White House Part-whee Palace

We dragged our abbreviated senses to the car door, ready to thread large experiences onto the short skewer of this night, eager to grill it over the gentle heat of this chill. It was A’s cousin’s wedding. Few colourful pegs of  Black and White can slingshot you five years back to college days when you used to be similarly packed at the back of an i10 passing whiskey and whimsy in equal measure, and the fat Patiala pegs A made in tiny plastic cups had us drinking unsparingly and unsparringly in seconds. We had been long bickering just because L (of course) had kept A waiting an hour, but now that our Bermuda triangle was complete, all that clamour disappeared and A didn’t wait a second more to empty the bottle in our quivering bodies. We had single swigs in every round, nostalgia swelling with every swill, then slid out the doors warm and wrenching. The perfumed evening lifted its booty beside us and twerked. Stumbling across and out the parking lot with eyes blinging sharper than my earring, we reached the entrance. A sea of baaraatis was wafting out into the November nip as we attempted to slide inside. A hurried upstairs to escort the groom down and we followed after. 

-Oh god, L, this is fun. the three of us together in so long.

-I know right. I can feel it.

A dazzling baaraat then began to bloom before us on the moonlit service lane. We joined. The embellished people were breaking in plain ecstasy upon fastening new bonds. Under a roof of flowers and among curtains of lights, we too floated inside, hands up in the air, springs down on our feet, singing, dancing, slowly advancing. This was a night of colour and shine and of plenty to dine. And how light-hearted it seemed, like the heavy beats of the dhol. With both his arms hoisted up over his head to hold the ghadoli, A walked forward, steady and smiling, as we-L and I- watched. And hovered around. Pattering like rain with our giddy little steps on the big porch. 

Hoyeeeeeeee. Hoyeeeeeeee. Hoyeeeeeeee.

-Hahahaha. I skitter, stamping the camera on his happy, ugly face. Let me record this moment before I wreck-ord this moment.

We dashed straight to the DJ. By now, a soft buzz had hardened my desire to flow across the floors like spilled coffee, hot over cold flesh. Between the crisscross fluorescence and the straight-ass beats, we waved and wiggled like a sunflower with the sun. The music kept busy blasting, the lights kept busy being bright, and we kept busy buzzing about them like bees juiced up on the occasion. 

-Tell me, is my lipstick still on?

-Shut up h, nobody’s looking at you.

-Okay tell me if it’s on my teeth.

-All the wrong kinds of things are stuck in there.

-Soon it will be you if you won’t tell me.

We wobbled together in that square inch, the steady two of us, childhood friends flickering with the lights above, shifting with the ground beneath.

Just then A’s aunt pierced through the crowd with a phone and stabbed it towards us. 

-We’re being recorded l, I feel clumsy.

-No more than you look, keep grooving.

We kept the show on till the pull of food drew us away for real. The idea of having four gulab jamuns straight one after another killed my appetite for moves and pushed me to move. So I bolted for the buffet. Eyeing the aisle with unskimmed devotion. I exited successful (of course!) with an eloquent plate in my hands and efficiency in my jaws. As aunties and uncles eyed us probingly, I resolved to sort out A’s love life and dispensed with my (most!) priceless gems of dating knowledge. L said, I must first go fix my own before attempting to kill someone else’s but I reckon, he was just high on all that gulab jamun and gossip.

Later as the crowd thinned out and we got more conspicuous among A’s close family, L gathered that was our cue to leave. In the back of the Uber ride home, zara tasveer se tu nikal ke saamne aa meri mehbooba boomed and busted on the driver’s playlist and a smell of scrubbed puke lingered determinedly. The driver sure had a taste for contradiction. What nauseating stench and an ever-fragrant song. I was silenced and humbled by the beauty of it all. The night had been assigned to the magistracy of magic. L got down plopping around like popcorn in a pan. I was feeling firmly cheered up like unblinking fairy lights with all their frozen elegance when upstairs I realized, L would need bedding to sleep and I hadn’t done laundry in weeks.

