Thursday, October 2, 2008
As a consolation price, Y matter-of-factly tells X to not sweat the small stuff and why don’t they just meet in the evening instead because of course Y gets up just in time for his impossibly important event so whenever that’s done – oh around five-ish but it may get stretched to say, 2011? – they can meet. What happens at that meeting is another story involving a psycho X, two-psycho sidekicks, a chainsaw and a castration device that looks alarmingly like my grandmother’s nutcracker.
Which brings me to the point of this post... why do women all around the world insist on selling themselves short? And also, where can I find a suitably rusty nutcracker?
I am at that stage where all my single and working female friends are not so single any more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for free kalyaanam sapad, but I really wonder if there is some secret 1984esque brainwashing club that they’re all required to subscribe to. Or maybe it’s some sort of married-womens-manifesto that gets handed down to every new member of the ol ball-and-chains club. Is all that new-bride-glow really because of good sex, or is it some form of mind-altering substance that mother-in-laws all over the world are mixing into their bahu’s milk? Whatever it is, what I’d like to know is, when one becomes two, why does the protocol for social interaction between the sexes change?
Specifically, what the fuck is wrong with X?!
Strangely enough, this perplexing phenomenon is not confined to the married masses. X’s all over the world that’ve found a Y to share an ‘it’s complicated’ with on facebook are exhibiting this trend. On behalf of Z’s all over the world who are right now sitting with a tub of unbuttered popcorn and a look of confused disappointment while enduring the horrible cacophonic catastrophe known as Mamma Mia: the 90-minute musical that will make you want to rip your arm off and poke yourself in the eye with, I’ve got a message for all the X’s out there: Child, if he says you’re a priority but continues to stand you up for his work, his male-bonding-time, his haircut appointment, his third cousin’s wife’s brother who is getting a facial and needs him there in his hour of knead... wake up and smell the degree kapi. He’s promising you the mooncake and giving you crumbs. You shouldn’t be spending evenings dressed up and waiting by the phone when you can be giving your one-armed popcorn-popping friend company and a much needed helping hand. Meryl Streep or no Meryl Streep, Mamma Mia is after all the sort of calamity best encountered with a pair of eyeshades, heavy-duty ear plugs and preferably a frontal lobotomy.
Which brings me to the topic of Ys.
Maybe it’s just my slow Mamma Mia- addled brain, but I mean really, why? If someone is a priority in your life, stop telling her that mothafucka and put your money where your mouth is. Somewhere between the 1467th and 2769th time that you’ve promised to meet her and then cancelled cuz agent 006 and agent 008 were both busy tripping to Abba songs and therefore it was up to you to save the world from a 90f-oot Godzilla, who incidentally turned out to be just a menopausal marsupial experiencing a hot-flash, there is someone out there waiting for your call and marking the dates in her phone and keeping herself free and giving up geriatric Abba warblers and looking forward to spending a popcorn-free afternoon with you, minus 90-foot city-crushing lizards.
If you’ve made a commitment, honour it. If she means a lot to you, show her. If you love her, then love her. Really. We all love our house of cards, but when your carefully constructed illusions collapse somewhere between the Queen and the Joker, even the most staunch X can turn into an ex. Verbal assurances can only go so far. And when empty words stop becoming isolated incidents and turn into an inkling of a more disturbing pattern, even a dorky Scandinavian band in bodysuits can’t put humpty dumpty together again.
And X darling... don’t go wasting your emotion. Lay all your love on you.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
The wailing women descend upon the house like an air-raid siren. I am lying on my cot and counting the pixies that fly in from the afternoon heat and settle on my fingers. The one that looks alarmingly like my mother settles in a mess of red sari and gold border by the foot of the bed and starts in her loud voice.
‘Have you thought about marriage?’
‘I don’t know’
‘All self-respecting south Indian women get married’
The old one in the corner starts coughing violently.
‘I want to see you married before I die’ she wheezes. ‘I want all my children to be married and happy’
‘I’m not your child’ I tell her.
‘I want all my grandchildren to be happy.’
‘But I am happy.’
She coughs and brings up a jagged stone of heavy black from her mouth and sets it on the floor to keep the room from spinning.
‘You’re wasting your life’, the one who looks suspiciously like my mother starts up again. She is slicing onions with a knife, a safety pin gripped tightly between her teeth. More pixies float in from the afternoon scorching heat. I watch them settle on my big toe and implode into a ball of furry pixie dust.
‘Do you know to tie a sari?’
Chop chop chop.
‘You will learn.’ she says.
Chop chop chop.
‘It is your duty to get married.’ She continues.
‘Then I will be a success.’
‘Then I have raised two children, put them through engineering, and got them married into respectable families.’
‘Then you’re on your own.’
‘What if I fail?’
She doesn’t answer. The one is the corner has thrown up four glistening black stones. They have flecks of vomit-and-blood coloured spots in them. One of the black stones crumbles and begins to wail in a slow and steadily increasing Doppler Effect siren.
‘And if I don’t?’ I ask.
‘Then I fail’.
‘You’re a failure anyway’.
Chop chop chop.
The wailing is beginning to spin the room. I walk outside the spinning room with the wailing ladies chopping onions. There is a crooked trail of red ants that lead to a stone well. I follow it and look down.
‘The water is fine’
The voice from the well echoes up. I look into the black hole and see four naked women standing at the bottom.
‘Where?’ I ask.
I am standing on the edge of the well. The cold stone creeps up between my toes and bites, injecting little darts of formic acid into my flesh. I step back and shake my head.
‘I haven’t been touched in a long time.’ she says.
‘But I’m free.’
‘What’s that?’ I point to a muddy puddle of brown on the floor of the well.
‘That’s my left tit.’
‘What happened to it?’
‘It died of dejection.’
‘I can’t talk to you anymore.’
‘Mother said to stay away from divorcees, spinsters and lepers. You can catch it from them.’
‘We’re not divorced.’
‘Then you’re prostitutes. You’re in heels.’
‘Prostitutes don’t wear heels. They’re bare-footed and wear a red blouse too tight to contain their small breasts, and sport lipstick stains on their teeth’
The edges of stone are starting to lap and suck around my ankles like quicksand. I extract my feet with a slopsound and walk away to the small brick wall. I hear singing from the naked women in the well.
I sit on the wall, resting my elbows on my knees. The folds of my sari collect in a pool of crumpled cloth between my legs. Wails emanate from the spinning house.
‘Why don’t you marry’ the wail forms words and carry to where I am seated.
‘What if I fail?’
‘That won’t happen.’
‘Then I’ll be divorced. No one likes a divorcee. They throw stones at her in the street and lorry drivers try to force themselves on her when she sleeps at night. I’ll lose all my friends’
‘Then don’t get divorced.’
‘Then I’ll be unhappy, and he’ll force himself on me every night like a sweating grunting pig attacking a dead fish.’
‘You’ll have a family and you’ll be happy.’
‘I’ll have a family and I’ll be trapped. If I leave then, daughters will blame me, my sons will grow cold and stop talking to me, my in-laws will burn my ears with their red-coal words and my parents will wear my shame in their house like a soiled sanitary napkin on a marble floor.’
‘What other way is there?’
‘I’ll just wait.’
A girl in a blue synthetic pavadai jumps from the spinning house and squats down on the grass next to me. She is carrying a handwoven palmleaf rice-sifter containing white jasminey flowers that have just started to wilt. She fishes a needle and string out from somewhere inside her clothing and begins to string them together.
‘What are you doing?’ I ask her.
‘I am stringing a garland of Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings.’
‘How will you know which is which?’
‘Look’, she says and picks out a wilting flower with a strong smell from the heap of white and throws it away. ‘That was a Sunday afternoon.’
‘And then what will you do?’
She gathers the Sunday mornings in her hands and tightly clasps her palms together. A small drop of glistening metal emerges from the folds of her hands and slides into a dirty glass jar she has placed nearby. She opens her palms and wipes the wet crumpled flowers on her petticoat.
‘Be careful to throw out the Sunday afternoons. And definitely no Mondays. They are poison.’
‘What will you do with it?’ I persist.
‘I wear it when I get older’ she says.
She lifts her top and dabs a little between her small unformed breasts.
‘When they smell it, they will come.’
She hummed as she strung the afternoons and mornings together in a tidy white garland. I saw the string she used was cutting the soft skin on her fingers. She was bleeding pixie dust. She turns to me and smiles, her teeth stained with borrowed red lipstick. Her humming drowns out the singing from the well and the sound of wails from the spinning house.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Guppy was. Actually, I should say Guppy was happy, but Guppy was a fish, and fishes do not have a perception of happiness, or any sort of emotion for that matter, and therefore, Guppy simply was. Guppy was in a large pond filled with lots of other fishes and other forms of marine ecosystems. Guppy swam and swam in lots of pointless circles and ate when he ate and slept when he slept, although he slept with his eyes open since fishes don’t have eyelids and no one can tell if a fish is asleep unless you poke it with your index finger and it wakes up and swims off into lots and lots of pointless circles again. Guppy was definitely a he, and this we could be sure of because he didn’t think too much, unlike the other fishes who thought too much and started putting powdered-valium on their seaweed. Also, these other fishes laid eggs and sometimes thought their bums were too big.
