On February, Commercialism of Love, My Favorite Couples

On A Train 

The book I’ve been reading

rests on my knee. You sleep.
It’s beautiful out there —
fields, little lakes and winter trees
in February sunlight,
every car park a shining mosaic.
Long, radiant minutes,
your hand in my hand,
still warm, still warm.

~Wendy Cope
Yesterday I came upon this poem that brings together long journeys, a book, love and the February sun. On a dreary day tinged with the loss of a loved one, these words felt like a warm, comforting hand, reminding me of the delights of my favorite month. I love the pleasant chill in the air, the oblong patch of dappled sunshine that sneaks in and spreads over my bed every morning, the first sprouts of green on the bare branches of the tree outside my window, and the dubious yet unavoidable association of love with this month.
It is the month of mass commercialism and ostentatious display of love. The generalization of a single day of the year as the day of love is ridiculous. But it is difficult to avoid this young month dripping with love. It is everywhere; the romantic comedies on TV, the newspaper ads of lovers staring moonily into the horizon, the special offers for couples at restaurants, the love songs blaring everywhere including the dialer tunes, the annoying spam about love horoscopes, tiny little hearts and confetti decorating even the local supermarket, flower stalls at every corner with outrageously priced bouquets, heart-shaped food, even the foam in my cappuccino is a white heart, and the sudden trend of wearing pink or red, lead by the over-enthusiastic teenagers.
I am too old to be a part of the hoopla surrounding this Hallmark holiday. There is also the logistical deficiency of a determined lover out to woo me. The only things I look forward to are the books I had ordered a few days ago (Break of Day by Colette, Book of Disquiet by Pessoa, The Lover’s Discourse by Barthes and The Angle of Repose by Stegner); and as pathetic as it sounds, that makes my month of love, reading books about this baffling emotion. Stories intrigue me, so does love; and a good love story, preferably the real ones, is always a delight. Today I want to mention a few of stories of love whose charm had grown on me.

1. Renu and Biren
They had been in love for 44 years, including 34 years of conjugal life. They are the poster couple for ‘opposites attract‘. He is an unabashed extrovert, witty, quite popular with the women, an engaging conversationalist, adventurous, highly ambitious, brash and has uncountable friends. She is quietness personified, a loner, seeks solitude, gave up her job to set up a home, shuns socializing, is calm and composed, the stronger one, the better half, and the one who holds it all together. She liked old movies, he was hooked onto sports. Now she is a cricket enthusiast and he keeps humming Rajesh Khanna songs. They are as unconventional as they come. He is the fearless protector, but she has to hold his hand when the nurse jabs his forearm for a blood sample. She speaks few words, but he listens diligently to all of it. They support each other, no matter how many obstacles come their way. He discusses his work-related problems with her; she doesn’t comprehend them fully, but her encouragement and patient words soothe him. They made each others’ families their own, not just out of obligation, but out of love. They fell in love during a time when the caste and socio-economic divide mattered a lot when seeking parental approval for marriage. She is a Brahmin, he belongs to a scheduled caste; he had worked hard to amass a small fortune, and she had none. They eloped. She battled with a chronic illness for seven years after marriage, but he nursed her back to health. They didn’t have a child for seven years, and people tried to convince him to remarry. He stood by her. Later they became parents of two daughters. They had troubles, grave ones, but they didn’t run away from each other. They were wedded for life; their love never ran a smooth course, it tested patience, taught compromise, stuck to hope and came out triumphant. I call them Pa and Ma.
2. Angana and Gaurav
We grew up together, and she knows me inside out. My best-est friend, Angana, had an interesting run up to her twenties. She lusted after inaccessible and stereotyped uber-heroes, with bulging muscles, dimpled smile, oozing with charm; and was blissfully oblivious to the long queue of admirers and stalkers who waited for hours at strategic locations just to have a glance of her. She had a new infatuation every month and we dissected that object of affection to the very core, analyzing and re-analyzing, till his charm wore off. She got into IIMC and moved to Delhi six years ago. She had a new set of friends, most of whom belonged to Dehradun. She often heard the name ‘Gaurav’ pop up in their conversations, another Dehra dude who worked in Mumbai. She had heard so much about him, she had recklessly announced to her friends that if he was so good as they made him sound, she would end up dating him. Similar series of events and conversations were unfolding before him. He came. She saw. Love conquered. It has been a little over five years now. They are delightfully inseparable. He is an amazing person, and I am not saying it because he is going to marry the most important girl in my life someday. He is the brooding Darcy to her impish and impulsive Elizabeth.
3. Devi and Divy
She is a fellow-introvert, born and raised in a remote hill town of Assam; he is jovial by default (Fun-jabi gene), growing up in a crowded Delhi locality. She is a doctor, he is rapidly climbing the corporate ladder. She comes from a highly orthodox family, he is highly liberal. She is my best friend and he is my brother’s best friend. Eight years ago I was their Cupid at a family dinner. That night in the cover of the conveniently dim dining hall, shy glances and hesitant smiles were exchanged. She broke off an earlier loveless relationship and he was ecstatic. After the initial few awkward phone calls and umpteen emails, love blossomed. He swept her off her feet; such was the wooing! They sneaked off on covert vacations, going incommunicado for days. They had a courtship straight off the pages of a romance novel. When faced with parental opposition, she asserted her love with a conviction that I highly admired. He left for a different country; and she patiently waited the long years till she was with him again. The striking thing about their relationship is the balance they maintain in giving each other their personal spaces, without compromising on the togetherness. In a week, they would complete three wonderful years of marriage.
4. Natasha and Azhar
We had donned pale grey skirts and starched white shirts, and attended the same school in my hometown. I was in awe of her; she dabbled in karate, art and shared my passion for books. Facebook and blogging brought us together after long years of separation. I was privy to her love life through mutual friends. They met as undergrads. It caused mass palpitations in her family, sparking off strict opposition on religious grounds. The future seemed bleak; as they pursued their studies and later their respective careers in different cities, while the flame of disapproval continued to burn in the families. With a note-worthy patience, they waited it out and stood by each other for nearly a decade. Their love culminated in marriage last November.

5. Pallabi and Nayan

She taught me the art of bunking class, by sneaking me out of several math classes at Cotton College. In August 2010, she called me up to inform that she got engaged to a man she had barely known for a couple of months, being a dutiful daughter and approving a match engineered by their respective parents. I am wary of the ‘arranged marriage‘ tag. But my worries were baseless, there is no fixed time frame for love. It is an instinct. You just know it. They were married in less than six months. The baby arrived shortly after their first wedding anniversary. Everything in her life had been fast paced; marriage, baby. But she had juggled her career, home, husband, and a baby with an inspiring confidence, learning by trial and error, making adjustments, setting the foundation of her own little world. I realize that she had made the right choices. Recently during an event, I saw her smoothen a crease on his coat lapel and he looked down at her and smiled; the contentment and understanding between them became palpable.

6. Rahul and Garima
He has the innate talent of charming the women around him. Flings and flirtations surrounded him, but he always got out of them with an impish smile. She contradicts his every facet; yet ironically complements him, bringing some much needed stability to his life. They dated for nearly a decade; overcoming differences in culture and background (Assamese vs Punjabi), parental opposition, distance and long years of waiting; and finally got married four years ago. That’s my cousin and bhabhi. Their love story had all the elements of a stereotype Bollywood movie; yet their perseverance triumphed in the end. And now they are the parents of an adorable baby boy.

7. Barsha and Manash

They are two of the most wonderful people I have ever known. He had always been my favourite cousin owing to his sobriety and pleasant personality. And she complements him so well. Theirs was a match doctored by relatives; which was followed by a courtship long enough to allow love and understanding to seep in and grow roots. They had been married for seven years now, and their smiles continue to light up the room, wherever they go. My nephew is their pride and joy.

These are a few of the love stories that had endured adversities or long years of adjustments; and had taught me the value of compatibility, trust, perseverance, and even healthy compromise. There are many more stories that I had witnessed, a few of which cannot be described in mere words, gradually subduing my cynicism and cautiousness towards love. My heart is so drunk on love as I write these words, reliving and remembering these stories, re-affirming a belief that had threatened to dwindle.
Enjoy this young month; dabble in love, and soak in the sunshine.

Layers

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Layers. The word has always intrigued me. We are never in a rigid mould; there is a fluidity to our personalities, ever changing, as we pile on new layers, and peel off others.

Some are carefully wrapped and covered; few of them need digging to be discovered; and the rest are glaringly visible. My family, and especially my sister, knows me better than anyone else; but there are still unseen layers, subtle, hidden. Friends know what I want them to know. To a few I have revealed more than the rest, but then on a good day, I am ten different persons from dawn to dusk. A goof or a lover; a dreamer or a doer; a compassionate caregiver or a selfish bitch; someone with a secret or an open book; book lover or manic jogger; resilient or vulnerable; a fiery temper or monk like calm; insightful or idiot; voluble or loner; it is hard to say which facet would emerge when.
I still discover new layers ever so often. Impatience and impulsiveness is ingrained in my very core; yet I recently discovered that I too could be patient, I too could let things be, and let go of things without a fuss. That felt good, finding this new layer. It’s a puzzle, hard work, digging them up, and knowing them for what they are, deciding what to keep and what to discard, what to reveal and what to conceal, and to whom.
But it is a dear wish that someday someone somewhere would have as much fun peeling off the layers, knowing me, and loving me, as I would have in knowing and loving him for who he is. The above sentence didn’t have any sexual innuendo though.

Wendy Cope mirrors my heart, gives ‘Two Cures for Love’

Today I discovered Wendy Cope’s poems-pithy, lighthearted, unpretentious and achingly familiar. Read them out loud and slow. Do the words mean anything to you?
Worry
I worry about you-
So long since we spoke.
Love, are you downhearted,
Dispirited, broke?
I worry about you.
I can’t sleep at night.
Are you sad? Are you lonely?
Or are you all right?
They say that men suffer,
As badly, as long.
I worry, I worry,
In case they are wrong.
Some More Light Verse
You have to try. You see the shrink.
You learn a lot. You read. You think.
You struggle to improve your looks.
You meet some men. You write some books.
You eat good food. You give up junk.
You do not smoke. You don’t get drunk.
You take up yoga, walk and swim.
And nothing works. The outlook’s grim.
You don’t know what to do. You cry.
You’re running out of things to try.

You blow your nose. You see the shrink.
You walk. You give up food and drink.
You fall in love. You make a plan.
You struggle to improve your man.
And nothing works. The outlooks grim.
You go to yoga, cry and swim.
You eat and drink. You give up looks.
You struggle to improve your books.
You cannot see the point. You sigh.
You do not smoke. You have to try.



