On & Off

After a devastating performance in class yesterday, I walked back to the department feeling unfamiliar pangs of guiltless-ness. A year ago, a bad class would have destroyed my inner peace and haunted the rest of my week. I’d find it very difficult to forgive myself. I am only now learning to let go. And this is very liberating because I know I will soon go back to the class and reclaim what I think I lost.

I am missing Delhi. I tell myself that I’d be restless there after three days. I tell myself that sometimes cities can show you their face only for two days and after that, they have nothing more to offer. Even so, when I was at the airport, boarding my flight back to Bangalore, there was a large Delhi-shaped emptiness that kept growing.

Delhi has always been scary. I still can’t bring myself to believe that on my first day there, I took myself out and plunged into the heart of the city with a rebellion I assumed only my parents could inspire in me. I took the metro and got lost, took the cycle-rickshaw and nearly died, walked from Daryaganj to Chawri Bazaar and didn’t have to punch anybody in the face.

On my last day there, a woman asked for my help with directions, and another woman asked me if I took the metro everyday. When I shamelessly said yes, she told me she was lost and I gave her the right directions. I can see myself living there and working there. This is enough imagination to sustain me for weeks.

Every time I explore a city alone, I find a piece of myself that I didn’t know was lost. This has been both gratifying and confusing to deal with.

In class today, we talked about Chaucer and writing. All the shattered selves from yesterday came back in silent prayer. With every passing day, my capacity to read is becoming increasingly demanding. One evening last week, I had a quiet affair with Habibi and got lost in its illustrations and story. We all had a lot to say about it at The Reading Room. Current read is Siddalingaiah’s ‘A Word With You, World’, which has been tempting me to return to my half-finished caste piece.

It is comforting to read Siddalingaiah. I wish I’d read the book last year, which may have been a time when I needed it the most. His stories remind me of my father’s childhood – they loom in the background and are told in a soothing voice. Never preachy nor patronizing, they reveal more than what I assume they can hold.

This has been my week – Habibi, Delhi, Metro, Chaucer, and Siddalingaiah.

White Town

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Pondicherry

Day One – 9/10/16

At the bus stand in Majestic last night, a boy stood with karpura, agarbatti and a coconut in front of a Greenline bus. The Phoren woman next to me panicked a bit and asked her friend what he was going to do with it. Before the friend could answer, the coconut had been smashed to pieces on the concrete, bits and pieces flying everywhere.  We all held our breaths for a while and watched as the Karpura burnt a brilliant orange first before dying out a nice, warm yellow. The man on my right said that he was relieved it was not his bus. The Phoren woman smiled but looked unconvinced. I think she wanted to go in that bus.

Sleeper buses can be fun. As long as there are no crying babies aboard. As it turns out, I did have a crying baby in the berth next to mine and an irritating girl in the berth above who listened to some asinine music on speakers –full volume that too. I did the only thing I saw fit. I fished out my phone and played some equally asinine music on loud. She persisted and I kept increasing the volume on my phone. I was a little disappointed though. Nobody complained. Eventually, her song got over and bitch went to sleep.  When I woke, Pondicherry was slowly coming to its morning outside my window. I saw the sun first and then the dry bits of land and then the sudden uprisings of sugarcane.

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***

My room wasn’t ready yet. So I walked into Café Des Art.  I’d just had a remarkable morning. My body has timed itself to a 6:20 defecation mode.  So as soon as I got off the bus, I ran into JIPMER and hounded people to show me the way to the toilet.

At Café Des Art, I went to the toilet to cleanse off remnants of a bad stomach morning and walked in on a poor white man who raised himself off the commode when he saw me. I ran away quickly even as he chanted numerous apologies. I spent the remainder of my time at the café hiding from the man.

***

I read Kundera and drank chai. M once told me that he can never finish reading a Kundera because Kundera says things that require one to put the book down and think. And sometimes, there’s no end to this thinking.

This is true.

