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

Deepavali/Diwali for Dummies

I am, by far, the most non-Diwali person I know.

And imagine my utter vexation that I have been rudely awakened from deep long-weekend slumber, by something as insolent as a hyperenthusiastic neighbour testing Bijli patakis. Yes, the same hyperenthusiastic one who lights up rockets in blinding daylight.

Of course, my mother sees the opportunity of my rousing, for employing my services in doing the dangerous household task involving great skill and dexterity – hanging out the clothes. Yes. My mother has decided to protect our humble abode from the invading forces of patakis, with wet clothes.

So, being the middle-class household that we are, any breathing surface in our real-estate arrangement will be dedicated to the display of what makes our wardrobe. And how it all looks when it’s wet. My grandmother secretly believes that our neighbours hold up binoculars from across the street, and examine the state of affairs of the discrete variety of clothing, and so has a strict regulation of hanging out the shames inside our dwelling. Of course, it never occurs to her that the same neighbour does not appear to be fazed by putting out black-turned-purple Pumbukar Classics with holes that don’t exactly supply functionality. Not even cosmetic. Forget kinky.

But coming back to Diwali.

It’s suddenly cool to diss the patakis at Diwali. And it’s suddenly cool-er to jump the bandwagon – as opposed to jumping onto it. And it’s the coolest to not acknowledge Diwali as a phenomenon at all. (This theory is well-researched. The source being a large repository of status messages on FB.)

I find the coolest theory, the most interesting, because it heartily takes after my most favorite schools of BS-ing. The George Carlin School. Step back and look at it. You get broke. You do strange things like set everything on fire. Think about it. You are giving people who find making 1-2-3 noodles a formidable intellectual effort, explosives, and are automatically vesting in their power, the ability to blow themselves up. (Are you also wondering if people with short fuses will blow out faster? What about the tuss-patakis? And the ones that misfire? Is the opposite of that surefire? Or are you also imagining how funny it would be if humans could spontaneously combust?)

You also eat abominable amounts of rich food, and then enter the vicious circle of gastric-hell. Some will pass out in gutters in parts of the city they never knew existed. Some will embarrass themselves before previously-prospective employers/clients. It seems a lot like a birthday – recurrent and requiring a lot of effort. And the toughest of the lot – requiring civil and sociable manners.

No, don’t get me wrong. I don’t not like Diwali. My favorite bits of the festival are not very unique either. The several lamps, the fairy lights and the stars – like even the sky’s put out its best for Rama’s homecoming. The varieties of rangolis, the smell of flowers of every hue, the smell of temples spilling over onto the streets, the charged spirit and the infectious optimism. For those rare times in the year, the entire city feels like it throbs to a single pulse.

And honestly, I have no reason to complain. It’s a three-day weekend. Which means unlimited chai-chugging, book-devouring, movie-watching, friend-bashing, sweet-eating, home-food-belting, spending-time-under-bed-with-dog-if-i-had-one-ing, catching up-and then-tanking up on sleep. Whee hoo.

Ok, scratch that last one out. Hyperenthusiastic neighbour has just discovered the chain of 50-bijlis.