Guppy was a fish of simple pleasures. He liked the sun. He liked the sea. He liked the other fishes. And most of all, he liked pointless circles, which he swam in swishing his tailfin this way and that. Life was good, and Guppy was.
One day, a large net lowered into the water and fished Guppy out. The net was attached to a large manhand and the large manhand was attached to a small plastic bag of water into which Guppy went. He swam and swam in smaller pointlesser circles till he was transferred again by the large manhand holding the large net into a slightly larger rectangular apparatus. Since Guppy was a fish, he had no concept of space or dimensions and continued to swim in pointless circles inside the rectangular tank with many different coloured fishes, fishes he’d never seen before, and lots of funny looking plants and a small scary thing near the floor that kept blowing bubbles and didn’t seem to want to be his friend, although Guppy tried.
Guppy no longer found strange and interesting coloured plants to eat. He found strange and interesting little tiny balls bobbing on the surface of the water, and he ate them, because fishes don’t have mothers who pinch their ears for putting everything they find into their mouths. The tiny balls made him happy and so Guppy was. He forgot about the plants, and he forgot about the net and he forgot about everything except the little balls that floated down every day. Guppy swam in lots and lots of pointless circles bumping into other fishes on the way. He tried to make friends but sometimes the others fishes would be here and sometimes they would not and there would be new fishes and this would all be very confusing for Guppy if he could think about it, but he couldn’t and so Guppy kept swimming in his pointless circles bumping into all the other fishes. He bumped into them because this tank was a little crowded and his old place was not so crowded, but Guppy had no perception of time or self-awareness to understand and compare his former state of being with his present condition. Therefore, Guppy simply was.
One day a large manhand attached to a small net lowered itself into the tank and fished out a fish and Guppy found himself in a small glass bowl, only he did not know it was a glass bowl because he was inside it and moreover because he was a fish of (comparatively) limited intelligence. Soon all the shaking and moving around stopped, and Guppy was once more swimming in lots and lots of smaller pointless circles. This new place had no plants. And it had no other fishes. And it didn’t even have the scary thing with the bubble in the bottom. Guppy swam and swam in circles till he saw the familiar little balls bobbing on the surface. He swam up and ate the little balls and soon he was full and he was feeling.
Day turned into night and night turned into day and sometimes when the mandhands drew the curtains there would be evening or dawn or some other hour of the day that was marked, sliced and measured in the continuum of experience of higher beings. But Guppy simply swam and swam, in small circles almost chasing his tail because the bowl was so small, only he didn’t know it was so small, he only knew that he was, and that sometimes there would be the little balls and then he would eat and then he would be. But time went on, and with the passage of time, Guppy began to act strange. He would do what other fishes wouldn’t do. He would stare at the surface of the water for hours. He would bump his nose against the glass of the bowl and do it again and again in a circle till he got back to where he started from. He had nothing to do, except swim in lots and lots of pointless circles.
One day he stopped swimming in circles and went to investigate the bottom of the bowl. Only, Guppy was a fish and therefore did not know he was in a bowl or conducting an investigation. He poked his nose around the bottom, and lay there for a long while, till the tiny balls appeared again at the surface of the water. Sometimes he leapt to where he knew the tiny balls would come from. He wondered what was outside. He wondered about the balls and how they made him feel. He wondered if being ontheotherside would make him feel like he felt after he ate the tiny balls. For the first time, Guppy wondered, although fishes don’t wonder or think or pontificate, but this only went to show Guppy was a special kind of fish.
Guppy lay at the bottom of the bowl more and more and thought about the tiny balls and the manhand and the large net. He thought about the bowl and the water and the surface. He thought about the bottom and the top and the sides. He thought about the inside and the outside. He wondered if he was and he wondered what it was like to be not. Guppy lay in the bottom of the bowl for hours thinking and thinking. The manhands would poke him to make him move but Guppy was. The tiny balls would float on the surface and crowd the little opening to the jar, but Guppy was.
Finally, one day, a large manhand reached into the bowl and fished out the fish and threw it outside to make way for a new fish that came in a plastic bag attached to a manhand.
Guppy lay on the grass, but he did not know it was grass. He saw the sun shine above, but he did not know it was shining. All he thought of was the tiny balls, millions and millions of strange and interesting tiny balls and the bright shining light moving towards him, and he knew that beyond the light he would find the tiny balls waiting for him… if he could just get ontheotherside.
Monday, September 8, 2008
- My blog needs to be updated more often.
- Chaos is beautiful.
- My shampoo contains beer. It’s a good conditioner.
- Sunlight makes me happy. So does rain.
- Most of my friends are married. They hang out with other married couples, or stay at home with their spouses.
- If you spent your twenties married to someone that you couldn’t make it work with in the end, have you thrown the best years of your life away? Or is that just something single 30-somethings say to console themselves for the lack of regular sex in their lives?
- I designed my own calling card. Its pink. With a rainbow-checkered cow in gold heels on the back.
- The silk moth is born without a mouth. After emerging from the pupae, it flaps its useless wings about – years of domestication and inbreeding have rendered the worm unable to fly – till it finds a mate, copulates, lays eggs, and then dies in a day. Are we actually giving their lives meaning by killing them and rendering them useful?
- If I could be reborn whenever and wherever as anyone else other than myself, I’d go back to the 70s and Woodstock and become a groupie for Led Zep.
- Beer rocks. Champagne tastes like shit.
- After two years of living in the US, my nice well-mannered friend has turned into an obnoxious American who talks loudly and incessantly about things no one really gives a fuck about.
- I like India. It grows on you.
- I feel a pang of nostalgia when I see school or college kids these days.
- Some days I feel the ground slipping away from my feet, and I remember I’m too old for sex, drugs and rock n roll.
- Thank god for oasis. That’s the one band from my generation I will pass on to my kids.
- I will always pair my kurtis with keds.
- I wear jeans to work everyday.
- Starfish are capable of regenerating any part of their body.
- If religion is the opium of the masses, is insanity the drug of choice for those privileged few?
- If I killed because I was cornered, would I feel guilty?
- I hate twilight.
- Are fat people happy? Really?
- Thank god for Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
- I will name my daughter Zopa. No surname.
- If you’re feeling blue, find a psychiatrist and pay her to listen to you whine.
- Sex and the city’s a half-decent show. Vacuous, self-obsessed and peripherally intellectual, it makes for good tv nonetheless.
- Am I the only person in the world to still use the word nonetheless?
- I also use albeit.
- If by some quirk in the universe tomorrow we woke up and everyone was clairvoyant, what would happen to the world in 24 hours?
- Would you rather be dumb and happy than the opposite?
- I get high on the Beatles.
- Kids are great. Parents are scary.
- If I have kids would I turn into a different person?
- A good pair of stilettos turn you into a bitch. Really.
- I never tire of falling in love.
- One day I will have a toned taut body and then I will take nude black and white shots to look at when I’m old and flatulent.
- I have an over-developed superego.
- Money makes you happy.
- Good food makes you happier.
- I just had ox tongue. And I liked it.
- I still haven't finished season 2 of scrubs.
- In an industrial family, your family politics are your office politics. Do your friends then become your family?
- How many lovers is too many?
- I wish I was taller.
- Can you feel yourself descend into madness?
- One day I will read the entire discworld series.
- I listen to Floyd in darkness.
- How many special people change?
- How many lives are living strange?
- Where were you while we were getting high?
Sunday, August 3, 2008
All the rooms were swept, the beds made, the clothes washed and folded. She hummed to herself as she wiped the glass doors of the cabinet. After this she was going to curl up on the sofa and finish her book. She felt happy thinking of it, curled up on her comfy sofa, feet tucked in beneath her, in the sunlit warmth of her cozy orange apartment. She caught her own reflection in the glass, intently absorbed in cleaning the glass. She smiled and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear.
Kamala had been married a little over a year now. It was a surprise to everyone. Her parents had all but given up hope on her. Kamala’s mother had tried to coax her daughter down the matrimonial path many times with no success. She ultimately resigned herself to the belief that her self-sufficient daughter will be too busy finding happiness within herself and her immediate environment to ever seek the deep contentment of a blissful union. Whenever she was depressed, Kamala’s mother would take her jute bag of coconuts and flowers and head to the small temple nearby. There, underneath the clanging of the bells, surrounded by the dreams, and hopes, and wishes of the city-dwellers, she would tightly shut her eyes, clasp her hands and quietly entreat Lord Ganesha: please... please make my daughter happy.
Kamala’s mother was a small-town woman. She’d moved to the city when she married Kamala’s father and had lived there ever since. She was happy, and enjoyed the sort of wholesome contentment that only a happy small-town upbringing could support. She had seen her parents, happy and in love, and she had seen herself with her husband, happy and in love. When Kamala was five, she saw her mother smile at her father as she brought him his morning coffee. He took the steel tumbler from her hand, the tip of his finger lightly grazing hers, and over the strong sharp smell of Madras filter coffee, Kamala watched her father’s gaze linger for a second longer and she knew that her mother found reassurance and bliss in her father’s stolen glances.
It was not difficult to understand why Kamala should grow up feeling trapped and claustrophobic in her sheltered cocoon of a childhood. Happy as her parents were, Kamala knew from a very young age that it was a kind of happiness she will never know. Her face pressed tightly against the grill bars of her window – a pastime she found immensely pleasurable – she looked at the blur of colors as the cars whizzed past her window, and wondered how it would feel to fly.
