Arrivals

Cities have tongues. This one got my ear so bad I moved 2000 kilometers in one single-minded, unwitting, brusque purchase of a plane ticket to find home in its hearth. I didn’t know at the time where I would make my coffee the next day or what shelf I would stack my books on. And I didn’t want to know the size of my balcony or the number of cabinets in my kitchen. I just emptied my flat in Bangalore like one does a fishbowl upon a tickling curiosity for an aquarium. 

Three years that garden city had had me loyal to its land, cultivating memories and harvesting them mad with sickles of curiosity, love, heartbreak, anguish, friendship, fever, fire. 

Until one day its ‘nice’ people and coconut canopies and the crimson carpeted flame of the forest roads and bakeries of egg puffs and filter coffee and Krishna Sagars with dosas and idlis and the undimming background score of unintelligible Kannada babble (like mum on the phone) to every walk around Cubbon Park and to Bookworm and Blossom and Bob’s Bar were doing me ample good but not more and what I rather desired were undoings of all kinds and of all natures and frankly of all the good too. I wanted a twisted theatre. But Bangalore, like a sweet, old friend, only laid out dinners and discussed work and workouts in the evenings. It never became my lover. And yet I sat there far too long and cozy like the cat perennially bundled up at my neighbour’s window across the street, never in never out, always right at the gates of whatever-could-be.

Until I visited Delhi—.that extra shot of a city you down anyway and only after you’ve drunk to fill. And I visited it proper. And then the cat jumped the ledge. Compulsion tore through me—.urgent like a 3 am itch on the back of the leg, and all the attachment to Bangalore came unwound like a whole window wall turning to pieces in one evening storm. Cities do have tongues. Deep. Rich. Unpretending. And when those no-nonsense things get their hold on you, you end up doing things you didn’t imagine a half-hour ago of your life. I packed my bags and came back home with the wind. 

Delhi lay straightened before my eyes like fresh hotel linen across a king-size Cassata horizon. I had made my choice and checked in and now that the bed was made I was anxious to soil it—.its taunt and tender expanse between the Asr from the Jama Masjid in the front and the temple bells chiming to the evening aarti in the back. I wanted to pull at its erratically tucked-in corners, hush an odd wrinkle here about identity, a difficult one there about love, and more tricky ones all over concerning direction, audacity, knowledge, purpose.

At first, I had stubbed out the idea of stubbing out of the city but when the landscape of my mind like the stubborn bottom of a grossly mishandled pressure cooker refused to be picked clean of its mysterious inclinations, I conceded the mounting inevitability of the circumstance. And so there I was on that roof—.with the fat frank fact of royal blue bogies conjoined at their heads and bums under a proud print of INDIAN RAILWAYS as a backdrop to my living truth—.because I had followed a whim, a nerve, a shell of a promise of a Bumble date, Khushwant Singh’s Delhi, and Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness among other recklessnesses to arrive there: four storeys up an Arakashan Road which—.as I stood upon and thought about—.was still shuddering under the echoing rumble that had just wheeled by over its ancient body.  

It was a building growing old since 1989 in the heart of a city growing older since 1052. The whole neighbourhood breathed in Shah Jahan’s shadow, looking up to his domes of white marble and minarets of red sandstone every moment it bowed down in prayer under a flight of birds shapeshifting from a Nike logo to a V for Vendetta back to the Nike sign to the phantom of an upper lip (or was it a bow?) in their white constellation burning up a sterling silver in the noon. Pigeons on their peachy legs clung to electricity wires like clothespins to ropes that had the sun hung out to dry. In a bright orange type, the building firmly wore ‘ZOSTEL’ as its latest identity even as the city of old Delhi and the capital of New Delhi kept busy reinventing theirs every day. 

And to think of it all, I had arrived with not a plan. I had only darted to Delhi like a devotee on a seek-out, on the way to her dargah, lost more than ever. Little did I know that trawling Airbnb for a fitting stay would prove more nerve-racking than combing through dating apps for whatever. I landed with a journal full of blank pages and a suitcase full of books and underwear and an old string of fairy lights to keep them all together. Seeing no point in taking an Uber since I had nowhere particular to go, I asked someone for the metro and they pointed me to it and so I was off. Or on. Given my journey had really just started right then. 

And the first thing I see—.this car carrying a phone number on its plate with a ‘Drivers Wanted’ SOS. Then, inside the metro: Where was I headed? Why was I headed where I was headed? Where is home? Home you mean? Home?? Before I could put down my concerns, pencil, and foot in that order, we had wheeled to and back from Dwarka Sector 21 so I was once again at IGI from where I had started off that cruel commute circle. I flapped close my notebook and deboarded. This man before me possessed this urgency in his walk, I thought he had exactly the certainty I needed at the moment, so I stopped him to ask which platform I should take to get to Aerocity. He did pause and then he took a pause to look at me and post he was done doing that with the sincerity of a lab scientist, he uttered, ye apko metro se jana hai kya. I assumed he had assumed I was just another sadist who enjoyed rambling walks destined to unexisting autos or Ubers on metro platforms or that I had been living under a rock but not exactly underneath the one over which the metro tunnelled so I wasn’t really aware of all the transport options available at hand (or at your feet) underground? Certain of the impossibility of either, I gave him a reassuring ‘yes’. Perplexion rose in his eyes as if I had riddled him a tough one on Dark Matter or something. He squinted. I squinted. He squinted harder. By now we both knew neither knew the right direction and this conversation was as hopeless as this government, so he pointed me anyway to somewhere ahead and I decided to take his finger for it and figure out the way—well—along the way. 

