A Hundred and Twenty Four

When I am not considering the cleanliness of my navel, I remember to be grateful for empathy and the strange and wonderful places it takes me to. That on a quiet day, at an unsuspecting moment, I can find kinship in odd vulnerabilities at the corners of everyday tedium. That I can find myself in unusual shoes.

I find me in that child’s two-second pause while he registers he just let his helium balloon go. I am in that breathless shock of cold the construction worker feels when he empties a mug of water on his head. I am that 12 year old who goes on stage during a wedding reception, shakes the groom’s hand awkwardly, and walks off self-conscious. I am in the awkwardness of the waiting girl who absently checks her phone. I am in the unconvincing excuse the belated boy comes up with.

I am that friend at the birthday party who gave the birthday boy money instead of a wildly exciting video game. I am that girl posing in a group photograph, who never knows what to do with her hands – should she assume intimacy with the person next to her by draping her hand across his shoulder, or does he mean something to hold his waist? I am the urchin at a bakery glass display, eyeing a sickeningly rich pink pastry. I am the gentleman determinedly not looking at the bent girl’s gaping neckline.

I wince when the parlour lady threads the 16 year old’s supple upper-lip. I feel the itchiness of the monkey cap the diabetic grandfather has been forced to wear. My gut chills like the man who learns he has placed second on the reality show. I am homesick like the silhouettes in the windows of an interstate bus pulling out of those last few stretches of city, watching people ride in the opposite direction, homesickness mounting as they get closer home. I feel the strain in my arms from that girl who ferries her uncomfortable mother on her scooter. My toes flex for texture when a hawker takes to the tar road by foot. I pinch my eyes shut imagining the acridity of the beedi that man smokes.

I’m convinced that the maker is an amateur artist in pursuit of his perfect drawing, for he keeps tracing and retracing our borders over and over again. All that makes us different from each other are the wisps and ghosts between Pilot-pen-drawn lines. Our anomalies are errors by his hand that could well be attributed to bumps in cosmic paper. Maybe to make up for this, he threw in the gift of empathy, that we may see ourselves past those hazy, rakish lines. Maybe, with empathy, he wants us to fill in the colours.

Or maybe, just maybe, empathy was his way of saying sorry for loneliness.

An Unofficial Nike Ad.

Pull out your old marathon tee.
Put it aside to change into when you’re done.

Wear your still-wet-from-the-downpour-day-before shoes. And run.

Ditch the app. Fuck the playlist. Run. Feel your muscles heave. Feel the eyes of strangers on you when you run a pace they know is too quick to keep up. Feel the confusion of the stray that wants to chase you, but cocks its head in amusement instead. Feel the rattle in your chest; feel the real, heavy, throbbing thing in it. Feel your thirst hiss in your ears.

Run. Count every step, every stumble, every struggle for breath. When your numbers stray, start over. Taste the ash of your lungs burning, and regret every sigh that escaped you in your hours of darkness. Respond to the cadence of your punishment; bead after bead of inaccessible sweat, thud after thud of your own growing heaviness.

Cut the air with soft-formed fists. Obey the lay of the path. Bend when the road bends. Jump when the road gapes. Brave the tree’s curious branch with a gash on your cheek. Notch every time you pass your house, your lane, your neighbour’s big blue SUV. Be amazed at the mechanics of how your calves tug, the balls of your toes spring you forward, your knees flex — and you, tiny, insignificant you, glide over; your run, a holy trinity between gravity, inertia, and human will. It is you that the earth resists. You are the action the earth is in reaction to. What other vindication do you seek?

Fall in step with your body. Revel in your mind’s dread.

Go home to a mirror that cannot cloud with doubt. Rummage your soul for some sadness, imagine an insecurity, and watch your body not give a single, solo, solitary or even a half-a-hearted fuck. Learn how no god, no guide, no good word carried you through — like you, and your two feet did.

Run. And stop after greatness.
It’s where you will trespass, again, tomorrow.

A Hundred and Twenty Two

It begins when you knock over an ink bottle with your elbow.

