Grey Hair and Turquoise Nail Polish

 

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The view from my kitchen

 

It’s summer, like I said. It has been for a while. Like forever.

Daylight peeps in through the closed curtains of my bedroom at around 4:30 or so, forces its way in through my eyelids, prising them apart. I remember one of my boys doing that when he was a baby. ‘Mma, are you sleeping? he would ask, peering closely into my eyes. (Who was it? Appu or Adu? Or both? Funny – I can’t recall now. I can only recall the tiny fingers holding my eyelids open.) Of course I’m not, I’d reply, and pretend to listen. As if I wasn’t dying to go back to sleep.

Well, summer days are like that too – persistent, and childishly inconsiderate. I fight it for up to an hour sometimes. And then I give in. Do I have a choice, really?

Standing in front of the mirror with my mouth full of toothpaste foam, I pick off a long(ish), silver hair from my pale purple housecoat. Whose is this now? I frown. And how did it come here? Then I realise it’s mine. Ah well. I’ll get used to it, eventually.

Madam, aren’t you colouring your hair? The young girl in the salon asks me each time I go for a hair cut or a head massage. (The latter is my vice, indulgence, and sin.)

I smile the same smile each time, and reply the same reply. No, thank you.

But Madam, it’s turning white. She lifts a lock of hair from my right temple with the hairbrush and holds it up for me in the mirror. See?

I know. And that’s okay. I continue smiling.

But why? You’ll look old! Her face is a mask of concern.

Because I am old! I reply, without letting the smile falter. At least, old enough for a few grey hairs.

She looks at me sympathetically, even tries to comfort me. For growing old, for having grey hair, and for giving in to both without a fight. You should colour your hair, Madam. Really you should. You’ll look and feel younger.

I don’t want to hurt her feelings. She means well. So I tell her things like how I tend to be sloppy with things. Not very regular, you know what I mean? And white roots would look so bad, no?

That she understands. Hmm. She nods thoughtfully. You should come more regularly, Madam. After forty, it’s important that you look after yourself…. She goes on to suggest a maintenance regime that, if followed properly, is sure to keep me looking at least ten years younger than I am, no matter what my age is. 

I nod earnestly and ask the right questions. And get educated answers.

I’ve learned from experience that I shouldn’t try to tell her that I truly don’t mind. Not my grey hair, not my wrinkles – nothing except the weight that tends to pile up at odd places in my body. That in fact, I consider each passing year an achievement of sorts. See, I’ve lasted. Despite everything. To see my hair turning silver. Yaay!

Roopsha had come home the other day. Auntie, you should try colouring your hair – some blue highlights or something, she suggested. I’ve been telling my mother too. She would, of course. Petite, and exactly half my age, she looks lovely with pink and blue highlights on her short, straight hair.

I have to admit though, I’m not totally averse to the idea. Maybe I’ll live to be old (and bold) enough to try it out. Because growing older is, among other things, liberating. See how I wear turquoise nail polish these days? I wouldn’t have dreamt of it even a year back. And I’ve started sporting an anklet too, for good measure. 

I go to the kitchen and pull out my chair. That’s where my morning writing happens. In my tiny kitchen, sitting on my tiny green wooden chair. The one that Adu outgrew some eleven years ago. With the Mac balanced on the wooden cutting board. All the other rooms, including the living room, have sleeping bodies in them that I don’t have the heart to disturb. But the kitchen, now that’s my sole domain. At that time of the day.

And so I begin. My summer day. 

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Hygge and the Summer

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It’s my twelfth summer here, in the UAE. And just like the eleven earlier ones, this summer too is a living, fire-breathing entity that has me in its vice grip, and doesn’t let go. I have to prise it off finger by finger, and if I slack for a moment in between, those sizzling hands will clamp over my temples again, pressing against my thoughts, choking them. There is no getting used to, I realise, when it comes to summer in the desert.

But I’m being self-indulgent here, talking about I, me and myself yet again. I, who is sitting inside a reasonably comfortable apartment and making a reasonable (though it could have been much better, certainly) living doing what I enjoy doing. There is running water, electricity and all other basic amenities that one could wish for. And more than anything else, I have my family with me. My children, my husband. Some friends and family… Each of which is a luxury, denied to many. Here, in this desert.

I’m grateful. Immensely.

A few months ago, Appu and I were discussing the Danish word Hygge which Christina had sent me when she was in Denmark as an exchange student. I was her English teacher back in 2007-08 when she was a mere eighth grader. Now she is all grown up and travelling between continents, but she still finds it in her to gift me interesting words and flavoured tea. Teachers are, by the very nature of our profession, privileged.

