Two to Tango

An unspoken voice from the left says things that will never be said:

“You woke me up at 3AM and said you were leaving. I was groggy and said hasty goodbyes wishing to get back under the sheets. It was a cold night, the day before. I stayed up till the taxi drove you away.

You told me you were upset leaving the city. I wondered then if you cried. We were never too close. We were always cordial; we were non-judgemental about each other. I knew why we could never be thick because it would have ruined it all, don’t you think? Sometimes I look at you and mull over how it would be to know a little more about a person you’ve known for so long.

I don’t know if I really missed you. Maybe the reality that we lived no more in the same city, never really dawned on me. I wish we had known each other a little more. Maybe if I could have predicted your ways, fully understood how one could know exactly what one wants out of life. Do you know I respect you a lot? It is funny because I never could have admitted it to your face.

Sometimes I thought I was just your passing fancy, someone you go to when you needed a night to lay your head or someone to go to because you feel a sense of duty. Every thought stops short when I think why we kept in touch – out of habit, out of inertia, some unwritten code of law?

There are many things I want to tell you. I want to ask for forgiveness for that evening when I was rude to you for no fault of yours. Every time I gather my nerves to bring up that forgotten incident, I wonder if it would reveal a little about how I feel about you. I would feel naked and so raw if that would happen. Once I almost broke down in front of you. I held myself before I became so shameless as to make a spectacle in front of you.

I am scared thinking if this is a thin thread I tread on calling it friendship. It could snap anytime, because those others have snapped and they were thicker.”

An unspoken voice from the right replies silently to those things that will never be said:

“That evening when you were grumpy, I was hurt when you pushed me out of your room. I knew something was troubling you and you would never speak your mind. I knew better to ask, so I thought I’d drop by for a chit-chat. I should have known better.

I am always a little wary of stepping too close to your space; you guard it like a dog, are you aware? You pretend like you are fine with the proximity, but I know you better than that façade. I wonder if you know what you are doing sometimes, but you won’t find me giving you any advice. I know that I can never see things the way you see them.

I have tasted the surfacing belligerence and I’ve backed off soon enough. There’s a wound I never want you to reopen. Not in front of me. I won’t be able hold myself gracefully, you know that. You’ve seen that moment of uncertainty flicker once. Fleetingly. I held back before I let myself show.

When we parted and I had to find a new home, I wondered whether you’d be alone. You said you didn’t know too many people in the city. I was a little worried, then I remembered that I was agonising over trivialities. You’d find company before I say ‘Shakespeare and Company’. You were always like that – a little flighty and then a slight moody. Very unpredictable.

It is amazing how you walk through life waving your arms around showing no care. I don’t know if I want that too. It looks nice on you. I am sure you know what you are doing. I will be here sticking to my nondescript ways. It is a little game we play with each other, never knowing what the other knows and yet never hiding anything from the other. I like this play because it keeps both of us guessing and never knowing and I see that’s how this is going to go on. Never knowing, always wondering.”

There will always be peace between, there will be that peaceful turmoil. Of patience and waiting and expectations.

A Little Town Called Bangalore

[A break from story-telling and getting as honest as one can.]

Six years ago, when I clambered down a bus that brought me from an industrious town in Tamil Nadu to this city of gardens, it was with a slight trepidation I then confused for excitement that I looked around the busy Madiwala morning. I had come to intern at a company which now cease to exist, possibly eaten up by the newly constructed Namma Metro. I had stayed in Kasturinagar with my sister and her husband while we all waited for life; my sister and her husband waiting for the construction of their house in K.R. Puram, I waited for my appointment letter from an Indian IT giant.

In six months time, I had moved to the prospering Koramangala, knowing fully well that my father had turned down a property deal from a broker ten years back, writing the place off as a dead locality. My aunt who has been residing in Bangalore for the past twenty something years had told my father that the place where he stood was formerly a lake bed. As I slowly discovered the city on foot, rickshaws and buses, I figured the way of Bangalore life, popular cafés and why there was so much angst deep-set within the locals. I saw that idlis and dosas the Sagars serve were differently made from what my palette was so used to in Tamil Nadu. I understood why the city of gardens didn’t have as many garden frequenters as much as it had shopping mall regulars. I also found out why people from the bigger metros came over and complained that this city wasn’t like theirs – because this city just wasn’t like theirs!