Nothing absorbs a human being more completely than jealousy. When Kamila lost her mother a year earlier, it was certainly an event more tragic than one of her husband’s escapades. And yet the death of her mother, whom she loved immensely, caused her less pain. The pain of her grief was benignly multicoloured- there was sadness in it, and longing, emotion, even a serene smile.  The pain was benignly dispersed in all directions. Kaila’s thoughts rebounded from her mother’s coffin and flew off toward memories, toward her own childhood, they flew off toward dozens of practical concerns, they flew off toward the future, which was wide open and where, as consolation, her husband’s figure stood outlined.

The pain of jealousy on the contrary, did not move about in space, it turned like a drill on a single point. There was no dispersal. If her mother’s death had opened the door to a future, the suffering caused by her husband’s infidelity opened no future at all. Everything was concentrated on a single image.

***

White Town is very quiet through the day. The houses are painted a polished, translucent white and the compounds are all yellow with patches of dirt. The doors are occasionally green but mostly they are white. Like from a Marquez novel, White Town and its people siesta in the noon.

The dogs hardly bark and just laze and nap on the steps. Most of the buildings have been pulled down and their ghosts collect themselves in heaps of powdery white cement. When I crashed and woke up well after noon, lunch was over in Pondicherry. Even my own guest house had closed their kitchen. Only one Madame Shanthe’s was open and let me in. I ordered fish but they gave me meat that tasted suspiciously like chicken. I ate anyway, paid and set off.

***

Travelling Solo was a lot more exciting when I did it that one time – the first time. Now that I know I can travel alone, it has become a lot less rebellious and more affected by dreary every day-ness.

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I came here for quiet, for time-off, for roaming empty streets in the middle of the night without having to worry about home or the next day. All of that remains. But there is a gnawing restlessness. While being by myself is always exciting, there’s just too much pressure to have an incredibly perfect trip. To wear the most comfortable clothes, to walk around aimlessly in shoes that don’t bite, to not have the hot weather bother you, to be lucky enough to eat only good food and to somehow manage to find time to do everything.

My room is matchbox sized with only the one window that opens to the backyard and to the direct view of everybody who is in the backyard. That’s why I keep the curtains drawn all the time, therefore endangering the only source of light. A dim yellow bulb hangs over the bed and this depresses me a lot. For the first time, I unpack haphazardly. I leave the bag on the floor, clothes strewn about. My tooth brush and paste are still in the bag and I am a little hurt by how unbothered I am by all of this.

If being unbothered by one’s capacity for alone-ness is growing up then I must say, I don’t like growing up so much.

***

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I walk for a while after lunch and start looking for a place to drink. I find Le Dupleix and occupy a corner table. I order beer because everything else is too bloody expensive. My beer comes with a bowl of crackers and I start writing. I am unfazed by tone, faithfulness to truth and other things that usually keep me away from writing. I stop at 5:30 and head towards the beach.

There is a crowd that is slowly gathering by the beach. People seat themselves in all kinds of positions atop the big black stones that line the beach. I choose a spot and around me are three families. In the farthest corner is a group of young people — the three boys are sitting on the topmost stones, and the girls are sitting in the gaps between the boys’ legs. One of the boys snatches away a sea shell that the girl was holding. He passes it to another boy and they watch as the girl screams and tells them to give it back. The boy swings the shell back and pretends to throw it into the ocean; the girl holds her breath and then breaks into a smile. She takes the shell back and resumes her position again.

On my left is a smaller group. A toddler who is balancing himself on one of the stones, his mother and aunt watching over him, a middle-aged man – his back to the ocean watching his son. In front of me, a small boy blows bubbles from one of those bottled liquid soap things. It has changed from the time I remember it. It doesn’t come with the tiny straw or the steel loop attached to it anymore. The cover of the bottle has a yellow plastic loop. The boy holds it high and waits for the wind coming from the ocean to blow bubbles. The wind must have been strong because the bubbles are big and are carried away to the other side. The toddler squeals with joy everytime the bubbles sit on his face and burst. His parents watch him longingly, pleased.