You blink, registering what your clumsy, wayward elbow has done. A conspiracy of blue rushes in hurried whispers across an ever-growing island, corrupting weave after weave of checkered tablecloth. You wince, like it is a vase falling, and you wait for its clipped final complaint. You gather the cloth in a bid to make amends. You don’t know it yet — but you never really believed the cloth would be red and white again. You blink. The blue has seeped through the parched cotton and filmed the polished wood like watery oil. It is on your hands. All over your hands. In your hands, burrowing deep in the grooves between the whorls of your fingerprints. You cannot wipe your hands on your jeans. The back of your throat tastes like salt and rust.

Your hands are a wet royal blue.

You sit on the most unassuming surface available, willing your arms to dislodge themselves. You lean against the wall, you exhale. You loosen muscles one by one. You watch your arms. The veins slowly, with all the will of osmosis, turn a knotted blue. The tendrils, the frail capillaries all blue. Your skin looks like naked paper with all its intentions laid bare.

In your heart is a choir of cellos, thick moans of stringed viscera that ripen your ventricles and valves and walls to a sore tenderness. Your nose tingles. Your eyes sting, and your vision blurs dark.

You catch a blue teardrop. Then twenty.

Delayed Gratification. And Chow Chow Bhath.

Only recently did it click in my head, that I eat sandwich borders first, the creamed biscuit second, and my cake’s icing last.

Perhaps it is a sign of persistent middle-class manners – or just a persistent middle-class mother – but I’m afraid delayed gratification is quite a reflex for me.

I’d like to imagine that this was our society’s designers’ way of ingraining in us this unrelenting faith, this habit that believes that wading through the hard things will bring us to the good. Like it is a system of motor-memorizing optimism itself. The causes for my hoard-the-happy behaviour are fairly easy to peg: endless waits for birthdays and foreign-returning aunts, blindly promised and mostly achieved percentages, piggy banks that refused to fill up, spinach that refused to finish, black buckles that refused to break. In my young double-pig-tailed head, it was an ancient barter system of karma via dharma. Every vacation was earned by an exam. Every cloud of misty breath was earned by standing in the cold.

This revelation dawned on me midway through — my Chow Chow Bhath.

For the uninitiated, Chow Chow Bhath is a dish that brings together inverted cupfuls of kharabhath and kesaribhath. Kharabhath is a thinly disguised form of upma, horror in the form of spiced semolina gunk that features in many children’s tiffin box disappointments. Kesaribhath – is sweet ambrosia; upma’s beautiful, profound, fun sister whom you meet at a supremely boring house party and wonder, “Gee, which one was adopted?”

There was an exact point in my wolfing that fateful Chow Chow Bhath that this epiphany happened: when I found that I had bolted through 70% of the Upma (urf Kharabhath), and had not even touched the Kesaribhath yet. That meant, it would leave too much sweet to eat at one shot, and I’d have to pace it between spoonfuls of offensive Kharabhath (alias Upma).

So you see, this Chow Chow Bhath is a Trojan Horse in our house of binary: it simply blanches the 0s and 1s with all that ghee. It is an inconvenient truth: but you cannot finish all the Kharabhath and singly relish the Kesaribhath. Once your sadness has been conquered, your happiness diminishes in value in its abundance. Because good and bad do not follow through in a crest-trough pattern, and are not enjoyed void of the other. They stand like adjacent houses – a pretty one, and an ugly one – a sight that you take in its entirety. Like two blobs of spiced and sweetened semolina.

And yet, it is fitting that this musing on delayed gratification opened such a simple way of working out that one thing we want most for ourselves; that thing we lose to ephemera. Inevitably, it is that one thing we save for last. It is the thing we wait to do at the end of the day, when all our wealth to squander is time and quiet and heart. When we can sit on a bench, and swing our legs, and chew with luxury and deliberation.

For me, it is this. Sitting here and sewing in, word after word.

A Hundred and Twenty One

The most important lesson I learned at a swimming pool is from a time before when I could swim.