Kamala’s parents were simple creatures. They feared the gods, washed their hands before eating, worked hard, complained little and were grateful for the small happiness and peace they had found within their little unit. Kamala was a product of that love and gratitude, and when she was born, pink and wrinkled with tiny arms and legs open and searching for the world around her, her mother looked at the tiny bundle of life in her hands and knew instantly what to name her.
Kamala grew up like any product of a bustling city, and Madras – glorified village that is was – was still a city in terms of size and industry. She was denied the simple, free joys her mother enjoyed: growing up amidst neighborhood cricket matches, Saturday morning cycling races, and lazy summer afternoons dozing off on the branches of her neighbor’s mango tree. But Kamala found happiness at the edges of freedom in a cloistered city. A sense of liberation and heady pleasure in asking for – and getting – cut raw mango pieces dipped in red chilli powder. She knew her parents wouldn’t approve; they’d told her time and again how unhygienic street food was. But Kamala loved nothing more than to spend an entire day by herself at the beach, watching the waves lap at her feet as she felt the delicate sharp taste of chilli and mango as it hit her tongue.
This wasn’t to say that she was a loner. Kamala was a bright active child, social and gregarious and she easily made friends. But her moments of the purest and most intense joy came when she was alone, away from family and friends, and surrounded by the noise and bustle of the city and its throng of strangers. This is why she loved the beach, and the roads, and the tall buildings; Kamala had always seen herself as of the city, rather than in it.
When she was seventeen Kamala discovered her own desirability. She was an attractive woman, tall and bronzed, with sharp features framing her quick intelligent eyes. She had been told many times that she resembled a cat, with a calculated languidness as if she would spring at any moment and dart out of the room in a flash. Even her movements were fluid and graceful, with always the suggestion of hidden agility. There were no dearth of men, and Kamala entertained them all and their small demands, with the effortless grace of a good hostess. It wasn’t much, a shy clasped hand here, a fumbled kiss there.
As she grew older, she had lovers. And as fumbled kisses turned into furtive gropes which turned into something else, Kamala watched the drama of her life played out to her, like a benevolent lord ruling over his kingdom from his golden throne. She never held them too close, so as to inspire hurt, or had too many, so as to invite talk. And she always stayed in touch and shared a real friendship that lasted across and beyond the conventional confines of the endpoints of a relationship. She flitted from one to the other as gracefully as a cat leaping from wall to ledge to windowsill, always poised, always calm, and good-humoredly. She was never cold or detached while with them, and never bitter when she moved on. She took it as the natural course of things, as casually as one takes day following the night.
It was a testament to her skill that she was always introduced to the wives of her ex’s as their best friend and closest confidant. It was a testament to her intelligence that she knew enough to smile and make conversation with the women while their husbands were away, rummaging through their den for something or the other to show her. Kamala knew these women needed their private moments of sizing her up to keep their inner peace. She always bore a tired expression of polite interest to greet her ex’s when they finally emerged from the den with their wildly interesting object. As lovers became ex’s and ex’s became good friends, Kamala drifted through relationships, unscathed and unscarred.
Brilliant in academics and in career, success sat on her like a light cardigan. She wore it with ease, and the casual grace with which she held everything in life. She never wished too hard or hungered after the things she desired. To her amused mind, it seemed she desired a thing and it would fall in her lap of its accord. She gripped so lightly, and pursued a thing so casually – if diligently – that the effort was never visible to her or others around her. It was in this manner that she lived her entire adult life.
The day she met Raj was a normal day. It was an uneventful day; a cog in the wheel of a city’s busy machinery. He was a friend of an ex, and they were all sitting around having dinner, fighting over the chicken pieces in the gravy and reliving embarrassing tales from their college days. Raj was funny and smart, a good friend of a friend who had just moved to the city. She learnt he was a successful consultant at a successful firm. He was easy on the eye as well, and Kamala could tell from his soft voice and good humor, his neat combed hair, his well-groomed nails and his impeccable table manners that he was a product of a happy and respectable household. Raj was in fact that perfect boy to bring home to her parents.
She realized this fact as strongly and suddenly as she realized the absolute unsuitability of all her ex-lovers. The tortured geniuses, the misunderstood outcasts, the troubled writers, the arrogant yuppie, the talented, volatile artists… the realization struck her like an anvil fallen out of the sky and she stared dumb-founded wondering how she could have failed to have noticed it till now. She caught herself, a stupefied expression blunting her fine features for a moment, and quickly composed herself with a sharp intake of breath that only Raj noticed out of the periphery of his perception.
That night her mother, weary but persistent, asked her the question it is every mother’s duty to ask: Kamala, it is time you got married… do you want us to look out for you? And in the shock of her daughter’s reply, her knees gave way and she nearly dropped to the floor as she heard Kamala’s voice from the bathroom: No ma, I think I found someone.
The marriage was quick, the families were pleased. In India a marriage is a coming together of families more than it is the coming together of individuals, and in this mingling of communities and peoples, this blending of families, each with its own strange customs and quirks, Kamala and Raj found laughter and happiness in the drama of their marriage played out to them. Kamala’s mother found a small shady clearing in the garden outside the marriage hall, and under the mango tree of her childhood, she tightly shut her eyes, clasped her hands, and whispered softly to Lord Ganesha: Thank you, for making my daughter happy.
It was soon after Kamala and Raj moved into a place of their own that she gave up working and flitted into the role of a housewife as effortlessly as a cat jumping from wall to windowsill. This soft warm morning, Kamala was wiping the glass pane of the wooden cabinet, humming to herself, thinking of the delicious pleasure that awaited her on the sofa; her blanket and her book. As she opened the glass door to wipe on the inside, her glance fell upon a small white cup, hidden behind the expensive chinaware.
Rajeev, she thought as she reached inside the cabinet and took out the lone porcelain cup. Rajeev was a painter, an artist and a writer. One of those madly talented geniuses whose minds worked beyond all constraints of discipline and convention. She had met him at a concert, a friend of a friend, they went out for dinner together and he dissected her spinach, sprinkled pepper on it and turned it into a work of art. She had to go home hungry because he wouldn’t let her eat it. The next day she turned up at his apartment with a loaf of bread and nothing else. They made love and feasted on desire alone for three days. The loaf of bread he turned into an objet d’art that was pecked and destroyed by the crows. Kamala turned the cup over in her hands as she remembered Rajeev. It was white on the outside and a bright red inside. How Rajeev loved painting.
The single most joyous thing for him was to take an empty canvas and convert it into a riot of bright colors. He once told her as she lay on his chest, her breathing in time with the rise and fall of his chest, that the only true expressions of ourselves are our colors. And Kamala, he said, was an orange, just as true as he was a red. She turned the cup over in her hands. She realized with dismay that she had not kept in touch with Rajeev. He vanished with his delicate beautiful things, leaving behind his love for color, this chipped white porcelain cup and the crows.
She sat down and looked around, noticing the orange walls, the sun gliding in through the sheer curtains and enveloping the room in a fiery glow. Something seemed to unsettle her and she tried to think. Did she really grip them all as lightly as she thought she did? She noticed small things in her apartment that she hadn’t before. The books stacked in the corner of the room, a makeshift table that held on it a photo of her and Raj holidaying in Goa. The books were a touch she picked up from Akil.
She met Akil at a conference years earlier; him the arrogant know-it-all yuppie, she the bored bohemian. He had never had a beautiful woman pull the rug out from under his feet. And do so in such a subtle and charmingly disarming way. They had a one-night-stand that lasted for thirty nights before she jumped from wall to windowsill again. Books, Akil said, could furnish a room; and he did. She had made love to him many times in the middle of his room, on his low cot bed surrounded by walls and walls of books; a fortress he created for him and her in his imaginary world many years ago.
Kamala went into the bedroom and looked at the photographs. A collage of pictures of her and Raj, happy together, laughing and smiling, arm-in-arm, sometimes with family, sometimes just them… it made a mosaic on one wall of their bedroom, asymmetric and overlapping. She had told Raj there was beauty in its asymmetry. She remembered Murali, the photographer, with his curtain of photographs. They had spent the better half of a hot summer weekend in bed feasting on mangoes. He had shot 117 pictures of her in the nude, clasping a mango in her hand there, bringing the fruit to her lips here, sinking her white teeth into its soft flesh, the juices running down the sides of her mouth. By the time the sun rose on Monday, he had taken those pictures of her and sewn them together in long vertical blinds that caressed the light as it filtered through. Kamala wondered if the mosaic was not her own original idea.
She looked around her home and discovered the little touches she gave it; and the horrifying truth of the stories behind them. She went into the kitchen to make herself a glass of water. As she reached for the glass, her hand faltered, paused for a moment, suspended above the steel tumbler and container she served Raj his morning coffee in. It was here, all of them, all of it, all around her invading the home she created for herself and her new husband. She was grieving for leaving them all.
And what of Raj, she thought. What of him? She tried so very hard to think but she couldn’t recollect a moment they shared. A year, a whole year, and every moment of it filled with memories… and yet she strained – unsuccessfully – to come up with a moment they shared together, just him and her, all of their own.
