Friday, March 27, 2009

Where did she go?

Where did she go, the one who bought my silences and unsaid words so dearly?

There were neither any precociously articulated avowals of eternal faith nor was passage fare paid for parting sentences. We waded through the ocean braving the jitters of midnight walk long-winded talk first-time coffee and spilled cookie crumbles. And secrets were jettisoned in the middle of the sea when nobody but the two of us were looking, plop upon plop, drop by drop, blurted whispers streaking between blink and stare into the shelter of “don’t tell anybody else” pretence.

How will her pawned secrets be mine to keep when she has bought out her debt, taking flight like that crow which paused mid-air above my ears in greeting only to ruffle my hair against her wing before flying away into anonymity into a roost-filled tree?

Why did she shut herself into passageway of darkened rooms thus? I feel my way through a battle formation of light switches, successively switching on lights, groping for the next by a slender shaft of door ajar light. Every victorious flicker only leads me to another and soon enough it’s the switches I seek not her.
How is it that phone calls die as phantom key strokes, undialled, mails lapse into hurried and her face binned like a boredom-dissipated doodle.

When I was a child I used to buy groundnuts in rolled-up Reader’s Digest cones. Once, to my intense agony, I happened to read the words. Perhaps I’d wanted something to keep munching to the thought of.
Recall is a traitorous, while the article was memorable enough to have created an impression on me, an impression to make me to this day, it wasn’t powerful enough to stick around in scrapbook glue or even as a half-remembered sentence. Whenever one of those yellowed magazine shets that have escaped archival imprisonment, recycled rebirths and failed groundnut shell paperweights land at my feet I will remember that I had read something that was lost to me forever.

I know that my worst nightmare will come true when I’m singing my daughter to sleep or playing rhyme games with her, when I’ll be pushed off my seat halfway through the swing of the lullaby/rhyme and fall hard on an empty ground, voice hoarse and strained with a recklessly hopeful repetition of those fortunate first lines, beseeching the others to return to my memory. But they won’t because I will have forgotten the songs of my childhood. Save the beginnings. Beginnings (of anything) are usually coarse enough to stay on top when memory is ruthlessly sieved.

Sometimes you need only one conversation to know a person. I think I know the one whose memory prompted me to start this story. Because that’s all I’ll ever get with her. Would it make a difference if we spoke again? I wish it would.

Some things have happened to me more than once, even regularly throughout my life, but how many versions can I recall? One. I realise my reality in cloned days stood-up seconds and fleeting moments of happiness that were so desperately longed for but finally everything has been recorded as a single copy each.

One conversation in an acquaintance of hard-fought smiles and embalmed confidences. A split-second childhood with only one remembered rendition of “Kai veesama Kai veesu” (How does the second stanza go, anyway?) bouncingly sung on my mother’s knees. And only one shot at that blissful void of complete forgetfulness.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rhyming Dreams

I've been reading too much Tagore (again)

"I dreamt that she sat by head, tenderly ruffling my hair, playing the melody of her touch. I looked at her face and struggled with my tears till the agony of unspoken dreams burst my sleep like a bubble.

I sat up and saw the glow of the milky way above my window, like a world of silence on fire and I wondered if at this moment she had a dream that rhymed with mine."
-I dreamt,Lover's Gifts

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Among the set of people I've fallen in love with over a lifetime, women outnumber men. Perhaps by one hundred to one. I'd never given this too much thought until well-meaning friends suggested that these might be unconscious outgrowths of latent homosexuality.

I didn't as much as protest when I heard this because fortunately sexual desirability or its absence had little effect on these inexplicable attacks of ...not attraction, worship; else it would have shredded my soul into more bits than I could have put together. Some of these women were extremely attractive (by conventional standards) while most weren't. I've always taken it for granted that sex was overrated, an insignificant variable in romantic equations. I've once heard someone say that everybody is bisexual by default. We're all capable of singling out from a glance, sexually advantaged specimens from either gender, aren't we? Anyway, if we use these crooked yardsticks all women would be considered homosexual for we have better taste in women than any man can ever possess or cultivate.

