I finally publish

Monday, August 29, 2005

Bienvenue à Pondichery

I might not know the back of my hand, but I sure know Pondicherry. Ok- there is not much to know, the grid layout system of roads take care of it. Anywhere you go, you can always find your way out. Dead ends in streets might exist- I’ve hardly seen any though.

A perfect weekend… sleeping late and waking up with half the day gone. Breakfast is never eaten. Cinnamon tea. A whiff of that and my day’s almost perfect. I never drink or make cinnamon tea at Chennai. That’s a smell and taste I associate with home. Only home.

Lunch is a spread. I might as well have been in Kerala.

An afternoon sleep which begins when the afternoon is almost over and stretches into a good part of the evening.

Evenings with great music on the computer and at full volume sometimes. My mom’s convinced “Deaf” Leppard was named so coz they went deaf hearing themselves sing. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan died of a heart attack- not surprising at all.

Late evening we go to the beach. Mom has a correction to make- its not evening at all, its called night! But Pondicherry is very safe a place. And I live but a couple of streets away from the beach.

My sister and I head to the beach. I carry a book along. There are these benches very conveniently made under orange neon lights. I remove my slippers, fold my legs under me and sit and read. My sister takes a walk all by herself. She comes and sits beside me sometime later. I close my book and we both watch the sea. There are lights always from ships that dot the horizon, someone is away from home always.

We buy an ice cream and sit and lick it as if we have all the time in the world. We just might… time does wait for you in Pondicherry. We cross the traffic devoid street and climb the rocks there. We sit forever on the rocks. We remember a person called our mother almost simultaneously and look at each other. Dusting the sand from our denims we ride back home in perfect lethargy.

We see a new restaurant that’s opened. We just have to investigate. It does not matter that its almost 10.30 and girls from decent households should be asleep by then. We walk around looking at the interior décor, glance at the menu, we talk to the owner. Kind shopkeepers are found only in Pondicherry, this I am convinced. They’ll tell you all you want to know and more. “You should include more chocolate flavors”, my sister advises. “Of course and thank you” we are told gratefully.

We buy another flavor and head out. I sit behind on the bike holding both ice creams. My sister rides and stops every few meters to take a lick at the melting ice cream; even that melts in harmony to the speed of Pondicherry- slowly in quiet trickles that are caught by the tongue before they fall onto the ground or your clothes.

Tomorrow is another day. The night is still young. We reach our home and sit on our bike for some more time. People still walk on the roads. No one hurries home. We ring the bell and wake up mom who’s asleep. It doesn’t matter we have our own keys. We are the latchkey kids who never use them.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I saw him paint a symphony

My cousin draws and exceptionally well at that. It runs in his family. Not from my side of his family though. His father's.

Uncle would paint the loveliest of pictures at which everyone would ooh and aah and make the right noises and the perfect comments. Not me. There was something missing in them always. There was a coldness to his portraits and pictures. His landscapes though would have a merry sun up there, would make me shiver.

I guess as all things in my life I tend to, I saw him in his pictures. I am not going to talk about him. It’s too disturbing to.

My cousin. I had favorites that changed every two minutes. If there was someone I could find no reason to dislike or even pick up a fight, it was him. So, I loved him instead.

We were of the same age. We studied the same classes, though every year I had a sinking feeling when the results drew near whether he would be asked to repeat a year. I shudder to think of my uncle's reaction had that calamity happened.

Every meal we had together would be one full of showcasing my talents (which I really didn’t have. But Pondicherry being miles away from Kerala helped I guess in seeing what didn’t exist!) and degrading him. We suffered through each in our own ways. I, wondering whether it would turn my cousin against me. He, filled with a loathing for his father.

Nothing changed. Our love for each other grew every year and his hatred for his father too. I would try gently to make him see how important fathers were. He couldn’t see. And I didn’t push. He 'borrowed' mine.

He was sitting on the floor and doing something. He looked up as he felt my presence. A chart paper with Mickey mouse on it. That was the first picture I saw him draw. And I fell in love with Mickey all over again. It was perfect. Picture perfect.

Seeing my admiring look, he blushed. Pulling me to his room, he lifted his mattress to show me papers which were filled up the perfectest pictures. Pictures that then colored our world, Tom and Jerry, owls and fairies and elves and puppies and kittens...I stood there wonderstruck at this fusillade of color and perfection in front of me.

That vacation when I went back to Pondicherry, the bottom of one of the suitcases was papered by Woody woodpecker.

As we grew, so did the intensity of his paintings. A puppy's nose that I could almost feel as soft and wet and velvety. Strokes that were powerful, sure and strong. And I would ask him to draw roses and tulips and white fences; which he obligingly did.

