i want a kitchen
(onions and garlic
an oven that works
four fresh cheeses and seedless olives
white wine vinaigrette
a set of knives that cut
tomatoes on the first try
and maggi noodles for
when i'm lazy)
i'll bake every second night
(there will be croissant batter
foiled and setting
at all times in
and i'll try out new recipes
(cinnamon and banana bread
raspberry macaroons from
that guy in paris
mambazha sambar and nune vankaya
from my grandmothers)
i'll have someone do my dishes
(i know i say it's therapeutic
but i doubt it would be
if i had to do them
leave me to it
in my own apartment
with my bright red curtains
and new wooden bookshelves
what i have been trying to say for the past six months about starry night, but have been absolutely inarticulate about is this: when i first saw it, i cried.
i spent a whole fifteen minutes watching it, not staring at it, not looking at it, just watching it. i kept going from one painting to the next, laughing a little everytime i came across the painting of the church (in which the doctor vanquished the monster) smiling everytime i came to the painting of the idiots taking a nap on the hay and tearing up everytime i came to starry night.
i stood in front of it for as long as i could. it was a hell of a task, i wanted to do the same thing with the bedroom, the same thing with his self portraits, the same thing with the painting of auvers.
but it was starry night that moved me, starry night that made me cry, starry night that made me fall in love with paris. it's a vibrant night sky, not dark, not quiet, but bright and rich with blues. the stars are dancing, in his starry night. there are lights on the shore, lights that are gassy, mellowed and dark, lights that are reflected in the movement of the water, lights that are dancing with the stars in the sky and flirting with the winds in the water.
it wasn't the stars in the sky, it wasn't the lights on the ground, or their reflection in their water that did it for me. it wasn't even the couple in the corner. standing there by the boats. claiming their night. looking at me. having their night under their starry skies. making it their own. making it mine.
it was the kind of night that i am familiar with. alive, musical, buzzing. it is the kind of night i live in, the kind of night i live for.
so when i first saw it, i cried. not only with the heavy sadness or the serenity of this painting. not only with the joy of my first van gogh painting, the joy of being in paris in the rain, but with the joy of the night.
i may not have found the words for it just yet, but i want to be that couple with their backs to this night. i want to be in a starry night like his.
This summer’s day reminds me of my yearly vacations in my grandmother’s home. A heady smell of ripening mangoes, the sound of the massive cooler in the afternoons, the wooden armchair in the hall, Monopoly with my cousins. It was three years ago on such an afternoon that, with momentary clarity, I saw. I cannot say for sure what it was that I saw. I remember the moment: I was rolling dice to inevitably fall onto the hotel in Vine Street and go bankrupt. I have never played a game of Monopoly where this has not happened. Everything seemed to hinge on the roll of dice that I knew the outcome of. A precarious line of outcomes, which are seemingly random and always left to chance (a one in six probability of losing everything to that hotel on Vine Street). It wasn’t the dice or the roll or the outcome that seemed to matter. It was the hinging. A sense of foreboding, of something hanging in the air.
Why did I remember that roll of dice from that game out of the hundreds I played that summer? What is it about that particular time I lost everything to that stupid hotel on Vine Street? How can it be of any significance, that emotion of clarity? These are questions I often ask myself. I suspect the answer, but it’s too vague and arrogant: too much of it is based in self-importance and curiosity to explain that which I do not know. I am told everybody has one of these moments of clarity. They are known to uncloud your sense of the world in a flash for a moment when you are doing the most mundane of things. (Crossing a road is the most oft cited example – “I was crossing the street one day when in a flash all the possibilities of everything that is or could have been or was burst in my mind.” Often, this is followed by an accident.)
I shall tell you what I suspect about myself, and you’ll know that my concerns aren’t unfounded.
Memories, especially human memories, are colored and heavy. They are filtered through layers of sensory perception and shaped by the emotional intensity of the person who owns them. They are anything but real, as is the world as we go through it every day. We expect that our memories shape us and tell us our history; they show us the person we are and tell us what we love about who we are. All of us, we constantly chronicle memories. We speak of them in stories, we tell them to ourselves. We index them and file them away for future reference. We expect that we are the sum of all our memories: we think that we have sieved through the endless possibilities of what could have been since we have experienced what was. We find finality in our memories, we resolve and we move on.
