Categories
In Between

Ishq and other things

 

When I get back home at 11:00 in the night, my footsteps are measured, my body rigid and I plonk myself on the sofa which, much like my body, seems too soft out of a tiredness that will only go away after eight hours of sleep. I must be careful to not make noise; ma is awake, like always. If she is coming down with heavy steps, a noise that carries itself to the very core of my heart and makes me pout in fear, it means I am going to get an earful that night. I wait to hear the soft thud of the door of her bedroom which means that she’s finally going to sleep. But the thud is followed by a silence that is almost unbearable to ignore. It means she’s unhappy that I have come home late again.

When I get back home at 8:00, my brother is watching Kumkum Bhagya and having dinner. He sulks when I ask him to change the channel. Two years ago, if I had yanked the remote out of his hand and switched to Zee Cafe to watch The Big Bang Theory or Friends, he would have made a fuss. But he has learnt to like these shows now so he doesn’t mind that his sisters watch Zee Cafe. He laughs along with the laugh track and sometimes louder.

He annoys us repeatedly to know which episode it was that Raj, Leonard and Howard go to camp, get high and laugh like maniacs. In solidarity, I have begun to take an interest in Kumkum Bhagya. I am making guesses of all kinds — who is upset with whom in this episode and why? In last week’s episode the man got drunk, returned home with a doll that looked like his wife and came very close to making love to it.

Tonight my brother is watching Ishq, a Hindi movie from the 90’s. At the outset it’s the story of four people in love. Two boys and two girls. One for all and all for one. But only two of these people are rich, but they are not the couple in love and that’s why their parents must kill their poor lovers so the rich boy can marry the rich girl.

Ishq_1997

I watched it in Belgaum. My neighbours – J and P had watched it that afternoon and had come running to our house to tell us to go watch it. They told us what scenes to look out for – there was the pipe scene, they said, which made the whole theatre go berserk with madness. J said a little pee came out. P said it was not little.

They enacted a particularly macabre scene with such enthusiasm, my dad was convinced that we had to go watch the movie soon. This was the car scene. Juhi Chawla is pissed with Aamir Khan and wants him to die so she puts him in a car with no brakes. There is also a monkey in the car that drives at one point.

That night, we went to Nartaki. I kept looking at mom-dad’s faces in the darkness to make sure they were laughing. This is a sickness that I have even now. Every time I watch a movie that I have heard is great or really funny, I want to make sure that the people sitting next to me are laughing. If they aren’t, I get really worried. I wonder if they have understood the joke and so I sit prepared to explain the joke. If this doesn’t happen, I wonder if they are upset with me. Don’t watch movies with me, I am crazy like that.

But there, I didn’t have to worry. My parents were laughing. My mother’s cheeks were red, the color they become when she is also crying.

I liked Ishq for a whole lot of other reasons. There were two couples and I was curious to know how they functioned. My heart felt all kinds of full when I watched them dance around wearing clothes that matched in Mr Lova Lova. I decided that my favourite couple is Juhi-Aamir because their clothes were more color-coordinated. My sister picked Kajol-Ajay because she said theirs was true love.

The fact that the movie also explored the sexual tension between the couple not- in- love thrilled me to bits. In most other movies the couple not -in- love become brother-sister if they aren’t already brother- sister. This was one such movie. And to top it all, the rich kids had maniacal fathers who were interestingly, both widowers. One got laughed at a lot because he was dark, the other got laughed at a lot because he was bald.

God, I miss the 90’s. Things were simpler.

For once, nobody is fighting over what to watch. Tonight, my brother and I will sit and laugh at all the scenes I had laughed at all those years ago.