Valentine
 My heart has made its mind up
And I’m afraid it’s you.
Whatever you’ve got lined up,
My heart has made its mind up
And if you can’t be signed up
This year, next year will do.
My heart has made its mind up
And I’m afraid it’s you.

 
A Vow
 I cannot promise never to be angry;
I cannot promise always to be kind.
You know what you are taking on, my darling –
It’s only at the start that love is blind.
And yet I’m still the one you want to be with
And you’re the one for me – of that I’m sure.
You are my closest friend, my favorite person,
The lover and the home I’ve waited for.
I cannot promise that I will deserve you
From this day on. I hope to pass that test.
I love you and I want to make you happy.
I promise I will do my very best. 

Two Cures for Love
1 Don’t see him. Don’t phone or write a letter.
2 The easy way: get to know him better.

 

Known, Realized

Once he had bought a fancy pair of shoes and asked her if she liked them; she thought of them as a tad ugly, but had nodded her approval. He had a defiant walk. His eyes were always laughing, almost mocking. People thought of him as arrogant, but he wasn’t; he was just tactless. He had lovely hands; not long and artistic fingers, but it was rough and reeked of hard work. In the old photographs that she had hunted up, he wore spectacles. He was rude, but not to her. He thought he worked smart and delegated duties well, but often ended up offending his peers. He didn’t care though. He was not tall, he was not dark, and he was not at all handsome. He was always in a hurry. He spoke rapidly and it was difficult to comprehend his words. He had a home in the hills. He loved trees. He loved picnics too. He kept his car spic and span. He valued the few friends that he had. He had a shy smile that curved up slowly on his face. He blushed easily, and too often. He raised his brows in greeting every time he met her. He encouraged hard work, never demanded it. He was extraordinarily helpful. He didn’t believe in small talk. He was always well-dressed. He frowned a lot, especially when he was studying. He was quite attached to his family. He was frugal. He spent a lot of time on the phone. He had a wit that took time getting used to. He laughed heartily. She had assumed that he loved books. He was moody. He was restless. He reminded her of her.
That was all she had known before she fell in love with him.
He is insensitive. On most days he would be a happy memory, and an unbearable burden on the rest. He isn’t easy to forget.
This she has realized after she had fallen in love with him.
She hadn’t seen him or heard from him in nearly two years, yet she can’t stop thinking about him. Weird, the ways one falls in love!

You Must Allow Me To Tell You

I imagine I am in love. And as lovers of book lovers will tell you, we have a thing for creating an ambience that mirrors our mood. I have a new and highly customized playlist on my iPod. Today I dusted a thick tome of Jane Austen’s complete works and placed it on my bedside. 1336 pages, and in minute print. I like the arduous challenge of tackling a thick tome, more so if it is the re-reading of old novels; I cherish the anticipation of coming upon certain sentences, the thrill of encountering the familiar twists in the tale; but mostly the joy is in reading words that reflect the state of my heart. I would wallow in the warm glow of whatever it is that I feel as I read about Mr.Darcy and the likes. Sadly, my beloved John Thornton isn’t included in this collection.

And then I stumbled upon this amazing coffee mug, while browsing through one of my favorite book sites. I can’t think of anything remotely as romantic and as lovely and as true as the words Darcy chooses to tell Elizabeth how he feels about her.
In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.
 
*Swoon*

Dilemma

Consider for a moment that you are in love with someone you can never be with. 

What do you do? Do you let the person know despite knowing that certain hearts are out of reach? Or why even bother complicating things? Why risk getting hurt? But, what about the nagging regret and unrest of not saying what you really feel? Then again, what about the even more nagging regret and unrest of saying what you really feel and not hearing the answer you wanted to? Is it worth being rational and not letting emotions rule your life? Or is it worth being emotional and living in the moment? Why hold back what makes you happy? But then again, what if the happiness is momentary and when faced with rejection will lead only to a long phase of sorrow?
Why take risks? Why not take risks? Why bother? Why not bother? What should you follow, reason or intuition? What do you do, tell or shut up? Then again, why pursue love? Isn’t it tiring? Isn’t it scary? Why not wait for it to come to you? But then again, what if the wait is never-ending? Will you be courageous enough to say what’s on your mind irrespective of the consequences? Will you be courageous enough to let your heart get broken? Or will it be foolish enough? When does the unrest end? Why is it so hard to say what you feel? Why is not knowing so hard? Why is it so difficult getting from one day to another?
Of the few billion people in this world, why do you sometimes pine for the ones you can’t have? Why can’t you give up? But then, why even give up? Why do you wait? For what do you wait? Till when will you wait?  Why can’t you stop thinking about the one who would never think about you? Where is your self-restraint? But then, why is your love shackled by need for reciprocation and the opinion of others? Should you ashamed of an impossible love? Should you ever be ashamed of love? But then, wouldn’t it hurt if it’s not acknowledged or maybe even mocked at? What if it draws only indifference?
What if it is questioned? Why do you love me? What would you answer? How does one explain love? How can you be sure? Is there a minimum criterion of requirements that needs to be checked off before you can declare that you are in love? Who sets these standards? How can you ever be sure? When can you be sure? How do you even ask? Why do questions have to precede answers? 
Do you have to look out for signals? How can a person, who takes eons to process simple information, ever identify let alone interpret signals? But, seriously, do signals really exist? Or do we see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear? Why can’t the whole process be simple and doesn’t make you lose the hair on your sparsely populated scalp? Why can’t it be so that the name of the person one loves/likes flash on their foreheads, and since it would be a routine occurrence in the alternate universe I’m describing, it won’t be embarrassing, and make it much easier for people to find love without awkward questions and guesses?
But then, what if in another parallel universe, the one you love, loves you back? What would you then? Why did you go so numb with fear? Why is it so impossible even to indulge such a possibility in some faraway universe? Why are you so scared of admitting your love? Is it mere rejection? Is it fear of a broken heart? Or is it the realization that no one would ever come to be even a close second? If you don’t say it out loud, you won’t hear a ‘no’, and that would be a little solace, won’t it? Who would want to let go of that miniscule hope, however ridiculous and absurd it might be?
What is it about a certain person? Why do you feel happy that such a person exists? Finding your innermost thoughts reflected in another, sometimes that’s enough, isn’t it? Isn’t that rare? Isn’t that worth preserving the way it is, unsullied and uncomplicated? But then, what if you had imagined it?
Seriously, how can one know? How can you say it without compromising your dignity and self-respect? Or should you continue to wear a mask of indifference?
Such a dilemma!

Smorgasbord: Ismat Chughtai, Come Here, Dead Ends

Last year I had decided to incorporate the works of eminent female authors of Indian origin into my reading list, the ones beside the predictable list of Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri and Kiran Desai that my generation identifies with. I started with the novels and memoirs of Kamala Das and Indira Goswami. I began 2013 with the short stories of Ismat Chughtai. They are unabashed, titillating, disturbing, provoking; they tell about the underbelly of conservative and orthodox households, about lost loves, about the lives of women from various nooks of the Indian society, and about the relationship dynamics in large households. In the anthology I had bought, there were stories about a dejected wife who embraces the devotion of the female servant whose rough hands massages her creamy white back and legs, and lets the servant do questionable things to her under the dark cover of a quilt every night; about a rogue Englishman, with  a glass eye, who stayed back even after India gained independence and tentatively tried to start a family with his Indian maid, under the mocking eyes of the very people he ruled; about an adolescent widow outcast from the household when the heir of the family impregnated her; about the lost years and love of two passionate individuals who never gathered the courage to confess their feelings; about the a pampered daughter-in-law plagued with the grief of serial miscarriages and the fear of her husband’s remarriage, witnessing the ease of birth of a child in a moving train; about how the craving for restless soul soured once it was possessed and tamed; about a tortured painter’s obsession with the thin line between pure innocence and veiled provocation of his subject. Ismat Chughtai is unconventional, hence unputdownable.
Love songs crowd the playlists on my phone and iPod. But the one I always return to sometime in the course of the day, is Kath Bloom’s ‘Come here‘. There is a scene in the movie ‘Before Sunrise’ when Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are in the listening booth of a music store, and this song starts, the words of which says what remains unsaid between them, and the subtle longing in their stares, and the wondering in their hearts, and the anticipation of what is to come. The palpable thrill of the unsaid. I’ll never tire of this beautiful song.
When you take the open road towards the unknown, with nothing but naked hope, you are wary of taking more than a few hesitant steps each day. When the sun shines on you and the fog around that obscure destination clears up a little, your gypsy feet tread with joy. But sometimes you wake up to an unfamiliar and hostile terrain surrounding you. Reason tells you to turn back before it’s too late, and you stand awkwardly, helplessly, not knowing what to do. The worst nightmare is to realize that you had been walking towards a dead end. You cry not for the lost time or the lost hope; but because walking back on your now weary feet would take so much longer. 

Names

Lips touch briefly and the tongue strikes the roof in quick succession. A name forms. It rolls around the mouth claiming its place. It is uttered in whispers. No one hears it; no one sees the pink tongue swirl delicious syllables. It’s just another name to the world, but the world to the one who will always turn back at the sound of it. Fingers trace its ebbs and crests; up and down, up and down, on the last page of a book. It is a secret pleasure in the course of a mundane day.
What is in a name, they say. It can make hearts race. Smiles form involuntarily. Some days there is a restlessness to find excuses to bring it up in conversations, just to savour it once more. Some days it is jealously guarded. It is strange how a name can no longer be uttered nonchalantly. Where does this trace of coyness come from? The thrill of saying a name, what with the risk of flushed cheeks!
Say my name, that’s another wish. Vowels are elongated adorably, while the consonants are rushed through; making the familiar sound of one’s own name so new and lovable. Like a virgin sound. One imagines the fingers writing the name. Another smile forms. Say my name, the wish repeats.
In the novel North and South, Thornton simply utters her name in the end. And that crumbles Margaret’s reserve, hearing him say her name, and the way he says it. No other confession of love is required. Just the name is enough. In just saying her name, he claimed her, begged her, and told he belonged to her. In the movie Dor, every month Meera called up her husband, thousands of miles away, for a hurried conversation. These calls deterred by nearly non-existent phone signals and eavesdropping neighbours lasted less than a minute. Yet before she hung up, she made a simple request. Say my name, she said. Meera, he chuckled. That kept her going for another month till she heard his voice again. I found it beautiful.
It’s subtle and very often goes unnoticed, this ability of names to create such a lump of joy in our hearts. It is taken for granted, attributed to the general malady of love. But just say the name of the one you love. Why did you smile?

