cliff. Now it seemed like an incessant rush of water from a conked-out tap that I’d to have deal with. A presence that would henceforth be a constant, like a sporadic spook becoming a full-fledged ghost.

The muck- green colored ticket hopped across a multitude of coarse alien palms before landing gently into my pocket. It was just a tiny piece of brittle paper dripping with the dilute ink of economized printing. Rs.4.50. Goodbyes extract more punishing tolls. The change went into the other pocket with a jingle- it kept clinking throughout the journey- the insistent protests of unshed tears, the frozen tears of Goodbye. I remembered a conversation with my mother.

“Goodbyes seem to be cascading on me in multi-packs, Amma, like Pears soap, you get more than you actually bargained for. I don’t know how to handle it. I have very little time to negotiate terms of peace with these transitions. And it takes so long to get rid of that unending plastic packaging. ”

My mother dismisses my maudlin leaps of self-pity with a tact that doesn’t leave me feeling sheepish.

“Listen people will keep entering and leaving your life. People you know will leave college. You’ll leave people you know behind when you graduate. It’s unavoidable.” And after an inspired pause. “Have you traveled on a 29C?”

I was bemused. “Obviously.”

“How many people purchase tickets from Besant Nagar to Perambur? The full stretch? Two? Three? If people get on at Adyar, they might leave at Sterling. The people who sat through the Mylapore Stretch might be missing while the Bus passes Stella. You’re the bus. Remember that, you cannot control departures, you’ve just got to keep halting at places to watch periodic reshuffles in the positions and numbers of passengers happen.”

“That’s depressing. But you know what, it isn’t that simple. Sometimes they deceive you. They purchase four rupee tickets for Adyar to Chola and then they get down at Mandaveli. Or they jump off the stairhold when then bus is still moving. Or they vanish without warning before buying tickets. Or they make dents on the body of the bus, they plug the grooves on sills so that the windows stay open forever, they cover every inch on the walls with the permanent scars of graffiti. Or they puncture the tires so that bus deflates into diseased immobility. Or they burn down the bus.”

“Addicted to melancholy. You sound like you’ve had a romantic disappointment.”

I resisted the ribbing. Some disappointments run deeper than the shallow distress of romantic caprice. I wonder why that’s everybody’s favorite form of tragedy. Romantic disappointments are err… well romantic. The rites of a break-up have a certain beauty. Ever since I’ve read Helen Spalding’s “Curtain” (blame CBSE.) that clichéd dream of youth- Prince Charming-coming-down-on-his-knees-with-a-ring assumed second place (where obsessive might is concerned) to that dark brooding possibility that I might be one of the “Two Hamlets? Two soliloquies, Two worlds apart? Tomorrow” Ah. I’ve been under the spell of that impossibly romantic break-up fantasy for ages. Sigh. But then you have to fall in love first. This must be the most-repeated sentence ever, with its clauses, order of words, tense, everything intact. But then, you’ll have to fall in love first. That’s probably why half the shelves are filled with romance-self help in every book store/festival I visit. This is probably why awfully repetitive books like ‘Osho speaks on love.” “Osho speaks on intimacy” are stocked in hundreds while the two sole copies of "All quiet on the western front" have to be hunted down from the bottom of endless stacks on Kekan Dajuwala or whatever that astrologer's name might be.

I’ll post the poem here someday.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Compose Mail

Type fatigued fingers
Skid over the touch pad
Before swooping down to rescue
A marooned hyper link
Cast off by your unlucky baptism.
Name.surname tautens the
Gutted bloodied Strings of my
hoarse soul
Tuneless notes
From the silence
Of an unsent draft.
But I sing nevertheless

Of Slept-in sunrises
And sky-blue surprises.
Of mysterious handsome strangers
And their cooing courting ways
Of my fickle philandering glances
And your phony symphonied silence.

Of my empty empty skies
Empty but for the
melancholy contrails of flying aluminum hands

What do you do when the cashier
runs out of paper rolls?
I picked up the unwritten tab
And left the change

Indecision tears off
my fingernails
Keystroke by Keystoke.
Or send?
Am I a strangulated click
Away from the cataclysm of
A lifeless wait for
A treacherous eternity
Too late
In Visiting
Your soul?