When I finally did reach Aerocity, my phone rang: mam mai Oyo se bol rha hu. Now I was already headed to check this one hotel out plain 5 kilometres from the station so I asked him: konsa Oyo, to which he said: mam ye Oyo Life hai mam. Not sure why he was indulging my off-duty sense of humour at the point, I reemphasized in earnest and with serious precision this time, I meant location. Where is the Oyo? I had inquired at multiple places...which was when he sent me the address and I bookmarked it to go check later in the day since I was a bit frivolous to be headed nowhere at all but not enough to be crashing to the first thing that popped up my way. The metro ride soon disappeared in a crowd of autorickshaws. I climbed inside one and started for the hotel but we turned around unsuspectingly (or rather suspectingly) a short few metres on after the bhaiya alarmed me to its USPs in unconcealing detail. 

I suggested we reroute to Paharganj then but he turned out to be some champion of Teresa offering to drop me back to the metro from where a ride would instead cost me a mere 20 bucks and not 200 bucks he could rather make had he not been taken over meekly by a brainwave but mostly by pity on me at that point.

So there I was: two hours had passed since I had landed and I was circling one metro station with greater rigour than you stalk an ex. I consented and we hurried back.

‘Welcome to Delhi metro. Dilli metro me apka swagat hai.’ Hello again, you. Outside the window, it was hot and green before a tunnel took over right ahead of the Shivaji Stadium. The man sat in front of me took out his phone and started taking selfies in the dark, maybe only to assure himself of having scored a good night mode on his phone camera, is what I could conclude and so I did since there was barely much else to do. Most coaches were vacant and rocking like the drum of my front loading washer only we were all going to be churned out of this not in a very appealing state. Across the aisle, a middle-aged man was watching school girls in uniform dance on his Youtube. A choicest thing to do inside a metro. ‘Please sit in the middle seat only’, went another announcement. I looked around. Nobody looked around. I looked around again. There were only two seats in each row on either side. Perhaps it must be…something. Right then: ‘Next station is New Delhi. Change here for the yellow line and the New Delhi railway station of the Indian Railways.’ If only I knew I would be hijacked by hollering autowallahs with claims of promising hotels for a ‘bachelor like me from a good family background’, I wouldn’t have been too relieved abandoning that steely monster of a thing. A tall guy and his shorter companion plucked me clean out of the crowd as they saw me materialize out of the metro gates—fresh bait—and lifting my luggage, placed it and me inside their rickshaw which they then rode nonstop through the wide maze of narrow streets to one hotel after another after another until they had advertised them all to me in all possible ways in their ultimate attempt at the Clios. After 45 countless minutes of sightseeing around Paharganj, I gave up before the nexus of hotel owners and auto-drivers and got this room at one Hotel TVS that believed in serving its guests quite distinctively and round-the-clock. For one, the ambient sound from the construction in the neighbourhood persisted relentless as the sun travelled east to west and its constancy only came second to that of the stench from the pillows. In the evening, I phoned a friend and when he came over, we left the stink cave and went about chasing the city’s perimeters with imploring eyes on exploring wheels to find something as appealing to the pocket as to the heart. By midnight, things refused to work themselves out as they often do and we refused to work ourselves up as we often don’t and so we rode back to ultimately shift base to Zostel as I had done earlier many once-upon-a-times ago. 

Right now, I am writing from my new apartment in this city, with rusty balcony railings galvanised with pigeon shit, carved out beneath a dreamy pool of a sky the colour of beaten coffee where every evening I sit with my refill (for a refill) while a tangerine sun checks in at my desk one last time before blowing itself out like a candle atop a birthday cake of this haven with a feeble forest for frosting sprinkled with rose-ringed parakeets, golden orioles, and peacocks for confetti while the jingle goes: pick up your pencil and write yourself a tasty, new beginning. The whistling from the trains in Paharganj has been replaced by the roar of the planes in this South Delhi neighbourhood. And in the interim between, I have fallen in and out of love faster than onions turning pink in a pan. Love—with a city, with a man, with a job, with the idea of itself, and then with the legacy of it all: the memories that follow. They always do.

Cities have tongues. And that doesn’t mean you get lucky because they don’t really need fangs. This one had me replying to it in her own language and manner (they do that to you): unchecked and devoid of reserve or reason or even rationale. A centuries-old affair was decimated somewhere, a brand new friendship was consecrated someplace else, and through it all, I sat amused and unthinking and aflutter, negotiating an EMI with the police and powering a plea by the force of original music and social media fame. Clearly, I had things to do with my time. For one: parading Bangla Sahib at 3 in the morning in a ripe little orange dress and a big cobalt blue scarf and ancient wine puma shoes ridden with holes only to be able to stand there staunch for a pure, ten minutes to convey all I could before the guardians of the god, the keeper of the keys, came rushing in, riding on holy fury and drove me away like I was everything that was wrong with the world, their world, that they had so meticulously orchestrated and selectively curated, working hard from their ranks of power.

Though I am now writing from the stable and peaceful desk of my flat, and the dizzying universe of Chandni Chowk with its banal bhasadh and aeons of kulladh lassi and the microcosm of Paharganj with its prachin shiv mandir ke paas ki adrak vali chai and the late night rooftop jams and movie nights and the 3 am quests for maggi and gurudware ka halwa seem like a blackhole away from my current reality, it still existed and very much so, and maybe penning it all down is my way of holding on to it all (and more graphically so than photographs)—to realizing friends in strangers and a stranger in a friend, to living Lost In Translation while being lost in transactions, to sharing a life under a moon, to sitting unsolicited at a bus stop outside a dargah in the night for debating the meaning and use of ‘unsolicited’ in a noon-old argument. 

