Sunday, November 21, 2010

On missing the bus

I knew it the minute I hit snooze the third time. Sometimes you wake up in that groggy grey zone where you're at risk of locking a yawning house behind you three two minutes but you brush your teeth with an unhurried thoroughness that shows that you've braved the risk too many times to bother hurrying.

Usually, it was the newspaper that held me back. Or the rare silences offered up by morning minutes when I can hear my heart out through screeching school buses and bikes honking school leather clad feet out of their way. 

Neither happened today.

 I had learnt to leave the newspaper folded up in crisp tantrums outside my door till my sprint to the bus stop would begin, when I would first fasten my floaters, then pick it up and zip it shut into a backpack groaning with unread papers of the week.

Sometimes I got a two-seater section all to myself where I could spread it to its full grown double sheet breadth, my shoulders expanding with effort. People would turn back at me, annoyed at the creaks and scratches inner editorial pages played out at their ears. Sometimes it stayed shut in my bag.

Neither happened today.

I knew it the minute I could see the tea stall clearly, free of the blue cloud of company uniforms that usually held the smoke in a conspiratorial confinement. I could smell the tea today and having smelt it I couldn't understand why I had been saving all this for later, the tea, the winter that was making its way into the city like a drunken stranger, the newspaper.

"Your bus has left, madam." The boy told me as he handed me the tea. "Yes. It has." I smiled at him. 

He had a thin pleasant face, one I hadn't really looked at in one and a half years of boarding a bus at his doorstep.

I walked back, noticing every detail that had lain dead on my way to the bus stand, red sweaters skipping into buses on time, grateful for hot sour breaths of passing buses that snored past, flowers that fell into foreign hands and forayed into streets four away.  

I knew I was working a way backward through wish lists, through , through life itself. I was staging my life in a way that would make sense in its retelling rather than in its living.

I had missed the bus today. And every day I hadn't I had missed these mornings moulting to life.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

That kind of night

Appa didn’t even look up when I began to talk about the snake in Vizag. “It crossed the road about 100 metres ahead of me. Might have stepped on it had I walked faster. Could hardly see it in the sun.’

“Was it a cobra?’ He asked, with a voice still acutely normal with the absence of curiosity. After all he had spent hi childhood killing water snakes by a well and must have been bitten by six kinds of snakes.

“Yeah.A cobra. A big one.

“Oh.” My father’s response divested the incident of the drama it would have had in the eyes of my mother or my sister. They would have sighed, breathing an excitement bordering on panic, told me off for choosing a shorter road lined with suspicious shrubbery on both sides.

Rain hasn’t failed Chennai on a Diwali yet and this year had a storm forecast to go with the rain that doused half-lit flower pots, turned 1000 walas into an instant red pickle and softened the bombs into whimpering balls of fire.

It was nice to fall asleep to babbling cloudbursts instead of stuffing my ears with cotton plugs that weren’t impervious to firecracker noise. I wished rain had volume knobs so that I could turn it up and down between silence and car noises.

It was a calm orange sky, bearing sunset scars even at ten pm. Orange with a sunset that refused to leave or with a lurking dawn that still preferred disguise. Or maybe the rocket bombs that had sprayed the sky with graffiti of green orange and yellow sparks had rubbed off, like enamel paint.

Amma and Aishu were far behind, amma’s elbow tucked in Aishu’s as she took step after fearful step, fearful of her hypoglycaemic fainting fits. Our efforts to flag down passing autos had met with frosty refusals. They would choose to rattle on emptily instead of the scant fare that this inconveniently short distance would dole out.

So we walked back from the theatre, our feet dodging flights of coloured firework paper, paper that laughed in tiny gusts like fighting birds, paper that had fought off gunpowder smells aided by the rain. Some lay crushed in paper-maiche hills, others like dying butterfly wings making final bids at movement.

We stopped at an auto, waving aside the black rubber rain curtains to rouse the driver. Two khaki-clad figures stumbled out of a strange embrace like twin checks cracking an eggshell open.

“Don’t look.” My mother pulled us both forward by hand. “They were doing something dirty.” My sister and I stiffened our shoulders with swallowed laughter. It was that kind of night.