Kamala sat down on the sofa, gripping the cup tightly between her fingers, her heart racing and her mind a screen of static and noise. Why was this minor detail shaking her to the very bone? Surely the marriage of Kamala and Raj was based on a mature love, a grown-up love, a love of understanding and compassion. Raj was never her lover. He lacked the mad impulsive urges of one; the intense bouts of passion and madness bordering on obsession. He came into her life as a friend and a companion, offering her a life of stability and steady contentment with none of the intensity of emotion or volatile spikes of mood that mark torrid affairs. She knew this the moment she first looked into his quiet enquiring eyes. She said yes, and he took her hands in his. She saw her future then, a life of contentment and peace after a decade of running away from demons she could not articulate or understand. He took her hands and clasped them in his. She noticed in his hold the promise of loyalty and undying faithfulness; he noticed in hers the slipping-away of resistance. She said yes, louder this time, and returned the gentle squeeze of his hand.
Kamala remained on the sofa, unmoving, playing absentmindedly with the handle of the cup in her hands. She thought of Raj and their lives as husband and wife. She thought about the dinners, and the dancing and the holidays. She remembered the times they shared with family, his and hers. She thought of the times they walked, hand-in-hand, late at night through empty lanes. Surely they were memories worth keeping, memories of Raj that must have manifested themselves somehow in this space they created. Raj, with his functional gifts on birthdays and anniversaries – a washing machine for the home, a microwave for the kitchen. Raj, with his striped shirts and white socks. Raj, with his side-parting, who always parted it that way, who smiled good-humoredly and combed it whenever she ruffled his hair. Dependable, reliable Raj… never swerving, never faltering even for a second, solid as a rock, and as trustworthy as the blue sky. Kamala realized, shocked and numb, that she had not a thing to remember him by in this home that they created together.
Kamala sat still on the sofa. She became aware of the object she clasped tightly in her hands. In the warm afternoon sun she looked like a giant cat poised on her sofa, her fine features picking up the orange glow of the room. Kamala looked at the cup, moving her head slowly and gracefully to gaze at it. Please… she thought to herself as she gazed intently into the red insides of the cup… Please… let me be happy.
Monday, May 12, 2008
There’s a movie starring Michelle Pfeiffer called ‘I could never be your woman’. In it, this beautiful older woman (Michelle Pfeiffer, duh) falls for a funny, insanely talented, much younger man (Paul Rudd). The rest of the movie is shit and one long whinorant – which btw is a cool word and something I just made up so I’m gonna hang on it on account of its coolness. But it’s not the flat storyline, or tired plot or slow pace that turned me off. There’s just too much old in it.
I used to worship Michelle Pfeiffer. She was the paragon of beauty. I watched Ladyhawke when I was growing up as a pudgy preteen with bad eyesight…
- Look at me now, beeyatch!
(Ahem. Ok yes I'm done.)
Truth was, I marveled at her ethereal beauty. I thought she was more perfect than a sugarcube. But watching this movie and the jowls of loose flesh hanging off that once taut jaw-line… I'm sorry, I couldn’t pay attention to the dialogues cuz every time she appeared on screen my brain would scream: HAG!
What is it about getting old that we dread so much?
My friend is 26 and she’s got a jar of anti-wrinkle cream that she religiously applies every night before turning in. She also wears elbow cream, foot cream, a face pack, hair curlers, under-eye gel, anti-cellulite cream, shea body butter and an exfoliating mask every Thursday night, before she goes to bed. Here’s news for you, the anti-aging and beauty industry is $72 billion with a growth rate of 9.5%. That’s a shitload of money made from assaulting unsuspecting otherwise healthy women with images of Andie McDowell applying L’Oreal Anti-Wrinkle cream. Yup, there’s big bucks to be made from making regular middle-classed women feel insecure about their looks.
Most of the moolah, of course, eventually finds its way into the pockets of the board of directors – average age 60 – of a huge multinational cosmetic giant, money, which will eventually trickle down, after his alimony payments to his three ex-wives each born a decade after the other, to his latest 20something pneumatic beauty, who will ultimately blow it on botox injections to her left nostril. Hurrah for modern economics and breakthroughs in cosmetic surgery. Can’t pay for the loan you took on the house you can’t afford? Screw it! Lets all go inject poison into our skin that’ll paralyze our face muscles. That way, you cant tell if I'm lying when I say, I feel your pain, you poor Lebanese baker sonofabitch who’s out of a livelihood thanks to the growing wheat prices set off by the US Subprime mortgage meltdown. Eat my shorts, Adam Smith.
My other friend is 28 and she’s a dancer. She’s also the hottest chick I’ve ever met. Ever. She’s got a body that’s built to drive men – and some women – insane. Add to that, insane amounts of brilliant mad talent, childlike charm, a genuinely great personality and the face of a Disney angel, she looks like she was spit out by Pixar’s PerfectAngelFaceMakingMachine ®. She eats well, sleeps well, keeps fit, dances for joy, lives for love, is with a younger man and that’s pretty much all I think she needs to fall out of bed looking like a bombshell. Next to her I look like the pigeonlady in Home Alone. With a couple of grey hairs.
But really. Why do we all fear getting old? And why do I always feel this way just before my birthday? Somehow at 23, I get the sinking feeling that it’s all gonna go downhill from here. What’s even more tragic is that I'm depressed at the prospect of being depressed in the future. Is this some sort of annual PMS thing that women go through? If there’s a God up there I’d like to tell him… Dude. I know the bitch ate your apple but give us a fucking break man.
But I digress. Back to the movie. The annoying thing is not so much the fact that Michelle Pfeiffer is old, but that she insists on rubbing it in your face. Ok lady I get it, you’re a few years closer to dying, your ovaries are prunes, you have so much loose skin they could make an entire range of Louis Vuitton luggage out of your hide, we get the point, enough already, Jesus!
One day I will be old. I know that. By 25 I'm probably gonna run out and buy my first anti-wrinkle cream, or turnaround cream, or freshness cream, or jar of formaldehyde or whatever euphemism they have for these skin-searing acids. I miss the good old days when I laughed as I watch Jerry dip himself into a tub of vanishing cream and walk invisible into the kitchen and scare the living daylights out of Tom. Oh to be as timeless as a cartoon.
- Lisa Simpson! Is that a beard? It’s probably the menopause hitting you, dear, those hormones can be a bitch.
But yes, the thing with getting old is we’re all gonna get there anyway. Heck, you’re getting there right now. Right. This. Second.
You can hear the sand-grains of your dying youth slipping away into the abyss of decaying decrepitude and eventual death. Pop goes the braincell. Cant change that. What you can do however is decide if you wanna hit old age kicking and screaming, or wear it with grace. Like Cher. With cans of industrial strength hairspray.
I'm prepared. I have a plan. And it is genius. My plan is... *drumroll*... I intend to get fat.
Ok, hear me out here before you write me off as a neurotic insanobitch! (Um. Ok, hear me out here despite you already writing me off as a neurotic insanobitch.) Think of all the gorgeous, delicious, beautiful woman you remember or see everyday. Marilyn Monroe. Scarlet Johansson. Sophie Dahl. Even the older ones, the ones that got old, and still stuck around in the public HighDefinitionTV eye. Nicole Kidman. Julia Roberts. Catherine Zeta.
Here’s what I noticed. Thin young chicks look hot. They’re hotter than hot. They’re sex on toast. Thin old women, look like dried out vultures that the earth spat out cuz the grave couldn’t stomach so much botox and skin. When you’re 45, your beauty’s come to a screeching halt anyway. Might as well fill out the wrinkles with all those hateful fatty-cell demons you’ve been staving off with that chainmail armour. Remember all those calorie-counting years in your 20s where you put your advanced knowledge of arithmetic and Laplace transformations to good use? Yup, don’t need it anymore. That last spoon of death by chocolate? Go ahead. Heck, buy yourself a whole new cake. And a bakery.
If there’s light at the end of the tunnel, it’s this. At last, you finally get to stop sucking in your stomach everytime you pass a man, and start turning into that sweet old lady in the oversized floral pants who's always fishing out chocolates from her purse to give the kiddies. Starve all you want for the whole of two decades between 20 and 40 cuz face it, you’re never gonna look as great as you look now. That whole deal about woman aging like fine wine? Yeah, I don’t buy it either. Women age like fine wine the way fine wine gets menopausal and neurotic and flatulent and wears orthopedic shoes and granny pants.
A friend of mine put it all into perspective one day during one of my dark moods. Do you know a woman looks the best between the age of 21 and 27, he shrieked. I nodded. Do you also know what an absolute dearth of hot Indian chicks we have, he screeched. I nodded. Then fuck woman, he screamed, if you’re thinking of killing yourself you sure as hell better be ugly.
But really, you’re gonna hit an age anyway and start looking like shit. Might as well make the most of now. And when you do realize the inescapable truth the morning you wake up and you get to the bathroom before your tits do, dragging on the floor, you can think to yourself… well, those were some good years and some great pushup bras. And then reach for the chocolate cake.