Never had to open my eyes and see them for what they really were, only dreamt. Of childhood pains pleated into shrinking skirts. Because I could catch a failing seam or two between pirouette swirls .Of tears tucked between eyelids that were making stalactite arches around perennially unblinking eyes. Because I could her the drip-drop that everybody else missed in the laughter. Of the trapdoor under thickly carpeted conversations. Because I kept falling through.
Nothing beats the pleasure of creating alters for people who have no intention of painting themselves in enigmatic hues. Especially for unimaginative women who’ll never understand how beautiful their silhouettes are or realize that shadows shouldn’t go unnoticed just because the glare of a torch is unflattering to the image itself.
I fall in love with women the way I want to be fallen in love with. The only person who would love her the way she ought to be loved lives in me. And I pay homage in part to the lover I might have made of my male self and in part to the woman who brings him into existence. With lips pursed into secret pouches bursting with unspoken sentences and choked silences. With upended glances that might have betrayed more than a quizzical “just looking” expression if they had been allowed to stand upright and meet another pair of eyes headlong. With every moment swallowed back into a parched throat along with the utterance “I see you as clearly as I’ve seen myself and what’s more, I see myself better than ever for having seen you.”
It is my self that I’ve been falling in love with, the woman and man within. Over and over again. More than I’ve ever . Hundred times to one.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rain, Rain...

It's raining in Madras.

The first drop wasn't my imagination and the second merely insisted that it wasn’t so. My skin takes them in the way a passing stranger would pick up runaway scraps from an overheard argument between the leaves. But when I glance up at the whispering green parliament they fall silent to let the wind speak in their stead.

It's raining in Madras.

Somebody up there has acid-polished the sky to a starless silver tonight, scrubbed it hard till every black cloud disappeared into a wiped retreat. Nothing is left behind but lightning beams that wince thunderously at every blink.

It's raining in Madras.

Penitent winds of a childhood of truant monsoons tramp through the emptied streets, desperately seeking notice in every sheet of paper that flies past long-handed lunges and the surprise flecks of rain that it sprinkles. Nobody looks up in recognition and smacks their lips in a smile that washes away in advance all that post-rain perspiration.

Soon enough it walks off huffily, yet another stranger shunned by the uncaring hordes of my city.

It's raining in Madras.

The rain got me to write my first essay at five “My favourite season is the rainy season” It got me acquainted with the only streets I’ve trudged through, skirts drawn and shoes abandoned to puddle squelched steps, Sunday-sunlight and Kiwi White. To say the only prayers I’ve mouthed- between unbalanced redox equations in the Chemistry class before PT (“Not now. Not now. Please.”)and in the shivering arms of my mother (“Arjuna Arjuna”) when we waited for cyclones to vanish into a dry-cleaned dawn. I’ve fallen short in races thanks to treacherously long raincoats and I’ve waded back home in battered bicycles to hear “scoldings” (where did our absurdly coined Tamilian English words go?) between sneezes.

It's raining in Madras.

The rain and I have no more firsts to exult in or any long-time-no-see pleasantries that friends long lost to each other, exchnge.
If this is not the first rain has kissed my skin, if I’ve never before articulated twenty years of vagrant rains why do I repeat this simple sentence with a sadness that befits a first heartbreak?

Because it's raining in Madras.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A curious bystander, leaning its neck across the street turning in L-shaped enquiry. Impossible to miss from either of the roads with a name boards for each arm of the right angle- "Ramaas Cafe" spelt in white over navy blue polythene stretched tight, clean large old-fashioned capital-letter calligraphy, instead of the usual neon ugliness and illuminated projections of alphabet metal.

I knew I was transformed into a regular the minute I stepped in because I didn’t feel the need to look at the menu or deliberate over decisions. I already divined for example that the best time to onion vadai would be around dour-o-clock when they would be hot and freshly made and not six when the batch would have run out. That the perfect circles of parottas would be gold-specked and crispy to a thickness of 2 mm and then white chewy and elastic. That the coffee here was prone to eccentric swings of personality- deliriously sugary one day and despondently dilute the next. Thick and strong sometimes on those rare early afternoons that I drop into and milky-light and teary-eyed at the end of a long caffeine-intensive evening.
But I preferred this temperamental concoction, its roller coaster rides between stainless steel tumbler and “davara” and the sight of the coffee kicking up deliciously brown foamy fuss (watching the foam rise to the brim is an aesthetic stimulus that can compensate for any defects of taste). Rather than subjecting myself to the hiss of a shamelessly displayed coffee-maker that makes the same decoction (the making of which is an art and not a formula) day after day in a fast-food joint that gallingly, serves it in plastic cups minus the all-important “davara”

