Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The Minister and the Minstrel

What have you done to me? The hundred paces to my bejeweled harem, seem laborious, but the hundred furlongs to my minister's, I can cross in a heartbeat. Is she what they call a witch? In her black robes, with the knowledge of the world and wars, and the brightness in her eyes of a thousand suns, that's the light which beckons more than the oil of the night. She tells me stories of Byzantine to Ottoman, and how the wars were won. She tells me of the Greeks before Constantinopole, and of ancient times when the Thracians ruled Lygos. Of the change of guard over centuries and how it couldn't spill blood on the pristine Morning Glory that grow near the Aegean Sea. The lamp of Memorah never dies, she said, and I find myself walking toward her quarters, located at the edge of my desert. I had asked her to move in to my palace, but she wanted to stay away. I offered her guards, but she drew her sword instead, blinding me in its glint.
The eunuchs guard my harem and their shadows look menacing in the flickering light. They guard, they pleasure my queens in my absence. But I don't care. I want my Nisa. Of placing my throat at the tip of her sword, of looking up into her light eyes in total surrender. What has the Sultan come to?
The minstrel, with her soulful voice, sings songs of love in her saffron. She is something of a Hindu sufi, and calls herself Megh Baul. Sonargaon is all she said when prodded about where she is from. Like a raincloud, her songs tease the acres of barrenness in my kingdom. I bathe her in rosewater and milk, but the redolence of the wilderness persists. One day, like camphor, she dissolves.
"O paran, tomar majhe ashi
Chhere sobuj sonargaon
Sonar morur pashi
Morey jete na dao, dhoira rakho
tomay bhalobashi..."
Yes, I won't let you go, but where are you? I am torn now, between the empty court at night, vivid with memories of Megh, and the walk to Nisa's. With one last longing look at the palace, I walk to the edge of the desert.
One will win, as is the nature of things, wild. Nisa's light eyes have a strange sparkle. A fear grips me as I hear her say "I have sent your poet to be with her god, Sultan."
I slump to her bed. The strain of a distant song wafts in.
A Hazara child is walking home, humming to himself "jetey na dao, dhoira rakho..."

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Mahalaya and Saptami (two stories)

In front of our house was a row of yellow and red company quarters. Our row and their row met at the end of the street, giving us a triangular field in between. This triangular strip of land served as our football, hockey, and cricket field. Every Sunday we used to abandon our books around 10.00 and run to the field to play in the sun. We had heard of the hole in the ozone layer in the southern hemisphere, but that wasn’t a deterrent. We had melanin and adrenaline to keep us going in the sun. Our mothers started calling from around 12.00 noon, but the games went on till about 1.00 in the afternoon. My mom would come and stand at the door, waiting to catch my eye, and then silently go inside.

A few days before the Durga Pujo celebrations in October, came this special day called Mahalaya. Early in the morning my dad would switch on the radio and listen to the voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra welcoming the goddess and asking her to come down to earth for four days. It was the most beautiful chant, and our entire field outside resonated with the sound emanating from the radios in all the houses. One morning I went out to sit in the field and listen to it coming from everywhere, all around me. It was a magical surround sound experience. If I have an AV room someday, I will make it triangular, I thought.

Mine being an atheist home, the significance of the chant was restricted to the love for the man who sang it, and although the other kids would not have to touch their books today, I would have to finish my homework before the games began at 10.00. Whereas on other Sundays and holidays I would eagerly finish my studies before the field beckoned, studying on the day of the Mahalaya remains in my memory as particularly painful, as tears would well up and the words in the books would go hazy.
But that marked the beginning of the celebrations for the next ten days. We would discuss our new clothes and the latest fashion, chalk out the pandal visits, plan to meet friends at appointed hours, and everybody seemed to be smiling. How much pocket money will we get, was the question on every boy’s mind. Egg rolls at the Newton pujo were legendary.

It is Mahalaya today, and being outside Bengal, it has lost its significance to me now. I still have to come to work, and my son has no idea of what it meant to us as children. That was a day when everything was allowed. Don’t want to study? Okay. Don’t want to do the dishes? Okay. Want to have luchi? Okay. And payesh too? Okay. Want to try out your new clothes in front of the mirror? Okay. The excitement of trying out new clothes isn’t there anymore, and life is the same as it is on any other day.
"But, shouldn’t there be an exception to the rule?" Saya asked.

