I finally publish

Monday, January 30, 2006

365 days of blogging

Lying on my bed, three pillows high- two mine and one borrowed in the owner's absence.

Current thought : It’s been a year...

People came, people went. Some stayed on- they will leave tomorrow.

So many people were met. And I made a friend. Friend, he insisted and I let him be, though it stripped me off the innumerable possibilities that otherwise could have been speculated. I celebrated individual differences with him.

Traveled overseas.

Indulged in the illusion called love. Fool's paradise. But paradise still. Yes, fool too.

Met more people. Fled some more.

It's been one of the most happening years ever. It’s not as simple as classifying them as good and bad. The shades in between will put even a paint company to shame.

Cribbed, cried, sobbed, laughed and teased.


Found. Lost.

Hurt and hurt. Victim and Guilty.

Dabbled at poetry. Sinful pleasure.

Made a lot of sacrifices no one noticed. Stupidity.

Blogged. And blogged some more. It’s been a year.

For all the comments, criticisms and compliments- Thank you
For all the mails, calls, meetings and messages- Thank you
For inquisitive questions which I could have done without- Thank you

For all the people I wouldn’t have ever known otherwise- Thank you for stepping this way.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Books, books and more books

Read in 2005. Beside faint bedside lamps, in dimly lit trains, while waiting for buses, while walking down a deserted road, in parks, in cabs and everywhere one can possibly and not, read.

1. Raise high the roof beam carpenters and Seymour an Introduction- Salinger
2. Nine stories- Salinger
3. Timepass by Protima Bedi
4. Chocolat- Joanne Harris
5. Coastliners- Joanne Harris
6. 5 quarters of the orange- Joanne Harris
7. Holy Fools- Joanne Harris
8. Topaz- Leon Uris
9. QB VII- Leon Uris
10. The Exodus- Leon Uris (Re-read)
11. The 5 dollar smile- Shashi Tharoor
12. Harry Potter- Rowling
13. Cuba and the night- Pico Iyer
14. The myth of Sisyphus- Albert Camus
15. Street of Paris- Balzac
16. The zigzag way- Anita Desai
17. Feasting, fasting- Anita Desai
18. A thousand Country roads- Robert James Waller
19. The Bores- Molière
20. Waiting for Godot - Samuel Beckett
21. Hapworth 16, 1924- Salinger
22. Walk to remember- Nicholas Sparks
23. The country doctor- Franz Kafka
24. The last song of dusk- Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi
25. The Footprints of God- Greg Iles
26. Daddy long legs- Jean Webster (Re-read)
27. Power of One- Bryce Courtenay (Re-Read)

Loads of Agatha Christies, Williams, and nameless others who made me smile, laugh and throw the book away with disgust.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Doordarshan days

The television came home without a red ribbon when I was 6 years old. 1986. I even invited kids from neighboring houses for the inauguration. They came shy, toying with their skirts and looked on with wonder at the television that wasn't a part of the community, but sat in awe inspiring height well above what our toes could help reach. Neighbors envy, owners’ pride.

To switch on the red button, Daddy would lift me up and I would launch the machine that would transport us all into worlds beyond. Almost an astronaut I was and already.

What I remember most of it all was the news. I never understood a word they said, never cared to. But it became a guessing game for Amma and me. She would at every news hour at night, be flipping the chappatis we had with unfailing regularity every night. I would turn on the television and hike up the volume. Running to the door that stood between I would ask her, "Who is it this time?"

And Amma would listen intently, while making sure her rotis didn't burn and would say familiar names 'Gitanjali Iyer', "Rini Khanna". I forget the rest of the names. A Manjari I think -am not too sure. Most often Amma was right. But the picture always comes to mind, Achan taking a distracted interest in seeing how Amma fared that day, I who was the quizmaster and Amma who was right and wrong. And how Amma would gasp seeing the blouses that Gitanjali Iyer wore. Scandalous, she would murmur and blush a shade red.

Sitting on Amma's lap and watching Chitrahaar. Old melodies that would play and I would hear Amma crooning along with it- songs that were in her past. Stolen moments she'd heard over her neighbor's radio. Living with her grandmother, Amma never had the luxury of choice. There are a list of things she talks about with nostalgic fondness- bangles at the village fetes, chappals other girls in school wore and Hindi songs over the radio. On how she would slip off after prayer everyday to light the lamp far away from the house and she would linger over the hedge that separated their house from the neighbors and listen to fragments of music.

Malgudi days. This was Achan's forte. He would explain to Amma on who everyone was, though she could have followed it just as easily herself. And I would be driven to distraction by his talking. I didn’t want to understand too much. I would climb out of the lap-for-the-day and sit on the floor very near the television and watch the scenes flicker past.

