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Of Antihistamines, Divine Pursuits and a General Election

20190523_070249Yesterday was Tough – with a capital T. My right eye started itching suddenly the night before, and in a matter of minutes became a purplish blob with a red slit in the middle. When the itch extended to my throat, I swallowed an antihistamine, and that sealed my misery. Spent the night tossing and turning in a restless half sleep, and was unable to pick myself up from the bed most of yesterday. And I’m no pleasure to be around when I’m forced to be horizontal – ask my family.

But that too has passed.

This morning I got up as usual, and responded to Poocha’s call in kind. Took my walk, with music on shuffle on the way back. There were fewer people on the road for some reason. 

Hazaron khwahishen aisi… 

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After so many months, it’s still with a sigh of relief that I breathe in the verdant evergreen by the porch, the mosaicked patch under the staircase, the few straggly plants in front of the door, and the living room with its yellow curtains. Yes. We have somehow managed to coax out ‘the home we want to live in’ (as my boys put it) from the ruins that had resulted from 14-years of neglect. And in the process, lived to learn that rebuilding a home out of its own dark shell is an act of love and hope.

I’m now treating our home ‘as a canvas’ as Adu advised me –  adding one brushstroke at a time.

I invariably water my plants as soon as I return – rather upsetting these days. They were all lush and happy until a couple of months ago, but since then have been morose and unresponsive. Nothing I do cheers them up enough to grow. (I’m beginning to believe that plants feel trauma – and that their cells hold the memory.) All I can do is to keep urging them, hoping that they will, one day, forget. And grow up. 

Innam konjam neram poruthaal thaan enna…

Amma’s usually in her room when I return, attending to her many gods. Her days are (and have been for as long as I can remember) devoted almost entirely to the pursuit of the divine: her version of it, rather. And after living most of her adult life in various states of aloneness, she doesn’t take very kindly to human interferences. Occasional short periods of social interactions are borne with patience, but any attempt to integrate her into sustained mainstream family life is an exercise in futility. So we live our parallel lives that meet mostly at the dining table thrice a day or so.

Could’ve been worse, I guess.

Lag jaa gale…

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Made my first tea of the day, and came to my room. I have an interesting selection of infusions now – hibiscus, tulsi and chamomile, sage… But the bright green tea I chose today is special; it’s a gift from Ricca, and has come all the way from Japan. It has the flavour of the wonderful stories she used to share with me of her almost nomadic life as a young woman from sub-Siberian Japan. 

Twitter opened to a wonderful essay on Walking by Maria Papova, where she quoted Lauren Elkin. “Why do I walk? I walk because I like it. I like the rhythm of it, my shadow always a little ahead of me on the pavement. I like being able to stop when I like, to lean against a building and make a note in my journal, or read an email, or send a text message, and for the world to stop while I do it. Walking, paradoxically, allows for the possibility of stillness.”

Couldn’t have said it better.

Anuragini ithaa en…

The results of the general election are not a shock. But that doesn’t make me feel any less sad. I worry about what awaits our children, our academia, our minorities, our nation – our individual and collective worth as the citizens thereof.  The general mood on social media is either defensive or gleefully smug – an easy trap to fall into, I suppose. But it breaks my heart to see the young people I once taught use words like sickular, libtard and presstitute to talk about those with opposing points of view. 

Nothing is going to be the same again. 

As a kind friend pointed out, maybe people like me did contribute to what happened, merely by voicing our opinions on public platforms. I only hope I have the restraint necessary to not do so in the future.

Anyway, it’s time I stopped feeling sad – stopped feeling anything at all – and moved on with life. Or something like it. 

Zindagi tujh ko toh bus khab mein dekha hum ne…

For now, the kitchen awaits.

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Of Cats, Flats and the Local Grocery Shop

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It’s Day 6. No mean achievement, considering.

As usual, Poocha was right outside the door, returning home to eat, rest and recuperate after her nightly adventures. She mewed her knock, waited patiently for me to open the net door, waited less patiently for her bowl to be refilled, and greedily downed a few mouthfuls. Then she generously brushed herself against my shin, telling that I’m not too bad after all, after which she jumped on to a dining chair, stretched out and closed her eyes.

She lives the cat’s life!