I loved our school swimming pool. It was crystal blue, large, square, and tiled white. On many early mornings, I’d sit at the bleachers with my back to the field, and watch the gentle swells of the water. Whenever a breeze blew moisture my way, I’d open my mouth and swallow whole chlorine-and-pine wetness.

The pool was always a playful brimful. Its fullness would toy with my limited understanding of surface tension – that although the water bobbed and threatened to erupt, it never did. It flirted with the rules of confinement; laughing garrulously at the prudish well-cut white boundary, but always gathering its skirts before spilling over.

It was a pool with personality – a fiery mentor befitting a school that groomed young ladies. It was a living, breathing thing whose belly would shudder, and it would cluck its tongue at winds that took themselves too seriously. It would put up a fight when little girls with blubbery thighs in neon swimsuits would thrash about blindly. It would coax into its vast care crying children who’d rub their eyes to rid themselves of tears, shame, and chlorine.

During monsoons, it was pitter-patter company when I’d sit in my buttoned-up cardigan and play with raindrops that clung to the chain-link fence, using the ends of my plaits like paintbrushes. The pool’s deep end would be a liquid emerald, light winking in its depths and running a cold current through the backs of my knees.

It was the year I was finally assigned my house colour. Red. It was Spring.  The trees that arched over the pool sent flying kisses to the water below, and the pool would blush in concentric, ever-expanding circles – an endless charade that I’d watch with my fingers tangled in the diamonds of the wire-fence. Pink lips of flowers would caress blue and tuck themselves at the far ends of the pool, waiting for the exasperated pool-cleaner.

That day, he was even more exasperated.

Bright coloured ropes had been drawn to mark tracks, and a sound system had been set up. The synchronised-swimming team adjusted each other’s bright blue swim-caps, and waved at familiar faces on the other side of the fence. The swim coach was in a starch-stiff salwar and her stainless steel whistle flashed a sunlit smile.

We made crepe-paper pom-poms for each other. We yelled jingles. Our team is dynamite, our team is dy-na-mite. Our swimmers huddled, a devout teacher crossed herself, and the speaker crackled. The swimmers stood on the starting blocks. The more conscious ones snapped the ends of their suits. A few stretched. A few tensed. My favourite senior’s thigh muscle rippled. A shot sounded.

The girls sprang like jaguars and splashed us onlookers. They sliced through the water, and flipped under to turn around, and my senior took the lead — when the girl next to me screamed. Red blossomed on my white skirt and in my hands. My pom-poms had bled colour. A few of the older girls exchanged meaningful looks and breathed. One girl caressed my head.

We sailed the relay. We broke for lunch. We jostled for seats in the front row. Our house was leading, so we hooted and whooped. It was now the 200 meter race.

The swimmers lined up, but it was an unusual time for quiet.

The last swimmer to limp her way to her block was Sheroza. Sheroza had survived a near-fatal accident two years before. She had lost her brother, and had come back to school a completely different person. She touched her toes with a little effort. She snapped on her goggles. Her black Speedo cap banded and hid her tight curls. Her eyes seared the track ahead, and an angry long gash ran the length of her right leg.

I winced when the shot rang.

The girls were off. They butterflew their way down their tracks, golden, glorious wings spanning conquests that day and forever more. The swimmers tumbled under water and rose again, water phoenixes rising lap after lap. And yet, the only chant on everybody’s lips: She-ro-za. She-ro-za. She-ro-za.

Silence fell. The girls from our house finished first and second. Six tracks had finished the race. But everyone’s gaze was riveted to the seventh: Sheroza. She turned her last tumble. The trees hushed each other. The water quivered when Sheroza’s arms would break from the pool’s face, and slide back under. Break. Slide. Break. Slide. A pensive bird’s wing-beat on her way home. It escaped someone’s lips, “Come on Sheroza!” Sheroza surfaced, and hiccuped a sob. Break. Slide. “Come on Sheroza!” Break. Slide. The six other girls in the pool wiped their eyes. Water lapped at the sides of the pool, heaving and rooting for Sheroza. “Come on Sheroza!”

The other swimmers hugged Sheroza for a long time and she cried, and cried. The rest of us couldn’t stop clapping and sniffling.

