ETWA | Ch3b: We All Fall Down

Photo by Ramakrishnan Nataraj on Unsplash

Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. My first attempt at writing a novel, this is being written 1000 words a day through November as part of #NaNoWriMo2020. Hope you will read along as I write. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page.  

Mama grew dramatic that very second. She fell to the floor turning in the general direction of the pooja room praying, “Bhagavathy, save my child!” I didn’t think much of Mama being dramatic. She was known to be. I turned to Papa.

“What is the meaning of this?” Papa asked, unsure of his own question. I’ve never known him to be unsure.

“Papa, I like girls”, I said lifting a giant rock off my lungs and letting the lightness of disclosure fill me. “I like girls”, I say a second time with confidence. 

“Not in this house, you don’t”, he said, lunging to hit me. I ducked and he missed. But it was more than I could imagine in my wildest thoughts. Papa, my hero, raising his hands to hit me. My eyes were smarting again. And my ears were ringing as if he had actually hit me.

“Give me your phone”, he said. I complied. No phone, no TV and no Internet from now on. After dinner, I will move your desktop out of your room. Anyway, you have study holidays from now. In the meantime, your mother and I will decide what to do with you. Go to your room now. 

“But Papa…”

“No, don’t call me that, you filthy…” Papa ate a bad word.

By now, Mama had lit all the lamps in the pooja room with an accompaniment of incense sticks. She was picking up her prayer bell when Papa held me by the hand and dragged me to her. He placed my right palm over her head. 

“Promise”, he began, “promise on your mother’s life that you will not do such things from now on.” I stood there, agarbatti fumes waterboarding my nostrils. I didn’t know how to get out of here or to make them stop. Were these my parents? Did I know them to be capable of such drama? 

“Wait! Before you promise”, Mama intervened, “tell me first, how long has this chuttikali been going on for? How long have you gone behind our backs faking bloody dance practice and what not to sleep around?”

I couldn’t believe the things I was hearing. Words like ‘bloody’ and ‘sleep around’ coming out of Mama’s mouth. I’ve never ever heard her speak like this before. I was not even allowed to say ‘damn’ at home.

“Answer me”, she shouted, chiming the bell over her shrill question. 

“A couple of months”, I broke Siam’s rule again.

“Eeeshwara!”, Papa facepalmed, sinking to the floor next to Mama.

“You must have told Zara about this, no? And the others?”, Papa asked suddenly, as if he had just remembered this detail.

I had seen enough of this tacky serial. “No”, I lied.

“Don’t lie”, Amma countered.

“I am not lying. I don’t always tell them everything,” I lied again.

It felt so strange to lie to my parents. I had no experience with this kind of trouble before. Any kind of trouble actually. No wonder Zassies thought I was a kiss ass. This was all new to me.

“Good”, Papa’s face showed an uptick for the first time this evening. “So no one other than you and her know about this?”

“Yes.” 

“Good.”

I just wanted this to end. 

“What will I tell your brother? He will definitely say that it’s my fault, my carelessness that this happened to you. Did you stop to think for a second how your brother would feel when you were fooling around with this nashicha…” Now it was Mama’s turn to swallow a mouthful of bad words. 

“Who will marry you now?” she let the water works take over. 

“Calm down, Sreeja. This is our fate, nothing can change it.”, Papa consoled her.

“Is she Malayali?”, Papa couldn’t but ask. “No Papa. She is Bangalorean.” Mama started another string of prayers.

“Yes, but originally from where?”, Papa was a man on a mission. “Born and raised here in Bangalore.”

“Hmm, what’s her full name?”, he wouldn’t relent. 

“Madhumita Swaminathan”

“Brahmin then.”

“Hmm”, I said, my first ‘correct answer’ of the evening.

Bingo! That response seemed to appease them enough to let me go.

“Freshen up and come back in 15 mins. We’ll have dinner early. We have to move that computer out of your room tonight. No more Internet for you.” Papa warned me, again. 

I was so listless as I sat on my bed that I didn’t notice Achams walk across the room to the door, until I heard her. 

“What’s the commotion there? Are you playing the Vanambadi serial on Asianet?” she called out to no one in particular.

“Alla Amma. It’s err… nothing” Papa fumbled.

“Don’t lie to me, mone. Was someone here crying then? I thought I heard some background music I recognised well. Like bells ringing. Must be the serial, no?”

“You must have imagined it Amma. The TV is not even on. Dinner will be ready soon. Why don’t you freshen up?”, Amma was quick to step in to pacify Achams. 

“Okay, I’ll be out in five minutes”, she said, shutting the door gently behind her offering me some much-needed privacy.

Achams walked past me to her chair by the window. I logged into Zassy and typed in the latest code of choice—emoji. Kissed Madhu at Juice Centre. No phone, computer. Much drama. Help.

💏@🍊📵💻🙄🚨헲

A second later, Siam responded. 🙊🤝👮⛖💪📞👄🍭

Don’t say anything. Don’t agree to anything. They’ll interrogate you, just don’t answer. We’ll find a way. Stay strong. I’ll let Madhu know, don’t worry.