There are a couple of fat tomcats in the neighbourhood who come to court her – a grim-looking grey one and a black and white one with one ear chewed off. Poocha is petite and looks quite the damsel in distress, so I understand why she runs inside screaming when they come anywhere near her. But that doesn’t stop her from flirting from within the safety of her home. When she sees or hears either of them, she walks quietly up to the glass door and stays there, watching them silently. The menfolk try their best to lure her out, but she wouldn’t budge. 

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It must be the Monday morning ‘josh’, but I saw more people out on the road today than usual. Took the same route, saw the same sights with a slightly different pair of eyes, and smiled a few more smiles. At least three of the new faces I came across today stopped and asked me the familiar question: Flateennano?

The local population of Eroor tends to attribute any unfamiliar face to ‘The Flat’ – an alien spaceship that landed in their backyard twenty years ago and wouldn’t leave. But when I confirm their suspicion, they invariably nod and smile. I told you they smile more easily in this part of the world. 

I usually put on Devi Kavacham (a 15-minute long rendition) when I start walking, go on ahead till it ends, and then turn back – which makes sure I have at least a 30-minute walk to take credit for. It takes me past Appu’s old school, and up to a tea stall that has come up, I guess, for the benefit of students. But since it’s vacation, I see only a couple of local fisherfolk sipping tea.

On my way back, I listen to film songs or ghazals, put on shuffle.

Pularkala sundara swapnathil njaanoru… I usually wait to reach home before I start humming along loudly.  A grey-haired woman in exercise clothes, walking through the bylanes of Eroor needs to exhibit some kind of restraint – for propriety’s sake. 

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Maybe it’s the fault of growing up in the villages, or all those years of living in the desert with its landscaped urban gardens, but I get all sentimental about the local flora of Eroor. There are so many trees and plants on the way that were an intrinsic part of my childhood, and some that still seem exotic to my Palakkadan sensibilities. 

Opposite the chapel, at the corner where the road turns, is a small grocery which is open even at 6 in the morning. You can find almost anything you need in the baskets or gunny bags scattered around, but you have to pay the one-man act his king’s ransom. When you have the monopoly of the grocery business this side of Kaniambuzha, you are going to name your price, I guess. 

Every morning, when I reach back, the elderly lady who lives alone (except for her home-nurse) in one of the apartments would be taking her slow morning walks. The click of her walking stick against the bricks on the pathway is a reassuring, welcoming sound, and she always gives me the most beautiful morning smile. On most days, though, I have to reintroduce myself to her failing memory.

This morning, she was standing in front of her door reading a newspaper as I walked past. I greeted her as usual, and she beckoned me over. I went to her and introduced myself again to her curious, bright eyes. She smiled her beatific smile, took my sweaty face in her hands, and kissed me on both cheeks. Then she went back to her newspaper, and I came back home. 

The day has begun. 

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Of Road Once Taken and Other Things Like That

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So I’ve resumed my (admittedly irregular) morning walks. They’d been put on hold since moving to Kochi, and I had a whole list of excuses for that. In fact, I’d almost convinced myself that it’s ok, you poor thing. 

1. The stress of moving, you see.

2. The stress of renovating the house – you understand that, right?

3. The stress of dealing with the summer heat in Kochi! *Roll eyes*

4. Oh, and what can I tell you about the stress of menopause? *Shake head* *Long sigh*

So on and so forth.

But my increasingly uncomfortable sari blouses and the terrible cramps that ravage my previously unacknowledged body parts are a warning I can no longer ignore. Sleep, that elusive entity who only flirts with me even on a good night, now seems ready to abandon me altogether. And believe me, that spells disaster. 

Truth be told, it’s not just my body that feels as if it’s turning into lead. There are times when I teeter on the brink of something black and wordless, and I can see an all-consuming numbness staring back at me from its depths. And I’m not going to give in to it. Not if I can help it. Not when I’m actually learning to live. 

So I need the walk. Because endorphins help. Serotonin helps. Whatever else gets released in the course of that walk helps.

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Four days in a row now, and the sense of achievement I feel now is beyond words. 

The walk on Day 1, though, was a trip to hell.  An ineffectual night rain had raised the humidity level to ‘unbelievable’ and I was sweating profusely even before I stepped out of the gate. But the sight of the rain-drenched flowers on the wayside was a motivation to plod on. So I plodded on, taking photos on the way.

I took the same route that Sonya and I used to take in a distant past for our occasional walks. Turned left at the gate and followed the winding road until I reached the fork, and turned left again to follow the path that runs by the river. My mind kept wandering to those walks with Sonya, and the random stuff we used to talk about back then. Things like Phi and its significance in the world, or whether we would dye our hair when it turned grey. 