“Don’t walk ahead of her, SK. Stay with Ramya in the dark.” My mother semi-shouted through the distance. My father waited for me near a snoozing fire engine that must have had a restive Diwali week.

I caught up with him just as a 23C and 29C roaring past me with a perfunctory whoosh of air like the greeting of old friends left behind at an old school.

We whipped out an umbrella and the wind turned it upside down immediately. The umbrella flapped furiously, its ribs exposed and dangling. I shook out old rain hiding within its black folds and readied it for battle with a rainless storm. It wasn’t raining yet, short bellows of thunder and intermittent drizzle hadn’t evolved into a full throated cyclone yet, a cyclone that bayed for leafless trees and had felled branches that lay inert at our feet.

When we reached the gate, a cracker tittered defiantly and the clouds suddenly lit up yellow and laughing. The rain still made morse code knocks upon the earth but the storm went away sulking at the calm that lay shattered by the cracker before it could roar its arrival aloud.

I could always hear the wind better in Madras. It shook out old rain clinging to the leaves still left behind, and it fell lukewarm like tap water, neither cool and light like night rain nor hot heavy and urgent like tears.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

I could feel the two pieces through the blotted paper, cold and heavy.

The bajjis were hot in bhimli. Yet, I paid my ten bucks and walked with a steadily soaking newspaper in my hand.

The walk to the park had felt noisy. Two temples set up competing wails of prayer on opposing sides of the road. There had been an interminable sawtooth of cricket chirps, hacking a way through the sounds of traffic and loudspeakers.

Finally I found my seat, empty in spite of the Sunday evening throng, and the sea finally made itself heard, I spite of everything.

It was six thrity pm and an awkward hunger that always follows an afternoon nap close at its heels made me finish them fast. It was difficult to eat thus, amidst a pounding flux of feet that cast wayward shadows in the patch of grass in front of me.

I wanted coffee. I had a front row seat to the shore, it was a terraced cliff with a step-wise descent into the sea that stopped abruptly at a rough wooden fence that zigzagged the precipice of the park. Yet, I did not look at the sea, counting off ships to the harbour. The old man who wove between lounging legs swinging a shabby jute bag full of thermos flasks did not come visiting. I looked backward instead of forward, scanning groups of people with legs stretched, some flat on their backs on the freshly rin-dried grass, groped through popping glares of phone camera flashes for a shabby jute bag and rubber slippers. I attracted quite a few looks of annoyance in return. Many faces, especially those in pairs turned angrily upon me as if I had been staring at them.

I glared back briefly, shrugging away any momentary interest I might have felt in them. I too am a private person but mine is an inoffensive privacy that does not grudge a noisy tread, a long glance or a phone conversation conducted within close quarters.

I could not keep my eyes on the sea for very long. Hallucinogenic cries of “Coffee tea. Coffee tea” rang through my ears at intervals when the buzz of the blaring road and the play of children stopped awhile to catch its breath.

White figures still sat upon elevated bits of rock that dotted the shore, braving swerves of salty splashes and the thickening tar of dusk. I both envied and feared for them. The fragile fence, a leg’s length away from me was merely a line of two parallel wooden bars reinforced every metre or so with inverted horseshoes of wood. Children sometimes leaned over the fence that was swathed with overgrown bushes from the other side. Some hung bravely till they were whisked away under scolding arms, others scuttled back frightened by the howling black mass and the thorny bouncing fall that the height threatened.

Two boyish feet skidded within an inch mine. I looked up startled to see tow children holding a collection tin each. “change akaa?” The jingled it earnestly. I dropped a five rupee coin in one and two two rupee coins in another’s. Only twenty rupees remained in my wallet.

One never noticed beggars in Vizag. For all the silvery skinned boys that roamed its beaches, one never felt the slightest disgust at dropping them a coin. Healthy, well fed, shod feet prowling the sands in search of “change”. A much better picture. Not miserable malnourished faces with mangy red hair setting loose a slack-jawed lament of hunger at clogged claustrophobic traffic signals that made one cough and inch away deeper into the auto.