"Let it be sugar in the tea today then, instead of sugarfree."
“So, tell me about Pujo - what happened then?” Saya asked, sipping her sugared tea. It was the morning of Mahalaya, and we'd decided that work could wait, for a bit. “Tell me", she prodded.
Oh, so much happened. All the action was around Newton, Einstein, Vivekananda, and Aurobindo. “What now", she said knitting her brows, "make sense now". I was at the risk of losing my only audience. Not people, places. In Durgapur, avenues and roads are named after everyone who is a someone; Tolstoy to Guevara. Okay, I kid you, not Guevara. There is a markedly large number of men, dominating road names, I accept. Though this would be an interesting topic, for a debate, I must'n’t digress.

Most of the Pujo action was centered around Newton Avenue, where we had a carnival of sorts around the main dais. After the Mahalaya, the days passed quicker than ever and as Saptami approached, we were gripped by a frenzy of expectations. It was mostly about food, clothes, and not having to study, as I told you.

“And girls? Isn’t that the primary thing for boys during the Durga Pujo? To ogle at all the beautiful girls and flirt with them?”

I ignored her question and continued. When I was 14, egg rolls were about Rs 4.00 each and chicken around Rs 6.00. The pocket money we got during the pujo was around Rs 30 for the three days, which was enough. Nobody asked for the change back, and you could spend all your money on day 1, if you were living for the moment.

At Newton, on Saptami, I had worn a dhoti for the first time in my life, just for the effect. It was a cumbersome silk cloth draped around my waist and made walking rather uncomfortable. My dad made me wear my football shorts underneath, in case of an emergency. Sankar kept shouting at the public in general “hey, everybody, here’s a groom in the market for you, here’s a grooooom, any takers?”
The joke was on me; I was blushing all through the evening and the kurta already got soiled, and they were playing “Meri Biwi Maike Chali Gayee” on the loudspeaker. Suddenly someone changed the song to Tagore’s “Arjun, tumi Arjun.” Before I knew it, a girl broke out of the crowd and started dancing in front of the pandal. Dancing to the song, as Arjuna the warrior.

"Oh yes, that's from Chitrangada. That's a beautiful dance drama. I used to be Chitrangada in it," the wife piped up.

And this girl, with her short hair, was Arjuna. She was oblivious to her surroundings, tied her saree way way above her waist, and danced like a warrior!

Her friends cheered her on, people gathered around, and by the time she finished, I was in love.
I had seen this girl earlier at Ma’s school, playing Swami Vivekananda, delivering the famous Brothers and Sisters of America speech from 1893. She had lodged herself in my head like a buried dream, and there she was, in front of us, in front of me, at touching distance!

After the dance, she came up to me and asked about my mother. "I’ve seen you with Namita miss. You are Shuvo, aren’t you? What's with the dhoti?"
"What's with the saree, then?" I asked.

My friends had abandoned me, just when I needed their support the most. I heard myself offering her chicken rolls. There were five of them and I had paid for it all. My first act of chivalry saw me spending all my Pujo pocket money on five girls. We talked like we had always been friends. It was a strange happiness, to know love for the first time, and when I walked back home with my friends that night, I was determined to tell her one day, about my affection like instantly brewed coffee.

“What was her name?” asked Saya.

I never asked. She knew my name and I pretended to know hers. Seemed rude to ask. Back home, when Ma asked how much I had spent, I couldn’t lie. I told her about the girl who played Vivekananda at her school, and that I had bought her chicken rolls. But I didn’t want any more money, I was covered. And it’s not necessary to have rolls, anyway, I added.

Ma listened to my story attentively, smiled and kissed my forehead. As I stood there hugging her, I heard her quietly add, “And by the way, her name is Anindita.”

