Another Sunday

I went to sleep over at N’s last night. The plan was ripe and had vaguely been discussed over the phone in the midst of all knowing giggles. ‘I’ll bring wine, we’ll write.’ I didn’t bring wine and we wrote a little. The place had changed a lot from the last time I was there. The tiles were cooler and the walls were whiter than I remember. The couch was soft and warm, she’d been sitting there. We sat at the table for a little while and I opened the many drafts I’d saved. I added a sentence to each of these drafts and closed them all. Later N and I showed each other what we’d been writing over the week.

Her new one is about a girl who has to stay home because of a fever and then when she goes back to school – the boy she had a crush on has fallen for her friend. Mine was about a boy who works in a college canteen. He is very curious about the order of nature and refuses to accept that it’s just chance that makes people get a leg piece from the big boulder of chicken biryani he scoops from.

We talked about college, swimming, and sarees. We decided that it’s time I wore one. I mentioned Heteroglossia. I didn’t even know that I remembered the word. When I’d learnt all about it in M.A, I thought it’d be one of those words that would escape me and then years later when I’m explaining it to somebody, I would remember the meaning but not the word. It would have to be googled. But last night, it just popped out of my mouth – as if it had been sitting there all evening, waiting to come out.

At 12:15, N gave me her copy of Electric Feather – a book of erotic stories. The cover is off-white and the spine is a dark purple. On the front, there is a picture of the same book hidden under a pillow – its purple spine shamelessly showing from the gap between pillow and the bed. My eyes are already heavy when I start reading it. I have to read a page over and over again because each time I read it, I realize that I haven’t read it at all. At 12:45 I give up and snuggle under the circle warmth of the rug.

In the morning, we eat Idli and Vada. We make plans to go out. We don’t consider writing just then. When we talk about going to Glen’s, I can picture us there. I have already picked out the table we are going to sit at, and the soup I’m going to order. We stop at Health & Glow for a while and I gather the courage to pick up exotic shampoos in fruity colored bottles. At the counter, my courage skims and becomes a thin line of what ifs. I return the exotic shampoos and buy the more comforting Pantene.

On our way to Glen’s, we decide to be adventurous and go instead to Café Mezzuna.We’d heard enough about its dessert platter. The glorious Cheesecake – Crème brûlée – Chocolate Mousse – Pannacotta combo. Mezzuna is in a basement but looks a lot like a rooftop coffee shop. We order us some chicken and barely soup, bassa fish, coffee and creme brulee.

N and I can comfortably sit with each other in silence. Now and then, she will suddenly burst into a string of laughs and then nod as if in agreement with herself.

I had started reading the electric feather. This time, I picked a story by Paromita Vohra called Tourists. It’s about two people whose fondness for chocolates and their livid attractions for each other take them back in time to 1977 Andaman & Nicobar. And here they discover that in this strange house, nobody can see them or hear them. Like a Bollywood movie, the plot thickens and thickens, often only interrupted by gorgeous sex scenes. They fuck like bunnies all over the house. It’s a perfect sex getaway. And then I giggled joyously when I read that one morning they wake up to find Indira Gandhi in their bedroom. She of course, cannot hear them or see their naked, exhausted bodies. This was the best sex story I’d read in a long, long time.

My Sunday took off to a great start. On my way back home I had to buy a new helmet because somebody robbed my old one. It was only when I was nearing home that I realised that this new one was awfully tight and left me with a throbbing headache when I finally removed it.

Anyway, I had a sudden desire to watch old TV shows so I spent the rest of the evening downloading Bewitched and watching the movie adaptation. If all my Sundays this year can promise to be this fulfilling, I don’t mind dying next year.

I see in my mind sepia photographs of women in coffee shops

I see in my mind, sepia photographs of women in coffee shops.

One is sitting by the window, hand in hair, palm on cheek, looking out the window.

One is sitting with a book, not reading.

One is sitting with her coffee, waiting. Waiting waiting waiting.

And then I see Eiffel tower in black and white and next to it, a coffee shop.

I see a woman rocking back and forth on a plastic chair. Somebody has offended her and she is wondering if she should respond.

She will pause, take a deep breath, roll her eyes and let go.

I see a man with crew cut sitting with a magazine, not looking up.

Often I have thought that our cook, Shobamma looks like a teletubby in a sari. She has a green sari, a white and a cream one. When she cackles with laughter, her body shakes. Often I have wanted to sit with her and talk to her about life.

She says definitely, some day.

I nod.

Will I ever be the woman in these sepia photographs?

I wonder.

I see my mother sitting with her big family in a black and white photograph. It looks painted and a scary time in history to have lived. She is wearing a white blouse and a printed brown skirt. Her face is round, like I have always found mine to be.

I see three women sitting and laughing at a bar. They have all let their hair open. They each have a beer mug in hand and they seem like a portrait. They seem unbothered by where they are or who is watching them.

I see women in sepia photographs taken in some far away country whose name I cannot pronounce because it is too difficult.

I see a woman in all these photographs. She is as real as I am and probably more because she is unafraid of being alone.

