Repeated Scribbles

PS*: This is a writing exercise to be read with Cigarettes After Sex in your ears.

Today I want to be a writer. So, I will write down all her thoughts just as they come. I was at the bookstore the other week, or (silently correcting myself), she was at the store. It was only a small alcove at a literary fest. She watched the names of the authors printed in bold typeface on the covers of their books. Words strung together, words going places, narrating stories. She stood there and read a story of Shashi Deshpande. It was called “Stone Women”. Her story reminded her of all those trips she took to Belur and Halebeedu, every time they had the road trips to Hassan, where her granduncle and grandaunt lived, with all their sons in the Americas. Those roads had the best view of the night skies. If she knew how to recognise the milky way, she would. But all that came to her then, was a poem recited in English class. Cheriyan Sir writing on the board, “O God, Cover me with the star-eaten blanket of the sky”. She likes to think sometimes that she can write poetry. Random words strung together to create a surreal painting.

She just finished correcting the spelling mistakes. Writing is hard. But Writing will not leave. Amrita Ma’am said, sometimes it was really about what you choose to leave out, rather than what you want to say. That’s true of course. But then, she thinks of Joyce – why would he write an entire chapter about Catholic retreats if it was more about leaving out? The chapter was easy to finish, but was extremely tiring. Easy, because she had lived it. Tiring, because she had lived it. So, is it like this? The tiny nuances that had to be made to feel? Was that all writing was?

Honestly, I don’t know. We’ve reached that point now – the space-time drop where you must find a way to connect what we’ve written so far, with what is coming next. Thoughts hurtle down the corners of million neurons that look just like the universe in miniature. Spaces, electric threads and black holes. Wait. She is going to play Apocalypse by Cigarettes After Sex. She talked to A about this yesterday, “What is that voice dude?” “It gets under your skin.” She squealed. I can’t put the reaction into words. This is one of the difficulties. I can say, she was extremely delighted. I can use metaphors, like the woman who wrote a story for children told V and me to do. Hmmm, let’s see, A’s reaction was like a reaction of a person you know, getting excited when she/he knows exactly how the same experience has made you feel. That’s not a metaphor. Or is it? A’s reaction was like everybody here, wanting to soak in the sun, wanting the sun to make you go tingly and warm all over, because its cold inside and everywhere else. That’s a kind of metaphor. But I must edit it, too long.

I just had a conversation with S. “I’m trying to write” I told her. “Like, I don’t know how to do it anymore. I just know I want to, I have to, but I don’t know how to do it anymore.” “I know what you mean, dude. I feel the same way.” Her poems startle me out of my naive imaginations. She has the gift to string words together that will lead you astray until she shocks it into you. Leaving you wanting to know, more. She, like her, and me, and you, and everyone here, we have another world in our heads – a space that is our own, and when its too crowded, the words have to come out, although like for me now – it isn’t easy, and you’re not very happy with it afterwards.

I think Cigarettes After Sex is going to be my writing playlist. Sometimes you see, you forget that we’re all simply trying to translate our love. Our love for that head-space in our selves. It kills us, but we cannot be sane without it. She smirks. What is sanity, really? I’m trying to think of a way to describe her poem to you. Her name I don’t want to say. My name, comes from her name – a long, long time ago, although our faiths sadly overlook this. Smirk Again. Back to her poem. Yesterday, she – the one who is trying to be a writer – she sat on the floor of the sixth-floor extension, to soak up the sun. The wind was blowing softly, she was staring at the glade of overgrowth. If you hugged the floor and closed your eyes to a favourite Tamil song, you could hear the earth move. And that’s when her poem comes to me. Neon lights hurtling by, a sad-happy night, the wind in your hair. Clichés I know. But this cliché has been on her mind, while she wrote all of her last three poems. See, sometimes that’s the beauty of poetry – the power to linger. H’s poem lingers. Comfortably. Sad-Happily.

Is that too many words? I don’t know. She doesn’t care. The itch is gone. The pain will always remain, like the welt on her thigh after the ant bit. I will stop now. She thinks that, for today, this is enough.

*PS – Pre-Script

 

 

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Pain Coloured

Sometimes pain numbs like a crippling insult. All you want to do is lie curled under the covers of a blanket, whose warmth is soft consolation. Soft, because there is still the sting – that curses through your body. Debilitating it. Making it impossible to utter more than a sigh to accompany your large breathing.