The acquired taste of Sunday afternoon movies which we would watch lying on soft mattresses after heavy lunches.

Hum Log. Buniyaad. And others. People who filled our lives with their stories, happiness, hopes, fears and sadness.

The rest of the memories are punctuated by excessive uncheerfulness. I'll put a full stop here so, like the swirling logo of doordarshan that would signal the time begining and end of good times.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A Very 'First Kiss' Article

For someone who spoke of free love and sex without sin, it took me ages to kiss.

My first kiss… I would have liked that to be something like that’s written about in every novel… Made into sensuous frames in every movie. Both of them timid, nervous and excited but with a thousand apprehensions in each other’s hammering heart. A hesitant pause when at nose’s distance and then a kiss that is executed with the greatest of dexterity and finesse…

Well, mine was… a disaster!

First, I never liked the guy.
Second, I really didn’t know how to.
Third, I wasn’t really prepared.

Caught in a moment never anticipated, I was torn between being the puritan that I never could be and slapping him, to wondering if I’d really been kissed.

And the slapping moment was long gone before I realized. Sigh. It wasn’t fair that it was so lame.

I mentally made a note to let my heroine in the book that I would perhaps never write have a terrible first-kiss too. I wanted to share the misery.

It was perhaps a thousand kisses later, that I was truly kissed. Makes me think of making chocolate. After tasting batches of bad ones, sour ones and even burnt ones, you are presented with something mouthwatering…

There was anticipation, there was hesitance and then a kiss. For the first time I closed my eyes not because I didn’t know what to do with it and not because I didn’t want to see the silly expression on the other person’s face. But because it closed on its own...

I for once I didn’t count decent seconds, which I usually did, before pulling away...

I remember sitting there feeling vaguely woozy in the head. I remember opening my eyes to see him smile at me.

A few kisses later, he-who-was-a-great-kisser told me, “That’s not how you kiss.”

That’s when she-who’d-kissed-a-thousand-times should have died of mortification.

One thing even teachers who detested me would agree -I was a fast learner.

There wasn’t much time to practice...
But when he closed his eyes and opened them a few seconds later than I, I guess that’s the moment when I’d have had to throw my graduation cap in victory.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Her secret roses

Sitting on the verandah of my house in Kerala, swatting mosquitoes that hover around your head making a halo you otherwise will never have, flipping through glossy Malayalam magazines... A warm languorous evening drenched in the smell from a miscellany of trees and plants…

When the gate creaked open, the dog and I looked up. 50ish from what I could see. A trifle hesitant, a trifle unsure they walked the long stretch from the gate to the house.

I'd never seen them before. Calling out to Valiamma who knew everybody, even people who didn't exist, pushing the dog away from the chair and dusting it as best could be done, they sat on the space that was made for them.

Valiamma didn't know them, I realized when I saw her faintly searching look that was almost masked by the familiar smile she wore for people who were well dressed and belonged.

I will not go into what transpired between all of us before this story was recited. It is not important because it is of niceties and hesitance and overcoming them.


Sujata. That's her name the lady said. She'd lived years before in one of the houses below the bridge that ran a little way away from our house, 'Gitanjali'. 'Gitanjali' was always stayed clear from, by all the children who lived under the bridge. The children were unruly, bullies if you will and chased them who dared to venture to forbidden land enticed by the peals of laughter and fun that seemed forever to be happening behind its low walls.

Her mother scrubbed floors and worked in the match factory and an endless list of jobs to feed her 3 young girls and her alcoholic husband. The girls ran wild until their mother discovered the government school and sent them there, brushed and as clean as she could get them.

They weren't always this poor, her mother would wistfully tell them. They'd had cows, warm food with papadam everyday and a huge garden with the most colorful of flowers. But that was a long time ago when their mother was a girl. Cows and papdam lost their charm in front of the flowers to her might-be-10-year-old eyes.

Walking to school with tightly plaited braids coated with glistening coconut oil, she would walk past 'Gitanjali' and look longingly at the zillion flowers that grew with careless abandon in the garden. A fleeting look before her sisters and she were chased away by the boys of the house, till the end of the street after which they lost interest much to the relief of the panting girls.

That summer the flowers glistened with temptation. She's never wanted anything more and she promised in her prayers she wouldn't want anything ever again, if only she'd been allowed to pluck some from the garden at 'Gitanjali'.

That day was going to be different. She knew that when her mother threw the milk that had turned sour and had in a fit of temper asked them to stay back and do the laundry instead of going to play on the Sunday that no one worked, except her mother. The girls washed and rinsed the clothes. And her sisters took the clothes to be dried by the river that ran a little away from the bridge.