Categories
In Between

Breathing in

I over think in ways that are always in circles– from point A to point B, going through the same details over and over again with different people. Remember when I was 16 and my mother made me hate myself for falling in love that early? There aren’t many languages free of ego that I can say this in, but she was right. Maybe the only thing she will ever be right about. It’s only now I can see how love cripples me more than anything. Even when I seem to have a fair idea about how it’s going to end; the restlessness is always gnawing, filling the chest with an incessant heaviness. I wonder if my chest was ever lighter, ever capable of deep breaths that are rare as yellow cars these days.

It’s like filling a balloon with water. You know there’s room for more water but for some reason the balloon will only take less than half of what it can, spilling out the rest. Where does the rest go? I think it floats above my lungs for a little while before disintegrating into itself.

Then I have to lunge across my desk, hands canoodling its edges while sitting on my chair; bend forward and stick my butt out while walking so I can inhale a long snake of air before it wriggles around my nose and refuses to go further down. So I eat pomegranate and almonds after slurping my way through rice and rasam these days.That’s my life now. Low Hemoglobin ante, thoo.

In other news, I wake up like an alarm clock these days. At 5:46 am, my ears grow sharp and my brain sends fan noises to whatever it is that I am dreaming about. I rarely feel the urge to slip my covers all the way up to my head these days, thanks to that godforsaken Europe trip; I am still somewhat beautifully hung over by it.

Speaking of which, I promise my next post is going to be about Europe. Just that it means I have to look at my own writing for the next couple of minutes, stew in its filth and its ugly fucking metaphors and emerge hours later, having accomplished nothing, cursing and sweating.

In other words, I take back my promise.

I am growing really fond of my home self these days.I like the slow train speed of Sundays mornings and the airport rush that follows after.I haven’t thought about competing with anybody for months now. My Jain College past has made sure that the only bitter enemy I need to worry about is me. Chopping carrots. Enough said.

My writing yawns at me so painfully that I have at least 7 miserable draft pieces saved in a folder I have ambitiously called ‘Writing’. Although where the writing is happening is a question that even my pillow is not going to answer. I have a gazillion assignments to read, my Sarah Waters to finish, two writing deadlines to meet, and all I can think of during my early morning wakefulness is whether I should go jogging or do yoga.

I tried both last Saturday. Best day ever.

I love this semester, though.The classes all have something to do with writing, every one of them. My reading hasn’t slipped back to its bookshelves either and the fact that I am also teaching Kannada this semester has made my Saturday mornings seriously endearing. I am also teaching Optional English this time so my dying poetry foundation app has found meaning in life. And so has my morning bathroom time. I sit on the commode and read a poem every day.

Don’t say thoo, it is very uplifting. I feel uplifted every morning.

Categories
In Between

Homecoming

There is a strange melancholy that hangs around my neck these days and I feel it most strongly when I am riding back home, when what needs to be proven hasn’t been proven, when the day has ended and the city is hurrying its people back into homes and its long arms of wait. I feel it in the wind speeding by my ears, I feel it in the red light that’s bouncing off from surface to surface, I feel it when I pass by buildings that have no business looking the same as they did 9 years ago, I feel it in my throat before I feel it in my eyes. It’s a heavy lump that I find hard to swallow but when I do, it drops down to my stomach in a whisper and then my eyes are wet. Before long, I am trying to disengage with whatever it is that has made me cry but I don’t seem to have the resolve it takes to say no to pain.

Hands from my past put their weight on my shoulders and urge me to look back; his hands left bitterly in my hair are no longer part of my face, but they are there until I learn to disown my smell from me. As a child, I clung to objects, to things more than to people. I liked making memories so I could keep them, save them, to be recalled later. A perfume bottle that I really liked on him is there somewhere in my cupboard now. Ticket stubs from movies stolen between classes are tucked away neatly in a box. Old journals recounting how and why I felt betrayed by people, why I liked somebody, why I hated myself — all pressed onto paper, sealed into a past that I see now and then in the rear view mirror of passing cars and their noises.