She knows this. It annoys her sometimes, that Lily can play or write or read and she cannot. Not with this kind of crippling. Lily is lovely some days. Most of all when she’s hurting. She puts her on her lap, and brushes away the soft straying strands at her temples. Lily takes things very lightly most days. Like the fact that she doesn’t care enough that she could be doing art instead of science. She doesn’t care that, on the days that the pain hurtles down her stomach, it’s Lily’s acrilic of the night lights on water, tacked on the corner of her room, that comforts her. That there will be an ebb over a flow. Instead Lily complains about the drawings she has to make for her biology records. She curses the teacher – a curse, a little less severe than the pain in her abdomen.

They met at a fest in college. She was lingering over the stalls selling the cool stuff. Wondering what they saw, when all she could think about was the futility of YOLO printed caps. Was it really worth it, when you think about pain in the abdomen?

Or say, the ways in which Shreyas would state in an accusational tone, “Dude, I can argue with that in so many different ways. How can you even say such things?” As though he knew she was always going to be wrong. As though he knew she was quoting from an old flame died down.

Lily perhaps saw her then, or perhaps heard the confusion in her head. Later, Lily would tell her that she was a purple colour that day. With orange coloured stains of pain. Later, was the day Lily touched her. With purple coloured nails on a manicured hand.

Orange coloured desire on a windowsill.

A Broken Tree of Shards

It’s a listless morning. Amma has started cleaning the house. Her sisters are off to choir practice. She sits on a bed that is washed by a water coloured shade. An orange off the old curtains. She stares into the empty noises of a daily day. The overhead water tank is overflowing. It patters on the floor of the terrace. Her father flips through some of his papers – on which he has made drawings of buildings. With no takers. In a while his heavy legs will fall on the mosaic stairs and he will go to the terrace. To take care of his children – the plants. Amma has started folding plastic covers full of clothes and other little things – cotton rolls, jewellery, pads, underwear – for the journey on Christmas.

Everybody has been saying it’s been a listless year. Like a new Cadbury chocolate that didn’t taste as good as you anticipated it to be. But perhaps, we’ve suddenly grown old. And the tastes of all our souls have settled on our pink overused tongues. Sometimes she thinks Julie Delphy couldn’t have been more right when she said that we’ve been living many lives.

Amma wouldn’t agree with that though. She’d say, we don’t believe in such things. We are Catholics. Our next life is in Christ. And she’d envy how Amma was so ignorant about some things – so much that it was easy to let them be. For instance, Amma did not believe it was possible to be sad. So sad that all you could do was stare at those orange washed windows and wonder where your life was going. Why this life was given to you, when you didn’t ask for it. Or simply, why this time, Christmas did not feel like Christmas.

Her sister’s friend, Rishabh told her sister that Christmas was just an excuse for the markets to make money. Clothes, plastic Christmas trees, lights and little statutes. Not to forget – the wine.

I was very hurt, Akka, I mean Christmas is Christmas. How can you not see that? The spirit of giving and the joy that pervades every corner of this city at this time…

Her sister stood with her, in front of a Van Heusen store at Commercial Street, staring at thermocol snowflakes and red and gold baubles, and didn’t feel one bit of joy or giving. There was just a store pretending to be happy for Christmas’s sake. Or for the sake of their ringing cash registers.

She told her it could be the state of awareness perhaps, of knowing that it’s just a pagan festival that has managed to drag a lot of emotions over the years. Many souls. Many tears. Many smiles. Many Home Alones.

See, maybe the true Christmas is in just that – the fact that most of the time, in an adult life, you’re simply irredeemably alone. And all you have is listlessness, unless a couple of thieves come over and then you have to get out of the couch and make the plan to defend yourself. That in life, you’re mostly just alone. In the many places you call home.

She writes this down in her diary. She also adds another line. Sometimes I think, most of the world is like Amma, they just refuse to see that you are mostly home alone. And there’s no real joy in fighting off the Christmas robbers. And that your family isn’t going to save your ass all the time. Why don’t people write this about Christmas, dear Diary?

“Maybe it’s also the fact that this time, we know that it’s about the money. Or maybe because we know we don’t have the money.” She chuckles.

“That’s like life”, her sister says. “A lot of maybe’s.”

She nods. And then, she smiles. Like a maybe that has come true. She knows another who plays the game of the maybe. He supposes and disposes the million little probabilities of their relationship. Just like her. Maybe I’ll change. Maybe not. Maybe you’ll get used to it.