I’m digressing. I was talking about hygge.

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“We should consider something like that for our summers, ‘Mma,” Appu suggested while we were discussing the way Danes prepare themselves for winter. We decided vaguely that we would make our indoors cozy enough to beat the summer-induced depression, listlessness and claustrophobia – those unfortunate traits which both he and Adu, my younger one, have inherited (to a lesser degree) from me.

So this summer, the boys and I have managed to keep a house that we wouldn’t actively want to leave for the great, searing, blinding outdoors. And this summer, the green in our balcony, though dusty and sometimes tinged at the edges with brown, has so far survived the 40+ degree (Celsius, mind you!) temperature. My plants are standing up straight – or however they are supposed to stand.

Pigeons and sparrows still visit, though unlike last year, they have chosen not to build nests among my plants to lay eggs. Procreation must be the last thing on their mind, given the heat. But they are still territorial. Very much so. The other day, an errant mynah came to steal the tender leaves of our equally errant mango sapling, and little miss pigeon mercilessly drove her off, sputtering with rage.

You can’t blame her for getting angry, really. There are times when I wish I could make a huge fuss like she did, and get my point across to whoever it should. And there are so many inhuman beings I would like to bite a chunk off and drive away from my world as she had done.

No, I don’t mean the ones who come to steal a leaf from my balcony. I mean those other faceless people. Like the ones who have printed that ugly (and I use the word with great deliberation here) massage centre card we found on the pavement, while walking to the supermarket. The one with the picture of an innocent looking adolescent girl on it. How can you sell your services using her? She’s just a child! I want to scream. At somebody. 

I shudder at the thought of those other faceless people; the ones who pick up that card and dial those numbers. And I feel angry that those who should feel angry and can do something about it, but don’t. Angry. And impotent.

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Then there is this young man who comes to clean my apartment. The latest in a row of people who have come and gone in the past few months because of some visa-related issue or the other. This young man is polite, minds his own business, and does a fantastic job of cleaning. For the first time, even our fans are sparkling. Well, almost. And then a week ago, Appu told me that he is a graduate, and holds an MBA degree. He is looking for a job, and has so far been unable to find one. So he has taken up the current position until he finds one that will pay him better than this one does.

I feel angry. At a system that is making someone who is better educated than me clean my house. But if I replace him, he will lose even the paltry sum he is currently earning, which is infinitely worse. I tell him to bring his CV so we can update it and send it ahead. He says he has it in his email and will take it out for me tomorrow. We will do it, I assure him, knowing that I’m powerless to do anything much. I feel angry. At myself. Angry and impotent.

The same feeling I have when I read about what’s happening in my country. When I think of how Shobha, Alex and Nazar have become Hindu, Christian and Muslim respectively. How homo sapiens have become disposable commodity based on colour, creed, bank balance and political leanings. Impossibly, impotently angry.

Pause. Take deep breaths. Count till ten. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 8.20.20 PMComing back to hygge – or my version of zen. So I have decluttered my minuscule kitchen and streamlined the cooking process down to a seamless, easy one that I finish before nine in the morning. I have jars full of all kinds of Mini-made curry/spice powders which I whip out proudly at the drop of a hat. I also have time to write, socialise via (the social) media, and have long and utterly pointless conversations with the boys. I even sing aloud despite my complete tonelessness.

I was singing ‘Beat it!’ yesterday evening while we were cooking pasta. “Amma, you know why you don’t drink?” asked Aditya the Wise. He was referring to one of the items on my wish-list that I keep talking about: to get punch drunk one day.

“Why?” I paused to ask him.

“Because you don’t need to. You’re on a high even without it. If your health is fine, and you’re not worrying yourself sick, that is.”

Ah, well.

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Yesterday I saw some lovely green moss in a flower shop. The young Filipino manning the counter told me I could buy it only as a box, for a hundred dirhams. Collected from the mountains of Holland, madam. Very difficult to grow. We don’t sell it loose. Five minutes later, he took pity on my wistfulness (I guess I can do a Puss-in-Boots when push comes to shove) and gave me a handful of them for five dirhams, to try my luck. In return, I have promised to report to him my progress (or not) with growing it.

Google tells me that moss draws moisture from the atmosphere, so I keep spraying water around it every so often. “‘Mma…! Are you trying to choke it death?” asks Appu. I sigh.