At length I walked upto the road under the pretext of crushing the oiled paper, onions intact into a dustbin. I found him at the margin between the road and the park, a footpath choc-a-bloc with ice cream vendors. “Coffee.” I almost shouted in relief of finding him there. It was almost as if the sea and its shiplit waters wouldn’t return to sight unless I drank his coffee. It was past lukewarm , cold even, but it still had that pleasantly chocolaty tang that I liked Andhra filter coffee for.

I returned to my seat with the cup still to the brim, no mean task for I could have tripped over many times on the way. The park was denser than ever with shuffling feet in search of seats but by a miracle mine lay waiting for me.

The white figures on the rocks swam back to my notice. So did the cobwebbed skein of spent white foam that glistened under a moonless sky for an instant before receding into a gutter-like purple pool.

The people who were at the heart of the silent skirmish between rock and water, weren’t they afraid of the darkness. The moved like silver pawns on a chessboard of grey and black, among the tar-like sea and the blurring black outlines of the rocks that kept them safe. Maybe it didn’t seem so dark down there as it did to me. If I swallowed my fear and followed them there perhaps I found find lights that didn’t make its way upstairs where prudence kept sea sounds at bay.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What the wanderer does not know

The wanderer knows not, that the striking down of wispy reluctant roots in strange soils is as purifying as a quest.

If he stays long enough to speak of its plagues-to-come and time its monsoons in the native tongues.

Long enough for streets to let off steam in dinner smells that sharpen his Spartan hunger and hasten his homeward way.

Long enough for him to leave behind a dress size at a shop counter, an entry in its credit register, to own a complimentary calendar bearing a corner shop’s names on leaves that to keep beat with time that slowly pulls.

Long enough to believe that the city, like its semi-circular shorelines and mountains that slink behind each other’s shoulders, each a ghostly replica of the other, paler with mist and more distant with thickening cloud, have never changed. And never will.

Long enough to wend a streetlit way in darkening alleys by trusting to a strange pair of feet that march on towards the light unheeding of his own lost ones.

Long enough for its silent siesta afternoons to sweeten childhood songs and its cool to soothe blistered road-weary feet.

The wanderer knows not that if he stays long enough to learn the legends that the name of the city hides, a many-headed serpent with stories in the roofs of its mouths, to sing along when the city goes up in song during , ships’ departing sirens and the night time breeze from the sea will not haunt his repose any longer.

Every seat is taken

Every seat is taken. Lights lean unfairly towards fairer face and pretty trees are lost to painted corners.

Every seat is taken. Your voice, a gravelly voice of many coloured stones, a voice that has always resisted definition staggers, swoops falls out of step with a crowd-kindled chorus.

Every seat is taken. They know not that your speech runs amok with guessed at meanings where it once ambled, not a word out of place along .

Every seat is taken. Your grief refuses beige letter paper and origami shapes but butts into bland shoeboxes that are never thrown away even after the shoebites heal.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Only you remain

When the last flower is plucked for prayer and when the shrine is swept clean of foot prints and the floral dead, only you remain- my despair’s choice poison.

When the departing throng jiggles change in its pockets and clamour for food sours both sweat and fatigued limb, only you remain- the bitter fruit of my day’s striving.

When green hills blacken in the fumes of night, leaving a dusk-bled sky, only you remain- my house on the hill slope with its unsleeping lamps.

When books are shut with dog ears cocked and unread pages still protesting, only you remain- my scant store of native wisdom more ancient than alphabet.

When my lute is unstrung and the songsters turn quiet, only you remain- memory’s ever sweet song that is never heard.

When the quest ends and its spoils sorted among account books of the lost and the found, when treasures and staked and won back in the blink of an eye, only you remain- my poem that fell by the roadside.

When rain falls hot and silent, waiting to be seen not heard, only you remain- a brazen butterfly parabola.

When the plates are wiped clean and the roar of toasts are quelled by wine-kissed stupor, only you remain- my wait for the guest who never arrives.

When the last line leaves my pen and my heart is gladdens at a filled page, only you remain- the vengeance of tardy truths.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Not for me...

Not for me are people with ever craning necks who glide up snakes of stairs without ever being deceived in a ladder.

Those who never fall backwards over a winding word, tongue thick and loose with warring syllables.