I looked over at Achams who had gone back to reading, completely dismissing how she had just played my parents. She was the best.

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ETWA| Ch3a: We All Fall Down

Photo by Jesse Stallworth on Unsplash

Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. My first attempt at writing a novel, this is being written 1000 words a day through November as part of #NaNoWriMo2020. Hope you will read along as I write. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page.  

Madhu, it feels strange that I am no longer able to access my secret journal. But no one can stop my thoughts, can they? No yet, I suppose. So much has changed since I began This Coded Life back in 2016. In the first entry I had introduced my world as Samiverse and described everyone important as the five elements of nature. I had reserved ‘space’ for someone special. 

Madhu, I think you are my space. When I am around you, I feel weightless. I am floating. I am alive. I am aware. Present. It feels like you and I are the heartbeat of this universe and the rest of the world is here to upkeep our lub dub. 

When you are around, I lose all sense of time and place. It feels like you are a magnet and my cells are a million little iron filings. All I can sense is your proximity and the pinpricks of anticipation waiting to jump from your body to mine like electricity. When I am around you, I time travel back to our first kiss though we have had many more since. Still, that first kiss is the one my body remembers.

Remember how we hung out at Juice Centre so frequently that when he saw us cross the street, the manager would order us our orange juices?

I don’t know what came over me that day. I think about that evening a lot these days. Perhaps it was because it was the last day of dance class before study holidays for the board exam. And we wouldn’t meet again for a couple of weeks now. Maybe it was something else entirely, I don’t know. Anyway, we were holding hands as we crossed the road. At the Juice Centre, your hair had caught the light. In all its blazing glory the setting sun had shimmied its blinding light across your hair in waves, just to mesmerise me. Just then, you stuck out your tongue, shaking the glass tumbler, coaxing that last drop of juice onto your tongue as you always did. 

I am never supposed to be a creature of desire. And if I am not a creature of desire how can I act on it? Not in India, definitely not in public.

And I kissed you. Right there, the ending day as my witness, with the busy street sitting in judgement, I kissed you. And I felt the world pause like a tableau. I heard our lub dub shatter and fall to the floor, helpless, as the world cut us loose from its spell. I saw the Juice Centre manager, flick his eye at me for a nano second. He shot judgement from his eyes and it pierced our ribcage as if we were jelly. A man facing the counter, drank his grape juice with undue concentration. Another pair of eyes, stared at you with eyebrows convulsing with concern. It shot at us an arrow of poisoned prejudice, striking your shoulder bone like a violin’s bow.

Then there were the familiar eyes that bore into my back. I knew they were there. I didn’t know who they belonged to. I didn’t see them. But I knew word would get back to my parents. I just knew it. When I peered out of my head, you were right there next to me laughing but you knew as well. Our love was never going to be easy. I am sure you saw in my eyes the fear of being a girl in India. I am never supposed to be a creature of desire. And if I am not a creature of desire how can I act on it? Not in India, definitely not in public. 

With our juices done, we headed back to Nritya making out like rabbits in the changing room. We didn’t know what we were doing but we were desperate, weren’t we? We probably knew that we wouldn’t meet again for a long time, if ever. And we taunted the world’s rules by making a memory that no one could take away from us.

I walked into the eerie silence of my home. My parents were sitting on the sofa in the living room which was reserved for guests and solemn events like marriages. Clearly this was a solemn event.

Papa looked visibly upset but he didn’t say anything. Mama motioned for me to sit down on the couch. As I lowered my bag to the floor, she couldn’t stop herself. She slapped me right across the face. It was the first time someone had slapped me. I couldn’t hold back my tears. Taking a leaf from Siam’s tactics, I stayed quiet. This seemed to aggravate Mama more. 

“I don’t know at what wretched time, I decided to keep you”, she said. 

“What have we not done for you? Have we not given you everything you wanted? You do whatever you please. I don’t even ask you to help me with any housework”, Mama was letting it all out. 

She turned to Papa, “I’ve told you many times not to pamper her but you wouldn’t listen. See what’s happened now?”

Papa wasn’t looking at me. He just sat there. “Papa”, I said tentatively. He tried to look at me a couple of times but he was clearly emotional. 

After a couple of minutes he said, “Vaithi sir saw you kiss someone in the juice shop near Nritya. Was it you?”

“Yes”, I admitted.

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Next episode | Ch3b: We All Fall Down

ETWA | Ch2b: Welcome To Samiverse

Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. My first attempt at writing a novel, this is being written 1000 words a day through November as part of #NaNoWriMo2020. Hope you will read along as I write. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page.  

Fire is a short walk from school, Nritya I mean. I’ve been going to the Nritya Dance Studio, thrice a week since I was 7. It was Papa’s dream to make me a Bharatanatyam dancer and that dream has become mine over the years. I love to dance. I am good at it too. 

