At Sixteen

On my 16th birthday, I made myself very happy. I decided it had to be a big deal, regardless of who wanted to make it big and who didn’t. I procured some money from my mother and took myself to Gandhi Bazaar to shop. I knew what I wanted. At 16, I always knew what I wanted with a clarity that was almost aggressive. I have neither the gumption nor the energy to love myself like that or know with clarity, what I want anymore. Somewhere between learning to love other people between 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, and 26, I didn’t love myself enough. Or maybe I thought it wasn’t that important.

At 16, the joy of sitting alone in a coffee shop, reading something was just about enough to make me happy. Between the ages of 17 to 26, I waited for other people to love me like I loved myself. When that didn’t happen, I hated myself and later, them.

So at 15, hours shy of turning 16, I stood outside Perfumer – a fragrance shop and waited, smiling. This was the first gift I would be buying for myself. And for a long time after that, the last. I took a small vial and decided that I liked it. It was a lovely shade of green-blue, colors that appeared on my palette when I mixed the darkest green with the lightest blue in my art class at school. At the counter, I asked for the perfume to be gift-wrapped. I picked the shiniest, the most expensive wrapping paper. It was pink, a color that still reminds me of unexplored freedoms I have chosen not to take because I am too busy doing god knows what.

At home, I lit all the candles I owned on the balcony I rarely used. The walls in my bedroom were a light lavender, the furniture, dark brown. I had chosen these colors from magazines that I had read. Tall, grown up women always seemed to sit comfortably alone on oval-shaped beds, light colored walls and the darkest brown furniture. I was painting, as it were, my independent life with my father’s money.

I waited for the clock to strike at 12:00. Ash was made to look excited because I had whined and whined about this day for months now. I suspect she was glad that in minutes, all the drama would be over and she could go to sleep.

At 12:00, I blew out all the candles on my balcony, picked up my journal and began to write. I drew the number 16 sixteen times on a page before making a list of things I had to accomplish by the next birthday. I picked out my outfit for the next day. A new shirt, a new pair of jeans. I was convinced I would fall in love when I turned 16. And I did. Now that I look back, it is almost mysterious how by the time I had turned 17, I had a boyfriend and at 12:00 am on my 17th birthday, I didn’t do any of the things I did on my 16th. I waited a different kind of wait. A Nokia in my hands, blushing under the covers, I waited for him to call and since that night, I have always celebrated birthdays with regard to who remembers.

I sense now that I’m about to say things like it’s time I go back to being 16 again. While it’s true that some reflection should go that way, I am happy that my birthdays now aren’t all that self-indulgent. It’s the other days I am worried about. Those should probably be more self-indulgent.

 

Sitting and Stalking

The first few weeks after my post-graduation were spent sitting in an arm-chair, looking for jobs and streaming How I Met Your Mother. Two tabs for teaching vacancies, two for writing and two other tabs for stalking women’s blogs. I didn’t know this then but I think stalking women’s blogs made me want to have a writing life and made me see how independent the women who wrote were.

Two of my favourite women bloggers were on blogspot then and they had written extensively about their work and living alone. I gobbled up their archives in a day and was thirsty for more. I went looking for them online. I stalked friends of friends on facebook, googled their names and arrived at a set of conclusions. These women were employed, lived alone, liked to read, and wanted to become writers. They were part of writing and reading workshops, were in touch with each other and wrote motherfucking every day.

I was more envious than thrilled. I was only just coming to terms with my own desire to write and these women– some even younger than me, were a lot more accomplished. It was around this time that I got a job at an NGO in Mysore. After a lot of persuading, my parents agreed and I started to pack my life of 22 years into medium-sized suitcases. I packed tea mugs, all of my journals which needn’t be hidden anymore, my books that were waiting to be read after I had become an independent woman, and family albums, just in case I missed them (so many giggles)

When we got to Mysore, I realised that I hadn’t really given much thought to where I would be living my independent woman life. I hadn’t thought of accommodation. I assumed that a PG would come flying by to my rescue and I wouldn’t have to worry. Long story short- I didn’t find any accommodation that my parents approved of so I lived in a government guest house for three days before giving in to their emotional drama and eventually quitting. I cried and kicked all the way back to Bangalore. My theory is that all of my dad’s government car drivers know me better than my parents do. So many of my life’s tragedies have happened in these cars. They would look straight ahead and drive on sombrely, ignoring the hysterical and weepy woman sitting next to them. I wonder what they knew. I wonder if they judged my father.