Those who dine ever so carefully with kings without heaving themselves off the table with a concluding burp, a lip licked wet or a deep rumbling breath.

Those who daren’t utter a foolish word or even an insane one, or shout over hordes of heads in gilded halls in hoarse tones.

Those who might see the last of a ship sail or the homeward road without coughing back a tear.

Those who haven’t spittled apart a sentence, sneezed shut a silence, who walk through rain splattered roads with hems of skirts still white and the soles of shoes clean and dry.

Not for me are the sophisticated dead, those who can’t see past a midday sun at a whitening lake and a diamond within, past dancing leaves that burn but shed no shadows.

Not for me are those souls from which fluid passions don’t ooze.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

This black eye of a sky told me quite plainly that dusk had played a treacherous hand. Shops had turned their lights on in connivance with it, it had snuffed out a sunset and devoured the hours between four and seven in a single mouthful.I walked back home, bathed in neon starlight, dodging the sight of signboards that had staked out claims to a rapidly purpling horizon, signboards that stabbed me with their familiar names.

There are people who've been tossed into the wishing well of my life whose names I could recall correctly only on our fourth meeting. Or the fifth. Later on, when these names quickly fill up the hours preceding a roaring dawn, when the milk cooker whistle shoots the night dead, I toss about in bed suffering the knell of names, ruing my memory.

There is a kind of love wherein you daren't take your eyes off your beloved for the fear of going blind. And a kind where your eyes erect schemes of unseeing rudeness to keep tears at bay. A kind where you find yourself wishing in turns for an apocalyptic disappearance, for the rest of the world to bleed out of sight until only you remain.

Best is the kind, I thought to myself as I crossed a road that was already was the kind that you made you want to offer yourself to grinding noises, dripping taps, yellow wheels and die right there.

The entire power of my vision I would bequeath to the corners of me eyes for they have given me all i have wanted a glimpse of. To die with a stranger's name on my life, to die, sighing over a poem that refuses to grant me audience, to die burning with the unsaid is no disgrace.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Tossed from a jealous jailor of a bed to a street roaring with weekend rapture, I walk with a head still heavy with the ache of dreamless sleep. Uncertain, I bob left to right, my feet, sliding off one unwelcoming doorway onto another, dodging the trot of screeching wheels are afraid to break into a run

The feet of children, unlike mine, are unmindful of the rude thump of oversized slippers, they don’t fear the sideways slips that ask no questions but dispense sudden deaths.

It matters not that hands are still held under tree shade when the moon is up, full-bosomed and smiling paternally. Our full moon trysts will not return (for we were eternally meeting under a full moon), we will not weep together in the moonlight anymore, you with eyes turned into a silent listening stone, I in infantile fashion, head upon your shoulder, your fingers thick with tears.

It matters not that a bounced off reflection of a distant pair of glasses can still recall you to life. There are things that ought not to fade- the last words you ever spoke, those ten digits that tied me to my phone, your smile when I broke the first long silence, and the colour of the leaves when I looked away from your eyes to the tree above, my lips still wet with yours.

It matters not that I can out sing loud now, with doors and windows fearless and open. I no longer feign ignorance of certain erudite words that used to hurt merely because they had been birthed under your pen.

It matters not that I no longer look anxiously like a child comparing the size of bruises across two knees, from my tattered heart to yours, vexed that yours might beat mine to forgetting. I know that I have died out of sight and with sheets unchanged, dying without protest under these stars as quietly as I have died within your solitude.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Chronic pains don't beget poems

My fingernails threatened to grow longer the closer my hands grew to hers on the table. They lurked under bent knuckles, impudent as an eavesdropper’s foot at the door. I had sat next to her instead of across, convinced that a sideways view could buy me back composure. But it wasn’t to be. She, sensing my discomfort never held back those polite queries that falsely reassure the questioner that all is well with the recipient.

“Are your parents moving to Hyderabad?” she began, stumbling I suppose upon the only remnant of our previous conversation residing in her memory. “Err. Yeah, my mother is.” I replied after a desperate dash at swallowing the final remnant on my tongue.