Papa is my biggest fan. He picks me up if practice sessions end later than usual. He goes on early-morning market runs for fresh flowers on performance days. He takes me to competitions. He used to have an embarrassing habit of making invitations for my performances and inviting neighbours and colleagues. I’ve put an end to that, thank God! He gets me an entire Death by Chocolate on our way back from every performance. He gives me foot rubs on the post-performance rest day. 

Mama constantly reminds him, “You are spoiling her. She has to go to another house someday.” But I am Papa’s pride and joy. He has all my trophies displayed in the living room. When people visit, he calls on me to perform for them. Papa is trained as a biochemist and he works in one of the oldest biotech firms in Bangalore as the Vice President of their research and development wing, along with Zara’s mother. I want to be a biochemist like him.

Papa and Mama had me a full decade after they had Chetta. They are the earth on which I stand. They are everything. Chetta’s real name is Siddharth, though I don’t ever call him that. He got married last year to Chanchal who is always called Chinnu by everyone. They are both software engineers and have recently moved to Sheffield in the UK. My Mama also holds an engineering degree but she has never worked. She was gearing up to find a job when she had me.

A regular day in my life begins with waking up to bells chiming as Mama prays in a hushed tone akin to gossip. By then, Papa would have gone for a walk with other uncles from the apartment complex. Every morning, Dawn would try to ignore their enthusiasm and hold on to ten more minutes of shut eye before breaking. Before I got ready for school I usually managed to practice an ashtapadi or tillana. 

School bus picks me up at 7 am and then I am in my element. At school, time always flies past. There is always more to do than there is time to do it. My zassies and I spend the whole day together usually pulling each other’s legs. Their favourite jibe at me is that my report card often says diligent or dedicated which is teacher-speak for kiss ass! Lunch is the most elaborate affair of the day. We spread out our tiffins everyday and collectively study the peculiar taste buds of our families. Evenings are for dance, homework and family.

“They can say whatever they want. My house was so ancient that it had even developed a hunch. It was just time for that house to go.” 

Recently, Papa’s mother, who I call Achams—short for Achamma—has come to live with us. She lost her friend Echmoom, who used to live with her, to cancer a couple of months back. Since then, Papa makes sure that she isn’t alone in her house in Kerala for too long. Either we visit her or fly her down to be with us. Echmoom is what I used to call her. The name in ‘the school register’ as she liked to say was Lakshmi. Achams and everyone else called her Echu. I was supposed to call her Echu ammumma but I coined Echmoom instead. I miss her a lot especially when I think of the old house on the hill in Kerala where Echmoom and Achams lived. As a child, one of the bed time stories Echmoom told me was how she moved in with Achams in the ‘85le pemari’ when her house collapsed under heavy rain in 1985. Every monsoon, Echmoom’s house at the foot of the hill collected water until she move into Achams house till the end of the season. Since she worked all day, every day of the week and went home only to sleep, she didn’t think much of fixing her roof or plugging leaks. Her favourite line in the story was when the village office cited ‘low pressure in the bay of bengal’ as the reason for all weather-related disasters. Her house hadn’t collapsed because of “bangal ulkadalil nyoona mardam”, she would say letting out a laugh. “They can say whatever they want. My house was so ancient that it had even developed a hunch. It was just time for that house to go.”      

Achams was awfully quiet and resigned. Since I knew she was grieving her friend, I let Achams be in peace. She shared my room with me even though Chetta’s room was empty, now that he had moved away. My zassy window would always be open, I would often be smirking at the screen or typing too interestedly, on the pretext of studying. As long as I ‘studied’, Achams sat up with me, reading. Never once did she ask me what I was laughing at. It was getting incredibly difficult to continue with this because guilt of tricking her was eating away at me.

One day I asked her, “Achams, don’t you want to know what I am laughing at?” 

“Not unless you want to tell me kutta. Do you want to tell me?”

“I could tell you. But if you were Amma, by now would have asked what was so funny in my homework.”

“Ithokke ororutharude private matters alle kutta? If I won’t read your letters, why would I read your messages? Same thing alle?”

I had never thought of messages as inherently deserving privacy. We had always fought against restrictions as a good to have and never as a right. I ended up telling her how Zara had made a fool of herself in front of the teacher she fancied. Achams listened to the story, commenting on how mischievous Zara was for fancying her teacher, “Aha, bhayangari!” And we laughed together, and I saw her face light up for the first time since Echmoom’s passing.

The fifth element—space—I’ve saved that one for love. Space has to be for someone special. Because not everyone gets to go to space.

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Next episode | Ch3a: We All Fall Down

ETWA | Ch2a: Welcome to Samiverse

Photo by Benjamin Behre on Unsplash

Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. My first attempt at writing a novel, this is being written 1000 words a day through November as part of #NaNoWriMo2020. Hope you will read along as I write. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page.  

