The book I’ve been reading
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.
The book I’ve been reading
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.