***

My restlessness seems to get worse when I am at dinner, which is Pina Colada and fish. The food is depressing but Kundera keeps my spirits up and running. I walk back to my room in a hurry. For some reason, I can never bring myself to stay out late in strange towns. When I am back, I tidy up, take a quick hot shower and lie awake for a long time.

At the beach, there was a woman who was taking pictures of her daughter and her toddler son. The daughter was sulking and the son was playing with the sand. After a while, the woman showed her daughter a picture she’d just taken and said, ‘You just want to spoil all the pictures no? You only pose when you want to pose. Just like your father’

***

A Room of her own

In The Ugly Truth, Abby hides in a closet because Mike is stealing her show and being a sexist asspan. But she has to be ok with it — her show is getting massive TRP’s and as producer of the show, she has to swallow her pride and allow the patronizing man colleague to run it.

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Picture courtesy aceshowbiz.com

In No Reservations, Kate goes to the cold storage room every time Nick is threatening to take over her job. Suddenly Nick is everywhere. He is telling her how great she is at her work, he is irritatingly charming in a way that we are told we will learn to love, just give it time, and he is even a better mother to Zoey. Kate’s daily ritual of returning home to find it quiet and empty is ruined one evening when she realises that she hasn’t picked up Zoey from school.

You have seen her in the cold storage room before. She goes there when her sister dies, and when she feels like her life is being taken over by other people – sometimes by Zoey, and often by Nick.

‘This place is my life’, she says.

‘No, it’s not. It’s a part of your life, Kate. This isn’t who you are’

After teaching her who she is, Nick quits his job as Sous-chef and walks out– but not before telling her that he was offered her job. Later that night when she returns home, he has left her a message.

‘And btw—I turned down the offer’

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Picture courtesy aceshowbiz.com

In Wake up Sid, Aisha has nowhere to hide when her boss tells her to make coffee again. Her face falls as she quietly withdraws the hand that held the first draft of her story. Her home is hijacked by Sid whose things are all over the place. So where does she go when she needs a break from her own house? The bathroom.

When she decorates her house, Aisha paints the wall a nice, mustard yellow; her bedspread faces the big window with white curtains.

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Pic courtesy pinterest.com
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Pic courtesy polkacafe.com

In Alai Payuthey, we are shown what Shakthi’s home is like at 8:00 in the morning. Sitting at the dining table, wearing a yellow chudidar and studying for a medical exam, Shakthi is fighting because her mother has made upma again. Her mother is irritated because Shakthi’s hair is dishevelled and not neat, like her sister’s. Late in the night, in their room, Shakthi and her sister talk about the boy who has been stalking Shakthi. Shakthi is not thrilled and shushes at her sister to sleep.

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Pic courtesy setbyus.com

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After the boy and Shakthi are married, they live in a house that is still under construction and make it nice and cosy. A yellow bed sheet is thrown on a tiny bed; brown jute curtains are drawn, a gas stove sits in the kitchen. Days pass by and their clothes are strewn about, Shakthi’s used bindis dot the only mirror they own, a basketball sits on the floor, and they have their own worktables.

When she is late one day, he doesn’t have the keys to get in so he sits outside, waiting for her, sulking. When she comes, they fight. Their home has never looked so intimate. Shakthi circles a day off on a calendar that is hanging on a brick wall.

‘One for every day that we fight. Proof to show how difficult running a marriage is.’

In Bommarillu, Hasini takes Siddu out for coffee to a shop called Minerva. When he asks her where Minerva is, she says Secunderabad. Siddu is partly afraid, partly in awe but he agrees to go anyway because he isn’t used to taking a bus to another city to have coffee. As it turns out, Minerva is a dingy old shop run by a Muslim man named Sultan Bhai.

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Pic courtesy booksmoviesandbeyond.blogspot.co

In Minerva, Sultan Bhai and Hasini beti chit chat about cricket. She almost forgets to introduce Sultan Bhai to her ‘guest.’ Siddu looks at all of this wide-mouthed and maybe a little disgusted as Hasini proceeds to tell Sultan Bhai to give them two coffees. Special, she says and Sultan Bhai orders the boys to clean the cups.