When I started This Coded Life, I was really at a loss for what to write about. Imagining that one day when I am much older, perhaps as old as thirty five, I would make this blog public and laugh at some of my adventures, I narrowed down on my first post. One of Papa’s favourite lines (he has many), “You will look back at this when you’re older and laugh about it” assured me that this will be the case. Mimicking the ‘hello, world!’ prompt that WordPress uses to remind you to send out your first post, I decide that it should be about my world, Samiverse!

Welcome to the Samiverse! I wrote. 

My world, Samiverse, is best explained using the five elements of nature: earth, water, fire, air and space.

School is water. I love school. I spend most of my day there. Like the water baby that I am; a Cancerian born on 3 July. I get to school early, by 7:45 on most days, though assembly is only at quarter past eight. I use that time to catch up with my friends—my Zassies. We update each other on what transpired in our lives from the time we last spoke, which was minutes before we met at school. I love my prefect duties at school as well. I am usually held up for an hour or so everyday past school time with those. But I love everything that goes on in school. I am part of the dance club here. I participate in debates though I would argue that I am not the best at it. I am a decent student. I love most of my teachers, my classmates and my friends. School is the best. 

“God made two [genders]: man and woman. Why don’t you face the wall all of today and think of the people who clap their hands at traffic lights?”

What makes school the best is of course my Zassies—Akira, Ayaan, Siam and Zara—ZASSY, get it? They are air. Akira is the doer. She is fantastic at minecraft and coding. She built us Zassy The Group, our main chat forum. That was to save Siam from a fix. Siam is the quiet one that perplexes everyone. He is handsome in a way unassuming people can be. Many have attempted and failed at getting him to break out of his natural silence. He sticks with us mostly because we let him be. Once he pissed off our biology teacher ‘lovely Miss Mathews’ in the first hour of class by asking her how many genders there were. She said, “God made two: man and woman. Why don’t you face the wall all of today and think of the people who clap their hands at traffic lights?” The whole class laughed and so did I. He just stood there, staring at the wall with a smile plastered on his face. The whole day, without uttering a single word!  

Ayaan or Y as he liked to be called, was the no nonsense one. He was preparing for IIT-JEE with a focus that was usually reserved for do-not-pet sniffer dogs in bomb squads. He was such a good boy that his parents often told my parents that they had nothing to worry about. He was smart but not smug. He was always formally dressed and well-mannered as good boys tend to be. He was definitely a nerd. Akira and him nerded out a lot when we were together. Y and Zara were childhood friends, neighbours and for all practical purposes, siblings. They bickered like cats and on principle disagreed on everything. 

Zara is my best friend. I met Zara in dance class when we were 7. We were thrilled for an entire month when our sections got shuffled in 4th standard and we ended up in the same class! I’ve known Zara for literally as long as I can remember. And by extension Y. I love my Zassies but I love Zara more. Growing up, in addition to being together at school and at Nritya, we also spent a lot of time in boring office parties and house parties because Zara’s mother and Papa worked together.

There’s another reason why my Zassies are air. Since we became teenagers, parents and garden variety adults of all sorts have increasingly placed more and more restrictions on us. We are given phones for safety but we are officially allowed to use it only minimally. In school, phones are not allowed. They will be confiscated if found. There is perhaps an hour’s window during commute to school or back when phones can be used. At home, there is a sliver of time between finishing homework and dinner when phones are allowed. In my house, I have to leave the phone with my parents after dinner. In Zara’s and Y’s homes there are randomised checks. Because they are neighbours, their parents follow the exact same rules as if they are siamese twins. Their parents can ask for their phones at any time without warning and check their WhatsApp and other apps. Zara’s mother tried to get Papa to do it with me but he said that he trusted me enough to let me have my privacy. Basically using the phone to chat was generally cumbersome. 

That and Siam’s father searched his room for a stapler once and discovered a woman’s underwear instead. They went berserk on him but he refused to spill the beans on where he got it from. Subsequent Internet combing revealed ‘milf’ in his search history. His parents were the most chill people we knew but they took away his phone, grounded him and sent him to counselling. And they put his computer in the living room under constant monitoring. 

This was the summer of 2018. That’s when Akira built us a communication mechanism and combined our names to call it Zassy The Group. It sounds so sassy and cool, doesn’t it? It was a web app built on Glitch. All we had to do was log into zassy.glitch.me and we could chat without being monitored. The coolest part was that it could be used without raising suspicion. The main page looked like an online student notebook. It was complete with notes on the genome or macro economics or a differentiation sum, something from our syllabus. It could fool anyone. But when I typed /michelleobama.html into the URL, it took me to a chat window where once I entered a pin, I could chat with Zassies. On the first Monday of every month, Akira remixed the overlay text and the pin. She shared the new pin with us at school or even on WhatsApp just to keep up a semblance of normalcy. We talked about everything on Zassy. It was our safe haven.

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Next episode | Ch2b: Welcome to Samiverse

Every Thing We Are | Ch 1b: Life in Code

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. My first attempt at writing a novel, this is being written 1000 words a day through November as part of #NaNoWriMo2020. Hope you will read along as I write. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page.  

