The Ways We Leave

You know you have left only when you come home again.

You are greeted by the smell of garlic in hot oil. Of the smell of your mother’s Sunday henna ritual. The smell of your grandmother’s evening flowers gently nagging your grandfather’s morning aftershave. You are warmed, welcomed, then shocked by the smell of your home, a smell that you had never known or noticed but now feel with a pang in your alien chest, a sensation that tingles your nose, with either the threat of tears or just the feeling of a new stimulus — for your nose is now the nose of a bird that has left the nest it was hatched in.

You are conscious of the space you take. Your fingers take a pulse longer to place the switch to the tube light. Your bed does not remember your shape. Your plate is at the back of the shelf. Your toothbrush is now used to clean your father’s shoes. You find sentiment in coincidence: how, just like you, your mother brushes the crown of her head with the back of her hand when she kneads dough for chapatis, or how, just like you, your grandfather tsks and disciplines a wayward newspaper. The couch feels plush and delicious, and you can swear your grandmother’s hands have grown softer when they weave your hair.

Everything is predictable, yet nothing is the same.

You find new things: new rubber bands, new dupattas, new blankets on newly drawn washing lines. New brands of shampoo, new pamphlets for new insurances against new diseases. The kin of new house-help in their new but your old clothes, new phone numbers on new post-it notes. New whites in hair, new wrinkles in hands, new nicks on chin.

The things you have taken away have left discoloured spaces and these spaces now wear a patina of dust, a cataract of finely ground finality, a veneer as thin as new skin that aches all the way to your core. This was you. This is now you. The story has moved on in a way that feels like a gasp of air in a swell of oil. The suitcase you wheeled out held your earthly possessions, and also the sum of your molecules that make you you, wheeling that suitcase. You moved away your things, and you; at once Fed-Exed everything to your future, and everything to the past, and now what is here is you, holding your toothbrush that you brought from what you call home, mouthing the ghost of a feeling you call home.

Home is where you feel homesick.

A Hundred and Twenty

It has little to do with a surprise grandchild.
But your mother does not want me in her house when she’s not around.

Not because she’d have to hesitate before doing up your bed, or would be forced to have an explanation for the stray hair the maid found that is simply too long for explanation. It’s not because she would have to avoid the sofa with her crocheted lace doilies, or the friendly inquiring neighbour. Not even because some day, she’ll find herself watching the clothes vigorously spin in the front-loader, and inexplicably blush.

Forget what I see about you. Your mother does not want me to see things about her.

She does not want me to see the hoarded bits of tamarind mush that she hopes to one day use to fight grease. She does not want me to see the crusty coconut grater with old flakes still stuck in the teeth; the walls of her kitchen that she has adorned with blue and white milk packets; or that her one act of wifely defiance is that she uses your father’s erstwhile brown briefs to soak water from the blabbermouth tap.

She does not want me to know you are married to that threadbare razai you’ve had since you were a child, and that your family has a bit of a cholesterol problem, what with the ghee dish having more char and neglect in it than ghee. She does not want me to see her saree blouses unironed, sun-crisp, and inside out, the occasional rust-mangled hook oxidizing some more on the clothesline. She is not yet ready for the intimacy of an all-cloth-brassiere discussion.

Your mother wants me to see you as you, and not necessarily as her son. She does not want me to see the pink talcum she has bought for your manly armpits, nor the mound of your t-shirts that hasn’t been folded because she is not here. She doesn’t want me to see the gods she brought you up under, dressed in last morning’s wilted flowers. Your mother doesn’t want me to know that she is gnawed by worry, about you and your bed that is gnawed by termites, and that her only defense is a Kannada newspaper and cellotape. Not even The Hindu, or a glossy tabloid supplement.

She doesn’t want me to know the secrets of her youth. I am not to see the blackened old cup on the bathroom shelf, and the half-empty Godrej packet in it. I am not to see that she is mortally afraid of dandruff, and consults with three different kinds of oil. She would rather tell me, than let me deduce from the dubious coloured vials, that she believes Ayurveda can cure her of her swollen feet. I am not to know the smell of her from the latest Lux bar at the sink. I am not to know that her molars are false, and have been forgotten at the same sink.