And in those growing years, under his mattress along with the porn books and graphic novels, I would find his best pictures ever.

He'd latched onto portraits, I discovered when I came one vacation. He wasn’t in his room and I was never forbidden anything in his life. This liberty I shamelessly misused and quite proudly at that. Despair was more depressing in his portraits than in real life. And emotions- man, I am at a loss for words. The emotions would hit you hard when you looked at them and you would feel the pain. There were no happy pictures. I was touching each picture reverentially when he walked in.

I'd often wondered at his total lack of interest in anything in life. We never had any ambitions or goals. We never knew what we wanted to be in life. But I had interests. And I worried about his restlessness without an apparent concern for mine- I was always good at solving other's problems, never my own.

And I looked at him happily. No one could draw or paint like that without a large percentage of self involvement.

He sat down beside me and looked at all the pictures strewn on his bed. No reprimanding me for invading his space. It was something that was open to me.

We looked at the pictures together both of us seeing what was there and what wasn’t. But the same picture.

Always the young girl with him I said, "Ok now draw me"

He laughed. So did I.

I don’t know what wretched moment brought uncle into the room. He stood there looking at those pictures.

Who- the question never came up.

When- did. Followed by, so-this-is-what-you-were-doing-instead-of-studying; wasting-time and something that pierced straight into my heart 'crude-pictures'.

You better join drawing class to fine tune your pictures. Knowing how to hold a pencil is not enough.

I'd never heard him back answer his father. There was always an underlying current of fury during rows- but he'd held his tongue. I'd seen him being beaten once and that's not something I'd like to see again or something I would forget even. I'd run to daddy who came over to stop the act. I remember I walked over to his bed that night and slept with him, both of us completely miserable.

It came as a shock to me to hear him say a quiet but sure no.

Memories from the past assailed me. No, please don’t beat him, I screamed silently. He's too old to be. And daddy was not around to run to.

I heard uncle mocking voice say, "What did you say?"


"Ah, so you won’t join drawing class?"


His voice shook. But the answer never changed.

Quick brutal strokes unlike the beautiful ones on his paper were dealt to his knuckles.

I screamed in horror, No, don’t do it.

I think I got a few swishings too. Because I came in the way.

The cane went up and down relentlessly. I kept screaming and screaming. My aunt who'd seen it a thousand times watched it all helplessly.

I am not going into the act any more. It sickens me still. The cane broke.

"I wish he died", he told me later when I sat holding his hand on the night terrace.

It almost killed me that he would never know the joy of a father. And in some way it seemed almost unfair that I had a splendid one when he was dealt a rotten one. I felt almost apologetic.

I looked at his hands and his raw knuckles. Torn skin, blood and an almost white look to those beautiful hands that I held. Always the young girl with him, I cried on and on.

Putting his hands around me, he held me close as I sobbed his pain away.

I was to leave a few days later. I walked into his room again- the sadness a very important luggage I carried that summer. I sat on his bed.

He pulled out something from under his sheet. A piece of paper. A pair of eyes. Not black. Penciled in black lead. They could have been blue. They could have been grey. They were brown. A zillion emotions of the same family. Pain, bereavement, agony, loss... I cannot do justice to that picture.

It was the last one he ever drew. His hand had healed but the scar was to be a permanent one.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

I wouldn't swap though

I think my sister's lost it completely. We are the kind of family where its just not said that we love each other, how special each one is, that we brighten up each others lives by just being in it...

Had they said anything of the kind to me- well, that's almost improbable, but speculation doesn’t harm does it? Ok- had they said anything of the kind, I would be convinced that a medical test I never took has sent a result called 'Dying soon'!

We never hug. We never kiss. *Shudder*. My sister goes on to be an extremist that she violently throws my poor and innocent arm that unknowingly manages to touch her at night. I am convinced she does it consciously- the sheer strength of that throw ought to convince anyone. I pity her boyfriend… err... husband I mean.

Even when I come home after years… err… months… ummm… weeks. Ok- DAYS, whoever opens the door would smile brightly and walk back inside calling, shut the door and wipe your feet. I’m sure this would be the treatment even if I came back from the moon.

Birthday gifts are never wrapped. We never hint. I- need- a- mobile is not a hint. And gifts are for the family. It is not uncommon to see my sister walking around with Tee shirts saying "Libran". And perfumes as gifts- the sniffer who can tolerate the smell gets to keep it. My mom is very tolerant. She's a walking garden, chocolate or fruit most of the time. She turns violent when she sees a perfume manufacturer- I do not blame her. We all hate suspicious packages. We never have birthday parties but we manage to have one every year. The people who come in have to be fed. My mother is convinced that my sister and I go about inviting total strangers to our home for our birthday.