But everything has changed. Sonya herself is now in another city, though her still empty flat suggests that she will return someday. Phi, however, has long been forgotten; it has absolutely no significance in my world right now. And as for turning grey, I’ve chosen to let it. Why fight the inevitable?

The once unpaved road has been tarred, and quite recently, as is evident from the absence of potholes. So the walk now is meandering but smooth. The grassy wasteland that we used to walk past has been divided into plots with names and numbers, with many with largish, well-kept houses standing tall within. There’s even a low-rise apartment block at the far end, near the school where Appu used to study.

Someone told me recently that such flats are designed for families with school-going children. I’m sure.

Houses

The steel fabrication workshop at the corner, run by two Italian-looking brothers, is usually closed at that time of the morning. But going by the small board tacked to the rust-free shutters, it’s still functional,. The patch of land just outside, though, has been tiled and chained off, and sports a few stone benches. A red board says it’s now a ‘Senior Citizens’ Park’, but it’s usually a white Volkswagen GT that’s parked there in the mornings, staring morosely at the river. 

The senior citizens, whenever they park themselves on the benches, might not have much in terms of space, but they do have a stunning river view as the background for their inevitable reminiscences.

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New paths run like capillaries off the arterial road which is just wide enough for one largish car to squeeze through. They connect houses and housing plots, often reaching a dead end by the side of one. Another board, a white one this time, proclaims that a residents’ association is now in place. Good for them.

The Eroor West post office, which used to be a shanty halfway to the school, has moved to a small house closer to our apartment. A couple of new temples have sprouted on the way, along with a chapel at the corner of the road near our building. A testimony, I suppose, to the rising religious fervour.  

The ‘short cut’ I used to take to drop off Appu at school has become unrecognisable. It took me a second to register the once-muddy turn-off where my silver Sunny had skidded, taking down with it the three of us – Appu in his school uniform, and little Adu in his ‘kangaroo’ pouch, belted to my chest.

The whole area has been cemented, and leads to a narrow concrete path flanked by concrete walls, some with flowers spilling over. The canal that used to run by the side has disappeared under thick concrete slabs.

In this part of Eroor, concrete is king. 

Concrete

Back then, when it was still muddy, that path used to run through a large piece of wetland. An entire ecosystem had thrived there under a thick canopy of trees, and we had to jump across a small, clear stream in which fish and ducks swam. Snakes, chameleons and other reptiles used to move casually about, completely dismissive of the few human beings who crossed their path. What they did take heed of were the mongooses who had the run of the place.

It was a different world back then – a brownish-green world of perpetual twilight. A  sublime world whose silence used to reverberate with the shrill of a million unseen creatures.

A memory now. Walled in, weeded out. Easier to walk across, but heartbreaking.

That patch of earth had ignited Appu’s imagination no end, I remember. And much later, he brought it back to life in his first college project – as an animation video titled ‘Way Home’. 

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The other day, as I was about to get into an autorickshaw, a heavily pregnant young woman hurried across and asked me if I remembered her. It took me a minute, but I did. She and her mother were among the people who had helped us up from the red earth where we had fallen down. Later, but in that same life of mine, I had made dresses for her adolescent self. 

She told me that she almost didn’t know me either, but then she saw me smile. I’d recognise that smile anywhere, she said, smiling.

Made my day. 

Her little one has come out now, I think. I saw a line of nappies hanging by their porch.

Wetland

Not many people are out at that time of the morning, apart from the few who would be heading towards Chambakkara on their two-wheelers. Sometimes I see a woman or two in housecoats, doing things that women do at that time of the morning: sweep the yard, water the plants, wash the vessels… Some of them seem familiar, and I try to chip away the decade and a half from their faces to see if I can place them. Sometimes I can.

People smile so much more easily in this part of the world.

On the first morning, there was an elderly man standing in front of his house and brushing his teeth. He was still brushing when I came back. His must be whitest teeth in Eroor. 

I return home each morning feeling as if my body is being slow cooked. My clothes would be drenched in sweat, and my misted-over glasses would have slipped off my nose. And I don’t even want to know how I smell. Yet, the sense of well-being I feel makes it worth all of that and more. It’s fascinating how the world becomes so much more liveable after a walk and a bath!

