I finally publish

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

You'll Feel It When You're Me

It all began with my late night craving for watermelon juice. I tried shutting it out, I really did. I even shook out my sheets and curled inside the tent I make every night. Only to wake up my already wide awake self.

My roommate, the last of her kind, looks at me from the dough she is pounding. She'd invited her friend over for dinner over an elaborate menu.

"Watermelon juice", I pout. I like playing the kid with her.

"Put something decent on. He'll be here in half an hour."

Walking in back to my room, I look for a suitable dress to meet a suitable boy. I don’t find any.

I crawl back into the now cold and reformed lumpy bed. But the magenta pink chunks with an occasional black seed that evades the whir of the blades, in tall glasses. Watermelon juice on rocks. Shaken not stirred.

I pick up the phone.

I don't linger in front of the mirror.

I pretend I don't see the disapproving look on my roommate's face. Girls from decent homes don't go out at 11 in the night. But home is miles away tucked away in a street in Pondicherry. Decency- well, we'll pretend I've left behind what I never had.

Maybe it’s the drink, but he comes.

Climbing in, I see him smile.

"What's with this watermelon thing now?"

I smile back. Pushing my luck, I ask, "Shall I drive?"

He's too attached to his car. It’s not healthy.

We play guessing games at the music that runs on the system.

I smile a smile of alarming severity at the juice shop guy.

We wait for the drink in the car. He recognizes the tunes I sing tunelessly. I recognize the ones he tries to sing. We'll never make good singers.

The beach is deserted and it’s only 11.30. I think I sound like my army uncle when each time I begin 'In Pondicherry...' So this time I don’t.

We talk about work. Friends. Non friends. I draw heavily into my fast depleting glass of juice.

So when the policeman comes and barks at us to get lost, we continue walking but this time towards the car.

"He could have been more polite. Anyone can see we aren't like..."

He appears amused. "Like?"

I don’t answer the answer he already knows.

The policeman isn't thrilled by our pace. I can feel his angry and irritatingly derisive look. The feet drag more than before.

"It is important that they do this. And he doesn’t really care what we are. He has a home to get back to too."

I let him take my hand. We walk, our steps longer this time.

I don't remember how the topic changed from everything pleasant to everything not. But we were suddenly talking about rape. I see he's played this through his mind before.

And it fell on my ears which I still refuse to believe, his acceptance of the fact. The whole situation. The reasoning out to the attackers. Their refusal to reason. The pleading tone. The scornful villainous laugh that is played until worn in every movie, which might not be there in real life. And then in a series of fast moving images, the actual act.

His words roll on. I hate the ease with which they fall. I hate his logic, his helplessness.

I throw away the water melon juice. It doesn’t tempt me any more.

It doesn’t end there. I hear his words laced heavily with sarcasm.

"Where did the logic that's so characteristic of you vanish?"

What do I tell him? That he's talking a woman's worst fear? That it’s easy for me to get into her shoes and imagine the horror?

"Do you really think I'll be able to take on 2 or 3 people at the same time?"

"Does that give reason enough to not even try?"

"Even when you and I know it's gonna be pointless? A random throw away act of heroism when the last thing that you feel like at the moment is heroic? And you still would want me to 'try'?"

I hear our footsteps on the gravel. Long wavering shadows that appeared almost apologetic in front of us, sorry to be there.


I feel his warm lips on mine. I hope they were saying sorry. At least, that's what I wanted to hear.

Tomorrow, we’ll go back to being friends. Just friends.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

15 minutes from Bangalore to Pondicherry

'Happy Birthday', I wished him, hoping I was right this once.

Even if I wasn't, he didn't correct me. Relaxing in the assumed right air, I waited wondering what to type on the hovering window of the yahoo messenger.

I didn't want to make wishes that I didn't mean. Not this time.

Choosing words carefully, I made an almost reverential wish. One about dreams, hopes, fears, loves and finding desires.

