She has a lifestyle disorder

An animation of 40K paintings children made about global warming #koat16

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Today, the sun is not yet overhead but she’s already fed up. Fed up of not doing. Fed up of the news in the media. Fed up of the grains she eats. Fed up of the thick smog behind her eyes. Tomorrow is a new day, if she gets through today. It could be that rare burst of volcanic activity–cleaning, eating, planning. Or just the usual; another day of procrastination.

When she thinks of freedom she thinks of white doves flying off from the confines of a hanging metal cage against a black background leaving the tricolour in its wake–yes, like all the independence day imagery out there. Along with her drawing sheets, she has also traced that image onto her brain. However, she didn’t realise then that white doves are not alone in their freedom. There are other birds in the sky. A whole lot of them. True that white doves fly in pure, white, sweeping flocks with no room for discolouration. But there are also birds that don’t fly in flocks. And birds that don’t fly at all. You have to be a white dove to fly with the white doves. Not a parrot. Not an eagle. Not a sparrow. And definitely not a fowl.

She was a fowl. A scraggly one with indiscriminately multi-coloured feathers and no distinguishable feature. She found her own dreams of flying laughable. She lived on a farm, roosting in the bushes behind the tree, capable only of flying onto the fence and perching there undecided. Should she go off into the big bad world not knowing where her next meal will come from? Or should she remain cooing in the calm of her familiar routine?

When had they taught everyone else to deal with the world? She felt like she was looking in on a world with rules that didn’t make any sense. She felt excluded and alien. Logic was a squiggly worm just beyond her reach. How do these other fowls know what to do? How do they go about they mundane business as if it were the most exciting undertaking? Why should she follow rules that didn’t apply to males? Why should she pay taxes for trees to be cut and lakes to foam? Why should she bring eggs into such a world? There were no answers. And the questions were reducing her visibility.

She lives in hope that one fine morning, the smog behind her eyes will lift and she will fly up, up and away to perch on a weightless cloud of clarity. This hope sends her to bed at night but also wakes her up every morning to be just another fowl. On some days, the same hope makes her kick indecision off the fence and make a flight of faith. But on other days hope tells her that the trick is in setting yourself up for success. Hope also says that success is in knowing when to let go. Right under the nose all these suggestions, indecision was slowly eating her up inside, giving her deadly ulcers, a lifestyle disorder.

Like this post? Check out the previous one from the She Series here.

She Cleanses

Summer is mint-lime-cooler time! #happyweekend #summerdrinks #summeriscoming

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She was a hoarder. A hoarder of feelings. Every emotion she felt joined a pile in her heart.

When the heart pile grew too heavy making her heart sink, she compressed them and sent them away to be composted into memories in the minute wrinkles and folds of her brain. She would call on them later with smells, food and music.

She imagined her brain to be an endless landfill capable of infinite tricks. The ultimate resting place where all emotion–vile, virtuous and vain–rolled over each other in deep, companionable sleep. But there are days when these alleyways get clogged by the truckloads of feelings waiting to be dumped. Thankfully, her feelings like her sleep, smell like bedsheets. The fragrance is officially called Linen and Sky.

When the sinews of her brain city get backed up with compressed feeling cubes that smell like designer perfection, some cubes were bound to fall out of the trucks and litter the streets. The delectably fragrant spillage always hypnotised her brain into a dark, brooding mood. And its on days like these that the trucks were rerouted to purgatory to be put away till they could be properly put away.

Down there in the fat cells of her midlands, nothing much happens. Ever. It’s a lot of abandoned cubes sticking out like cacti in the desert sands of time. This purgatory is their hell for now. Behind the backs of calorie-counting cow-worshippers, the hinterland grows lawless and distends accommodating more degenerates. In time, this protruding landmass begins to wobble dangerously.

Each time the belly wobbles, some renegades jump the fence and go hitchhiking across the expanse of her body. It’s not like anyone is watching them. Sometimes in the steep mountains of her arms or thighs, the plateaus of her lower back or along the shore of her ankles, they pitch tent. Wherever they stop and linger, they cause trouble.
Be that as it may, she occasionally comes alive in the torrential rigorousness that rains in sheet after cleansing sheet of wellness from god knows where. Without warning, she begins to wake up early, prioritising exercise and eating healthy. She’s excited about cleanliness, order, art, books, pickling and even talking.
There is a upturn in the air, much like a beach on a bright, summer day in an otherwise cold country. A flurry of activity clears up the brain, reduces the wobbly bulge, balms the aches and calms the mind. When the rain ends, as it must, the cleanse is complete and she is ready for the next onslaught to begin.

Book Review: A Superior Insight Into A Slice Of India

Serious Men by Manu Joseph is a slice of India that’s beautiful in its uniqueness. Written in 2010 and published by Harper Collins India, this book won him The Hindu Best Fiction Prize for the year. Though politically this book dwells on the strong undercurrents of caste in science and academia, for me this is a story of two men and the women they love. Buy this book.