Tonight Juhi, Ahmed and Mustafa are coming over for dinner – a mild sort of celebration for something she achieved. Their collective love for my brand of potato stew means that cooking is no sweat. And after that, if there is time, I will have my daily dose of murder and mayhem – in the form of Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

A couple of hours ago, Rachna, who’s on her first vacation from university, gave me Bis gleich, and has promised to come over for tea on Friday. I am planning to serve her something deep-fried and totally unGerman with tea. The joys of teacherhood!

See, summer? I have you all sorted out. The twelfth time round.

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Split Mind

By Srilakshmi Srinivasan

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Mock me not, oh mind mine! 

My feelings are true. 

You are in me and belong to me, 

So why this shaming and why this hunt? 

You know my secrets, my sadness, and my weakness, 

You know my dreams, my joy, and my strengths.

 Then why? Why these obstacles? Why this doubt? 

When all I want is to get up and move on. 

Maybe, just maybe everyone has 

Their own goals, path, and secret doors. 

Maybe, just maybe they are not 

The same as yours (mine) ours anymore. 

Come along dear friend 

Let’s move towards light, 

Cutting through the dark tunnel 

To scale new heights.

Srilakshmi is, in her own words, ‘A doctor passionate about Kannada literature who just happened to translate one poem for you me.’  So it seems only appropriate that I include the original Kannada version of the poem. How I wish I could read it! 

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Though Srilakshmi and I are yet to meet in person, we are connected by a shared love for the written word. So when she generously translated a poem she wrote in her native tongue for me to read, I was more than touched.
Then there is the topic – depression and de-personalisation. My old friend, the dementor, seen through another pair of eyes. A familiar dark world captured in the few lines of a poem. Of course I made my ‘guest blog’ request; some voices have to be heard.
P.S. Srilakshmi’s daughter Srushti is a budding writer, and I had the occasion to publish her lovely little piece ‘Wonderland’ in a blog I have created for my students. (No, she’s not my student – she’s just young enough to be one. Read Wonderland here: https://minismenon.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/wonderland.
***
*The image was chosen by the author from an article on the topic of anxiety and depersonalisation.  (https://healdove.com/mental-health/anxiolytics).

Jottings

By Naveen Kishore
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Collage by Sunandini Banerjee

I

The conversations around you. Brittle and brisk. Without meaning. Words hurriedly strung together. Shoved into a tin can. Shaken. Made to rattle in short bursts. Like gunfire at close quarters. Tweets of fate. And happenstance. Like firing squads. Immediate. Transient. Relentless and vicarious babel. Grab and shoot. Who has the time? To think? Or breathe normally. The normal? Now a different shade of pale. Like running a hundred meter dash in less than 9 seconds. On shards of glass. Breathless. And bleeding. Gladiator sport. The kind that seeks out language only to thrust a sword into it. While the mob brays. For more bloodletting.

Slow everything down. Let your fingers grind to a halt. The forty-five on your turntable. Your skin scraping the grooves. Slurring the song. As if strangling the words. Almost.

Start afresh. Begin a new sentence. A long one. One in which with extreme patience and a strong dose of diligence you once again lay down the ground rules for language with a past history of elegance and a turn of phrase that makes you gasp with admiration for the one who has penned it with such élan and taste and wit and a sense of literary tradition passed on from writer to writer through centuries of fine writing where the meaning of words as they combine and mingle with each other takes precedence over mere ornamentation and where the complexity and density of a thought is chiseled to succinct and purposeful perfection in a heady mixture of fine prose or poetry or drama or whatever be your particular calling.

Now punctuate it. 

II

Show them how things work. Or at least strew the air with hints. Let them be razor sharp. The clues. And full of wit. And irony. And the chutzpah that says it like it is. Up in your face. Like truth. So that no one believes it. As the truth. As nature. Both yours. Mine. And Natures. The way things appear to work in Nature. In life. Or on stage. Like the web that the spider weaves. Against the light. Visible. A work of art. Or a trap. Depends on who is admiring the spring like strands that shine and glint in the sunlight or turn invisible as they snare a fly. The strings on stage that create the magic of a floating cloud. An entire flotilla of white that suspends belief even as it is suspended in the air above the stage floor. Look carefully and you will see the nylon threads that like the spider’s web hold the white bags of polyester filled with yesterday’s news. Crushed and torn into different fluffy shapes. Light as the air they are meant to simulate. Be something they are not. Sleight of hand. Or a trick that the eye missed. The ones that do not bear muster close up but in the right kind of light. And colour. Glowing with gold and red and silver white. With spotlights that make no attempt at being hidden. Hung and patched. In full view. On metal battens. With exposed wires. Process. The craft of magic made visible.

The truth is always other than what it appears to be.