I am forbidden from knowing the corners she cuts for her budget-keeping. That every morning before the mirror, she contemplates between three stickers, and dutifully sticks them back on the mirror before going to bed. That she mends the buttons of her house-cardigan, each mending done absently in different coloured threads. That by her bedside is a vase with plastic flowers that don’t need replenishing, and it’s not like anyone buys her flowers anyway.

Your mother does not want me to know she has left in a hurry to her mother’s house, maybe for a celebration because the cupboard to the Kanjeevarams is still ajar. But it is your duffel bag that she has taken. Maybe because of what your foreign-returned brother has just installed in your father’s That Cabinet.

Your mother wants to be there when I say, “Oh, she plays the veena?” She wants to modestly blush and brush me away with a hand and say, “Used to. Now I’ve lost practice.”  She wants me to sit in the veranda and fuss over my parentage and show me pictures of you as a little boy with long hair and give me an orange and betel leaves to say she loved having me over.

Your mother is not here.
But she wants to hear me tell her that I will leave, and I will be back soon.

A Hundred and Nine

Cotton candy aftermaths.

Slippery notes of 10.

The prickle of stranger on a bus.

Inevitability between man and woman.

Static of silk and belly.

The vase that got away.

Etchings of brassiere straps.

Calluses for absent play.

11AM sun of winter mornings.

Bites of new E-string.

The lure of knife’s edge.

Wetness inside a ring.

Found an interesting theme on this blog that compiles 55-word stories, called “Touch”. This is what came of it.

A Hundred and Eight

In the season of presidential nominations,
I’m running for a few designations –

Writer. Poet. Photographer.
Professional describer of feelings.
High-intensity leer-evaporator.
Smasher of nonsense ceilings.

DF Wallace Quote Generator.
Multiple bell-jar defeatist.
The Antoinette of Drama Queenery.
The Nilgiri winds of eye-mist.

The atlas of all the right spots.
Perpetual leaver of aunties aghast.
Shaadi.com’s SEO Nightmare.
Wit like the Virar Fast.

Lethal sashayer of saree pleats.
Visual crime police.
Khadi-wearing activist
Of “thank you, hello, please?”

Part-time mood re-decorator.
Marmalade evangelist.
Slice of chilled watermelon.
Male-throat dehydrist.

Sr. Executive Puppy-face.
Tantric caller of cat.
Compliment-netting fisher-woman.
Serial thwarter of fat.

Zero-contact gut-puncher.
Saviour at the ninth-stitch.
Hidden memories detonator.
High priestess of bitch.

Ariel View

I’m not half a woman,
I’m mostly sea.
I’m not half a woman,
I don’t need legs to complete me.

I’m not an almost-whole Marilyn,
Underground rails billowing my dresses,
Haute couture of where I come from
Is mostly sea-shell bras, and floating tresses.

Come, live below sea-
Level with me,
Where there’s no doing the dishes
Or laundry,
We’ll pop oysters,
Smoke sea-weed,
And what we spark between us,
Is the only fire we’ll need.

Here,
There’s enough bubbles
For champagne the whole year round.
Here,
Gargling composes
Trumpet and saxophone sound.

Here,
There’s enough clay,
To be a water-work Michelangelo,
Here,
Where it makes sense to say,
Let’s take it easy, let’s go with the flow.

Our fingertips will forever be wrinkled,
Your money and maps, forever wet,
And should you ever get homesick,
We’ll visit the nearest shipwreck.

I’m not half a woman,
Sure, I’m almost always at sea.
I’m not half a woman,
I don’t need legs to complete me.

I’m sorry, I’m just not into flesh-trade,
Cutting in love’s name, is such a cheap charade.

I’m not parting with my second-half,
To be named your better-half.
I won’t burn hours at the treadmill,
To account for shapely calves.