I was told the real expansion of the city had started in 1956 when they had decided to change the capital of the Mysore state to Bangalore. Some days when my weekends are free, I climb into the first city bus that comes my way, packed with a bottle of water and a day’s pass ticket to roam around the city to places the pass allows me. When I walk down roads in the older parts of the city, I see why it had once been known as the pensioner’s paradise. I can see how pleasant it must have been to live in a quiet town with its salubrious climate. Whenever I pass by the cultural remains of the city, I am at awe seeing the undying spirit of those patrons who try hard to retain parts of the city remain untouched by industries, commerce and housing complexes.

On the day of my induction, I remember thinking that the road that led to the office headquarters was beautiful with the canopy of trees on either side. It was a long, deserted road, notorious for the recurring thieving incidents. I was warned never to leave from work alone after sunset. Today for a quick commute of five kilometers, I take a vexing, dusty ride that lasts almost an hour during the rush hour times. The deserted road I was warned about is dotted with cafés and beautifully themed high-rise apartments and for a good long time I had considered moving to this part of the city till I came to know that the regions that had once been considered the outskirts have become expensive in the few years it had been left to develop.

Bangalore with its changing landscape needed residents who could adapt with its transformation in its pace. However, the city is packed with mainly two types of people – the old residents who hate seeing the city change faster than their lifestyle could and a floating population that is getting frustrated that it can’t change soon enough.

Merry Commerce!

This is the season of giving and forgiving, fast breaking and feast making, familial reunions and friendships remembered. So I wait in my room for these moments to pass unobtrusively. While people are huddled in bunches in their houses warming themselves and their hearts, the town quietens out, the streets are spared and light is an all-day affair. This time is for you, commerce.

On the eve of the day blessed by many saints, I decide to walk down the road where I am sure to hear giggles and pealing laughter. A long forgotten road ridden with architecturally brilliant houses and boutiques that are not part of any retail chain. I know this solitary day will cost heavily on my pocket. I feel an itching need to quench a thirst for consumerism. So, dressed breezily to provide enough movement for all limbs, my feet make light contact with the tar road. Had I worked off some of the pre-holiday weight, I could have even been hovering.

As I turn round the last block to face the world’s best road, my heart skips beats with manic fervour. No one to stop me from owning the smooth, linen bed sheet that I had set my eyes on sometime back. This might be stupid; I hear my left foot talking. The right foot stamps it to shun such corrosive thoughts.

The street has changed and I can’t say I am entirely pleased. I remembered the many bungalows, outnumbered shops and the canopied trees. What I see are abundant franchises, houses turned to franchises and restaurants that serve more service than food. I can feel heartbeats returning to normalcy.

All hasn’t changed, I comfort myself. Oh, there’s the shop that still sells cream cakes and there’s the house, where the little blue-eyed boy lives. I wave at the blue-eyed boy, who has grown up to take on college and the girls in it. Maybe that isn’t the little blue-eyed boy. Maybe I need to have a sandwich from the music school café that has three tables for their patrons. Maybe I have taken a wrong turn and walked into another lane. Yet I know no one else who knows this road like the back of their hand, other than I. The music school café sandwich will fix my chagrin.

When I reach the building I had known to be the music school, heigh-ho! it is a gymnasium with beefy men standing around drinking watermelon juice through straws. Afraid that my gaping glares might get interpreted as appreciative stares, I quickly shut my mouth and continue walking. The lightness shifts to my head and before I could stop them, my feet walks into a coffee bar that I hate for their inexcusably, feeble coffee. The rest follows in a daze till two cups of coffee enter my blood stream and I breathe again. Hastily, I pay them off, collecting all change so that they don’t mistake it for a tip for their services.

Scrambling out, I decide the purchase of the bed sheet has become the utmost necessity. I briskly walk past the other stores promising discounts and offers of the most unbelievable nature. Ignoring the mongers, eyes determined, lips laid out in a straight line, I reached the linen store in a sprint. I stood on the opposite side of the road facing the store stripped off its sign board and interiors.

Hazy view, moist eyes, buckling knees, I reached out and grabbed a passer woman’s arm.

“There used to be a store here… they sold the best of linen… have they shifted… or have they shut…?”

She squeezed my hand. “When was the last time you were here?”