I spell check
Love letters.
Why don't they leave
the purgatory of drafts to
Reach the infernal paradise
Of Sent mail?

Draft autosaved at 01:00 (one minute ago)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

According to Jung...

The dreamy idealist is very cautious and therefore often appears shy and reserved to others. He shares his rich emotional life and his passionate convictions with very few people. But one would be very much mistaken to judge him to be cool and reserved. He has a pronounced inner system of values and clear, honourable principles for which he is willing to sacrifice a great deal. Johanna von Orleans or Sir Galahad would have been good examples of this personality type. He is always at great pains to improve the world. He can be very considerate towards others and does a lot to support them and stand up for them. He is interested in his fellow beings, attentive and generous towards them. Once his enthusiasm for an issue or person is aroused, he can become a tireless fighter.

For the dreamy idealist, practical things are not really so important. He only busies himself with mundane everyday demands when absolutely necessary. He tends to live according to the motto “the genius controls the chaos” - which is normally the case so that he often has a very successful academic career. He is less interested in details; he prefers to look at something as a whole. This means that he still has a good overview even when things start to become hectic. However, as a result, it can occasionally happen that he overlooks something important. As he is very peace-loving, he tends not to openly show his dissatisfaction or annoyance but to bottle it up. Assertiveness is not one of his strong points; he hates conflicts and competition. He prefers to motivate others with his amicable and enthusiastic nature. Whoever has him as superior will never have to complain about not being given enough praise.

As at work, the dreamy idealist is a helpful and loyal friend and partner, a person of integrity. Obligations are absolutely sacred to him. The feelings of other are important to him and he loves making other people happy. He is satisfied with just a small circle of friends; his need for social contact is not very marked as he also needs a lot of time to himself. Superfluous small talk is not his thing. If one wishes to be friends with him or have a relationship with him, one would have to share his world of thought and be willing to participate in profound discussions. If you manage that you will be rewarded with an exceptionally intensive, rich partnership. Due to his high demands on himself and others, this personality type tends however to sometimes overload the relationship with romantic and idealistic ideas to such an extent that the partner feels overtaxed or inferior. The dreamy idealist does not fall in love head over heels but when he does fall in love he wants his to be a great, eternal love.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Lost. Won't be found.

There are few things I hate more than running a comb through my hair. With every stroke, it rips out reluctant black tresses and at the end you’re not left with the same head of hair that you’d started with. It’s a little bit like falling in love.

You’re not left with the same head you started out with.

Do you know how heavy the loose change of irretrievable loss feels in your pockets? It’s the bewildered droop of an unreturned smile. It’s the flicker of irritation at seeing a half-forgotten dab of pink, the day after holi. It’s the groan that accompanies the 361st SMS when you’re down to single digit balance. It’s the menacing insistence of a borrowed book waiting to be read. It’s the lingering sadness of forgetting a line in a favorite song.

Of course, for me the sound of loss isn’t the feeble clink of small-denomination coins. It’s the wary hush of a chest of currency wads hoarded over a lifetime. I’ve lost innocence with the naïve consent of a foolish backward glance. I’ve unclenched unwilling fingers over stubborn dreams to lose them to the greasy palms of defeat. I’ve given away truth many times over, asked and unasked to the acquisitive collection bags of convenience, to the outstretched vagabond arms of transient indulgence, to the gagged excuses of my amputated soul. I’ve abandoned reason in the small black silence unseeing eyes of victors. I’ve cried over the anonymous thievery of faith and over misplaced keys of illusive invincibility.

It’s not easy to hold on to memories of losses. They dissolve deceptively, like soap bars in the summer indulgences of evening baths. You have to unearth them carefully, a stray yellow Leaf rescued from the mess of your hair. You have to wait for its footsteps vigilantly. It flees like fleet-footed spring between winter and summer, hopping over Pilani with a quick leap. Like a dainty young woman sidestepping a muddy puddle as she laughs at it fondly, all the while drawing up her satin skirts and staving off the puddle’s grimy embrace.