Cities do have tongues. And this one circled me round and squinched me tight only to open me up and lay me out like one of its own Dilli-6 bazaars—my preconceptions, assumptions, sensitivities, conventions, routines, and inclinations, all spread out under the sun on the burning tarp of my impulse and its indiscretions, and hot to be traded on, in exchange for small change of vague certainty and definite thrill.

Cities have tongues. And maybe sooner or later, I get around to wanting this one too to shut up and slink away. But until then, I am leaving the ringer on, full damn volume.

(be)so(r)tted

Back in bed in the night and on the rushed Sunday after, I replay the whole evening on loop—the restless rickshaw ride, the unnerving struggle to find the right metro platform, the merciless two-minute wait for the train, the heedless texting to make the time bolt faster, the harrowing but sustaining ad-riven Spotify to cudgel the anticipation since leaving home, the distracted, surefooted wobble up to the café in the tall, black heels ill-fed on desire—and terribly wanting!, the Museum of Illusions nine o’ clock that made me wonder if this whole date thing is one fanciful deception, if the hope of having a good time is still as elusive as it’s ever been, if I should have come out at all, if I am perhaps a bit too early, if I should be pissed that he’s rather late, if I should be bothered I don’t care a smidge anyway, if all this could have been planned a little differently, but then when do plans ever manifest themselves the way they are conceived to be and don’t I feed off of all commotion regardless!

Cafe Out of The Box is out of tables and we being we—neither of us had the forethought to make a reservation. The live music serves well to keep my mood buoyant and much else repressed as I fetch in my bag for a cigarette to tame the rest. The guy on the table right in front of me helps me light one with his own and bolstered upon that little act of kindness, the evening flows on to the crooning of ‘likhe jo khatt tujhe vo teri yad mein…Right. Bring it on. Yeah, tonight I don’t worship no one, thank you. What good are lethal lyrics when you have stopped leaning into the rhythm or reading into the words because your head’s outgrown the noxious diet of nostalgia you had it feeding upon for the longest time? What good is a boat when you are already ashore and home? So, I will just take this next puff and snub it all out with the same measure of indifference, toodles! 

The crowded open space roofed with strings of insistent bulbs and afloat with faces beaming with makeup in unceasing animation over drinks and smokes, the guitar cutting through the pleasant, busy air, the singer irreducibly buzzed on old Bollywood songs, the taste of menthol in my throat and the rush of nicotine in my head as I snapped at myself for not having brought the regulars, the inconclusive struggle to get the string of my mask off the large silver hoop of my earring that had made itself stubbornly comfortable in my knots and proved more professional than them (or even me) at the art of not letting go, the misaligned seating inside where somehow the music pierced pointier than outside where it was being played…all is afoot like clockwork when he walks in with his bald humility, an eager smile, a hasty hug, and of course, a guitar. Right away, we leave the place.

He suggests we try The Chai Story right across the street but since I have already dismissed that immeasurably sad idea in my head moments earlier, we keep walking. Down the main road and the crossing, he sights Route 99 and since by this point I have iteratively asserted I am superfluously cool with anything, we head upstairs. Wholesome but indoors seating which I never prefer and almost never pick but here we are and I bolt into the restroom first thing after we have settled on a corner, and stare at myself three ways in the mirror for four justified minutes. If it is any reassurance, I am leaving the city tomorrow. This is innocuous.

When I am back, I order a Kingfisher Ultra Wheat and he gets himself a Red Bull. And how. Isn’t he ruthless! Doesn’t spare no one that endearing demeanor of his. Okay. guard down. This is going to be an amusing evening.

What do you do?

I flounder, I want to say, but not wanting to drop the warnings too soon, I attempt a meek reply, I scribble. Sometimes. Yes, I am an engineer. No, not IT. Manufacturing and Automation. Frequently manufacture evidence of intellect when summoned and have survived on autopilot mode ever since. Loiter easy. Mind, soul, and sometimes body also. But hey look, I have been listening to you speak to me and yes you are looking but can you see? I haven’t drifted once. Who are you?

What college?

NSIT.

He catches the wisp of keen pride in my quick answer. He points it out.

So you see through everything, don’t you? And then you don’t leave things unsaid. Tell me, at what point do you begin to hold back? And what are the chances we’ll ever get there?

I chuckle. He chuckles. We chuckle. The indoors seem so much less daunting and more liberating than I feared. Our faces don’t betray the luxurious ease we are inadvertently slipping into. The loud lamp right overhead doesn’t allow them to.

Once the preliminaries are out of the way, I am burning to announce: and now, the moment of truth. Lay down your cards. Show me what you got. Why this. Why here. Why me.

But his easy candour and deadly liveliness catch me off guard. Very outgoing. I almost feel shy. Do I open up more? Ugh forget it—you win, I am folding already. 

We talk some more when he quips: ‘figure out he toh karna hai. Puri life padhi hai figure out karne ke liye.’ And snap! First flashback of the evening. ‘You don’t have to figure out your entire rest of the life tonight.’ So I tell him that I have known that. But then there had also been: ‘You seem like your seat could be on fire and you won’t budge one bit.’ I don’t tell him that. No, I am worse. I don’t get off of the seat, I runalong with it— and every time, neither attempting to douse the fire nor waiting to find out what’s left once it has had its fill.

He tells me how he ventured into music upon a whim and an awareness both more ethereal than the other. 

So you are spontaneous. Have you kicked away something good and blooming for want of a new, uncertain pile of promises that ultimately never deliver on themselves? No, you must be wise too.

He says he read me before coming out to see me tonight. He says he liked the fluidity. 

Glad. I seldom can apprehend the velocity myself to be able to guard the flow. Bad at math. 