“Maybe a year back.”

“Yes, what you fear has happened. Maybe you need some water.” She reached into her bag and held out a bottle of water.

The world revolving, my legs gave away, I fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes. I felt kindly hands help me up and drag my limp body back to the coffee bar I just came out of. A glass of cold coffee was brought and four out of my five senses regained function. However, the taste buds had been ruined forever.

This has been the worst of my Christmases, I smile. A smile to a grin to a laugh and a bellow. The waitress hurriedly came with the bill and a form to rate their coffee. I paid double the bill and drew a face with dots for eyes and an up-turned arc for a mouth. My unbounded happiness seemed normal. This must be how insanity feels.

Having lost sense of time and reasoning, I figured that the yearning for owning has not yet been curbed. I shook off the draining feeling of the unconquered bed sheet. When I stepped out of the coffee shop, I notice that next door is a store selling make-up products. I gleefully walked in and asked the disinterested lady behind the counter to make me over. She complied whole-heartedly and I saw the mad gleam transferred to her eyes. On other days it would have appalled me, but today was different. She sat me on a high stool, took out multiple brushes, put black muck on my lips that I usually put in my eyes and used a lot of red goo on my face. After half an hour, she showed me the child of Lady Gaga and Marilyn Manson in the mirror and called me ‘Gothic’. I thanked her and shook her hands for a good minute while her colleague swiped one of my cards and all that she put on my face was mine in pretty tubes, making me considerably poorer than when I began the day.

As I walked back home, the effect of the deplorable coffee was draining off while my heart gradually fell into my stomach. The piteous day was closing and I pacified myself with the bag from the Frankenstein lady and told myself of the good cheer this day was to spread. When I reached home, I slowly walked to the mirror to look and admire myself once again.

When I fell, I fell with a dull thud, the way they all fall.

The Midnight Driver

[This post contains more fact than fiction. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely intentional.]

He pushed his rickshaw into the shadows off the street light till his receding back was no more in view.

He told the story of his immoral wife. She stole his father’s money and swindled many others in their neighbourhood and ran off. She left him a pauper with two daughters to marry off. He did not curse her ever. He forgave her atrocities eons ago. She was but a mere thought, possibly a memory that he no longer cared for? He can only think of how he would make ends meet. His daughters were his immediate concern.

That’s why the Nepali girl found refuge in his rickshaw at midnight. She looked as scared as a kitten and his heart went out for her. He told her he had to go home but she begged him to drop her. She said a man from the club was following her and asking her to get into his car. The rich man from the club followed his rickshaw till her house. The auto rickshaw driver screamed out to him, go away or I’ll call the police. He told the Nepali as she handed him two hundred rupees, nakoji, insaniyath ke naam se, and drove away to the man from whom he rents his rickshaw for the evenings.

A few years ago, he had picked a young widow from the road. She was drunk, furious and was screaming at the two men she was with. She scrambled into his rickshaw and slurred out her address. When he turned around to ask the directions, he saw that she had passed out. He tried waking her up in vain. He considered taking her to his house but feared what his neighbours would say when they saw him bring a skimpily clad memsahib to his house in the dead of the night. In the morning, when she regained consciousness, but nowhere near sobriety, she hurled abuses at his daughters accusing them of kidnapping her. When he dropped her off at her house, she cried and hugged him and they remained friends since.

He was a woman’s man, they all told him. Although his daughters were irked by his generous ways, his heart swells when they say they are proud of him. Sometimes, when he runs out of gas, he pushes his vehicle to the sister’s house that is closer to the city than his own. His mind wonders as he lies on the hard bed outside their house. This is where he first met the woman who made his life this. He tells himself to sleep that he does not hate her.

Whether he still longs for that doe-eyed girl…

A Mirror

“You never had a choice. You were going to muck up your children’s future from the moment you decided to procreate. They are always going to blame you. Whether you made their life easy, difficult or comfortable. Even when you weren’t there, you did them bad. If you did happen to loiter around to see what they’d turn out to be, they’d easily point fingers at you for that too. And you know what? They might not be so wrong, after all.

Maybe you passed on some of your fears. Maybe you did them some good. Maybe they never turned out to be what you wanted them to be but that too is because of you. You drew up the expectations and decided to play god; who they should be, who they shouldn’t. If they’ve disappointed you, that’s your problem.