The pool hummed softly, and waited.

I was 22 when I learned to swim; when I learned of the cadence of water – and that its power is in how it can make even light buoyant. I learned to disperse tears amidst its molecules. I learned of its haunting shadows in my shivers and crimped fingers on chilly November nights. I learned of its parallel universe with its own quality of silence. I learned of the sculpting qualities of water; its soft, painless chiseling at everything we hate about ourselves – our bodies, our lethargy, our fear.

With a little help from refraction, water can throw light on how just a little wetness is enough to unsettle us.

And yet, water is what it takes.

A rectangle of it. An ocean of it. A cloudburst of it. A fountain of it.

Water takes into her lap our rough edges, our unrelenting realities, that we may break from her surface as brilliant sparkling victors.

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 Pocketful of Sand

A far more civilized, and less self-indulgent version of this appeared in Mint Lounge. Thank you to the brilliant Shamanth Rao for taking this beast through seventy eight gargantubajillion drafts. 

I reluctantly unpack my well-used swimwear and do two more things.

First, shiver: Bangalore is too chilly for a one-piece, however conservative. Second, pick my best moments from my latest visit to a jewel on the West coast of Karnataka – Gokarna.

On New Year’s Eve, when half the sub-continent flocks Goa, my friends and I settled instead for Gokarna, a quieter affair that’s just 130km south. We hopped into a car, and drove 500-odd kilometres from Bangalore, quite literally into the sunset.

The road to Gokarna is dotted with delights. Sunflowers nod hello along National Highway 4 outside Bangalore. Proud windmills do cartwheels on the hills of Chitradurga. Towel-turbaned farmhands thresh rice on the wide-as-a-hair-parting highway to Shimoga. Pines line the tummy-torturing hairpins to Honnavar. The road thereon smells of the sea, and becomes a straightforward ride through Kumta, over the Divgi bridge, and onto the Gokarna-Kudle Road.

Gokarna, as every travel guidebook loves to say, means the cow’s ear. Legend has it that Shiva, after being banished by Brahma from Kailasa, returned from hell through the ear of a cow. And this is the lore that has been incanted to name the abode of Shiva’s Atma Linga. How his Atma Linga came to be here is another fascinating tale. Ardent Shiva devotee Ravana was taking the very form of Shiva, his Atma Linga, to Lanka. Other gods worried that it would make Ravana too powerful. So Vishnu orchestrated a sundown, forcing pious Ravana to perform his evening rituals. Ganesha appeared as a boy and offered to hold aloft the Linga while Ravana bathed. Once Ravana went out of sight, Ganesha placed and firmly lodged the Atma Linga at Gokarna, thus preventing Ravana from taking it to Lanka – and making Gokarna a prominent place of Shiva worship in India today.

Set in the North Canara district of Karnataka, Gokarna lies in the shadow of the Western Ghats, where the hills embrace the Arabian Sea. Gokarna town with its Mahabaleshwara temple (housing the Atma Linga) opens up to the main Gokarna beach: a mess of fish hawkers, empty chips packets, and boatmen offering to take you everywhere.

A half-hour hilly walk away is beach-bum central Kudle. A boat-ride or a breathless trek ahead is Om beach with its shore shaped like an Om, a geological homage to Shiva himself. Further south comes Half-Moon, a beach that resembles a sand-filled Cheshire Cat smile. And finally comes Paradise, with its hammocks and coconut palms.

Heads filled with images of freely perspiring cocktails with tiny umbrellas, we reached our homestay just after sun-down. Rajeev Gaonkar, ex-techie turned host, opened his henchin-mane, or traditional slat-roofed home to us. A tea and a bath later, we hopped back into our car, and sought Paradise.

We discovered that by night, Gokarna is a place where streelights, road signs and GPS systems stop working. The Great Bear howled, and Polaris laughed at how lost we were. Several wrong turns finally brought us to, wait for it, a traffic jam. A barely motorable road, tucked away in the folds of hillside, most often populated by cows, was today full of Tempos and party-goers. We parked, and using our flashlights, stumbled and tripped our way to Paradise where disappointment awaited.

