Sofa, sofa.

The sofa is a violet sponge today, sucking my tired body into it as I drink cold tea from a black mug. On cold evenings, this is warmest corner of the house. I like watching regular TV here on the sofa, after craning my neck on the net book over a movie I watch in all possible positions, the net book imitating each of these positions. Now and then, I have to drag my body half way across the hall when the doorbell rings. When I get back to the mushed up waves on my spot, it is just as comfortable. It doesn’t change how it makes my body feel, no matter how long it takes me to return and no matter what mood I return with.

On Sunday afternoons, this is where I am. Curled up next to a book that is a mute spectator to all the TV I am watching. I have a picture in my mind that I hope I see myself in, some day. I am curled up on the sofa, only this time I am actually reading.

It makes for a very bad bed though. I woke up one morning with my back disconnected from my body. For all the homeliness it offered to a sitter, it didn’t look too kindly on my sleeping self.

It smells like velvet and dust. Sometimes I wedge my palm into the sides of the sofa to see if I can find groundnuts or pieces of chapattis. Sometimes I find a bra.

The afternoon sun shimmers through the window and onto the white floor making shadowy ladders. A truck passes by and shadow shifts now. Very rarely do I run into the occasion of catching a movie when it has just begun. When I do, my day is set.

Food

When I was 23 and a seemingly pesky girlfriend, I discovered Zomato and all the various voyeuristic delights it offered. In much the naïve way, I had also introduced my unadventurous boyfriend to ‘Chungh Wah’, after which he married the restaurant and took me there 4 times a week for lunch. I mournfully lost my appetite for Chinese food but soon started looking elsewhere to raid all the other cuisines I had been dreaming of. Somewhere around this time, I discovered steak and dragged my boyfriend to ‘The Only Place’.

Midway when I was struggling to eat what I had ordered, which, on the menu sounded European and true to its name, turned out to be a gooey mess of cream cheese and meat, my boyfriend led me to an unkind revelation about myself. He said ‘You only like food, but you can’t eat it. You don’t have the appetite’. My nose puckered and I was mad at him for several weeks but I couldn’t run away from what he had said. Maybe it was true; maybe I just was/am a fake foodie.

As a young girl, I always found food to be more interesting in other people’s homes and plates. Even if I would be eating the same food on my plate, it would look dull, dry even. The earliest memory I have to prove this is when I was around 8 in Mangalore; Mouma made page (conjee) and Channa gashi for dinner. We sat in the hall, all the tube lights were off and only the colours from the TV fell on our faces as we cringed to look up.

Bubbly got her dinner and started eating it with wild interest. I looked into her plate. It smelled great, like good food. I hollered at Mouma to give me the same food that was on Bubbly’s plate. She looked at me suspiciously because she knew I had absolutely no appetite for page. When my plate arrived, it looked nothing like the food on Bubbly’s plate. It was, like all my food nightmares, gooey and messy. My nose puckered.

In school, my friends had far more interesting lunch boxes than I. They brought sandwiches and other unembarrassing food. My lunch box would open up only to see my curled up face at the sight of uppitu or chitranna. I had forbidden my mother from packing egg or chicken in the box because it seemed to have offended a lot of my Brahmin friends who would assemble physical distance between them and my lunch box. Some would cover their ears in horror at the mention of chicken/mutton. Some of them are my Facebook friends, still. When I feel pathetic about myself, I go and see their marriage laden – babies infested profiles and feel immensely pleased.

Anyway, so I started to hungrily eye my friend Deepika’s lunch box in school. Deepika was a Jain girl which meant that her lunch box had the standard Roti, Raita, Dal and on some special occasions, Sabzi. I was thrilled when she opened her lunch box. We would stand by the parapet overlooking the school playground and eat. She would politely offer me some of her food and I would reluctantly refuse it, hoping she would insist and I could finally sigh and eat her food.

When it came to just food and me, I think I felt repelled by it. I didn’t like meal times. I detested the business of eating with the family, under everybody’s watch. I hated even more that I couldn’t waste food in front of strangers and relatives. I owed them an explanation, an excuse – not feeling well, too spicy, heat boils in my mouth and fever were the top contenders. Most meal times were therefore self inflicted rounds of guilt and desperation.