Long before those lips I devoured today talked to me in real life, you had liked a photo I posted on Instagram. It featured Sheru, the street dog at Nritya. She was grinning as I gave her a belly rub. I had refreshed the page so many times that day just to check if I was seeing this right. When you followed me on Instagram, I was finishing dinner with my family. We have a no-mobiles-on-the-dining-table rule. So I leave it on the chest of drawers behind my seat. I leaned over to subtly check the notification and legit fell off the chair when I saw the ‘MadU2001 started  following you’ notification!

Still, I would often remind myself that none of this is true. That you probably don’t even know that I exist. That it was far-fetched to imagine that you would fall for someone like me.  I remember what I was wearing the day you talked to me. It was a Wednesday and I was in my sports uniform which was once white. I was late and hurrying to the changing room while taking off my tie and shoving it into my bag when you came over. Frankly, I was annoyed. Of all the times you could have talked to me, you had chosen this one day when I was late. 

I lit up like someone had fired a flare gun at my face.

But you just stood there before me and said so very matter of factly. “Sam, shall we get a juice outside after class? I think I like you.” I lit up like someone had fired a flare gun at my face. I sat in aramandalam with great diligence. I prayed for the class to end early. I felt focused, as though my body and mind were moving in unison.

And just like that, there we were drinking orange juice at the Juice Centre across the road from the dance studio. Months of playing out scenarios in my head and in the matter of an afternoon, my life had tipped.

I must confess that I remember next to nothing of what we spoke off. My mind was preoccupied with your lips. They seemed like a thin, long line, a tightrope stretched across your cheeks. Below were a mouthful of teeth waiting for me to explore them. Further in there was a tongue, fierce and untrained, revving to go. You stuck it out as you shook the upturned glass to get the last drop of juice onto the tip of your tongue. I could feel my ears get hot and my toes get sticky inside my shoes. I wanted you so badly. I wanted to touch you. Feel those fluid lines that make your body. Dance with you, matching your moves, making you move. Together. Alone.

R olev blf, 

Ulivevi blfih

Sam finished typing her love letter, encoded it using Atbash, a simple reverse cipher that replaced A-Z in reverse order from Z-A. She and her friends had read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code last summer and were enamoured. They had spent a good number of days learning alphabets in the reverse order and practising reading and writing in reverse. They used it in all their text messages. They changed their ciphers every month as they expected to be intercepted by family.

This journal that Sam was writing in was private and no one knew it existed, not even her gang, Akira, Ayaan, Siam and Zara. This was the one big secret that she kept from them. They knew about Madhu and everything else, right down to the minute. The year she entered high school, her parents had read through her diary and confronted her about why she wrote that she hated ‘the lovely’ Miss Mathews, their biology teacher. That incident had made her extremely conscious of her journalling. It had also made her secretive. She had started a private journal on WordPress. This was in addition to the public blog she maintained as suggested by her father. Papa had told her that a blog was important to build her extra curricular portfolio online. She blogged avidly about her dance, her Olympiad prep, competitions in school, what she learned on holidays and even her favourite dog, Sheru. But for the private blog, called This Coded Life, she knew that only a cipher could keep her thoughts truly private. So in addition to a password, each of her posts were written in a different cipher and she spent a lot of time labouring over it. 

As she shut down the computer and got ready for bed, she recalled from her brain’s recent folder, the events that transpired this afternoon. She sent Madhu a smiley, just as she was stepping out of the conscious world.

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Next episode | Ch2a: Welcome to Samiverse

Every Thing We Are | Ch 1a: Life In Code

book cover for Every Thing We Are
Image courtesy: Photo by Efe Kurnaz on Unsplash

I am not a confident writer. This chapter was meant to be published yesterday but my nerves didn’t let me. What am I so afraid of? Writing badly? Being judged? But I am fully aware that writing is a muscle more than a skill. And I am exercising it everyday. And it can only get better with time. See, logic always has a point. But I am so wrapped up in overthinking that I am rarely listening. So here goes!

Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. My first attempt at writing a novel, this is being written 1000 words a day through November as part of #NaNoWriMo2020. Hope you will read along as I write. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page.  

When you kissed me Madhu, I felt my centre of gravity explode. I couldn’t feel my feet or hands anymore. I felt light, weightless. As if I, Sam, were floating over the both of us, watching the scene from above. I couldn’t feel the redness spreading across my face and colouring my ears, though I could see them. I couldn’t feel your arms convene over my lower back, tentatively, palms outward but I saw their awkward stance. All I could feel was the numb excitement of your mouth electrifying mine. Kissing was like a million tiny wands of invisible lightning coursing through you with purpose. I imagined this is what neurons firing felt like.

The thrill of kissing you back erupted outward as a colourscape of joy. The pleasant warmth of your body pressed against mine, etching into it, the memory of you. With courage I did not believe I possessed, I placed my hands on your forearm, unsure. You didn’t notice or seem to mind. My hands climbed your forearm, all the way to your shoulders. I could feel your heart run an indoor marathon. In the exhilaration of summiting your shoulders, I felt brave enough to do it. I ran my hands through your hair. 