A Book, A Tear-stained Pillow

Certain books take my hand and walk me into their melancholic core. I think about them for a long time afterwards, but I’m the passive and often distant reader. It’s only sympathy that wobbles up.

But rarely I come across a book that makes me cry unabashedly. The tears just refuse to stop. Empathy is the only emotion. The heart gets involved unknowingly, one can no longer be distant. I don’t remain a mere reader. Their pain is mine. Their love is mine. So is their despair.
Khushwant Singh’s classic novel, ‘Train to Pakistan‘ is the reason my pillow is wet with tears tonight. The novel is set in one of the most harrowing times this country had witnessed less than a century ago. The brutalities of Partition always makes me shudder. People, who cohabited quite peacefully, suddenly starts slaughtering, looting and raping each other in the heat of communal violence and a seriously convoluted sense of religious faith and patriotism. Lives became statistics; they kill one, you kill two. The thought of a single corpse is disturbing, the end of a life that still had so many hopes perhaps. Thousands of corpses filled in trains, floating down the river, mass graves; Singh’s clear, vivid prose makes every detail achingly real.
Nothing much has changed since then. Religion, borders, intolerance to other faiths, castes, wealth; we still use them as reasons to shed blood, and kill within us every trace of humanity. It is so easy to rouse a mob; to manipulate minds in the name of religion and loyalty; to ask them to leave behind all reason; to exact revenge out of innocent and unintended victims. I wonder if it will ever stop.
Even the few sane ones who understand the true reason of having a faith, not coloured by communal overtones, when faced with such blatant hatred, reacts in myriad ways. Some give up; turn mute, blind and deaf. Few idealistic ones prefer armchair activism, everything is dismal around them, nothing has any hope, why even try? Where is the audience to acknowledge their bravery or sacrifice? Why waste one’s valuable life by being just another casualty of a hopeless cause? Some try every tactic, cunning they could muster; they look for loopholes; they manipulate, but for the greater good; sometimes they are trapped in their many half-baked plans; so they cry plaintively, kneel down and pray. Some just pray from the beginning, it’s easier to leave everything to a higher power, and be freed from any responsibility.
Then there are some crude hearts and simple brains, who don’t know much, don’t even attempt to understand. They know hate strongly. But they know love even better than their own selves. And even loyalty. When the whole world is ravaged by wars, inhuman acts and sectionalized into different religions, classes and countries; only love in all its selfish desire to protect its loved one from every possible harm, to just give without seeking anything in return, and just being its plain and simple whole, sans any calculations and justifications, offers hope.
That’s why even though the novel portrays an honest picture of wars and communal violence in all its brutality, it ends on a mixed note, a tragedy laced with a feeble hope. When nothing seems to work, no respite seems in sight, a heart quietly sacrifices itself to protect the one it loves. The worthlessness of war will keep you awake and distressed for a long time to come. So will the futile and irrelevant boundaries we have created in the name of religion, countries, race and money. Hatred is infectious; but so is love. Vouch for love. It’s all but a choice.

The Known

After years of dabbling in drama, thriving in crisis and being bored of the predictable; one tends to crave the intimacy of the known. There is an overwhelming urge to give intuition a chance. What is the simplest wish? Just the feeling of coming home. Similarities that bind, differences that intrigue.
This known is subjective. Sometimes it is intuitive; when the unknown feels known. It’s like deja vu. You know. They know. You know that they know. They know that you know that they know. Yet, who knows? Geometry goes for a toss when parallel lives serendipitously intersect. Words feel superfluous; redundant almost. But vulnerability is fiercely hidden. We submissively hand in the reins to uncertainty; and it curbs what feels known. Why this restlessness?
Souls get stirred by cryptic connections. Somewhere along the way the unrequited loses its allure. Waiting tires you. So does making things happen. You want things to happen because they are meant to happen. You want your feelings mirrored, with the same intensity.
You want to give in to cliches and be loved for who you are. You want to be vulnerable in a safe cocoon. You want to know someone inside out. You want to know where exactly you stand, and revel in that knowledge. You want to put your feet up and relax. Maximum relaxation.

Signs can be misleading. But concrete steps are scary; so is initiative. The vicious cycle of hopeful wait is inviting; so is the ease of giving it all up. Where is the third choice? Where is the assertiveness? 
Sometimes you fail to see what others notice; a face, a wallet, a degree or a diploma, a smile, a story, a past, an anguish, a success, a failure, a rebel streak, a confusion, an allure. You just feel a restless soul that mirrors yours. You want to run to them and say, “hey, me too“. But you don’t. You just move on to safer grounds, turn back stealthily, and observe from far.
Some hearts get easily confused. They know what they want, but they worry about what they are supposed to want. That ruins it all. What will people say? What will the future hold? There will be others, love doesn’t happen just once. The more we justify, the more we spoil it.
Sometimes it’s out there. Within reach. But you will let it go. Uncertainty wins. But you had known. Didn’t you?

The One about Nothing

It’s appropriate irony that a few days after I declare that a distant reader makes me a prolific blogger, I can’t think of anything to write. I don’t want to write about love. Its tiresome. I don’t want to write about what could be, I’m too preoccupied by what is. But I write about it again.

I get awed by certain attributes and achievements-intelligence, wit, good writing skills, honesty or kindness-and the ones who possess them in abundance. I put them on pedestals. There isn’t any room for envy; I just can’t stop gushing about these exceptional people for a long time thereafter, which greatly amuses my family and friends. They shake their heads and say, “Let’s see if you feel the same few months from now“.  I find their irreverence to these talented souls nothing short of blasphemy. I idolize these people, building the pedestals higher and higher after every interaction and a rare look into their dazzling personalities.

I get tunnel vision and only see what I want to see. But with time, inconsequential details that I used to overlook earlier becomes glaringly evident, and often knocks down the pedestal an inch or two. Anything could lead to it. Sometimes they can’t spell (loose instead of lose), or their vocabulary is generously peppered with verbal trash like dudes, gals or ‘sure thing ya‘! I want to run to them and put my hand over their mouth to stop them from sprouting such words so often. Most often they lack sensitivity and have inflated egos, which I had liked at the beginning as ‘sexy arrogance‘. Few of them are sexists. Sometimes the witty one-liners fail to produce even a flicker of a smile. Only three persons continue to stand on the pedestals I had erected, but I won’t name them. I don’t want to jinx it. So many have toppled over.

I take care never to fall in love with someone I have put on a pedestal, as it can be tragic never to harbour a hope of it being reciprocated; the possibility seems so absurd and improbable to me that I avoid it. I fall in love with the accessible. The mediocre. The ordinary with an edge of extra-ordinary. The rude boy. The bookworm. The poet. The one with a frown. The one with strong hands. The one that makes me laugh. The one that listens. The one I love to listen to. Sometimes even the accessible becomes inaccessible. And the wait never seems to end.

Find someone new who appreciates your love“, I was told recently. If only we could vacate our heart and accommodate it with a new person so easily. I go back to my favorite passage from Aimee Bender’s short story that describes with such clarity how I feel this moment.

…it’s brutal to imagine the idea of meeting a new person. Going through the same routine. Saying the same phrases I have now said many times: the big statements, the grand revelations about my childhood and character, the cautious revealing of my insecurities. I have said them already, and they sit now in the minds of those people who are out living lives I have no access to anymore. A while ago, this sharing was tremendous; now the idea of facing a new person and speaking the same core sentences seems like a mistake, an error of integrity. Surely it is not good for my own mind to make myself into a speech like that. The only major untouched field of discussion will have to do with this feeling, this tiredness, this exact speech. The next person I love, I will sit across from in silence, we will have to learn it from each other some other way.
 (Aimee Bender)
 And sometimes there is an exception, and it scares the hell out of me.

What Is Love?

When the cab drew near, the first thing I noticed was his teeth, a block of white that made up most of his face. Thin girls wearing skinny jeans on their non-existent hips; a beggar at traffic junction pleading about a mother with chronic indigestion; Sardarjiwith an extra large turban, a car shaped like a frog (Beetle!!); frothy coffee moustaches; and even my nose blowing (I have a bad bout of cold) made him laugh. I would have been offended had it not been for his child-like glee; he is just twenty-two, a couple of months younger than my sister.
He took us to Chandigarh; and waited hours at parking lots while we shopped and visited old monuments in Delhi. And one of the reasons my trip has been enjoyable so far is because of the stories he tells me. He explains to me the lyrics of corny Nepali songs, and insists I explain to him the meaning of the songs in the sole English album (Rihanna!) he has in his car. He calls me Didi, and is unapologetic about barraging me with questions about Assam. Are there Nepalis in Assam? Does everyone have tea plantations? Didi, bhaal matlab achcha na?
He ran away from home when he was just eight, and his maternal uncle (mama) sent him away on a bus to India. He returned home after a decade. Without knowing a single word of Hindi, and under the pseudonym of Ravi, he worked as an orderly at a hospital in Noida. Later he worked as Viren the cook at a police canteen, as Nitin the babysitter at a sprawling household, and finally as Deepak the cab driver.  This is his real name; after years of answering to strange names he has finally got his name back. He has proof of identification, a driving license, and a single room flat with a pretty bride in it. He belonged now; he isn’t afraid of deportation anymore.
He asked me, “Didi, when will you get married?  My mother used to say that girls should get married by thirty. Time doesn’t stop for them (referring to the fertility clock).” I replied that not everyone finds love as easily as he did. He replies, “Arre Didi, sab kismat ki baat hain. When I worked at the police canteen, I was in love with a Haryanvi girl who worked there too. Very robust; she was a foot taller than me. She wanted to marry me. When I went to Nepal after a decade, my father threatened to commit suicide if I married that girl. Within a week they got me married to Pavitra. But I am happy now. My wife is very nice. Aap photo dekhenge?”
He gave up his teenage love to marry a stranger. But when I see her photograph, I realize why he is smitten. A round face with flushed cheeks, smudges of kohl lining the narrow slits that are her eyes, and a large red bindi on the flawless young skin. She looks happy and this makes him happy.
I spent an evening browsing at the Khan Market bookstores recently, and when I came back to the car he had a new story to tell me. He had called up his wife to ask what she was doing that afternoon. She was on the terrace, soaking in the winter sun. He asked her to stop running her fingers through her hair. This startled her and she looked around to search for him. He just laughed and asked her not to crane her neck all around. This baffled her even more and she demanded to know where he was. He admonished her for going so near the edge of the terrace to look for him on the street below, she could have slipped her feet and fell down. By now she was at her wit’s end in trying to locate the spot from where her husband observed her secretly. It was then that he calmed her down; he was miles away from her, he just knew her too well. The story made me happy.
She calls him up every half an hour with absurd queries (Mujhe phone battery repair karna hain. Battery ko engish mein kya bolte hain?), but he replies patiently to each of them. On the night we were driving back from Chandigarh, it was nearly midnight, and she asked him to bring her an ice-cream! I found both the weather and the time considerable deterrents to her request, but he went on an enthusiastic search around little known nooks in Noida to find that midnight ice-cream seller and was delirious with happiness when he finally found it. Love is weird.
She has a shrill voice; his voice is always laced with laughter. He saves a thousand rupees every month, which she spends in movie tickets (they watch the late night shows, before his early morning ‘airport drop’ duties) and in buying the latest Hindi music albums. He complains that she keeps the radio on the whole day, but is quick to justify that she has little to do at home, with him working for such long hours. He tells me, “Didi, I never get angry. But my wife loses her temper over little things, but cools down just as quick. She is very impulsive. But I find it endearing. Dil ki bohut achchi hai.
They have been married for three years and she is pregnant with their first child now. He is playing the role of the harried father to the core, and is fretting about what medicines she needs to take, how many health check-ups she needs to undergo, can she eat oranges, why does she vomit in the morning. When I visited the flea market, I gave him money to buy a jacket because he has only got a threadbare sweater to protect him against the harsh Delhi winter. He was reluctant to accept the money, but when he did, he spent it on a new shawl, a pink nail colour and earrings for his wife.
I feel an odd tenderness for this young couple, struggling to make a living in an alien country, without any other family members or friends to guide them through. It’s just the two of them; him for her, her for him; eating ice-cream at midnight, the only witnesses to each other’s lives. They don’t have much, they don’t aspire much; but their simplicity is a part of their happiness.
We don’t need much to love and feel loved, do we? We can love anyone. It just needs a genuine desire to do so. Deepak and Pabitra taught me that love is very simple. It is about the desire to spend your life making someone happy; when just a smile from them is enough to light up your heart. Everything else that we pile on in the name of love just complicates it more. Expectations, ambitions, comparisons dilute the very essence of love. Realists will scoff at this; and even I admit that it’s tough to find and maintain such a love nowadays. But out there in little known pockets of society, love exists for love’s sake. Flowers and chocolates are superfluous. So is everything else.
Just be there. Be a family. Discover together what you want in life. It’s a long life, and a wonderful world.
It’s a pleasant co-incidence that as I type these words my friend’s brother is playing “When You Say Nothing At All” in the adjacent room, and I can’t help but quietly wallow in the goodness of love thinking about an ignorant heart miles away. Sometimes the word ‘mutual’ becomes superfluous too, and contentment is just a thought away.