The wait for Ashtami had never been longer. And when I found another thirty rupees in the pocket of my Avis jeans the next day, the atheist in me suddenly felt the stirrings of faith in Ma.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Sorry Business

You see, I forget. I forget what my wife has sent me to buy at the stationery shop and buy pens instead of envelopes. I forget to take prints and sometimes overshoot addresses and end up at alien lands. But I am not complaining. It is nice to be engrossed in thoughts of the destruction that I have left in my wake: brain damaged people and wrecked relationships. Sometimes I see the scattered crowd on the streets and they seem suddenly to have a singular purpose. To metamorphose into a mob and come attack my windscreen, and then me. I can hear the thwack of a hockey stick on the bonnet, and so I have taken to wearing my helmet these days, with a bala clava. Which means the bike. With no rules about dark visors for helmets, my vulnerable soul finds comfort in the obscurity that the helmet lends. And still I take the wrong turn. Almost every time. And check the price of diesel at the Shell filling station while riding a petrol bike. Someday, someday. Someday the diesel car will be brought here. If I can remember the road or the purpose.
And then there's a tap on my shoulder accompanied by an extremely sweet voice piping up, "Daddy, wrong turn; We are going to school."
School it is, then. She has grown up to be a beautiful teenager indeed, and am so proud of her. Although I had always wanted her to learn karate and beat the shit out of the boys, she decided to have dimpled cheeks that flush at the slightest embarrassment or the mention of boys.
"New York already has so many tall buildings, daddy, why do you dream of me as an architect in New York?"
"I haven't been there, ever, so I think that's where an architect should fall in love." In a studio apartment with glass on one side, I thought.
"You know, I am fond of Rikin. But I don't think he notices me much."
"He is only thirteen, dear; boys at thirteen are thinking of being Messi."
"Or Carlsen. I want to beat him at chess."
"You will. The day I can find the way to your chess class. Whom, Rikin? Or Magnus?"
"Rikin. You mean beat at chess?"
"Hmm, don't worry. Do you want to watch a Ray movie with me tonight? It is called Aranyer Din Ratri. How Sharmila Tagore willingly loses a memory game, just not to hurt a man's ego. Rikin will lose to you one day. And that day you will know he loves you too. Sharmila Tagore is Saif Ali Khan's mother, by the way. But all this winning and losing is such a sorry business."
"Funny you should say 'sorry business'. Did you know, daddy, sorry business is an aboriginal death custom, in Australia? I saw it on Discovery. You are not supposed to take a dead person's name. Their spirit might return."
"That will be so cool. For the spirit to return. A human spirit belongs here, on earth, don't you think? Even after death, shouldn't they just be hovering around us?
"Isn't that your school?"
She got off and walked into the school through the huge iron gates that were kept ajar as if just for her, a cerebral girl and my best friend. She looked back and smiled. And then the gates clunked close behind her. Didn't I tell you to have a kid, my wife would say, but man, having a child is the happiest feeling after all, isn't it? There's a T-junction right ahead. Should I go left or right? Left for office, right for home. What am I wearing? A tee? I wear a tee to work too, so should I be going to the office now? Is it Friday? It is Friday...chess class and all?
"Today's a holiday for you, daddy" she tapped my shoulder from the back seat, "you have a funeral to attend."
"Thanks, Orna," I reached back to hold her unusually cold hand, "what will I do without you?" 

Being able to finally utter her name didn't seem such a sorry business after all.