Walking down the road all alone, she found herself in front of the house with the prettiest flowers she had ever seen... inviting and forbidding. The house was unnaturally silent and she stood by the wall looking at what she would pick if she was given a choice. Her eyes fell on a flower -the reddest rose she'd ever seen. The reddest rose that looking at it was sin itself. So enraptured by it was she that she failed to notice a boy who was younger than her looking at her curiously.

When she realized that the house was not as empty as she'd have liked it to be, she almost gathered her skirts to run when she heard herself calling out loudly to him, "Can I have that rose please?"

Her loud voice brought the herd of the dreadful boys who ran after her with war cries. She fled as fast as her tiny legs would carry her, calling out in terror that she was going to be murdered. She reached the safe and comforting arms of the end of the street and she heard the boys turn back laughing and howling at her expense.

She never spoke about it to anyone.

The next day gearing up to run past the house till the end of the street, all of them ran on cue. Reaching the end of the street, they realized that their attackers hadn't given up. They broke the rule they themselves had set. Running as fast as they could they saw that the street was long left behind. Until that day, they'd often wondered what would happen if one of them would be caught by the dreadful boys at the house. But it had never happened… not even to anyone they knew. They'd discussed it, long and detailed; but not one the punishments seemed befitting to what the awful boys at the house were capable of.

Turning behind to take a look at her attackers, she found to her surprise the small boy she'd seen yesterday. He caught up with her and taking her terrified hand placed the rose she'd asked in her palm. And he'd gone running back the street he made her run extra that day. Looking at the day old flower in her palm she stood there until her sisters who'd missed her had run back in an act of supreme selflessness to save her- they wouldn't have been able to account for her missing to their mother!

She walked to school that day, her head help proudly and the flower struck on her head like a crown. She laughs to this day thinking on how ridiculous she must have looked, but that day it was her declaration to the world to envy her.

And from then, everyday she would wait at the end of the street for the little boy. And he came, unfailingly each day with a different flower. Some days she was disappointed in the flowers he picked for her, but she bit down her disappointment and smiled as always at the boy. Her sisters looked with open mouthed wonder and as days passed, hedged slowly to show the boy that they too loved flowers. They never got any.

In all the days that they met, they never spoke a word. But she'd learnt from her neighbor who cleaned the house, his name. And a lot of everyday incidents she would dramatically tell her spellbound audience which consisted of most of the kids from under the bridge...

They moved to another place that year. And the day before she left, she'd gone down the familiar way and waited for him. She told him that she wouldn’t need flowers from the next day, as she was going away. She looked on with disappointment at the flower he'd brought that day. She'd so hoped it would be one of those roses again. Maybe he saw the disappointed droop of her mouth for he took her hand and walked her to the house with the garden. All the dreadful boys that were there stopped whatever they were doing in astonishment at the nerve of the girl who dared come past their gate.

Holding tightly onto the little hand of the little boy she plucked as many flowers as she could. She would have been plucking to this day hadn't she had to get back home. Holding onto an overflowing bunch of flowers of every kind and color, she'd left, throwing a scornful look at the still stupefied smattering of dreadful boys.

That'd been the first and last time she'd walked past the gate of the house... until again, too many years later.

Education, a job and a husband who worked relentlessly until he made the money he deserved. A home and across seven seas in a country far far away called the US.

And why now after all these years? Because she'd never thanked him, the little boy. Not once.

She'd wanted to come several times before, but it wasn't meant to be so. But this time, she was decided and she brought her husband to whom she'd told the story a thousand times.

She'd asked around and was told that the same family continued to live in the house. And she had to come to tell the little boy who must be all grown now that she has a house with a garden and no one who comes to her house asking for flowers is refused any, even if it breaks her heart to part with her favorite flowers.

Of course I knew the boy. We all did. No one asked her who it was.

She'd like to meet him, she said. Valiamma thoroughly uncomfortable whispered in the fading light words that meant to say- he was but alive in the memories of some people... and hushed tones that continued saying, it had happenend a few years ago...

She must have felt a little cheated. After waiting all these years to finally get to know him, she came too late.

She left as she came, hesitant and unsure.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Holy Fools

Lunch breaks are traumatizing. Staying aloof has its price to pay. Being friendly has a price on its head too. Shuttling between these two, no one's been able to tag a name to me.

Finally the dumbest guy of the lot put to words in his own clumsy way.

'You appear friendly. The more I try to determine that, the more friendly you appear. But somehow you really aren't', he said faintly puzzled because he felt what he said didn’t make too much sense.

I started. That was very profound little did he realize it.