So, when I get a card from my sister, it is but normal that I am suspicious. Or maddeningly worried. I read the card again. Maybe she is dying…

I call her up. She sounds healthy. I get a tough time making her hang up. It’s unhealthy that two sisters spend so much time on the phone. It’s expensive too.

I bring up the topic of the card, every so nonchalantly.

She says-Oh,found that when looking for a card for a friend. I knew you’d hate the colors in it. You did didn’t you?


One thing you can always fall back on for consistency- family.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Marginalia and a coincidence. I found an old textbook of mine today. Two handwritings- one was mine. The other was my friend's. We stretched the term 'marginalia' a lil too much. The penciled writings- now almost faded, a touch of blur in them- are everywhere. Every textbook of mine is littered with such stuff.

We were reading Romeo and Juliet then- the unabridged version. Oh- not in school. Gah- as if we did anything half as interesting as that by way of lessons. And as part of verses we'd memorized, we'd written it out when French class was in full progress. I’m sorry Miss. Tapashi.

He jests at scars, that never felt a wound,
But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east and Juliet is the sun.

See! how she leans her cheek upon her hand
O! that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch her fair cheek.
(You have a pimple! )

O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou
I think you make a rotten Romeo! I’m sure he never looked at pimples.
(I’m sure Juliet never had any. )

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By another name would smell as sweet.

For stony walls cannot hold love out.

O! (Why is he not using Oh with the h?)
How am I supposed to know?
(Are you sure the unabridged version you have is really that? )
We are supposed to be spouting it out silly. Who’ll know if the ‘h’ exists?

O! Swear not by the moon, the inconsistent moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.

Love goes toward love, as schoolboys from books;
But love from love, toward school with heavy looks.

(What’s he mean? Its almost as bad as class. I bet even you don’t know what he’s saying!)
I do. I’ll tell you when class’s over. I forgot my lines! What’s it that I say?
(Silver-sound or something.)

How silver-sweet lover’s tongues by night,
Like softest music to attending ears.

Good-night, good-night! Parting is such sweet sorrow
That I shall say good-night till it be morrow. (I like these lines)

When he shall die……….

(That’s not what you should say)
I am writing my favorite lines!

When he shall die;
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night,
And pay no worship to the garish sun

(I think she’s sick. Cut him out into pieces!)

I guess class must have gotten over… And did our conversation in writing.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A telephone call

"One more drink and I'll be under the host."

Oh- I didn’t say it. Dorothy Parker did. Here’s a short story of hers which I absolutely adore.

Too long to post it here.

A Telephone call

Ps: I know that was a LONG short story!

Monday, August 15, 2005

Satanic Verses

'To be born again,' sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, 'first you have to die'

Opening lines of Satanic Verses. Not bad. Not bad indeed.

‘To land upon the bosomy earth, fisrt one needs to fly’


‘How to ever smile again, if first you won’t cry?’

Now you know why I like Salman Rushdie the way I do.

‘How to win the darling’s love mister, without a sigh?’

Ah- a thousand sighs. I hope he loves me.

Ok- so I finally got the book. But only this one. Wonder why people ask me what I want when they anyway buy me what they want. Ah- ungrateful as always.

I am thrilled actually. And when in a state of acute happiness, I cannot react.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

This season's daffodil, she never hears

Roman Rolland street- that was another street in Pondicherry. But I called Rue de la Compagnie that. It had Roman Rolland Library and hence made sense to my 6 year old mind to call it that. And the name stuck.

I was given two red cards which meant I could borrow two books from the millions there- when I was young, which soon became hundreds as the years moved past. All aglow I carried my cards in my palm. I think the first book I borrowed was 'The ugly ducking'. I'd read that story a thousand times by then. And cried a thousand tears… I don’t really remember.

You had to pay 10 rupees for those two tickets. A one time payment and you could borrow all the books you wanted.

I was always there. And so was daddy. We would walk through aisles of dust covered books and daddy would make an attempt at sorting out the books in the little time he was. But chaos was my territory. I would find the perfect book from any corner. The more cluttered it was, the more I shone.

Hardbounds and the joy of it. If I write about it, I would be writing poetry.

The librarians were a friendly lot. I think it had a lot to do with daddy being what he was.

I don’t know when I latched on to the habit, but I soon felt that two red cards were cruel. I needed more books than that. It doesn’t pay to add here that my house was but a street away from the library. But well, it was a long street.