Thursday, August 06, 2015


"Can you get me some of that afim?"
I had no opium to give her, but she insisted that if I went down to Katrasgarh and met the mining contractor, he will take me to the kameens and that they have opium. Her Katrasgarh in Bihar was 20 hours by train from Delhi, but there was no point trying to tell her that.
"They do opium at night, and beedis during the day, those women."
And then she told me how the grass snake tasted like fish to her and how the kameens brought their lunch from home and worked with their male counterparts at the mines, ferrying coal to the waiting trucks. They were shiny black, from the hills of Purulia, wiry, and could work all day. Their children grew up in those clever little cloth swings around their hips.
"You will find them if you look for them. They shared their lunch with me and will share their afim too. This hifenac isn't working, son."
Mother was fascinated that they could stand and pee nonchalantly, smoking their beedis. That seemed like a new world of freedom for women in sarees.
"Did I tell you the snake tasted like fish? Haven't you had sole? Ah, your dad doesn't like it much, so I don't get it. The kameens eat rats and snakes alike, giving a damn about who's predator and who's prey.
Rats, snakes, rats, snakes, rat-snakes? Are there rat-snakes?"
The thought of snakes made me shudder, but I was curious to taste a cooked snake someday. Right now, there was a bigger problem at hand. Mother's pain.
She was getting more and more incohorent with each passing day. The hifenac had stopped working and her rheumatoid arthritis was getting worse. She kept repeating things, kept talking about her childhood in the mines, a pink little child among the black, loving kameens. With her wheezing and pain and delirious sleep in the bitter winter of Delhi, I could do precious little to help. With my meager salary as an editorial assistant, I couldn't even afford her medicines.
"I have to deliver a manuscript to Priya at CP, will you be able to manage on your own?"
Get some afim on the way back, if you can, was all she said to me. She had a hardbound copy of An Equal Music next to her, but I doubt she could make sense of her books anymore. I have sometimes seen her read the same page over and over again.
A Sunday morning ride on a 445 blue-line to Connaught Place is always dreamy. The roads are empty, the bus doesn't have many passengers, and that day everybody seemed to be in blue blazers. Priya's typesetting office was on the outer circle, and I was forever uneasy in her presence. She was a page 3 lady, once beautiful but now aging, something she couldn't seem to come to terms with. She gleaned through the pages and kept checking my markings. Suddenly, she paused on a particular page and looked up at me with a look of utter disbelief:
"Since when do editors at Penguin spell a hyphen as hifen, dear?"
I had no clue what she asked me about, although when I looked, I had actually marked a compound adjective thus. That very spelling, indeed. I had a tremendous urge to run out the door right at that moment, but this was an embarrassment I had to put on a brave face to. Priya would call up David, and mock him about his editors, and I will promptly lose my job. And my mother's medicines, the rent for the barsati, the money I owed Gaurav! My whole little world seemed to come crashing down around me, when this dapper young gentleman in green shoes and a ponytail walked into the room.
He was Priya's young lover boy, and looked pretty much like an upstart to me. I hated his wealth, his black Cielo parked outside, and the black muscle tees he wore to those socialite evenings. He was quick to gauge the situation.
"Hifen? Oh yes, that's how the Americans spell it these days" he came to my rescue. As Priya looked at him incredulously, wondering if to be disgusted at me or the Americans more, I murmured a goodbye and slunk out the door. Outside, the beggars in front of the restaurant were still sleeping, and the pigeons were pottering about, feasting on last night's litter. There was a solitary janitor in the distance, two policemen in a white Gypsy, and the sweet winter-morning smell of relief. The man didn't seem so bad after all, I thought.
A little after Khubchand's pork shop came Bercos, where the girls took me out many days and paid for my lunch. I smiled at the thought of so much love, took out mother's prescription from my jacket pocket, and changed hifenac to hyphenac.
There is afim available in Pahargunj, I heard.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Across the River

Riku is eight, and he loves the breeze on his face when they get onto a steamer to cross to the other side. The river is pretty wide at this time of the year, but he has heard his father talk about a river that has no banks on either side, is covered with ominous clouds carrying rain, where the sun abandons your boat, and the night advances stealthily bearing rage and fear.

"At the mohona the river knows no bounds, and I was only five, holding my mother's hand,  praying for the night to pass." And every time his father told him the story, Riku waited for the reference to the morning, in which his father's uncle appeared, admonished the family for having undertaken such a perilous journey with a kid, and took them to the comfort of home, in Khulna. It was a wedding in the family.

Riku is only eight, and he loves to cross the river on a steamer, from the side of the tall buildings to the stark contrast of the rows of abandoned factories on the other bank, with their redbrick chimneys gone dark with moss and decades of neglect. 

There is a wedding in the family. There will be a river crossing. But it isn't a steamer this time. It is a yellow taxi, rather stuffy and uncomfortable inside, with the springs coming out of its seat, and they will take the bridge to the other side. Riku loved the smell of diesel fumes, but he longed for the breeze on the river. To see the bride, you had to go in a car, and hence the two yellow taxis. The yellow ones ply outside Calcutta, his father explained. Riku and his elder brother Sujan got into one, and although it was a squeeze and the traffic was slow, he was in a car. 
In the dingy by-lanes of the other side, most of the houses were abandoned too. The taxi stopped in front of a hundred-year old house that had green shuttered french windows and trees growing out of the brick folds. At the end of the street, sat some people with blank faces, as old as time.