And then, overcome by a garrulous impulse, I plunged on, heedless of how each word would make me pay by way of replays that made me flinch. “It isn’t a pleasant prospect.” I confessed. “I have to watch my old routine get broken down and new ones thrust in their place.” I pushed my plate away, my hunger had scampered away shamefacedly at the ineptness of my fingers. I couldn’t lift the spoon to my mouth for fear of spilling it mid-way or bringing it back to the tray with a clang. I couldn’t stand the taste of a full mouth, it had turned into an ugly chomping mob that neither permitted me to say the one thing that might stall further conversation nor to eat with indifferent panache.

She smiled and then started out on an anecdote, something seeking to put maternal paranoia in its proper perspective. “And then when I returned at eight, a search party was already out…”

By then, I’d discovered that her father too, was a bank employee and that she has shifted too many schools to belong anywhere. ‘I was always the new girl.’ She mused. “And by the time I made friends, we would have to move again.”

My left hand was banished to my lap, safely out of sight while the latest honour killing played musical chairs with the usual roundabout marriage v. career argument and the virtues of marrying househusbands in their conversation.

When she was around, my heart played ventriquolist with the whole of my body, it was an effort to hold my elbows still on the table (ill-manneredly, I added to myself later) so loudly could I feel my heart thud there.
We walked companionably out of the canteen, the three of us, one waiting for another through mid-queue conversations and washroom crowds. Lunch table fealty is a precious feeling, however brief the encounter. We went up just in time to watch the first raindrop getting mopped off the floor. “I wish this weather doesn’t last too long.” I said glumly, all too aware that I had spoiled it for her, the silent homage that the first rains of the day pay the sun-shunning ones.

Later I made my way into the library with that moment secreted away in a pocket like a stolen flower, its petals could be unfurled like a torn scroll, there was fragrance yet that could be salvaged from its puckered stalk.

I could float back now to the scene without getting drowned in the remembrances of follies that had long despaired of my forgiveness. I looked at my nails again, its corners still flecked yellow with the dal we had both licked clean, and tore them out one by one.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Trick of Light

Everything slips out of sight in sunlight-
Names give up claims to a
Hoary white fame on granite plaques,
Sea-licked sweat spreads an invisible shroud
A broken heart ties its hair up and gets to work
A parched throat sings out aloud.

Everything grows bright in streetlight-
Homeward feet kick up a golden dust
Haloes happy faces and softens mouths drawn tight,
Red-eyed foursomes of wheels fall into line
Bouncing beads eased down a blinking twine,
Mealtime windows, lighted pinpricks
Incandescent rectangles flash past like card tricks
Everything is a plaint in the starlight-
Ghee-wicked hopes cry out for repose,
Piligrim palms have long doused earthen vows
Ship decks pour down rippling tributes of gold
Wait their illusive turn at the port hold,
Tree shade lays a heavy hand on my shoulder,
And in degrees its consolation grows colder.

Everything disbelieves at night-
Longing blinks to life and lifts a sneaky eyebrow
When in crimson warning the blankets glow,
Wrapt in the quilted scab of sleep,
I cannot tell from whither these serpents creep
Love’s first winnings and dice of delusions yet unrolled.
Are entwined in their sweet spiral stranglehold

Sunday, February 21, 2010

When old friends set on me allusions free of the stain of you, I turn back and look for you among lost years. I realize there was a time when river maps were only blue leafless branches on a white sheet that rendered the sea colourless as well, that the map would never change no matter how many rivers died on their way to a sea of vengeful hue.

At ten years, I was allowed to swap my pencil for a fountain pen. I was tired of dreams vanishing in clouds of eraser dust, and in the bloodshed of spilled ink and struck out words I made sense of them.