What’s the point at 40 of looking like an anorexic twig whose sole comfort is that she still fits into the same jeans she bought back when Madonna was a virgin. Inside every thin woman is a fat woman waiting to get out. Be that woman. Eat that cake. If you’re gonna get old, you might as well look like you’re happy you got there. Like a giant benevolent Mrs SantaClaus, all smiling and red-cheeked, with her fat-pig arms permanently hidden in a cooking pot, cooking up a storm for all those hungry little bastards at the north pole. Ho ho ho, mofos.
As Rocky Horror would say… Give yourself over to absolute pleasure.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
She got into the car and left. She didn’t look back.
“So,” her friends asked, “are you ok?”
She was silent. And then a slow grin spread over her face. “Come on man. Let’s go get some ice cream.”
Outside, the trees sped by in slow-motion, awash with the orange glow of a sleeping city. She wondered if it was true what they said. Was she really devoid of emotion? She tried to feel. Nothing. Except numbness, like a cloud over any shred of emotion buried deep inside. She remembered the words an ex-lover had once spoken.
‘You, darling, are cold. And you don’t need me, like you don’t need anyone. You always have, and always will, take care of your own self.”
What store she had set by self-reliance. And now she wondered, as she sat silent in the backseat.... was it worth it?
She was always the protected one, the sheltered one. She spent her childhood passed on from kid-gloved hand to hand in the great symphony of life, afloat on the kindness of strangers. Scared, and shy, she remembered a time when she laid open her trusting heart to anyone who would have it. There was after all, no reason not to.
But pain has a way of hardening – or withering – even the most delicate petals. And as she slowly comprehended the human spirit’s resilience to bounce back – and bounced back, faster than she could ever imagine herself capable – she wondered now, if in the process she hadn’t lost a more human part of herself.
She thought of the dances. The kisses. The long talks into the early hours of dawn. The comfort and the freedom she hadn’t felt in years. The smell of him, when she buried her face in the crook of his shoulder. She thought of them all, as coldly as one flipping through the pages of a photo album in a stranger’s living room. She tried to cry. And failed.
She had spoken to Shiva once about numbness. Was it an emotion, she asked, or merely a state of shock. An emotion, he replied, as valid and as true as tastelessness is the taste of water. Sitting in the car, dry-eyed and meticulously adjusting her hair she wondered: am I emotional now? Or numb? Or is this what it means to be cold?
Flecks of water started to fall on the car. She watched as it barrelled into drops, and drops into sleets, till it rained down like the floodgates of heaven had opened to make up for the drought in her. When was the last time she cried? She couldn’t remember.
“Stop the car”, she said.
“Stop the car.”
She spoke with the clipped tone of someone not to be argued with. The voice she saved for the ones she called her minions. The car rolled to a halt by the side of the road. The water spilled into the gutters in rivers of dark liquid. She got out of the car, paying no heed to her friends' protests. She stood by the side of the road, as solid as a rock bearing the onslaught of rain.
At last she thought, her face raised to the sky. At long last...
And she began to cry with the borrowed tears of the night.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
how i miss the colors
you splayed upon the cold marble floor
as you broke
into a thousand million pieces
how i miss your dark pools of self-loathing,
you tiny cuts upon the retina of sanity,
your toxic tar-pits of mangled ambitions
and half-congealed dream.
my broken shard of glass
how i miss your cold beautiful hatred.
i miss the comfort of washing my sins in your warm blood
the night you broke me
like you broke yourself
with laughter bouncing off the smooth insides of my hollowed cranium.
the night we gnawed the fingernails of emotion down to its bleeding stubs
the night we lay, you and i, a mangled mess of bones and hair,
of groin and heart,
blood and semen
how you ate off me, like i fed off you, and we both feasted on
like rainbow-colored gummy bears.
my broken shard of glass
how i miss
your beautiful madness
your sharp claws down the back of my soft exposed flesh
how we wallow now in cold grey silence
and bleak indifference.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
She was standing on the doorway, a toothbrush idling in her mouth. I looked up from my book. She grinned at me and went back into the bathroom. She left the bathroom door open and leant over the basin and spat into it. She was in her white cotton knickers and striped-socks; she always wore socks to bed.
‘Don’t freak out or anything’ she said as she splashed water on her face, ‘I was just thinking about it’. She wiped her face on the towel and came in and sat on the bed, facing me. I closed my book and waited for her to finish. She put her head on my knees, and looked up at me and smiled.
‘I mean, we’re kind of seeing each other anyway. It’s like this,” she ventured as she drew circles on my thigh with her finger, ‘you’re gonna be here for another year anyway, and then it’s anyone’s guess. Me, I like my job. I’ll be shuttling between Madras and here till, well, something always happens, and then who knows. I might settle there, or here, or... I might up and away to the States to some fancy B school.’
‘I might, you know!’ she grinned and grabbed the book from my hands and mock-whacked me with it. ‘So while we’re here,’ she continued, ‘this, you, me, us... well, it’s pretty perfect.’
‘I mean, we’re comfortable. The pieces fit... I drive down, we spend weekends together, I’m back Monday. You have your space, I have mine. It’s cool, you know.’
I waited for her to continue.
‘So I was thinking,’ she went on, ‘why not. We’re not really changing anything. Let’s give it a shot. Let’s date.’
She’d stopped drawing circles on my thigh and looked up at me.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘it’s pretty perfect, the way it is.’
‘I mean, I’m not saying, let’s get serious, let’s get committed,’ she continued. ‘It’s just, we’re already sort of there you know. And it’s a nice, easy zone, this.’
‘Of course,’ she added quickly, ‘anything could happen and we both know it. Things could change, I could get busy, you could find someone else... Or,’ she paused hesitantly. ‘Or... we could take things up a notch. With us.’
I smiled at her. A lock of hair had fallen across her cheek and she was blowing it from the side of her mouth. I brushed it off her face and tucked it behind her ear.
‘Always a possibility,’ she laughed. ‘Who knows, huh? The future’s open. The future’s bright! The future’s orange!’
She jumped to her knees and mimicked the voice in the Orange Mobile ad and started laughing. I grinned as I grabbed her by her orange-stripped socks and pulled her legs on either side of me.
‘Just... think about it, you know,’ she said as she put her hands around my neck.
I leant in, and we kissed.
That was seven years ago. I didn’t go through with it in the end. I was scared. Besides, I was nineteen, and still in college back then. She was twenty-four.
We made love that night. She never brought it up again. We lived that way for a year; living together on weekends, working on weekdays. Every Friday she’d land up at my door with her bag, and by Monday she’d be gone before I woke up. It was good. A comfortable arrangement like she said. That is, till she up and away-ed to some fancy Business School. I wasn’t really surprised.
I remember the first time I met Padma. I’d just moved to Bangalore, and found a place of my own. I was seventeen and just into college. I ventured out that Friday night to celebrate my new-found freedom. I walked into a nearby pub to grab something to eat, and she was there. Sitting at a table by herself, furiously scribbling on a sheaf of papers, she was absentmindedly stabbing her fork into her garden salad.
“Is this seat taken?” I asked.
She looked up at me blankly and stared.
“I mean, there aren’t any free tables… I just thought if no one’s joining you…”
“Oh! Shit. Yeah. Sorry,” she laughed and slapped herself on the forehead. “Yeah sure, grab a seat. I was just so completely immersed in this, for a moment there I had no clue what you were saying.”
I smiled at her and sat down. I placed my knapsack by the chair.
“So, do you live here?” I asked.
“Only the weekends” she said and winked. “I’m from Madras. Drive down to Bangalore every weekend though. Just to, well, recharge my batteries you know.”
She had put her sheaf of papers away and had signalled the waiter for the menu. I noticed she wore a ring on her left finger.
“Besides, Bangalore’s so much nicer isn’t it? Much more open and inviting. It’s great, and social. I love it here!”
She turned and caught my eye. “Oh that,” she’d grinned as she fidgeted with her ring. “My mum gave me that. I wear it to chase away eager boys on a Friday night.” She laughed as she leant forward and rested her chin on her hand.
“So what about you? Any of those fingers spoken for already?”
And that’s how she came into my life. It wasn’t long before Padma moved in with me. She’d come over every weekend and we’d hang out. She’d bring her work over; I’d do my college stuff. She loved to sprawl herself across my stomach while I studied. We spent hours in our room just lying in comfortable silence, like a giant plus-sign on the bed.
She never asked me what I did during the week. And I never told her. There were other women that I dated; some girls from college, and others as well. But the weekends were always for Padma. I’m not sure if she saw other people while we were together. It didn’t seem to matter, so I never asked. We spent a lot of time doing things together, watching movies, catching plays, spending the evenings at the bar nearby… like a regular couple. It was a good existence; nice and easy.
We never did bring up the topic of going steady after that first talk. I wasn’t really sure about it; and besides, I’d just met this girl at college. I told Padma about Shruti once I was sure and things were getting a little serious; it was a couple of months after the talk. She seemed to understand. Shruti was just more aligned. Padma and I still met up some weekends after that; it wasn’t the same.
It wasn’t long before she left to the states like I knew she would. Met someone there, I heard. And now she was sitting here, sipping coffee and looking out the window. She hadn’t noticed me walk in.
She looked up and saw me standing in front of her table.
“Amrit!” she shrieked and jumped up from her seat. She came around the table and hugged me tight. When she pulled back I saw that she was laughing; she hadn’t changed much.
“So,” she said as she straightened her kurti down the front and sat down, “what’s been happening in your life?”