She thought of him at Sunday mass. Like she did about the golden sachristy, the old mats on which she was made to sit on as a child, and the way she ran away from it one day to sit next to her small aunt. And the way it was the same small aunt who helped her call her first love. And her first love, of course – him of the sad eyes and dark smile like a candle in the dark of power-cuts.

“You know, yesterday, I discovered that I love Postmodernism so much, not for its philosophy of life and people and systems, it’s for its Literature.” She told him. “The way in which it doesn’t ascribe anything concrete to writing and to experiences. The way in which it lets personal be personal. Without any restrictions of any kind. I hate limitations. Of any kind.” She is thinking about that Batman article he wrote through a period of hysteria and existential crisis.

“Okay. Why are you defending it so much,” he asks. Like he knows.

“No, not like that. I just believe very strongly about the beauty of the fact that Literature is never this world that you can define or confirm as some thing. It’s always going to be chaotically brilliant in its uncertainty and growth through those million possibilities of being.” She hated it when his friends critiqued the piece for not being strong in its conceptualisation. What the fuck was certainty anyway. How could you be certain about anything? Especially in writing? Personal, painful writing.

Beauty was in chaos. And the colours that pain threw into the painting of chaos.

“But do you see that, in stating that everything has to be uncertain, you are ascertaining a fixed way of being, and so defeating the purpose.”

That was the fatal mistake of Derrida, was it not? But she had the desperate need to make him see he wasn’t wrong. Wasn’t un-beautiful in the Batman piece’s uncertainties of form. Wasn’t bad in writing something personal that didn’t ascribe to the critics’ point of view. The need to show doesn’tgo away.

“Well, yeah that’s true, but –”

“Yeah, so there is some danger in ascertaining uncertainty and personal importance to writing. It cannot be separately personal. It is part of a larger structure.” He is a Marxist through and through.

“Ughhhhhhhhh. Stoopppp. You’re so boring. Rationalising everything. Go away.”

“Well philosophical differences will always be there.”

*****

Amma believes all problems will go away as long as we obsessively pray. In the Ola cab, on the way back from a party, and especially at Sunday Mass.

She goes to the long Kannada mass and stares at the red and green lanterns hung with white and green tinsel. It’s only for Amma, really. The priest says, “The birth of Christ was a very important event. It was so impactful that ithihasm was separated. Into BC and AD. Before Christ and After – the Year of the Lord.”

A common misconception really. There are many ways of chronicling time. Sometimes, it’s the hegemonical ones that become popular.

Ithihasm stays with her, though. She translates the word to English. History. It’s a beautiful word. And so uncertain. Like a soap bubble full of reflected lights, blown by a child at a park.

Like today.

Maybe she’ll survive, maybe not.

Rainy Night Thoughts

Best friends. Two little girls who have now blossomed into women. Linked hands. A Butterfly that will emerge out of its cocoon.

Mazhayulla Rathri.

In following Kiran’s lips as her eyes are elsewhere, Malayalam – my mother tongue, reveals her soft, poetic side. The depth (azham) of Kiran’s love for Delilah unfurls questions of weight. Why not a girl and another girl? Why is arranged marriage always the solution? Delilah’s relationship to her mother and the conflict of emotions she has to undergo is not alien to me. Suddenly, I have an urge to show this movie to my mother. As a Catholic girl, upbringing in the paths of the Church is straight. You are to love all mankind. But Some Loves are forbidden. However, in the garb of friendship anything is accepted.

When Kiran – a little girl of 10, comes into her ancestral Nair home, it is Delilah’s mother who invites them over for a welcome back to home. Their friendship blossoms through childhood and reaches adulthood, intact. Like all the line adikkal stories of our school hood, little indulgences in young love are overlooked. Like the teacher who smiles at Kiran’s misinterpreted gaze towards Rajan. Love letters also pass unmentioned by the adults. When the boy with the suffocating smile (Nammude Rosammede Monnaa!) comes to see Delilah, her mother is so “forward” as to tell them that she isn’t considering marriage for her youngest daughter who is just in Plus 2.

Dappled light changes have always fascinated me. Sometimes for its emotional beauty, and sometimes for what it reveals. So, in the light through a window, Delilah discovers the true author of the poems – Kiran – and her inspiration.

Herself.

The Kakathi’s shadow of laughter in the wake of her prediction slowly unfurls through the next scenes of the movie. In the story that the girls narrate through the use of shadow puppets, in the dirt stain on Delilah’s shoulder that Kiran beholds with palpable fear, in the red saree clad Delilah – beating to drumbeats in a frenzy of sensuality, in the lilt of poetry that shadows emotions of love on Kiran’s face – the climax is reached.

