Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Familiar

Kashid '11

When I am happy, it feels like indulging in a fun activity for a while -
novel and heady and quite exhausting.
By the end of it, I'm ready to scurry back to my soundproof melancholy.

Happiness is like that wonderful old friend who knew you  when you were a child - predominantly in petticoats, terrorising pigeons -
who, for even five raps of the cane across her palm, wouldn't tell on you.
Long lapses of time are spent working up to her visit.
You will show her the sights, spare no expense,
lavish her with that gratitude you've safe-kept in some shadowy recess of the heart all these years.

But she arrives and soon it is time for her to go
and you haven't even left your living room.
Crumbly photo albums have been brought forth, wine spilled
and batter devoured before it had the chance to become cookies.
"Do you remember the nut job who'd follow you to the egg shop each day?!" you'll chortle.
"My god, I cannot forget," she'll laugh. "Do you remember the way we were?"
"I do," you'll say. "I do."
Right then you are that child once more; incorrigible and vulnerable,
your instincts crackling, possibility thundering in your ears, gossamer clouds of hope everywhere.
Disiloo... jene... menent sounds like something best left to the adults.

Once you've waved her off and her bus has turned a lane and out of sight,
you walk back down the street, so pregnant with quietness, it's like a silent scream.
Your thumping heart once more slips into its familiar, dopey cadence.
You're back to your tea-and-toast evenings, pegging away at that mountain of bills,
the brain no longer an implosion of noise and colour.
Edges and shadows roll back into focus.
Your empty house seems to regard you kindly,
willing to let the last few hours (was it days?) slide without mention.
You stumble upstairs to bed and lie there, dead centre,
until sleep tip-toes in and your eyes no longer brook protest.
You forgot the locks, but then you never have interlopers.

Republished from an older blog, written in '11.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

If Now Is All We Have

Easily my favourite present this year. Thanks M!

"... the main thing in life isn't so much what happens to us as what we think happens to us." - John Lanchester, Early Retirement

I was lucky enough to be gifted a yellowed copy of Granta's '95 edition, Loved Ones, by a friend who has the unrealistic knack for helping written stories find the people who will read them to the bone. It is a collection of 13 short stories where writers "consider their relationships with those who were, or should have been, close to them." Itchily personal and wincingly frank, the stories are as much about great writing as the ability to extricate difficult and transformative truths from the things that happen to us.

So far, my favourite is John Lanchester's Early Retirement, about his banker father who led a fairly happy life but whose ghost of What Might Have Been never did leave him, until he woke up one day, still new to retirement, and promptly died. For the large part, Lanchester seems to commiserate with his father's evaluation that his life has been one of squandered promise, yet at times, like in the pull-quote above, he quietly alludes to his doubts about whether his father's mute discontent wasn't just a figment of his imagination.

It's an interesting question, isn't it? One I have pondered endlessly myself; torn between wondering if I'm skirting a martyr complex or whether life is really that needlingly shitty sometimes. Whether probable happiness is better than definite safety and whether What Might Have Been, Never Was, because We  Never Let It.

Ps: The new header is courtesy my alien friend G. Thank you, fatso.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

28 Years

He saw her, he saw she was sublime.
She saw him, she liked his shoes.
"She made me want to start over," he'd later say,
"They were *really* nice shoes," she'd shrug.
The other men stood beneath their windows
wooing her friends with spangly trinkets.
He came for her twice a month.
Five chikus were his offering.
"Did you know they're also called sapota?"
She stared at him, then shook her head slowly.

They went through the motions
Got married.
She for a roof, he for a second chance.
Had children.
She for companionship,
he to prove he could.
She from despair, he from indifference.
Because they both keep promises.

The worst has passed,
for the first time they notice each other.
His mangled hands,
her maddening pronunciations.
His emotional stutter,
her unbelievable strength.
The story is told that
for the five days she wasn't home once,
he went hungry.
"She didn't make it, it wasn't worth eating."

The beautiful bits always stop short
so you never forget just how good it got.
She awoke one afternoon with the deafening silence,
his breath had stilled for the last time.
For as long as she lives,
she will never forget his slumped head
or that feeling of being well and truly alone.