Later in the movie, when they know they are falling in love with each other, Siddu tells her not to go out late in the night to eat ice cream anymore.

In The Holiday, Iris returns to an empty home every night and when she leaves her city to find herself, she finds a man. When Amanda escapes to get over her break-up, she finds love again in the same home that Iris left – a man to complete a home, a man to complete themselves.

Iris cries. Amanda doesn’t.

Iris’s home is small. It’s called Rosehill Cottage. She sits at her table one night and cries her lungs out. The man she loves is getting engaged. Her dog looks sympathetic and bored. She makes tea. On the table is a Sony laptop, a packet of tissues and a mug.

All these spaces, all these women who make these spaces their own and then when they are taken away, they hide or escape to closets and bathrooms and make rooms of their own.

What they told me

Living alone is a skill, like running long distance or programming old computers. You have to know parameters, protocols. You have to learn them so well that they become like a language: to have music always so that the silence doesn’t overwhelm you, to perform your work exquisitely well so that your time is filled. You have to allow yourself to open up until you are the exact size of the place you live, no more or else you get restless. No less, or else you drown. There are rules; there are ways of being and not being.                                                 ~ Catherynne M. Valente, Palimpsest

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Pic courtesy The Daily Mail

Somebody shared this on Facebook and I died. Even though I have never lived alone, it’s what I think about – at least once every day. Two months ago, I did a bit of research to find out what women think they need to do to become/feel independent. This is what a few of my favourite women from 2015 had to say:

NV:

  • Live alone
  • Travel alone
  • Walk alone
  • Masturbate
  • Cut men down to size
  • Say the words Vagina and Clit in public

NM: Learn to cook

SR:

  • Flip water-cans
  • Develop a tolerance for loneliness
  • Buy Condoms

ZG: Live alone

IA:

  • Read
  • Travel
  • Have a hobby

SA:

  • Save money
  • Eat/drink alone

I keep borrowing the final image of my living alone from movies. Konkona Sen from Wake up Sid! Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz from The Holiday are the absolutest. What continues to be the deal-maker however is this quote:

Then there’s the deep contentment of turning the key in your own front door on a Friday night, slamming it behind you, pouring a glass of wine and settling down to watch a favourite movie.

I found the quote here.

Lately, I’ve been feeling that the older I grow, the farther the dream seems. My fears grow horns on their own when I travel with my family. And really really scary horns. Like I start feeling I will somehow be pushed into their dreams and when that happens, I’ll be too paralyzed to do anything about it.

I want to say I haven’t made any resolutions but nobody will believe me. Not even my blog. It may just delete itself off if I lie to it on it. So maybe resolution number one should be to stop traveling with the family.

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.

 

On my 27th Birthday

I’m afraid I must write this quickly — before I get used to this, before Hyderabad and its roads, EFLU and its trees, its quiet corners become so remarkable that I cannot write about them anymore. So here goes.

At the pre-paid taxi kiosk in Hyderabad airport, the man with the lisp said eeeflu and corrected my efflu when I told him where I wanted to go. I took my slip and waited calmly near Healthy Bites. Goa has done me good, I thought. I started counting the number of ways I could get raped in only after I climbed into 4417 – my ride for the evening. But I stopped thinking about it because I was distracted by the driver’s good looks. When we left the airport, he was on his phone, arguing with his friend to book movie tickets at the PVR in Banjara Hills. I focused all my energy into paying attention to his delicious Telugu. I forgot Allu Arjun, I forgot Arundhati and I remembered how much I love listening to Telugu. Even the empty, stretching highway in the midst of nothingness and the occasional tall building couldn’t distract me. I continued to listen, praying he wouldn’t stop talking.

Within minutes, they had settled their ticket issue and he went back to driving and I went back to being the dog I become when I sit by the window.

A cracker burst somewhere and I saw the orange and the blue throwing their arms open in the air before falling down into a million little arms, and then dissolving into blackness.