Oh, your hair. I could write an entire post about your hair. You have no idea how long I have wanted to do this. I have ogled at your hair, at your shoulders and your bum more than I have ogled at your face. Your silky, straight hair that flirted with your shoulders, sometimes touching, sometimes not. My fingers inhaled their scent and I knew for certain that they smelt exactly as I had imagined it. Soft.      

Isn’t it weird that you can’t see anything when you’re kissing? When I kissed you though, I imagined your eyes looking at me. I thought of the first time I noticed you looking at me. That was back in May when our team went to that audition in Koramangala. I was sure there was something stuck in my teeth or that my hair was out of whack that day. Why else would you be looking at me? I also thought I was imagining it because I liked you so very much. I didn’t even ask Zara to confirm this was happening because I was sure it was a figment of my imagination. To me, it was so unthinkable then that we would be here, you kissing my neck, making me gasp with your urgency. 

I see that all the nerve endings on your face are dancing in celebration. Definitely, mine are too.

What do we do next? I am not sure. Neither are you. I can hear you thinking whether to touch my breasts pressed against yours. Your courage seems to be running on fumes. I want you to touch them so badly. But the words to make that happen elude me. We kiss till our throats are dry and our faces hurt. We stop to look at each other. I see that all the nerve endings on your face are dancing in celebration. Definitely, mine are too. We grin at each other, proud of our afternoon’s activity. Even as the thrill settles into my core, I know that I have stepped over a line. There is no going back from here. I can’t get enough of you. I hug you once more, with confidence this time and smell the crook of your neck. I twine your fingers in mine and wrap your hands around me, cumbersome but snug. I want to stay here in your embrace forever. 

I feel alive and present. Just like I did when I saw you for the first time during Vijayadashami last year when you joined our dance class. When did you first notice me? What did you notice about me that first time? I’ve had my eyes on you since that first day. At first it was your skill. The grace with which you move, as if your body were fluid, with no skeletal system to speak of. I’ve spent days of practice just standing in a row behind you and daydreaming. I loved how delicate and elegant your ankles looked. This might sound weird but in my head, you and I have conversations every day. I am funny and you are floored by my candour. 

In real life though, our first interaction was only in July when I shared a water bottle with you. Since you had touched that bottle, I began speaking to it before bed. I was livid when I forgot it in an auto one day on the way home. I still get angry thinking about it. But whenever I feel angry, I think of the day we met in Nritya’s office to pay the fees. When I got off the plastic seat, it made a farting noise. I could have keeled over and died of embarrassment. But you just burst out laughing before blowing farts out of your elbows. You didn’t have a care in the world. I was so grateful for you that day.

to be continued…

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Next episode | Ch1b: Life In Code

TDWS | E25: Out In The Real World

A baby no more

The Dog We Stole is the definitive biography of Her Majesty Begum Pathumma. Read earlier episodes of the series on the TDWS page.

Annual work plans are so hopeful, aren’t they? They hide all the in-between months of sluggish hopelessness. While Pathu planned to take over the world as boss dog, the universe knew that she was going to be spayed. So did she in her heart of hearts. 

She has seen for herself how well we handle them both as adult humans. Skewed meal times, forgotten walks, delayed vet visits, lax grooming schedules. She knew that there was no way we could manage adding puppies to the mix.

As the night progressed, the rain grew heavier, pelting the streets with rubber bullets like a mob of plain clothed policemen.

Unknown to us, Pathu had gotten to the decision of sterilisation from a completely different angle. Pathu was born under the streets of bengaluru, quite literally in hell. It was a December evening in the city. Her mother, fully pregnant, had taken refuge in one of the storm water drains that surrounded the park, ready to deliver. The park would have offered a safer haven but her mother, with a belly full of babies, could not squeeze between the metal rods of the grilled compound wall to get in. In Bengaluru, parks behave strangely like some flowers, staying closed all day and all night, opening their gates barely for three hours at dawn and dusk. 

When she went into labour, it was raining outside. As the night progressed, the rain grew heavier, pelting the streets with rubber bullets like a mob of plain clothed policemen. A stream of water that had escaped the plastic blockade somewhere behind them, ran down the drain to her. She continued to lick her newborns clean, safe in the faith that Bengaluru rains were a blink and miss affair. Well, faith is not a scientific fact. Another five minutes in, her mother knew that she would have to leave the slowly filling drain.

Where could she go? She couldn’t think straight. Maybe to the store front where she slept occasionally? But that would be too cold for her babies. She needed somewhere dry. Maybe outside the ATM? But that was too far to venture with these infants. She would find a way as soon as she got them out of here. She had borne six little ones. She picked up two in her mouth and crept out, just as the all cleansing water god broke through the wall of plastic waste. 

Even as a puppy Pathu knew that she never wanted to have children. Not everyone is built to care for children. Most humans would count as examples. They make babies before they stop to think why. They were filling the planet up with two-legged dimwits who deny climate change and spread hate. 