 

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Here is the writing by Ila Ananya that inspired this poem.

Marzipan & Cotton Sarees

I finally went to Marzipan on Tuesday. I took a roundabout of Ulsoor lake and landed at a junction I should have paid attention to much earlier. When I got there, I was relieved to find that it had an accessible parking spot – something that Bangalore has taught me to look for, so meanly.

N and I ate New york Cheesecake, Moussaka, Chicken Baguette Sandwich and downed it all with a cup of Cappuccino. Marzipan is nothing like Parisian Cafe. It’s not small and one cannot get lost in thoughts, much less eavesdrop on other people’s conversations here. The tables are all safely placed at a careful distance from each other. A corner I would have preferred otherwise is furnished with a humongous sofa, and a teapoy with Pictionary, Scrabble and other board games on it. The cushions are blue and the interiors, brown.

On the other side, there are two long wooden slabs with bar stools. Both these slabs open to glass windows. I made a mental note to not to sit by the window that opened to the view of the main road. Too distracting. I ushered myself instead, to sit by the one that opened to the empty space. But that’s for another time, when I will go there alone.

N and I read each other’s pieces. Hers was Sci-fi. Mine was about going to Bhadravathi. She wore the green dress I have seen before and have come to feel so reassured by. I see her shuffling around in her apartment wearing a red lungi and a loose white tee — wondering if she should step out, pausing to see if the green dress would do today.

I don’t remember the first time I met her. I only know she must have been wearing a saree, a blue one. N and another N I know are the coolest saree-wearers. On many an occasion, I have pondered wearing a saree like that, but that’s for a world I haven’t made too many promises in. When I wear a saree, it will be a cotton one with a blouse that stubbornly won’t match the saree.

I liked Marzipan. Its windows are big and personal. And they have the best cheesecake I have tasted in ages. It’s our new writing group place.

Mirrors and Lights

My sister and I were watching Home Alone this morning and she turned to me and said that every time she heard that some older man’s name was Kevin, she would look at him weirdly and wonder what the hell was wrong with him. I laughed at this for four and a half minutes. And then I drank my tea quietly and came up to write.

I am scared now. I am worried that my biggest nightmare may come true. I like to think that people see me the way I see myself in my head. But then something happens and I wonder what if they don’t, what if they never have?

My dressing room has a yellow light. I got it installed deliberately because the yellow dims the blemishes on my face and the bags under my eyes. I like to look at myself with yellow lights. The white is harsh and too real. It scares me. There is a mirror in my bathroom. A broken yellow bulb hangs over it. This is removed from both yellow and white. A dusty, transparent light shoots across from the window. This is what I come to when I am bored with the yellow and too afraid of the white. It is soothing only and only because it’s in between 2 things I cannot fully trust.

I stand before the mirror in my dressing room every morning and look pleased. That’s the image I am carrying when I am riding to college. That is the image I will remember shrinking before my eyes when somebody says something that interferes with and destroys what I have carefully picked. I will read something they have written in a language that doesn’t speak the language of our intimacies and wonder if they’ve ever looked at me the way I look at myself. I will overhear what they whisper into corners and the people in it and wonder if I’ll ever be whispered at or whispered about.

I find myself thinking about simpler times, I am squinting at a hazy memory that will return with the only time I traveled by myself. I will think about Goa and its muddy little houses, that one big church I went looking for in the mirror- glaze of the sun on the highway. I will think about the insides of these houses that I have not seen and wonder if the corners will have cobwebs that I will want to touch.

I should go back to Goa. I should have when I had the time and the money.

I should write more because I feel unprotected when I don’t.

I flipped through his photos yesterday and missed him. And then I remembered how vulnerable I am when in love and hated myself.

I have my corner back but I don’t like it anymore. I need a ‘me-place’. They took away Parisian Cafe from me. And my corner is not a corner anymore. It’s a bustling mall that I am beginning to grow afraid of.

I worry about my writing. I think about what they have said behind my back and finish saying what they haven’t. I am too easy a target for them. I am vulnerable because they know where to find me. I have nothing to put in between them and me. Their laughter grows louder, their voices rise to hushed gossip.

I talked to a student about his writing yesterday and it left me very afraid. He didn’t understand me and I was too eager to help him. It scared him and he became impatient. I wondered if I was doing a good job at anything at all.

Over waffles and Irish coffee last evening, P said that he worries he isn’t good at anything. I laughed in his face. He has the rare ability to take off, to cut off from people so he can have time to read. He looks for crevices in the department, in the media lab and everywhere else he can find one and disappears into it to read. He emerges after everybody’s had their share of laugh, after everybody’s become hero and made everybody else laugh and roll on the floor. That is brave no? To be ok with not being a part of the fun everybody is having.

It’s only when I looked at the mirror in my bathroom that I understood what he meant. That sometimes you will do everything and feel happy but what do you say to the nagging poke that wants to know what you are good at?

I am now beginning to wonder. Maybe I am a terrible teacher. But that’s ok. What if I am a worse writer and nobody is telling me?

‘Fine, Fine!’