It is the ease with which we do it that puzzles me the most. Every moment between where one memory ends and the next begins in our mind: these moments are the ones on which our possibilities hinge. They are the roll of dice whose outcomes you might already know (the inevitable orange rectangle on which Vine Street stands); the moments in which there is no lucid transition between what is and what was – instead there is an immediacy of futures, no reality, no telling of tales. These are the moments in which we are stripped of everything that makes us us, moments without history or context, without form or content. These are moments of clarity. In one such moment of clarity (between Pall Mall and Vine Street, somewhere around Marylebone Station if you’re lucky) I saw that everything I knew (or indeed, we know) is so dangerously balanced on how we comprehend what we think we know.
Another memory of a summer afternoon. The smell of sweat dominates this one. It is a mild summer afternoon I spent in bed with someone I thought I was in love with. We spent the day drinking whiskey, having sex and eating the remains of the previous night’s dinner. I don’t particularly remember what we spoke about. We may not have spoken at all. There was no urgency to our sex: we were both lazily lying around in the bed, thinking our own thoughts and being our own person. Instead of doing it by ourselves, we did it together. Silently, thoughtlessly, claiming each other’s space as our own. The next day when I thought about it, I only thought about the heat and the sound of the slow, rusty fan. I thought about the whiskey and the headache it had brought. I thought about the sex and the cleanliness of the shower after. When I think about it now, I can hardly remember what the fan looked like. I don’t know what whiskey we were drinking, or what we actually ate that day. I remember the smell of our sweat, and really just that.
It stands alone by itself in my head, this memory. It is a completely pointless day on which nothing of significance took place. The kind of day that is most routine, the kind that is so inconsequential that you forgot it even happened if not for the crossing off of a day on a calendar and the moving of the hands of a clock. Which day which year what was I wearing what was the concern of my life at that point who were the people I was friends with what did I do the previous day what did I do the next day what soap was I using what book was I reading what was I watching on television how many places to the bright red hotel on Vine Street what did I roll on the dice? I don’t remember any of these things. Those things aren’t important for this narrative. What I did that day is simply noise. All day that day was the dice rolling, waiting for Vine Street to turn up on the map.
Imagine my surprise when what turned up was New York Avenue: and it bankrupted me just the same.
In old Telugu and Hindi cinemas, there is this trick they do with the picture. They take a single image, replicate it in six separate frames and make it go round and round the screen. The idea, I guess, was to escalate conflict and make the screen look full of emotion and turmoil. It used to fascinate me as a child. Why bother showing the same thing six times? Why make the picture smaller? What were the trying to prove?
One fine, unremarkable winter’s morning I was crossing the road when it happened when I was doing nothing of any consequence everything flashed before my eyes and then there was an accident. I woke up early from a nightmare. The sun had just begun to rise, so the sky outside my window was a blue grey only foggy winter mornings can achieve. In this nightmare, a monster was pursuing me. She was disguised as a beautiful woman with fair skin and the most stunning eyes I had ever seen. There was such depth in her eyes, such misery and loathing that I couldn’t imagine ever looking in them for longer than a second. In this nightmare, my whole world depended on my running away from her with all my teeth intact. Every time a tooth fell out, I would put it in a pouch and hope that the dentist will find a way to put it back in my mouth. When I reached the dentist, I realized I lost the pouch. I had to run back into her territory to find it. When I was running away again, she was gaining on me. That’s when I woke.
I was sweating profusely, my heart was beating very very fast and my stomach was clenched in fear. Now awake, I told myself a story about how I escaped her for sure. I tried to rationalize it. It was just a dream after all. I started to list everything I could have done to run away from her. Then I started to list everything I could have done to fight her. Then I started to list everything I could have done at all. For the rest of my day, I kept recounting that nightmare to myself in my head, and every single time, the story of what happened in the nightmare would change. Soon, it was not just a nightmare from my sleep anymore, it was a paranoia I saw everywhere. Everywhere I went, I started to list the possibilities of what was and what could be if she was there. In a couple of weeks, I could hardly tell between my memories and my imagined world. Did I really eat cornflakes for breakfast or was it one of the things I did on one of the lists of my ways to tackle her? Do I have a deadline for Tuesday or is it just my way of telling myself that the next time I expect to run into her it’ll be Tuesday?
