A Hundred and Fourteen

My hate smells of Vicks.

It fills that space you refuse to keep between you and me when you barge into my room that has been firmly shut. It swims up when I hear your bathroom door yawn at 3 AM, and I hear you piss loudly into the pot. It rushes at me in the long silences that happen behind your door, where I imagine you are crisply cutting your curly down-hairs. It wafts when your voice, rising to keep up with your dimming ears, caws my name, calling me for dinner that I no longer have appetite for.

My hate is the commitment my husband did not show either of us. My hate is as present as his absence.
Both of which you, and your thick plastic spectacles, are oblivious to.

Why do you insist I give you the title of my dead maa, when the most charitable thought I can spare you, is cyanide in that jar of Vicks, arsenic in the handkerchief you have hanging out your collar?

You, hunching to barely 5 feet, have skewed my 30×40 home. You, who made me throw away my baby crotons, because you don’t like colour. You, who are allergic to my cats, my bags, and my phone calls. You, the frail old mother who lost her son. I, the privileged ex-wife, bestowed with the follies of youth at a fast approaching forty, slim with my barely visible still-womb, licentious and loose with my null, dull red hair-parting.

How shall I conduct our obligation?

Where did you come from, why are you here, like the living appendix of a corpse marriage?

How many more tears shall I rend my crossed arms with, while I quietly listen to your babbling? How many lumps in my throat shall I shoulder like Atlas, never giving you the pleasure of buckling under? When will my incalculable, insurmountable, throbbing rage escape its reins, and snarl with shining incisors at your willow face crowned by your cotton hair?

Black clouds have gathered over my home. The lone coconut palm by our house jerks like a body electrified. The rain ravages its fronds, and whips our windows. Glass shivers when cracks of lightening split the sky. Coconuts fall in succession like limp bombs. The compound has ruptured, a side-long peephole has opened.

We are both huddled on the living room three seater. Two ellipses, with one missing in the between.

You have lit one lamp. And now, you light another.

We look at each other, and say nothing.

A Hundred and Thirteen

“Sulu, one inch coffee kudiye? Little. Not much.”

“Aiyyo, Bhavani, please don’t make anything. We have to go home and have a bath. If Ashi’s Appa hears of this, we’re both going to get it.”

“Shh. Nobody’s telling him. Ashi, does Amma let you drink coffee?”

“Aha. Tell her Ashi, tell Atte how nobody in the house lets you go for pictures on Sunday, or go for, yenadu– stay ups-a?”

“Stayovers ma.”

“Haan, stayovers anthey kane Bhavani. They’ll do combined studies it seems.”

“Paapa. You should let him go Sulu. It’s educative in one way or another.”

“Bhavani, if you talk like that I’ll never bring Ashi to your house again.”

“I’m joking kane. You take sugar in your coffee no Sulu?”

“Hoon pa. No sugar complaint and all. Not like poor Nara Mama. Such a sweet man he was.”

“Alwa? I kept telling Rajiv also the same thing. But he’s so skeptical. So sad and alone he died.”

“Don’t bother about Anna so much. If you leave it up to him, he’ll claim even Harischandra was a scoundrel.
Ashi, yen maadtidya? Why are you picking at your nails? Sit straight.”

“Here Ashi, bis-bisi coffee. Look at how big your Amma’s eyes have become!”

“Bhavani, tell him no? Too much coffee and snacks are not good for his skin. Full pimples. I told him to put sandalwood paste, he just doesn’t listen.”

“Sulu. He’s Shani Mava’s grandson. Obviously he’ll be stubborn no?”

“You’re right. He has Appa’s nose, ditto, alla?”

“Atte, why is thatha called Shani? Amma! Oww! Stop pinching me!”

“Bega mugsu coffee na.”

“But it’s hot.”

“Sulu, tell me.. Is it true that Nara Mama had attacked Shani Mava?”

“I think so. Even I have heard. Apparently on Amma’s insistence Appa had consulted with some doctors about Mama’s thyroid problem. The doctors said, if Nara Mama got married, it could well and truly kill him.”

“What? That doesn’t even make scientific sense.”

“Ashi!”

“So Mama attacked Shani Mava?”

“Hoon! He was angry, so he tried to strangle Appa in his sleep! Amma was so livid, she disowned her brother. But Appa forgave him. But still.. You know how it is.”

“Cheh. Paapa. What a sad way to go.”

“Umm.. Atte, where shall I leave my tumbler?”