But it makes me vulnerable, doesn’t it? Your knowing how I think or feel before I have had the chance to acquaint you myself with it or me or both. But then why did I? What would a knock on the door matter to a building whose windows stay open 24/7 to sun and storm? But then, exactly what makes this scary: right now it does. Barge in already. Take what’s yours. Anything less would be criminal.

He leans in to kiss me. There’s a spark. In my eyes, he says.

Ah! but do you see one between us across this table? Or have I already pulled the plug?

So, whom do you like to listen to?

Dylan for his writing, for his twisted, eerie way of thinking and seeing things the way only he does. AR Rahman for the soul in his music. 

I love Alex Turner, I reply.

For both, I want to add, but hold back. 

And have you heard Damien Rice? And—and these Indian Hindi rock bands? The Local Train? Naalayak? Swastik? Silk route? Of course, you have. But tell me anyway, I want to know you better. But can I? The pints and the smokes have taken over. Pummeled already, where’s the bell? Fuck lucidity and kindness, hello stiff and absurd contempt of everything. Welcome to this new zone. Prepare for a complete swallow ahead. Ah! so, where were we? Oh yes, have you? Haven’t you? Never mind. 

No, waitcall out to me. And call this out, please? I resent doing this and being this. I do it and I am it anyway. But I am more too. So will you be louder then? Anchor me.

Snapping me out of my conflict diarrhoea, he asks first. Why Bumble. Oh, brilliant. We are on the same page then. We kiss some more. And more conscientiously than ever.

Then inside the cab, like a dam bursts open within me. Unbidden. God, I love you for all your candour, for your honesty, for your guts, for your conviction, for your regard and also for your utter lack of it when befitting, for your conduct at once disarming and unforbidding, for your effortless charm, for your unreasonable abandon, for your ability to create joy out of thin air. I love you for all this and more but I still need these ‘fors’ to supplement my love for you for it can’t stand on its own for I have loved before rejecting any kind of stilts to hold it up but lost for both it and I have fallen rough and bare on our faces and are damaged enough to be capable of a singular devotion to a human anymore without the conditional ‘ifs’ and ‘fors’ and ‘becauses’ and ‘sinces’ but you uninhibit me dammit. And despite it all too.

Who are you? A lover? A lamppost? My redemption? 

This morning, I wake up humming his song, the sound of his voice in my head. Can’t get it out easy. So I deploy the oldest trick in the book there is to wring it all out of me via the only channel I know.

I write him out on to paper and crumple it away across the room. Wish me luck. 

Well, until we meet again, that is. Wink. 

momentary mementos?

a weathered wallet and a zapped zipper

packing a paling pickle of a post-it from a past now part plastic

words on its paper, tiny tethers in ink

cursive and cruel each one of them

a stitch to a moment, a stitch to the moment

the one that stretched too thin while it did

blooming only as wide as the smile I became aware of as soon as I became aware enough

still a moment I could pause for. a moment I did pause for

to take note and to smile. to take note that I had smiled.

don’t bruised things keep broken things safer.

c’est la vie

The first time I noticed you, nothing felt sunnier about it all than your teeth.

A smoker’s smile. 

You pulled your bike over and yanked your helmet off, revealing a fallen flag of hair crumpled with sweat. I didn’t look directly in your eyes.

Until followed a hey,  a particularly  insistent signpost to the yet unmapped territory of you, and I was listening.

 Your voice fleshed itself out like it never really did need words to mark another soul. 

We ended up talking late into the night. Probably because you were an uncalculated diversion. Also, possibly because you didn’t feel like one.

And so it began. Our individual exploits for provisional solace and riveting distractions, together. 

Also, the writing of a draft that was never meant to become a book.

It happened as quick as a cat thinning out into a side alley on sly.

Every time I would pick up your call, your voice would rush in like Christmas lights in October. And I would light up like a tree ready for the feast day (or night?) of Adam and Eve. 

Do you remember the first time we got a table, I fumbled settling into the chair across from you as your eyes climbed into mine and we broke into a giggle? Do you remember how it only predated all the times when I would rest my head on your forearm lying next to you, parts of me perennially converging, diverging, curling, spilling, drifting, shifting like some tectonic plates under tiny earthquakes of your breath and you would murmur, find your spot already?

Every time I would dip my face into and out of yours, I would dig the quiet bonfires of everything that had once pricked the geometry of my world, ravenously chasing after consumption of the old parched me and the present bursting you and everything taut that stretched in between. Before I knew it, I was looking forward to our little transgressions with all the will, whim, and waywardness in me.

It was all discreet, until you started sleeping to the radio of my voice like it was some sorcerous sedative.

But there was this night when we had stayed up. When I had also earlier sent you a video of mine that pandered—handsomely well—to my self-deprecation instincts which I would—colossally often—exploit for my own amusement more than anybody else’s.

‘Do you feel like talking to me now?

Oh c’mon, I want to see more.

We both know you have seen enough.

No, we both know there’s so much more.

Sometimes, I wonder at your capacity for digging into shit. Like you hit the rock bottom and start all over with your spade.

Because, that’s the false bottom.

Oh—I know where my bottom is.

I don’t ever want you to say that again.

You want me to be in denial of my bottom?

No—I don’t want you to say that you’re seeing the bottom.

You want me to go find new bottoms? I don’t know how I should take that. *repressed chuckle*

No—I don’t ever want you to say you see yourself at the bottom.

Ha! Where else did you find me?

NoI don’t think we are following each other right now.

Tell me.

I am telling you a lot of things.

O-kay. Are you able to follow your own sentences? Because you sound drunk.

Let’s talk one thing at a time.

Yes. what’s going on with you?

Then again. It’s not about me. It’s about both of us.

O-kay.

What’s going on in Bangalore? Your Bangalore?

I think I just showed you my Bangalore very vividly.