When the bride gingerly stepped into the living room, Riku first saw her feet on the red-oxide floor with a black skirting all around. There was a nail driven into the center of the floor where all the lines seemed to meet. And there were her white feet.

Riku looked up, and couldn't believe his eyes. He hadn't seen anybody more beautiful in his life. She was like Shuyo Rani from Thakurmar Jhuli, with long eyes, curly hair falling on her back, and red lips slightly parted. She was in a white sari. Everybody around him was speechless, and he heard Sujan murmur, almost to himself, "...smooth as monumental alabaster. Yet she must die..."

The groom was their uncle, and the elders stayed inside as Riku and Sujan came out with Riya, a wiry little girl who seemed to appear like magic from behind the green curtains that covered the door to the bedroom. The three of them walked to the riverbank. Come back for the singara, someone said.

Riku shyly wished he could be the groom instead. He was so mortified by the thought that he never could ask the name of his would-be aunt. There was a longing for the breeze again.

There were steamers plying on the river, the sky was clear, and somebody remembered to switch on the lights in the buildings on the other side as the sun slowly set.
"Will your uncle marry my mother, do you think? I have always wanted to go to the other side of the river."

"Yes, of course. Of course he will." Riku was positive.
"But they say she is a widow and men don't like to marry widows."
"I will marry her, then," was Riku's valiant answer, and they all laughed.
"Do you know anything about keeping ghosts away by driving nails into the floor? My dad really loved me, you know?"
"He is here, somewhere, watching you," said Sujan. "And if he loves you, a nail on the floor cannot keep him away." 
Sujan somehow always seemed to have reassuring answers. 

The uncle didn't marry her, eventually. He married someone else, who wasn't previously married. And Riku could never find out who Riya's mother was, or her address. 

Since then, he has only longed for a river with no banks on either side, of the mohona, for ominous clouds and a tornado tossing their boat high up in the air, but there was no boat, and someone seemed to have stopped the breeze on the river too.

All that remained were memories of diesel fumes.

Monday, June 08, 2015

The Crows of Durgapur

Dr Nandalal Ghoshal used to play chess with my dad every evening. I must have been very young then to remember, but according to what my dad later told me, they spent hours walking each other back after dinner because the conversation never got over. From Edison Avenue to Newton Avenue wasn’t a long distance, and the nights in Durgapur were pleasant and breezy. What better than being able to converse with a learned friend especially when you were stuck in a Steel township that reminded you of the 19th Century Eastwood of Lawrence, narrow in its thinking like the dark tunnels of a coal mine? When he had just moved to Durgapur, my dad used to stand alone on the over-bridge of Durgapur Railway Station every evening, looking below at the trains headed to Calcutta, a city he missed so much.

“Each train reminded me of everything I left behind there, and even a remote chance of meeting someone I can talk to. So I started talking to myself.”

Talk of trains used to excite me and I invariably ended up asking “How far below were the electric wires? Could you touch them? Why don’t the crows perched on the wires die?” little knowing how lonely the man used to be. And then he met Dr. Ghoshal.

We moved from Edison to Joydev, and the frequency of their meetings came down. It was a good 10 km away, and it wasn’t possible for either of them to leave their family duties to go for chess on their bicycles. There were no telephones those days, and as time passed, the two friends grew apart. But I kept hearing about Dr Ghoshal from my dad—his first friend in Durgapur, and with a PhD in Sanskrit too!

When I was in class IX, in my search of a person who would teach me literature, I found Dr. Ghoshal again. I spent four years under his tutelage and believe he played a very crucial role in keeping me on track when everything else other than studies seemed so attractive. I was mostly a vagabond, riding my cycle to unknown places, coming home late, bunking classes, watching Hindi films (that's the worst a Bengali boy can do, watch Bollywood films), riding in and out of Einstein Avenue to catch a glimpse of someone, but I never bunked his classes. And for the first time in my life, I was regular not because of any pretty girl in the class (although there were a few), but for Dr. Ghoshal himself. He always managed to make us laugh. Once when I paid him his fees in an envelope from Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, he exclaimed, “Oh, our poet Lau Sen? When did he move to Switzerland?”