“Give it to me raja. Come for a stayover here no? Send him no, Sulu? You also come? Just like summer holidays?”

“If Amma’s coming, I’m not coming pa.”

Swishwiiiiishhswiiishhhhhhwshiii

“Heeheehee, funny right?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Funny. The wind is chopping my cap.”

“I– Uh.. Oh, yes, that sound. Yes, it’s funny.”

“Hmm! Pa- Pavan! You’ve come a long way from Bandra.”

“How di-.. Oh shit, forgot to take it off.”

“You need a light, Pavan?”

“No, I have a matchbox. Thanks.”

“Matchboxes are useless at a seaface, Pavan. Hehehe.”

“Hmm.”

“Pavan?
What time is it?”

“Quarter to ten.”

“Would you like some?”

“No, I don’t have a cough. Thanks.”

“My name is Latha.”

“Hmm.”

“Tumhaare Mummy-Pappa Madras mein hain Pavan?”

“Ji.”

“Mine are nowhere. If that were written, it could be read as ‘now here’ or ‘nowhere’. Like that Jesus SMS forward. Hehehehe.”

“Heh. Umm.. I’m going to go.. buy smokes.”

“Ok darling. Only B&H Lights for me, ok? Anything else makes me wheeze. Thanks.”

“Hey, you here?
Ashi?
Why had amma called in the morning? All ok?”

“loser… nw u respnd to ask if evrythn’s ok?
loser..”

“I’m sorry kano. I was in a meeting, and I just got busy after that.
Now tell me. What happened?”

“u rmr nara thatha? shani thatha’s brothr?”

“Huh?”

“tht short thatha man.. smelly ol guy?
he wnt to an ashrama rmr/..”

“Haan, yes yes! What happened to him?”

“amma calld to tell u he popped it..”

“Ashi, where is your decency?”

“shut up.. listn to hw he died!
i ovrheard rajiv mama tellin karti chikappa
its gross
our famlys wierd man.”

“You’re gossiping about the dead?”

“no bt dis s v odd… listen no..
so t guys at t ashrm found his body
naked..
..
n guess wat?
his mattress was full of holes..
n his dick ws in one”

“Oh..
That’s terrible!
Poor man.
What a sad way to go.”

“SAD?!!!
he ws a creep!
n a crookd perv!
pavan dont u rmr anythin at all!?
u rmr chintu tol us he kissd hr cheeks n her ears
thn hre nose
mn her chin
n if chikki hadn interupted…
yuk!

any ways..
wht did u do? went to t beach?”

” Yeah. Went to Lokhandwala today.
Too many couples at Bandstand.”

“haha..so y u changd ur spot?
y u grosd out
derr busy na”

“I don’t know.
Chumma.
So how was your day?”

“fine da. urs?”

“Fine kano.
Same old.”

A Hundred and Twelve

Opposite the man with the pen, hung the man who watched his penis.

This man with the pen assumed that was the case, anyway. That man had his back turned, and was clad in a jibba, and nothing else. What else would a man with a pen and an imagination deduce?

This man with the pen, he liked to call himself a work in progress. His maker had bestowed him with a pen that he may complete himself whenever, and in whichever way he pleased. His maker had been the most partial to him – the man with the pen was the least obese of all those who hung on this wall, the least walrus-like. All of them were unsteady assemblages of rolls of fat, skins the texture of millions and millions of dot-penned fractals. There was one woman, buxom, in a Marathi saree. But any of her body parts could be described buxom, and it’s sort of hard to admire a bai with a man’s voice. She was four frames away, and it’s also hard to admire someone far beyond your peripheral vision.

So, this man with the pen was stuck finding a muse in that man with the penis, a mostly blank wall, and his own half-empty self.

A younger he would’ve named that other man other things. Man in a jibba. Or man looking behind his painting. Or man cross with his lover. Or man looking for his pants.

But the man with the pen had overheard some visitors discuss Freud. And he was convinced that in projecting that man as a pervert, he had satisfied his own destiny as a pervert.

So what would he complete the lower half of his body with? A koi fish tail? A throbbing snake? A ladder? An upended anthill? Eagle talons? A lateral inversion of his self so far, like he was the King of Clovers in a deck of cards? Given he had the option, would he have liked to be a freak? Would he give himself robot legs, tree roots, or a vagina?

What was his purpose as art? To be deformed? To reform? To perform? To conform?