The years fan out.
Some worth remembering,
some just disappear into others.
There are no smiling portraits on the wall.
No gracefully yellowed black and white photographs.
And the mind's moths continue uninterrupted.

The hallmarks of true love
have changed since 1981 too.
"Of course he loves me, but he listens to bhangra-pop!"
"She's perfect except for her beer belly."
"I think I love him. Or do I?
No, I do, I do. But what if I don't?"
Thank God she's hard of hearing.
These eedyets wouldn't know love
if it smacked them full in the face.
She'd tell them her story
but devotion isn't part of their vocabulary.

Republished from an older blog, written in '09.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Romance Isn't Dead, It's In The Obituaries

I've always been drawn to the obituary section of the newspaper, possibly for the same reason I stare into people's homes who live close to flyovers - it's as much fuel for my imagination as it is straight up voyeurism. These strangers intrigue me so; beloved mothers, sons, grandfathers and wives, feted in death with pixelated pictures and painfully earnest poetry of unfortunate rhyme schemes. Nowadays it's the young ones I look out for, and find with too much frequency. 'Born 1979'; she would've been in the 4th standard when I was born, I think, probably had just begun writing with a fountain pen. Had this serious boy with the caterpillar brows, 'God's newest angel', seen the news three days ago and like me also sighed about people dying too young? Usually I'll come away somewhat sobered, or chuckling inappropriately.

Not today though. Today the obituary section made me smile stickily, made me fuzzy with romance. Take a look.

A love note if I ever saw it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Importance of Girlfriends

I consider my natural disposition about as friendly as a doberman’s. I have this unique superpower which lets me, by the sheer act of showing up to a social gathering, cause comfort and conversation to shrivel up and die. Then I proceed to fill this new cavernous void with deep and resonating awkwardness, which I will exponentially worsen by clearing my throat about twenty thousand times. I have literally, without even using my hands, awkwarded people’s relatives into sudden hospitalization and unforeseen doughnut emergencies on the other side of town. I tell you this not because I take some twisted pride in it – even though I kind of do – but to illustrate how I’m really not very skilled at interacting with other humans.

You will understand why then, every couple of days, when I’m going about my business writing a story, tormenting the dog or trying to lick the floor of a Nutella jar, I’ll suddenly stop and think, “I have friends. I have friends? I HAVE FRIENDS.” It has the very same effect as when I eat that first French fry after a long hiatus – tremulous happiness mixed with terrible foreboding. But I digress. The real epiphany here is that when I think this happy thought, I only think of it in terms of my handful of girl friends.

This goes back to my all-girl, convent education perhaps, or maybe it’s just that from a ridiculously early age I was very aware that boys were boys and girls were girls for reasons that are only for my future therapist’s ears. I have often thought of this as one of the many great tragedies of my life (WHY did they cancel Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip?!), but what it meant was I never ended up developing any unselfconscious friendships with boys, while simultaneously forging a number of relationships with women that, if they were romantic, would easily qualify as epic love stories. Actually, you know what, they are epic love stories.

Forget about the big boorish clichés like going to the bathroom in groups, discussing in-growths in unhappy places and how all men are alternately awesome and awful. I’m talking about the ones that don’t make it to sitcoms – the rise in a girlfriend’s voice when she’s viscerally feeling outrage on your behalf. The way she can tell your happy silence from your awkward silence from the silence that is barely holding back your guttural sobs. The way we have defended one another’s honour and indeed, dishonour. The way it’s ‘Us against the World/ Whoever’s Pissing You Off At The Moment’ season all year between me and my girlfriends. The code of ethics we have constructed piecemeal over time, whose nuances we intuitively understand, but can’t explain, especially not to the uncommonly daft boys we like. The way our relationships essay every other kind of relationship at different points in time – I’ve caught myself telling a friend that she is not to do a certain something-something in the very voice my mother used to use to make me drink milk of magnesia. I’ve also exchanged I Love Yous with these women, with the kind of intensity and truth I hitherto thought belonged only between a couple. We have been confident enough in our friendships so that we’ve spat virulent, unedited accusations at one another and then begged forgiveness without the slightest cost to our egos. Like I said - I was aware of my ostensible girlness - not girlieness - very early on, but only truly became aware of its gravitas in the enduring company of these women.