In small gestures that the camera captures, the poetry of Malayalam I have discovered, translates to movie. Requited love blossoms like a morning flower, in Love. However forbidden. So, a wet Delilah’s feet poised carefully over the edge of the water-pond falls. Tinkle and Splash. A black glass bangle adorns the graceful arm of Delilah. And Kiran continues to allure. In manly cream coloured kurtas, and blue flowy churidars. Love scenes traverse the path of conversations under bedsheet covers. They rest among the canopies of the wild growth around Kerala’s lushness. And a flowing blue saree dictates rhythm to the body and hair of Delilah. At this point, I am the happiest spectator.

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But then, like life, a viciousness transforms every moment of love, into an act of violent invasion. It starts with the kickass Ammachi (like mine, yours, and most people’s) – a look of kindness turns into confusion as Delilah’s Ammachi beholds the hugging girls. Delilah’s delicate arms draw blood as her mother smashes the glass bangle against the wall. An uncle assaults the hurt Delilah in his vulgarity of word and gesture.

Sherikkum Suhicchu nadannu alledi?”

This is always the moment that I hate patriarchy and his ugly head. Society and her filthy mouth. But, the movie doesn’t disappoint. While Delilah grimly accepts her fate of marriage to Sebastian (Nammude Rosammede Monnaa!), Kiran stoutly defends her identity. Her silence shatters in the form of an antique mirror. The butterfly unfurls.

Pada kuruppan marude chorealle njanum? Njan Pogum.

Her poetry transforms into weapons. She is the warrior of her choice. Her Journey.

So, the movie comes to a close in an openness that somehow for me, brings to mind Magic Realism. A white sari clad Delilah, summons all the weight of her gold into a scream that makes Kiran turn. She is clad in the white kurta. Poised in the edge of the waterfall. Elsewhere. And then, history repeats itself separately. Kiran receives the patch of dirt on her left shoulder; the butterfly hovers over Kiran (on the rocks at the waterfall) and Delilah (in the Catholic Church, ready to be “married”).

Shorn hair of a forced tradition flows in the lilt of the river water: beneath the precipice. Above it, Kiran embarks on a journey.

Sancharam.

The Kakathi’s laughter punctuates the end of the film.

Amma, what’s the difference? Even if my Kiran is a boy.

Raindrop Letters

Lena watches as the wisp of vapour thins down to a trail of transparence. There are water sounds outside. The kind that come out of water taps. A few minutes back, the afternoon sky donned the cape of dusk and cried softly. She loved the cold in spite of the warmth uncoiling within.

It was a Room of One’s Own kind of rain. The wisps slowly slept over the cup of cranberry lemon water. She let Frances with her real and unreal emotions be. And fell into the cosiness of lonely peace that her writing created.

She decided that she was mostly writing because of the Rain. And silent sounds. That let her be. In the solace of book lands and empty spaces.

Who knew she’d grow to crave loneliness when she’s happy?

Smoke n’ Stories

At this moment I feel like writing about Hyderabad. This place is like a displaced form of Hosseini’s prose-lands. When I’m wandering through its streets (most often on an auto) I feel always like I’m in a place caught in the precipice of present and past time. The people speak in tongues that are close to my knowledge, yet far away from the comfort born of understanding. And among the chatter of such clutteredness I find little things to keep.

The night walks to Charminar gave me one of my first little gifts. There were stories hidden behind the colours of sweets and the stooping gaze of an old building. A woman I have grown to love for her adorable sense of self tells me, that Hussain is a Shia name. This after we have met a little boy called Faisal Hussain at the building of green and yellow lights. The building, holds space like a palm – open and close at the same time.

As we walk by, little character bits of the streets form newspaper material memories in that gift package of mine. The most common of them (you might have guessed this) are the huge vats cooking by the little cafe’s. I don’t mean the fancy things that pass for cafe’s in places like Bangalore. These are cafe’s that will always have brick brown Irani chai and a pale Osmania Biscuit always in hand. Even at 3 am in the morning. Another little birdie who loves auto rides as much as me, tells me that it’s a charm of the old city – this safeness and casual tea-drinkingness that I’ll never find outside University premises.

Remember the precipice of time? If there’s one side it cannot have, it’s the future. That far away luxury is not a worry in this place. This secret was written all over the moonlit streets of old city. The story is that, these streets were moulded with so much happening around them, all at once, that their many stories journeyed all through the corners of this city to quash any little seeds that contained the sense of the future. And that’s why the cobbled stones in the streets by huge vats of Irani Chai or Paya Soup will shine like the moon even while the sorrowful gates of the city, slink into the shadows.