I can’t lose myself to the blistering glare of love. There’s no sunscreen for heartbreak.

I’ll lose myself to lies, a little at a time. I’ll hammer out tiny chips of lies from my monolithic monument of duplicity. Tiny marble chips, small enough to carve piercing letters of contempt on the blank smiling façade of my existence, but not big enough to lacerate my soul.

I’ll lose myself to life, whatever is still left of it. I’ll lose myself to work, for that’s the only numbing needle of comfort I haven't lost in this cruel haystack yet. I’ll lose myself to what has been irretrievably lost for there is nothing left to lose myself to now.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Close your eyes

Ah. This story should have made it to CF 08. Maybe it's safer this way.

Isn’t it strange that I’m thinking about you here, of all places? I’m curled up within a foam embrace, watching the knife tremble between her practiced grip, as she brings it towards my arms. It’s almost like buttering toast, I think, as golden brown stripes sweep my skin, suffusing it with its amber glow. Soon, her rough blue cloth sets out to undo the caresses of that sharp silver tongue, and my hair is evacuated and they cling to their cotton eviction notice in silent protest. I’ve always told you this doesn’t hurt. It stretches beyond the confines of normal pain. It’ got it all together-the sting of a slap, the piercing twinge of a knife wound, the raw smarting of a scab, the tingling of a broken bone. But why is this place is still filled with so many women? You can see them waiting in swank chairs, reading three-month-old copies of Femina, on couches, throwing impatient glances at the glossily efficient attendants, paying in hundreds and thousands to be stretched on the cushioned torture racks of parlor couches. Perhaps, this elopement with physical pain is merely a means of getting away from a more sinister pain. You know, in spite of all the remedies they offer here- massages, facials, and treatments the malaise is the same. We’re all ashamed of looking at ourselves naked in the light.

No, we’ve not always squirmed with naked discomfort. I remember a time when I believed that I was beautiful, just the way I was, when I didn’t notice the hair above my lips, or beneath my arms, the hint of flab around me hips, when I didn’t fret about the shadowy lines on my face or about the grey alphabets of death steadily scratching themselves into existence on the black slate of my head.

When I was ten, the morning after a rainy day, I saw mushrooms for the first time, in the shade under our neem tree. Of course, I was fascinated, as most kids are, when it comes to trysts with nature that aren’t sullied by the presence of adults. Among the rain-sodden earth and the putrid wetness of fallen neem leaves they became more attractive to me incongruously, ridiculously more attractive. But I didn’t want something that beautiful to be wedged within the inadequate grasp of grimy earth forever. Wanting to rinse off the mud, I removed them from the ground, wrapped them carefully in a knot in my handkerchief and went to school. And by the time I reached the washbasin, the mushrooms had crumbled into a reeking black mass.

Women’s bodies are like that. When you try to dislodge the grits of imperfection, they wilt with insecurity; they bloat with vain paranoia, and then fall into pieces with the kind of elaborate terror that only a blemish can engineer. But imperfect relationships are more terrifying than imperfect bodies.

You know the Humpty-Dumpty rhyme always reminds me of our marriage. Imagine we got Humpty-dumpty to sit on an inflatable wall. I would have wanted to pump the wall higher and higher up so that he’d reach the breathless altitudes of a fully formed flawless intimacy. What you’d have done is to push him down when the wall’s at the lowest possible height, say “At least this fall won’t hurt as much as the fall he risks by going higher.” And then you’d immediately set out to put the broken eggshell of his head together. When did my eggshell break?

Do you remember the first time we kissed? Do you remember what I’d said then? “In fairy tales, the kiss usually happens at the end, after the curses have been lifted, after the dragons have been slain, and when the Princess knows she’s found her true love?” You’d laughed out loud. “ But don’t you have to kiss a frog to have him turn into a prince?”

