Strangers

If stranger had a name, it would be the awkwardness that hung over our heads at lunch yesterday, the hope of seeing a familiar face, the desire to add an extra chair at our table. It would be the skillful way I avoid his eyes and hands. Every movement your feet makes in that hour is a calculation, every word; measured and uttered in thoughts before anywhere else. Three years ago, the table we sat at and the food we ate was enough to make me sigh in content all day. It’s a different sigh now. One that comes only after you drop me home. Letting go is a lot easier, now that the stranger between us has a name, a face and seems more sombre than us.

Girlfriends

Too often I have had girlfriends in my past I couldn’t stand to be around. They were all kinds of dreadful and the only defence I had against them was to be mean to them or ignore them completely. I just wish I had done something I have learnt to do only recently– Laugh and laugh loudly. There were so many of them. I resisted, fought, cried, got insecure, pitied myself and kept doing it repeatedly until they disappeared from my life. Too much was at stake then. I was trying to balance my new found feminism with going gaga over a man I loved whose approval I strongly sought. Things fell apart– I slapped one of his friends because he was a sexist hog and spent months crying over it. Now I look back and laugh because all it took was one tight slap and he was gone from my life.

The cooking girlfriend made my life difficult because she cooked and believed all women should cook. She pampered all the men around, including the love of my life, whom I didn’t mollycoddle usually but when I saw her doing it, I got sucked into the madness and pampered him crazy. Yes, I was insecure. No, I don’t feel stupid now because I am convinced I had to cross all of that to stand here and laugh.

I am a different person now which doesn’t mean I am less insecure about stuff. I just wish I hadn’t spent months fussing over my reactions to each of these shitheads. When I look back at the women I fought with, I miss them. Because minus feminism is important, I had a nice time with them. I was so busy trying to give them gyaan about how they should instead live their lives, I didn’t realise how nicely they would fit into my stories. I could have written then, when my anger was less funny and my writing, forceful and lame yet ambitious in a way it is too scared to be now.

I wish I was more invested in their lives and how they came to think the way they did. Despite all the irritation they harboured for me, which would come out only in moments, they were nice to me in a motherly yet real way. One of these women I am in touch with now is married and has just given birth to a boy. Around 8 months ago over a fury of whats app chats, she told me she didn’t want the baby. She was confused. She thought it was too early but was too scared to tell her husband. The final verdict came from her mother who convinced her that a year into the marriage is not too early to have a baby and that in some cases; it is the perfect time, especially if you have been living abroad.

This got me thinking of the many things I had chosen to ignore over my squabbles with her. Even so, I am not in a very forgiving place right now. I just wonder what she is doing now, at this moment. Feeding the baby or trying to shut it up because it has been howling all day.

Then there was another bored housewife up in arms against the F word, whom I laughed at 3 months ago on Facebook. That was fun but I felt really bad later because she was paavam and struggling with marriage issues, you know like spellings and stuff. Not fun.

I am listening to the soundtrack of Amelie now and wondering whom to think of fondly while I smile shyly. Not that there are many. It’s just that I want love to be perfect only in these moments — when I am listening to a nice song and don’t have to fret over whom to think of. This is the only time where Polygamy = 0, Monogamy =1.

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.

Nothing here

I gruelingly remember my undergraduate years at Jain College. Blow after blow, bully after bully, fight after fight.  A lot of my time was invested in either escaping said bullies or trying to confront them in my head, making speeches. I made terrible friends, wasted all my time in a college that was as aimless as its students. I didn’t know what I wanted from my career. Too much time was spent worrying about potential love failure. Too much more time was wasted in romance that didn’t blossom when it had to.

Being in love can be very exhausting. At 16, the exhaustion seemed weightless.  Also, I was too young to notice that I was exhausted. All my decisions were based on him.  Where we would eat, where we would go for the vacation, where we would make out next, which movie to watch, what lies should I tell at home, what excuses aren’t already taken. Not far behind was also the lurking, overwhelming sense of whether or not all of this was worth it.

I hate to admit, but maybe falling in love at 16 wasn’t really an achievement as I hoped it would be. I must be the bigger person here and also say that mother was probably right. I can never be so sure about this because back then, this wasn’t a house that encouraged a career in the humanities. Marriage proposals from men two decades older than me were considered and pursued with much enthusiasm just because I was anyway a B.A English student.

But my misdirected rage against them was no excuse for having exploited 3 prime years of my life, chasing nothing, but they didn’t seem like nothings then. They were what caused me dark circles – prolonged wait and hope for calls that never came, for text messages that were never returned, for love that remained unrequited long after I was his, and he, mine.

I don’t know how we’ve made it this far; maybe because for a good seven years of my life I gave it all of myself.  With every promise, every wound, every funny story, every fight, every touch. I did write now and then but they were all a bunch of things I could never tell him out loud. Like how much I hurt because of the sudden intense moments of love I often felt.

It doesn’t hurt now because the pain is all too familiar. The love remains and so do struggles of memory and hurt and fear.  I pass by that college every day on my way to work. On bad days, I cringe when I pass by those demon gates, on better days I laugh and feel secretly relieved about the disconnection I have managed with the college and its people.