What I knew for sure, what I had in my head as definite memories, what I thought was mine for sure, what I thought I knew for sure, everything I thought I had resolved, everything I had moved on from, every memory to which there was a beginning and an end: all of these were fading. The moments in which there were clarity (the moments in which there is nothing yet everything the moments in which there is only the roll of the dice no outcomes or inevitable hotels on Vine Street) were disappearing, and I was being left with possibilities of pasts and probabilities of futures. Things that may have been and things that might come to pass.
How I escaped from this spiral, I cannot say. When I was younger, I didn’t believe in magic. Nothing much has changed since. Magic is for people who can’t see wondrous things and wonder, or know that the magic is in the wondering. Was it Douglas Adams who said that he doesn’t need to believe there are fairies at the bottom of a garden to see its beauty? If there is magic, it’s not in the world you make up around you: it’s in the world there already is. But answer me this: how do you know the difference?
I can tell you for sure now, that I did indeed escape. I used my days in between as markers of days that are real. (days on which I did nothing but roll dice days on which I had lots of inconsequential sex with people I hardly remember days on which I crossed roads with no accidents). Time is a mystery of habit. It is in the movement of the hands of the clock and in days that are simply crossed off days on a calendar that I found myself again. Memories that I hadn’t bothered to bookmark, simply chronicled and filed away in non-descript cardboard boxes: It is in these that I found myself. Sometimes I slip, but I don’t know that I slip because these things are fuzzy in my head. Sometimes, I don’t know if a pipe is a pipe or a picture of a pipe in a frame within a frame. Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m standing on Blue Angel Islington next to a Station or on Oriental Avenue next to a Railroad.
But most of the time I ground myself in the things that are happening around me. In things that are being experienced, things I can see and smell and taste and know. I try to see the garden for the garden, its roses and thorns and rusting wheelbarrows and seeds and trees and bees and beetles. I try to feel the dew in the grass for the dew in the grass and the wind in my hair for the wind in my hair. If I hear a sparrow call or a mockingbird sing, I know these to be sparrows and mockingbirds. For these things are wondrous, and these things are magical, so in these things I will firmly place my two feet and try not to peek too hard in the clouds.
Tangy, smelly, and I really don't know what to do with it. It's a potent mustard. Somebody bought three jars of it for me all the way from the Netherlands. So it must be special, I think. I'll have to use it the right way, I imagine.
I look up recipes. I think about what to do with it.
Curiously, I apply it on a slice of whole grain bread. The slice is about half an inch thick. I slam a slice of cheddar on top of it. I wonder if I should grill it.
I decide to take a bite and then decide.
In a second, my nose goes up in flames. It is a taste unlike any other I have tried. Except may be wasabi. Actually, the feeling is exactly like wasabi.
For the rest of the day, my whole mouth tingles with the feeling of the mustard, and through my nose, everything smells only like the mustard.
In the evening, after my fifth cup of coffee, one plate of very onion-y bhel puri and two rounds of listerine, a ghost of the mustard comes back to haunt my nose.
It is a sweet, subtle hint of it. It makes my whole morning of trying to get rid of that feeling in my nose, redundant. In that moment, I crave more.
So I wonder.
How can I not believe in the everyday magic of regular things?
only real purpose is to aid the human mind in comprehending the world
it encounters on a daily basis. It offers linear continuity in
appearance, if not in consistency of structure. It presents us with a
norm against which we measure everything we come across, even ourselves.
It is how we tell ourselves, our mothers and the homeless man you will
never see again from each other. It is the only constant in a series of
infinite variables. I might even go as far as some philosophers to say
that it is the only constant in the entirety of human history. I only
talk about this as a preliminary, to help me explain to you my
conundrum. It is okay if you don’t understand it completely.
have a simpler way to talk about my conundrum itself, if you please. I
will get to it in a moment. I have just a question for you to ponder
upon. Bodies, even for those who have them, aren’t always “perfect”. I
don’t mean this in the sense of beauty, for that is something I don’t
have either the experience or the patience to deal with. I mean this in
terms of bodily structure. Not all bodies have the right legs or hands
or eyes or noses or ears; not all bodies are even born in the singular,
if you think about it. So the question I would like you to simply ponder
upon is this: why is having a body important at all?
