26.4.13

tanay

"ayyo! rama chaddi!"

"it's rama chandra, not rama chaddi."

"how does it matter? rama also wore a chaddi." (oune kuda pichchi karan aatom chaddi potkindaan.)

(he's 6.)

22.4.13

nesting

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
my freezer)

and i'll try out new recipes
(cinnamon and banana bread
from orangette
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
everyday)

leave me to it
won't you,
tomorrow
in my own apartment
with my bright red curtains
and new wooden bookshelves

19.4.13

sometimes

i'm really afraid people will know me for the fraud i am.

other times, i get away with it.

17.4.13

on starry night

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.

16.4.13

up up up

thinking of doing something stupid, telling yourself "wait this is pathetic" and then not following through. 

congratulations on growing up, sitoo. 

9.4.13

advance to pall mall


i. hinging


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.  



ii. magic



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.

5.4.13

flamboyance


you kicked me out of bed
one sultry morning
at 5 am
to do at least
one fun thing
in bombay.

we waited for the train
unshowered unbrushed
uncoffeed ungry

with three women
clean, jasmine in their hair
baskets full of
smelly fish
on their way
to work.

we got off at sewri
walked past
(what could only have been)
a hundred lorries
and three hundred
drunk lorry drivers

to finally reach
the shore.

one large, broken boat
one tree

and a thousand
white and pink
flamingoes.

what is the word,
we wondered then,
for all of those flamingoes
all at once?

for an hour we watched them:
ugly, grey and white
sitting in
ugly, grey and white water

until they began to fly:
majestic. pink.
flamboyant.

a flamboyance of flamingoes.

2.4.13

tang


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?