There is sand in a small bottle, there is a big stone, the sort of perfect stone that catches your eye during imperfect visits to beaches and all you can think about is how lucky you are to find a perfect stone. It’s perfect because it looks like the way stones are supposed to in your head, where there is a perfect shape for every word heard. There are sea shells, there are umbrella sticks in a pen stand, there are all my notebooks from MA classes and chocolate wrappers in between these notebooks.

I spend a lot of time in making sure these memories seem real to me at a later time when perhaps I have forgotten to look where I most looked. I have always been afraid of things coming to an end, goodbyes and departure and all. It’s crazy but they are what make memories possible. In my head, the memories are curves inked with trees I have seen in my childhood. Mostly big ones you see on your way to City B which your mother deceived you into believing, was only an hour away. There are also fields which come and go like the sound of slow moving vehicles. A truck or lorry on the highway. That is what I usually come home to and what I miss the most about childhood — sounds and smells.

Memory is that far away truck, its headlights casting distorted shadows on the road ahead, a game I am trying to win that nobody is aware of, not even the truck driver, not even my parents in the back seat who are talking about relatives, some of whom I don’t even know. Memory is also a craving I feel in my gut to go back to those godawful ambassador cars from my childhood and sit between silence and boredom, listening to the quiet language of trees outside.

At the end of one such long journey, by which time I had forgiven my mother, I remember a basket of chocolates waiting for us by the bed. For two days after that I was left with a disgusting after taste of chocolate, the kind that you think will make you hate chocolate forever, finally christening you into adulthood where chocolates aren’t eaten. But then days later, somebody gives you Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and you don’t want to be adult anymore.

My shoe size has always been 4. And I notice it thrice a year when I am buying new shoes. They look weirdly at me in the store but that’s maybe the only thing about myself that I like to admit I am proud of – that I have tiny feet, that when I put them on a stool at my desk, I like seeing that they don’t take that much space.

There’s a white shirt with unreadable memorabilia scribbled in marker pens. When I think of it, I think of how the dean was upset because we had touched each other’s backs and written how much we would miss each other. So upset that he made a big guy take his shirt off in front of us. I remember feeling frightened that day. He said he was going to call our parents and tell on us.

So much of homecoming is also standing in the ugly kitchen and telling my mother that I failed math again and she is looking at me, murder in her eyes, her lips, quivering in grave silence, her nose ring becoming bigger and bigger with everything she is not saying to me. So much of homecoming today is also never having to tell parents that you failed or passed.

Categories
In Between

Of Old Homes and New

Today, I saw time slip from between my fingers and hide behind familiar trees and houses and shops and their shadows. Balling up to finally start riding the two wheeler on the main road is the first best thing to have happened last year. I don’t say this to myself often but it has enabled a certain kind of freedom that can only come from being responsible for my own transport no matter where I am or where I have to be. Not that I don’t miss the one and a half/double meter hassling with auto drivers, but it is a strange pride, this one. Getting around the city, knowing certain short-cuts, knowing what routes to avoid at what hours- these, for a long time remained parting wisdom and long prologues to farewells only among grown ups and friends who had vehicles. I would listen with intent, hoping they would make a mistake so I could catch on and instruct them about this other road that nobody knows about and how closer it is to our destination.

I make the mental map myself now. I stop, ask for directions, use GPS and everything and it is bloody intense. But today none of that happened. I rode to the other end of the world to deliver a cheque and caught myself smiling at the prospect of visiting my old house. I took the correct turns and noticed that nothing much had changed. I was pulled 8 years back into Jayanagar 7th Block. I saw Channel 9, Coffee Day, the Government hospital which, I was surprised to see, still functions. The street looked narrow somehow. It was wider in my head, and perfect. It’s like somebody squeezed into my memory and narrowed the streets down. Young boys playing cricket and all, I couldn’t remember if they had always been there, playing cricket, screaming, making way for vehicles. How could I not have remembered this tiny bit of detail?