Among many weird ten-minute essays he made us write, one was The Crows of Durgapur. I remember mentioning how they nonchalantly perch on the overhead electric wires with no worries of being burnt black. There were some rules about writing these essays. You had to start the moment he gave you the topic, and not stop until the alarm went off after ten minutes. You could go berserk with your imagination, let all the absurd come out, forget about punctuation and syntax, and just had to write. The kind of things that came out of each one of our minds was fascinating. Shovon and I were his favourite students. By the end of four years, our minds were free and wandering, welcoming abstraction in any form, like The Dry Twig I Found. Many years later when I watched The Terminal, I remembered how he had asked us to write about being lost in Charles de Gaulle. I wonder if he had a brush with the rudeness that's French and why really Charles de Gaulle. Maybe Syed Mustafa Ali had told him about his university days in Paris.

When my dad passed away some years back, among many other things I found in his belongings, there was a letter addressed to Dr. Ghoshal and an old Parker pen that he hadn’t opened. Because we didn’t know where Dr. Ghoshal was, the letter never got sent. So I took it upon myself to deliver my dad’s letter to his first friend in Durgapur.

Durgapur had changed. There were shopping malls all around and the roads unfamiliar. I got off the bus at Newton Avenue and tried locating his place. The Steel township quarters were like single-story row houses earlier, uniform in shape and colour. But now people had changed all of that. They had built extra rooms on top of the houses and painted them wild. The entire area seemed to have grown like a formless protozoa, pretty much like the DDA apartments in Delhi have grown. Nobody in that area knew about him, so I was stranded with no clue about where to go. Suddenly I remembered Mintu’s cigarette shop and went a couple of streets further to find if it was still around. It was still the same, the same small gumti only now with billboards stuck all around. “Mintu?” I asked the bald man sitting crouched inside the shop reading Anandabazar.

Mintu was so surprised to see me, he bumped his head trying to come out of the small trap door. Shuvo! How come! You haven’t changed one bit, bro!

He didn’t have Capstan cigarettes any more. People smoke Gold Flake and Classic these days. Mintu himself had stopped smoking after a bad bout of asthma. We remembered how he had started the shop because of his love for tobacco. Although he was an outcast and most of our parents didn’t approve of that boy, I used to still go meet him every day. He had dropped out of school and had a lot of time to spare. And he was a master storyteller, narrating stories of movies animatedly. Watching him enact each scene was more mesmerizing than watching the real film.

Mintu told me about “Ghoshal Sir” and where he had moved to. He had moved from his quarters to a place further north. His children had grown up and moved out, so he stayed alone. He was still teaching after retirement and should be available now, Mintu said. He called the assistant of the neighbouring puncture-repair guy and asked him to look after his shop while he dropped me to Ghoshal Sir’s place on his scooter.

We stopped in front of the house and I asked Mintu to come in with me. He refused. “I didn’t finish school, Shuvo, and he had kept insisting that I do. Somewhere, I don’t think I can face him again.”

“But he loved you, Mintu, just come in with me.” But he just gave me a long hug and said, “good you never took to smoking, bro… it was good to see you.” I opened the creaky gate and walked in. There was an old button switch for the doorbell, pressing which made the bell scream in agony. 

And there he was, his hair all white, looking at me through the netting of the door.

“Wasn’t that Mintu who dropped you?” he said as he recognized me and opened the door.

He recognized me, which was a big thing given he must have seen thousands of students in his lifetime as a teacher. He was very happy to usher me into his living room strewn with books. “You should have brought that boy in. He had talent, that boy. He could have regaled any audience with his stories.” To him, we were all boys and always would remain so.

We talked about publishing in Delhi, the weather in Bangalore, and he asked if I had had a chance to see the leopard of the Yellagiri Hills. “If you remember, your dad used to read out Jim Corbett and Kenneth Anderson to you every night.” Yes, I remembered. I used to imagine the jungles in little detail and always wanted the machan to be placed high above the ground beyond the reach of the tigers. And I dreamt of big double-barrelled rifles in my sleep.