Life has taught me to be wary of myself. I lost count of the number of times I had decided to adopt a healthy routine, only to feel my engines grind to a halt in a matter of days. Today is all about good intentions and general well-being; who knows about tomorrow?

But then, that’s life. To be taken one day at a time. 

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Of Diaper Pins, Rubber Bands, and an Old Man on the Metro

AduWe were on the Singapore Metro (or the ‘MRT’, as Amy calls it), though I can’t recall where we were going to, nor the name of the station we were to get down at. The train was quite crowded, so we stood to one side of the door.

He was standing near us – an old man, leaning against a pole grip. His back was to the crowd, and he was swaying gently with the train. I don’t know what it was about him that caught my attention because his focus was firmly fixed elsewhere, below eye-level.

I found myself glancing at him every so often. 

An unusually large pair of eyes revealed themselves suddenly to survey the compartment and just as quickly went back under the heavy eyelids they came out of. I was reminded of Ollie, a tortoise we had with us for a while in Dubai. He would draw himself into his shell when he went to sleep. But every so often he would raise his head from his shell, look around, and pull it back in again. 

When the old man raised his head again to look out of the window opposite, I noticed a chain of red rubber bands circling his bald head. It took me a moment to realise that its purpose was not decorative – it was holding in place his rather thick, misshapen eyeglasses that might otherwise have slid down his nose. 

He seemed to be chewing at something, and a single loose tooth emerged from the confines of his cavernous mouth every so often and retreated as quietly as it appeared.

I could not help but stare. Our eyes met suddenly and he turned away, decidedly ignoring me and every other person on the train.

Rather embarrassed, I was about to look away when I noticed that the well-worn, dirty salmon-pink T-shirt he was wearing was sporting a neat row of half-a-dozen diaper pins at the chest where a pocket would have been.  More diaper pins were fixed to the pocket flap of his shabby olive cargo shorts, and next to them, a wristwatch hung from a string that disappeared into the hem of his Tee.

Thin legs ended in a pair of loose grey socks and olive sneakers that looked as if they would give up their ghost any moment. Two heavy-looking cloth bags lay on the floor by his feet, still and alert like obedient dogs. 

Try as I might, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from him. His, however, were fixed on something else by then. 

I watched him open a few sheets of folded paper that he had been holding in his hand – a few loose leaves pulled out of a ruled notebook. He started working on them furiously with a red pen. 

I forgot that it was rude to stare.

A red arc appeared on the paper, which soon became a head in the old Chinese style, with long hair on either side and a sparse, long beard at the chin. Small eyes, small mouth…

He paused, lifted his huge eyes, gave the surroundings a once-over. Finding nothing to hold his interest, he went back to his paper and began to draw lines around the head, like the rays of the sun. No – like the lines we used to draw in anatomy class to label body parts.

It turned that he was indeed labeling something around the head in a language that looked like Chinese. 

That done to his satisfaction, he paused, looked around for a long time, changed pages and started with the pen again. Soon the paper burst out in a bloom of red doodles that looked like small clouds interspersed with jottings in shorthand script – something that called for furrowed brows and unblinking concentration. 

After a while, his pauses became longer and more frequent, but he hardly bothered to look up. Soon he was sleeping – eyes closed, mouth slightly open, still holding the paper and the pen tightly, still swaying gently, but never once losing his balance. At times he would come back to the world with a jerk, quickly jot some things down, and then fall back asleep. The bags at his feet stood guard. 

When the train pulled into the terminus, he woke up as if to an alarm, gathered his evidently heavy bags, and got down before us – tall, thin and ageless, staggering under the weight of his bags.  No one offered help, and somehow it didn’t seem as if he would’ve accepted any. 

I looked around for him one last time before getting into the lift.

He was still there on the platform, just next to the door through which he got down. Leaning against the wall of the stationary train as if he couldn’t keep himself steady on terra firma. His bags waited next to him patiently.

I don’t know why, but I still think of him sometimes. A shabby old man lost in a world of his own making. Held together by diaper pins, rubber bands, and handwritten notes. Swaying gently to the rhythm of the train.

And I wonder.

***

*Illustration: Aditya Shivakumar Menon, aka Son 2, who is extremely dissatisfied with his work. 

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An Orchid a Day

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Day 1

They say orchids are the most highly evolved of all flowering plant species. I don’t know enough to verify that. In fact, I used to think of them as divas – all attitude and colour.