And then again maybe you let them free, asking them to lead their own lives, while you lead yours. Well, that’s not so right, is it? You never guided them, never cared enough, never loved enough, never appreciated enough, never there! Whatever you did, it was so wrong. You are the reason they trusted so much in life… or not! You probably never realised that you could shape a human’s life so much. You probably never realised the powers vested in you. You probably never realised that you hit the dead-end even before you begun.

Didn’t you blame your parents for what they did to you? Didn’t you swear that your child will never go through what you did? Don’t you see a spitting resemblance of their rebellion with yours? Don’t you get scared when you see yourself screaming back at you saying you are so unfair?

You have no choice. It was your decision to be a parent, wasn’t it?”

A Patriot

I am a citizen of India who has never once voted. I’ve never wanted to vote because no promises were ever realised. It took me six months to get a voter’s id application processed, only to come back with a rejection because I could not prove I resided where I did.

I am not a fan of cricket. Much less after the match fixing incident of the year 2000. I was amused when India won the World Cup this year, but I was not out on the streets cheering for the country. It did not mean much to me. I did not play. This wasn’t going to change my life.

I was not born in this country. I did not spend a childhood here. My heart doesn’t swell up with emotions when people look up to the tricolour and say with faux pride ‘I am a proud Indian’. Like they had a choice. They look at me accusingly for not standing up in awe and attention while the national anthem is playing… in a mobile phone. I wonder what they did to be filled with such pride. I want to tap on their shoulders and say “Do you really think India is as proud of you? Personify India and she’d probably want to keep miles and miles between the two of you.”

I, like millions of children, grew up hoping to be a superman readying to fight injustice by ripping off clothes.

I am no racist. I hate stereotypes. Sometimes when I catch myself treading on those grounds I remember those times I seethed with anger for having been categorised for hailing from a place of coconut trees and banana chips. This country is filled to the brim with polymorphism. I am going to sit on this pedestal a few feet higher from where the others are and proclaim that racism is for the uneducated (no references made to that what they do in schools).

I do not hate the Pakistanis. I’ve heard touching stories of lives of many. I’ve had classmates who were nice people from Pakistan. An Indian who cycled all the way from Bangalore to Lahore once told me they were just like any other human. They had dreams, they had intelligence and they were sensitive to others’ religions. To top it all, they were oppressed by the leaders of their country as we are. Of course, in varying intensities. If I didn’t know better, I’d have called them my siblings. Except they are Pakistanis. Just because a certain people-constituted body from this piece of land dictates that they are not one of us. Just because they chose not to be a part of this constitution and subsequently put a border where they wanted us out. Do you see how we grew up on games as such?

I pay heed to this country’s distorted laws because my ancestors were custodians of this land. They never bought it, somehow they managed to claim it. Then they fought with their lives to keep it. Now I pay the price for it. If I don’t consider myself a citizen of this country no other country would adopt me for free. So I prefer to stay put. Hell, I could pay taxes and no one would ever kick me out. This is the fine trap I lately found myself in.

Contention

As Ben sat sipping coffee by the French window, he realised he’d always wanted this. He was at a juncture in life where his expectations and what his life held, caught up with each other. Finally.

He evaluated his life from his house in the suburb. He liked it.

While he sat content for those few moments, a wandering thought held him. He hadn’t struck off everything from his bucket list yet. He just had what he wanted that particular phase in life. He always dreamt of this day… when he’d be content for everything he had around him. He didn’t want to know that this was the last time he’d ever feel triumphant. He never realised his dreams. He never found them. He ventured so many things trying to fix that piece of jigsaw puzzle. It irked him that piece was still lying around not finding its place. He felt a familiar anger seething at the thought of lost dreams. He could feel his teeth grinding and his muscles going rigid.

Breathe in, breathe out, his shrink had told him.

Shrugging his shoulders, this was meant to be, he said out aloud to his empty room; his mug acknowledged it. The mug told him to put it all down to a funny thing called destiny. He did, and he quickly curbed any further disbelief. He was back to that happy lull. It comes easier these days.

He broke out of his reverie and thought whether that was all he wanted in life. To be content? Did he aim too low? Maybe not. Maybe that puzzle piece was not a part of this set. Maybe all that successes in life one had to attain was just a lot of baloney. He giggled as he considered that illusion. It sure was absurd to measure success with liabilities.