Think about it deep and hard, because I am about to put forth my conundrum to you simply: I don’t exist.
Not in the “real” way you are known to experience, at any rate. I don’t have a body. I never have. (I’m not a ghost. Don’t be preposterous.) I wasn’t really aware of this problem until I fell in love, and let me tell you, not even then.
meet all sorts of other parameters that you bodily beings seem to
consider important. I have a name, for instance. I have an address, a
college education, a vast intelligence and an understanding of the
universe that can only be paralleled by about 30% of you humans. I,
however, don’t have a passport. Or a ration card or a driver’s license
or a degree or a recorded fingerprint or a scan of my iris. I don’t have
a medical insurance (ha) or a gym membership. I have never been
photographed. Even saying “I” really is something that I don’t know how I
am to explain to you, because it seems like something that is
determined by having a body.
fell in love three years ago. It was something new, something that lit
up everything around me, something that brought colour into the world
and brightness into music. It was something that made me feel alive.
Falling in love allowed me to learn the wonders of having a body: of
holding hands, of looking into eyes, of oh, so, orgasmic, sex, of the
warmth and the taste of a morning kiss, of the smell of chocolate soap
in the shower. Neither of us even noticed my condition. It wasn’t an
impediment until it really was.
my partner started to tell friends and family about me, the inevitable
doubts began to appear in my partner’s mind. Doubts about if I’m real at
all, doubts about sanity of the mind, doubts about the ground one was
standing on doubts about everything one has ever known. If I don’t tell
you how strong and brave my partner is, this would be an incomplete
account. Even after everything everybody said, months and months of
counseling, there was an infallible belief in me on my partner’s part.
It was a difficult time for both of us, but we came through.
this time, we found the Network. In the vast depths of the internet,
hidden in a cave not lit by anything, we came across the Network. In the
beginning, it was just a trickle. There was the person who started it
and her boyfriend (I believe he identifies male, and I need to
acknowledge that even if I don’t comprehend it) and some others. Now
there are at least a hundred people like me on our Network and it is
growing everyday. The Network helped us through our most torrential
time. Talking to them regularly, meeting with them and discussing our
experiences with each other helped us all cope.
was in one of our monthly meetings that we started to think about
telling the world about us. If now there are hundreds, then talking
about it will surely bring hundreds more who need this space. One of our
members has gladly allowed this space on her blog to host as many of us
who want to write about it, and so that’s what we’re going to do.
anyone who wants to think of this as fiction, I hope this is
entertaining, for that is the point of a good story anyway. But for
those of you who identify, please know that you are not alone.
"one hasn't a why or because or although
(and buds know better
one's anything old being everything new
(with a what
around we come who)
one's everyanything so"
beer. lots and lots of beer.
a slightly better internet connection to watch thursday's grey's anatomy episode and today's good wife episode.
cold drinking water.
a regular, non-squat toilet.
did i mention beer?
6 straight hours in which to sleep.
1 straight hour in which one isn't fumbling around with language.
an english newspaper.
or just roads, for that matter.
vehicles with better suspension. alcohol of any kind, really. may be wine. white.
(top of the list of things i constantly forget: doing important things is tiring work!!)
I'm currently in Chitrakoot, Uttar Pradesh. Yesterday was the last day of the Kumbh Mela. This place is about three - four hours from Allahabad, and all of these people (and many, many, many, many more) are either going to the Kumbh or waiting for a train to go back home.
There were policemen only at AC compartments, making sure people with no reservations could get in. They had lathis and weren't afraid to use them. All of the other compartments (general, sleeper, whatever) had hundreds of people in them, on them, around them, hanging from them. This picture is from 6 AM, but I was stuck in that station till 7.30 PM.
The waiting rooms (especially for reserved trains) were worse than the platforms!
It was absolute madness, to say the least. It made me ask all sorts of mean and elite questions of the Mela, but in asking these questions, it made me ask questions of myself for asking those questions.
