Writing. What else?

It’s one of those evenings. After a heavy and splendid lunch at Rayalseema Ruchulu, I got under the covers and watched season 5 of Gilmore Girls. Three hours later, my stomach wants more food. In the kitchen I find two varieties of Dal, one with garlic and one without. I pour them both on the mountain -rice on my plate and head upstairs to point out more similarities between my parents and Richard – Emily.

Four episodes down, Gilmore Girls plays in the background while I am stalking writers on Facebook. Found a video. Creative Breakthroughs, it was called. I paused GG and played the video. It was Ta- Nehisi Coates explaining why writing is an act of physical courage.

For a moment I wondered if he was going to talk about pleasure more than struggle in writing; inordinately making me feel that I got it all wrong from the beginning. That there really is pleasure and if one doesn’t find it maybe one should stop writing. But he spoke of struggle. He spoke of translating the music in the head to sensible words on paper, and how disappointing it can be to find that what you think of as a writer-dreamer does not write that easily and certainly does not read easily.

When I became a more or less regular blogger, I remember thinking how easy it was to write everyday. I wondered why it had taken me so long to start writing. And then I heard the whispers. People talking, hissing mean little things. In all fairness, there were people saying nice things too. But I found it hard to believe them. It was the whisperers that I had more faith in.

I went back to the earlier episodes I had had with writing, as a hot-blooded teenager. I had found a quote that I used to think best suited writing. You sit in front of a typewriter and open a vein. Over the years it became many things, not just vein. Then came a point in my life when I threw cynicism at that quote and every other quote I found. That the process sucks, but when it’s done, it’s beautiful. Bollocks.

I haven’t stopped writing. Haters gonna hate, potatoes gonna potate isn’t just a kick-ass whatsapp status.

Thiruvananthapuram

Traveling with the family has always been a messy affair for me. Dad has unhindered access to me and what I wear and what I eat and how I live; the comments ensue, the match begins. But this happens only now, although oddly enough it seems like there’s a history that’s older than me when I think of all the disagreements we have had. Our travel sprees were a lot different when I was younger. And so were the disagreements.

Back then, I must have been crouching in the back seat, playing referee to the two voices in my head – one his, one mine; making them disagree. In short, waiting to grow up so I didn’t have to travel with them to temples and other violent places children should never be taken to. 

Traveling all of South India with a joint family in a matador will therefore only remain a blur that I accidentally found while groping in the dark, looking for something else. Somebody mentions a beach, a temple or a hotel and I find myself donning my best cat behavior trying to locate the blur in my memory, now whizzing like a housefly to be caught, an answer to be found, a page to be filled up.

We covered the temple cities in less than 4 days, stopping very briefly at Trivandrum, which until last year I firmly believed I had never seen. Last November, I discovered the blur in my memory that was Trivandrum and everything did not come rushing back as I had hoped it would. It took me a while to realise that I was seeing 2 versions of a city. One of which is imposed on you by temple going freak shows in the family who turn a blind eye to everything else the city offers. The other is when you catch a passing glimpse of yourself, in a moving vehicle, a showroom, a granite wall, and you smile in whispers and curse your family, when you are out exploring the city all by yourself.

I saw myself, away from home, away from temple people, away from the prying eyes of my father, wearing shorts, carrying nothing but a little bag and waiting to be lost. I walked around the hotel, smiled at all the slopes, coconut trees and little brick homes that gave me all kinds of Mangalore flashbacks. I took random turns, and found out that it is not easy to get lost in this city. Either that or I was too scared to go all the way out and be lost. 

At the turn of every corner, I smelled fish curry and coconut oil, a smell that I shamelessly associate Trivandrum with even today. The city made me see and feed the small foodie I was beginning to take note of in me. It outperformed the beach person that I was throughout my life.

