Light and Space

I like evenings in my house.

I like the sliver of warm sunset that I’m privy to with what I can afford of a view living in a crowded city. I live alongside arrangements where it sounds like groups of twelve, fifteen people live in the same span of space that I share with another woman (and of course R) that I feel safe with, and a loving cat who is also a rogue (but in a truly charming, vocal way). I sometimes overhear carrom games. I hear singing and language and laughter when the group tentatively steps out together. There hasn’t been a game of cricket in a long time.

I like the warm glow of the moody yellow table lamp that I put on my desk. I like its warmth, like my grandfather’s sweater, over my shoulders. I am lucky I was held. In light like this. A lone, tall bedside lamp with a switch on the wire by which I read Asterix for the first time. The neat smell of my grandfather’s room. The orderliness of its shelves. The sparseness of its person.

I have banal notes I have tacked on the wall at my desk, of things I must remember to write about in the novel I want to write. On some days, they’re mocking post-its to who I want to be. But they’re sweet-tempered and good-natured too. I allow myself that they’re sincere.

I am oddly relieved I’m not able to understand the language my neighbour next door is speaking to someone on her handsfree in her balcony. I am in admiration of her commitment to enjoying the weather, and sometimes I’m brave enough to try it out too. There is a renewed-vigour idiot still blowing his conch. I hear her laughing over it.

I miss Bombay. At some point in my life, I’d dreamed of living in a city like Bombay. There’s a static of something disorienting and worn-down-to-primal, like the cobblestones of Causeway, in the light of Bombay. It tints the dust-motes off-camera, and the sweat on the faces of the men and women awe-struck, a little mouth-agape that they are in a Bombay sunset watching a whole piece of something larger, something with more spectacle than our selves being made. I no longer have the energy for Bombay; I say this with little-to-no self-pity. Cities sometimes change us and teach us who we are in different places, what of us still sticks and holds true. Cities lure us with who we could be. And many times we have tell these cities, oh well, maybe some other time.

Light changes quickly in this house, and the table lamp eases that a little in the evenings. R has put the large-batch noodles I made last night in the fridge (not to overstate, but it’s a needlessly painstaking Maggi-updo) and I’m fearful of how it’ll turn out today. I could make pakodas out of it. A tribute to you, Mescabe ladies of MCC. (This is a T9 Dictionary of the 3300/6615 joke: at the time I was in college, T9 did not list Nescafe in its database, so when students typed Nescafe under their desks about hanging out, the message sent would, in all likelihood, read, Mescabe.) I could try making cutlets too.

I was discussing lighting P’s house with him—the lovely but unused criss-crossed lantern in the living room needs a naked yellow bulb in it. He told me that there’s no need to be apologetic about needing so many chances, because sometimes the only way to get some people to try, is to keep giving them chances.

Last night, I also kept whisking-and-freezing my day-long milky cup of coffee, and it made the most intricate slushie, a star-studded pre-frappe. It’s a, as is my signature, needlessly painstaking process of how I show coffee more patience than people.

My flatmate, A, has come home. She is palpably relieved to see me at my laptop, typing. I am laughing. We’re going to play Ludo. The young men who live over the darshini nearby have stepped out downstairs, and they’re laughing too.

Feeling cute, might delete later.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt female, or *feminine*. 

Every fun activity I’ve ever been exposed to, I’ve enjoyed as a person and not as a female — drawing, writing, eating sweets, playing with a kitchen set, playing house-house, playing doctor-doctor, lagori, baddie, building with fancy-store-bought-fake-Lego blocks with their tiny potted plants. Watering the garden with my grandfather, watching Power Zone in the afternoon because that’s the only time I had the TV uncontested, terribly lettering lyrics of Alice in Chains songs and making worse-still drawings of Eddie on my rough note books. Lax-rules cricket, watching it in our balcony and secretly hoping to make a heroic balcony catch, and once, being cheered by all my friends when I, crisply chicken-poxed, came out to see them. Dressing neatly, eyeing stickers and inventively shaped candy, cultivating different kinds of handwriting. Trying to make my own site and Winamp skins. Dreaming of owning a pair of Nikes whose ads and air-themed features swore I could walk the clouds or spikes that would turn me into a ripple-muscled automaton-feline that would sunder a notion like human limitation.

I was amazed by life. I secretly wrote sincere-feelings short stories and astonishingly aching poems, edited B&W photographs shot in 2/3rds composition on a modified point and shoot, burnt CDs and traded torrents, hand-drew story boards of films I would one day make, and made friends on the internet – all in my grandfather’s room because that’s where the computer was.

I’m so lucky that I get to see how happy and loved I really was; I grew up in a difficult home. And it hurt even more that just outside my door, I seemed to attract so much pain. I just couldn’t understand why. What about me was wrong? Why was I a lesser person, a secondary human? In what way had I unwittingly, or even knowingly erred?

Why was my hair, why were my teeth, why was my vagina, why were my breasts so troublesome?

This is what I’ve known of what being female means. It means a life that keeps pinching the side of my boob on the bus, at the movie theatre, in a street after dark. It means having to sit with my knees together lest how I sit invites a fitting reply. It means being fearful of wearing something that I think I could celebrate my body with, because it’ll invite judgement, and on a bad day, an expression of it. It means feeling ugly, unwelcome, incomplete, inadequate. All the fucking time.

It means constantly constructing bizarre and unkind logic to cope with how unfair it is.

I have seen every woman I have ever loved struggle with this: the oldest of whom is now 84.