***

Naveen Kishore is poet, writer, theatre lighting designer, photographer, publisher – Seagull Books [http://seagullindia.com/]. 

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Image courtesy Naveen Kishore

 

When I thought of inviting some of the writers (and lovers of the written word) I have come to be acquainted with to pen down a few lines for my blog, the first name that came to my mind was of Naveen Kishore – a writer, poet and person I tremendously admire and respect. Not to mention the publisher of some of the most beautiful books in existence today.

I admit I was skeptical – asking the one who publishes Nobel Laureates and their ilks to write for my humble blog sounded preposterous even to myself. But I did, eventually, and Naveen graciously obliged with a casual ‘See if these ‘jottings’ work. Call it whatever you wish to.’

Today is Seagull Books’ 35th anniversary, and I can’t think of a greater honour than to be able to host his words on my blog. And Sunandini Banerjee, whose magnificent collages are the lifeblood of Seagull Books, has allowed me to use ANY collage I’d like! 

Could I have asked for more?

Ghosts of Good Things

Once there was a river. Cold and gentle and full of dark shadows. She was as blue as the sky above her, and had a heart large enough to drown all of the world’s grief. Which, of course, was why they called her Sokanasini.

We walked, my best friend and I. We walked back thirty odd years retracing the once familiar, well-trodden path. Looking for her – our Sokanasini. The one who had so willingly accepted all our sorrows back then. In exchange of narrow pink bunches of wildflowers, and rounded pebbles that glinted in the sun.

But she was nowhere to be found.

Now there are just ghosts. Of what once was. Memories – brown, brittle. Drawing their last breath.

Yet, what was it that pulled wetly at my feet from under it all?

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My Sokanasini.

She was. Once.

Close Encounters of a Certain Kind: Puli Murugan

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I was covering Global Summit of Women Speakers in Parliament when the call came. Just a number that showed up on the screen, with no name accompanying it. But then that has been the case since I changed phones. Even my oldest friends have become mere numbers, though they don’t know it.

“Can I call you back?” I texted, and went back to the session. There were world parliaments waiting to transform, and urgently. And I was there to document it. A plethora of voices, faces, costumes, hairdos, accents, nationalities, languages, concerns… Each interesting, relevant.

The evening was a treat to my linguistic senses: English, Arabic, English, Spanish, Russian, English, Portuguese, Arabic, French, English, Swahili…you name it. Mr R. Frost, you would understand me when I say that sometimes my vocation and avocation are one. On the flip side, it also means that I need to be alert and attuned – to the myriad voices and accents including the translators’.

So it was a good while later that I returned the call. The voice at the other end was familiar and apologetic.

“Sorry, Chechi! He was fussing so much that I had to call you. You were busy, weren’t you?”

I told Rajitha what I had been doing. “Is he awake?” It was pretty late by then.

“No, he has gone to sleep, after all that drama. I’ll ask him to call you when he comes back from school tomorrow.”

I was bathing when he called me the next day, but this time the phone showed his name as I had stored it: Puli Murugan. Aka Rahul.

The flashback:

We had met on the flight from Kochi to Dubai. He was sitting next to me, and eyeing my window seat with the kind of pathos only a four-year-old is capable of.

I couldn’t hold out for too long in the face of such misery.”Do you want to sit here?”  I asked.

He nodded, his face still a picture of lost hope.

“Come on over,” I said, getting up to exchange seats.

But apparently that wasn’t enough. He wanted his mother to sit next to him.

The young lady refused. Sitting on the other side of her was her newly widowed mother in law, whom she was understandably reluctant to leave alone. I managed to convince them that no, I really did not mind moving, please! You can all sit together.

We played our little round of musical chair once the seatbelt sign went off.

From where I was sitting, I could feel a pair of eyes shooting covert glances in my direction. Each time I look back, he would turn his face. After a while I beckoned him over. His face broke into an impish grin and he came running, as if he had been waiting for me to call.  And parked himself firmly on my lap.

“What’s your name, love?”

He lowered his head, looking shyly at me through a mop of hair.

“Tell auntie your name!” His mother admonished.

“Rahul…” he whispered, and fell silent.

“Like Shah Rukh Khan?” He shook his still bent head vehemently. Definitely not SRK.

A minute later, he lifted up his head, looked me in the eye, and stated, “But you can call me Puli Murugan!” For a minute I thought I heard wrong, but I hadn’t. And he wasn’t joking.

“Of course!” I answered with equal seriousness. Silence, again.

“So did you watch it? Puli Murugan?” I asked, for the sake of making conversation.