I used to believe in sexless love, how do they describe this myth? Pure love? That was before I reconciled myself the reality of loveless sex. The fairy tales had never talked about that, or am I recreating their stories end to beginning instead? What comes first? True love or the kiss? Is the kiss the fulfillment of true love, or does the kiss lead to true love? I haven’t found out yet, all I’ve gotten are kisses, anesthetic kisses – syringe like lips squirting out their medicated discharges, with their needles gently deflating hope and numbing the ache of defeat.

Ah, I disown my dreams now. The dream of true love I’d pressed them lovingly like flowers between the pages of my fairy tale books. Flowers that had been breathing in those incredible words, snuggling against the watercolour visions of turrets and Princes, sighing blissfully as the pages speeded towards the certainty of true love. As if that certainty would come alive in my life. And you turned those books upside down, shook them up till the pressed flowers fell out of their pages to be pulverized into colourless floral dust in derisive strokes between your deft fingers. And you shook them so hard that the pages broke loose from the binding and flitted away, leaving me with a torn book bereft of its most cherished words. “…and they lived happily ever after.”

“Aren’t you closing you eyes, Ma’m?” The attendant is incredulous, as she holds my arms up. Everybody expects me to close your eyes in the face of pain, as if that might allay my fear of the pain. But shouldn’t pain be looked at straight in the eye?

But you used to keep saying , “Close your eyes.” whenever we kissed. I suppose everybody expects me to close my eyes when you’re engulfed in pleasure as well. Close your eyes. Shut out the world. Because when we stand too close, our illusions about each other are punctured. The Prince becomes a beast. The Princess an ogress. Yes, I’ll close my eyes. To every shiver of pleasure and every spasm of pain. I’ll close my eyes. To the heartbreak of being wanted but not loved. I’ll close my eyes. To the tragedy of believing in fairy tales but living outside their enchanted gates. I’ll close my eyes. I can’t bear to see you, you who I don’t love, won’t love, ever. You’re my mangled fairytale. I’ll close my eyes. To the distances our abrasive unloving hands have traveled together across each other’s bodies, to our corrugated fingers probing beneath our clothes, and under our flawed skins in this callous, callous darkness. We’ve traveled so far together in silence, that inert silence that obsessive physical desire can implant, so far that I’ve lost my voice. Words rise like bile in my throat, but I feel clogged, I can only swallow them back and retch.

“You can open your eyes now Ma’m. I finished long back.” Her voice is polite, but I can sense undertones of sneering impatience. I get dressed quickly and pay. Why do I refuse to close my eyes?

Your fingers dance around the base of my throat tenderly, imperceptibly tracing the harassed ascent of my words up the hills of speechlessness. Finally they arrive breathless at the crest of vocalization. My mouth is half-open, as I start to say something, but your lips are too quick for mine, they clamp down on my mouth, like an iron muzzle on a horse’s snout. A kiss can rescue shipwrecked princesses bobbing along on a raft of enchanted sleep from gale-ridden seas, to the safe shores of true love. A kiss can also unloose treacherous groping hands, which push her into a fathomless well of silence. Your tongue is locked against mine kicking my dying words further down; they are thrashing about in asphyxiated agony, abortive attempts at staying afloat in the well. But its waters are frigid and my words are gradually paralyzed into a frozen silence. The cavernous depths of the well muffle the hum of verbal breaststrokes.

As I wrench away from you, your hands loosen around me, you look peeved “Close your eyes.” You say. I close my eyes obediently, silently. And then I sense my skin becoming vaporous, my body smudging into an anemic invisibility in your unyielding arms. I don’t exist anymore. As my body dissolves into a wraith-like mist in the well of silence, within your oppressive embrace, my soul is dragged along in its condemned wake. Why can’t I severe my soul from my body?