Before Ben left home the next morning he wrote off this house he liked to his nephew. He had sold off his old Beetle a week back and had bought a sturdy bicycle for himself. It was decided that was all he needed where he was going.

After all, humans

“It would be more interesting to learn from children, than try to teach them how to behave, how to live and how to function.”

~ U.G.Krishnamurti

Teach them the ways of heaven
Show them the path you took
Watch what they take
Never judging what they take
Never prophesying ill
Never critisising what you don’t understand
Not asking them to drop what they did
Nor edging them to pick what they didn’t
They are after all, like you
They are after all, human.

Sometimes you need to hurt yourself to learn.

My Window

Blue and orange spirals sitting pretty
In earthen brown
Heightened with navy blue holes
Against a linear but translucent muddy sea
Green rapidly flowing till it converges
At a puff pink point
Where it meets gravity
At squares of white and lines of black
Perpendicular to fiery dark magenta red
Completely missing my sanity

I pull the blinds up
To let in the air
And let out the smoke.

Electric Chair

My first appointment with a dentist was a few years back, my friends shared their dentist stories.

“Ouch! That’s going to hurt, girl.” “Pack some really strong painkillers.” “Take my advice. Die with the bad teeth and the bad breath and the bleeding gums.” “Yes, a better death than on the electric chair!”

Surprisingly, they are still my friends.

My dentist is a namesake to a Bollywood actress who rose to fame predominantly due to good ol’ controversies and reality shows. She always seem to enjoy my company, possibly because I am her recurring and loyal patient. If I didn’t know better, I’d say she wishes I don’t stop bingeing. 

She said, avoiding sweets and brushing twice a day won’t really help in preventing cavities. I can do so, but that wouldn’t prevent any from recurring.

She said, my yellow teeth aren’t yellow at all. They are a very good teeth colour, in fact.

She said, I should cut down tea and coffee intake, if the teeth colour concerns me so much.

And she said, even if I don’t stop, a quick clean up will discolour my teeth to reveal my pearly whites.

She said, using the magic mouthwash she prescribes will reduce the sensitivity in my gums.

She’s an angel, I tell you.

Her clinic has seen many treatments conducted in my mouth. I’d like to believe that it is because of my regular visits that she got to move her clinic to this fancier new building. Her interns know me by my first name. I was a rare case this once and I got to sit and be photographed ‘for further analysis’. They wanted to study the case and probably even presented it in their classes. To my credit, I’ve helped people to better the world. Mouth odour wise, to mention the least.

If you ask me, the procedure is bearable, maybe not entirely comfortable. Throughout the procedure, you wince, you grimace and your face is contorted. You complain and you get injected in your gum. The numbness, then makes you feel you are dead below your nose. The tongue, lips, teeth feel alien to you. And you can’t control the movement. You might even spurt saliva occasionally while talking to the dentist. That’s probably why dentists insist on surgical masks.

“Tell me if it hurts.”

Interns and nurses point fingers and talk in hushed tones. I hear a stray giggle now and then that makes me conscious. Like Ogden Nash says, it strips off one’s dignity.

“Ugh, ugh…”

“Hurting?”

“Uh huh… Shenshitive. Feelsh funny.”

“I’ll numb the gum.”

As I lay stiff as a board on the electric chair, a voice in my head chants numb the gum, numb the gum, numb the gum. My dentist used a gel to numb the gum. It’s minty and tastes like toothpaste, but in a few minutes, I lose all sensation of the lower face. I stare at the ceiling while the d(m)ental procedure resumes.

When you are subjected to an iterative painful situation where you know what kind of pain to expect and how long it can continue for, you lose interest. I lost interest, so much so that I felt sleepy. The whirring sounds of the machines in my mouth and the rhythmic movements lulled me to sleep. With my jaws stuck open, like the horses who sleep standing up.

Suddenly I find myself staring at the ceiling again. Now and then a stray nerve gets hyper sensitive and I am forced to return to face the humiliation. The doctor feels more sedation is required. Even more, I wonder? I am just about aware of the prick and I cringe. Soon I am sleepy again. This is really relaxing, I think. I need to get new friends, I decide as I gradually doze off. Dentist at work. Jaws wide open.