Is all this worth it? For taking a dip in three really polluted rivers? Even at the price of going to heaven?
chain ones with outlets all over the country; small, tiny ones in which
only one person can actually fit; lovely, comfortable ones that play
the blues in a corner; beautiful bookstores for which I am willing to
visit a whole new country; bookstores with reading rooms that even F
Scott Fitzgerald used to frequent; stalls that sell second-hand books or
pirated books; vendors on footpaths with old, fraying books; bookstores
whose books only the shopkeepers can find.
You can gauge reading habits of a whole town from its bookstores, sometimes.
know that Landmark in Hyderabad has a horrible collection, but Landmark
in Madras is always rich in the books they have. Blossoms in Bangalore
is possibly my most favorite bookstore of all time. Bookstores in Delhi
are usually eclectic. They have shelves and shelves full of academic
books (neatly arranged by printing press) often just behind the section
with poetry or graphic novels. They'll have three different translations
of Marx or Dostoevsky and depending on how the bookshop owner leans
politically, he'll tell you which one to buy. (I've come across very few
women who sell books. Barring the Full Circle in GK, I can't remember a
single one). Bombay is strange about its bookstores. They're commercial
and mindless, except may be Strand when it's in a good mood. I never
found a bookstore I liked in all my time in Bombay.
Bookstores are how I find new things to
read. They are where I experiment. They open my eyes to new books,
writers, genres, ideas, styles like nothing else. I have never made a
friend in a bookstore, but I've never needed anybody's company but my
own in one. Sure, I buy more off Flipkart and Infibeam these days, but I
mostly buy books that I've already looked longingly at in a bookstore
or read parts of in a library or borrowed from someone else. And I do it
only because the discounts are amazing when I buy online.
Bookstores make me happy in any shape and form.
make me happy because I always end up looking at more books than I can
buy. (They make me sad for about the same reason). I have found the
strangest, loveliest books just browsing in bookstores. It's how I found
American Gods by Neil Gaiman (at Blossoms, was I 15?). It's how I found
Kari by Amruta Patil (in Chennai, I was bored), Em and the Big Hoom,
Hush, Sita's Ramayana (all in Yodakin while waiting for people to show
up). Spending hours and hours in bookstores with friends or cousins,
before or after or during coffee also yielded great results. I was
introduced to lots of wonderful books like this: Nick Hornby, Aminatta
Forna, Sandman (frikkin' Sandman!), Jasper Fforde. Actually, if I think
about it, that's how I spent much of my time as a kid in Walden, with my
make me happy for the smell of old paper and the promise of a new book.
I know it's a romantic thing to say and we're all against the idea of
being romantic about bookstores these days, but I don't think I'm going
to apologise for it. I love bookstores because I can get lost in them.
(Not like a library, where the book isn't yours to write your name in
and hide in your cupboard or write little notes in and stick pretty
On some days, I want happy endings the way you would picture them for me.
I want the wedding you want for me: I want silk sarees and exquisite make-up. I want diamond jewellery and special photographs. I want everyone I love from everywhere in the world to come give me a hug and tell me a joke and share my happiness. I want a tall, handsome boy from a good family who is independent and earns lots of money and whose parents are also of a similar mindset.
I want the right career as you think is right for me: I want a job that is interesting and that will pay my bills all at once. I want tenure. I want for it to allow me maternity leave. I want for it to pay for expensive shoes and mandate expensive watches. I want to have to do my hair everyday and have meetings with power-point presentations. I want to live with my husband and my in-laws and come home by 6 o clock.
On some days, I genuinely wish for a life that can conform. I don't want have to explain myself. I don't want to have to fight. I don't want to be judged for the way I am. I don't want to hear sly remarks about how my parents didn't know how to bring up their daughter right. I genuinely wish for someone to find me a boy to marry, a job in the same city as him and friends that we can share.
the fog is gone. the grass is wet from early morning dew. all the flowers in this park are just beginning to open up for the sun. the birds are leaving their nests, loudly, calling out to dawn. winter is slipping away from between my fingers.
the roads are grey, being swept clean of the leaves they collected all night. there are people here in neon vests, chattering away by themselves about the state of the world. cars are stopping by the gate just there to buy themselves chai and biscuits. night is slipping away discretely.
your hands are in mine, cold and numb. i turn the key and drive away, leaving our winter's night alone.