jalebi bhai

At the wedding, at the kirtan, at Paharganj’s Lal Ram Chand Ji ki mashhoor dukaan since 1940: jalebi. Glittering gorgeous and hot on hotter news in the paper from the morning. You want to urgently pick one up between your cold fingers and crunch it warm between your canines. More golden than the dome of Gurudwara Bangla Sahib you visited prior, more convoluted than these Paharganj ki galiyan where you find yourself rambling about for the lack of reason and raft, more ancient than the twentieth-century shop that hawks it, you want to pluck one right away and gently squeeze its suffocating sweetness in your mouth. More orange than the 6 pm sun that oversaw the road that led you here. These whorls reject the flavour of the streets where they are born, they are voluptuous and not narrow, wet with warmth on this cold November evening. But they also identify with these thoroughfares in a way that they are similarly incoherent unto themselves. 

Batter of flour and yogurt voyages through a nozzle to calligraph loops in hot ghee. With graceful abandon they float—these ancient scripts for happiness—until they are crisp and coral enough to be tonged out. Then bathed in a syrup of sugar, they become little circuits of pleasure, sappy and swell enough to ink your own personal Ikigai.

You think, after two or three—okay four—your palate must tire and sleep. But no. that numbing nectar has had your cosmos captivated and your brain schematically sugared to keep on chomping. And so you have another round of these roundabouts. And every time you wait in earnest for that holy crackle between your gums releasing a glorious gushing of juice and joy onto your soft palate and hardened soul. By now your fingers will be all shiny and awkward and you’ll start eyeing the fat and shinier stash of tissues at the modest shop with unusual licentiousness. The guy behind the counter hands you down a modest wad and you try to prune the stickiness off your hands but they’ve been marked. Proof of your undammed and damning desire. You stare in vain—all gecko-limbed and livid. And yet the only Van der Waals attraction you feel is towards more of those jalebis. 

You nibble lavishly. You withdraw poorly. You think meagrely. You stomach voraciously. All the way gazing at the architecture of your appetite outlined in coils of crimson. Alongside Jama Masjid Qazi Wali, you feel delivered. Come bow your aches down. In these old smudging lanes, you have arrived at your altar—all bent and rounding on the lilt of the evening. In its runny labyrinthine core, lies a most orienting sweetness. Nothing spells devotion more straightforwardly than these tangled tender truths. For all its twists, a most lucid language for love. Incandescent jumbles of joy. Wisps of warmth woven with much whim worming their way right into your soul.

You ask for paper to get the sheen off your fingers but unwittingly, a curl of your hair gets caught in your veneered thumb and you rub it in vain only to ick everything up. And that’s when you know it. You have stained an evening with the experience of a lifetime.  

summarily,

The night fattens and so do our truths. They have been arranged to be served to me à la carte. By the card, all the cards. And, no garnishes. No dressings. Just the plain raw meat. 

—kaazi hove turat milau ik pal ki he talaash mein. What does it mean? S says, all guitar and grin and grit.

—turat?

—jaldi.

—Okay, first complete the line

—kahe Kabir suno bhyii sadhu mai to hun vishwas mein

My eyes license agreement. 

—I’ll interpret it in my own way.

Yes, please. I’d like to know what do you follow when I sing.

I repeat the lines like a prayer. He picks at the keyword this time. 

Who do you think a kaazi is

Who is a kaazi?

Kaazi means king.

—King?

—A judge.

—C’mon. Grab a dictionary. Learn some vyaakaran…

—You tell me, I snort.

—Shall I?

—Please go on. Needle away my ignorance.

—Kaazi is someone who respects a thing and loves it enough to pursue it pressedly and blessedly.

—A yearner. I say, filling our cups.

—A learner.

—A civil judge. In Arabic, Persian, or Turkish countries. Is what Google says. I say.

—So here kaazi must be like, decreeing a life to be a certain way and then staying with the sentence. 

—Like when you believe enough in something and make a conscious choice, it gets determined on existence.

—Something like the law of attraction? I caress my way in.

—Quite like it.

I write it down, evidencing my lessons. He carries on with his guitar for another hour, sounding all instructional like the rear of an autorickshaw. Proud and pledging. I disregard keeping distance.