The grey dawn light seeps in through the coarse whiteness of the woolen blanket. I turn towards you anxiously, willing the nightmare to go away. I pound your shoulders with my fists, but you don’t wake up. Won’t you wake up? I want your hands to clasp my clammy ones, and coax out my amorphous fears. I want your wide flat lips to curve into a mocking smile of reassurance; I want to hear your slothfully comforting voice, to hear you say that it was just a nightmare, that I’ll wake up to a tranquil ending, even if it’s not a heady fairy tale ending. Finally, you stir, but then you mutter incoherent words, and roll away, the blankets slide off me, leaving my tear-drenched face exposed to the chill.

I get up and crouch close to your face. I run my wet fingers along your broad nose, through your thinning hair, along your dark chapped lips, around your tiny eyes bordered by dark crater-like rings. Why, you’re blind. Yours is a self-imposed blindness, a blindness that wants to infect my reluctant eyelids, eyelids that had refused to cloak the naked helplessness of my eyes opened wide. Your eyelids tremble under my fingers, but they are resolutely closed. I can’t unbolt locks where there are no doors, only walls. It’s a claustrophobic’s nightmare. Four eyes firmly shut, four walls closing in on us. Has it been nothing but a squelchy garden clay companionship? Clay laden with unhappy debris - withered stalks of shiftless passion, the fallen leaves of my frigidity, and the sullen pebbles of disappointment. Clay that can never be sculpted into a semblance of love.

I tug the blanket closer to my mouth, suppressing phantom sobs that haunt my throat. Soon, like you I’ll shut my eyes and descend into an uneasy slumber, falling in tune with the orchestrated rhythm of your breathing. After all it’s perfectly silent, a flat, drowsy silence. It’s not the strangulated silence of the drowning, but the trampled silence of the dead.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Version One:

For me, even semesters are like axles. It’s held the spoked wheel of routines in place as I’ve rumbled through the complex terrain of three BITSian years . For some, even semesters herald desperate hope. “It’s okay. I’ve got one more semester left. I can still make that dual/transfer.”

For some others, it’s a semester of extinguished desire. “This semester? Doesn’t mean a thing to me. It’s just like every other semester. Another cross on the wall- one less semester to go before I’m rid of this place.”

“So what are your new year resolutions? ”

A new year? I stared at the calendar without replying- the page still said October, 2007. “Still holding on to the past, eh?” My shrug was a declaration of guilt, guilt that stemmed from desperation, not deceit. Sometimes we have to live in the past, if we have to live at all.

This is semester that is beyond the reach of resolve. I can’t believe I’m saying this, I who have been eulogizing resolve throughout my life. Ah, Resolve. Resolve that shakes off perverse pessimism. Resolve of an austere kind, without the transient shine of new-year-resolutions. Resolve that crystallizes when you see that number on that blue-grey card on registration day, resolve that is wrung into existence without being serenaded or even acknowledged, resolve that melts into nothingness in the fiery face of temptation, resolve that is reinforced like ceramic, hardened with the heat of renunciation. So many dragons has resolve slain for me, and yet it fails me when I’m alone with the final many-headed monster.

“How are courses this semester? Ghoting already eh? Anyway you’ll make another nine.” It might be a semester of fruitless transition, from one set of futile expectations to another.

“Which semester will you be on? 4-1 or 4-2?” It might be a semester of goodbyes.

“What? You aren’t preparing for anything? Neither CAT nor GRE?” Or a semester of hard decisions and harder consequences.

A semester of disillusionment- I can already hear tunefully tittering sounds within every note of the incomplete melodies that batter my ears. The barbed laughter of derision. Contempt of promises that were made long back and were now lying unredeemed- like bounced checks. I’d overdrawn on my reserves of resolve. My account of resolve didn’t offer me unlimited credit after all.

A semester of irretrievable losses. A semester of fear. And a semester of defeat. Why did I even come back? To be a phantom enacting a make-believe version of life? With a false smile on my lips and a lament resounding within? The dagger of despair had dug into my heart long back, a strong-willed sickle plowing though parched cakes of land. Pilani pulled it out, only to leave melancholic shards writhing inside. Shards that tugged at my innards and stung painfully, whenever I groped and stumbled through my green room of solitude. I’d rather have the curtain drop and the play slink towards the fickle climax right away- A farcical engineering degree. An accidental six-figure job. A trashcan of memories. And a putrid compost of rituals to deal with it.