Ayyan Mani is the plotting peon to Arvind Acharya, the “insufferable astronomer” and Director at the Institute of Theory and Research: the protagonists. Ayyan Mani wants to get his wife and son out of the stifling life in their crumbling Mumbai chawl. As a peon at the ‘Institute of Brahmin Scientists’, he is also keen on witnessing and steering the War of the Brahmins to a conclusion of his choice. Arvind Acharya is on a mission to save science from populist scientists whose genius has long stagnated; professionals bent on finding their space in the limelight for that one final time. This is the story of their wins and losses.

Written with superior insight into our society, credit goes to Joseph for bringing up caste and class issues without pointing fingers. Laced with a generous helping of humour, Serious Men is a reader’s delight, one of those books you wish would last forever. My favourite however is the banter between Ayyan Mani, an Ambedkar inspired Buddhist and the missionary principal of his son’s school who tries to convert him to Christianity every time they meet.

While men in the book are beautifully crafted, the women’s side of the equation isn’t as balanced. Oja Mani is a typical lower middle class mother who wants her son to be “normal”. Lavanya is the homebound wife, ever-accepting of Acharya’s eccentricities, arguably her life’s goal being ‘to make his achievements possible’. Oparna is the beautiful woman scientist, a rarity, whose actions are all too predictable. I have my qualms with Joseph’s  uninspired flat women characters but I would compromise my displeasure for gems like the love-hate relationship between old Princeton friends, Jana Nambodri and Acharya. Now, as professional rivals, the author maintains a maturity in their  their relationship that is rarely seen in Indian storytelling. While Jana visits Acharya at home and reminisces about his rebel friend, he cuts no corners in expressing his professional animosity.

Full disclosure: I have a strong dislike for India themed books with themes like the Hindu-Muslim riots, India-Pakistan partition, terrorism and independence struggle simply because coming from India’s shin, I don’t relate to any of these things and these are not concepts I grew up with. Therefore, books like this one, Em and the Big Hoom, English August and Cobalt Blue give me hope that Indian writing in English is not beyond redemption.

Buy this book.

Short As A Flash

Wrote out a wordy post. Deleted it. The point is to keep it short, they say. Been put off flash fiction by this Guardian article. B-)

But was inspired by Hemingway’s Six:

For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.

My debut flash fiction effort:

I didn’t think we’d last forever. Now, we say, “I do”. Here on, every new day ought to be shorter than forever.

Please rate it: 1-10

Puke: A Valid Response?

The validity of a physical retching sensation in response to life and all things it entails.

There are days, many more these days than acceptable, when I lay awake in bed overhearing the tiresome morning sounds of a geriatric household.

The deaf one is shouting at the lost one; he simply stares back, a stoic sculpture of incomprehension.

The authoritarian know-it-all is being himself, snubbing even the lizard under the dining table with derision.

It’s dark. Lovely cool darkness.

It’s early. Too early for me.

Snow Crash.

I am awake, my late-night long forgotten, sleep has slouched away not once complaining of insufficient attention. I want her back. Back in my blanket. As I try to shove my face down into my pillow within the darkness of my blanket, I want her to kiss my eyes back to peaceful oblivion. But she won’t hear of it. She is gone, long gone. I will myself to switch off instead.

Drifting.

In and out.

A throbbing thought loops around my mindspace like a news ticker—I wish I were dead—it’s on repeat. Along with its monotonous drone, unawares to my senses, there is a rising discomfort; now in my throat. I wake up to the realisation that on early mornings like this one, life makes me want to puke.

I don’t mean puke metaphorically or metaphysically. I don’t mean it in a shouting-from-atop-my-literary-high-horse sort of way. I mean the physical response of throwing up when met with highly disagreeable content.

That can’t be normal. Or maybe I just like slow, peaceful mornings. And I don’t remember the last one.

Irreclaimable Innocence

An unplanned beach getaway to rid myself of the politics of everyday life.

A barely affordable sushi experience to quell the ‘sense of adventure’ in me.

The exorbitantly priced ride I take home post a tiring day of shopping…err…‘retail therapy’ simply because I can’t wait around for a metered fare.

The ka-ching does come from my very own ‘deep’ pockets that I dug sacrificing my eyes and back to a computer screen.
Of course I am entitled to spend it the way I choose without having to justify myself. I think ‘hard-earned’ is the adjective they use.

Then, I came across a little girl, barely in her teens, an A-grader in the 7th standard. She loves Maths and dreams of becoming an Engineer. And her father, a casual labourer, ‘casual’ not an adjective of his choice but a hand-me-down from life.

For their family, electricity is a luxury like sushi; kerosine, an expensive alternative, like an overpriced auto ride is an avoidable indulgence.

I came across her life on a leisurely Sunday afternoon, having eaten my fill; lethargic to even switch on the tv, I read about her life from a page that the fan chose to open for me. It was Coincidence in her Sunday best.
I am not a social worker, I don’t like the implications. I work for myself, to cushion my life.

Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance-Confucius

Now that I know, I imagine what a 1000 rupees, pocket change really for one of my ‘fun’ weekends, could give this girl, who dreams from the darkness of the room she calls home-a month’s expense and more considering her family of five earns 5000. For her father who knows no magic to make those 5000 rupees stretch over books, uniforms, sick days and the big dreams of his little treasures.

“Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”-Nelson Mandela

To imagine that a thousand rupees that I could add ‘mere’ as an adjective to if I thus chose, could help a little girl achieve her dream. I was a little girl a while back and I had dreams that I didn’t necessarily follow but I never had to worry about how my parents would manage the logistics of. I now remember the freedom of dreaming without logistics. But that’s an irreclaimable innocence.

Life

Butterflies flit

Leaving shivering leaves in their wake

Water drips tense like sweat

And air holds its breath

Willing all noise to quiet down

 

I did notice earlier

And I am wondering now

Did they pre-empt my condition?

 

Contrary to popular belief

Pointlessness is a calm feeling

Only negative.

The loneliness, solid in its intensity

Weighs me down, its lead boots to my head

 

White noise funnels into me

Hollowing out instead of filling

The certainty, the singleness

Of that settling sadness

Like drying concrete.

 

My world zooms into my loneliness

It is fade out for everything else.

It is nothing more than a feeling

My feeling, because outside I see

I see the world go on around me

 

Go on like nothing changed

And my life, the entirety of my years

Compresses into a lead ball, the size of a pill

Heady with side effects.

 

It makes my tongue thick

And my voice echo

It twists my legs and hurts my throat.

I feel everything and then suddenly

Nothing.

 

I look around and I recognise afterlife

But sadly for you its

“Authorised Personnel Only” from here on.

 

I Smell A Dream

Jasmine, that’s what our house smells like.

It’s not an urban jungle, my garden. Giving the jasmine company is the long-ish bed of some plant I like to simply call spinach (for no reason) with delicately coloured pretty flowers.

We made dinner with loving hands, hungry voices and happy noses; we sat adjacent to each other and ate from our porcelain plates. Now, washing up has stopped being a chore, and so has cooking. We walked off our dinner along Champak-lined streets, its fragrance seducing my fiesty curls. The beauty of repetition dawns when we walk arm in arm, the way we know how we fit. Our bedroom smells of Sampige too, thanks to the thoughtful Chembakam outside our window.

On lazy Sunday afternoons, I make small talk with all our bookshelf people, though of course I like mine better than his. They watch me, like an audience, from a world of their own. Neatly overflowing, my books always find their way back home to the bookshelf. His books are elite and you cannot open one at random; you need a certain standing in society to mingle with them.

Our TV watches, him, me, and everything we do, through her omniscient eye. She wants us to know that she is ready to play a movie, any movie we fancy watching. She wants us to watch her channels perform but she knows that’s out of the question. Hence the offer we can’t refuse. Him, me and her end up sharing our suspension of disbelief. On a sofa, the right one, on whose purchase we spent quarter of a year, we sit comfortable, curves melting, bones cushioned, ready to fall asleep at the stench of the movie turning lousy.

As I lay there, an aside in my brain processes the things in our storeroom. I have two kinds of pickle, with another one waiting to be made. I have three homemade attempts at winemaking in different stages of completion. I could bake a cake this evening with a touch of improvisation. I take stock of supplies, the ones I need to use and the ones I need to buy. I don’t wonder what his brain is up to. The joy we sought has been found, like a dual-sim phone, we live together but still keep our heads separate.

We pay no maid because we love playing house. The chores aren’t divided between us, no one is responsible for anything but it’s an understanding that these need to get done, no matter who does it. Another understanding is that the other will step in without a word when required. We step out during the week, for beer, movie, play, fair or for an occasional mandatory sighting. We don’t have children yet, but we talk to them, about them. Our Future stands at earshot, listening.

The love has stabilised, it’s within the limits of expression now and our hearts aren’t bursting out of our chests. We are not a perfect match, we are not the dream partners, we don’t understand each other or share common interests. The respect, however, has grown, so has the camaraderie. Love is too commonplace to be mentioned. There is a sense of fitting well, a feeling that I previously thought only a pair of jeans could provide. We have our fights, of loudness so deaf followed by silence so loud. But we are both eager to make up and we are glad to have fought because the fight seems to have filed away yet another sharp edge. We fit better making our hugs a national convention of skin.

There is work, family, friends, bad drivers, opinions, things each of us doesn’t like to do, things we are forced to do, duties we forget, meetings we don’t make it to, points we cannot convince each other on and things we don’t appreciate to exasperate us as a couple. But, we seem to be gliding, our only surety that of being attached to the glider; me-mine-him, he-his-me. That everything can be dealt with as long as we stand by each other. That we are each other’s strength and weakness.

Distance has always been a part-time friend; the best part being the dream I could invent. Whatever life with him serves up now, it wouldn’t upset me for I have lived my tame Jasmine-scented dream. I am ready for my chaotic reality. This is how I smell a dream.

Funeral Blues By W.H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

The Day I Live To See

I lay quite quiet,
still and motionless,
eyes laze floating thither
brain crouches working overtime.

Don’t breathe and
this too shall pass.
This life, this life that
I live in as if on rent.

Lay low enough and a day will come
When no one will notice
When no one will remember
When no one will care
Who I was and other details

That is the day I live to see.