We lounge long into the dawn, mixing into each other like Rockford in water. This is a hermitage for have-tos. The day has stripped away its elaborate baroque blouse. The hour is as frank and bare as a teal sharara. Everything flows loose, in silk pleats. After a prosy day, a poetic night. Completely homespun. 

Though this thread will run over. The new morning will find itself pre-embroidered. And I’ll be unable to slide away its snug hold off my shoulders. The memories sequinned into it by last night’s handiwork will tingle me. Its grand little mirrors will feel blinding. The sun will be an embarrassment. I will try to poke open the seams and stitch new ones but the hangover will feel more overwhelming than the blank page. I’ll show up at its gates nevertheless. Hey, I am here and I am unsure if I got the correct doorbell. Did I? Now try folding a fat gown inside a small plastic bag. This notebook will not be enough for such sainted nights and tainted days. Here’s what I have managed thus far: “Sedately, I excavate away my inhibitions and nuzzle my way in, into the warmth of his waist, into the cavern of his consciousness. Accident prone area, it quite is. I go slow and I go regardless. I’ll quarry out my quartz. I’ll polish my night. I rummage in like a rabbit eager for wonders and blunders.” 

What he means is, there are mountains of musts to cross and if we believe, we will.  What I believe in are the valleys and violins I hunger for, before the day arrives with its caution and concussion. Tomorrow I’ll clear out the mustard and mould from my drawers. Years of laundry in waiting. Packed tight and away in ziplock. Ticking to be scrubbed and sunned. Tomorrow I’ll pick at yesterdays. Try to skin them out like an orange plucked clean out of its peel. Pull them apart slice-by-slice with my own fingers and indulge. Nom. Nom. Click. Click. Most suffocated shelves are the most liberating too. But today I am good, tracing meridians through his music and misconduct. Today, I elect tonight. And I feel, real turat, it has come to meet me at my doors.

Indian October

We don’t share the kind of commitment I have with my Nude lipstick yet. And why would we? You just met me when you did as a melody man. And few times after did I quake like the strings somersault under your touch. You are a person of pursuit. I am a woman of worsts. Stewing or sieving metaphors on the street to ‘become’ a writer. Collecting images that I can recollect later. Straining them onto paper, like chai. Both are life-changing. Tea is assured pleasure also. Words don’t always flow, you know. Some days, I get more blocked than my washbasin on a filthy panipuri day. Other days, I am linguistically constipated. But at least, I am not procrastinating. Procrastination is misleading yourself into a power nap. Have slid down that ride more than once and regretted it more than thrice. So now I sow my garden first and prune it later. On better days, the waste paper basket in my room is fuller than that in my loo.

My October is an Orion constellation eloquent around the 3 geographical Gs of Greater Kailash, Gurgaon, and Ghaziabad. Cold calendar marked by hot hunches. Some third act twist this was. I fell for it. Again. Day one, you were a bag of intrigue. Visceral. Vehementing. Voltage. Carried enough velocity and vice to violate my voids. My guard waned faster than the 2 45 am donuts. I scrunch-dry my hair with pink placating dabs of polka dots and wait on my back, cavorting with words, before you—all guitar and 420—bang on my door. My plans obey your plans. Blue tick. Inside my private caves, a satisfying symphony of tender and thunder is sewn. Beyond these railway tracks of Delhi, something more groans. 

This city changes people with its big D right through the (w)hole of them. Among other instances, I met you and collapsed into new blooms. Every visit by you is a red-pill event. We order from Moolchand in the life of the night and they never get it right. Aaloo pyaaz. Mix veg. Paneer pyaaz. Boondi raita. Sweet lassi. We play the relish roulette. Then as we lay wrapped tighter than the extravagant taping on the Zomato package, I feel I have anciently known you and must tell you that. But then I think, you know me better than that. Nights like these live or die based upon the fat in our bellies. I know you’ll be under siege and napping faster than the butter rivulets across our paranthas. But before that, we’ll go picking at pointy peels of onion bathed in chutney greener than this neighbourhood. We’ll pull it all apart before we do each other. Two wolves on the tip of transcendence. Building together a night to scale. On scales only you hit when you do. It is a bruising affair. The boozing affair. Slowly the seconds, the minutes, the hours are crushed and rolled inside the J of an evening ticking to be smoked up and burnt away. I will take out the soggy chips and the empty cans tomorrow. But for the moment, let’s keep this fi-lam on. Once upon a time in GK, we lived wondrously the nights and sluggishly the mornings after. 