The house looked the same, thankfully. It stood the way it always has, in my head. White and 3 floors. The owners have now added layers of grills. I tried peeking into the window of a room which I remember now as the most neglected room. I re-winded to when I was 16 and in love. Walking the length of the corridors, making sure my feet were stepping on the insides of the box tiles and not on the lines, whispering into the phone, sitting with books around me and watching snowy make his way into my arms. Snowy was my first dog. I found and lost him within a month in that home. A lot of firsts happened in this house. I remember them all.

I rode slow until the dead-end forced me to look for the bakery my brother would be sent to so often. Bread, cheese, butter, chips and pepsi. The footpath was painted yellow and green. I remember walking there, earphones plugged in, drowning my head in imagined miseries, none of which have come true btw.

As I was heading back to my now home, I took a left instead of right because I wanted to go see my school. It was still there but I expected it to be bigger. It was sad to see it shrunken down in size. I almost felt bad for it. Somehow all the resentment I had against the school and its people seemed to peel away from me. I thought of all the things I hoped would remain permanent when I lived in this part of the city. I looked fondly at the shop in front of a former home and remembered a birthday I tried hard to make perfect. How I wanted to give a box of chuckles to classmates and how I convinced the shopkeeper to get a whole new box for me.

So much has changed, so much more is going to. It’s probably only now that I am not as afraid of change as I was when I grew up in the other part of the city. The city that I spend time in now, is carefree and I don’t want to know why and how but it is making me unafraid of change.

Categories
In Between

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.

Categories
In Between

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.

Categories
In Between

Runaway Granny!

This is a story that I have wanted to tell for some time now. I didn’t really know it was a story so I didn’t bother looking there all this while.  It became a story this morning when I eavesdropped on a conversation that my mother and sister were having about my grandmother. My father has always thought that I am like his mother. It’s like this general consensus that I’ve grown up listening to. Now that I think about it, everytime I expressed a stubborn desire to do something that nobody approved of, I was told that I am like her. For the longest time, in fact even until before 2 months, this was offensive to me. This comparison. Everytime someone wanted to make me feel bad and  wanted to make me stop ‘wanting’ something I could not have, either because I was too young or because I was a girl, I was told that I am like my Grandmother.  It was said in a tone to put me back in my place.

I don’t remember having spent much time with her except for our long morning walks together in Belgaum. My grandmother is the quietest person I have met.  Too much has been said about her in the houses that I grew up in. Too much more has been said about her in the houses of my mother’s sisters. Stories of torture and stubbornness and arrogance and my mother’s silent battle against this woman who made life hell for her. This is the story that was told to me by everybody who knew her. I see another story here though. I don’t know much of her past and whether or not she was happy in her marriage, whether or not she liked her children but I do know that she liked being on her own. She wasn’t much of a talker, didn’t like small talk, ate on her own, watched TV on her own and stuff. And these were things that she was constantly being judged for.

Women who like their space are never liked in this family. It’s only now I realise how strong she was/is to stand up to all these fellows. Now I can see why my father and I have issues. He’s trying hard to tame me and I am trying harder to run away. Everybody hated her for how often she wanted to run away everytime there was a fight at home.  And god knows how much my mother wants to silence of the lambs me everytime I mention wanting to live alone. It scares them.  When women in my family think of running away as an option, scares the crap out of them.

I think my granny was unhappy  because she couldn’t be by herself and when I think of how much she could have had if only she was born a generation later; it makes me want to hug my parents so I immediately stop thinking dangerous things like that. I look at what I have now and how much more I can have, if only I stop being a lazy chicken and start work on my escape plan.

I think she was fond of me but she liked my sister better because she was the good one.  See, that’s the crazy thing. I don’t know how these things work.  Anyhow, think how much she would have loved to have a room of her own.  Think how many more people she could have pissed off if she had lived alone, just the way she wanted to. Especially my father. Strange strange family. I have daddy issues and he has mommy issues. But she actually has no issues.  She would have been a happy person if everybody just left her alone! If only she could have run away.