Vicky Christina Barcelona

This is the first Saturday night I am spending with Bubbly and Mintu. I was in the department today reading Sound & The Fury for a little while before I realised I was alone. Mintu texted a little after I had become bored and abandoned my book. She said to bring wine, and that she wanted to watch Vicky Christina Barcelona. At first, I protested. I had watched it only last week, in a moment of mad inspiration. I told her we could watch horror. She refused. My throat felt dry and so I cancelled my writing group plan and headed home.

I picked up a bottle of Sula and rode. At 9:00, I had a long family dinner and marriage wasn’t mentioned. So I joked around, speaking urdu for sometime and then sent signs to Mintu and Bubbly to follow me upstairs.

We debated for a little while and then eventually I agreed to watch VCB. Very rarely am I able to watch a movie again after having watched it very recently. VCB, Band Baaja Baarat, DDLJ, The Holiday, Aadukalam, Monsoon Wedding, Amelie are some movies I can watch over and over again.

While it’s true that I notice something I have never noticed before when I watch a movie again, it is also true that there’s a mad, raging connection between women when they are drunk, and watching a Woody Allen movie together.

Tonight, for instance, I discovered that Mintu is perhaps the only human being who smirks at the same scenes that I do.  She smirked when Doug climbed up the escalator to meet Vicky after she had slept with Juan Antonio. She said that she loved the movie when Christina went to Juan Antonio’s home and better still, moved in with him. She hit the space bar at the exact same moments that I had — when Vicky refused to join Juan Antonio on his little trip to Oviedo and Christina considered it. At this point, Mintu asked us if we would ever do what Christina did. I said yes and Bubbly said no.

I knew they would both love Marie Elena. Especially that one scene where she poses for Christina, holding that cigarette like she’s holding, well, a cigarette. Mintu smirked when Marie Elena, speaking of Juan Antonio said ‘Our love will always be romantic because it is unfulfilled’

I have also learnt that women in love have a better sense of what’s about to happen in a movie, than women who aren’t in love. That’s because they think they have more to lose, and therefore are at risk all the time. Bubbly had a crazy sense of predicting when Marie Elena would lose it, and when she was just about to do something crazy. All of Mintu’s predictions were wrong. And as far as I can remember, so were mine.

Both my sisters however, cheered when Marie Elena and Christina kissed; and shrugged gruffly when Juan Antonio joined. Thankfully, Mintu giggled when Doug was turned on when Christina narrated her passionate scene with Marie Elena. ‘How typical!’ is what she didn’t say but knew,that she wanted to say.

I don’t even remember the wine anymore. It has been a good Saturday.

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?

Corners

I miss the simple pleasure of corners and the luxury they can afford. I want to undo all of last year and unknow what I have come to know and everybody that has come with it. I am doing One Hundred Years of Solitude for a class. I picked up the book just now to see what I remember from having read it all those years ago. I have no memory of anything, as it turns out.

There’s only the memory of an echo coming from the pit of my stomach. It’s like reading a part of me that has died and become something else. I don’t remember One Hundred Years of Solitude. I remember what I was like when I read it 2 years ago. I was stupider and I don’t want to go back into being that. I do however want to go back to the evenings spent reading this book in a corner of the old department.

I miss how the evenings would stretch themselves out for me and the corners would hug me to its walls. Everywhere else there would be voices, and water in plenty– gushing at my ankles and hurting my ears so I would put my feet up. The only discomfort I ever felt would be from a position I was sitting for too long in. This is hardly romantic because knowing me, I can say there would have been a hundred odd things pecking at me from the inside and the outside. Things people said, things people did, things I should have said, things I should have done. But it’s ok I suppose. As long as I was far from being noticed.

I miss the corner for what it did best. Allowed a certain kind of space in which I could devote time to things that actually mattered, like plucking skin and corns off of my toe, undoing knots in my hair, contemplating over the colour yellow and wondering why my right boob is smaller than my left. The corner does what a sharp tongue also does very well – ward off people.

Two’s company, three’s crowd. Well, they are both my ass. Corners are dangerous to nourish conversations in. They become snake-like hisses that will come back and bite one in the arse. I am through with this. I want my corner back. I think a woman must have good earplugs and a corner if she is to write or read fiction.

Relief

It’s the relief that conversations sometimes bring to us. It’s how your face curves into its own ends with big smiles, when clouds of grey are moved aside and you begin afresh. You hope it’s not long before something triggers you into going back to the dull ghetto that your mind becomes. Tracing finger with finger, exchanging stories of shame and insecurity you draw each other into a comfort that can only come from knowing that the other is fighting a similar, if not, harder battle. In your head, you are punishing yourself for all the things you got used to believing about the world and its meanness and how if you don’t equip yourself with a tough solitude, you are going to be broken. Solitude may be you friend, your savior but it is also what sometimes pushes you into believing that you don’t need conversations and maybe you don’t, but you do.

‘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.

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.

Over and out

It is difficult to admit to yourself when you fall out of love. There aren’t signs nor symbols to tell you when you do, unlike when you are in love where every tear drop is out of feeling lucky and blessed, every smile is a play of memory and desire and every morning is a prayer. Here on the other side, there is a void now which is slowly beginning to fill with everything you don’t say to each other. A pause that appears more than once in a conversation; it twitches and you want nothing more than to wrap it up and put it in your pocket; to let it out only when it is healthier and is sure to inspire thoughtfulness and shared smiles.

It takes longer to dress up now, you pick clothes you don’t find interesting. When you turn back at your door and see the light and warmth in the curtains and the slow, rhythmic rising of fumes from incense sticks, you sigh and hang on to the hope of another Sunday, when all of this will be yours to touch and feel.

You go to familiar places, hoping it will rekindle forgotten desires, now abandoned in limbos – neither here nor there. The walk from the parking lot to the escalator is the hope for a good day. Then you say something, he says something else. Your face freezes in an expression you know he detests but it’s too late to think of what he detests and loves. Or perhaps you don’t care. Within a minute, the promise of a good day goes grinning by, and all you can do is stand there and wait to finish your thought, the fight.

A warped sense of pity and gratitude beckons you to walk along with him and force conversations on him, like squeezing an empty tube for that last remaining blob of toothpaste. But all you get is a set of grunts to match your ridiculous questions. You are only checking to see if the day still has potential, and then in that little distance between discomfort and accusation, you will know.

As you stand in silence on the escalator, you wonder if it always took you so long to get to the fourth floor. It seems as though another floor has been added because it really is taking you longer than usual to get there. Ringing echoes of laughter and memories of stories that you once inflicted on this escalator, this mall whisper behind you as you finally reach that dreaded fourth floor. And then a faint feeling of loveless coma whacks your face and you are left wondering if you just fell out of love.

Two pairs of hands are lifelessly sprawled on the table – they look yellow and tired. Every movement the hand makes is a battle between a desire to end the bickering, yet to not want to reach out and grasp his hand. The food arrives and you feel relief raining all over your insides. Hours later you are fighting the urge to push his weight off your chest while your face appears to be as calm as the moon. Every touch is a memory that your uncle left burnt on your thighs, hips and breasts. You go through with it and wait for it to end. It ends and you go home.