It must be why it took me by surprise to see myself noticing food, a lot later in life. Around 4 years ago I ate the best prawn curry and rice in Pondicherry. I think that is a kind of moment worth going back to because a) I don’t have many and b) that is the one earliest memory I have of discovering food and c) it has prawns.

We were sitting at a table by the beach, and were both starved. It is indeed quite the tale because up until that point, I had only made bad food decisions, I never could order wisely. I would order all manner of exotic sounding things and waste it. I think I must have really followed my intuition that day because I did want to eat prawn. The only other item on the menu, competing with the prawn was the fish; butter fried in lemon sauce. Eventually I picked the prawn and when it arrived, I had no idea it would be that good. I mixed a bit of rice with the prawn curry and put it in my mouth. It had a warm coconut-y flavour which kindly held back all the spices that usually make prawn curry spicy. I don’t know if it was the wind or the sea breeze or the salt on my face or in the air or the fact that we were sitting by the beach but that was some spectacular food. The prawn just sank into the coconut flavour and the spices whirled about in my mouth without stinging it in rude burns. My eyes closed in agreement to this and the whispering breeze around my ears and the crashing waves beyond it.

A lot of my food connection since then has been largely restricted to coastal cuisine. I fondly remember that evening when I ate Idiyappam and Kerala chicken curry at a modest hotel in Trivandrum. After that, I seem to have developed a delight for food even though my appetite is embarrassingly the same. Even so, I have my moments. One morning, for instance, I decided to give Dosa and Avrekai Palya (Val bean curry) an overdue chance. That is the Sunday staple breakfast at home; Dosa, Avrekai palya and batata bhaji. As a child, I had very little patience and taste for spicy food. Anything my tongue found remotely stinging would be instantly dismissed or sweetened by five spoons of sugar.

It took me a while before I realised that the right kind of spice can be just as pleasing as sweet itself. I am trying not to sound too Gordonsy here but there is a kind of meditative throbbing in the left overness of spicy food on your tongue. Like the kind only a partially cooked plain dosa can rescue. Or like the explosion of heat in your ears from eating spicy lemony chitranna (lemon rice) that only the crunchy groundnuts in it can save. Or like harassing your tongue with Vali Ambat (Malabar spinach Sambar) that even the graceful red rice cannot salvage. On a bad day, I immediately cheer up at the sight of Dal, batata upkari and seeth (Lentil curry, potato fry and rice)

But I wasn’t always here. It took me a long time to learn how to like home food. I think the preamble to this journey was that one day when I was on some sort of food ennui and everything I thought of eating filled me with disgust and nausea. The only thing that brought me out of this misery was a plate full of page, gosalla upkari (Ridge Gourd Stir Fry) and mango pickle. Although to be fair, Ash had the same items on her plate and something about the way she was humming with every bite she took made me eat it. I must have really liked it because my ennui disappeared and has never once come back.

I think I’m no foodie but I am just happy that I started to enjoy home food and that my appetite seems to have developed some meek taste for food beyond my preferences.

Tuesday

Like the notes you make in an auto which go into some drawer later, and you don’t see them ever again

Like the debit card that goes into your front pocket instead of your wallet, like it should, after long sessions of beer

Like that last cigarette you were’t going to smoke

Like the mug of beer you don’t know why you drink

Like the earphones you can’t find when you want to pack in a hurry

Like reading blogs that set your heart on green-red and yellow fire

Like piles of books unread

Like the change that clinkers in your purse

Like the lie you forgot

Like the workplace that is yours

Like the workplace that is more yours after everybody leaves

Like the silence that falls on the room after you lock

Like the lights that hesitate to pull out fully

Like the ring of the bell that is freakishly long on Tuesdays.

Finding fanny

A dog yawns, an old aunty sits at her tailoring machine, and a middle aged man lies half awake – half in a drunken stupor, his newspaper imitating his posture on an arm chair outside a Goan home porch. Pocolim, as Deepika puts it is a sleepy town, and to show you just how slow they mean by sleepy, another cat yawns into the silence interrupted only by the lazy croak of a frog. That pleasing coastal sound which comes only if the green in the surroundings is just as pleasing.