He mused as he drew his thighs. Were they too thin to belong to his body? He eyed the man across and shuddered. He wouldn’t forget his bottoms in a hurry. He sighed and filled in the folds of his dhoti. Why had his maker made his top half a corpulent Brahmin with the janeyu? Was he doomed to believe in god? Why was he condemned to a diet of rice, lentils and ghee? Why hadn’t he thought of drawing pants? Or those comfortable drawstring pajamas the gallery keeper wore?

Once he was done with himself, what would he draw in his surroundings? Fat volumes of Literature? The Upanishads, Dostoyevsky, Don Quixote? A temptress Apsara trying to distract him from meaningful penance? More chest hair? Perhaps write something witty addressing the gallery visitors, “What exactly becomes more apparent when you tilt your head like that?”

A gaggle of young female giggles interrupted his meditation. He eyed the facedown, brown papered rectangles in the far corner. New neighbours, he grinned. They awaited a grand opening the next morning.

He’d be a work of art by then.

The man with the pen worked through the night. All that was left to finish, was his left foot. He reached around his thick thighs and shins, grunted, strained, and drew a shaky outline: artfully hidden heel, arched-eyebrow instep, toe after painful toe. Spent with effort, his heavy arms drooped with exhaustion and he dozed off.

The next morning, clinking glasses and escalating polite laughter woke him up. A dense crowd milled about, throwing phrases at each other: “up and coming”, “coming of age”, “marginalized voice”, “dynamic movements”, “fluid strokes”, “stream of consciousness”, “conflicted sexuality”. Through the shifting curtains of people, their swaying hands and sashaying saree pallus, their haloes and sheets of hair, he tried catching a glimpse of his new neighbours.

And then, he saw her.

The blackened-face beauty. Tresses, a moonless night’s tempest. Temptingly married to someone else. Contoured like a complicated, torrid affair. Dimple naveled. Shined-apple shouldered. Ripe breasts, glowing nipples.

Stunned, he dropped his pen. And became the man without much of a left foot.

Something fun I wrote in workshop.

A Hundred and Eleven

Okay, so this one, I’ve been slaving at for a while.

The idea occurred some half a year ago. I was talking to my evil twin H about it, and the minute he got speechless (believe me, this is a feat), I knew I had a nice new plum in hand.

So, I had a beginning. I wrote in fits and starts. The visuals came nicely.
And it read like pure and eloquent shit.

It wasn’t until I started writing regularly at workshop, that I found closure for this story.

It’s been such a fun ride. I’ve been writing and rewriting feverishly for about three days. Now, I will go eat a meal that does not have even the M of Maggi/Mosaru.

I want to one day do the crazy other idea I’ve put in this story. Obviously, I’m not going to tell you what that crazy other idea is, not in this pointless introduction. And as usual, you will need to be armed with a PDF reader, and a finger-inch or two of patience.

I don’t really like subscribing to genres. But if I must, let’s call it Speculative Fiction.

Wah. I am done sounding like a prat.

Now please. Go read. Hindsight.

Peace, potatoes, love. And try not to hit anyone.

For you, H.

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 Seven

The urchin flashed his 5, and called, Pani Puri!

The hawker eyed him stand with the women who self-consciously popped whole puris in.

Five down. They wiped their mouths. Pink hankies. Filthy sleeve.

Five Rupees.

The urchin hovered.

The hawker looked, tsked, and threw the coin back at him.

Who has use for two tails?

A Hundred and Six

Why don’t you leave it with me? He offered.

Big eyes darting, she gave it to him, and clambered into the giant wheel.

The wheel swung and plunged. Nauseated, he looked away.

He ringed nothing at the ring-anything stall.

Eating her cotton candy, he asked, Did you like it?

No. My heart wasn’t in it.

 

A Hundred and Five

Here’s Pralaya.

Pralaya is a word my grandmother uses to denote the time it would be if I agree to fulfill both her dicta – to oil and keep my hair tidy; and to marry some agreeable bloke. It is, more accurately, the time that will come when the world will find itself dissolved, null, void.

Here’s a little about Pralaya, the story that I present to you here.

I have never attempted Pulp Fiction before. And this is among the longest things I’ve written and laboured over.

Rightfully, like all Pulpy stuff, you will find that I pay tribute to a range of favourite people and characters (in my mind, the difference is indiscernible): Roald Dahl, to Harper Lee; Irene Adler to Wednesday. It is also the stuff of Sandalwood movies (I might be over-promising here).