Were you the last blank page at the end of a story book, the page left intentionally blank as if inviting an alien pen to a happier ending? Were you waiting for that final flip of the page, the fingerprint of a goodbye kiss, the kiss that is the beginning of a yellow and musty end din a dusty glass prison?
Were you that extra drop water that caused the paint off my brushstrokes to seep outside pencilled edges?
Were you the unfamiliar word that worked slowly out of a tunnel in the slow-descending light of adulthood and meanings?
Were you among the feet that rubbed the finish line out of when mine was the second last pair of legs to heed the whistle?
Where were you till the day I finally remembered to turn my pockets out before my clothes disappeared into a tumble-dry ordeal only to find it empty? Not one candy wrapper whizzes out of invisible dustbin, not a single stolen coin, secrets have given up n me.
What were you doing before you led me up hilltops in strange lands where sunsets forced down love upon me, another credulous traveller?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

An Open Secret

Gone are my faint faltering sentences, yours is a story I tell with deliberation, my eyes turned resolutely away from my confidant as if you were a falsehood and my words a signboard artist nailing letters of fraudulent promise in straight effortless lines.

Maybe you should have stayed bitten back, sulking in the corners of my lips but utterance is irresistible. I delight in you as much as in a beautiful word that swims into speech unthinkingly and fits into sentences perfectly with the self-possession of rhyming poetry. I delight in you as I do in wisdom that is hoarded for long and in silence like a breath and then wasted in a solitary scream against the injustice that pitts the invisible flower against a yet unopened one. I delight in you as freely as my despotic impulse for truth stops my words short and curves my mouth into a smile of defeat.

I used to take an uneasy pride in concealment, uneasy because it drips like a tear down the cheeks of a weeping child in the midst of an insensible throng. Uneasy because it reddens like a face that has passed notice under an unsmiling unseeing friend. Uneasy because long silences don’t flutter like standards that cut through battle lines.

At the end, I say “Don’t tell anybody.” And I know that the lamp has been rubbed and the genie summoned and that veils can’t buy you beauty any longer.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Just as time strings cobwebbed garlands around my house faster than it does in others, love slips soon into my dreams of longing sooner than for most. My mother used to say that waking dreams come true.

Even when I rub my eyes open, he stays behind like the memory of a Sunday fair on a Monday morning, a dream that dreams on in the corners of my eyes till sunlight shoos him away.

“Rewrite” - the red marks fill my notebooks but the writing is not of my hand, grown fickle and fake with cursive copy writing impositions but the shapely strokes and parallel lines of his own steady hand.

Language forfeited, he sinks fast like foam following scuttling crabs into sand secrets. His face has sworn to taunt me namelessly like the waves that punish my feet for not having stayed longer for one more wave. And when I want to call him back to me when he’s at the water’s edge, I will forget his name and one more dream will have banished him to anonymity.

In the balcony of my childhood home, I can hear the temple drums again; the dream drums out the hymn note-perfect as Ganesh leaves one sanctum for another in a palanquin. It might be hymn to him for he too has leapt from dream to dream braving sphinxes at the mouth of a labyrinthine sleep, not in a palanquin but in a pall, his name dying on my lips. People who die in your dreams live forever, my mother used to say but people who never die swap their mortality for memory. He will not remember my dreams, remember that he has crept into each of my pubescent peephole tears only to turn his face away from a past where pain has been spray dried over walls of time like the afterthought of a vandal.

The stream wouldn’t glisten with fallen sunbeams the way it did if the wind didn’t send the swan’s wings aflutter and if the swans didn’t make rippling silver stripes in the lake.
Soon, the rains will scrub names off epitaphs and tipple flowers off gravestones - when he refuses to leave at the clang of the school bell, before the door bolt jams, prior to the first word of a confession, he won’t leave when the eye of my sorrow is still wet. And will they have leave to die if he dreams with me only to unearth the ruins of a love long-deceased?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The phone reduces him to one-handed left-handedness. Throughout the call, the right hand stays upright as if carrying the weight of the conversation on its palms, and the fingers fight through flying hair to glue the handset to the ears.

But his left hand is animated enough for two, he waves it around like a baton in a traffic cop’s hand, the words wouldn’t grind to a halt as long as he keeps waving them onward.

He bends forwards, a little stupidly, neck tilted downwards so that his whispers warn off the ants that fall one by one into the strangulated burrs of his socks. He takes care to walk in the shade but the sunbeams seeks him out from behind the trees to shoo off the music in his ears and the words from his throat until he hears nothing, sees nothing, till he is freed of that white hot blindfold.