Finally a movie set in Goa that doesn’t freak out on beaches. They actually show you a whole other side to goa – its green, the trees, and not just coconut trees. Homes with Goan brick compounds, uncles sleeping in front of dusty chess boards, and a ceiling with unambitious cobwebs.

The town is delightfully Macondo-like, in its half- sleep, half-awake state. Nobody is happy and nobody is sad. To add to that, there’s also a rusting old blue car, a dead cat that is forced to look alive to keep its master’s sanity and a weirdass painter who follows the cat’s tragic fate. Atleast the cat’s dead body got to lie on Dimple Kapadia’s chest.

The movie has some fine flattering bits of comedy. A scene shows Deepika crying on her bed and her mother in law asks her if she is crying and she says yes. Another scene has Naseeruddin Shah howling like a baby while simultaneously riding his bicycle. In much the same spirit, this is what weirdass painter says about the cat that is out to scratch human eyeballs out: ‘Billli pyaari hain lekin thodi paagal hai’.

Even as Arjun Kapoor is contemplating his abilities in bed, random young children appear on screen only to show him their middle fingers. The movie bumps off Pankaj Kapoor (weirdass painter) and nobody notices, a seemingly charming death for a man who looked confused at the concept of biscuit falling off into tea due to over dipping. He gets shot by a bullet that wasn’t even meant for him, rolls off the car, falls into some fishing net and then into the ocean. Ranveer Singh meets his end after choking on his own wedding cake, in much the same way that the cat meets its end after having been flung out of a moving car and hit by a tree.

A letter remains undelivered, sleepy town doesn’t wake up, and the remaining action of the movie unravels in an open field: sex, confessions and denials. The climax boils down to a broken mirage of love as it should be (I want to say, like a Marquez novel here, but I will not). How love may not change but its intensity may plummet down with a massive force after the lover discovers that his loved one has put on ominous amounts of weight, even as she lies dead in her coffin.

I love this movie and not because it was my first time watching a movie alone, but because it didn’t have to try hard to make me laugh. At no point does the movie take itself seriously, not even when the 4 single people that initially went to find fanny get married to each other.

Along with the people and cats dying bit which was hilarious; even interior knowledge that the characters in this movie have about one another manifested into light hilarity. Even as Naseeruddin Shah is recovering from the horror of an undelivered letter, Arjun Kapoor asks him if he was the one howling like a baby the previous night. The over infused ‘mad or what’ in between dialogues cheered me up.

Also, I have decided to move to goa. If I cannot find Pocolim, I will call a stretch of land Pocolim and live there. And I want a cat. Its name will be Dominique Bredoteau.

My 100th

Motes of dust floating happily in sun lit corridors

thinly sliced onions

the smell of ghee and onions frying

baked potatoes and chicken

Thin crust cheese and pepperoni pizza

Rasam with spices drowning inside it

coffee mugs – enough said.

bookshelves with old leather bound books

finding old letters, bills and tickets in borrowed copies of books

the first sip of tea very early in the morning

waking up early and not feeling sleepy

waking up early to find the house really quiet

early morning breeze

the smell of cuticura

the smell of sandalwood incense

coming back to an empty home

watching it rain outside

finding old pencils sharpened at both ends

reading things you wrote as a child

stationery shops

watching a former friend from a distance and not talking to them

old and antique-y coffee shops

London and its small towns as shown in the movies

traveling alone in a train

everybody around you reading quietly or sleeping

hot water baths after getting drenched in cruel rain

making people laugh without intending to

sleeping on warm bedspreads on cold nights and waking up only in the morning

sleeping after a bath in the noon

when menstrual cramps are calming down

reading long letters from lovers

a published post

your 100th published post

Self pity

Like prisoners, they line up one after the other waiting to enter space. Mind, body and soul. A thought, an image, a song, a movie scene and you feel the corners of your mind opening up to the clawing need of self pity. It’s 6 in the morning, you open your eyes to the yellowed darkness in your curtains. Gates open and close, school vans stop and honk, two-wheelers sustain their starting problems and you cringe. The alarm didn’t wake anybody up today. You wait for it to ring and turn if off. Last night’s thoughts crawl up under your thighs and mock the wetness in sheets, now they creep into your mind and the toying mirth in its blankness upsets you.