Authorities had banned alcohol that night, and there was no Thailand-like jamboree on. The shacks played nondescript music, and tourists made civil conversation. On New Year’s Eve, this was eerie.

So we drove to Palolem, Goa. A half-hour fireworks extravaganza and a 250km drive later, we were back in Gokarna. We woke to a traditional lemon rice-sambar-vermicelli paysam lunch that Mrs. Gaonkar plied us with. Well-fed and watered, we decided to soak some sea.

I cannot fathom why the Om, Half Moon and Paradise beaches are bigger hits than the Kudle beach. Perhaps it’s because Kudle’s easier to reach. Or that it offers few shacks and fewer things to do. To us, these seemed like the very factors that make Kudle an unparalleled beach-bum joint. So we drove along a winding off-road with moody hill vegetation, parked, and settled on the sand to turn at least five shades browner than our drivers’ license photos.

The sea at Kudle is shallow enough for a person who thinks she can swim (me), and swollen enough for everyone else. My routine was simple: whip up an appetite with some serious splashing, and polish off a Nutella pancake after. What Maggi is to Ladakh, Nutella pancakes are to Gokarna. The non-vegetarians reported that they were considering living entirely on Calamari rings and Prawn chilli. Catering to international clientele, the menus spanned Russian, Israeli, American, English, and Keralite fare. Suitably baited, I ate a lot of Paneer Manchurian.

When not stuffing my face, I found that Kudle is an autonomous adventurer’s sweet-spot. On one day, I chose to sit at the beach and write and read and get distracted by everything and do nothing. On another, I decided to stroll into Gokarna town.

Gokarna town is a little knot in the hills: a spiritual light; a decadent blackhole. Here, dreadlocked sadhus rubbed shoulders with pot-addled god-hunters and the Shabrimalai-chaste. The procession ratha, or chariot, sat outside the Mahabaleshwara temple awaiting Shivaratri for hundreds to draw its ropes, while rented two-wheelers snaked through sneaky narrow roads. Sparrows bustled hurriedly, but old men with thick cataracts sat outside shops watching tourists. Bangaloreans ate rice with spoons, and Caucasians wore tilaks and ate joladd (jowar)-rotti with their hands. Shops sold bongs and Om-printed bags. Graffiti of a pop sadhu, captioned “Videshi Sadhu” begged to be a Facebook upload. I was offered a permanent tattoo, cheap yoga pants, and some “good stuff”.

My next caper began when I walked back to Kudle from Gokarna town and took a detour at the cliff en-route to watch stretches of dry grass shift like wheat-fields. I sat at the crag’s edge, and watched the sea crash into the rocks, saw fishermen catch crabs, and spied a man in a wheelchair relish the sunset.

The nights crackled with bonfires.  And once they were out, the stars burned with ferocity. We sometimes lay in the cool sand and made up our own constellations. Or we sat in bare shacks of just chairs, tables, and sand, drinking 25 Long Island Iced Teas, outdoing each other in multiplication games. Sometimes, we sat to play Taboo. Sometimes I read Dave Barry aloud.

One morning, I woke early and watched Kudle come alive – a secret global village full of unusual wonders: toddlers in baby suits meeting the sea for the first time, couples laughing at jokes in alien tongues, a line of school-children trekking the shoreline, girls twirling hula hoops, boys beat-boxing, tattooed men playing volleyball, and foreigners reading Shantaram. And in that scene sat I, watching, amazed.

A trip to Gokarna doesn’t end with the drive back.

It just begins again, with the pocketful of fine sand you bring back home.

A Hundred and Eighteen

I was self-consciously wiping the corners of my mouth when I saw the balloon man.

The Masala Puri had been disappointing, with chickpeas instead of green peas. Perhaps I had been lured into the shop by the throng of corpulent newlyweds with piles of red bangles and honeymoon-sweet smiles. Or maybe it was the kitsch misspelling of Calcutta. I had gone in looking for chaat (not flat-a chat), but had received a slap in my South Indian face.