Months later– sitting in Uttarahalli where I got my second job, I took my first step and started to blog. I had reached a dead-end. I was stalking all these women and becoming nervous and ambitious all at once. These bursts of energy only made me more jealous so I’d binge-watch Gilmore Girls and call it a day. Here I discovered a blogger who lived in Bangalore and went to college by day and wrote madly by night. I followed her writing very closely and that was the exact moment when ambition became inspiration. I wrote about watching Julie & Julia that day and went to bed a happy woman that night.

I continue to stalk women now. I turn to their writing for comfort when my own writing hits all levels of shit and my personal life hits all levels of madness. These women taught me how to be but they didn’t know that I was learning from them. Three years later I find that I have a writing life. It’s not the greatest but I’m sure that if the girl sitting in Uttarahalli knew this, she would be happy for herself.

It’s not easy to write. Especially not when I am sad but it’s the only thing that I can call mine and I trust it to make me feel better.

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.

Like J Law

I met a chubby girl today. I wish she becomes my best friend. She smells like rose powder and baby oil. Her hands are clean and her nails are neat and unpolished.  She is good at math and all the teachers like her very much. I hate my bag because it keeps falling off my shoulders and the books are all uneven when I open the bag. I spend a lot of time trying to arrange the books in my bag every night, the class works on one side, the text books on the other, the home works in the last partition. But when I open it next morning, the class works and home works are all jumbled and I can’t find most of the things. Her bag is better, it has only 2 partitions and all her books look evenly arranged when she opens them.

All the boys really like her a lot. I think I like her more than the boys do, because in the Games period they all run away to play Volley ball. She likes watching other girls playing badminton so I sit with her in the court and watch. She doesn’t realise how special she is, like Jennifer Lawrence. She also looks a bit like J Law. I don’t want to tell her that. She likes me because I don’t talk much. All the others ask her a lot of questions. ‘How are you so fair?’ ‘Do you really have your own room’? ‘Why do you get to school so early?’

When I told my mom about her, she said she drinks milk that’s why she is fair. I told her to give me two glasses everyday. One day, when they announced dictation test, I copied ‘fraternization’ from her. She looked at me and didn’t say anything. That scared me a lot. I have stopped looking into her book after that. I don’t know what she thinks of me. A week after that, Deepak told me to tell her that he likes her. I haven’t told this to her yet. Deepak’s friend is Balram. I really like Balram. I don’t know what to do. What if she likes both of them and they all become friends?

Between Hemingway and Wodehouse

His notebooks were always the same color, brown. And the pages were always handmade. Everytime he got a new one, he would draw his name out on the first page with a black pen, in big block letters. He always wrote with an ink pen. On his 15th birthday, his grandfather pulled him close to his lap, kissed him and gave him this pen. It was before he started to molest him. Everybody knew his grandfather molested him, he told them all. But nobody knew why he held on to that pen so closely and nobody asked.

He wrote short stories when he was happy. And like all great men, he wrote poetry when he was sad. Sometimes, when he couldn’t decide if he was happy or sad, he would go to sleep, even though he wanted very much to write. He liked Hemingway, sometimes more than he liked Wodehouse. His family had taught him to love Wodehouse. He learnt how to read Wodehouse but he didn’t quite grow to be inspired by him, like every other male member in his family.

He found Hemingway in his grandfather’s library one afternoon after they all went to nap. He rummaged through old yet sprightly and clean bookshelves for something other than a picture of cartoon people on the front cover. Trouble with Wodehouse was even though he was funny and everything, it wouldn’t make him laugh.

He found an unmarked copy of short stories by Hemingway. All the other books that he read from his grandfather’s library had all sorts of markings on them. This one was clean, untouched, new even. It looked removed from everything else around it. He grew curious. He wasn’t allowed in his grandfather’s study but nobody would know now so he tiptoed into the study, sat on the comforter and began a life long affair with Hemingway.