He looked at me as if I was daft. Of course he did! And he was appalled to find out that I had not. The next half an hour was spent in telling me why I must.

That was the beginning – of a friendship that was cemented by our shared love for Mohanlal. We both agreed that he was the bestest. He also adored Mammootty, but when he found out that I had reservations, he let it pass. Mohanlal it shall be, from now on. 

An hour or so later, things between us got more serious and we started making plans for future.

“A yellow Ferrari!” he decided. And a two seater at that. We don’t want anyone else intruding on us, do we?

“And we will go places in it, you and I. Dubai Mall, Burj Khalifa…hmmm…” He thought hard. “Ferrari World…” Of course. “Then…yes, Kongad! We will go to my grandmother’s place and have lunch, and payasam…”

By the time we landed, we had made a million plans about where to go in his yellow Ferrari, and every single one of them ended at his grandmother’s place in Kongad. We also decided to buy a purple motorbike, just in case.

Just so I don’t forget him, he took my card and gave it to his mother, insisting that she saved my name and number now! Then he took the card back from her hand and shoved it into the recesses of his trouser pocket.  We parted with a lot of reluctance and promises.

I did not expect him to remember me, much less call me. But he did – and in the month hence, we have talked over the phone quite a few times. He was thrilled when I told him that I watched Puli Murugan.

“Finally!”

“Yes, finally…” I agreed that the stunt scenes were awesome, and Mohanlal was awesomer – killing all those man-eating tigers and saving the villagers and all that.

“You will call, won’t you?” He would ask each time before disconnecting.

In Real Time:

I called him back. Again his mother was apologetic. “He made such a lot of fuss yesterday, Chechi, insisting that he wants to speak to you. Your card tore a bit around the edges, and that upset him too…” I could hear him in the background, pestering her for the phone.

“Remember the yellow Ferrari?” he asked as soon as he took the phone.

“Of course! Did you buy it?”

“Not yet, not yet. But remember that we have to go to so many places when I do!”

I assured him I will.

And on we talked for a while. In between he tried to make his elder brother talk to me, but the latter refused, quite understandably. To him, I’m just an apparition his brother keeps making a lot of noise about. “Appu doesn’t want to!” he said, incredulous. I convinced him it was ok not to.

“Call me, alright? Don’t forget. You wouldn’t, would you?” he asked as his mother told him Enough! Auntie has work to do..

I promised him that I wouldn’t. And so we parted. Until next time.

***

Yesterday I told my family about the lovely moon that travelled with me all the way from Abu Dhabi, flitting in and out of the clouds. It was indeed a lovely sight: it made me smile.

The men in my life looked at each other, shaking their heads. The same reaction they have when they catch me discussing yellow Ferraris over the phone. “No wonder she has four year olds as her fan club!”

Amen.

Yet there are times when I wonder about the luminous, invisible, divine thread that connects people. Strangers in time and space, like stars in the sky. Each separate, yet bound. One tugs at the fragile cord, and the other feels. Despite.

Only you seem to get such people in your life, ‘Mma!  

I’m not so sure, love. What about them, those strangers at the other end? Don’t they feel this – this sense of wonderment? Wouldn’t the four year old grow up and gradually forget and then one day remember the elderly stranger he had cried for? Would he then smile and shake his head at his own childishness?

I wonder. At the wonder of it all. Sometimes, nothing seems to make sense.

But then again, it doesn’t need to, does it? As long as it makes you smile…

Sometimes.

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Images courtesy Google

Urban Doodles

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A jerky hand, a quirk of technology, a happy accident – call it whatever. Or better still, call it the interference of a tech-savvy goddess who watches the world with wry humour from up there. Beyond the grey patches of a pixelated sky. 

This shot was certainly not planned. Just a failed attempt to click – with my phone camera – Dubai’s stunning skyline from Bhawna and Arun’s 28th floor apartment in JLT.  I would have deleted it. 

But viewing it in monochrome on my laptop, something stirred within me. As if this single random shot has somehow managed to capture all that I feel about this city. 

Its towering darkness, for instance. Ghosts – of the present and future. Impressive and intimidating at once. Looming, not quite straight, against an endless expanse of ambiguities. This city, after all, is inundated with greys – all shades of it. Just like its inhabitants. 

And then those clusters of neon doodles. Yes, those! Clouds of thoughts or words, gathering in the head one at a time. Or ‘shapeshifters’ that dance in front of your eyes as you stare into the sunlight for long. Floating just out of reach. Surreal, like the hopes and dreams of the millions of human beings trying to find their footing in this city.  

Tantalus, I am sure, would have empathised with our lot.  