Things I Don’t Tell You

In the recent months I’ve experienced such an abrupt prolificacy in writing that often the content gets butchered in favour of frequency.

I think of you as my only reader and hope that the essence of what I want to convey doesn’t get diluted or misinterpreted in the transit. I write for you because I would never speak to you. I don’t know if you are even aware that I write, but hope that serendipitously you would stumble upon my blog someday. The only drawback is the constrained range of topics that thoughts of this particular reader brings to my mind.

I write an hour before dawn, sitting cross-legged on my bed, impatiently drumming my fingers on the laptop, wondering what would I like to tell you today. Sometimes I have little to say, sometimes I have to remind myself about this lone reader’s attention span. I am unable to contain the things I’d like to tell you; it’s a chaos that I look forward to each day.

Today I woke up at four-thirty am in a familiar yet relatively new city. The sun wasn’t up yet and it was freezing outside. So, I switched on the bedside lamp and started reading the book my sister gifted me yesterday, “The Groaning Shelf” by Pradeep Sebestian. This is a book about books, about unabashed bibliomania! I think of you and wonder if you would frown in amazement that I’m just a small fry among bibliophiles.

As the grey early morning light suffused the sky, I slipped on an over-sized black pullover and walked out to the terrace. It wasn’t an impressive skyline but the familiar stillness of dawn that greeted me. A sliver of the moon still hung unsure in the sky. An aircraft flew by uncomfortably close. A scary pigeon stared at me the entire time I was on the terrace. Do you know that I’m scared of birds? Hitchcock and a pair of huge swans are responsible for it.

As I sit on the edge of the bathtub waiting for it to fill up, my thoughts drift to you again. I eat eggs for breakfast and wonder how do you like your eggs. Fried? Scrambled? Omelette? I laugh hysterically over my sister’s antics and wonder if you would find them funny too.

I’ve traded my dream of travelling to the distant hills to visit the accessible Chandigarh due to lack of travel partners. I’m somewhat disappointed. By nine in the morning we were already on NH-1. There were so many things that caught my attention. I saw a woman standing on the sidewalk and she was nearly as tall as the lamp post, 6’5” at least. I gaped like an idiot, till I realized it was making her uncomfortable. I saw acres and acres of naked fields that would be luxuriant next spring. And there were the fauna; the horses, the bullocks and even an occasional camel! I saw turbans in every possible colour; aquamarine, peach, lilac, brick-red, you just name it. Old women with pendulous breasts carried large bales of hay on their head. Liquor flowed freely on this route. And so many expensive cars that I don’t even know the names of!


I stopped for lunch at a road-side dhaba where the utensils resembled a hotbed of staphylococcal colonies but the food was mouth-watering. They got the concept of ‘fat-free‘ wrong, and freely poured dollops of desi ghee on the paranthas. I thought of you again as I stood outside the car at this unfamiliar spot on the highway.

I am in Chandigarh now. I type these words as I lay curled up on a large white sofa. Today I wear pink, a welcome addition to my wardrobe of monochromes. In a few minutes I will accompany my sister on a shopping spree. She wants to buy kurtis with embroideries and works that she had painstakingly explained to me but I didn’t understand anything. I think I’ll settle for window-shopping.

I will think of you there too. And you won’t even know.

When Can You Be Sure?

“They are young now, and in love. He meets her family over dinner. Later she takes him up the stairs into her room. They can’t stop laughing, and roll all over her bed. He has brought her a song, not a lame song shared by others. They listen to it together; lying on her bed, he taps his fingers to the rhythm, she stands with her hand on his knee.
She sat in the car and watched him flung his wedding ring into the bushes. She waited for him; he got into the car and slammed the door. The next moment he gets out and runs into the bushes to search for the ring. She helps him. Even in the throes of despair when their love was ready to topple over into unseen depths and never recover, they have this moment of frantic search for the remnant of earlier vows.
They are strangers. He came from a broken home, questioned the need to utilize potential and had an open heart. She came from a family whose shards were glued for the sake of appearance, jumped from one bed to another in search of love and believed in her potential. He can’t get her out of his mind. She reluctantly indulges his wooing. They end up tap dancing and singing goofy songs. He tells her on the subway‘Let’s be a family’. She comes home, shuts the door, lies down and waits for the feeling to sink in. A shotgun wedding follows; a baby is in the offing. Their story starts five years later.
He teaches their daughter to eat breakfast like a leopard; and reminds his wife to wear seat-belts. They are monogamous. They hold each other in grief. They make efforts. She plays along to his whimsies. But when he tries to kiss her in the shower, she turns her face away. She cries over a dead dog and so much more. One day they let unequal ambitions and achievements creep in and grow roots.
He is forced to walk away.”
When can you be sure? When can you put your feet up and relax? Will love ever be enough? Why leave? Why stay? How long will hope triumph? Do you have the courage to let go? Do you have the courage to get the one you love? Will it survive?
Unanswered yet.

Subdued Chaos

The week has been a subdued emotional chaos, halting at unlikely spots, sometimes a little too long, sometimes defying reason.

I read about the hotel manager who had lost his wife and children in the 26/11 incident; he had re-married and has a two year old child now. I tried to imagine what he must have felt holding his newborn, the morbid deja vu of life coming a full circle, the trying attempts to build a new life around the debris of an irreplaceable loss, battling flashbacks of holding other tiny hands or the pain of losing the woman he had committed to love for life. I mourned the fragility of life. Why do we ignore it? Why don’t we love with abandon? Why don’t we do what we really want to do? Why do we hold back? What do we really treasure? I am still trying to figure out the answers.

After his retirement my father works from home now, and I spend half an hour every day typing and mailing his daily work report because he is stubborn about not using the vile computer. Sometimes I find it tedious, and ask him what he would do when I’m not there. He asks cheekily was I planning to go somewhere in the near future, and I blush at the implied notion of matrimony. We grumble every evening, but when I see him jot down his reports on the black notebook that he carries everywhere, and know that in few minutes he would stand awkwardly beside my bed, clearing his throat and trying to gain my attention, I can’t help but smile. I like being useful to him in these little ways, and it brings a quiet satisfaction.


I don’t have a home there, but my heart lies in the hills. I want my voice to echo through pine trees, walk all day on narrow winding lanes, have clouds within reach, wiggle my toes over a log fire, drink umpteen cups of chai, let a wild wind beat against my face and redden the tip of my nose, wake up to the rain on a cold morning, snuggle under a cozy blanket, read late into the night, stargaze, watch the sun rise through a cleft in the distant mountains like the drawings of my childhood, lose myself, and find myself again, rejuvenated. I’ll be there in a fortnight and want to cram all these into a weekend. The anticipation is palpable!

I dared to dream an impossible dream and let it peep out into the sunshine of hope from the dark recesses of my heart. But then reason overshadowed it, sending it back to its dark depths and locking it for better measure. Now it beats wildly at odd hours, but I won’t let out my dream again, I already feel foolish that I had done so earlier. I don’t want it battered and bruised by a heart it can never touch. Why bother? I ignore it now.

These subdued grief, happiness, excitement, satisfaction, yearning is interpersed with nervousness about an upcoming exam. A quiet week at home doesn’t guarantee steady emotions!

november night

in a room with turquoise walls
the radio plays a syncopated hum
and sitting in low wicker chairs
he kisses long fingers and a palm
gazes, unsure and shy, form memories
of navy boots tapping on a wooden floor
of a black dress veiling soft white breasts
stubborn curls, open smiles, and more
mildewed curtains and hearts flutter
lips blow cool air into steaming cups of tea
the trivial, everything, makes them smile
and eyes crinkle in shared gaiety
 
the unsaid runs parallel to the said
each moment unmasks a vulnerability
will she, does he, when we, maybe
a november night rife with such possibility

 

Duet: On People who Gifted Me Books. On Love.

 On People Who Gifted Me Books

Only four persons gifted me books I love and thus brought upon them the misfortune of being gushed over for life by yours truly.