(To be continued)

In between.

It has become my mornings and my night.
My quiet corners of reading in the light.
It is here I stare into other people’s windows
And wonder, if I jumped will I flow?
It is here I feel happy and one – inside and out.
I’m glad of this, when I tell Stutee, her sound
Washed past like lemon juice.
And it is here I watch the firmament’s hues.
This now is my in-between.
Space against the balcony door, where I lean.

Mistakes

At five o’ clock, she has to take a bath. Grandma narrated the incident with Aunt Em who decided to bath a little later. “There was a phone hanging by the side of the odu,” she said. “Em was saying, instead of screaming out at him, she should have tried to pull the phone away from him.” “Ennitu enthu patti Mummy?” she asked. “He ran way, obviously,” she said. “Athukondu aanu parayunne, ethreyum vegam kullikan.” It is disconcerting. She always had an inkling that the clear glass window in the new bathroom could be used by peeping toms. That’s why she put up the marron or blue frock – spreading its umbrella cut bottom to close the major part of the window.

Today, she decides on the palazzos instead. The last few weeks were warm. Like the red rice nestled in the aluminium kalam at the adupu. Now, the monsoons are here. A million droplets chart scattered lines of wetness throughout the day. At church, the palm fronds are covered by droplets. From the cemetery, the white walls of the church are traced by the fingers of mist. The road lies to one side, a sloop of precariously perched trees on the other side. She must go to the stream – hence the palazzos. A mistake that her sister made while shopping for college clothes.

Jamie climbs over any climbable surface. When she went to drop off T Ammai, Jamie ran through the overgrowth among all the rubber tress – behind the guesthouse. “Don’t try to jump that steep slope, she said. “Come over to the side and then jump down from the higher wall to the lower one.” T Ammai was scared. “No Jaime, you better not – its not a concrete wall, those stones may be slippery. There’s moss all over.” Jamie jumps however – she is wearing her sister’s shorts – the ones she brought from Big Bazar – from the Men’s section. It is then that she looks towards the stream. In the days that preceded, nobody thought of the stream. In between feeding the little kids who were left behind by the mothers who travelled to Thodupuzha for shopping, the conversations were always Daddy and old memories.

Yesterday, she was texting Amit. “Is your home by a river or a lake?” “By a river.” Well, sort off. The kayyani is a small stream full of coquettish fish. It flows into the big stream that will finally join the aaaru – the puzha that Thodupuzha gets its name from. (To make it simpler for you, think of your rubber slippers – if they were left in the kayyani – you could easily rescue them. If they slipped off your feet in the stream beneath the palam – you would have to be quick. If you lost them in the aaaru – they would float away somberly – like Grandma when she tells Mary – “If you want to, go sleep alone.”)

“Oh, if you don’t know how to swim, then it’s no fun. Still, Nature is to die for. You don’t need signal in that case.” He says. How does she explain that longing – for those days when she held the arms of Amit’s best friend. How does she explain the dent that the city space has left in the album of her mind? And then there are those moments – when she wishes her skin wasn’t painted by the welts of insect bites.

Pants make her feel more able. To cope with adult relatives, the incessant tiredness, the monsoon cold, and bed-sheets that slip away in the night. Yesterday, was a Sunday – so it was Church, Breakfast, reading the paper, more reading, a nap, lunch and then more reading, and then bath. Reading yesterday’s paper was one of those little things that made her feel full – like hot water baths in the morning. She sat at Daddy’s reading table by the kuzhimittam. The Hindu carried familiar names – the poetry of Muddupalani, the movies of Greta Gerwig and the stories of Manto. She decides to watch Frances Ha later that day. She has put it off enough – two semesters. Chuchee – her roommate would watch this Black and White movie and cry. “You know, its like, what shall I say? Like us – funny, stupid, with disappointing men and struggling adulthood in New York City.” Those days, she missed her city from Hyderabad. These days, she misses Bangalore from this mountain village.

Frances Ha creates dance moves that she calls “things that look like mistakes.” Because adulting is full of those – they both know it. The movie is comforting – like her, the girl in the movie searches for a place to belong to. Like her, the girl randomly falls as she runs right in the middle of a date to withdraw money from an ATM. Like her, Frances Ha spends hours staring at odd surfaces.

And also – the death of a grandfather. A death that leaves a hole of displaced being. A hole that hurts.