It was the kind of place that couldn't have made you feel any other way but an old-timer because baubled familiarity hung all over it. Between the perpetually-rolled up bamboo-stalk window shades, on the mica-sheeted tables, behind the juice and chat counters and all over the waiters who would treat you as if you’ve been eating there forever, even if it was your first time. The kind of place that promised to remember your order by-heart and then prompt you, “Idly- vadai , as usual? And then half a serving of coffee?” even before your memory clicks awake.

I chose the corner table for that was the closest I could get to the street and with the window shades rolled up and welcoming, the street lounged within its precincts all day. This has never happened before, my wanting to enjoy roadside views as an accompaniment to amid-evening meal. My “ambience” preferences have always been carefully disinfected of noise of any kind and vehicular noise has the same effect on my mood as that of a well-oiled spanner on an ill-fitting bolt.

But then identities were stripped off in that quaint Madras setting and everybody assumed the role (Sambar guzzling south Indian whose audible burps somehow gladden proprietorial hearts?) appropriate to the setting. All of us ordered the same things, ate with their hands, smearing entire finger length with chutney-flecked sambar. The establishment must have dispensed with spoons altogether because it was impossible not to spread sambar and chutneys over you plate and soak your hands with that satisfyingly untidy mixture. It was a relief not to be confronted with an sulky spoon or to feel awkward about asking for your fourth extra helping of Sambar. The waiters always refilled my cups without a single word or glance being exchanged. And I’m certain that they don’t stock tissue paper or choose to arrange those coarse sheets into flimsy white floral patterns within glasses.

In short, it was a place the likes of my father would have patronised in their youth or my grandfathers (I’m quite sure of this though I haven’t known either of them, alive.) would have turned to all their lives. It has survived the fast-foodisation of Madras cafĂ© s, the disgusting pretences of pseudo-gourmet culture and the wander-lust impulses that gastronomic infidelity has inspired among my contemporaries (Most complain of having run out of “Italian places” in Madras to “sample”. I suppose they wouldn’t condescend to give these idli-dosa joints a try) and has still preserved remnants of my city’s old-world hospitality. And to think that a newly constructed flyover (I don’t know which one, there has been a spate of flyover inaugurals in the last 3 years) almost shut this place down. Its transplantation from the bustling heart of an Alwarpet main road to this leafy little street corner might have been the best thing that’s happened to it. I wouldn’t have enjoyed an exhaust-clouded view of a or bust-honk-symphonies too much.

PS: Glamorizing places that are sworn to antiquity or falling in love just for the fleeting taste of the past is habit I don’t seem to be able to break.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A creed for quitting- somebody else will do it.

Many a time hot-air balloon strings have been thrust between my fingers along with a whisper. “Hold it for me in memory of each of my warm breaths, my hot tears and my half-dreamed dreams that fill it. For I’m out of breath and can fly this no more but with you it might just touch the sky.”

But why should I tie foisted dreams to my fingertips? I won’t hold a candle to a dream that’s not mine. Nor a balloon.

Not long ago, my mind glided about on borrowed steam. When love (or youthful foolishness or both) got me to parade around, clothed in invisible hopes, borrowed.

Righteous relinquishment of things you had once resolved upon is easy when you realize that there’ll always be someone else to takeover a stove you’ve abandoned and boil the meal to completion. Sans burns. Sans spills.

If I’d believed this earlier it would saved me all that guilt of not stepping up to start out on what I’d promised to. Why should I take up anything I dislike when somebody else is going to do that anyway, in my stead?

Like all the lines of Java code I refused to write a month back.
Like all those B-school entrance applications that I didn’t buy
The GMAT dollars (=52Rs?) that went unspent.
Those 99th percentile CAT scores I turned away from (At the risk of sounding arrogant, this wouldn’t have been a far-fetched possibility had I chosen a lifetime of board-room doodles, year-end bonuses received between nail-bitten fingers, and client conversations that necessarily have to commence with a round of feeble jokes.)

Somebody else did it. There will always be somebody else who'll miss my sunsets and park-swings but they will keep the world going.