Well then, I told them. You can keep your airs. I have nicer flowers than you as my friends. 

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Day 2

When I followed Amy to Singapore Botanical Gardens on Wednesday the 16th of January, 2019, it was mainly to see the gigantic lilypads I knew were in there – a cousin had shown me some photographs decades ago. They were the reason Singapore entered my bucket list at all.

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Day 3

But if you have ever let yourself be guided by a determined twenty-five-year-old who loves orchids, you won’t have to be told that the lilypads had to wait.

We entered the orchid garden, and the rest is history.

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Day 4

These posts are going to be about them, the prima donnas of the flower kingdom that I have fallen utterly, impossibly in love with. An ode to their beauty, grace and exquisite complexity.

An orchid a day. For however long it takes.

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Day 5

I don’t remember their names, and frankly, I don’t care. An orchid is an orchid is an orchid. Heartbreakingly beautiful, regardless.

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Day 6

***

P.S. I used a DSLR camera (Canon EOS1100D) to capture these images. Despite all the time and attention given, I can see the effects of age on my eyesight. Some of the images are blurred at the edges.

Like life. 

 

 

 

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Lest I Forget

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Memories from the far end of Bombay riots

I’ve managed to erase most of the memories of the days around December 6, 1992. A few fragments, however, remain stuck to my consciousness like a stain, and wouldn’t go away however much I try to wash them off. I was one of the luckier ones, of course – I was at the far end of the pool, where the ripples came only to subside. Thus the privilege of ‘forgetting’. I’m aware.

I was working in State Bank of India, Churchgate Branch, and less than four months pregnant at the time.

I remember that I was coming back from somewhere, though I’m not sure where. The train I was on was largely empty, but had stopped in the middle of nowhere. No one seemed to know why, though there was a general sense of disquiet in the air that the demolition of a mosque in Ayodha had caused. But at the time it seemed far away. And despite rumours of repercussions closer home, fear had not struck. At least, not me, not yet.

A good half an hour or so later, someone who scrambled up the train said there was dangafasad going on ahead, and that was the reason the train had stopped. After that, the train, with all of us inside it, was eerily silent.

Relief came as a long whistle, and there was a general buzz among us, commuters.  Just as the train was about to move, a heavily pregnant woman struggled up the steps sweating and panting. A few people rushed to help her. She flopped down on a window seat, still sweating profusely and sobbing all the while. She was trying to say something, but was mostly incoherent. The only words we could make out were: “They had swords!”

When she recovered enough to talk, she said that she had run away to escape a mob – they were not coming at her, but. They had bloodied swords and torches, though, and someone told her that a woman, similarly pregnant, had her stomach cut open.

I can’t recall the rest of the trip. Except that the heavy window pane fell on the lady’s hand and she started crying again. 

What I remember of the rest of those days are the random discussions that used to happen.  At work, in the train, among colleagues… On how if you were passing by this road, it is safer to wear a bindi. But if you were taking the other, your bindi could get you killed. About how a Hindu colony protected a Muslim family, or how a Muslim family that kept their Hindu friend and his family safe in their house…

Things like that. 

That was the time I learned that one’s name and surname could become something that saved or destroyed, depending. The first time I became aware of religion, in a way I had never been.

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I was in Bombay on March 12, 1993, as well. And again, what I remember are the most frivolous details of the day. Like the extra-large white and blue dress I was wearing because that was the most comfortable one for my extra-large stomach. And how I was sweating excessively and feeling slightly sick as I walked from Second Road to Chembur Station, but would not take leave. Because it meant one less day at home for my delivery, back in Coimbatore. 

At the station, I began to feel dizzy. Two women from Adelphi – my personal banking customers – held me up and sat me down. They told me it was better that I went back home as I did not look well enough to get through the day. They put me in an autorickshaw and left.

When the call came for me in the afternoon, I thought it was to inquire after my health, or to say that they missed me at lunchtime. But the voice at the other end was hushed. “I’m glad you took leave, Mini. There has been a bomb blast at the Stock Exchange. We felt it in our PB department (which was in the basement).”

It took a while for the news to sink in, as it did for everything that happened afterwards.

I remember the warnings that were being repeatedly heard on railway stations, trains and BEST buses. Please make sure that there is no unclaimed baggage left under your seats or above you. If you do find anything suspicious, inform the authorities immediately. Do not touch or go near it… Announcements to that effect. BEST buses went the extra mile – they started playing old songs, which would be punctuated every so often by such announcements.