Or maybe, just maybe, it is something else altogether… It could be that the aforementioned tech-savvy goddess has a habit of doodling absentmindedly while talking on the phone? I can almost see her talking quietly to whoever is at the other end, her darkly beautiful face a bit pensive, her liquid eyes far away…Perhaps she is a woman in love. Or almost in love. 

And from the tips of her distracted fingers, these fluid, sensuous lines. Of light. Kindly.  

The Summer, the Desert and the Digamma

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We entered our sixth year saddened and in pain.

Every day my son asks me,

‘How long my father, until we return?

I miss the children of our street,

I miss the taste of our water

And the weather of our gorgeous country.’

Shiva read out the lines to me this morning. Written by Salam Ashara, a Syrian refugee. It was part of an article on refugees in an old edition of Gulf News, one that fell out of a shirt that came from the laundry. The launderers here fold the clothes around newspapers while ironing – perhaps for ‘structural support’ as Appu insists, or, as I suspect, for the fresh, crackling sound it gives off when you touch it.

Just a few lines of poetry, crisp like a starched and ironed cotton shirt. Lines written by a father who wants to keep his country alive for his children. How else does one keep anything alive except through the written word, the symbols – letters – it comprises?

The Malayalam word for ‘letter’ (from the alphabet) is ‘aksharam’: ah + ksharam. That which does not perish. Everlasting. Timeless.

Young Saintana was my colleague during my short stint as external consultant at a PR firm. She used to give me a lift sometimes, when we both finished work at the same time. Meandering through the peak hour traffic from Internet City to Al Rigga Station, we would talk about random things. And very often our conversations moved between her passion for perfumes and cooking, and her memories of her hometown somewhere up in the mountains of Syria – which she hadn’t visited for ages.

Beyond her delicate Mediterranean profile and tumbling sunlit curls, beyond Dubai’s speeding skyline, just short of the orange sky, a thousand vivid images would shape themselves into an abstract tapestry. Woven as much by her words as her slim fingers waltzing in the air. Colours, smells, tastes, togetherness, warmth, love, nostalgia…Grandparents who told stories about the past, ‘jamming’ and pickling seasons when all members of the family gathered around a table, picking the finest fruits and vegetables and spices…

“Our hands would be all red with the juice from the cherries,” she would say, smiling at the memory. And I would watch her fingers wrap around the little red fruit that only she could see. 

I loved listening to her stories. Stories of a culture so different from mine, yet so similar. I too have stories like that. Stories of what once was, and now isn’t. All gone – just like that. Never to return. Or to return as something else for someone else.

Like the digamma.

The Digamma is the title of the book that I’m currently reading— Correction: one of the three books I’m reading intermittently these days. It’s a collection of poetry in prose by Yves Bonnefoy, published by Seagull Books. Out of the five books by this great French poet that my kind friend of words had sent me last month, I chose this one because its title intrigued me.

The internet has a lot to say about the digamma.

digamma

/daɪˈɡæmə/

noun

a letter of the Greek alphabet (Ϝ) that became obsolete before the classical period of the language. It represented a semivowel like English W and was used as a numeral in later stages of written Greek, and passed into the Roman alphabet as F

I don’t understand – not really. A letter that was once a part of an alphabet, and then wasn’t. Which then became a number, and was eventually passed on to someone else to become something else…

How does it all work?

I’m reading The Digamma in fits and starts – one little paragraph, a page, a couple of lines at a time. I lose the thread somewhere in the middle and put the book away, then take it up and start rereading it.

I’m also reading And; Nonetheless by Philippe Jaccottet (ChelseaEditions) and the last few pages of the latest Seagull Books catalogue in between.

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I pause to marvel at the beauty of a word, a sentence, an image it conjures. Then I lose my grip on the text again, put it away again and this time, head to the kitchen. With something bordering on despair.

“Despair, ‘Mma? Isn’t that extreme?” Adu asks. Perhaps it is desperation then, not despair, that I feel.

Cooking always helps. The absolute physicality of it, I mean. Till it tires me. 

It has been like that for a while now. I’m unable to read or write or do anything else as I’d have liked to. I’m restless, listless. Just less.

Perhaps like my body, I too need a complete overhaul. And some green. There’s almost no green left in me now. The summer, the desert, has drained me of green.

I have the sun, baby, but not the chlorophyl! So I can’t photosynthesise.

Urgh! That sounds cheesy even to me!