Ruskin Bond’s autograph

There is Mannan, my classmate from medical college, who is straight out of an Austen novel- brooding, intense and frighteningly intelligent. He was in Mussorietraining to be an IAS officer and I had asked him to try to get me Ruskin Bond’s autograph. A few months later he sent me a book autographed by an author whose stories populated my childhood. Thank you, Mannan. I really appreciate the gesture. He gifted me Dust on the Mountains by Ruskin Bond.

Reading it now

There is Shakeel, a friend from high school who writes like a dream. He is living a life I covet and admire; writing and getting paid for it. Someday I hope to read a book written by him. Our mutual friend, Snata, is an amazing writer too and I’m simply happy to know this talented duo. I received a book from him today; and it was so unexpected and it made me so happy. Shakeel, prepare to be gushed over for life that would embarrass you enough to hide behind doors and duck under tables whenever you see me. He gifted me The Black Album by Hanif Kureishi.

Mystical

The third is Amrita, who is nothing short of my soul sister. We have conjoined hearts and minds. She is a quiet person weaving her own world; and it’s a beautiful world peopled with soulful thoughts. I’m glad she invited me into her world where we can talk about books, movies, love, life, men and hills. She has gifted me a lot of books including Paulo Coelho’s The Fifth Mountain.

Heart-felt essays and poems

Then there is Priyanka, who is courage personified. She brims with intelligence, wit, confidence and a passion for writing and for making the world a better place. She has taken risks in life that I highly admire; she is vibrant and full of infectious energy. She recently got into MIT as the prestigious 2012/2013 Elizabeth Neuffer fellow and it makes me proud beyond measure. I cherish you, Priyanka. She gifted me Kora by Tenzin Tsundue.

—————————————————————————————————————— 

On Love

I write about love, but I’m not a lover. I read about love, but I don’t live it. I see love, but I am a mere observer. Even when I was in love, when I was a lover, when I thought I was loved, it was emptiness and detachment wrapped in a thin crust of passion, that was a ghost of some earlier self, and a dollop of forced interest. This detachment and ambiguity of feelings scared me and I tried to be involved; I became neurotic about it and felt re-assured when I experienced symptoms of romantic jealousy or missed someone, which gave a false sense of being in love, or capable of being in love. I am often swept off my feet, but never by a person; it’s always a singular attribute: a warm smile, owning a common set of books, very often it’s the eyes, or kindness, sharp wit, ambition, intelligence, a fancy pair of shoes, arrogance, clean nails, someone who dines with family, writes poems, well-travelled, chivalry works every time too, or sometimes it’s just a mix of serendipity and hormones.

I can’t define love anymore. I was naive once, not so long ago, in a time when everything seemed possible and there were no missing puzzle pieces. I knew it once, this love, without having to say it in words and I poured it copiously in letters and gestures. But one day it slapped me out of my reverie. Singular attributes continued to lodge in my heart instead of a whole person. Now that time has lifted the veil off the pretenses I had forced myself to believe, I wonder why I ever considered it to be love. The conversations bored me, the laughter was hollow and I longed to be alone and with a book instead. But instead I talked for hours, laughed out loud, was a finicky and clingy lover, as if the love was real! I planned strategies, I made lists of pros and cons, I observed the duel of my mind and heart, and I was scared of acknowledging that it was doomed from the start or that I was passing off a fleeting attraction as love or worse, that I was incapable of love anymore. At twenty three! I was scared of letting go lest I don’t meet anyone before I turned thirty, or forty, or fifty.Knights on white horses were a cliché even when I was just ten. The concept of ‘casual dating‘ and testing the waters is lost on me too. So I settled for the first decent person who confessed his love for me. Sad, I know.
My friends call me the ‘most romantic person ever’ and I squirm in discomfiture. I worship romance. I love to love. I crave intimacy. But on actual confrontation with it, I panic and withdraw into a shell. It baffles me. Why do I get attracted to men who I know for sure will break my heart? Why am I incapable of living the romance that exudes from every single fiber of my heart? Have you watched the scene in Annie Hall when Woody Allen is making love to Diane Keaton and she just lies there in bed, inert and passive, and her soul has an ‘out-of-body’ experience and walks around the room, lights up a smoke and reads a book? That’s exactly how I feel when I convince myself that I’m in love!
I have thought about it and have come up with few half-baked theories:
a)  I have set certain standards for the man I want to fall in love with and so far I haven’t met anyone who had lived up to them. Practicality convinces me that the standards are high, and I should settle even when just a quarter of my expectations are met. I did so; but deep down I knew it wasn’t what I was looking for and it would only damage me; so I clammed up, emotionally and even physically. One called me prude; the other thought I was sexless. But I tell myself it’s just about not meeting the right person.
b)  I can’t believe that anyone can love me. I have my own set of insecurities which leads me to wonder why would a person decide to devote his time and love on me when they could do so for the millions of other girls who are prettier, can speak well, can make them laugh, can walk on high heels, have lustrous hair, independent and knows how to dance. Why would anyone love me? And this question leads on to another disturbing query, ‘Do I love myself?’ Over the years I have started liking ‘me’, even though I am not bursting with love for myself. If loving self is tough, it becomes tougher to believe that one is worthy of love. Cynicism sets in. Sometimes it takes deep roots. It’s tough to see ourselves through a lover’s eyes, which in my mind is always scanning for flaws! ‘You had been bad relationships. Once you know love, all your cynicism will go out of the window’, my friends tell me. I give them a wry smile and my eyes mock their optimism, but my heart thumps with hope.
c) I worry about the word ‘forever‘. Intolerance is rampant. Who has time for love? Or the patience to make things work. People jump from bed to bed, memories fade, and all that remains of what started as a promise of growing old together is a tattered  Hallmark card. You start cautiously; you exchange likes and dislikes, you move on to dreams and hopes, then comes the stories of childhood and secrets you don’t tell your friends. You remember anniversaries of first date and first stirrings of love, and get wooed by flowers and dizzy kisses. Then one day when you least expect it (or expected and dreaded since always), everything vanishes. And you are left wondering why you invested so much time and effort on the relationship. It disturbs you that your declarations of affection and confessions of your innermost thoughts are in the mind of a man forever lost in the crowd. You despair that you are back to square one; you have to lay a foundation again, and build block by block another relationship. Just the thought of the effort tires you. So you remain passive.
d) I am scared of infidelity. I have seen it at close quarters in people around me. I question the existence of monogamy. And it disturbs me that I have reached a stage when I feel fidelity is a blessing. I try to be nonchalant about the end of a relationship and feel liberated from a worse fate in the future. But lurking in the subconscious is a cautiousness that’s overwhelming and sometimes damaging, nipping opportunities in the bud.
e) I am selfish. I want it all. The wooing, the proclamations of love, the romance, the right amount of possessiveness, the loyalty, the opposites that attract, the similarities that bind, the conversations that are endless and effortless (Before Sunrise hangover), the adequate space, public displays of affection (not bordering on perversion), the flavor of newness, the comfort of familiarity, the intimacy of knowing looks unknown to the rest of the world, the respect, the honesty, the book-lover, the laughter, distinctively ‘I’ yet ‘We’, a team of two in this world or against this world, growing together in life (not in chronological sense), and a disarming smile is always appreciated. And yes, soulful eyes. Since re-incarnation is not an established fact and I’ve just one life to live, why compromise? So, I wait.
A cynicism has seeped into my attitude towards love that I largely attribute to certain bitter experiences. But in the past week I watched three movies, three unusual love stories that have dusted off some of the cynic crust layering my heart.

Hypnotic

The first is Wong Kar-Wai’s ‘In the Mood for Love’. This movie seduced me! It curled my toes, sent a shiver up my spine and unspeakable parts of my anatomy, and haunted my dreams for the next few nights. The simple act of passing each other on the stairs on the way to buy noodles can be orgasmic for the viewer. It told of a love that crept up unknowingly, discreetly; a love that would be illicit yet the purest form of love. Intense gazes, dark passageways, metaphorical rain when the tension brought you to the edge of explosion, a haunting melody that intensified every gesture-a bend of the neck, a touch of the earlobe, a wave of the hand. ‘It is a restless moment. She has kept her head lowered, to give him a chance to come closer. But he could not, for lack of courage. She turns and walks away.’ The agony stayed with me, I lived that tale of doomed love for two hours and a long time thereafter. It reinstated something I thought I had lost.

Subtle longing

The second is Before Sunset. Its prequel is one of my favorite movies of all time. But this movie edged ahead with a subtler love and longing that I could identify with better. It’s set in Paris over the course of an hour; two people who met just once and had spent an amazing and meaningful night in Vienna, meet again after nine years. They are still in love, but are cautious and bound by new commitments. They walk around and talk about everything under the sun. The effortless conversation portrayed in the movie is what I crave. No mushy talk, no promises, no flattering. But the love is palpable as it surfaces with every passing moment. The fragility of it all and the fierceness with which they protect it and hide it is touching. The way he looks at her, the way she looks at him, secretive yet fully aware, melted my heart.

Melt! 🙂

The third is Barfi! I don’t need to elaborate on this; by now everyone and their uncle must have watched it. It felt like a warm, fuzzy cocoon. Misty hills, the humor (Saurabh Shukla takes a nervous bow when he is caught peeing in the field by the hidden farmers), the dizzying visuals, the refreshing silence that spoke volumes, the Chaplin-esque acts, the lifted sequences (like the train scene from Fried Green Tomatoes) that blended so well and thus forgiven in an instant, the charming Barfi and the adorable Jhilmil ignited in me a love for the whole world! So this weekend I feel everything is possible and good things will happen. I put Libya and Egypt and diesel hike away for a while and basked in the mellow Barfi daze. But it’s the tender innocence of a love so giving and so enduring that rejuvenated my sense of romance.

I’ve a filmiheart!
 