'Thank you', blinked on my screen.

'What would you like for a birthday present?'. Ritualistic.

'Get ready. Dinner and a movie after. '

I took out the pen from my mouth. I had to purse up my lips and that isn't best done with the lean finger of the pen held horizontally between clenched teeth.

'Ok. I'll wear a white salwar kameez and a pink dupatta.' His favorite, I think.

'Great. See you in 15 minutes.'

I hear the vanishing sound of the person leaving.

Opening my cupboard, I looked for the white dress I had in mind. Inside it was placed a blue dupatta.

Taking it out carefully, I put it away for another day. It was to be pink today.

I do not know how many kilometers it is from Bangalore to Pondicherry. But I don't think it can be covered in 15 minutes.

I hope you had a good dinner. I hope she wore a pink dupatta.

Happy birthday again.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

My best friend's wedding

"Am getting married", he told me.

How on earth are you supposed to react to something like this coming from that one person you've always loved? You've tied in foolish years, friendship bands around each other's wrists. You've cried over broken loves. You've laughed and cried watching all your favorite movies together. You've repeated dialogues from your favorite film in sequence with perfect timing. You've known that even if you fall in love many times in life, you'll always have just one special friend who is your faith in mankind when the rest of the world walks away. No, these are not just Hallmark card lines...

I've known him for over eight years. And for over eight years I've loved him with a love that amazes me. I mean, like 8 years!!!!

I loved him when he went all over the place looking for that bangle that so caught my eye when we watched 'Dil to Pagal Hain' together. I loved him when he would slip out of his window at night and come to see me just because I was feeling disturbed. I loved him when he would rub my tired ankles that were sore after hours of dancing. I loved him when he would fall asleep on the bed while sitting with me during my study holidays... He was the only person who loved me and made a show about it. The rest of the people assumed I knew- yes I did. But once in a while someone comes along who shows you just how much.

So my best friend is getting married.

I sat plucking at my lower lip thoughtfully while holding on to the phone. I've heard this line and from him many a times. Once recklessly, we'd fled to the registrar's office to get married- oh no, not to each other. Thankfully my mother had in an auto sputtering with fury whisked us away. The part that the girl in question never turned up should be mentioned here I guess.

After a long pause best fit for an art movie, I laugh. Belatedly, yes.

He laughs. Now both of us are happy.

"I really am!"


What's her name this time?

The names are always pretty. And I notice a pattern. They all begin with S. I tell him that. Now both of us are sad.

Why do you have to always hurt the ones you love? And consciously so? I wind and unwind the long cord of the telephone- its been long after having touched the earth and none too gently over the years of running to pick up a call. These days I ignore the black ring- it never is for me.

Why wasn't I told about the love bit that supposedly comes before the marriage line? I never ask.

But he tells me.

This must be love then. The others he'd 'loved' before, he'd even made retirement plans with.

What about me? I almost wail.


I wait and answer. The telephone bill, let it surge I think spitefully.

Well, remember you were to marry me if no one does!

He laughs easily. We've been through this meticulously before. Those good old days when my friends would hint and lecture that he was the only person in the world who could love me the way he did because he never understood me. We laughed over it. At them too, cruelly.

No, seriously.

He says with the practiced ease of someone who knows the right answer.

We love each other too much to ever fall in love with each other.

I almost throw the phone. I was always good at making fine sounding statements. Maybe I should copyright them all.

Things will change. They always do. And learning to let go has been the lesson always. Maybe this time I'll pass the test gracefully. I will make things easier for him. I've never been an easy friend to have. Paying dues. The smiling and charming best friend who ushers in people, makes smart statements, flits around and catches everybody's eye...

April 30th. Maybe the girl won't turn up this time too.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Midnight love

Nishagandhi shouldn't be planted in the garden, she knew. Myths and legends overflowed- each more dramatic than the other. Consequences more grotesque than one previously heard. But they all had to do with snakes.