So what I am today at lunch, is always the question. No one pays it as much importance as I do anyway.

Today at lunch I am generous. I don't hold it too much against every one of them that they are talking absolute crap. Why is it that fun should always be at someone else's expense, I usually want to yell while shaking everyone by the collar…

Every conversation has to have a scapegoat. There should be one blustering individual who is being thrown a fusillade of words against which he cannot retaliate. It gets to me many a time.

Well, today I was being asked a specific question.

"What do you think of capital punishment?"

Well, I didn't think too much about it. I ponder over it while chewing my food.


Now, that's one of the sanest answers I can give.

Smirks pass around. I know suddenly, today I get not to chose my role. I am given one.

"On what?"

"On what the accused is charged with...of..."

"That is irrelevant"

Smirks are no use when not shared. It was my turn to but I swallowed it and washed it down with some water.

The crowd is not having the fun they anticipated. Arenas and that aspect of entertainment, finally I understand.

"You have an accent", I hear the leader of the pack say. On why he is the leader its because he can turn an argument around. People give him the scepter for fear of being the eternal target. He rules. He reigns.

It hits me hard. I brace myself for a volley of Malayalee jokes.

Now that was new to everyone. Including me, though I wasn't allowed to be incredulous about it.

He explains, "She has an Indian accent."

I laugh out, aloud. I can’t help it.
He is Indian. Too.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

First love

First loves are special.

The first time your eyes sparkle on hearing his name.
The first time you’d run to pick up the telephone before your parents could get it.
The first time you dressed carefully hoping he would notice.
The first time the joy of a secret was in not sharing. Or maybe sharing with a few friends. Very few.
The first time you pushed aside that feeling of maybe-it-is-wrong.
The first time you wondered how it would be to kiss and blushed at the thought.
The first time you sat in front of a paper and tried to write as prettily as possible. Love stories meant more than they ever did…

Yes, first loves are special.

It was their first love. Both of them, who’d tell me almost everything, didn’t tell me this. That’s when I realized it must be.

I sat in the car watching both of them talk. Or made deliberate attempts not to talk to each other. I was given way too much attention.

She was tired, she said after sometime. Removing her glasses, she handed it over to him, “That’s my life. Be careful.”

Teenagers and their need for drama, I thought sleepily.

I saw him look for a space to put her glasses. Nothing deemed fit a place to lay them, for I saw him look around and score off the numerous possibilities.

I saw him even look at the place near the dashboard where my poor glasses moved left and right, as my crazy driver veered. Oh, they weren’t my life anyway!

She was a quick sleeper. And after making sure she was, I saw him place her glasses carefully into the pocket of his shirt.

Oh, of course I was asleep. I didn’t see a thing. I wouldn’t say a word.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Once upon a love story

I knew them both since I was a kid. That was then long ago.
Chetan and Chechi. Which later became Chechi and Chetan as priorities changed.

I knew them from a time I was convinced no boy and girl could be friends and just at that, to a time when I went about fighting for the cause of just-friends.

They were friends. Too.

But there was more. I noticed it immediately and remarked ever so casually to my mother. But Amma is very naïve when it comes to such things- for which I have shamelessly exploited her many a times. Still do.

She shussed me. So I learnt to keep quiet about it.

And then when I was older and I caught up with them, she told me about it. He was long gone. From Pondicherry. But he remained, a distant memory in my mind and a love worth waiting for, in hers.

She would often talk about remember-whens and do-you-knows. I would always listen.

Then those anecdotes stopped. He’d moved on and away, I guessed.

To outdo him, she plunged into a fit of trying to love and be loved. Each time I saw her, she would tell me of a new love of hers. And I wouldn’t ask her about him. Chetan. She was lovable. If only she didn’t try so hard.

Her heart was broken many a times, but she wondered about the ease with which she rebounded. But I knew, it was because it had never healed.

Many years and many loves later, he returned. To a country he had left. Or tried to.

That phone call was one she had waited for, without even realizing it. Feigning a nonchalance that didn’t suit her, she laughed, she pretended, she agreed to meet him.

And this is what she didn’t tell me. On how she would have tried to dress up for him. On how she would have cleaned her tiny room. On how she would have trimmed her hair, shaved her leg and dabbed herself in perfume. How she would have tried to leave a book casually on the table pretending to have been reading it instead of waiting by the window or even sitting simply in anticipation. How she would have stocked her fridge with something she thought he would have liked but would never even eat. On how she would have spent every minute the two hours agreed upon, in innumerable ways and not liked any of them…

And this is what she told me. While we sat at one of the benches at the beach looking at ships that weren’t there. He didn’t come.