It’s simple to just unclench my fingers and let the balloon leave me. Because it won’t explode or deflate but fall into somebody else’s hands, somebody else who will make it fly, like they always have. It’s a big world after all, big enough to dip its hands into waste paper bins, flatten crumpled paper balls and read inky ghosts into existence.

Monday, March 2, 2009


A poem by Pablo Neruda

Because of you, in gardens of blossoming flowers I ache from the
perfumes of spring.
I have forgotten your face, I no longer remember your hands;
how did your lips feel on mine?
Because of you, I love the white statues drowsing in the parks,
the white statues that have neither voice nor sight.
I have forgotten your voice, your happy voice; I have forgotten
your eyes.
Like a flower to its perfume, I am bound to my vague memory of
you. I live with pain that is like a wound; if you touch me, you will
do me irreparable harm.
Your caresses enfold me, like climbing vines on melancholy walls.
I have forgotten your love, yet I seem to glimpse you in every
Because of you, the heady perfumes of summer pain me; because
of you, I again seek out the signs that precipitate desires: shooting
stars, falling objects.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The first amla

Gayatri’s shoes bravely bore the spray of the puddle’s spittled laughter, a spray that had doused less fortunate unshod feet. Even before its rippled smile damped down, she was off. The traffic signals cleared a bewildered passage for her to the fruit stall.

Her fingers, ringed with a folded ten-rupee note, skidded over her uncertainty about the Tamil name. They hovered over the pea-green pile like an indecisive pebble cornered by an avalanche. “Five rupees of that.”

The fruitseller blinked sunbeams out of his eyelids as he groped for five rupee coins, elusive in their sunburnt glare. Cars and bikes whizzed past that intersection, their horns screeching as if in denouncement of this transaction. He rolled out a glossy page-3 funnel dripping with gossip but they would plug leaks of amla.

Generously sprinkled masala powder didn’t make it past her lips. Like shoes banished respectfully at a doorstep and recalled into the house in a trice by hospitable hands, her lips swept them into her mouth between mouthfuls. The spice warmed a tongue that had welcomed those tart yellow marbles frozenly.

Was it her teeth that cut into the fruit or the fruit into her teeth? Its sour scalpels scribbled words onto her tongue, incisions that she could never utter. What was that her mother used to say? Something about people with black-spotted tongues who possessed the power of turning anything that escapes their mouths true. “It isn’t the same as a prediction. If they wish to experience anything they just have to say it aloud. Curse or blessing, their pronouncements always come to pass”

Gayatri wished the amla would etch citric scars on her tongue that would perform that miracle in reverse- narrate whatever happened to her the way it did. She envied the amla’s quality of truth. Sharp and clear like a polished knife.

The walk back to her office was hot. Madras heat is unlike any other, an amicable despot who declared frequent tax rebates for sugarcane juice stalls and coconut water vendors. Sometimes his generosity led him as far as to unloose ticklish gusts of wind that consoled congealed cotton and teased dark sweat-blotched faces of out of armpit-hiding. How little of him had she seen all these years in that cave of an A/C cubicle.

“Gayatri, I hope you know that the presentation starts in ten minutes. Where have you been?” There she was, Madhu, standing hands-on-hips, head tilted at an intensely disbelieving angle, eyes narrowed as it were a polarizer in search of the right wavelength of excuses to filter.
Gayatri’s tongue ceased to lick, and her teeth shivered loosely in denuded relief. The wrapper unravelled to scatter fruit all over the conference table, a conical scroll spreading bad tidings in court.

Madhu continued, pout-in-place “This is irresponsible and unprofessional. Never expected this from you. The client will be here in 10 minutes, and you walk off god-knows-where to buy gooseberries.”

Gayatri’s mouth bulging with the runaway retorts exploded in a shower of slurped rinds still singing the amlas’ sharp notes.
White seeds bounced off the LCD screen in surprised spots and landed on laptop keys, saliva fingering the keys like stenographic hands poised to type at an order. Gayatri wondered if it was just the seeds that she spat out or whether bits of teeth had followed them out, teeth that had hitherto been bared in smiles of counterfeit obedience and had crushed despairing smirks behind quivering lower lips.

She walked back arm in arm with the Madras heat. A two-rupee packet would be enough this time.