I saw actor Nagarjuna on a billboard advertising Kalyan or some such jewellers and wondered how often he saw himself. Later, I imagined him in the back of his long, black car, returning from shooting abroad, sitting a little apart from his wife with nothing but 20 years of marriage in between them, mumbling something to her in the way Telugu men do — their lips barely moving and the words etching out of the corners of their mouth and forming little shapes of clouds and bells.

Little by little I saw Hyderabad from the window. The last time I came here, dad took us to Ramoji Film City, Charminar, and Golconda Fort. Everytime the guide who was showing us around called me Shahzaadi, my dad looked like he wanted to throw something at him.

What I saw tonight is a Hyderabad I didn’t see then or didn’t think to see then. Tonight I saw Hyderabad growing dramatically outside the airport into its Bawarchis and the Mustafa Sweet shops, and its Dulquer Biryani Take Aways. Then I saw it shrinking before we reached Secunderabad in its little Bata shops, and its charming Urdu on the walls. I watched with envy as the driver took sharp turns, avoiding a dozen dividers. The streets were quiet and the shops were busy. There were no addresses written on the shop boards. But then I saw Lakdikapool and remembered the big lake dad took us boating to.

When I entered EFLU, I knew I would like it immediately. N cursed when I told her how beautiful the campus is. She said that when she studied here, the campus was greener and freer.

My red bag, safely tucked under my right arm, I parted with the good looking driver. I saw students walking along the length of the narrow road, singing. I saw a girl laughing with a group of boys, I saw two North-eastern girls standing outside their hostels, wearing knee-length nighties, hugging their friends goodbye. As I made my way into Amrita Pritam Hostel for Women, I glanced at the notice board. One flyer announced the advancement of a Phonetics class. Another said ‘Students to be in their hostels by 11:00 PM’

I let out a silent whoppee and imagined studying here. I had picked out the classes I would take in 5 min, and had prepared my daily schedule in ten. In the lift, I made small talk with the warden. She looked happy when I told her I was from Bangalore. The lift opened and she took me to my room. The walls were white and the marble floor looked wider and brighter because of all the tube lights. She handed me my keys and I made friends with the blue key chain that said ROOM 223.

In the room , there are two tables and I pick the table closest to the balcony, obviously. I throw my bag on the bed, and check out the rest of the room. I already know which the geyser switch is and which lock on my door doesn’t work. I know that my side of the bed has a book shelf on top, which I am already learning to mind when I rise to get up. I am not even thinking about the roommate I may have to make polite conversation with tomorrow.

Sitting here, my legs stretched out, my laptop plugged to the socket on my left; I am already growing used to the noise the Maroon LG fridge is making in the corner.

When I told S and I about this on Whatsapp, I used more exclamations than I have in the past two years.

 

Stupid Vacations

None of my friendships have sustained my growing detachment from myself. They were all headed for their regular doom right from the day they began. My first few friendships suffered because they got miserably entwined with my personal life, it was a world I liked to have kept separate and I should have. The next set of friendships suffered because I kept them far away from any of my other lives.

The only friendships that seemed to have survived were the ones that were left alone to grow. I like these. They aren’t bound by meeting regularly or time or the kind of information you give them and its proportions. They sustain over a period of time because of willing conversations. That is probably the only kind of relationship I am capable of today. They don’t hamper the necessity that space seems to have become for me. And for some reason I grow fonder of my space when there are too many people around it. Closeness has started to scare me. The lack of energy or interest to invest in new relationships isn’t the only reason why I seem to be running away from it. There is also this lazy comfort I have grown used to. It’s the slowness of a routine that I like when there aren’t any people around.

From previous lessons learnt, I have grown suspicious of how much of ourselves we allow the world to see. Before long you begin to wonder what the world is going to do with all that information. And how much of your self are you ever going to put through the test of friendship after being bitten thrice and more? I have never been one to learn from the experience of once bitten, twice shy. For all that cocky talk of space and boundaries, I am still a little child who wonders if people become best friends after spending a lot of time together. Maybe that’s what scares me, the fact that I am a little child who cowers in temptation to let go but does not.

Maybe I am just a prick who takes herself way too seriously because vacations have begun and I am jobless and Sarah Waters is not calling me like she used to. Pah.