Sentimental Reconconstructions

This summer Sameer is in love with Carol, and Ayush is in love with Priya. Last summer Sameer and Priya had gone on long drives, and Ayush had kissed Carol on a moonlit beach.
Sameer had etched in his memory the exact moment Carol had let her gaze linger on him, when they were in the arms of their respective lovers on a dance floor. He was seventeen and a purple skirt fluttering around honey-colored calves, delicate eyelids lined with kohl, and slow laughter rising in a throat had engulfed his young heart in the throes of passion. When the one in his arms knew, she had shed copious tears on his handkerchief but recovered surprisingly fast when she learned it was Carol. It took him a week to realize the swapping that had occurred that summer; he had seen Ayush’s arms around Priya on a night he was out with Carol, and wondered whether they had waited for him to confess first.
                                                ————————x————————-
He has been in love with Carol for four years, two months and six days now. In between classes he waits on a mound of soft grass and waves to Carol as she squints against the sun. They share a strip of mint gum and sit with books on their laps. They go to the theater on Friday evenings and to the beach on Saturday afternoons. They have their Sunday brunch sitting at their favorite table in a dark bistro. They rent a movie on Sunday nights and on the couch she lets his hands roam. They read late into the weeknights over cups of coffee in the college library. He gifts her flowers and non-fiction, she gifts him records and fiction. He makes long phone calls at night; she sends short texts throughout the day. They are used to this predictable companionship, the effortless love devoid of jealousies and mind games and insecurities.
                                               ————————x————————-
Graduation is over and jobs await them in different time zones. They are anxious about the separation and compare their schedules, install Skype and promise to write or call every day. Sameer watches her hair that falls neatly across her forehead and rests on her jaw replace the messy bun, and the three inch high pumps replace the ballerina shoes. He panics when Carol packs a black dress with sheer sleeves and a low back, pencil skirts and bright cardigans instead of her brown trousers, black sweaters and gray shirts. He doesn’t waste time and proposes marriage that weekend. She has a fit of nervous giggles and waits for him to join in the joke. She had never been able to resist petting stray dogs and babies in strollers; so she extends her hand to watch the rush of relief in his pleading eyes. A glint of a promise to fulfill rests on her finger when Carol boards her flight two days later.
                                                 ————————x————————-
She was browsing magazines at the newsstand when Ayush shouts her name. It makes her happy to see the familiar face from her past in a crowd of strangers. He is taller now, interned at an architecture firm and has an apartment fifteen minutes away from hers. Carol doesn’t want to fan any distance-induced insecurity and avoids mentioning the meeting when Sameer calls her at night. They have worked on re-establishing their predictable companionship across the time zone variance. He slept early and put an alarm for three am to call her up at her bedtime. She inquired about his lunch and the day so far as she flossed her teeth every morning. They used video chat and wrote long emails on weekends.
On evening Ayush invites her to a movie. She shows him the ring and feels stupid when he laughs and assures her that it was just for old time’s sake. They meet every Friday for a movie and later he takes her to eat at quaint little eateries. They talk incessantly about missing homemade food, the work they want to do, the books they read, the movie they just saw and occasionally they talked about love. Priya and his romance had lasted just a summer. She had invited him to her marriage a year ago; her husband is a businessman who looked twice her age. Ayush is dating someone from work and adds with a laugh that it isn’t anything serious. Carol rushes through her conversations with Sameer on Friday nights and wakes up with an inscrutable guilt the following morning.
                                                ————————x————————-
Priya walks on Manolo Blahnik, lets Versace silhouette her curves and is forever finding her car keys in her pink rose Birkin. She travels abroad every season to attend fine art courses, film appreciation seminars, photography exhibitions, wine tasting events, shopping festivals, international fashion weeks and if she played her cards right, she could get away with spending less than three months every year with her husband who spent his time cooped up in boardrooms and conferences all over the world. She felt flattered by the unwavering love and attention he showered on her and felt affectionate towards him in her own way; she enjoyed the privileges of being his wife.
She had stepped out of her origami class when she sees him smile at her from the opposite sidewalk. He has a beard and wears glasses but she recognizes the boy who pursued her relentlessly for a single date five summers ago, and they hug. She tells him of her husband in a conference somewhere in Seoul now and congratulates him on his engagement to Carol, who she had talked to when she had called up Ayush a month ago. Sameer senses the sudden heaviness in his chest but keeps exchanging banalities with Priya. They promise to meet for dinner the following weekend. That night he confronts Carol about Ayush and couldn’t curb the accusatory tone; she hung up on him. She calls him two days later and explains that Ayush is just a friend who makes her feel at home in this new country. He apologizes and they laugh at their first major argument. He doesn’t mention the dinner he would have with Priya in less than five hours.
                                              ————————x————————-
They are unsure who started it but in six months Priya’s clothes and shoes occupied three quarters of his wardrobe and an assortment of tubes and jars crowded the cabinet over his bathroom sink. He got used to waiting in a car outside the airport every time she could cook up a suitable excuse for leaving the country. She wore dark glasses and large hats when they went out for a stroll. They avoided restaurants and ordered in food; she was too popular for her own good. She talked to her husband when Sameer was at work, and he talked to Carol from the balcony as Priya slept on his bed. The obligatory night-time calls to Carol wearied him now; a part of him wanted her to detect the love he was faking, but he was scared of the aftermath too. They had been inseparable for six years; he was the one who had proposed marriage, he was the one who had sought constant re-assurance of her love and trust. It broke his heart that his Carol, with her warm smile and her good heart, wasn’t the one he envisioned a future with anymore. He rationalized that destiny had its own ways and meeting Priya after so many years had raked up a lot of dormant feelings. He watches the waif-like creature on his bed and her soft curls fanned out on his pillow and his lips brush the ivory arc of her shoulder. He has an intense desire to protect her from every hurt and sorrow. She had assured him that she would file for divorce soon, but she had to talk it over with her parents, who would be devastated by the news.
                                                   ————————x————————-
She didn’t go home that Christmas; he had sounded a little distant lately and she planned on a surprise visit to cheer up her fiancee. She had dismissed the sense of foreboding when she had heard a woman’s laughter during one of his late night calls. He explained that he had let out his spare room to accommodate his neighbor and his wife who got locked out of their apartment, and they were just enjoying a few drinks. Her worst fears were confirmed in Sameer’s startled eyes when he opened the door on Christmas Eve. She wanted to see the woman but couldn’t stop laughing at the absurdity of it all when she barged in on a flustered Priya sprawled on his bed. She didn’t speak another word, walked into the bathroom and flushed the engagement ring down the pot in front of her bewildered spectators.
                                                  ————————x————————-
On a walk in a moonlit beach seven summers since the day he had first kissed her, he slipped a ring on her finger. She was reluctant but he had persisted. Carol and Ayush got married in an intimate gathering of family and friends later that year. Two months later Priya had mailed him a photo announcing the birth of her baby; Carol noticed a large family huddled around her hospital bed and a bald man, Priya’s husband perhaps, proudly holding the baby.
                                                   ————————x————————-
Years later they meet Sameer in an airport lounge; he has a slight paunch and a wife with a hugely pregnant belly. They exchange few awkward pleasantries before he disappears behind a copy of Fortune. Ayush and their five year old daughter double up with laughter on seeing the enormous bouffant of a lady who sat beside them. As Carol watches them she wonders if Sameer knows about the child born with his dimpled chin and who must be tottering behind his mother’s Manolo Blahnik heels now.
(Note: I read the phrase ‘sentimental reconstruction’ in Mario Vargas Llosa’s novel, ‘The Bad Girl’, and it led me to weave the above story on the sentimental reconstructions of intolerant hearts, passionate hearts, forgetful hearts,malleable hearts and loving hearts.)

In A Perfect World, On A Perfect Day

The curls dance on her forehead, wild and untamed, to the rhythm of an autumn zephyr. She spreads the blanket and sits down leaning against a rugose pine tree. The earth is still soggy from last night’s rain; she sinks her palm into the dewy grass and her short red nails sparkle in the sunshine. She sees him in the distance walking towards her, carrying the lunch basket from the car. She tries to remember the last time they were alone, undisturbed and with ample time.
It was two months ago when he got a day off from work and had ordered lunch from the Chinese eatery near his home, eating spoonfuls of oily noodles from each other’s plates, and they had let the sauce dry on the dishes as they talked for hours comparing notes on their childhood, travels and books. Later they sat cross-legged on the rug watching Woody Allen’s “The Purple Rose of Cairo”, and at dusk he had kissed her for the first time, as they stood on the balcony and watched the sun go down in the distant hills. They talk on the phone every night, pass each other in the hospital corridors, share rushed lunches in the canteen, strain to hear each other’s voices in crowded cafes on weekends, and feel the quiet assurance of interlinked fingers as he drives her home after long days at work.
He suggested the picnic two weeks ago but had to wait for their work leaves to coincide. He picked her up at five in the morning and had stood grinning as her father shouted a list of ‘dos and don’ts’  from the second floor balcony. They rolled down the windows, fought about the choice of car music, bought bottles of water from a shop on the highway, sneaked sidelong glances at each other when they were overcome with sudden bouts of coyness and tried to mask the shiver of excitement on their first outing together. He swerved the car through the narrow hill roads and after a few hours stopped near a forest resplendent with dappled autumn foliage.
He flops down on the blanket and she takes the basket from him. She notices with some amusement the work he has put into planning this picnic; carefully folded napkins, sandwiches with neatly removed crusts, snacks with hummus dip, cream puffs, three apples, a pulp fiction novella, an iPod dock, a camera, two wine glasses and a bottle of red. She plucks twigs of grass, aware of his eyes on her. He laughs at her discomfiture, stops the assault on the grass and takes her hands into his.
They laugh at the awkwardness of being a new couple, and decide not to let it mar their day. They explore the nearby woods; run their fingers over moss-covered tree trunks, photograph leafy canopies, soak in the sunshine and dip their bare feet in a stream that runs through the woods. On the walk back they come upon a pair of brown puppies curled up on a rock and sunning themselves. He picks one up for her and she recoils in fear; and it is then he learns about the day when she stepped on the tail of a neighbour’s dog with hitherto unused fangs! With mock solemnity he speaks of discarding his plans of rearing eight full-grown Alsatian dogs in their home. She blushes at this offhand remark of setting up a home together, in a future of yet unspoken promises and possibilities.
At brunch they are ravenous and the sandwiches, cream puffs and apples disappear fast. He puts on some music and they read out passages from the 1930s hard-boiled detective story populated with ‘moustache-twirling, cat-loving, trigger-happy’ gangsters and sly, buxom molls who are secret agents in disguise! The racy narrative and the absurd characters delight them, and their laughter scares away a pair of birds from the tree under which they lay sprawled. His fingers brushes away the curls that hide her eyes from him and they watch in companionable solitude the blue shards of skies through a cover of pine leaves.
He tells her about his dog, his first car, his old school, his brother and a predictable Star Wars obsession. She tells him about her total lack of cooking skills, early morning swims and her fascination for Pamuk and Nabokov. Later, her cheeks are flushed, and she can’t tell if it is the jubilation bubbling in her heart or the wine. 
They pack up the blanket in the basket and walk towards the car. She doesn’t want the day to end, and trails behind him. He turns back to look at her and she knows he feels the same, and her heart overflows with endearment. On the drive back home they park the car on the side of a busy road and watch the sun go down behind a grove of trees and the birds returning home in the evening sky.