But one thing that overrode all these was the hot and intoxicating smell of the drooping and sly flower that refused to bloom but once in six months, to meet her midnight lover.

Grandpa's place was a plethora of mysticism. Even in the clearest of days, there was a shadow of something that was waiting to happen. Cats took more significance in the that place than anywhere. Hoots of owls were more dismal and dispiriting... the only thing that had marked the place different from a horror movie setting was her bossy and demanding grandmother who was the very essence of life.

When she took the fleshy plant that was rudely uprooted by the gardener, it was her grandma who brushed aside the thousand myths that clung to it and told her to plant it in the copse of the snakes. 'Sarpa Kaavu'. Abode of the snakes.

Sheltered by low overhanging boughs, it was her ideal retreat. True she'd been chased away many a times by the gardener who mumbled words she sure were bad and cursed the younger generation and their idiocy. But she always returned to lie on the sun spotted ground and read her books.

The cool, eternally wet and dark brown mud was easy to dig and formed the new home of the plant. She hoped it would bloom soon.

But it had a will of its own. Six months passed and its greedy roots dug deeper and deeper, its leaves glistened with wickedness..

Windows that were never shut all through the year from which she could see spots of orange lights of her far away neighbors house. Windows where she often stood watching the mobile Petromax lamps that would often glint by the river...Windows that let in sprays of rain that drenched the wooden cupboard and made it swell...

The summer breeze carried a lot of smells. But as the night wears on, single strains of smells- distinguishable and potent. The smell of gun powder of a shot that a poacher fired long far away... The smell of fish roasted over an open fire by the boatmen at night...

The smell of the Nishagandhi flower that bloomed but once a year at midnight, she realized with a start. Insistent and beckoning... Putting down the book she was reading, a glance at the clock that ticked with unfailing tiredness. This was the time. She knew it. The plant had of late withdrawn... its leaves that once stretched their fingers had coiled around each other. Almost like snakes coupling...

Picking up her torch that to date hadn't been used she clicked it on. A faint flickering wishy-washy light. Rattling the steel body against her palm, she found a steady stream of light.

Climbing down wooden staircases that creaked, confident no one would wake up in a place that sounds filled the stillness of the night and rocked the sleeping lullaby. Her grandmother could never sleep in the city and they had rushed back to the discomforts that they were used to.

Stepping past toads that looked up and scuttled away, throwing a warning that there was an intruder in their land of the night.

Fear had never been a part of her education. There were enough classes and lessons learnt on recklessness and stupidity, but not on fear.

Sure steps that were placed by slippered feet after a quick scan for lethargic reptiles that failed to crawl away and had to be prodded to wakefulness by the tip of her slippers.

There wasn't any darkest of nights in summer. Maybe the clouds threw some light borrowed from the sleepless sun.

Inside the whorl of leaves that appeared reluctant to part, forming almost a panicle, she found the white flower that appeared translucent in the night light. The overpowering smell towards druggedness, heavy and of what would have been characteristic of an antiprana...

The slick black bodies of the snake gods that were locked in eternal embrace. Scattered showers of saffron and turmeric from mixed prayers to the Nagas... Floods and drought, springs, wells and rivers, rain, and fertility - to the Nagas who ruled them all.

She turned when she heard the fast swish that cut grooves on the wet mud around, to the direction of the river that curled around in a bend close by... A scaly body that glistened with water that was more viscous than usual in the caressing night light...

Ignoring her exigent presence, in strokes that were careless and beautiful it moved to the Nishagandhi plant that seemed to bend low with the overpowering weight of the flower... lower and lower.. lower until the flower dropped effortlessly to the ground.

Fact and fiction blended in her eyes into shades of indiscernible colors. Nishagandhi, mistress of only the night, enticer of snakes, carried away by the first one to claim her...

That's where they found her the next day, crushed white flower in hand and a blue bite of claim....