Thoughts become gestures, gestures become insults, insults become hot and burning tears. Rewind. You have to be properly upset, there should be more meanness in the enemies’ gestures. There should be more tears. How can you fashion a dramatic walk out on somebody without letting them know you are crying?

Fatal illnesses like cancer aren’t fun anymore. You have cancer, your friends come, cry, and then you die. Where are the bullies? The friends who become enemies on such mornings? Where is the evil in their villainous plans to ruin your life? Their actions aren’t knifing through your heart like you want them to. Try and harder. It’s 6:45 now. You have cried. The pointlessness in this exercise doesn’t bother its dramatics. As long as your face now is imitating the one in your imagination – sad, lonely and crying, it’s ok.

In the shower, steam seeps through your toes and you watch it rise up as your stories fall through all around you and vanish into the drain along with soap, dirt and hair. You feel new but it’s still not a new morning. You don’t want it to be, not yet. The pulling away from self pity can happen later, at a time when you have to think about work and life seriously. But now you just want to be left alone with the miserable liberties your mind takes with all the bad things that can happen to you. And they are rarely the very bad things that can happen to you in real life, like losing a limb, losing your job, not getting to go abroad to do that fabulous PhD. They are ridiculous, small and almost laughably petty: a friend choosing somebody else over you, them forgetting you and leaving you, them not remembering your birthdays. The fear becomes bigger along with more elaborate stories that you create, more details, more play on memories until you find somebody else, but the story is always the same, the fears are always the same, those of abandonment.

When you step out, you feel lighter because the day is starting to catch up and suddenly time is a real thing, like a problem, then you think about work and eventually the day becomes real.

Dedh Ishqiya aur Ek Lihaaf

This year’s general rule has been limited consumption of all that is good. Good food, good movies and good weekends. That explains why after Dedh Ishqiya, I haven’t watched a good Hindi movie this year, well except Queen. Somewhere in the middle of January this year, I caught Dedh Ishqiya at Rex. I hadn’t watched its prequel but that wasn’t a strong enough reservation to not watch the sequel. Real problems like tickets and transportation were the pain and bane. Somehow, a bunch of us made it a full 10 minutes after the movie had begun.

I caught it again on Sony Max today. Apart from rekindling forgotten desires for Huma Qureshi, I finally understood why I liked the movie so much. It’s what they say to each other in the movie. So much like watching a live version of ‘Sex without Love’, only better, because of the language. Launde for guys, and bang in the middle of this Hindiness, Qureshi says, “Yehi toh problem hai tum aaj kal ke laundon mein. Ishq aur sex mein farak nahi karpaate na tum?” Immediately after this, I noticed how he slapped her, pushed her hard on the ground, beat her. I also noticed how neither the women nor the movie spent much time in reacting to this violence. It didn’t need to. For all the ‘junoon-oons-ibadat-sex-mohabbat-ishq’ dialogue between Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi, the women spend very little time talking about love.

That and Chugtai’s Lihaaf scenes. Shah casually slipping intelligent lines to Warsi – ‘Thand lag rahi hai, lihaaf maangle kya’? The yellow backdrop working itself out like the lihaaf behind Naseeruddin shah as he sits tied up and slumping while the two women in front of him become one shadow.

Something very unburdening about not being in love with the opposite sex. It’s like being in love with yourself. I don’t know what that means yet. But maybe it’s finally a relationship where you don’t have to bargain for anything with anybody – either for commitment or for space. A very mellow in-between-ness that isn’t certainly removed from insecurity but strongly grounded in real conflicts.

As the men are left to fend for themselves, the women drive off into the sunset in a red maruti, just like that. Something about strongly encircling their lives without the need for anything male. I missed the Lihaaf bits when I watched it the first two times, because I was too distracted by Arshad Warsi’s brilliant comic exploitation on my jaw. But now that I have watched it again on a more personal level, I feel unburdened every time I remember Huma qureshi’s quizzical expression after Warsi declares love for her or the way she doesn’t fall off track after a night of passionate heterosexual sex.

Here is a link to ‘Lihaaf’ – the short story by Ismat Chugtai –

Click to access 9.%20Short%20Story%20-%20Lihaaf%20%5BThe%20Quilt%5D.pdf

And here is a link to Lihaaf – the short film based on Chugtai’s story-