Let me say it again: I blame it all on the summer in this desert. This desert as in the desert on this side of the great desert out there, the one you see as you speed past it on the highway. That one is vast and primordial, like an ancient bedouin matriarch with deeply wrinkled face and hands, peering at you benevolently from behind her batoola. That one still has ghaff trees and bone dry desert shrubs. And if you stop your car, step out and wiggle your toes in the sand, you can find seashells buried within.

Seashells! Can you believe it?

So this— no, that desert out there was once a sea, an ocean. Blue and green and thronging with life. And then it was gone. All of it. The blue, the green, the life… Became something else. Like the digamma. All that is left is this vast, insatiable lust. For blue and green and life.

Still, on a winter evening, you can go out there, spread your arms and embrace the desert. And the sky, the bare hills, the sea you know is there, somewhere. Beyond, beneath… Who knows where, exactly.

This desert, the one you see in between the glass and chrome and concrete, this one is different. It gets to you. Gets you, rather. Sooner or later. This one is just sand, and one day you realise you’re also just sand. Perhaps with bits of fossils buried in you. And you also know that eventually they’ll dig you out, out of yourself, and build another skyscraper where you now stand.

And you, like the digamma, first become obsolete, then return as a number, and then become something else for someone else. A handful of sand? Seashells? Stardust? Memories? Or a story you narrate to a colleague on a summer evening as you weave through the rush-hour traffic?

You, then, are a letter in an alphabet, a symbol. Aksharam: that which does not perish. That which is, even when it isn’t. Like the digamma.

Crows

Five random musings

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1.

the mirror looked back

her smile a glimmer

the stranger blushed

quickly hiding her song

behind lowered lashes

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2.

words like trembling fingers 

hesitant 

lest they startle the song 

gently tracing 

summer shadows on the skin

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3.

drawing the night 

a little closer

the dawn 

snuggled

sighing

reluctant 

to let go 

of the dream

nestled between 

eyelids

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4.

the colour of life

muted

the whisper

of dreams

dying

inside eyes

glazed

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5.

lurking words

dark shadows

of past

conversations

desolate

this landscape

of silence

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Thoughts from an adjustable hospital bed

My recent brief stint in hospital has taught me a thing or two, I tell you!

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For one, I have learned that it’s impossible to look elegant and dignified in a hospital gown, even when it’s a becoming shade of lavender.

Lying in the adjustable bed with its adjustable railings, multiple buttons and a remote controlled nurse-fetcher, stripped of everything but the shapeless robe that ties at the back, I am reminded of a meme that did its rounds on WhatsApp: Health insurance is like a hospital gown; you are never as covered as you think you are.

I suppress an urge to giggle – not only is it bound to be painful, giggling might dislodge stuff in/on/running through my body, that should not be.

On the brighter side, there is the fact that I am lying inert on my back, and am bound to remain so for a while. So never mind the inadequacy of the cover.

As it turned out, those good insurance guys did a better job of covering than my lavender hospital gown did, thank God!

***

Another very important lesson I learn is that my woes are never as bad the ones that my friends and family and neighbours and strangers on the road have gone through, in the exact same situation. Random conversations sound something like this:

“And what did she say?”

“That I need a D&C urgently.”

“Oh D&C?” Do I detect a slight note of disappointment there, or is it my wayward imagination?

“Everyone does it these days. In fact, my friend had her second one recently. It’s nothing.” Yes, ma’am!

“What’s your HB level? Did the doctor tell you?”

“Nine, I think. I’m not sure. She just said that I lost a lot of blood, and I’ll need to have heavy doses iron supplements…”

I am to be the Iron Lady of Al Nahda 2, Dubai… But wait, not so fast!

“Oh? Then you’re better off than I had been. Mine was eight!” I’m outdone, yet again.

Such is the story of my life. Sigh.

Which movie is it where Boman Irani’s character keeps haunting Amitabh Bachan’s with Yeh toh kuch bhi nahi! and launches a tirade about the bigger fortunes/misfortunes of the various members of his family including himself? 

Ok, this isn’t half as bad, really. I’m just being mean.

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I also come to understand that waiting for a calamity (I’m allowed a bit a hyperbole, in my condition) to happen can stretch one’s nerves thinner than the calamity itself does.

Quite possibly because the latter, in my case, happens under general anaesthesia. I go to sleep under bright white lights with benevolent eyes peering at me over white masks that tell me to breathe deeply, there, there… And voila! an instant later I wake up with my innards hoovered and fixed!

Then it’s just a matter of drifting in and out of the twilit zone trying to smile bravely at the world, but sleeping off in the middle, only to get up wincing, painfully aware of the fluids – clear and coloured – being pumped into me. I am informed that this one kills pain and stops bleeding, while the other is the hormone my body badly needs, and a third that looks like strong black tea is actually haemoglobin to replace what my body has been generously dispensing with for  a while.