So I, mistress of chaos and finding, would hide books that I wanted to borrow next, but the cruel red card wouldn’t allow me to.

When daddy saw me carry an armful of books and come back from those long tall shelved corners with two of them and a triumphant look on my face, he understood I guess, the small sin I’d committed in my small world.

I was bought two more cards. I’d grown and so had the prices. It was 25 rupees each card now.

He didn’t say anything and it made everything more terrible. I stopped hiding books. I hope he noticed it, that reformation act of mine. The guilt lingered on for sometime like the stinging pain of red tincture on a wound. Which hurt more I don’t know…the fact that I did something I shouldn’t have or that I was caught doing it…

Redemption. I gave away two cards to my neighbor. She never reads.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Maybe she was talking about microwave ovens!

“Do you know why we are all so attached to our mothers?”, Sr. Carmel asked.

I considered the question too unworthy to answer. And I was more ‘attached’ to my father. So I concentrated on trying to straighten Namitha’s hair.

“The umbilical cord is the connecting link. We were all once attached to our mothers through that. Now it’s the heart that continues the legacy”.

“What cord?” Ammu asked me. "Which part of the body is she talking about?"

I pressed my finger to her navel and tickled her. “There”.
Ammu giggled.
Sr. Carmel frowned.

I was wondering what was this new concoction that mummy had packed to ruin me, when I heard Ammu tell the rest of them.

“I finally know from where babies come”.

I stopped what I was doing. I was the educator. And I wasn’t too sure. I knew the region but not the location.

Lifting her shirt she pointed to her navel, “This cord thing, it’s like a door. First the baby is inside and when its ready- it kicks. You can open it and take it out. And…” she paused for emphasis, “You have to cut the cord. You can’t walk about with a baby dangling can you?”

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Now and then

I don’t know if I would have felt the same had it not been raining. Wringing the rain from my wet skirt, I frantically looked for a place to sit. Class had begun. Foreign language. I was going to learn how to write Malayalam.

It was your smile that beckoned me and it was the space that you made for me beside you on the wooden bench in our makeshift classroom that made me take it. A leaky roof and water that dripped on my wet mop of hair... I moved closer to you. And we watched the rain through windows frosted with the spray. End of class, Malayalam was still a foreign language.

You were very good looking. I asked around. You were.

When classes as they all go, get boring, people doodle. I write. I closed the book when I felt you read me. You took the book from my unresisting fingers and read it all. Our first touch. And I did hear bells. Bell. Class over.

Sundays were fun. They became more than fun. They became more look forwarded to. Skirts became more than an item of clothing. They were to be decided upon all of a sudden.

And when you walked me home every after-class at 11 pushing your bicycle along, I wished my home was far, far away than across the street. We stood hours or minutes crossing the traffic devoid streets. I was too young to know fear while crossing the road or an excuse called holding-hands-while-crossing.

And when they closed down the school because the teacher was leaving it nearly killed me.

I never saw you for 5 years after that. When my best friend told me on how she heard from her brother’s friend’s brother who was your friend that you were ‘interested’ in me, I stood there completely numb.

I hope you noticed that I’d worn a water melon pink salwar kameez. The only one I had then. I’d even borrowed the exact shade of nail enamel and painted my tiny convent school sized nails. One dipped brush painted all. I’d even worn a dupatta and for the first time wished I had something that would explain the purpose of that piece of garment on me. And when my friends insisted that I don’t wear my glasses and insisted that I could see fine without them, I believed them than my eyes and ophthalmologist.

“Men seldom make passes, at girls who wear glasses”, my best friend had consoled me. “Yes, I read it from your diary.”

She went on, “Don’t talk too much. Guys don’t like girls who talk too much”.

I wondered where on earth she had this insight into the alien world of men.

“Pretend you are not very interested in him. Never let him know that you still have your Malayalam notebook with his handwriting in it!” she was amazing. She knew everything. “Don’t let him get fresh. It’s your first date. Only.” crushing all my hopes of being kissed and the first girl to be so in my gang.

I don’t remember what we talked. I think we looked at the stars in the late evening sky and said something about it. I hope not but I have this bad feeling that we did.

You asked me to write. I did. You promised to write. You did. Our letters crossed. And I remember reading your first letter frantically looking for answers to all my unasked questions. There were none. To which I wrote a letter full of hinted questions. And hit my head when your first letter full of reassurances to the hints came.

I wasn’t very lovable. And you realized that. I hope she is. I hope she is not.


Many years later I go to see someone. I wear my glasses. I carry my own bag. I smile when I want to. I talk when not spoken to. I make another rain memory.

I have traveled a long way. And I’m still where I began.