“Do tread the path Kenneth Anderson did when you are in South India, my son. Your life will be incomplete without that."

He was overjoyed with all the Penguin titles I had carried for him from my collection. “Warehouse clearance? Get me a job there, Shuvo! You really worked with David Davidar?” And it was a morning of stories and reminiscences that spilled over to lunch. “If you have a chance, find more of these Mintus. Don’t let them get wasted.”

On the way back from his place I thought of dropping by at Mintu's shop, but somehow my mind was filled with a strange jealousy I had never felt before. 

I might have been his favourite, but Mintu would always remain his Ekalavya.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Rag-Tag Voodoo

on the surface, like acupuncture
the shiny steel pins find their way
into a doll 
swaying to a hindi song
even till yesterday,
with a tiny little bell
in her hand
and the needles can tell
if it is wheelchair for life
or a speeding truck
struck by thunder
or quick-burying sand.
on the surface,
every little pin
is innocent acupuncture
but there's hell,
just fucking under.

Arrivals and Departures

I brave the rain on the roof
scanning the sky
for an approaching light
blinking in the drizzle
you'll be on one of them, tonight
and soon the green of the messenger
will tell, you landed
but I see a shooting star, instead,
unblinking and bright
and forget to ask if you reached,
and would never get to know
are you richer for my not asking
am I richer for the star?
and if i go again, tomorrow,
whom will it be for?

Alternative Reality

Alternative reality taking over you and me.
I forget which is home.
You forget vaccinations, but defend,
"This one's 4.5, dude, am on top of things."
He forgets the brand of scotch you love,
coz you passed out in his arms, hun...
although he wouldn't get to know
how I pressed you against the red, red wall
begging for a kiss.
And she?
She goes ranting in crepe,
unready to drink, smoking a Black
staring inanely at the rudeness of skirts,
baring her fangs, but only in a private smile.
I don't have body hair, I whisper into her ear.
Alternative reality has begun,
no more alternating between reality and dreams,
Waiter, can you play some Black Hole Sun?

Thursday, May 07, 2015

And then he asked "What about love?"

And then he asked, "What about love, then?"
"What about it, sir?"
"You say you want a romp with a 26-year old when you are 85, but that sounded so insensitive and blatant. I can see someone else putting that idea in your otherwise chaste wish. You are, from what I see, generally losing your libido, aren't you?"
"Yeah, you can say that. And it is effing irritating to talk to a person who knows it all, already. This is so weird. And I thought you would look like Morgan Freeman."
"I don't, actually. I don't know it all because when i created the brain, I never thought it would have thoughts in it. It was chalky, tasted bland, and I stuffed as much of it as I could into the skull. It was meant to find you food and shelter. It evolved, and evolution wasn't something I had accounted for."
"No wonder. Before meeting you I kept thinking if you had really created and willed it all, how come the world's such a dark place, someone's spread a jet-black sheet of night sky, and scattered only a few bright stars, as if you had thought of Blackle before us, and then given us pollution."
"I hadn't thought of the mind's capability of thinking. I had kept thought exclusively to myself, and to...err... some dolphins, but it seems there's an evil design that had gotten into everything even without my knowledge. Like what do you call it? Virus? And that brings me to the question I had been meaning to ask you all this while. Why demonhead?"
"Eh! That's supposed to be secret, maaaan! Am not the devil in anybody's mind. I ask them to invoke the devil in theirs."
"See? Now tell me about love. Haven't you loved?"
"Oh yes, and you probably know about all that too. Yes, I have been madly loved by two, almost unconditionally, where one embrace can lead to a koala snore, and another conversation can remain open-ended in 'when you decide to come to me, don't think twice.' And then I have chased three, obsessively. And that pretty much sums up all."
"Who was the last? The dancer?"
"Yes, and you wouldn't like the term bimbo, would you? You being effing G or whatever they call you."
"No, and I hate the term romp as well. I don't understand why you created language and created slang in parallel. That was like a virus in your original thought about how effective communication would be, with language. See, it is inflicting all of us."
"Slang helps make communication precise, sometimes. You wouldn't happen to know Bengali, would you? A term 'baal', meaning pubic hair, can be used in almost every sense to communicate a range of emotions. Very nice, in fact. By the way, about this dancer, what do you want to know? Why I was obsessed and what I got out of it? What if her husband reads this?"
"He wouldn't reach till here. He has very little patience in life, and you must have heard about it from her. Every morning he stands in front of a picture of what he thinks is me and utters some unintelligible stuff in Sanskrit, which he himself doesn't understand. I didn't feel any prayers in his heart. He wouldn't reach till here, am sure. You continue."
"It was obsessive, that's about it. And now it is over. And it left me scarred, which I thought wouldn't heal for quite some time. But strangely, there's no pain, and there's nothing left to say."
"So, the open-ended, lifetime offer saved you?"
"You can say that. Sometimes she is quiet and her hand, with her nails painted shiny black, is placed on mine. And nothing throbs. That's peace."
"And the snore of the koala?"
"That too. In a disneyland of her own dreams."
"Why is it that you don't talk much about what you genuinely received as opposed to stories of how much you have given in vain? Do I smell some vanity in that? What does it get you?"
"Where, you should ask, non?" I replied with a sheepish grin. He knows me inside out by now.
And then I offered him a drink of a local whiskey. He said he will be back to hear more and that he is drawn to demonhead. He asked why he is seen as ugly in some parts of the world. And I have the answers.
I wonder if he will ever figure who the devil in our minds really is.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015