So, Mister Prince Charming,
Mister Smile Disarming,
Take a deep breath,
Take the plunge,
Don’t open your mouth to say hello,
Just wave at the pants-wearing sponge.

Travel

Our meeting begins
At the valleys of your fingers.

I squint,
At the sunlight that squeezes
between them.

I look at the map,
And find no way around the lines
of your palms.

Of course,
I’m too proud to ask for directions.

I trudge on,
Dodging your fault lines,
Climbing,
Conquering,
Your mound of Venus.

The eddies of your fingerprints,
Are too many to unravel.

The air sings
of your musk.
My footprints
are your rash of tiny, pulsing gooseflesh.
The glade that I run along –
your rapt-to-attention follicles.

The sand of your skin,
Ripples in fractals.

So sharp the stalactites
of your upper lip
and tongue.

I snowball down the smooth
heights
of your arms,
And hang by the outcrops
of your blades.

Your throbbing rivers
pulse red.

I am caught in your rapids,
And rescued
by the mesmerising fissures
that crowd around your eyes,
Flirt at your cheek,
Cut your chin,
Chisel the dip of your back,
And punctuate
The neglect behind your knees.

What etched
the canyons between your toes?
How shall I escape
the quicksand
that knots your elbows?
What shall I read
in the braille of scars
on the walls of your shins?

I’m lost.
Wandering, wondering,
At the Geography
of touch.

The plateau of your chest.
The plains of your abdomen.
The pit of your navel.

And beneath –
a glistening pool
of a place I’ve been a hundred times,
And yet,
Never.
The mounting confusion
between a rise
and a fall.

A blackwater
of full moon tides.

Your breath
is the gale I brave.

Vomit

My morning cereal
was all over the back of the van.

My throat burned
And my 6 year old eyes stung,
In pain, in shame,
And most of all – in pride.
I had promised Mumma I wouldn’t cry.
But all I wanted,
What I really wanted,
Was to let loose one sob,
Just one,
So that the knot in my tummy,
Or the knot in my throat,
Would melt.

My two long plaits were my only friends
standing outside with me,
And I would have called on them
to hug me,
If I didn’t feel my wet uniform
Sticking to my chest,
Or if I didn’t smell the smell that haunted me,
Hunted me,
From deep within me.

The pity in the van man’s eyes said,
“It’s all right, I won’t tell your Mumma”.
He gently lifted me back into the van,
To a dry seat by the window.
And with that,
Two drops weighing the earth, left me.

The school bell was long forgotten.
The other girls with the pretty pencils,
and obedient hair,
Had long gone in and called “absent”,
when I was summoned to show
my yellow
house, worth two gold stars.
The scabs on my palms missed
The bars of the jungle gym.

The engine roar was loud enough,
So no one but the black rexine seat heard,
Two more drops
plop.

My nose felt cool against the window,
And slowly,
So slowly,
I felt my attention wander
Even while the rest of me sat crying.
The scaly salt trails on my cheeks
Still felt like cake
When I saw that my buckled black shoes looked so pretty
Polished to a shine
By my grandfather’s able hands

This time, I wasn’t prepared
For the onslaught
Of plop, plop, plop.

I played with my tears,
Squashed them with my eyelids,
And by some strange alchemy, this
Made sunlight seven dotty colours.

Homecoming, today,
was magic.

God-light played between trees
That had finally woken
Stretching their arms up to the sky.
The wind did not have a flavour of hurry.
The air was not full
Of hot breath or bus exhaust
Or the giggles of gaggles of girls.

The scene was the same.
It’s just that the view had changed.

No wonder adults hid this from me.
Who knows how much trouble it would be
To get me interested in
Long division again.

My running nose had stopped,
My shoes were still black.
My tiffin box, intact.
And yet, I was received,
By the tough hands of my grandfather.
My scrawny arms cradled his neck,
And his hand found my head,
Even with the flecks
Of hurry-chewed cornflakes.

Inhaling the smell of his talcum and sweat,
I fell blissfully asleep.

Outside, the world had chugged on,
Unchanged by my vomit.