The latter, despite all its innocuous black tea pretensions, turns out to be painful enough to make me protest, albeit feebly. There, there…let me flush this out. Then it will flow more easily, the smiling lady in aquamarine uniform reassures me. Impressive bedside manners, though I’m glad Indian nurses don’t use the first person plural to address their patients. 

I recall reading a Mills & Boon romance once where the red-haired heroine is in hospital, and her kindly doctor asks: Shouldn’t we go to bed now? It’s rather late. To which the lady retorts: Do you think there’s enough space in this bed for both of us?

You see the kind of muck my brain is filed with?

This time though, the memory does not even make me smile. And the ‘flushing’ itself turns out to be—  Ah well! The less said about it the better. 

***

But I was talking about the waiting-for-the-calamity part, before all this.

Not only am I painfully connected to various pieces of gadgets that sound like multiple hearts sinking at once in no particular rhythm, I am also being poked around with sterile equipment by serious people in white coats and uniforms. The collective frown on their faces when they do so is not reassuring either.

The worst thing, however, is the hunger. A cup of tea and an omelette wrapped in half a khubus – ingested before 6:00 am and nothing, not even a sip of water after – is just not my style. I function best on a full tank. Ask my family.

“Your room is not ready yet, so till we roll you in for the procedure, can you please share a room with another patient? We’ll make sure your room is ready by the time you come out.”

Of course I can! Anything  at all, as long as it does not require me to be vertical.

So here I am in a cheerless, artificially darkened room.  Horizontal, hungry, in pain and terrified – I’m never brave on an empty stomach.

From the other side of the floral print curtain, I can hear conversations.

There was a time in the past when I would have wanted to see the people involved, to engage in small talk, but I no longer have the will. So I listen, not particularly curious, only because I have nothing better to do. Italo Calvino, though light enough to hold with one hand, doesn’t mix well with painkillers and antihemorrhagics. 

The patient on the other side – a lady much younger to me, from the general drift of the conversation – sounds scared too, so her husband tries to be breezy enough for both of them. An older woman, his mother, not hers, obviously, gives sensible pieces of advice every so often which are taken by the other two with pinches of salt.

I hear lunch being rolled in, and then I smell it being opened. Agony!

“What’s this?” The mother sounds puzzled.

“Marrakech, an Arabic dish made of brinjal and olive oil and all that,” I hear him explaining.

Last I heard, Marrakech was not a dish, but a city in Morocco. I wonder if I should call out: That’s muttabel, not Marrakech!  Then I decide against it.

Instead I close my eyes and dream about the okra curry my friend’s mother had brought for me the last time I was admitted in a hospital, sixteen years ago. It’s good for you, especially since you have a premature baby to feed. I had been frightened then too, but strangely, it was her kindness that released the tears I had thus far suppressed.

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I’m hungry!

When are they taking me to the OT? I want this done with, and I really, really want to eat something!” 

“Another half-an-hour, they said,” my better half tries to console me.

And true to their word, they come on the dot of two, and wheel me out. The rest, as they say, is history. Herstory.  Mine.

***

Interesting how even the most fleeting brush with the grim reaper (of course, woh toh kuch bhi nahi tha, in real terms, I know) has a way of reorganising one’s priorities.

You realise that as you watch, unmoved, an ageing Tom Cruise going about his business with missions impossible and otherwise. And while looking outside the window at the buildings languishing in summer sunlight, with random thoughts flitting in and out of you. Later again when, while watching a Jolie-Pitt movie with artsy pretensions, you’re more excited by the sight of a Morandi print in a pub than by the explicit scenes the movie is generously littered with.

And you begin to feel that all the iron and hormones and painkillers you’re brimming with have done their good deed. For your mind if not your body. 

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Back home, what I feel is a sense of release. Coupled with a positive disenchantment with things that had me in their spell for a long while, without even realising it. It is with a deep sense of shame that I admit I had actually begun to count the ‘likes’. 

I don’t want to be doing that with/for the rest of my life.

***

Some are born good, while others have goodness thrust on them. I belong to the second category, where I’m repeatedly told that I’m a good person by those who love me too much to see the less-than-truth of it. Of me.

Maybe it’s time I gave an honest shot at goodness.

And guess what? The second generation of laughing doves have taken over the nest in my balcony, and begun the next cycle of life.

Which, I’m beginning to see, is beautiful indeed. Perfect as it comes. 

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***