Admitting defeat, he walks a suddenly splay-legged walk, hands-in pocket kicking his feet forward as if he is sending the very air that is filled with his voice heavenward with a prayer.

A slower gait that carries the dread of silence in each step appears when sentences start all over again, trying vainly to jump over every inarticulate attempt, when the pause that breathes with weariness grows longer between words that mask them, when time threatens to gnash its teeth and prompt a glance at the clock.

And he will walk faster when a sudden exclamation, a promising turn of phrase, a confession in the garb of a story steps in redeem him.

He has wept over a million lines of verse but they stay only long enough to desert him when a dry throat seeks to make them his own.

His voice hadn’t music enough for poetry and his memory hadn’t tricks enough to wrestle down silence and pin it flat in submission. He hadn’t the art of painting the happenings of a day in anecdotal colours and say, “Guess what happened” and really make her guess.

His fingers grip a low-slung branch and pulls it downward like a slingshot, scarcely noticing the fleeing butterfly, the cloud burst of leaves, the bare-headed agony of the branch when it swings back into a sunless place.

The world walks past him, shaking its head at his unmoving intent one, the length of grass that has been trod read in the marks of his shoe soles the distance he has travelled.

And when a merciful tower snaps its fingers in disgust, his right arm will ache itself back to existence. Blinking like a man who’s been reborn, he looks at the number that briefly flashes on the screen before fading out regretfully. He has been dead for thirty nine minutes and twenty three seconds.

Each of the seams of his pocket insides writhe with the unspent change of speech, he sighs before fishing out the phone and dialling again.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Too old to weep

Few places can stand on their own, without ever swallowing the snub of being directed to by calling forth a bigger or older or a more celebrated building or road that acquires the halo of a “landmark” for reasons that appear arbitary to the outsider.

I used to live in such a “You can’t miss it” place, Pizza boys and courier deliveries could make it without a thousand instructive phone calls. But RBI Quarters had taken second place, many a time to a school of dance, a prominent church or a society of theosophy. But we knew that even as we began a disbelieving explanation to an ignorant pizza “Do you know Velankanni Church, ours lies on the way.” We would take it good naturedly enough because others said “You know RBI Quarters, we live right across the road.”

Funny how one memory draws others to itself and claims them for its own just as a landmark does an entire neighbourhood. This queen bee of a memory lives quietly enough among a clutter of less painful ones, with a heart still tearless though struck white hot with pain everyday, as if were a gong to keep time with the pendulum of grief.

Today might not have been such a day but I know where the memory of it will strike root. This like everything else that happened this year belongs to Pilani.

I’m too old to weep, I thought, when I got onto the bus to work, too old to weep like a child who avoids the accusing red eyes of a corrected answer sheet on the first day of school. Too old to feel post-vacation blues, too old to lose sleep over a fading love, too old to lie awake after passing over the reins of my love into the hands of the unknown only to realize there aren’t any reins. Too old for the gleeful smiles that pay for window seats. Too old to lean out of the window and believe that the day is new in spite of the dubious sheen of its resealable resalable packing. Too old to notice how prettily the leaf hugged the window bars in fright when the branch broke away from the tree at the bidding of the bus. Too old to weep for the leaf when a callous wind breaks the embrace and sends the leaf flying away from an imprudent entanglement. Too old to remember to weep for the window.

Dutiful chimes of “Happy New year” resounded dully at every reunion. I was congratulated on wrangling a 10 day break. I in turn, congratulated them in return for getting rip-roaringly drunk so cheap by staying, while telling myself that they were exchanging one form of drunkenness for another.

Too old to weep for the promises I’ve kept waiting for a decade, for the dreams that took ten years to settle down into a sediment of someday suffixes. Too old to seize somebody by hand and cry without restraint, and tell them, “This is what I’d wanted to stake my life on, but I have so little of it left.”

I find it less embarrassing to ask for money than for a kind word, a split-second caress of an elbow that wants to say “See you tomorrow” leaves me warm for hours but I won’t trust myself to slip my hand into another’s if only feel a little less alone.

And just when I thought I’d grown too old to weep, I heard the very words that condone an infantile unrestrained bawling, and kiss its imaginary bruises away-

“Relax. You’re just a kid.”