The balloon man was a shrewd businessman, skulking along the road, instead of on the footpath; keeping his wares in people’s lines of sight. Heart-shaped Helium balloons in belated Valentine red, platonic yellow, and It’s Complicated white. Children threw tantrums around the balloon man, and mothers threatened them in different languages. Girlfriends threw longing glances over their shoulders, while boyfriends looked at cricket reruns on large LCDs in the electronics store.

I squealed and got a white one for ten rupees.

Winding the string round my finger, I held the balloon to my face to smell the distended rubber. The balloon didn’t urgently resist being held below its station; it just bobbed with an obvious sense of entitlement. Like a patiently restless bird.

I imagined what a bored balloon it could be – tethered by an improvised umbilical cord, seeing only hair partings and areas inaccessible to hair-dye. And yet, wherever I walked, the balloon hopped happily, perfectly pleased to be the heart I strung along. I watched its shadow like that of a stranger who becomes familiar with every footstep taken in the same direction. A heart-shaped thought cloud that drifted around my overworking head, pausing and hovering before I jumped over potholes and gaping gutters.

People either took notice of me, a fully grown person skipping along, tugging a heart; or of the balloon, one that they too wanted.

What are balloons, but bursts of optimism twisted into our favourite shapes? That even in this world that binds us to the ground and locks our feet, a simple balloon has the ability to escape the most possessive clutch in the known universe.

I strung the balloon to the scooter’s hook beneath my seat. The air churned over my legs and pushed the balloon down. Barred by my legs, the balloon rattled like a caged spirit, buffeted on all sides by a turncoat ally. On other scooters, sleepy boys perched under their fathers’ chins stared at how the balloon behaved so differently. So aggressively. The hardest they had ever seen a balloon fight for its flight.

At a signal, I put a foot down, and opened the balloon’s enclosure. As if on cue, the balloon unhooked itself, and floated up.

I was unsure if the breeze carried it, or if the balloon just knew where it was going.

It ascended unhurriedly. The naked Jacarandas waited to pierce its flight, but the balloon absently slipped itself between their gnarled fingers and glided into the black sky where nothing awaited.

Although my heart had lifted, I felt my heart grow heavy.

A Hundred and Seventeen

I know, I know, not an imaginatively titled story.

So, as with all my PDF-filed posts, here’s a mandatory premumble.

I’ve always been a little inclined toward reading women’s perspective in Literature. And lately, I have gone quite overboard with it. I’ve been stuffing my head with an assortment of girl-stories, ranging from flippant chick-lit, to some dark, serious, matter of gravitas kind of writing.

Of course, as with any personal type (is there any other?) of Literature, a favourite kind of narrative is the Coming of Age one. This narrative, in the prism of women’s perspective, contains a large, and I mean LARGE, volume of stories dealing in some token themes: insecurities with the male figures in our lives, the realization of social inequality, the onset of menses, negotiating sexuality, being appraised as a prospective bride (I *loathe* this theme), a time of bidai, singlehood, motherhood, renewed singlehood, loss of a child, old age, beauty.

No, sillies, I am not quashing the validity of these themes.

These themes will forever hold water, because these experiences are recurrent. And interesting stories are born here everyday, because everyday, these experiences are morphing in our ever-changing world. MMS will mess with our sexuality. FB will make us feel ugly. LinkedIn won’t break the glass ceiling. But, Pinterest might help us setup a baking business.

If you’re still with me, this is the better part of my observation: that very little Women’s Literature deals with the softer things that make us Come of Age. Urban loneliness. Pride. Friendship. Forgiveness. Our idea of personal space. Our intelligence and our kindness being the source of our self-worth. The difficulties in a sphere where gender is irrelevant – you know, un-uterine stuff, but still about us women.

Off hand, I can only recall Zoe Heller’s brilliant, brilliant Notes on a Scandal that deals strongly with the theme of friendship in a woman’s world. (You there, thinking of Hunger Games, no, wrong example.)

My point being, I think there is much on the fringes of our bodies and our XX chromosome – namely our minds – that begs for more storytelling.