To this day, each time I happen to hear the song tum agar saath dene ka wada karo, my heart skips a beat. And my stomach tightens in anticipation of the abrupt pause after main tumhe dekhkar geet gaata rahoon… And I almost wait for the voice that would tell me to check under my seat.

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My scars, however, are thin. Barely visible, considering. I’m aware of that.

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And yet, one has to remember. Always

 

 

*PC: Google images.

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A Letter to A, Post His Mortem

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Dear A,

I have to tell you this. Yesterday, after so many months of your untimely, unexpected death, you occupied my mind space for a good while.

Are you surprised? I am. 

I was trying to send a photograph to someone via WhatsApp, but I couldn’t. Instead, I received a rather grim warning that my storage is full, so I better clean up stuff or else. I had no option but to comply, you see. So I went to Storage and started deleting chats one by one.

Your name came up in my list of contacts, which was quite unexpected. I had forgotten that we used to message occasionally, enough to take up 7.4MB of my old-fashioned iPhone – which is about as spacious as your apartment was, the last time we were there. 

A couple of jokes, good wishes for the now-old 2018, some articles about the state of our country, and something on Bitcoins – that’s what you’d sent. I’ve replied in polite emoticons, mostly. You must know that I’m not big on WhatsApp conversations.

By the way, the last message from you (which I have not replied to), dated March 30, 2018, is a video.  A man in a business suit is speaking in Hindi about why cleansing your ‘system’ is vital for good health. You were huge on health, I remember, what with diet and exercise plans and all that.

Life’s little ironies, right? Your heart didn’t give a damn, ultimately.

We had our comment-reply transactions on Facebook too. A few months before you died, you had taken to making short motivational videos. To be honest, I was ambiguous about them (having never been one to take to motivational speeches), so I kept well away. After I came to know of your death, though, I wished I had watched them, just so I can claim half your niceness reciprocally. 

But then, that’s what you were, right? Unfailing kind, unwaveringly considerate – right from the first time we met at the gate of my hostel in Tilak Nagar. Yes, it has been that long!

You and S, your then-new wife, were waiting at the hostel gate with Shiva, to be introduced to his wife-to-be. Then one day, we came to your house, met your mother, and listened quietly to your collective anxiety at not having an offspring yet.

Later, you and S helped Shiva appease his family with a quick round of astrological manipulation. With the help of an astrologer known to you, my horoscope was changed to match Shiva’s.

See, I’m shaking my head and smiling as I write this.

I don’t know if you are aware of it, but that little lie fell flat – literally at the altar. When the temple priest asked me about my star, I blurted out ‘moolam’, instead of the ‘chothi’ that my new jatakam required of me. But my father-in-law, the gentlest man I had ever had the fortune to meet, just smiled benignly and let it pass. No one from my side of the family had the slightest inkling of that little drama anyway, so that was that.

When I returned to Bombay alone after that hurried wedding to stay with my husband’s aunt, you and S had visited me diligently. I was pregnant, confused and completely unprepared as a mother-to-be. Then, when Shiva came down for a visit, we came to your house. You and S were trying to feed your curly haired, doe-eyed elder son at the time. A year or two later, you guys moved to Qatar.

When was it that we made that boat trip to Elephanta Caves? And which year was it that you all had come to our house in Trivandrum – the one that had nutmeg trees growing in the backyard? For the life of me, I can’t recall the timelines. You would have, I’m sure. Because you were the one that remembered everything including birthdays and anniversaries, and sent your wishes without fail.

You guys were in Sharjah when we moved to Dubai, and you were among the first ones to reach out. But by then, the equations of your own life had changed. Your search for— What was it that you were looking for? Meaning of life? Peace? Whatever it was, it had already begun to appear as cracks on your family wall. I saw the bitterness that had etched harsh lines around S’s smile. But yours was as white as ever, to my surprise.

It wouldn’t hurt you now, would it, if I admit that every time I visited your apartment, I couldn’t wait to get away from it? As much from the clutter of your brown-gold-ochre space, as from the darkness that hung like cobwebs in kitchen conversations. Maybe the darkness in my own head intensified when it came in contact with another. Which is why, like the lotus, I keep seeking sunlight.

After you all left the UAE, these occasional social media messages were our only contact. And then you died, just like that. Your heart gave way – just like your father’s, Shiva said.