“Five years is a lot to catch up” I grinned, “you go first. What’re you doing back here in Bangalore.”
She leant her elbows on the table and rested her chin on her hand. “Well”, she said, “You probably heard. I married Pradeep, and things were great. We really got along well.”
“Yes,” she smiled, “it was pretty perfect. We were both working and settled and... Marriage just seemed like the most natural thing.”
“Ah well, that was then. Then things... well, things started to unravel. Like little things you know, stuff I hadn’t noticed before.”
“Like how he’d chew with his mouth open. Or how he’d use the same spoon for everything, he’d dip it in the gravy and then shove it into the side dish and... God, it was infuriating!”
I was holding my sides and laughing. Padma grinned at me sheepishly.
“I know, I know! Picky huh. Man, I always was finicky. It was all the little things that added up, and it just created tiny fissures that stayed and never really went away. Somehow, we just couldn’t fix it. It wasn’t… comfortable you know.”
“Like nice and easy.”
“Like nice and easy,” she said softly.
I picked up a bread roll from the basket and started tearing off a piece of it.
“So anyway,” she went on, “we decided, very amicably, to part ways and, well, that’s that.”
“So you’ve come back to Bangalore. For good?” I asked as I chewed on the bread.
“Well, I dunno,” she said as she picked up the bread from my plate and tore a piece off for herself, “There is this...”
“You still do that huh?”
She looked up puzzled.
“Steal someone else’s bread.”
She cracked into a grin. “Yeah, it used to annoy the hell out of Pradeep. I’d keep stealing his fries.”
“Yeah,” I laughed, “there’s one for the divorce hall of fame. Reason for separation: she kept stealing my fries.”
She smiled nervously and started thumbing her ring.
“Hey no, I didnt mean...”
“Hey chill!” She laughed and mock-whacked me with the menu. “So anyway, what are you up to?”
“Work’s great. Been working for quite a while now with the firm. Might be getting another promotion soon. Bought a house recently, close to the old place. In fact, right next to where we used to live.”
She smiled, absentmindedly fingering her ring.
“So how’s Shruti?”
“Ah. That didnt last. We broke up a while ago.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Nah, it’s ok. She found someone else. More...”
I grinned back at her. “Hey, these things happen huh?”
I hadn’t noticed how much she changed; and how she still looked the same. She’d cut her hair shorter, so it fell in soft dark curls that licked her neck. She still dipped her head to one side as she laughed. There were tiny lines on either side of her mouth.
I remembered the day I spotted her jar of face cream. That was five years ago; she was twenty-six. She came over one Friday as usual and laid out her things on the bathroom counter. I walked in and picked up the new jar lying by the sink.
‘What’s this,’ I’d asked. She grinned and wrung it out of my hands. ‘I’m getting old’ she’d said, and tucked it away into her purse. She never brought it again.
I looked at her now. I wondered why I never brought up the topic of going steady.
“Listen, do you wanna come over?”
She looked up from the table and held my gaze. She stayed silent.
“For old time’s sake you know...”
She started nervously thumbing her ring again. It was the same one her mother gave her; she still wore it. Her other fingers were bare. I wondered if she ever wore a wedding band.
“You know, I’m not planning to stay in Bangalore long.” She started, “They... I’ve asked my parents to look out for me. I figured it’s for the best. It’s been a couple of years since the divorce, and it’s not like it used to be you know. People remarry all the time. I...”
I reached across the table and took her hands in mine. She stopped talking.
“Come... it’ll be fun.” I whispered.
She smiled and gently slipped her hands out from mine. “I can’t. It was, well, pretty perfect. But that was then, and things had to unfold the way they did.”
“Yes, they did. But you know, here we are meeting up after years and... You know what? It still feels the same. That nice, easy comfortable feeling.”
I leant forward, “Just… think about it”
She was interrupted by a phone call. She gave me an apologetic look as she fished through her purse. I nodded to let her know it was ok. It was work. She listened very intently and spoke quickly into the phone. I asked for the cheque, and signed for it. She looked up when she was done with the call.
“Well, looks like I’d be headed back sooner than I expected. Hell, there’s loads of stuff I need to do before then and there’s an early kingfisher tomorrow, maybe I could catch that, first…”
“First flight out on Monday.” I chorused. She broke off and smiled at me.
“Well,” she said. “Looks like I better get going then. It was great meeting you.”
She got up. I walked over to her and let my arm rest on her waist. We walked out to her car.
“So, Amrit,” she said turning around to face me, “This is where we kiss and say goodbye.”
She leant in and kissed me on the cheek. I put my arm around her, and we hugged. I hadn’t forgotten the scent of her hair. We lingered for a while, and then she gently broke free and got into her car.
“By the way,” I said, taking out a small wrapped package from my bag, “I got you something.”
“Oh shit, I knew I should’ve got you something...”
She pulled the wrapping free and opened the box. She stayed silent as she looked at it.
“You know,” she finally said, “Pradeep used to hate...”
“That you slept with your socks on?”
“Yeah!” she laughed, holding the socks up to the light “These are perfect! And they’re orange!”
I smiled at her and put my hands into my pockets. She put the socks away, and got into her car.
“Thanks,” she said, sticking her head out the window, and she pulled out of the driveway.
I wondered what it was that stopped me the first time. I was much younger then, and maybe it was the age. It seemed like an unbridgeable chasm to me at the time. We weren’t suitably aligned; or so that’s what I told her the week I met Shruti. She hadn’t said anything, except that she was happy for me.
I watched as she drove off, her hand out the window, waving, as she drove on ahead.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
This morning a friend of mine woke me at the unearthly hour of seven to go watch an art film at a women’s film festival. First of all, who are these people who get up at seven to catch a movie at eight, and why are they still alive?
Secondly, from a series of sleep-addled grunts I seemed to have given the mistaken impression that I'd enjoy a morning of watching Yvenska the Norwegian bisexual forge an unlikely friendship with Olga the 37 year old alcoholic who is dying a slow and painful death of ovarian cancer.
Thankfully, the gods seemed to have taken pity on me, and I was spared Yvenska and her award-winningly heartbreaking story. We caught an Iranian film instead aptly titled “Rush, it’s gone” to highlight its glacial pace.
A note about the film festival: it started five days ago and was being jointly shown at Sathyam cineplex and the South Indian film chamber. The women-centric films were a collaborative initiative of the Indo-Korean Chamber (Inko), in association with the National Film Development Corporation Ltd (NFDC), National Film Archive of India (NFAI) and the Association of Serbian Socialists.
The Iranian movie wasn't bad, and I rather enjoyed the story-telling. The highlight of the morning however was the South Indian film chamber where the film was being screened.
This gem of a building is tucked away in a narrow by lane off mount road. It’s the sort of place the classifieds would term 'charming' and 'quaint'. The walls were coated with a luxurious layer of centuries-old grime. Beneath which, it is rumored, are a series of drawings by Neanderthals depicting their courageous battle against a woolly mammoth. They seem to have perished sadly, along with the woolly mammoth who suffered a brain hemorrhage from watching a Ukrainian art film and ultimately went extinct.
On the wall by my seat I spied a rather artistically-rendered appeal. One lone cockroach, after years of desperate confinement amidst film critics and art films, had taught itself the English language, ripped its head open, dipped its feelers into its own blood and wrote on a small portion of the wall, a tiny 'help' - with perfectly rendered Korean subtitles below.
I hear that they have since converted the brave cockroach's ordeal into an art film starring John Malkovich as le cockroach, and Nicole Kidman as le love interest, an anorexic albeit ethereal dung-beetle. Tickets available at the South Indian film chamber.
The Iranian movie seemed to be quite popular as evinced by the number of Kanchipuram sari-clad women who kept sauntering in well after it had started. The sari-clad women, who were all seated in a row behind us, enriched our movie watching experience greatly with their insights – in case any of us required clarifications on the motives behind the characters’ actions. A rather stunningly beautiful woman arrived just in time for the end-credits and wept softly at the quiet beauty of the typography on screen. It was, like, very moving.
By the time the movie was over, a couple of enthusiastic kids at the stall gave us a list of films being screened as part of the festival, along with a brief synopsis. I was disappointed to see Yvenska's tale was woefully absent. Nevertheless, a rather intriguing Hungarian movie caught our eye.
The synopsis of the 1968 film “The Girl" by Hungarian director Martha Meszaros enticingly read:
This film is about a tempestuous love quadrangle in Paris. All of the exposed skin is supposed to pass for drama, but instead has the dreary one-track banality of a feature-length version of an episode of the ‘Red Shoe Diaries’, Showtime’s late-night series for people who like soft porn but are too lazy to leave the house.
I figured watching such a greatly-applauded art film as this would elevate my standing among my artistically-inclined peers. Also, I'll finally have something to talk about when my artsy friends conglomerate and start deconstructing the latest obscure art flick they caught. So now when they talk about Yvenska and the poignancy of her struggle, I can say ah yes, but it’s no comparison to Kovacs’s search for meaning in a dangerously borderless world. Or when they talk about the gentle play of light and shadows in Monet’s Water Lilies, I can say ah yes, but it’s no comparison to Kovacs’s search for meaning in a dangerously borderless world. Or when they ask me the way to the bathroom I can say ah yes, but it’s no comparison to Kovacs’s search for meaning in a dangerously borderless world.