Oh, ya. Let me watch that video again.

Oh my god. *chortle* Ohmygodohmygdohmygodohmygod. *more peals of laughter*

Told you, you are drunk. It’s not that funny.

Oh, ya? Let’s find out.

You know I am coming over in two days, right?

I don’t see what you are worried about.

Worried is a big word.

Okay. What are you concerned about?

Nothing I haven’t seen before. Drunk-dialling at 3. 

You don’t understand.

 I do.

But then again…

There is no but.  I understand. Period.

Tell me why does it all have to be so fucking ridiculous?

Tell me what is truer. 

We are—this thing. It’s good. There’s nothing better that I’ve seen before.

I am choking on your words.

Talk to me.

Whatever.

What the f—when is your flight? Is it tomorrow?

Will be for you if you don’t wake up for the next two days.

C’mon I’m really excited about this.

Ya both of us will miss you saying this soon enough.

Huh? No, look, tonight—I won’t forget. It’s one of those nights.

Days. it’s 5.

Post pre

And now here is a fact. Sidus Premium White is an easy drinking wine with hints of candied fruit and vanilla on the nose and palate. Supremely easy drinking—if I may add?so much so that the qualifier only begins to reflect its appropriacy in true earnesty past 11 by when you are done competing with Damien Rice swilling one too many live performing Cheers Darling, and are onto playing 90s lethal Bollywood songs. This is going to be a night dedicated to very particular agendas.  Like—for one—finding out how one happens to mistake a Kitkat break for Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory to last them a lifetime. You were no Black Jack Davey. Just a two-year layover on my flight to some other river bank.

Third rip of the evening. Clove mix ciggies effectively dimming my emotional range to a very singular indecisiveness about the strange aftertaste. A sweetened bad decision but mighty useful at this point. Sort of like you when I met you, only that this thing came with a warning. Unlike you—no red flags, and already licking the shores. 

Do you remember when I had hung over the hungover you that night with my hair caressing your elbow? Adrift and anchored at once. Wanting but coy. Preemptive but off guard. Cautious but cut loose. Warmth was pronoun to me. I was allowing myself to feel, contractually—with reservations for clauses. Will it take months? years?- unwinding of something like that.

Oh wait—you are already onto gatecrashing another party? Right. I thought this was dinner for two. Saved you some icecream. Waited up for a crooked grin for serotonin over a reliable swirl of soft sugar. Huh? No?

What can I say, it’s more painful turning off morning alarms when you haven’t even been to bed. 

Tea on boil over a scatter of ants. A sinewy sky spun of spider silk. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Too bad the moon wasn’t privy to this tea party. The sun already RSVPed a half hour ago. Weather forecast—still cloudy with Nicotine sullied breaths all over. 

‘Keep stirring it and you will find no lumps’, mother’s words come sputtering over the Whatsapp call. Ebbs and flows of the internet. Forecast says it’s going to be drizzling into noon. Forecast doesn’t say how long it is going to be until noon. I am mixing besan into curd over flame to make curry. ‘Do not pause stirring.’ Apparently, both curry and relationships have a tendency to clot if stripped off a kinetic rhythm. Anyway, generous karchis of water are getting this composite runny and nice. A screwed understanding of ratio and proportion can’t fuck up this curry. Besan keeps soaking in everything like a mother.

Ajwain. Dalchini. Bhuna hua jeera. Garam masala….and don’t forget ajwain! Aur kya kya hai tere paas?’ Her list clearly betrays the ‘ready in 5-minutes’ promise she had sold me earlier. I lean out of my devotion for the spatula. I am cold. Remember how to keep warm you would drink a lot and I would drink little more than what would keep me up and one of us would triumphantly pass out before the other.  Remember how one advantage of drinking like that each one of us sought was not being the last one standing to get the lights?

Do you remember collecting over me like a shawl while I lay there quiet, wearing you as a lone accessory? I hadn’t yet turned a stranger to the city of you; it still was—deliciously and blessedly—home.

So, you don’t remember me parking my eyes on those roads year over year? Nil? Zilch? Nada? Guess, love takes more than being able to unbottle with each other over Cube Libres after office.

Never bring too many things at once to a simmer, mother says. Okay, I am grabbing a towel and making a quick exit, thank you.

In the bath, I like temperatures that dwarf my temperament. And, a song for electricity. Today’s experience is charged by the voice of Nooran Sisters. Powerful. Epochal. Solid like rock. Fluid like eddies cutting through solid rock. High-volt incineration right through the fossils of my dumb, old woes. Welcome to your personal power station. Plug in and peace out.

I squeeze the coconut wash into the loofah and rub it on my shoulder in slow, concentric circles. I press harder to erase the once glowing comets and moons and asteroids that visited the Saturn of my body some hundred million years ago, but shredded, smashed, broken, came to envelop it in their icy embrace forever. I do not want to stay a permanent witness to the frozen halo of that destruction. Before you, love did find me, and love did leave me, and I—shrugged. Goodbye, a lifetime of pastries after sex, and kissing beneath the covers eye in eye. Goodbye, a lifetime of excuses to idle on the metro platform in the name of waiting for you. Goodbye, confiding phone calls after work and mopping up movies in bed amid recurring rounds of kisses. After you, maybea big maybe—love—real shit?—will find me again, and perhaps—a giant perhaps—it will choose to stay. But, here and now, in the steam rising up the glass, I already see it. Love has kind eyes, a massive nose, and tendrils for hair that fold just under the curves of her breast.

But love is busy hiking foreign terrains for want of the legend to her own map. Tracing contour lines on stranger soils, in place of trying reading into the depths of her own scale. How unfortunate. A lack of taste compass for dangerously true attraction mucking up a whole life’s ‘must-‘ checklist with misjudged points of interest.