Anyway, late as it is, I have something to tell you. It’s about this one enduring image I have of you, the one I have carried with me all these years, regardless of everything that came after. A collage, made of pieces of a memory from back then when Mumbai was still Bombay, and I was a 22-year-old in the big city. At a time when Lokmanya Tilak Terminus Railway Station was just a cleared out patch of land near our hostel. We girls used to walk there after dinner in our housecoats.

I can’t recall why I left my aunt’s flat in Sion so late that Sunday evening, especially since I was alone – I’m usually more prudent than that. In my hurry to get back to the hostel, I hopped on to the first train from Koliwada Station, assuming it would go to Chembur, so I can get down at Tilak Nagar. It was only when the train reached Kurla Station that I knew it terminated there. The only train that would stop at Tilak Nagar after that, they told me, was waiting at a platform at the far end of the station, and would leave in a couple of minutes. I ran in the direction pointed.

It was late, it was crowded, and I was panting with panic and exertion. I stood on the platform, inches away from the train, paralysed by the crowd rushing in. And then I heard your voice, calling out to me from the train that was almost moving. You told me to get into the train quick; there was no other train that day which would stop at Tilak Nagar. I scrambled up, pushed ahead by the crowd.

Did I cry? Or did you sense that I would, any minute? Either way, you stood there, rock solid, making sure I was unharmed. Then you got down with me at my station, and insisted on walking me to my hostel. You kept talking all the way, inane small talk intended to reassure me. Later, I came to know that you were a more compulsive talker than I am. By the time you left me at the gate and walked away in the direction of Chembur, I was almost normal, and grateful. Immensely so. 

Your kindness that night, dear A, has stayed with me all these years. It has survived your death, and I know it will see me to mine. Despite everything that was heard, said and known, that is how I will remember you.

I want you to know that, wherever you are.

Regards,

Mini

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An Old Facebook Post, Revamped!

The original post came up as a two-year-old memory on Facebook. These two years have brought so many things to a head, but the sentiments expressed there remain the same. So do most of the attitudes that provoked this outburst, sadly.

So sharing it again here, with just minor changes. (I’m not prone to writing long posts on the Facebook wall, but the situation calls for it.)
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But before that, here’s something that I’ve been itching to say despite having taken the decision to stay off politics for a couple of months, for the sake of sanity:
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#Metoo is NOT funny. Don’t circulate jokes and memes on it. It is decades and centuries of pain, shame and misplaced guilt coming out in torrents. And if you are a man who asks ‘How do I qualify for #metoo?’ (This is not made up – someone actually did!), don’t worry – you most likely are, and have been for a long time. At least in intent.

And fellow women, please don’t think that taking years to speak up is a sign of weakness. It’s not. To retaliate on the spot does take courage – but so does speaking up after ages. Even more courage because they would need to deal with not just the abuser, the world, but also the likes of you who ask things like ‘Why didn’t you slap him and walk away?’

(I actually saw women sharing a post to the effect that if you are a real woman, a ‘shakti’, you do that! I can only say you, who said that and who share that with the same intent, are supremely privileged. And supremely insensitive.)

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Now, to my original post:
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Women have bodies, just as men do. And our bodies are different from those of men – with good reason. The species has lasted solely because of that.

Some of us are proud of our bodies, and why not?

Skirts fly, saris slip off, blouses open – whether we like it or not. We scratch our backsides, dig our noses and drool while sleeping. I’m sure the rest of the world does these things too.

This might be news to some, but these are very human acts. Every constitution has (or ought to have) these as part of the fundamental rights of its citizens.

Sometimes skin shows, and that’s ok too. It’s skin, not dirty laundry.

So stop taking photos of people in their vulnerable moments and circulating them in your groups. It’s as crass as hiding behind the doors of someone’s bathroom or bedroom and watching them. And infinitely worse for the damage it does.

That woman whose photo you’re sharing, with crude remarks textboxed into it, is a human being, entitled to live her life with dignity, unaffected by filthy camera eyes.

Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. Remember, so is vulgarity.

Even if you don’t actively promote such posts, stop laughing at them, stop accepting them. Somebody could catch you and me too in the wrong frame.

For, the camera, like the bullet, does not discriminate. Nor does the Internet.
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Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your patience.

This wasn’t what I wanted to write about!

“What kind of times are these, when 
To talk about trees is almost a crime 
Because it implies silence about so many horrors?”