And so compelled by the integrity of my desire, we headed to Sathyam Cineplex to catch the film. Having an hour to kill before the show, my friend and I headed to a coffee pub nearby. I ordered a masala tea and custard biscuits which I then proceeded to dip in the tea. I had not fully taken into account the viscosity of the liquid in question, with the result that of the 4 biscuits I dipped, I was roughly left with .37 when they emerged. I then proceeded to drink the quicksand mixture so as not to offend the waiter and left in time for the show. The significance of this paragraph by the way has nothing to do with anything. But no post is ever complete without some mention of my experience at a beverage establishment, or a polka-dotted one-eyed cow.
At this point, on account of my guilt-ridden conscience, a final attempt at veracity requires me to reveal that contrary to all protestations of noble intentions, my sole motive behind watching this film involved the words 'exposed skin' and 'soft porn'. Tragically, I was confronted with neither. I will now proceed to give an objective review of the film, ‘The Girl’.
There is a girl. She works in a factory and lives in an orphanage. Wanting to find out about her real parents, she traces her mother and leaves to her village to meet her. On the train she meets a man who wants to talk to her but doesn't because maybe if he plays hard to get then she will talk to him. Or maybe the girl is suffering from an acute case of laryngitis just then and wants to save her voice for when she meets her mother so she may sing out her greeting in seven octaves. I am assuming this is the custom in Hungary whenever an orphaned child meets her biological parent for the first time.
At the village she meets her mother who introduces the girl as her niece and then they all watch tv. The father seems to be some sort of private detective as I gleaned from the following subtitled-conversations at the dinner table:
Father: you must eat.
Father: food is important.
Father: you are from Budapest.
Father: I can tell from your clothes and behavior. This proves you are from Budapest.
Girl: … (I am assuming she is speechless at his powers of deduction)
Father: I work hard and eat a lot. You must eat. Food is important.
From this insightful interaction between father and child, layered with concealment and pain, I gleaned that food is important. Also, Hungarians believe there is much virtue in redundancy.
The girl then goes to church where a boy asks her if she's from Budapest but she doesn't reply and another boy asks her and she agrees to go to the dance with him that evening but not before taking a dip in the pond where she is spied by some of the villagers whose identities are not revealed when told of the fact by her mother later that day before the dance.
The girl goes back to the orphanage the next day. But not before dancing with her father and telling her mother that she - the mother - is very afraid, and would she always be afraid. I think the director is trying to say that the mother is afraid, and this is symbolic of a larger sense of paranoia in an increasingly cloistered world. Or maybe she means that the mother is afraid and this undercurrent of fear is reflected throughout the movie and in the girl’s own psyche as evinced by her clumsy, almost detached, interactions with men. Or maybe she means that the mother is afraid because the souls of countless rodents in art houses everywhere will die and go to heaven where they will haunt the netherworlds with their restless spirits. I was loudly speculating on the protagonist's intent to my neighbor when hit on the head by a flying brick. I miss the commentary of the sari-clad women.
So anyway, the girl goes back to the orphanage where she kisses her friend’s boyfriend while a 16-year old who is in love with her and jumped off a bridge to prove it and was subsequently released by the police after the girl paid a fine for illegal bathing in a Hungarian water body, attempts to capture her attention by gyrating to a high-pitched song by hippie Scandinavians high on helium. The end.
In the course of the movie, the girl meets a person on the road from Paris who proceeds to speak in French and is therefore not subtitled. Although I think he was saying, my toast is not buttered. Or this table has four legs. I cannot be sure because of the slight difference in accents in various regions of France.
She also meets a smooth-talking man claiming to be a tailor who knew her father, a handsome rogue who slept with her mother, who died of sorrow, and then the smooth-talking man drinks four cognacs that he asks the girl to pay for. The girl then deduces from this interaction that the man is, without a doubt, her father. She also sleeps with two people - not explicitly shown since this was the 60s - or perhaps it was one and not two people, or maybe they were twins and therefore had similar eyebrows. Or perhaps it was the chin.
Somewhere in the middle of this, the girl’s roommate has a deep philosophical discussion with the girl on the virtues of sun-tan lotion or perhaps it was the economic rate of growth in Poland, while standing topless for all of four seconds. Unfortunately, I missed those four glorious grainy black-and-white seconds as I was busy reading the subtitles.
To summarize my experience, I would like to say the film festival offered many rare and poignant insights into the psyche of women through their richly textured and expertly-chosen international films. To whoever wrote the synopsis for the 'The Girl', I extend my heartfelt gratitude and two custard biscuits and strongly recommend she watch 'Yvenska and her polka-dotted one-eyed cow', a tragic and poignant tale of love in the time of ovarian cancer, artistically interspersed with full frontal nudity and senseless sex scenes.
Don’t forget the sun-tan lotion.
Friday, February 1, 2008
“I need you to do this Sam” he said, “you know I wouldn’t come to you unless it was an emergency”
I released the fumes from my nose. He coughed.
“Panels?” I said
“Panels” he asserted.
“Panels”, I said with an air of finality and unleashed another dragon from my flared nostrils. The thin strand of smoke rose high above his balding head, and unfurled under the old wooden fan.
“Tomorrow at 11 Landons Road. The client is Earnest&Nubile. They want a series of...”
“Details”, I said, “are for accountants. I will come tomorrow”, and dismissed him dismissively.
I looked out the window of my dingy office. It was one of those, I thought, pristine walls and glass panelled doors. They probably had hand-sanitizers in the Johnnies. I took one last drag on my cigarette and stubbed it in the overflowing ashtray. A smooth black bowl with a naked woman hugging the edge, her ass in the air. It was a gift from Bebo.
I got up from the chair and walked over to the window. The glass pane was black with grime. I pushed it up and looked out at the concrete below.
Panels, I said softly under my breath.
“And this is main conference room” she said as she clacked her way past the glass doors. She smiled stiffly as I stood at the doorway.
It was worse than I thought. The carpeted hallway was lined with frosted-glass offices on either side. Fake potted plants sat discreetly below humming air conditioners.
Her well-heeled foot started lightly tapping the wooden flooring.
“So...” I said, “no sensor thingies huh? You know, the ones that open when you walk near...”
“No Mr Sampat Trivedi, we do not have sensormatic doors in our...”
“Please” I interrupted, “Call me Sam”
She pursed her lips and looked at me. Her small diamond ear studs glinted in the light. I held her gaze.
“So if you’ll follow me...” she said as she sharply turned her head and walked inside. I followed.
She wasn’t bad-looking. Her black hair was pulled tightly into a bun perched high on her head and the few wisps of hair in front, neatly pinned by the side and out of her face. Her eyebrows were pencil thin and looked drawn on. She had a small ski-jump of a nose and very small, delicate lips, shut tight. Not bad-looking at all, I thought, as I watched her tight ass move beneath the fabric. Although her ankles looked a bit thick, I noted.
She was probably the kind who bought anything in the supermarket with the words “organic” or “natural” or “holistic” on it and then went home and shoved two well-manicured fingers down her throat.
“This is where we entertain our ‘bigger’ clients”, her voice pierced the stillness. She could say a word with the quotes intact and she knew it. “Some of our biggest deals are finalized in this room. This is the room where the landmark merger of...”
“So that’s seven in all?” I asked.
“Yes, Mr Trivedi”, she snapped back, “Seven conference rooms. We have sent you the brief, the details are in there. You will revert Thursday with the copy and artwork. Upon approval, you may proceed.”
“Well now, Thursday’s not too far away, is it?” I drawled as I opened a cigarette pack.
“The accelerated pace is much appreciated” she said tightly. “And Mr Trivedi”, she added as I fished out a lighter from my pocket, “we have a no smoking policy in this building”. She smiled curtly. I stretched out the cigarette pack to her.
“Ms Fernandes”, she said coldly, “will escort you to the exit” And she left, her stilettos sinking into the carpeted floor. I watched the grey-suited figure receding down the grey hallway.
“Mr Trivedi!” a shrill high-pitched voice shattered the carpeted silence. The horrendous Ms Fernandes stood in a floral patterned dress and brown shoes, a HB Natraj pencil stuck behind her ear. I sighed, and put the cigarette pack away.
“...will be able to provide a complete design solution for the newly-designed conference rooms at the Ernest&Nubile corporate headquarters. The scope of services include interior signage – including office and room identifiers as well as directional signs. Type and illustration may be used together or individually to create a look to describe and reflect the spirit of the space ...”
I threw the sheet of paper into the dustbin and lit a cigarette. So that was the job. A bunch of rooms for corporate nitwits to sit around and bullshit all day. And now they wanted bullshit about the bullshit rooms. I chuckled at the irony of it.
I got up from the desk and went over to the window. I looked at the ashtray on the window sill. I would have never taken the job if it wasn’t for her. I ran my fingers over the smooth stone of the naked figurine. A gift from Thailand, she said. She thought the Thais were perverts. I made a mental note to take her to Kajuraho.
I put the ashtray back on the sill and went over to my desk. She had sent over a bunch of papers to my office. Research, she called it. The courier package still lay on my desk, untouched.