I gorged on idiyappams and Kerala chicken curry in Statue hotel, downed jars of Pankaj Island Ice Tea, scooped chemmen fry with mounds of red rice and fish curry at Mubarak, judged soggy bits of meen pollichathu and forced its taste to match with the taste I thought it ought to have had, wolfed down puttu and prawn curry at Black pepper, all the while trying hard to drown the voices and faces of my part mallu-part mangy mother and her relatives. I could hear them echo loudly behind me. ‘Ti amgel vari khaoche’ – ‘She eats like us’.

Trivandrum’s streets are a marvel in themselves. An India coffee house, that looks like the leaning tower of pisa parked hazily around buses and bikes comes zooming back when I try to retrace my tour around the city. The buses looked easy to climb into unlike the whistling, red ones in Bangalore that are hostile bloody dynamites. At the far end of the street that I call Trivandrum is a little place that serves Biryani chaya – butter beer if I may. At the risk of getting kicked, I am going to say, drink it to know it. 

So when I go to Trivandrum, it is also to devour the best rice and kerala fish curry in the name of all that is fancy at Hotel Villa Maya, which, true to its name stands tall and quiet; unknowing of the city bustling all around it. I am no food expert but the food there is both sleep-inducing and exploding with taste.

This is how I remember Trivandrum, in its streets and food, in its friendly looking buses and pankaj island ice tea, but surprisingly very little in its beaches. However, nothing screams more Trivandrum than that familiar smell of fish curry and coconut oil when I check into its hotel. 

The Parisian Cafe

Yesterday at PC, an English something woman came by to meet 2 other English something old women. Something about women my grandmother’s age speaking English makes me sit up in my seat and gawk at them. So I was gawking and soon I started barfing because one of them was groping dog to make him sit next to her. She pestered him to ‘sit’ and shake hands. Poor dog later toddled its way next to me and spent the rest of the evening under the table trying to escape evil groping grandma.

This place is what helps me put my sanity back after mad days at work.  I love these initial few days when the place is beginning to open up to me but the people in it aren’t familiar yet so they won’t smile. Not even the waiter who brings me my coffee smiles. I must learn how to fucking tip properly first. I have this crazy need to make friends with the waiter just so it all fits an image in my head, for writing’s sake at least. I wish we become best friends or he becomes somebody who will miss me if I don’t turn up someday.

I see lots of stories here. There’s an 11 year old little boy who sells tea to all the watchmen and the Istri walas and the Raddi walas. Sometimes, I forget my book and listen to him glide around the neighbourhood, selling tea, striking up easy conversations with everybody. He is really sweet to you if you don’t owe him money. He won’t give you any tea if you haven’t paid him for the last two teas. How do I know this? Evil bastard will shout out to the entire neighbourhood about who owes him money and who doesn’t. A trick he’s learnt to make sure he doesn’t get blackmailed by nicely talking watchmen who sometimes catch hold of him and eventually get that cup of tea.

Cops do their regular rounds now and then, picking up cars and bikes parked in no parking areas, looking absolutely alert and waving to somebody occasionally, nodding to most others, looking carefully for signs of drug abuse in youngsters standing near pc.

A bunch of working men come by around the time I go. They chat up on a range of interesting things. They talk about all the happening places in Bangalore, why Plan B is the best option for anybody with little money to spend on Booze, on Sonia Gandhi and why she doesn’t deserve to die, on dog and how friendly he is, and on girlfriends who were supposed to have come by now.

Much as I look forward to seeing all of this, I love those other really rare days when I am getting epiphany after epiphany, when I make great, life altering plans and decisions, when I discover the bestest short story ever written, when I hit upon something to write about, when I eavesdrop on a conversation that has left me with giggles which will come bursting out only after I make a quick exit.

Then there are days when I feel betrayed because nothing any of these other people do in their lives will arouse me so I sit there cursing everybody and their uninteresting lives and mine. I am not fond of those days. They make me question everything that has kept me happy for a long time.

What day will it be at PC today?