Why has love been like that—a live wire ticking to combust? Welcoming split second decisions without splitting for second thoughts. Welcoming second hand wisdom with no second guesses. Renting houses on account of a single photo of a balcony with a dreamcatcher. Trading phone numbers after two extra pints. Breaking away from a career, a people, trust—one email is all it took, and even before that, one sigh on the porch.

Love needs fixing. Love needs an absurd lot of love.

Love—

Ssssshhhh.

With an almost inadvertent spring in her step, love beckons me deeper into the mirror, shrugs an idle, wet strand off my numb, right eye with her quaking finger, says,

hey.

500 days of bummer

I really like your room. He says, while placing the skinny monitor on G’s desk. Must be the lighting. It really does everything. Just the right mix of yellow and white. I shift the cigarette between my fingers. It’s just a butt now. He rather attributes the fascination to the chalkboard and the window aloe and everything else tangible. I am meeting him for the first time and the last time, like catching the nearest open liquor store’s shutter going down,  halfway through.  He’s leaving town the following week. 

The house is two blocks of grey and white caught in greyer shadows of the opposite tree—its crown finding root in its kaleidoscopic apparitions shapeshifting on the street with every turn of the breeze. The main gate is canopied by an angled roof slanting downwards as if to meet the smoky profiles. Moths bomb the sodium lamp on the electricity pole to the right—a slender rectangle of concrete, wearing fat blue wires with staunchier curls than mine around a body svelter than I could ever have. There are pots lined up—like a docile row of students in a prayer assembly—against the front wall that takes over from the gates to circumscribe the house on its left frontiers. A cocky red Hyundai parked right ahead is a wink for breaking code of conduct.

He’s a friend of G and is dropping by to contribute to G’s study with G’s monitor. G is my flatmate who is presently away. 

Once inside the main gate, a miniscule veranda spreads out with an aquarium the size of two shoe boxes with fish in ombré of gold and of black, and a clothesline marks the width with checked kitchen cloth one after the other after the other after the other like flags boisterously proud on the little mountains of The Times of India running under them. The floor is all squares like a chess board—only these are red and white and you always win because hey! this is my flat. Then ten odd steps lined with more planters to an intermediary landing—a favourite of cats—whereupon it’s just four or so rungs to the welcome mat. A Spanish colonial-style lamp plunges you in a peanut butter pool of light as you walk in through the white door.

So what do you do? He asks. He’s settled himself into the bony sofa by now —all frame, no flesh, the sofa, not him. Exactly, at least.

The scraggy skeleton with its metal appendages holds his back, his rear, his arm as he speaks. The distracting vines of pink flowers float horizontal on the beige fabric, offset by solid maroon bands, as if a lawn mower had blazed right through, marking its territory in that little blossomed garden of scrawny cushion.

Not a lot, I answer. Quit my job. Yesterday was my last day. Cake’s still in the fridge. Have thought little about much else. Other than the quitting thing. Not the cake thing, I mean. Though that is not entirely untrue either.

Before us, across some ten foot of nothing, lounges a twin-size mattress clothed in a fine floral orgy of mustard and pink cotton from P.  A koala-faced pillow with crazy eyes—white balls peeking from within black eggs—and a sprightly red tongue, a comparatively sobering headrest with Oswald and Weenie on a parakeet green lawn perimetered by even sides, and a stuffed baby panda on all fours are lounging on their respective thrones. Beck and call from ceiling hooks for hanging macrame pots in knotted jute—that’s how I’d like them—has remained unanswered.

Wow. Was my last day too. He states. What a coincidence.

He surveys the three-row bookshelf—A Burst of Light by Audre Lorde abutting The Greatest Bengali Stories Ever Told by Arunava Sinha neighbouring Dilbert books by Scott Adams— as areca palm spills over the pear-shaped dining table in the corner.

And you’ve got yourself a nice place. He adds.

A mauve rug with tufted yarn more like eyelashes occupies space beside a rack with the first bunk painted ochre and abandoned midway as if picking up the brush had inspired urgent activity elsewhere. The coat of colour is now cracking and exposing the black shiny surface underneath. More books attempt to provide cover for the whim—Azadi and Indira Bai alongside Fantastic Mr Fox and The Invisible Man. 

Ummm—thanks. But these past few months haven’t exactly been easy…I mean…everybody’s left the city owing to COVID…sometimes…often…all this…this house has felt as empty as a political speech.

But anyway. What were you doing? And what are you going to do? Now that you’ve quit. Too. I remark.

Was into engineering. Not really into it but working with it. Will be 3D printing stuff now. I am starting my own business.

Got a proposal to do a plane model. He completes, before launching towards G’s room to untape the cardboard box in his hands.

From inside it, comes out a pocket Thor with a handsome jumbo head ballooned over a muscular petite body, the lustrous Mjölnir in one hand, and a sexy swat of blonde hair tied into a button of a pony in the back. Balmy blue eyes above a raunchy beard and an unflinching flutter of a red cape from the shoulders which are not very conspicuous right now but—you know him. 

Ah! escapes me. So this is what your rest of the months are going to be about.

More like years. I am never getting a job again in my life. He declares—with a conviction that had preceded him in those resolute blue eyes.

Oh. Wonderful—that you have got things sorted out. For you. 

What—what about G. Are you going to miss her—miss it—now that you are, you know, leaving.

I believe in going with the flow.

Right. I am shifting the cigarette again. Had replaced the butt a while ago. Do you want something?

Water will be fine. 

Cool, I fill in as I advance to the kitchen.

An Alicia Souza illustration of Julia Child invites you in with two irresistible platters of cupcakes and a completely resistible dictum—find something you are passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it. Sure. I cast a side glance to the loo. It’s through the kitchen. Whoever designed that, fucking savage.