The Harmonious Uniformity Of Falling For The Underdog And The Wrong One Too

The storm had abated. Sleep and sanity restored. The question that went on in a loop: “Was it even love?”
I wonder why I put myself through these sporadic instances of total loss of reasoning; from which I come out with a battered and bruised ego, drained of precious energy and time, priorities gone awry, mind plagued with self-doubt, sabotaging my goals in life, repenting in leisure the consequences of my impulsive actions, a memory tarnished with unpleasantness, questioning my decisions and choices, and most importantly making a fool of myself.
Why do I do it?
Because fools rush in. I fall in love too easily; initial triggers may be a smile, kindness, intellect, assertiveness, a love for books, sarcasm and sometimes even questionable wit! The person is just incidental; I am more often in love with the idea of being in love.
But I don’t realize it until it’s too late; till I sit back, put my feet up, take off my rose-tinted shades and analyze why I do what I do.
The Current Tally Of Romantic Follies: (excluding the momentary infatuations that last no longer than a week)
1. 1997-Being a Conformist and Crushing on the Teacher:
A humongous crush on my history teacher which lead to nothing more than remembering the Mughals and Chandragupta for posterity. I studied history with a fervor that would have taken me to great academic heights had I applied it ever again!
Why did I rush in? 
He was the only person who noticed the timid girl everyone overlooked in a class full of boisterous students, and boosted her self-confidence with kind words of encouragement.
2. 1999-The Movie Star…err…Person:
I wasn’t aware of the movies that would follow, and the non-entity he would become. But when “Pyar Mein Kabhi Kabhi” came out, I was overcome with admiration for the intense, brooding and caterpillar-browed Sanjay Suri (What was I thinking!!!). I tried to immortalize his influence in my hormone-ridden teenage years by writing odes of love and pasting his photograph in my diary, which my sister later displayed in front of my guffawing friends.
Why did I rush in? 
All the schoolgirls fantasized about the blue-eyed poster boys of romance Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic was a craze then) and on the home-front Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan (it was before the debut of Hrithik Roshan). I had to find and love the underdog. I had to be contrary.
3. 2005-Blush of First Love:
I was all of nineteen years, shy and awkward. And there he was on my computer screen, talking to me about books and movies, hearing about my day and making me double up with laughter with his quick wit. We met only thrice and wrote long letters and emails. The long distance tired him after a year. I failed to understand why trivial details like distance mattered when two people were in love. My flabby cerebrum gathered much later that I was the only one who was in love. I spent the next six months digging up the songs one is supposed to listen in times of extreme anguish and hearing them in a loop. I couldn’t take to the bottle, and it was physically impossible for me to grow a beard. But other than that I resembled Devdas in entirety.
Why did I rush in?  
 It was the love of an unsullied heart. Simple.
4.2008-The Rogue with Superficial Charm:
You meet a person, you share hometowns and your old school, he charms you with his undivided attention, you are wary of his intentions, but he becomes your friend, he says he loves you, you laugh it off, he repeats until you believe, you feel obliged to reciprocate his love, you get to know his family, you talk to his friends, you compare notes about growing up, he meets your friends and your family, and he puts a ring on your finger. Nowhere in the story would you feel the need to hire a private eye to do a background check on the person whose ring you wear. Then inconsistencies in conversations crop up and to your horror you find yourself at the center of the web of lies and deceit he had spun around you. Job, education, fidelity…everything was a farce. You go through denial, anguish, anger, disappointment, shame and feelings of worthlessness for lack of good judgement. It ends abruptly; leaving you with a violently disordered life and a distrustful heart.
Why did I rush in? 
After the fiasco of my first love, I was flooded with wise words of well-meaning people who cared about me. My hippocampus was receptive to only one, “You’d be better off marrying the one who loves you than the one whom you love.” Bad advice. Wrong man. Flawed judgement.
5. 2011-The Butterflies in My Adrenals and Tibia:
I had started a new phase of my life, coming out of the shell I had retreated to three years ago.  But I steeled my resolve never to be carried away by the idiosyncrasies of my heart. Murphy smirked and applied his laws on me during the last month of my internship. There was this ordinary face in the crowd, a tongue that vocalized so fast that I had to beg his pardon thrice before I could note down anything he said, and a sarcasm and smirk that highly annoyed me. I detested his ordering the interns around, stressing on military camp punctuality. But gradually I liked working with him. I was his ‘Woman’ Friday, in strictly Robinson Crusoe context. But I was still unaware of the dirty trick Cupid would play on me.
I struggled to curb my feelings of extreme elation every time he walked into the ward, or said something appreciative, or crinkled his eyes in laughter, or told me random happenings of his day, or elongated the vowels in my name adorably, or just sat there with a frown of intense concentration. I couldn’t explain why my heart somersaulted if by some happy accident he came for his evening duty early or our duties coincided. Butterflies not only inhabited my stomach, but my jejunum, spleen, adrenals and pisiform bone too. I kept asking myself what I saw in this guy. Why would I like someone I barely know and whose relationship status remained elusive to me? But the ways of the heart had flummoxed mankind since eternity and I was born human too despite the reasoning power of a gorilla; I just had the harmonious uniformity of falling for the underdog and the wrong one too. My internship ended. But I couldn’t still the frenzy of emotions that threatened to overpower me. I knew I was going to be impulsive and would cringe in shame later. Apparently there are no limits to idiocy. I confessed to him what his thoughts were doing to me. It was a leap of faith even when the other shore donned the cloak of invisibility. I wasn’t expecting a confession of an undying love for me (there was still some residue of good sense in me) and I was prepared for the rejection (I’m not pretty, smart or sassy), or that he had a girlfriend or worse, a wife. But he never replied. One year has gone by now. What stung me was his abject inconsideration for the words that took me all the courage I had to write. My feelings weren’t even worth a reply; I was totally non-existent in his world. That hurt, bad.
Why did I rush in? 
There was this somewhat rude boy, with a perpetual frown and impish gaze, and he made me happy by just being there. I know it wasn’t love (too strong a word), or lust (there was no scope for anything remotely sexual when you see a person disheveled after umpteen night duties at the hospital), or infatuation (too feeble a word), or obsession (I don’t make any attempts to see him or contact him). It was a girly butterflies-in-the-stomach, smile-lighting-up-the-room, laughter-ringing-in-my-ears, I-want-to-know-all-about-you and I-feel-good-when-you-are-around feeling. And I’m still waiting for it to fade. It has faded finally!
I hadn’t been fortunate when it comes to matters of the heart, and my belief of finding the love of my life seems cruel every passing year. But I am not writing off the existence of love. It’s there; I see it in the lives of those around me. It has only eluded me. 
But considering my consistency of falling in love (or whatever it is) and doing something stupid every three years, I am dreading 2014.

The Corner Lamp Post

The creases on the paper, from reading too much,
From hands running over the familiar slant of letters.
A night by the window, remembering and reading,
Feverish declarations of love in black ink;
A date and time as post-script, six hours away.
Crimson suffused indigo skies, the soft twilight of winter;
A dark silhouette languidly walks the empty streets.
Heart aflutter! The face in the window, aglow!
Frenzied fingers tame hair and lips redden in anticipation;
A hurried flight down creaky stairs, as the world sleeps.

Cocooned in an embrace, drunk on unspoken promises,
The joy of knowing that he chose her and she chose him.
A wave of shyness as eyes meet, lower and look again;
Yellow light floods the young faces, breath fogs up,
And fingers entwine around the corner lamp post.