It was the summer of 99, with overcast skies and whirlwind memories of the first two years of our marriage. We had broken beds and kitchen tables, shattered glasses and got new ones. Blue, this time. Casement memories blocking the sun in brilliant hues of gold and blue, too. Yes, from newspapers blocking glass windows, we had moved to full-length curtains that gingerly kissed the floor. And a giant air cooler where we kept our pet mosquitoes, floating, dead. It was the right time to uncork a bottle of wine, we thought. Never having bought wine before, the only parameter was affordability; so a long, green bottle of Riviera found its way home one evening as we rubbed our hands in anticipation of a celebration like never before. 

Blue glasses from Good Earth, gifted by Punita​. A green bottle. Yes the white wine served at British Council was superb, we agreed, as it made us forget which passage Sashi Tharoor read out from, or the wisdom about love and longing Vikram Chandra shared. It was good, so white it is, although a cheaper version. OPEN IT ALREADY, wilya! 

Open? The bottle presented us with quite a tough challenge, with a smug little cork on top that seemed intent upon sitting there for good. How do you uncork a wine bottle, by the way? The bottle openers were of no help, and we had never heard of a corkscrew. Not to be deterred by this challenge (and having the dubious distinction of having sawed the legs off the hostel warden's bed), we brought out the hammer and a screwdriver. What was a mere cork in the face of a couple of devious minds from Banaras with clear intent? It gradually disintegrated and started going down the neck of the bottle, deeper and deeper, until we heard a pop! The night was young, a battle was won, and although we had to strain the residual pieces of the resilient cork from the wine, the white did taste good after all.

This is in memory of the cork which we preserved for a long time after that, and finally let go along with the chipped blue glasses after about 16 years. Also in memory of the bed, the bamboo table, and the air cooler, which we sold to the ironing guy for five hundred. The brilliant hues of the casement that faded, the Indian wine that got pushed over by French and South African, the hammers and screwdrivers that were forgotten with an abundance of corkscrews, and the evenings that became rarer as the books gathered dust. So, let's make an evening of it soon, and raise a toast to the brave cork that posed a tough challenge to our ignorance.

"Nice one, but aren't you forgetting something?"
"Umm, what exactly do you mean? It was really the summer of 2000, and not 99, but Summer of 2000 doesn't sound so nice as a Facebook post, does it?"
"I mean the savior in the form of Tropicana black grape juice?"
"Are you sure I should mention it? Isn't it a tragic end to an otherwise nice story? The fact that we couldn't have the strained wine without mixing it with grape juice?"
"Let's just be honest about it."

As you say, then. I'll go gather some firewood and you rustle up something for us.