What are your plans anyway? He asks.

I—I am a fan of the same school, you know, go with the flow.

Yeah. Okay.

So why did it not work out? I mean, between you and G.

Wasn’t really my thing. In fact, I am seeing someone else now.

Right. And what’s she like?

A complete opposite of G. Independent and head-on with stuff. I like that.

O—kay. In any case, good luck. I guess.

Yeah, thanks. I should be booking my Uber now.

Right. Do you smoke?

I haven’t. In my life. But I can try.

You don’t really have to.

I want to.

Okay. I say, extending the one in my hand.

He takes a long puff and exhales. 

Mmm?

Nothing. He passes it back to me.

I’ve been trying to quit. I say, and exit to the balcony to get the ashcan.

God! How many are in there?

*the stubs*

Just my entire year.

Why don’t you throw them away?

I think about it.

Are you stressed about something? You know, I could help.

Not about anything in particular, not really.

Right. 

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable, warns one wall poster—an unmissable disclaimer beside the killer orca in action by the keys.

I stub out the fag in the flip-open pseudo-notebook-kind ashtray (had flicked it from a pub) and quickly address the stiffness with ‘your cab must be here’. 

Yeah, two minutes to location. Okay, I’ll be down now.

Over the metal latch clasping the gates shut, I mouth good luck with a genuine grin and break off to head back up to my fortress. 

Home, the mat announces in moss, with a coral heart-silhouetted O, in a cobblestone print.  

Thor is still on his watch on G’s table. If you look closely, his sexy swat of blonde hair reveals army green undertones, his ponytail is kinda chipped, and his costume and all the silver and even the Mjölnir—they aren’t exactly finished very neat. But it’s still something, the model. It is a force and it conjures that in you. Unsolicitedly. And now it’s already out there. Conjuring more of it. In more people. Notwithstanding all its imperfections. In utter disregard of them rather.

What you got is enough to get you started.

Erect, ready, with his guts in his eyes. Balmy blue eyes.

Okay.

I place it back where it belongs and retire to bed to blow away another hour with Phineas and Ferb. On a completely different note—for some evil reason, I can really identify with Doofenshmirtz.

chief thrills

In the morning I wake up with the stench of mangled cabbages rising up the back of my throat and a nicotine-sullied breath and a tousled head rested obliquely upon his spindly chest and he is asleep on his back quiet like an untouched doorknob. I feel queasy. Like my stomach is staging some mutiny against everything that went down last night. Went down its walls. Went down the walls of this house. Before I can cease wondering and locate the coordinates for my slippers—his slippers—vomit is rising from the centre of the nucleus of my existence like molten magma rushing upwards to the crust of the earth from chambers unknown only that this volcano is spouting it all out frigid cold. I am painting hieroglyphs on the stone flooring. With a little reorientation, I get a clean shot at the balcony door. Sturdy canvas. I use only natural colours. Pure organic green and brown and every shade of slime. This is an interactive session where you will engage with art and gain a deeper understanding on a wide range of subjects. All original designs. On show until the aunty shows up or I can muster up the spirit to bathe the room—whichever happens first. You’ll get to be an empowered participant. I feel sick to the core. 

I turn around to take one horrified look at R before I can walk over to the other room to take a leak and drink some Colgate Plax. It’s 10 am. I have half an hour before I would be needed to log in and show up for work from home. This is not my home. I pick up the kettle from the other room and drag myself downstairs to fill it up for coffee. This house has three stories and a rat living in the greasy exhaust fan duct of the kitchen on the ground floor. I yank open the fridge door. You have to turn all the lights on and off along the little journey through the stairs and back since the guys have no real concept of illumination for an uplifting mood. A brick of vanilla ice cream. Real’s fruit juice in orange flavour. A large bowl of salad. There is a porch in the front and a veranda in the back and a television in between that is only switched on for playing songs or very specific scenes from very particular movies for when people are really drunk. My dehydrated body ditches the kettle to lug the juice tetra pack upstairs. There’s an ashtray on every table and a stray dog J who rules the house as his own and has never displayed a want for affection or validation from anyone and now there’s also a flood of my insides in the room that overhangs the main road where I had locked myself in last night. I turned 25 last night. 

It was a Sunday among Sundays because it was my birthday which went by not unlike most days because I stuck to whittling it away watching nailbiting accounts of snow leopards fighting it out for food in erratically severe mountain winters while biting into Zomatoed paneer rolls not so quite à la masters of the freeze. ‘The most powerful force in the Arctic grows small—inch by inch—but once it starts, there is no stopping it.’ Sure. Mustn’t be just a local phenomenon though because the small, powerful forces in my belly are showing no detectable signs of reining in their impeccable throwmanship any time soon. Inch by inch, we are losing the basin. And it had all begun—last night.

S was in and so was M and there was always R and since it was supposedly a day of celebration for me, I too raised a glass which really didn’t count as an excuse since I would have anyway. ‘What is one thing that you do very well and by very well I mean you deliver it at its best’, S asked.

One thing I do very well is not doing anything very well. One thing I do very well is taking up everything or trying to take up everything or thinking of trying to take up everything and then not doing a single thing very well.  And that’s what I would have said if I had not gone on to say, ‘umm…I can read. Most things’.

One glass after another after another after—I saw everyone leaving the room for more water or whisky or cigarettes save for I and R. They would have come back to find no one in the room. They would have come back when I would have already locked myself up in the opposite room and shoved my stuff—and most of R’s or whomever-that-room-was’s stuff—in my suitcase and R would be climbing up the drainage pipe to the roof to dive into the balcony and come in through the entrance I had forgotten shutting out before cradling myself into the bed with my bags. When he finally made it in and opened the hallway latch, an Oyo had been booked and an Uber was waiting outside and I was hauling two trunks of luggage down the stairs. I had come in with only one.