This city is a big boutique theatre. Acutely original. Obtusely entertaining. But there are few free tickets. Some mornings are clean and fragrant like a wiped floor. Others are last night’s wrecked toilets. If only I could command my sunshine like I finger the luminosity up and down on this lamp R got from Amazon. Today has been only as productive as water down a plant pot. I am out navigating more offshoots than the little branches in my lily. There are roundabouts to round up your patience. And the infamous roads. Named after too many famous men. Imperial saints and saintly imperials. Now, where do you go? What’s more deciding, where you do not.

Moving into a new house is an education. I have taken multiple courses over the years. Gambled away many personalities to part rabbit holes, part Tibetan mandalas, all honeypots that can animate notebooks. This evening is another evening, fluorescence has established monarchy over the roads, cars and cows are brushing past the red lights, queasy queues are foaming outside wine and beer shops, new cities are being built over the ruin of prior worlds. I am waiting at Sikanderpur station to board a metro to R’s place. An old hole of comfort and constancy among the cabarets of new curiosities. I feel there is a clear chasm between us now. R and I. And, as wide as this metro track before me. Only little. But forbidding. May this Mohenjodaro be never dug any further, I’ll not be able to preserve it intact. 

Anyway. R’s house is hindering. Pin-lock on Netflix. Auto-lock on the main door. And the serious economy of paper in the loo. The only save: the same lovely grooming products that I use and can dexterously exploit. All-day, he rolls tobacco and makes long faces. Writing is similar. You craft your moments with slow, calculated measure and then you squirm or smirk as you relive them. Though Su calls writing the ‘f-’ word. Fitrat! He writes neat like scotch saunters smooth along the rocks. Notebook to phone to cubicle to kitchen. He pours like a dripping roof in the rains. Occasionally steady. And safely inevitable. But he reads his nazms with a physician-prescribed precision. One a morning and then some. I am rather a fast guzzler. Verse. Marlboro. Bira. Old Smuggler. Argan oil hair mask. French Lavender shower cream. Nothing lasts predictably long. But when I write, I barely take the highway. I labour through the narrow alleyways and shoddy streets to worry the page with good determination and a bad hand. When you are lucky, you get a handsome squeeze. Stay thorough through the thoroughfares and you get lucky more often. 

You leave me four candies and one-fourth of a joint on a page torn out of my diary. A man with a good stash. A woman with a good cache. Employing their paper in their own pertinent ways. Making plans together like kids on vacation. You rest quiet while I dip my fingers into your hair. They stay laced with you longer than I stay arched over us. Of course, all this is only as sustainable as Delhi’s ‘good air’. But let it drizzle while it does. Any chance it hurts later, I have seen mother tame stiffest splinters along our door with a stiffer hand. I am certain a manufacturing engineer can do better.

bad tuned (in)

I squint like the hostel cat

I book a bike thrice

The hour is too grainy

Neighborhood some dull demise























You won’t stop calling

Your iron will is forged

I call a cab to see you

My purse is fucking scorched









Once full of writer’s woes

Quiet rum, high music, and lows

The night has taken a U-turn

The roundabout is close




You say, you watching dinner smolder

You say, it the only shop alive

I feel October is colder

Than rolls when they arrive



The driver pulls over for gas

I disembark to look around

There’s a bunch of guys in t-shirts

There’re trucks that are highway-bound





One looks back thorough and stares

He pretty in his cart

Am I wary of his wares?

He ducks inside to part



In less than half an hour

We are at our colony gate

I see you in a Fabindia kurta

Navy blue on a golden wait



I laugh through the sleeping street

You light up like a wire

We hold hands, we skittle 

Like kids met some supplier.

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.

A Dollop of History

Making History Easier to Digest

rarasaur

frightfully wondrous things happen here.

Discover WordPress

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

WordPress.com News

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