The Grandfather in My Father’s Stories

I had a spare grandparent. I was three, when I realized that despite losing my maternal Koka (grandfather) a couple of decades before my birth, I still had four grandparents. I did some quick calculations intelligible only to me, that if I were to lose a grandparent every decade, at least one will be around to see when I am as grown up as my parents were then. This unique family structure felt like quite an advantage that no one else I knew shared; and I delighted in the fact that my grandparents will be around for a long time since there were so many of them. All but my spare grandmother died within the first decade itself.
In January 1989, my paternal Koka died. He was ‘Pitai deu Koka’ to me; since I heard my father and uncles call him ‘Pitai deu’ (father). I thought it was his name; it befitted his gaunt face with soft, white hair curling around his ears, tall and muscular body; his crisp white dhoti and kurta, a blue sweater and a khadi jacket; and very large feet in old, worn-out khoroms. He died when I was three and my memories of him have faded over the years and only a few images remain. He taught me to fly kites; fastidiously trimming bamboo, cutting old newspapers and gluing them together; reveling in the delight that arose in my eyes as he handed me the kite string. He consoled me if I fell down and scraped my knee, on the newly cemented driveway. He brought me animal-shaped biscuits in a brown bag from an old bakery in Jorhat, each time he came home from our native village in Teok. He affectionately called me ‘Majoni’ and ‘Mamu’, which are quite common pet names for girls in Assam. I was quite a treasured grandchild of his, owing to my birth seven years after my parents’ marriage. My mother says he had barged into the operation theatre when my mother was undergoing a Caesarean section for my birth, such was his restlessness to ensure my mother’s and his grandchild’s well-being.
He died within a month of being diagnosed with terminal stage gall bladder cancer. I knew he was ill, but didn’t know that I’d be losing him forever, and preferred to spend my time in my room with my crayons and coloring book. I was tired of the fact that he was always in bed, surrounded by people; and eating Cerelac out of a bowl, a habit I had long outgrown.  The family was troubled by the idea of losing him, and a multitude of relatives frequented our home. Two of my younger uncles got married (one arranged, one arranged-cum-love) on the same day, within two weeks of diagnosis of my Koka’s illness. Life happened at a rapid pace to accommodate as much happiness and joy into that one month for my Koka. He wasn’t aware it was cancer, and was angry at his sons for not taking him to Guwahati for a surgery, that he believed would have cured him. The evenings brought out the fragrant odor of incense, while my aunts sang hymns from the Bhagvad Gita at his bedside. One day he asked my father for his sandals, as he would be going on a long journey soon and pointed to the bright, blue sky (the same color as his sweater) outside his window. My father scolded him for saying such absurd things, in an ironic role-reversal, parenting the parent; and went off to office. My Koka died a few hours later that day, while I sat cross-legged over a pile of pillows and colored with my crayons.
There was great hue and cry, my mother and aunt fainted, and I saw my father smoke a cigarette pensively in our garage. A huge tent was erected on our lawn, and they took my grandfather wrapped in a white shroud. My father and uncles shaved off their heads, all of them looked similar; huge, brown bodies wrapped in white dhotis as the five sons slept in a row on the floor.  A few days later a lot of people came for a ceremony where the frightening ‘taal’ was played. I ran scared to my neighbor and stayed there the whole day eating ‘lushi and aloo bhaji’, while they were praying for my grandfather’s soul. It took me some time to realize the significance of death, of never seeing my grandfather again; apart from the photograph in our home, in front of which my mother placed fresh marigold garlands. That’s when I felt sad, as I saw the mourning household. But the feeling lasted only a few days and was replaced with horror, as I realized they have cut off my grandfather’s thumb and preserved it along with his ashes, to be immersed in a holy river later. I had nightmares about the thumb, and I was glad when my father got transferred to Guwahati a few months later.
I knew my grandfather years after his death through my father’s stories. As my sister and I lay our heads on my father’s cushiony tummy after lunch on Sundays, it was a cue for him to begin his stories; his childhood anecdotes far surpassed a fairy tale. I visualized everything-the village he was born in, the river he swam in, the cows he brought back home every evening, the pranks he pulled on his friends and his teachers, and the frightening consequences of such actions at home; my father’s stories weaved for me a personalized Axomiya version of “Malgudi Days”. And the stern father, the imposing figure of my grandfather always featured in his stories as the one to keep a check on my father’s natural aptitude for mischief.
That’s how I learnt about my Koka, through my father’s stories. My Koka was the headmaster of the village school where my father and uncles studied. He was extra hard on them so as not to run the risk of being labeled as favoring his sons. He was a strict parent, authoritarian in fact, and this had extreme effects on his sons; my eldest uncle became the studious, obedient one and my father played the truant schoolboy. But never did his sons disrespect him.
The image of my Koka as a stern schoolmaster was so set in my mind, that I was shocked when I learnt much later that he used to work in the police force earlier and was equally feared by his colleagues in that field too. His profession didn’t shock me as much as the thought of him wearing trousers instead of a dhoti!
He led a life of struggle trying to raise a large family, five sons and two daughters, with his meager monthly salary of fifty-two rupees.  He married young, as was the norm in those days, and was childless for twenty long years. It was a social stigma then to remain without an heir to carry on the family name and he was married off to my grandmother, who was still in her early teens then. It’s horrifying to think of it now, to think of the huge age difference between my grandparents, but that’s the way it happened more than sixty-five years ago in rural India. A large family soon followed, and I am still astonished how he managed to keep two wives in the same home for so many decades without much turbulence! And to my young mind hearing these stories for the first time, it created much awe. 
During the floods of the Brahmaputra in 1965, my grandfather lost all his land and life savings, and suffered a breakdown at the prospect of bringing up his family without a job at hand.  He gave up, but his children took over the responsibility of looking after each other despite their young age. I wonder what went though my Koka’s mind, seeing his children struggle to make ends meet and earn an education at the same time while he was a mere spectator, defeated and helpless. I ask my father sometimes whether it made him love his father less; and the answer is always a vehement ‘No’. They idolized him, despite his failures late in life. This reverence for parents, despite all short-comings made me think about the low tolerance level we have for our parents’ deficiencies nowadays; it humiliated me.
My Koka died in January, and my sister was born in October of that same year; and this nine-month gap led me to torture my sister for a long time by stating that she was Koka’s re-incarnation and she had even inherited his dark feet. This thought confused her for a long time, as she actually began to wonder if she was her father’s father! My aunt once told me that my Koka had stored a few currency notes, his treasured savings, underneath the hay in the ‘bharal ghar’ in our native village; and later broke down when he saw the currency notes chewed to bits by the mice. I found this tale very tragic.
I had never until my Koka’s death, seen a ‘Shradhha’ being held; and I so strongly believed  in the stories that the dead come to visit their loved ones around this time, that even now I have dreams of my Koka in and around the end of January, near his ‘Shradhha‘. My youngest uncle was quite reckless in his youth, and used to return home in the wee hours of morning after a night of partying at the local youth club. I remember being mortified when he once told me he saw Kokastanding near the pond in our old home at 3am, a few days before his ‘Shradhha‘; and I didn’t question if it was the alcohol. I stopped looking out of the window after dark for a long time afterwards. I enquired his reaction on seeing his father’s ghost, and he shocked me even more when he said that he spoke to the apparition! A ghost, I reminded him, it was a ghost! But even my father said he wished every moment of his life to speak to his father once again. The idea of wishing to talk to dead people scared me when I first heard it as a child, but only now I understand the significance of that wish. 
To lose a parent is the biggest void in life, and the desire to re-connect the dearest wish. I wish I had the opportunity to know my Koka a few more years, but he is and will always be very much alive in my heart , a heart that has my father’s stories.

My Autumn: Cottony skies, Ghibli magic, Banned Books, Lemon Cake, Pasta, Phase 3, Basho, Earthquake and Empty Bank

I would always be partial to November, as it gave me to the world and mostly vice versa.  September comes a close second, autumn subtly coloring up my life.
I got a new job. I am not ecstatic about it. It’s a government job (the mere sound of which nearly mars all possibilities of excitement) at a remote corner of Assam. But it’s preferable to studying at home the whole day till my exams in January. It’s just the right pace, 5 hours a day; the puzzle piece that fits into the jigsaw of my exam preparation and the solitude I seek. The place is so remote it’s like the 1920s.  A car passing by on the dusty road becomes the discussion of the day at the market. The people are laid back and “adda” is the widely practiced local sport. Only solace is the unsullied green fields, the trees, cottony skies, the dew-laden mornings; and a pristine solitude.
 September introduced me to Studio Ghibli movies. My breath often forms a solid lump of joy in my chest, as I watch and relish idyllic visuals, marvel at imaginations, and relieve my childhood. I cling to these movies like an oasis of pure, stark joy. I watch them alone on evenings, in my room, on my bed. ‘Grave of the Fireflies’, ‘Whisper of the Heart’, ‘Only Yesterday’, ‘Arrietty’, ‘Howl’s Movng Castle’, ‘Kiki’s delivery Service’, ‘Princess Mononkone’, ‘My neighbor Tortoro’, ‘My neighbours-The Yamadas’, ‘Ponyo’ and ‘Spirited Away’. I don’t rush through them, as I usually do with things that interest me. I am slowly savoring each visual, each word and each feeling that it arouses in me.

Being jobless for a month and half, had a weird effect on me. I went on a spending spree knowing fully well my dwindling finances. I added the color purple to my wardrobe, and made Flipkart.com rich by a dozen books. I have an upcoming exam and can’t afford to indulge in the luxury of reading a dozen novels. But I hoard them. My mother has banned nine of these books from my life till January. Her threat is a real one, a new lock on my library evidence of her resolution. She doesn’t trust me when it comes to a few things in life, and reading novels stealthily tops the list. Many a flashlight had been angrily flung to the floor and sacrificed during my childhood, when my mother discovered it aiding a new novel to keep me awake beyond 3 am. I am 25, I have few bank accounts, I can drive, I can finally cross roads during rush hour, I can eat alone in restaurants, I am a doctor, I can call myself almost an adult; but I dare not defy my mother’s rules when an exam looms in the near horizon. So, the books are banned. Not the MCQ books though.
 My mother is overall a kind woman and I’m her first-born; so she let me choose three novels to read during the three months till January. My mind went into a tizzy, trying to decide which books to choose from the dozen new ones. I chose The naïve and the sentimental novelist” by Orhan Pamuk, “The particular sadness of lemon cake” by Aimee Bender and “Oxford anthology of Writings from North-east India”. I’ve started reading the Aimee Bender book. Beautiful writing. I devote pockets of time throughout the day to it without upsetting my study schedule and most importantly, my mother. I’ve read only a hundred pages till now. It’s about a nine year old girl who can taste in food the emotions of the people who cook it. It agitates her routine life, when she can taste a sad hollowness in her cheerful mother’s lemon cake. The knowledge of facades people erect lurches her forward from her complacent childhood. Aimee Bender’s words are brilliant and effortless; conjuring up images from a nine year old’s perspective. I am looking forward to reading more of it.
 I am a disaster in the kitchen, and so less bothered about my lack of culinary skills, that I stupidly flaunt it. I had a panic attack once when I was asked to boil eggs, because the duration of boiling was as unfathomable to me as the mysteries of life and death. When I was in a hostel, I was a mere bystander when other girls chopped vegetables, measured oil, marinated with spices and cooked delicious dishes that I shamelessly ate. My mother shudders to think what I would cook for my husband after marriage. Maggi noodles and cornflakes, quips my aunt. Then a month ago I read Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. I fell in love with Italy. The food in the book personified and seduced me. Indian meditation and Balinese life balance intrigued me too. But Italy won. Not just the country and the language, even the food. I downloaded apps on my phone to learn Italian verbs, listened to the soundtrack of ‘La Dolce Vita’, and ate Italian food at restaurants. This phase lasted a fortnight. It mellowed down after that, but my ‘Italy’ hangover did the unthinkable. It made me venture into unknown territory within my own home, the kitchen. I cooked. Pastas, frittatas, and a variety of soups. As I skinned and seeded tomatoes, and whiffed the herbs in the soup, I FINALLY discovered the “joy” in cooking. It wasn’t finger-licking good, but after a few mishaps, I can now cook some decent Pasta. My mother thanked her stars at this small start. ‘All hope isn’t lost’.
July saw me falling in love, that went unrequited and September found me making peace with it. It’s Phase 3. After Phase 1 of dazed existence, and Phase 2 of sleepless nights, constant turbulence of thoughts, and brooding about the same person every day; this is a cool, refreshing gulp of air. It has cleansed and calmed me, and has brought back some much needed focus and stability to my life. Getting a grip on my thoughts had been a topsy-turvy and unpleasant ride, but time has worked its magic again. Relief. 
 I also discovered Basho’s Haiku poems in the past month; another delightful discovery this autumn. It appealed to me like no other poetry ever did. I watched “Winter Days”, a short anime movie about visuals from Basho’s haiku poems. I basked in his words. I made a clumsy attempt at writing a few Haiku poems myself too, which are on this blog here and here.
And to round it all up, there had been a 6.8 earthquake on Sunday that literally shook the life out of me for the briefest of moments. It has resulted in a sad loss of life and property in idyllic Sikkim and neighboring areas; not to mention the emotional trauma, fear and alarm that it has caused in the whole of India. I will always remember though that at the precise moment when the ground beneath me shook, I sprouted legs that could run as fast as the wind. I, who am outpaced by my eight year old cousin on long walks, glided downstairs from my second floor flat with my hard drive, phone and folder of school and college certificates in ten seconds flat. I salute my inner runner.
My autumn has just begun…