The bags and we shifted from rooms to the lobby to the street to somewhere before either of us had any energy left to move around anymore and flattened out one on top of the other in the corner that has survived a massive ejection drive today. Scars on flesh will be discovered later. This is not my house. I have been living here about two months.

R comes in to see me industriously hunched over my laptop—back against the wall—scouring through pages and pages on the web for applications of conversational AI chatbots. This is my job. Well, a part of my job. Another part is not sounding like a bot while writing about one. To not lose myself in the botverse, I am simultaneously leafing through an old copy of The Greek Way by Edith Hamilton. “Dear to us ever,” says Homer, “is the banquet and the harp and the dance and changes of raiment and the warm bath and love and sleep.” Exactly the values my every day is founded upon and yet he wrote The Odyssey and I am just living one.

Most of what I remember from last night crescendos like a pressure cooker whistle with the capital case beginning of every sentence I type. Most of what I don’t remember from last night plucks me at the stop of every full end like pesky, little strands of hair you cannot keep your hands off even after digging pins into either side of your head. I just about manage to type out 100 odd words by noon. 

Most hours on most days pass like this. Lit incense sticks slowly losing their length under ribbons of smoke wisping out of their cylindrical bellies that continue to char while you are lost in intoxication from all the lavender and soon, straight slender towers are reduced to powder on steel. Ticking by and by, one brilliant orange ring at a time. You want to share it with everyone at once, you want to share it with no one at all. Someone had said to me, ‘in life, one thing leads to the next and it’s really like sequences in a flowchart and if you bail on one choice, you go down a whole different path and those are not the same opportunities’.

Another whistle.

R extracts a cigarette out of the pack on the bed, lights it up, blows out smoke, and asks if I want to go out to eat. 

The screech of tires on the road puts out one fiery orange ring forever.

relics from a romance

2:15 AM. I am thinning out a brick of butter into a pan, waiting for you to intervene and scoop out another cube. Only that you are in my inbox slipping me bad puns and dad jokes. I wonder if what we share also began like this. Some runny pancake batter, given carte blanche over a flame.

It had all started outside that pub on the fifth block. I had gone out celebrating my flatmate’s friend’s baby daughter’s birthday with my flatmate and her friend and her baby daughter. I had worn my new flamingo-pink earrings, navy blue denim shorts, and paisley-print pink top. In that order. The top was also the one I had worn to Goa earlier. Used to soaking up brine and tequila, I had reasoned.

Fast forward four hours when we were just about to hail our Uber to get back, stuff in the remaining cake in the fridge (this part had been just me), and call it a night, you walked up to us. You said you had felt distracted by how cute the baby was. Or at least you let on that he had had. Whatever. You spoke on. And I was drawn to you like a moth puzzled by incandescence. Just like that, a brief interaction pared down the distance between your world and mine.

It was a blank sheet of paper all over again. The frailest thing. Cracking at the slightest hold. The mightiest ammunition. Cracking up the toughest in its wake. Disarming and humbling in an instant. At the face of its emptiness. At the depths of its void. A paradox of sorts. Torturous but benevolent. New vocals for an old soundtrack. Fresh aroma oil in an old diffuser.

We eventually drifted away but not before I had given you my phone number. Of course, at the time I had no idea that two years later, I would be saving cigarette stubs in an old Bacardi bottle in my cupboard. A monument to an afternoon we would have shared on a hill. When we wouldn’t have been able to bookend our emotions. When time would have become a Gregory Alan Isakov song.

You had met me at a point when I would have welcomed lovers into my life almost omnivorously — trying to substitute the entropy in mine with theirs. I just fell into your arms, like one sinks deep into a leather armchair, swivels 180°, and never puts a foot down again. You became a placeholder to me, for anything and everything that I could be bothered with at the time. Not that I could quite understand or grasp at who or what you were. Only that sometimes you just know, you know?

But you still were a foreign movie to me. Without subtitles. And I couldn’t care less. I fell in love with the beauty of the frames.

It wasn’t very grand if I think about it now. It was really just the boy-next-door thing. Something like neon. Inherently inert but bright-as-fuck at times when it was. An anthology of sorts. Short stories written down in the oddest hours of the night in apartment basements, car parks, under-construction houses, stranger’s parties, friend’s hallways, cold highways, and crisp hotel beds. Except that every time we forgot to change the plot.

But you never know you are not just dabbling in something, precisely when you are not.

I didn’t.

To me, commenting on ‘love’ had been like saving online screengrabs of recipes to matcha green tea muffins and orange caraway seed cakes when you know you don’t even own an oven. So christening what we shared with that label was like trying to zhuzh up a bowl of Maggi with some chilli sauce and oregano seasoning.

And I haven’t come very far. As I write this, I almost think, love is a bean bag. Seeming all comfy and warm at the first look but really just viciously waiting for you to fall into it to fuck up your back.

But then there were moments that had hit me like the sea stabbing at rocks only to envelop them intimately into itself for however brief a second it does. Moments more like wistful reminders. Of a native touch. Of a feeling of home. Like how you feel when you hear chalk graze a blackboard? Or fingers tapered at a keyboard clicking away in devotion. And before you even know it, you are a surface burning golden, in the hold of a wooden spatula and its soft, sacred strokes.

I discovered I ain’t the one to turn the heat off too soon.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.
A Dollop of History

Making History Easier to Digest

rarasaur

frightfully wondrous things happen here.

Discover

A daily selection of the best content published on WordPress, collected for you by humans who love to read.

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.