– Bertolt Brecht

 

I started writing this post yesterday. In the notepad of my head, that is.  

I began by writing about my walk around the park, about the nostalgic scent of neem trees in full bloom, about the elderly couple I pass by every morning. I wrote about how the bench under the ‘poovaaka’ tree I was planning to sit on had come apart, and how I then decided to sit on a pink bench under the canopy of pink bougainvilleas that would contrast so nicely with my blue tracksuit. About the neat back-view of the Filipino lady who cycled past me in a snugly fitting grey and purple suit. Things like that.

You know what I mean – the good stuff. I had even taken a bunch of photos to go with the post, including that of a white-with-black-patches catperson who had stretched out languorously on a bench. 

But that was yesterday morning. 

Yesterday morning, much before the shockwaves of the details of eight-year-old Asifa Bano’s rape and murder hit the news. Before the comments from people who justified it, and the tweets that started with what about when— began to rise in yellow, bilious waves from the fault line of my stomach. Yesterday, while I still had the satisfaction of having taken a stand on some of the things that I should have, long ago, basking in the afterglow of having stood up to some well-meaning people. People I am otherwise fond of, who keep trying to convince me about the greatness of Hinduism and the need to protect it from malicious forces. Can’t you see? they keep asking me. 

I can’t. And yesterday I told them that. 

I used to not respond at first, silence being golden and all that. Then one day I decided that this was not the time to remain quiet. So I began to go to great lengths to explain why I disagreed with their sentiments. And shared whatever solid pieces of evidence I came across, to support my argument. See, this is what I’m trying to tell you.

This despite knowing that I would get thrice the number of what I had sent. And you see what we are trying to tell you!

It has taken me a while to register that there are doors to human minds which remain shut to logic and reason.

I was still naive, though. So I decided to out. Let’s not talk religion or politics, ok? I typed. I can never agree with you on these matters. To my pleasant surprise, our decision to agree to disagree was made amicably. I felt damn proud of myself for finally standing up to them. Because you see, for all my opinionatedness, I do have a fear of hurting the sentiments of those I respect. Or is it the residue of a latent fear of authority? Freud would know.

Last night though, I broke the mutually agreed-upon disagreement by bringing their attention to the sheer evil behind the abduction of an eight-year-old girl by some senior guardians of the law and religion who had kept her inside a DEVI TEMPLE (Oh god!) and repeatedly drugged and gang-raped her before wresting her life out in unimaginably barbarous ways. And those waving our national flag in support of the perpetrators.  I didn’t exactly ask, Can’t you see what’s happening? Because I was sure they would.

Now I stand corrected. Stripped of my illusions. 

Because today I am asked why there was no such outrage when Hindu girls were raped.  What about when– I am asked. Why only for this? I reply that I cannot believe that they are saying this, given the circumstances. But we are talking about the—

Stop being one-sided! I am told. 

One-sided. As if there are subtleties to child rape and murder that I am incapable of understanding.

I give up. Even my 3KM morning walk has not given me enough endorphin and serotonin to keep going. Maybe I should have stuck to our agreement and not talked religion or politics.

You should have! Now stop sharing your one-sided sentiments. 

I’m stopping. Here. Now. Maybe there’s nothing quite as impenetrable as those doors that are locked and keys thrown away. Doors to human minds.

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This was not what I had wanted to write about. Even when I sat at my laptop a while ago, this was not what I had as topic of the day. I had still meant to write about my sanity walk, the sight and sounds thereof, and the high that it all gives to my menopausing self. Really. That was the intention I had started out with.

But how can I get rid of the image of light dying in a smiling pair of large, eight-year-old eyes from my mind? Or the overwhelming sense of defeat I feel in being able to do anything about it – not even convince those close to me.

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Photo courtesy: https://twitter.com/kalkikanmani

 

The Many Moods of a Working Woman

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Wada Koli, Nirona Village – Bhuj                                                            March 23, 2018

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Footnote:

When I asked her if I can click pictures, she gave me a half-smile and a nod, more with  resigned acceptance than enthusiasm. Then she turned away, leaving me – another alien with a camera and some good intentions – to my devices, and continued to watch the day’s proceedings in silence.  If I found her fascinating, so had others before me. More will, after. She knew that. In the meantime, she had so much on her hands. And mind. 

If the deep lines on her twenty-something face continue to haunt me, whose fault is it?