She knew she wanted to get spayed as soon as it was possible. Pathu was happy when she met her minions because they looked like unstructured people who would definitely get her spayed. Also they didn’t have any children which was always a good sign. But then again, they had screwed up. No surprises there. But going on heat only strengthened Pathu’s conviction. She didn’t want to feel weird twice a year. It was her body after all. She would choose what it endured.

Pathu wanted me to clarify that she had nothing against children. She said and I quote, “I just didn’t want to have any come out of my body. Just like you say no to working with a bully or buying an unaffordable house on loan or marrying a person you barely know. Oh well, bad examples for humans I suppose.          

Infact, I’d be open to adoption, if it ever came up. There are so many orphaned pups in the world who would love a cosy home with well-mannered, subservient and cuddly humans. Instead of inbreeding dogs to create more bird-brained snouts with leaky guts and rotting ears, why not get yourself a smart and healthy Indian pariah like me?

You could send them to me and I’ll teach them a thing or two about the real world. Of course, they could add to their resumes with pride that they went to finishing school under the tutelage of Her Majesty Begum Pathumma.”

The End

Thank you for reading along on my first fiction series. This is series is soon going to become an ebook. I’ll keep you posted on that. Meanwhile, I plan to write another series as part of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starting on 1 Nov. Hope you will follow along on that series as well by subscribing below.

TDWS | E24: Pathu Has An Action Bias

Don’t just sit there, do something!

The Dog We Stole is the definitive biography of Her Majesty Begum Pathumma. Read earlier episodes of the series on the TDWS page.

As the new operations head, Pathu was going to make some tough decisions. Though the humans had veto as the majority stakeholders of this household, she was determined to make substantive changes. For one, she had to ensure a reliable revenue stream. Coding and communications were not real jobs and this wasn’t going to cut it! There weren’t enough treats coming through here. Neither were there enough outings. That simply had to change.

True to her role, Pathu has always had an action bias. Instead of labouring over something for epochs, she would, well, operationalise. Anything that needed fixing would be handled in subsequent versions. Perfection was a work in progress. She didn’t have to think much to realise the monetisable skills that she possessed.  

In the short term, she decided to turn her field notes on Echo into a pay-what-you-like ebook.  Though she had no faith in other beings, it showed the world that she believed in their goodness. Seeming altruistic always made you more money than being altruistic. She knew that her exhaustive research on the behavioural psychology of large hairy dogs was groundbreaking. Their lack of ambition and their inability to understand nuance, were only two of her incredible findings.

She would put her hard-won craft to good use with a workshop titled, ‘Puppy Eyes: The Art of Finding Your Own Signature Move’.

Why not publish as a paper in a leading humanities journal, you ask? Because they are all behind paywalls and as a free bleeding feminist, Pathu believes that it’s her moral responsibility to make sure that knowledge production is open and free for use. Humans, they like to think of themselves as intelligent but they have got all of it backwards! 

Within the end of the quarter, she planned to organise four workshops. She would put her hard-won craft to good use with a workshop titled, ‘Puppy Eyes: The Art of Finding Your Own Signature Move’. She would make her business species inclusive by extending her surveillance services to include clients from other species. Like the Shikra hawk on the neem tree across the street, that stares hard at something all afternoon. Pathu would provide a hawk-eyed solution to that problem. By the end of the next financial year, she would diversify. Dog humans were suckers for training. They love for their pups to pick up some ‘socialisation skills’ from older dogs. Since Echo couldn’t be bothered either way, Pathu would stake out this market. By then she would have built enough credentials to accept pups for apprenticeships.

Pathu sniggered as she thought of all the fun things she would teach the puppers. She would teach them ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘come’ as diversion tactics. Once the humans were floored by their good behaviour, she would teach them to play rough, pee in inconspicuous spots that staggered the stench and the delicate art of making anything a chew toy. The ‘real learning’ would obviously be surveillance. Truth be told, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. One needed to have a nose for these things.

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Next episode | E25: Out In the Real World

TDWS | E23: Pathu Is Dying

Pathu has been coned!

The Dog We Stole is the definitive biography of Her Majesty Begum Pathumma. Read earlier episodes of the series on the TDWS page.

As many young girls do, the onset of periods made Pathu believe that she was dying. She was leaking from her chu-chu and her days were numbered. She even made Echo, her most trusted ally, check that this was the case by showing him her bum repeatedly. As always, not only was he not helpful, but he also made a tortured face that reminded Pathu of an assault victim.

Pathu had such lofty plans for her life. Plans fit for a queen. But now, they were all laid to waste. She wanted to sniff her way around the world, discover forbidden salty, sweet and spicy food from different cuisines and learn to play the jal tarang to distract the pigeons.

Pathu, never one to despair, knew that this was an opportunity for self-discovery. With limited time on her hands, she had to make something of herself before life leaked out of her vagina. Laying luxuriously on the human’s king-sized bed while he was safely secured in the bathroom, Pathu dreamt of a career she could excel in.