This is a story I love telling. I have fought with people just so I can tell this story my way simply because it is that funny. When I meet new people, I tell them this story and wait to see if they laugh. If they do, we become best friends. If they don’t, I sit quietly and judge them.

Many years ago, maybe not so many, because it is in color and not black & white in my head, a man and a woman were deeply in love. It was a happy love, undisturbed even by an ex wife who one day called our hero for a favour. The ex was a writer and needed help with selecting readings for her book launch. Our hero being the kind man he is agreed to meet her for coffee scheduled an hour before he was to meet our heroine, the girlfriend.

They met at famous coffee shop which we will call K. The ex who came with a couple of girls who are important to the story only because they are girls, decided to go somewhere quieter because K was noisy.

It is at this point, I must introduce a man who is responsible for all the giggles this story gave me. Outside K, a man named Abu helped park cars. He knew our hero quite well so when he went over to say hello to him, he witnessed the hero being ambushed by the ex and the girls. Hero couldn’t say hello to Abu because he was being hauled by the women half way across the road. An hour later, after the favor had been done, hero returns to K to meet girlfriend who has only just arrived. They were only just exchanging hellos when Abu steals the moment and appears on the scene and utters these words

“Maydam, aap nahi thi, maine saab ko hi bola lekin who kuch ladkiyon ke saath bhaga jaa raha hain, bhaga jaa raha hai”

(Madam, you weren’t here. When I tried to say hello to him, I saw him running off with some girls)

It is at this point that the hero’s face falls flat to the ground like meteors to earth. In a hurry he tries to explain what just happened before the face in front of him was going to balloon up into an even bigger balloon. After the last full stop to his story had been put, the heroine gathers all her face into her two eyebrows, raises them and heaves them down to her breasts and hisses “Fine, Fine!” jumps into an auto and leaves.

Our hero’s face by now is just a hole. It is difficult to say if the hole was because of the open mouth or it was how his face was going to look for the rest of his life. Nobody really cares what Abu did after this. I don’t know if he left soon after he had dropped the bomb or left after the hero’s monologue. All I know is the hero went inside, had chai and left.

Courtyard Cafe

When you sit in a cafe, a book in your hand, wishing you were fully absorbed in it

the cigarette between your fingers burns faster than you are breathing.

You see them from the corner of your eye, peering at you and your book and your cigarette, judging you and that shiny little glass you are drinking tea from.

When your eyes meet, you know they want to be you or do what you are doing because it looks cool.

If only they could see how flawed you are, with all your messy thoughts and the messier hair, your inability to read two sentences without drifting into small pleasures coffee shops have to offer

their square tables, those oval chairs and round faces on them, talking, watching, laughing, holding, thinking.

Light another one and watch it as it escapes your mouth, the fingers, and now the air.

Listen to the traffic outside and squirm every time you hear that accident noise – of tires screeching to a concrete halt, of yelling and the smell of blood, even if there isn’t any.

Over Cups of Ginger Tea and Brandy

There is an odd gratification in the desire to go back to somebody’s past, not yours, to see how they laughed, lived and loved. The first few conversations leave you high and dry. You sit huddled at a table in front of them, your hands cupping your chin, listening with rapt attention to stories, to the way the details on their face change to match the stories being told, to moments they felt loved and hated, to the way they narrate moments of passion and boredom like they are one and the same.

Now they laugh and you wonder if the smile always was a happy curve like that. Now they sigh and you wonder if it always sounded like a cat meowing its way into your bed spread to curl up next to you. There are pauses that you fill with images of what you think they looked like back then, and the questions you ask imitate this curiosity.

‘When was this’ ‘How old were you’ ‘Where did you live’ as means of establishing a timeline and a younger face inside the timeline; a happier time? You don’t know and neither do they.

You look for signs of tiredness on their face, of having lived those stories, of reliving them now in accurate narrations and descriptions. Thankfully they are lovers of details, just like you are so you don’t have to prod for more. They are generous with their stories and you sit with your arms wide open trying to absorb everything you can.

Some days, you feel wiser because of their stories. Some other days you wish you were a part of their stories and imagine what you would be like at another time, sitting at the same table, the same waiters bringing you stronger ginger tea. You imagine these bits in black and white, they are ardently imagined but seem way more real than surrounding images – of color and traffic, of blue, green and white.

One round of questions and two rounds of brandy later, there is measured laughter. You don’t want to scare them away with all the loudness so you pace down and round back up again. More questions, more clarifications, more stories. Pause. An anecdote now and a funny story later, you are running after them trying to catch up to how they’ve changed. They draw you a canvas and you jump in, they make you a pensieve and you are sucked in.

You walk with them and revisit old shapes of familiar cities, old bookshops that are no longer there and old spaces that are written about in blogs you claim you accidentally found. You stumble upon a word and you try to arrange your life like theirs, you stumble upon a detail now and you aspire to make the same mistakes they made so at the same table tomorrow, you will have a story to tell.

Soon, their voice takes over your mind, walking you through your life. A still image in black and white keeps coming back and you hold onto it strongly. It’s you and them, sitting at the same table, a tablecloth today, and a pot of ginger tea, two cups and more conversation.