I finally publish

Tuesday, August 29, 2006



That's where the neighbor's son went. To make money.

I don't remember a day that went by without her coming home to meet Mu and tell us about Dar-e-Salaam. I'd asked Mu where it was. It was somewhere far. Far far away. Farther than the road beyond the green fields. Farther than even Pondicherry where my parents lived.

The neighbor in her crisp white dress with her crisp red mouth who spat betel juice in a quaint old jar that she carried when she came home. She wouldn’t spit in Mu's garden. Oh no. Deference, my first sight of it.

Mu would offer her tea everyday which she would gracefully decline pointing to her blood red mouth.

Mu would sip her tea and listen to her stories. Of big buildings. Bigger cars. Lavish lifestyles. Of letters with exotic stamps which she would graciously give me. I steamed out the stamps and pressed them, still with fragments of ink from a strange country into my notebook. My notebook pages that whispered to the stamps from Dar-e-Salaam.

The stories were always happy. They made my neighbor happy, that is.

I'd sometimes go over to her in a fit of boredom and sit on her mulberry lined wall.

"Tell me about Dar-e-Salaam" and she would tell me stories of tigers that roamed the streets and animals of colors that existed not even in the paint box I got last summer.

"Are there ghosts in Dar-e-Salaam?", I once asked her.

She thought about it.

"Yes", she decided. People die even in Dar-e-Salaam.

And went on to tell me some of the most fearsome stories I'd heard in my childhood. And in my ignorance, I didn't realize that the ghosts in Dar-e-Salaam too spoke last words in Malayalam to their victims.

Mu put an end to those visits after she was repeatedly woken several nights by my tugging of her saree. The toilets were too far and too dark and the way was paved with ghosts of increasing cruelty.

But the other stories continued. Though Mu was unhappy with her for scaring me with her stories, I think Mu visited the Dar-e-Salaam in her head when she spoke. I had one too. Full of dark blue tigers and orange peacocks and ghosts with white sarees. That I would never go there was certain.

It was then that it happened. Her son died. I don’t know how, but he died. And he was brought home in a brown box.

It didn’t have a stamp on it.

We went visiting. Her screams of grief terrified me. Mu hastily walked me back home.

I brushed aside the uneasy feeling that there perhaps was someone else who walked with us that evening.

His ghost after all would be in Dar-e-Salaam.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Elegy written on a rainy vacation day

Some people can’t be forgotten. They can’t be remembered either. They just exist in your life. Maybe as tucked away memories of hurt... Or whispers of something you imagined…

This is about him. Someone I met years ago, who walked in uninvited into my life. True that I’d hoped fervently that he would. True that I’d thrown open doors for him to walk in. But uninvited still. I can’t bring myself to accept that I’d invited trouble.

I met him at a wedding years ago, to which he’d come on invitation.

Blue crumpled silk skirt which held my complete attention, strands of hair that were incessantly being pushed back and wouldn’t stay on, anklets in gold that I wasn’t to lose- you see, it was just too much of attention on myself coming from me. But this is to tell you how young I then was.

Young and almost innocent.

The next time he came in, he came as a letter. To an address I’d written on the back of the invitation or his palm- I don’t exactly remember. But I knew it was something quick and away from the eyes of my grandmother.

His letter, which I hid from mother. No, not under pillows. But among the numerous books on the bookshelf. You see, almost innocent.

His soft, pale envelopes and black inked writings came to signal something achingly secretive. Something I when tried to share, became distorted.

He wasn’t a lover. But I loved him.

He wasn’t a boyfriend. I had another.

He wasn’t a cousin. I had many.

He wasn’t a friend. I didn’t need one then.

His letters, all then carefully stored in a brown jute bag. Letters that bore fingerprints from constant reading. Letters that were opened proudly in front of girlfriends and read to memorize. Words that were stored in your mind. “I will look you after…”

I opened my heart to him in words. Girlish secrets of periods and pains and the furtive joy in sharing this with a boy. Childish guilt that was salvaged and presented. Almost innocent.

He was the one I cried to when my first love was discovered lost.

And then he walked away.

Reason as it existed, didn’t make much sense. Rather, there wasn't much of it to go around.

I wrote to him. Feverish scribbles on envelopes with his address. I kept writing to a reply that never came.

It hurt that I didn’t know the exact moment when he ceased to exist in my life. I didn’t even catch his shadow.

It was the day before having to go home after 4 years of early morning alarms, shared bathrooms and study.

College had wound up and serious decisions had to be made about memorabilia collected from the years. Gifts that were re-gifted. Pressed flowers from the numerous occasions that always existed in college life. Love letters from non-lovers. Things that mom would easily classify as- junk.

The brown jute bag that had remained idle for many months now. It would have made more sense to either keep it or throw it all away. But on the wet terrace of our house, in the fast fading light of the day, I sat down to tear all his letters.

One by one. My fingers hurt. The soft envelopes weren’t as soft as they seemed. They were more than I expected in number. But hot wet tears helped. They fell fast and furious on the black ink and turned them all spidery. A shivering spider.

My best friend sat watching me; her pile had gotten over quite sometime ago. I kept tearing and tearing. I finished them all.

He was now officially a memory. RIP.