He would return to this moment often, when he thought about the big old house and its fresh cobwebs, his grandfather behind his big black armada glasses and that godawful Grinch like smile. When his grandfather died, he locked himself up in the study and went though all his grandfather’s papers and journals. He didn’t know what he was looking for, a sign of remorse perhaps? A hastily written ‘I am sorry’ somewhere?, a letter written for him to be opened and read silently after he had passed?

He found nothing except some really yellow photographs of his wedding day and honeymoon and some from his days at the university. By evening he had grown tired of not knowing what he was looking for so he settled down with his Hemingway on the comforter by the fireplace.

He couldn’t read and gave up soon. He curled further back into the comforter and looked at his grandfather’s life size portrait. It must have been a fairly recent one. He looked closely at his wrinkles which spread like little roots etching out of the corner of his eyes. That broad forehead with its legendary mole sitting sharply, like it still lived, after the face had gone, and its body now rotting. He kept looking at the mole until the mole itself became the focus of his eyes, sieving his attention from the competing thick eyebrows which were now beginning to appear now that his vision was back.

He stood up and faced the portrait. Looking, searching, breathing. His hand in his pocket, twirling the lighter around. After a minute his eyes softened and he let go. His throat was beginning to feel heavy. He looked down and rearranged his feet. They were now neatly parallel to the tiles. He picked up his jacket and waited by the door to bid a proper farewell. He needed to keep this vision alive for as long as he would postpone writing about his grandfather. Now was the time. A gentle rustle of wind lifted itself between the door now shut tight and the window. Outside, he got on his bike and rode into the darkness.

He would go back to his apartment and write his grandfather’s obituary along with some other things his journal had been waiting for.

C – Comfort

When I wrote in my journal, which was quite often when I was 16, I didn’t really need to have a sense of comfort to be able to write. I could write when I was mad, hurt, and happy as hell. I could rant for pages together and not worry about how it reads.

Blogging doesn’t allow me this liberty of comfort. I am mad at the world today and there are a hundred odd things I want to say but I cannot because then everybody will know I am a dumbfuck. That’s the only thing I really miss about writing in my journal. Only I knew that I was being a dumbfuck when I wrote in one of my fuck you sprees. Here, I have to watch what I say, make sure I don’t bitch much, avoid using too many exclamation marks: something that I exploited to a point of embarrassment in my journals. I kid you not, I cannot read my journal today without erasing a hundred emoticons and cursing my parents for having made me.

Clearly, blogging disciplines you in a way that even regular journal writing cannot. In this part of the world I am accountable for the metaphors I use, for the tragedies I weave and the drama that I miserably push. Back in my older world, metaphors were always found in Meg Cabot/ Judy Blume books or worse copied from them.Tragedies were an everyday drama and took up space like it was its grandfather’s house. Blogging screws with your comfort in ways that will only make you better at swearing, if nothing and eventually, writing, hopefully.

I am glad I blog. I am happy about the A- Z challenge. I am not sure if it has made me a better writer, but I am certainly happier and far more disciplined a writer. See? No exclamations. 

H – High and Highway

If my life had a sound track right now, it would play that sad-funny tune when Mario is bitten by the vicious-cute turtles. Or like Mappy when it is killed by kittens. I can only think of soundtracks in video games. Because these tracks imitate exactly how I feel right now. My face now looks just like Mario’s when he dies and goes down. Never mind, I am writing this to feel better. I feel screwed from all directions.

I don’t know how I got here. When I think about how I got here, all I see are trees passing me by like they do when I travel. Like when I reach the destination and think of my journey, I can only remember roads and their roughness, their curves and turns, the trees and their bigness, some old women’s faces, their wrinkles and their lives passing me by in a moment. Like how in the movie Highway, she retraces her journey back to what can never be hers and all she remembers are the roads and trees and misses having seen them with him.

I am lost today. Everything at work is going slow, like how on highways sometimes you slow down because you are unsure about the road you are driving on? Have 2 classes today. Need to be wildly prepared for one but mother fucking roads are all I can think of now. Freud says this means I need to take off and be with myself for sometime.

Argh! I can slowly see my blog turning into one of my pathetic journals. Need to stop it before it’s too late. I should write more short stories and read them later and beat my chest. That is some consolation. At least I am not moaning when I write bad fiction. I am only beating my chest and that stops soon after nice colleagues hug me and tell me nice things.

Only Elaichi tea can save me now. Baaah!