Enough blade I have put. Now please go read A Room with a View. A (sorta) short story that seeks to mishmash my concerns upstairs. A piece that is actually far outside my comfort zone (I *loathe* this term), but I have had fun foraying there.

I hope you enjoy it.

Peace, potatoes… you know the drill.

Oh, and the shortlink said “eV”. Evey. You know. Never mind.

Psst, thank you N. You know why.

A Hundred and Fifteen

I am 17. And I have found the words for my resentment.

I am not defined by what I want to be. I am defined by what I most don’t want to be. I do not want to be the image of my father. I hate our common dimples and the endless galaxy of moles on our bodies. It is fittingly ironic that it is a muscular defect and cellular malfunction that connects our dysfunctional family. I am odd and inarticulate, my mind froths with delicious young cynicism. I hate it when the bathroom floor is wet. I fling half-empty coffee tumblers to stain an inadequately scrubbed wash-basin. I snarl at my mother when she touches my things. I do not want to be like my father.

I am 7. I have short hair set in a side hair-parting. I look like a girl boy. My first permanent tooth has grown out fully – a gnarled incisor. It flashes when I smile. My mother hates it. She hates it when I wear my watch on my right hand. My father used to do wear his watch on his right hand with its face down, scratching it against every surface his hand met. The glass recovered with a thin white patina, a scab. He could only read the time at only one angle when it was only too late. My watch is digital because I cannot tell the difference between 7:30 and 8:30. I am weak in Maths. I am not like my father.

I am 38. I am at a holiday resort with my pregnant sister-in-law. My stomach is no longer contained by the drawstrings of my salwaar-kameez. I am aware I’m morphing from a woman into an ambivalent. I am losing control of my body and I have mixed feelings about having children. The women happily tell my sister-in-law this is the best decision she has made, her husband will become closer to her. Our eyes meet. Look where your closeness brought you, I think. She is afraid. I don’t hold her hand. Why would you bring something into this world, I think. Will you mother, and father, your child? I think. She looks away, and smiles at someone else.

I am 14. My belly button distends like a mouth in a self-conscious moan. My waist is thinning. I am becoming an hourglass. Memories of my father slip and leave from my bare feet. I am not my father. I am a woman. How can I be my father?

I am 72. I am dead. I come back as ashes to my motherland, but it’s my father’s name I bear.

I am 29. My mother smells cigarettes on my clothes, and confides to her maid, I love the smell of smoke. The maid pauses, phrasing something carefully in her head. I call her away to help me pack my boxes.

I am 50. My father has died. I hang up, and wash the dishes. My nails are peeling.

I am 5. I am sleepy, but my mother’s hands are too tired to carry me. Where is the smell of musk, and the feel of evening stubble against my cheek? I am about to cry, but my mother pinches me.

I am 23. I visit the hills. The winter hasn’t turned yet. I am 23 only once. The bamboo shoots are 99 only once. They flower only once. The villagers are afraid of a plague. I scoff. They eye me wearily, the open mouthed, open shirt-collared, open minded woman. I walk till my breath stops misting. The sun warms a cold spot on my back. My hair smells of warmed shampoo. My shadow looks like a hunched man with puffy sweatshirt-sleeves. Is it like my father? Where is he now? Is he here now, because I am here now? A kitten runs, chased by two king-sized bandicoots. I smile and eat pork for lunch. The homestay’s mirror has speckled mercury spots. Maybe the villagers are right about the plague.

I am 66. My upper lip flourishes white with neglect. My voice deepens. But I don’t talk anymore. My mouth is set in firm discontent. The lines harden over my eyebrows, etching a graph of how life has panned out – a well-controlled flatline. My left eye has a veneer that I can never rid of, no matter how much I blink. I scrub at the windows of my house, willing the film of dust to go away. I polish the wine bottles with coiling creepers. I coax, then plead a shine out of my mother’s dulled steel plates. Every surface in my home frames my father.

I am 42. My mother climbs her first flight to tell me I have too many things. I tell her she never gave me enough. My mother says, I am sorry, I am not your father.