Writing this was a little difficult on many levels. Closing many loops. Straddling that horrible line of giving too much away, or saying too little. Worst of all, it involved Maths.

And it also involved something that I actively avoid in my stories – dialogue. Like Limp Bizkit had eloquently put it, “It’s all about the he said, she said, bullshit.” Difficulty also came in my choice of not using native words for terms (Eg.: I desperately wanted to use “Chikka Ejamanaru” for “Young Master”). I feel it quite prat-like to put an asterisk and footnote clarifying what a native term means, but I still wanted to make cultural references. Hopefully, it still works.

Ok, this presumptive preamble is also seeming prat-like as I carry on.

Onward to the story then. It was a bit much to post as a blog entry, so I made it a PDF. If your smartphones do not support PDF, I suggest you start calling them paperweights. With immediate effect.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I loved writing it. I’d love to hear what you have to say.

Peace, potatoes, love.

A Hundred and Three

Every Sunday morning, my little girl wakes her daddy.

He’s the sort of person who sleeps on his belly. Swiftly growing scant hair a victim of the ravages of the tides of his sleep. Arms tucked under the pillow. Face stuffed in, like he denies ownership for his lucid dream-addled utterances. A heavy sleeper; that in minutes of a fit of conjugal conscience, his arms at my sides sink, sleep-logged, binding us in thick, sinewy bandages.

Our little girl stopped sleeping between us about a year ago. Roughly around the time we decided to let her hair grow out. At first, it seemed like it was taking after his hair – soft, thin, reluctant to germinate. But soon, her head spurted thick, lush, black hair. Like mine. Like my mother’s. Like her mother’s.

Her daddy and I have a running competition between us – a sort of partitioning of who she is, and what she’s like. She has eyes like mine, but lips like his. She’s quick to learn (tricky territory, but it comes from me), and is musically inclined (this he claims is his, despite being unable to hold a note on any scale). She has no interest in chocolate, and makes friends readily – something alien to both of us. In lighter vein, and on darker days, he attributes these to our fat, balding neighbour Mr. S.

Every Sunday morning, she stumbles out of her bed, and hurries, plodding on tiny feet, facing her biggest hurdle with Herculean determination – clambering onto our bed. She belly flops on her sleeping daddy, spent with the effort, and breathlessly whispers all kinds of things to his back. Freshly learned or improvised rhymes, words, sounds, secrets, fascinations. She’s always enamored by two moles along his spine, and uses them as buttons when she chants, DaddyWakeUp! DaddyyyyyWakeUp! DaddyDaddyWakeUp!

Daddy then attacks her, the groggy-eyed Godzilla, roaring, trying to get the monkey off his back. The baby chimp cheers and squeals, and soon tumbles over-shoulder and caves into his arms, defeated readily by a bombardment of kisses. Soon she soothes her stubble-burnt cheeks, but Godzilla is not done. He chafes her paltry-protesting hands against his prickly face, and her face is caught synthesizing the joys in irritation, the pleasure in pain.

Daddy then hefts her onto his lap, and they share a bowl of soggy strawberry cornflakes, her mouth too tiny for the tablespoon. As she sits proud on her favourite steed, she runs him through the highlights of her week: what Miss Jennifer said, complaints of how I never let her crayon the walls, what grandfather told/gave her, what her grandmother forgot this time. When silence lapses, she snuggles up to him, and listens to his thick voice boom through his chest as he speaks to me about how work went, what an a-s-s-h-o-l-e his boss is, his impending business trip, her grades, and if we really should buy her a p-u-p-p-y.

Once she’s bored, he picks her up, puts her on the carpet, navigates her by the head and heads to the bathroom. When he emerges, she greets a fresh, youthful, soft and clear-faced Daddy. When he hoists her, she greedily drinks in his aftershave. The smell of Daddy.

This Saturday, she was prepared with a magic trick for him.

With pure concentration, she’d lock her fingers to make an aperture; focus on her favourite objects in the world – a picture of Daddy and me, her purple dinosaur, the view from the window by the diwan; and click the shutter with a cluck of tongue: kachak!

It took a longer, more detailed Goldilocks for her eyelids to plummet that night. I’d sat down to abstractedly read a difficult book about the interpretations of dreams, when I’d heard a cab door shut self-consciously.

He gratefully took the glass of water I gave him. Droplets clung on, and I didn’t realize I’d made a face.