But for Pathu, surveillance was simply a passion. Something she did for leisure. She enjoyed it too much for it to be work.

She would be excellent at surveillance, of course. With her relentless notetaking and impeccably keen eye for detail, she could make a mark in this field in a relatively short time. But for Pathu, surveillance was simply a passion. Something she did for leisure. She enjoyed it too much for it to be work. Pathu knew that work had to be something that brought in good money and something that she only vaguely enjoyed doing. That way work would be challenging enough not to bore her.

As Pathu stared at the humans’ dinner, willing a piece of carrot to get up from its juicy bed of cucumber slices and fly through the air into her mouth, it struck her. She would be a wet waste recycler! As an advocate for climate change action, this would be the perfect job for Pathu. She loved going through garbage. The humans waste so much edible food. This apple is too brown, this chapati is too old, this curry died in the fridge. The garbage bin was a heavenly buffet of sorts. She loved eating vegetable and fruit peels, leftover rice with or without condiments and meat bones. Yummy! She was sold on this option when she saw the human dump a load of coffee grounds into the bin. “Urgh. No way! I cannot work with coffee grounds. Thanks but no thanks!”

Next day, like an alarm, Pathu woke up on time and supremely agitated. She had stayed up late thinking of other options—a voice trainer, a high jump coach, an apparel model, an acting coach, a twerking champion—but nothing seemed right. She woke up her wayward humans and barked at them till they fed her. She made sure Echo got his daily brain activity by doing circles around him and forcing him to play with her. She was settling into another great day of surveillance, and boom!

Of course, it had been before her eyes all along. How could she have missed this? How could she have been so blind? She would become the operations head. She was always overseeing these buffoons. She made sure that this household worked without glitches. From screening visitors, to round the clock surveillance, to deciding timelines, to building processes and even taking care of their garbage. Begum Pathu, the Chief Operation Officer. It had a ring to it, didn’t it? She was a natural fit.

Pleased with herself, Pathu waited for the clock to strike 11.30 am to make sure everyone took a tea break!

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Next episode | E24: Pathu Has An Action Bias

TDWS | E22: Pathu The Free Bleeder

The Dog We Stole is the definitive biography of Her Majesty Begum Pathumma. Read earlier episodes of the series on the TDWS page.

Just when life began playing in technicolour, Pathu began her first period. On day one, we were as perplexed by this as she was. She was tense around Echo. She was also a weird mix of jumpy, cranky and inexplicably mellow. Much intense googling later, in true city-zen style, we ordered diapers online. This was akin to sending word to the police via snail mail during a robbery. Well, cleaning up after a free bleeder is no fun. In no time, we accepted defeat by pulling on some pants and dashing off in search of dog diapers.

Panicked, we also called the vet. Three dogs in, he is used to our panicked telephony by now. However, he was helpless. She could not be neutered until the end of heat. And you will never guess how long dogs stay in heat: upto 21 days. This was going to be a long haul.

The Begum loved attention but only when she wanted to cuddle or find a warm spot on our lap or during meal times. Otherwise she hated us fussing over her, trying to clean her ears or giving her a bath. And Pathu being on heat sent us off the cliff. We were helicopter parents, annoyances on steroids. 

It drove Pathu to her wit’s end. Her endocrine system was on fire, shooting her up with a heady cocktail of period hormones. She didn’t understand exactly what was happening to her. Why was she twerking in Echo’s face? Yes, she loved making him uncomfortable but she’d never before felt the urge to grab his attention like this. Hmmm, she was at a loss. 

Poor Pathu! She had no way of knowing that she was barking up the wrong tree with Echo. He was neutered just like she was going to be.

In the first few days of heat, Pathu was confused by her body. “I don’t want to wear this nasty contraption”, she said, pulling out her diapers. Within an hour of wearing a new diaper, she would pee in it. Or rip a hole in its bottom or take it off. Taking yet another step towards turning into my mother, I took to routinely reminding Pathu that diapers don’t grow on trees. 

Pathu took to standing in the balcony with her nose to the railing, participating in their argument.

By the time we were 15 days in, Pathu knew that we would break if she pushed us any further. So she turned to our neighbour.

Our apartment occupies a corner of the building. While we have an aerial view of the ninepins in the bungalow opposite, we have a window display of the apartment next door. A slice of their lives, a variety show if you will. 

In one of the windows that face us, lives a woman who routinely fights with a male member of her household. There is usually a lot of shouting involved, especially during the beautiful dusk hours as the day turns. Pathu took to standing in the balcony with her nose to the railing, participating in their argument. She would add her voice in solidarity just as the woman began making her point. As the argument heated up their blood, Pathu barked louder to match the woman. When the woman stopped, so did Pathu. I began involuntarily holding my breath as though that would stop the lady from ringing our doorbell and showering me with some of that choice loudness.

Soon, we imposed a 5 pm curfew on Pathu being in the balconies.

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Next Episode | E23: Pathu Is Dying