It’s not as if I have outgrown the girl I was behind those gates. I still run after love in more or less the same ways. Except that my capacity for exhaustion seems to have plummeted down to obscene levels.

P- Poppy day

I was 15 and very irritating. Mother dragged us to an exhibition in palace grounds to check on some tiles. I was bored and hungry and before I could complain about either, I saw a book shop and smirked. I browsed for exactly 5 minutes and found nothing. I was just exiting because I smelled cotton candy in the air when I saw ‘Poppy day’ by Annie Murray. The woman on the book cover was pretty. She was white, had a lovely mouth and the brownest of eyes I’ve ever seen in a pair of a eyes. She looked lost and scared and I loved vulnerable women back then so naturally I developed feelings for her. Those were simpler times when I knew nothing about feminism and book covers.

Anyway, as is customary, I bought the book with much enthusiasm and then didn’t look at it for a month. I started reading it only when I was hauled to Himachal pradesh by mother after my board exams. I was thrilled immediately after page 2 because turns out, she was lost and scared.

Poppy day is set in the Birmingham of 1910’s. Jessica Hart tears her wedding dress and escapes her small country home to find her Auntie Olive in the city and after much persuasion, she is allowed to stay at her aunt’s. But it’s not long before she meets the man she will fall in love with and that’s what’s great about the book. I remember not having to struggle with the book. Because the love happened in chapter 3, the sex in chapter 4, the baby in chapter 7, the break up in chapter 8 and the eventual moving on and much else, immediately after. I was happy that I didn’t have to wait long to read the love making scenes. There were two and both gave me my first orgasms in some sense. I remember the scenes affectionately because I kept going back to them and much to my embarrassment, the book was physically able to tell which page was read the most because of the damned ugly mark that knew my touch and greed a little too well. No amount of straightening the damn thing or putting it under the sofa-cushion worked.

Beyond the obvious, the book managed to grab me by my tongue simply because its language was rather odd for a lame ass 15 year old. There were words I couldn’t really follow but got used to in no time. Words like ‘wench’, ‘ter’, ‘yer’, ‘summat’ are words that still shame me, not because I couldn’t understand them but because I used them unfailingly in my journals and in some rare occasions, in conversations with friends who rightly disowned me later.

The mystery of the rather dysfunctional family intrigued me to bits and I found that I enjoyed reading about women who worked in spaces outside the home. The only bits that I had very little patience for were the army scenes. I’m boring like that. The drama, romance, family secrets, unexpected pregnancies, old/painful and gut-wrenching methods of abortion, separation, eating bread and other ‘Tom & Jerry’ foods is what I fondly remember about ‘Poppy Day’.

Also when I was nearly done with the book, a somewhat first love kind of romance was brewing between me and the escort who guided us through Shimla- Kulu-Manali. Clearly, ‘P’ had to be about Poppy day.

To Ashish

I started writing because I wanted to hide from my mother. I needed a space that could be only mine, that nobody wanted because they didn’t know it existed. It gave me some kind of thrill to hide when I was wanted the most. I treasured those moments when I could just hide and watch them look for me. To not be seen when they were frantically looking for you gives you some kind of sadistic authority over yourself and your space. Some similar kind of thrill was transferred onto that moment when I first wrote a full sentence. For those kind souls who do read my blog, you may remember a boy named ‘Ashish’ that I mentioned in a post titled ‘Poof’. For all the times I have fallen in and out of love with god knows how many people, I remember Ashish very well. He was chubby (just the way I like ’em even to this day) and had brown, wavy hair. In all that time that I was in love with him, he must have glanced at my direction once, maybe twice. We never talked to each other.

So him and Rashmi (also a girl I was in love with) were friends and it seemed like he spent all of his life with her. This drove me insane one evening and I wanted terribly to do something about it. I did the only thing that I felt like doing. I wanted to write “I hate you Ashish” hoping it would help me out of feeling lost and small. And where did I write this bit? On a wall in my Mother’s bedroom. I don’t know why I picked her room. I didn’t really pick actually. I remember I had a red pen in my hand and I was in her room and I just walked up to the wall and wrote it. In awfully small font. So small that even if everyone in the world would overlook it, my mother would read it. Because I wrote it and it was THAT small so she had to know what I was hiding (?) from her no?

The woman bawled my name out soon as she read it demanding to know why I had written what I had written. I remember feeling terrified when I had to explain it  to her. So I made up some gibberish and ran away. That may have just been the first of the many ‘Explain yourself’ encounters I was going to have with my mother in future. But I remember feeling devilishly happy because I had managed to piss her off. That episode triggered so much pleasure in me that I decided to keep a journal in some freudian hope that she would read it and be annoyed.

That’s how and why I found writing. It became my most sought out hiding place and promised me guilty pleasures like hiding and watching someone looking for me, hiding and watching someone read what I have written and other such nonsense. Eventually, writing has helped me move closer to the woman I want to become, even though I don’t know who the hell that is.