A forlorn cry pierced the sharply, tearing down the wintry veil of silence to shreds. From my corner in the classroom, I could see the source of noise- a molted grey bird, “I thought these peacocks had died in the cold. Looks like they have survived the winter.”

“What?” She gasped as I flung away my jacket. “You’ll freeze to death.” I smiled back, my glance still lingering over that miraculously air-borne grey shape. “No. I’m not feeling cold anymore.” What was frozen within me had started to thaw. The play was over; the hecklers had left. Among other things, this would be a semester of life as well.

Version Two:

The frames in the third reel were running out-the black loops of film wound around the top were thinning stubbornly. The movie, till now, an unbroken strand of honey clinging to a hive, suddenly seemed frail and strained under the threat of a disruption. The very instant the final length of film fell away from the top wheel, the second machine took over nonchalantly- beaming an uninterrupted ray of flickering light. It was like the awe that a flawless relay team might inspire, while we watch their baton change hands in milliseconds.

Everybody remembers their first RAF movie. And we would probably describe it in the same terms. The petulant wait for the stubs, the crowded counters at mess tables, the frantic pleas for those little coloured square chits, the whistles and cheers accompanying the descent of darkness, and then a communal cacophony of enthusiastic heckling and inappropriate applause. And of course, navigating your way through dense chattering crowds that would line every road that leads away from the audi. Has this picture changed? Or has it vanished altogether?

My companions listened enraptured, while the technician pointed out the frozen images and the Audio-tracks on the layer of black plastic. I was more interested in the disconnected audio-tracks that was playing within my mind.

“…we need more membership this semester to make ends meet.”

“RAF? I used to sign up regularly. But then, what’s the point in signing up? I don’t go anyway. And I can watch much better movies on my computer.”

“How am I supposed to go? They seem to screen movies only during tests.”

“RAF is a tradition. It would be sad if it shut down.”

“Come.” I snapped out of my reverie. “Let’s get out before we get caught in the crowd.” My friend said absently as she glanced at the door. “Crowds?” The man laughed. “There are no crowds anymore.”

Do we await Music nights purely for the “music” performance? Does “Sky” translate literally into “I’m hungry and I’m just looking for a burger”? Are batch snaps strictly confined to “getting a framed picture with your CDC-mates” and nothing else? Does the clock tower exist for the sole purpose of displaying time?

Throughout our history, we’ve shown a knack for transforming simple routines, seemingly plain events and the bare chores of existence into potential adventures, hallowed rites of passage, and yes, traditions. That’s why Sky, Music nights, batch snaps, the clock tower, RAF and a thousand other things have become unique BITSian symbols and rituals. Seemingly mundane features of our humdrum existence become enshrined within the portals of coded meaning, ritual and sentiment. And we’re in danger of undoing this process, of hacking away at these shrines, of wiping away that sacred dust of legacy. It’s like looking at the clock tower while it’s slowly stripped of its numerals till it won’t show us the time anymore. That’s what we risk- watching some of these symbols disappear in our blasé silence.

As we stepped out of the Audi, we glanced at the cardboard carton lying at our feet- upturned. Torn blue stubs flew out to litter the road. And soon, they vanished- some in the winter breeze, some between the thorns of dark green hedges and some under the heavy thuds of unseeing feet.

Version three:

The Fine Print, Issue six, Page one.

PS: I've always been conscious about the quality(but not the brevity ;) of the editorial, and four of my editorials, on six have turned out with coherence, consistent style and tone, and of course with impact. A general thumb rule I've adopted as a writer- give yourself as many choices as possible, hasn't worked. After three drafts for a possible editorial, I chose the worst written one for the issue. Note to self: keep your personal traumas out of a piece that is supposed to inform, entertain, stimulate thought, provide insight, and err I'll stop. I've mentioned all possible connotations contained in the cliché "editorial food for thought" What I seem to be producing instead is "editorial purgatives for a confused adolescent (me.)"