Ok, I said I under my breath, let’s see what you’ve sent. I ripped open the carefully sealed brown envelope and dumped the contents on the desk. It was a bunch of neatly typed papers. I picked up the first page and read it.
“The charanam is a part of Indian classical music made up of different stanzas of the compositions. It is usually the third part of the composition or melody. Charanam is usually followed by pallavi”
I threw it back on the cluttered desk. Bebo was efficient. She must’ve spent days compiling the research. The brief outlined seven musical terms, for each of the seven conference rooms. I spat on the floor. Well, I thought, if it was that important to her... and picked up a pen and a grimy sheet of paper.
“Charanam” I wrote, “is an important part of Indian classical music, and together with the Pallavi and Anupallavi, gives birth to countless compositions.”
I looked at the ceiling fan slowly turning round and round. I took another drag on the cigarette and started furiously writing on the paper. That’s one done, I thought when I had finished, and looked at what I had just written.
I was pleased.
It was the best bullshit I’d come up with in days. I still hadn’t lost my touch. I licked the tip of my fingers and picked up another sheet of paper from my desk, and started writing.
Ms Banu looked at the paper, pinching the edge with her well-manicured hands. Her hair was pulled up as usual, in a tight black knot. She was in a blue silk blouse today, and I could make out the outline of her lace bra against the fabric.
“Is this your idea of a joke Mr Trivedi?”
She mouthed the words slowly. She had placed the sheet of paper on her lap and leant forward, her legs crossed and palms folded. Her foot betrayed her impatience, tapping the hard floor in sharp clacks as she held my gaze, straight-faced. I stared back.
“Charanam” she started reading, “is an important part of Indian classical music, and together with the Pallavi and Anupallavi, gives birth to countless compositions.
In fact this process of giving birth is highly complicated, since being a threesome of women only makes it impossible for any of them to get pregnant. However, this minor difficulty is overcome by inserting a certain amount of Anusemenum to the most fertile one of the trio. The compositions emerge after nine months, the numbers depending on the amount of Anusemenum.”
I grinned at her as I fished out a cigarette from my pockets and lit one.
“It gets better”, I told her as I flicked the ashes on the carpet.
“Santoor”, she continued reading “is a Persian string-instrument made from walnut wood. Played with a pair of curved wooden mallets, the resultant melodies are similar to the music of the harp or piano.
The word santoor is actually a perversion of the words sand tool. This refers to the long members of certain members of the Royal Persian Desert Hunting Unit. Their units were indeed covered in sandy hair, as they were often courting blonde women. The idea to make an instrument called the sand tool came from the perverted mind of one of these blonde women.
The wooden mallets were originally the ball sacs of men who got a little overtly enthusiastic. The ragas were sung while kings who were not exceptionally well endowed in the nether regions needed to get it up hoping to perform better in the sack.”
“Mr Trivedi” she yelled, “This will not stand” and she threw the sheaf of papers on the floor.
I looked at her coolly as she hardened her gaze. I slowly got up from my chair, bent, picked up the papers and started to read.
“Abheri is a very pleasant raga that shines in brevity. With no scope for lengthy elaboration, Abheri emerges beautifully if the raga rendition is short.
As the name (a berry) and the above description suggest, this raga was first composed specially for men with short sticks and problems with premature ejaculation...”
“Mr Trivedi” she interrupted, as she suddenly stood up, “I expect the revised copy mailed to me this evening. I trust you have not forgotten our appointment at 10 30am tomorrow with the head of Ernest&Nubile.”
I watched her pert ass move as she stormed off. I took another long drag on my cigarette and waited for the shrill cry of Ms Fernandes to shatter the silence.
Ms Banu was nervous. I hadn’t mailed her the revised copy yesterday. Moreover, she wasn’t able to postpone the appointment in the morning. I looked at her nervously drumming her manicured nails on the glass tabletop. It was the first betray of emotion I’d seen.
“Mr Trivedi” she snapped under her breath, “I don’t know what you’ve done but it better be good. My boss is slated to arrive any minute now. With him, there will be representatives from the Department of Marketing and Brand Management...”
“Babe” I told her as I shook the toast crumbs from my crumpled shirt, “don’t fret. You’ll give yourself a wrinkle.”
She looked at me shocked. I winked at her, and yawned. Bugger was late. It was just her and me sitting in that conference room. I looked around. Glass tabletop...whiteboard...projector on the ceiling... Swivel chairs... It even had an automatic curtain control system to adjust the light. Wonder which one this room was going to be. I blew my nose into my dirty handkerchief.
“Ms Banu!” Ms Fernandes flung open the glass doors, short of breath “they’ve arrived...” she was cut off by the sound of voices in intent discussion. The Department of Marketing and Brand Management walked in. There were seven men, all dressed in the same suits and with the same smile plastered across their faces. They probably all used the same shampoo.
Ms Banu sat ramrod straight in her chair, and a hush fell on the room as The Man walked in. He nodded, and everyone sat down. He looked nondescript. He sat at the end of the table while one of the grey-suited men used the curtain control remote to lower the shades.
“Mr Trivedi” Ms Banu started, “has worked on the type for the seven conference rooms. He will present the copy...”
I threw the sheaf of papers across the table. It slid across the table and stopped in front of The Man. The room went silent. The Man slowly picked up the first page and handed it to Ms Banu.
“Charanam” she started reading in a faltering voice, “is an important part of Indian classical music, and together with the Pallavi and Anupallavi, gives birth to countless compositions.
Like the different components of music that together create beautiful harmony, diverse inputs come together in this space to craft a unified vision. Charanam embodies the spirit of partnership and teamwork through the emergence of a single vision from individual thoughts.”
She stopped and looked nervously at The Man. He nodded. At least, I imagined he nodded. From the shadows it was difficult to make out exactly what he was doing.
Ms Banu continued, “Santoor is a Persian string-instrument made from walnut wood. Played with a pair of curved wooden mallets, the resultant melodies are similar to the music of the harp or piano.
Like the sound chamber of walnut wood that houses exquisite harmonies, Santoor is a sanctum of thought. Like wood, signifying strength and stability, this sanctuary exemplifies strong values and solid ideas rooted in sound judgment.”
The Man leant forward in his chair, and rested his elbows on the tabletop. I imagined he placed the tips of his fingers together in an inverted V as he brooded over the presentation.
“Abheri” she continued, “is a very pleasant raga that shines in brevity. With no scope for lengthy elaboration, Abheri emerges beautifully if the raga rendition is short.
A space exemplifying lightness and simplicity, Abheri sees the appearance of fresh thoughts and new directions. Wisps of ideas take flight in this light and refreshing space.”
Ms Banu paused. The Man made an impatient gesture for her to continue. I couldn’t be sure; it was too dark to see. Ms Banu read the rest of the copy. She reached the final one.
“Raga Malhar is a powerful and legendary raga in Indian classical music. According to legend, Raga Malhar is so powerful that when sung, it can induce rain to fall from the sky.
A powerful space where great decisions with far reaching implications are made. Intense discussions tackle the toughest problems here, till even the most complicated issues are unravelled, leading to a downpour of clear ideas and solutions.”
She placed the sheet in front of him and sat down. The room was still. The only sound was the sound of humming from the air conditioner. The Man spoke. “Mmm” he said.
“The Man approves”, said Ms Banu. The Department of Marketing and Brand Management broke out in exclamations of approval. “We will release the payment” she continued in a low clear voice, “for the remainder of your commercial terms immediately.”
The Man got up from his chair and walked around to where I was seated. I got up. He gave me a single-pump handshake while I peered intently, unsuccessfully, in his heavily shadowed face. If there was a face, that is.
“Secretery” He said in his assertive, nondescript voice, “Follow up on this.” Ms Fernandes dropped her HB Natraj pencil and got on her knees to look for it. The Man turned to me.
“Good job, Mr Trivedi” he said, and left with his army of grey-suits.
I fished out my dirty handkerchief and wiped the sweat off my brow. I hadn’t noticed I was holding my breath. I took out a pack of cigarettes from my pocket.
“I am sorry Mr Trivedi,” Ms Fernandes’ shrill voice rang out as she sprang up, “but smoking is not permitted in this building.”
I cursed under my breath and put the pack back in.
That crack on the ceiling seemed to be bigger. I lay on my bed and watched as a cockroach ran up the wall. I need to clean up this mess.
“Good job today” Ms Banu said, leaning against the doorway. She was in her silk blouse and heels. She lit a cigarette and took a slow drag.
“Like I said Bebo” I told her as I propped myself up on the bed with my elbows, “don’t fret. It’ll give you wrinkles.”
She laughed and walked up to bed. Her blouse was open down the front. She leant over to kiss me, and I moved my hand up to exposed left tit.
“My father was impressed” she continued, as I kneaded her soft breast, “so were the Department of Marketing and Brand Management. He’s considering giving you a permanent position.”
“That” I said, as I pinched her hard nipple, “would be ideal.”
Bebo gasped as I moved my fingers down to the wetness between her legs. I took the cigarette from her with my other hand.
“The next time you have a job” I continued, “you can forget that bald nitwit, and come straight to me.”
I took one last drag on the cigarette, and stubbed it out in the overflowing ashtray.
note: Much thanks to Mayank for his perverted interpretations of the classical terms. Monkus, I owe you one.