Monday, December 21, 2009

Telling time

When I look into the mirror, I like to catch sight of my watch dial, the large blue three grins at me, pleased at having the whole of the dial to itself, as if it were making its solitary way through a personal pa pizza. Lone numeral that it is, it gets people to stare at a watch that guards the secret of the time of the day so cryptically. It is not a watch that you can snatch the time out of in a quick glance from far away that you can pass off as uninterested. You’d have to catch my eye and ask me, I who have come closest to reading it, what the time is. Then I’d flick my wrists, trying hard not to say “Three’ o’clock” and divine the position of the minute hand (I’ve never managed to get it exactly right on this blank white dial) and labour through the “by five’ multiplication” to give it to you.

While I walk through these streets at three’ o’clock, it will tick out of step with my sluggish stride as if it were unwilling to travel along side me through an afternoon nap. Why, it would sigh, as shuttered shops slumbered on, as salesmen linger over a late lunch away from their counters, the rare passer by exchanges glances with me in solidarity, one more who has forsaken the semi-darkness of a curtained bedroom for this heatless heartless glare of this winter afternoon.

And it would sigh again when I step out again into the night this time, waiting for lights to pop up in my head, like streetlamps flickering over the angry buzz of surprised moths.

And when I return , you’ll say, look at your eyes, you haven’t slept. I want to tell you that they have always been dark, those eyes under my eyes that see you clearest. How much do you really hear? You’re a valley away, mistaking echoes for speech and missing every new word that drowns in an old wave of bouncing sounds.

This isn’t exile for you, but a return from exile, for you have been away from where you ought to have been all along. You’re dangerous, a man who has neither a spiritual nor a geographical conception of home and wanders in circles like that minute hand of mine over an unsteady pulse, cornering me into a dishonest approximation.

Monday, December 14, 2009

To lose a story...

I like your chair to be next to mine, not shoulder-to-shoulder or even conjoined armrests, but an easy sideways glance away. Because whenever I look up between pages, expecting to find the next sentence begin on your lips, you mute them in a tight-lipped smile.

Should I lose restraint enough to burst into word, you will not knit your eyebrows together in reply or even work up an answering grumble in that knot of a throat You will smile at me as a person who says out “138 plus 23” aloud and lurches along ten by ten as over the wrong answer ought to be smiled at.

Bookmarks were invented for people who never intend to see the last page, the one left blank on purpose after the ending, just to remind you that the best stories begin at the end of good ones.
Why do I need bookmarks, when the skin between thumb of forefinger is taut with every turned page, remembers exactly how thick a wall I have built around my story and myself?

Hair falls in spirals around me as my other hand searches out traitors among them, and black threaded clumps dance together like dying spiders in concert. The night screams for coffee before crying itself to sleep, with every yawn eyes grow warmer and the sharp clean lines of black grow softer and softer.

Forgetfully sometimes, you walk away in search of that bottomless glass of water, in wait of that phantom phone call that never arrives but keeps you leaning over the balcony railings as if the first note of your ringtone might make you fall over. You walk away because of that voice, which like a dust-jewelled shaft of sun asks you to draw curtains around you and watch in a silence that thwarts my last chance, swallows the words that might have reached you had the doorcrack been wider.

You abandon the seat to suffer my fretful gaze empty and my book lies face down, spine arched achingly, print averting its unread face away from me and hugging its knees shut till you return.

And if you don’t, you will have stolen away a story which trailed you trustingly like a wide-eyed child waiting to be let into a secret.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I have learned...

It can’t be a coincidence that the two women who know me best were born on consecutive days. From them both I learned…

That in love you use your claws as much as you do your lips, it is as natural to draw blood as it is to return a hug.

That you believe every word that falls alongside your tears and so will everybody else. But when you have ceased to believe those words anymore, others will refuse to be talked into doing so.

That you shouldn’t switch on the lights when somebody insists making their way around in the dark nor click a flashlight on gloatingly when they bump into open doors and fall. You can still catch their eye in the dark by the moonlight and lend a silent hand to his bruised questioning one.

That joy has to be reconstructed from madness method by method, moment after moment, as unthinkingly as dance steps are picked up and cross word squares filled.

That you can prod somebody into oversalting a meal by claiming that “uppu-ma” would need a lot more of it, and then convince them to eat it all by themselves just by asking nicely.

That to not raise your voice nor pound your fists in a fight is cowardice, that to sing loudly and out of tune is no shame, that blurting out a silly thing with all your heart is preferable to a cleverly turned sentence voiced a moment too late and a shade less sincerely.

That moods have a break dance of their own, that sand dunes don’t have fixed coordinates and that the staunchest of hearts sway to the music of the moment.

That it’s okay to rage unforgivingly against a thoughtless word or act for a day and a half before deciding to laugh at its absurdity instead.

That wounds ought to be kissed away before they are disinfected and that both should be done with no corners spared though wounds anyway leave without a trace.

That the best gift you can give somebody is to choose for them what they would choose themselves or if unsure, not choose at all and walk bravely back, empty-handed.

PS: Happy Birthday to Amma and to Anshula

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A solitary winter ice cream

I’m sure he didn’t ask the rest of them whether they wanted to trust the half-hearted chill of a winter evening to keep the takeaway frozen on the way home or to make the most of their single scoop before they can set their disbelieving eyes on how much VAT a single scoop of ice cream can generate just because they get eaten on colour-coordinated couches and between sing-along whispers of hip-hop music. He, like the others, expected me to buy a 250 ml pack, eat it slowly over a week in the freezer before giving it away in disgust rather than having an ice cream all by myself.

With the other people in the parlour he needn’t even have asked. The girl had already spent three minutes figuring out the difference between pralines and Bavarian chocolate and her companion only looked too happy that this contemplation of premium flavours had take her mind off the watch. It was ten minutes past the ladies’ hostel curfew of 9 pm.

As for the six men, who had spared only two chairs in the shop in their attempt to from a semi-circle of couches, they were too bravely clad for the winter to venture out into the road again and too numerous to want to go away soon. Their badminton racquets lay limply on the arms of the couches, shunned by the arms which had bid for them frenetically after every finished set.

Economic comparisons between India and china can only have the uneconomical consequence of ordering double scoops and this alone rules out a takeaway for this 45-year old group. Cups disappeared into the bin with every lull in the conversation but not one grey-haired gentleman moved to say, “I’m off. I should be home now.”

I have known the incomplete ice cream of a conversation with a lover, whole chunks of chocolate abandoned, spoon still stuck inside, the unsaid speared to silence by a word.

I have known the ice creams that pass untasted subdued by the stronger drug of the group, so potent that even as the spoon scrapes the last swirl from the depressed moat of the cup, it seeps past tongues too busy keeping pace with other tongues to notice.

But the best of all is the ice cream I order by myself, ice cream that meets the eye first and the heart last, ice cream that contains memories of all the ice cream I’ve ever eaten, ice-cream that I can finish in five minutes yet carry back in each every chocolate-flavoured shiver that the walk back home blesses me with.