At 26, I have managed to accrue a nice lot of meaningful male friendships as well, and I can confess that often I like to escape the girlfriends for their relative simplicity and linearity. I cannot even begin to tell you what an unqualified jock/jerk I’m capable of being around these guys. Until of course one of them offends some ladylike sensibility neither they, nor I, knew I had. Then it’s race-dialing the bestie with “GUESS WHAT HE JUST SAID TO ME…,” fervently hoping she’ll be able to tell me why I’m this mad. And you had better believe she will.

Republished from an older blog.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Suburban Nightmare

For a while now (six years to be exact), I’ve observed that my having moved to and living in the suburbs tends to elicit certain kinds of reactions.

Commonly, there’s hilarity. A mandatory ‘gaon’(village) joke, which is usually as artful as “HAHAHA YOUR GAON (name of my gaon)!” Other comedic gems include “I’d like to do a little ‘load shedding’ of my own” accompanied by a wagging-eyebrow-glinting-incisor combo that would make Pepé Le Pew feel violated. And lest I forget that old classic, “we want to visit you, passport on arrival? LOLOL.” 
After I am done disposing off the bodies in our communal tank, I’m immediately overcome by remorse - should I have tried the abandoned truck stop just before the toll naka instead? Stick the city, always enunciating its separateness from mine, with its own abhorrences? Then I remember I’m not five, or Aakar Patel. And no city deserves to be judged by its twats. Because if we know the nature of twats, it’s that they’re a tenacious lot who will always find a way to be insufferable, no matter their geography.

That said, I’ll still take the jocular ones over the Overcompensators. This set has no geographical prejudice, they want to make perfectly clear. And if it weren’t for their lazy drivers and overprotective mothers, I couldn’t stop them from coming over every weekend even if I wanted to! Apparently my suburb is THE BEST (it’s not), SO CLOSE (it’s not), PRETTY HAPPENING (far from), NO POLLUTION (HEH) and what’s the cost of realty here - maybe they should think about investing. In the six years I’ve been here, I’ve had personal visitors of a grand total of seven.

Then there are the wider social implications. Almost anytime I’m attending a gathering of some sort in town and the question of where I live comes up, one of two things happens: Either my answer is met with surprise quickly followed by the sympathetic head-cock, eyes radiating ‘oh, the travails of the poor’ compassion. Or it’s met with surprise and followed by praise for my countryside grit - God only knows what horrors I’ve had to endure on my voyage here, for who knows what lurks in the hearts of men on the Central Line beyond Sion. And would I like to be served dinner right away so I can gather my strength to begin my return journey at the earliest? Perhaps even have my wineskin replenished?

Dating is a different minefield altogether. Over the years, my dates have thoughtfully suggested we meet early in the day so I’ll make it in time to catch the late train - “Public transport is so much safer than taking a cab alone at some ungodly night hour.” The braver ones venture an “I could drop you… if you want”, eyes imploring my mercy.

But my absolute favourite domicile-related experience went down just a few weeks ago. It was a clockwork progression of all the reactions I’ve mentioned so far. A friend had carefully (really blatantly) orchestrated a social run-in where I found myself sitting beside the guy she thought was perfect for me. He’s wasn’t. But he was not intolerable either – nice bum. Conversation meandered from vintage showcases to his business prospects to my camera’s features, with him issuing a torrent of witticisms and guffawing loudly while I waited. And then it happened.

“Where’re you coming from today?” he asks. I tell him and we’re off!

Eyes widen. Check.

Head cocks. Check.

“How did you get here?” Mildly comforted when I say by car – at least I’m operating over the poverty line.

“Do you even have electricity in your gaon?! (GUFFAW GUFFAW)” Check.

“But jokes apart, I’ve heard it’s the new ‘town’.” Sigh.

Reader, I don’t think I'll marry him.