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.