It’s so exhausting that I spend so little time inhabiting my body, (one that I don’t at all feel is *female*, like everything in the world goes out of its way to tell me it is) and I spend all my time shrunken into just my mind. Watching it, managing it, taking care of it.

I am not a person motivated by the idea of having children. Because life is so painful that I would rather not have someone I’d deeply care for go through it. This is such an upsetting view of life – because look at that – I was so happy. And then I saw that it was only because I was playing inside such a small box without ever being able to touch its walls. 

And now that I do, I feel trapped. In a small box.

I am in a small box with a sticker tacked on it that says, “Female”.

138: An old, old post

Hallowed Ground

My memory of red-oxide is tinged with the sound it made.

There was a quality of foundation to that sound. A thick fatherliness. Solidity. Perhaps it came from the fact that it was mixed directly into cement, poured onto rigid ground, ironed with persistence, dried stern, before deemed terra really, really firma.

Anything that fell on red-oxide floors, fell heavily. Vases made almost musical sounds. Tantrums were exceptionally loud. And coins fell and rolled into impossible places with such crispness.

This ground felt like the Earth that Science speaks of – the one that actually offers an equal and opposite force, and goes on to demand reckoning as formidable. Jumping with abandon on red-oxide made feet tingle with guilt – even without the watchful eyes of disciplining aunts. Walking on it bestowed feet with a dull Bharatnatyam red. A sort of subliminal branding – spelling a home that rang MS’s Kausalya-Supraja each morning, smelled of tamarind & (forbidden) onion sambar each noon, and slept to a mallige-talcum headiness each evening.

I remember adding curls of white paint along the floor’s edges, and getting a rap on the knuckle for letting my imagination run in a few places.

Down the 90s, the red lost its lustre. A paradox, because as years wore on, red-oxide would acquire a glow that could be kissed alive by early morning sunshine.

Learning lessons from booming “flats”, and cashing in on descending prospective-tenants from exotic parts of the country, ambitious landlords began building homes floor upon floor while it was still legal. Red-oxide, quite a cheap alternative to many other materials, suddenly encountered a problem that was unheard of until rapid urbanization – specialization of labour. Red-oxide was an art, done by hand, and didn’t see mechanization for a long time – a window of opportunity that was not lost on competing materials. Factoring in vital things, like time, effort, and our inherent need of keeping-up-with-the-times, it was decided: this would be the age of Mosaic, the understated, clipped accent of a sufficiently English educated middle-class home.

To be truthful, I don’t like Mosaic. It lacks the seamlessness and careful grace that red-oxide had. Disruptions in red-oxide floors had the treads of thin, waif-like ropes. Mosaic floors, however, are exactly what urbania loves. Square after square. Building after building. Block after block. Feigned organization. Red-oxide could glide right around the bends, trace them with the dexterity of a finger. But the best Mosaic can do, is express curves as several clumsy quadrilaterals.

Summer on red-oxide floors had the exact feeling of sweet water from an earthen pot in the same summer. Fond memories include letting my skin steal some cold under my as-raised-as-aunt’s-eyebrow seam of cotton frock. I have shelled peas, played countless games of Ludo, and watched the TV’s reflection on this hallowed ground.

Sure, new homes are retracing metaphorical steps to where they started. It’s heartening to see online forums discuss the Do’s and Don’ts of DIY red-oxide. I get a feeling, though, that the story of red-oxide will follow that of block-print fabric. It’s waiting for a Fab India and a few activists to rescue it from oblivion. It’s waiting for its mall-organized, buffed-up-by-marketing ironic comeback.

I realize now. My only real grouse with red-oxide is this: if it’s not old enough, it doesn’t matter how much talcum I sprinkle – I can never slide on it.

Dec 08th, 2011.

Thanks Aadisht, for reminding me of this thing I’d written ages ago. ❤

Eighty One

I held the story in my hand,
Held it up to the light.

It scattered, like anti-mercury.
It scattered, into a million shafts of colour.

Colours that didn’t have names to them.
Or maybe they did have names,
I mean, who remembers colours with names
like Fuchsia,
or Beige, or Burnt Sienna,
I don’t mean remember the names,
oh those – they’re enchanting,
I mean, who remembers what the names stand for?

What comes to your mind, if I say Ochre or Cinnabar?

Why can’t they name colours insightfully?
With a little more care?

Call it the inside of a pumpkin when it’s ripe enough,
The bright, jarring pink of moist cotton candy?
How about the three thick ashen lines on a pujari’s forehead?
Or the hue of his erstwhile white lungi, that’s been washed over and over with four drops of liquid blue,
with the intention of keeping it white?

Maybe they can be named after
the bright green leaves of the sugar rose on a birthday cake,
Or the yellow of the wax
that drips and trails on praying fingers at Church.

Maybe even the diaphanous black of how a woman in an Abaya sees
The creamy face of a full moon,
The colour of the Pole star,
The opaque, ominous gray of rainclouds,
And the universal brown of puddles.

But what is the colour of the universe, then?
Monochrome white, in keeping with the Physics of light?
Or is it black, as dreamless sleep?

Or can it be the mossy green-black that comes from a painting
that’s a fine mess of colours?

True. The last is a problem
of the chemistry of dyes and colours made by tribes.
Or is the problem really,
the chemistry of tribes, made by colour?

Aren’t the lines of fate,
And the henna of every new bride,
the same confused orange-brown?

Isn’t every dark night,
a blanket of velvet blue-black?
Every happy spring morning,
beams of sunny golden yellow?
Isn’t every fairy’s magic wand,
touched with silver-white starlight?

If stories can bleed colours,
Why can’t colours, bleed stories?


WIP