He said it was something new he wanted to try. It would give his face a little more seriousness. More age. It was, apparently, manly. He undid his tie, and rapidly unbuttoned his shirt. She’ll love it, just watch, he asserted, massaging the small of my back.

He kissed my shoulder, and my skin crawled.

She recoiled in horror when Godzilla turned, and jumped straight into my arms, hiding her face in my hair.

A black caterpillar. Kambliboochi. On his upperlip.

Gently, I prised her hands from around my neck. Say hi to Daddy.

She buried her head in the crook of my collarbone. Her muffled voice accused, That’s not Daddy.

While she contemplated the sole leftover sequin on my kaftan, back against him, I looked at her father. I couldn’t help smiling. The aversion to caterpillars, bristly creatures, and moustaches – even the sentiment of creepy face fuzz not going with his character, the poverty in its aesthetics – definitely from me.

He ran his thumb and index finger over his carefully crafted moustache, and sighed.

I told her to get her trick ready, Daddy’s coming! She gave me a look of disbelief, tragically cynical for someone barely two feet tall. She stood moodily by his chair at the head of the table, looking longingly at the depressions in the seat, sniffling for his smell, pleading with some otherworldly entity for her father to materialize.

The bathroom door creaked. She froze, eyes wide, and looked at me for counsel. We quickly arranged her fingers.

Her daddy took the towel off his face, and roared. Relief flooded her eyes.

Happily, she yelled, Kachak!

Thank you, R. With love, for Boochie.

A Hundred and Two

You, must write.

The hurt, the angry, the wronged, must write. The lost, the wandering, the silent, must write.
The ones with something to say, the ones with nothing left to say, must write.

Write for joy. Write for sorrow. Write for immortality. Write to demand justice, knowledge, utopia, answers – the dank, dirty things that are rightfully yours. Demand them from the only thing in the world that can give them to you – words on paper.

After all, money is paper. Provinces, promises and prayers are built on utterances. Value, judgement, sanity, achievement are all measurements, metered in and meted out in words.

Write to live richly. Write to go for broke. Write to reach inside paper and seize your disappointments by the collar. Write like a blind man, sensing each invisible word in braille. Write with blind lust. Kiss, bite, tear, claw at the lips of paper. Peel the skin of your fears, your failings, your mediocrity; peel them as curls of words on paper. Avenge bitter truth, savour sweet victory, be a wit, a scholar, everything you never knew you could be, on paper.

Fuck the establishment on paper, fuck with the rules, the rules of grammar on paper. Let the verb and subject disagree. Start a fight on paper. Screw the clause; let the semi-colon take it in the arse.

Write. Document every sorry, half-assed, near-miss vicissitude of your life when you write. Write to evaluate whether you’re doing a good job of being here. Write to see if you’re whiling, wasting, passing or pissing your time on earth.

Drop a spiral staircase of paper down to your soul. Hold a candle, and walk, walk, walk with weightless ease down into paper. Hold up the candle to the demons hiding in the walls. Be the pyro you could be, but never were. Words are aerosol. Say it. Spray it. Burn every last thing to the ground. Make a phoenix of your feelings.

Make paupers and princes equal on paper. Make a grown man cry with paper. Make up, make do, make way, make plans, make it happen on paper.

Confess to paper. Look at your face, your motives, your religion, your infinity through the delicate lattice work of your Origami confession box. Cross your t’s, dot your i’s, loop your q’s and b’s and endless whorls of self-pity, self-love, self-destruction, on paper. Write, because there is no other way to journey into or journey away from yourself.

Write to fold and collapse into paper. Hurtle through barely-solid rationality, through the veneer of order, and tumble into an endless free-fall: a suspension of disbelief that never needs to end. Be the astronaut of an endless sky of day, in a universe that is white, falling with a certain gravity, but with none of the impact. Write to fall into paper, to fall in love to a depth that nothing of this world could possibly offer.

Nothing with a name, a place, a significance has existed – because it went unsaid. Meanings have been attributed words, for a reason. Inventions, feelings, bodily idiosyncracies, gods, demons, all have names. All to be said. All to be called. All to be written.

Write the story of your life because it is a fairy tale. Write to be the hero of your happy ending. Write to put away your ghosts. Write to relive a past, to invent a future. Write to commit to memory. Write to commit. Put your spine, your money, your mouth, your convictions on paper.

Write. Because nothing truly exists until it is on paper.