A Coffee Table Book

I remember, it was a Saturday. What should have been my day off the clockwork city was wasting away in that most crowded mall; one that I would have easily mistaken for CST or Grand Central or some such-not that I’ve been to either. By then, I was used to waiting for her; her time was never linear. It was more like a sheet of paper-fold it and put it in your pocket and it disappears.

Her pocketed time left me staring blankly at the maddening crowd wondering how quiet my toilet was; after all it’s truly the only place in the world where one could be alone in peace. When the 2nd coffee drained my wallet and in fear of my contents tipping the scale further, I chanced upon a couple at the far end of the room. They sat directly ahead of me but behind a wall which made them curiously inconspicuous. And they were engaged in the most unusual activity that nobody seemed to notice.

Planned by someone in love with the time-wasting tactics of an open-office floor, this coffee shop was just a space cornered against a wall with nowhere to go. While they were lucky to have the coffee counter guard the other free side, the last side was what I came to believe was the “view”; of hundreds of people buying random things they will never use simply because there seemed to be so many of them for one paise cheaper. That’s to make you appreciate better that overpriced coffee you just downed.

There were children, the annoying sorts, crying from exhaustion, grumpiness or purely bad upbringing; tech-savvy iphoners trying to “catch” range with their voices in this basement floor; families whose decibel levels were not monitored by anyone, others who just spoke loudly because they were kindred spirits and to top it off announcements that everybody heard but no one understood.

Amidst all this, the couple sat at that low table on cushions facing each other and between them was a red notebook. One would write something and pass it on to the other. Then the other would read, think, scribble and pass it back.

Siblings. I was sure they were brother and sister whose mother was a force to reckon with. She liked her home best when it was quiet. And she liked her home best, always. These two DNA mutations, like all of us, had their share of quibbles but didn’t dare make a sound. They had taken to writing utter filth to each other. And after their ferocious pen fights they refused to talk to each other; in that silent house indifference had easily gone unnoticed. As children they fought a lot because no one had intervened. But they had been silent for so long that they forgot they could speak to each other. They grew up but never shunned that habit. All their conversations were written. And it was a joy to watch.

This week’s writing exercise, the trainer at the workshop had spoken in his animated ecstatic voice. You will pair with the person to your right, go to a crowded place and write a descriptive narrative of the scene. You will write in different coloured inks and each of you will write one line. During the course of this exercise you will refrain from talking to each other or lingering too long over the scenario. This is partly a word association test.

They really like each other’s company. But he or she was being childishly ridiculous. They knew each other since high school. She had befriended him because they both loved cycling. The real reason was that he looked friendless and she was friendless too. They had clicked instantly; they watched Dexter’s Laboratory, hated oats for breakfast and resented the PT master. She was the one he called in panic after he had slept with a friend in college; he was inconsolable. She had called him and bawled incoherently when a friend she had avoided had died in an accident. And now after all these years, here they were sorting out this insurmountable hurdle. They were both as stubborn as a mule. They had hung up on each other and she had texted to meet here. Bringing the book was his idea and they wrote endlessly about how the other was a moron for being blind to the alternative. The swelling crowd, it seemed, helped circulate the air around their heads, for otherwise, they surely would have exploded.

He and I work together as associates. I hate his fucking guts. Like I care that he hates me too. The trouble began when our animosity came to a head at a meeting with our boss. I don’t remember what really went down; I was red with rage. He had made a condescending comment at my work. As if she were the only one who worked on it. It was my project too. We were supposed to work on it together. I hate her fucking guts. The meltdown had cost them their ego. The Boss had put them up to this task. Take the Saturday off, go to the nearest mall and finish writing that newsletter copy. You needn’t speak to each other if you can’t mind your language. You could write it, yes, only write it. These minions of marketing had no choice but to act out this charade. They didn’t stand a chance to hoodwink the Boss. Had they tried, the other would most definitely tell on them. Also a Saturday off was an impossible privilege for these twenty-four-seveners. They were in a fix.

Is that invisible ink they are writing with? Are those UV glasses that read invisible ink? They had to be with the Intel services. No wonder they had found that spot behind the wall; out in the open but away from the cameras. Of course they were writing in a book. It was the most low-tech technique in their skillset. Yes, right next to chopping vegetables in morse code. They were discussing the government’s underground bioweapon trials. Yes, it was true. A country as battered by epidemics as ours was indeed testing Chikunguniya on its unsuspecting slum dwellers. They were scientists and lovers. They wanted out of this maddening research that took innocent lives every day. But there was no safe house where they could talk. Talking was out of the question. They had briefly written on steamed up mirrors and cubicles in their bathroom. But that was mighty dangerous with the security arrangements. This was a spot far away from their canopied university, writing in a book wouldn’t alarm civilians and they could easily destroy evidence.

As I stared at the couple, I imagined it was him and me. There in that crowded madhouse, submerged in a sea of voices that smelled of coffee. We were writing to each other what we could never say better. I had the annoying habit of repeatedly asking the same questions. We were trying to capture the essence of these questions on paper before he grew tired of answering them. I wrote the first question and passed it on. He answered it diligently in half a sentence. Then he stalled, thinking. I will never forget that smile he smiled. His smile continued to fill that almost-fresh page with his thoughts. I knew he saw the joy he had anticipated on my face. The written word was an incredible high for me. Then he wrote a question. And it was my turn. But I love reading better than writing. At one point, I made him draw. I imagined and he drew. Then we both drew on the same page, facing away from each other’s halves. It was a banyan tree with our dreams etched on every leaf.

Right then, enters friend running; her curls laughing wildly and uncontrollably; a private joke perhaps. As she hugged me tight I forgot about the couple, their space I had invaded to create my own and that my time was folded in her pocket. She was just what the doctor had ordered; a ball of energy.

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep By Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep,

I am not there; I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow,

I am the sun on ripened grain,

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circling flight.

I am the soft starlight at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,

I am not there; I did not die.


I don’t remember the first time I came across this poem. But it made me sit up and take notice. Then, that first time around, I remember saving it as drafts in my mailbox (an ancient and anti-tech savvy thing to do, I know!). I even remember sending it to friends or at least putting it down as a to-do. Interesting as this is, I am 200% sure, I googled it and lapped up it’s wiki. There was an interesting story, badly retold by me here: the poetess wrote it to console someone who had lost their someone. She wrote it randomly on some brown paper bag and that was it. She was never a poet and was “discovered” by one of those perky little people going around looking for origins. You should just google this for a more accurate version.

Anyway, since then, this poem has come back to me so many times, through so many different media that I am beginning to find it creepy. I need someone to know that I’ve seen this and that it keeps coming back to me, repeatedly. There, it’s out of my system!

That’s all, really.

Something Else

Yes, I am a dreamer. But not one that dreams while sleeping. Maybe I do, it’s only natural, but I rarely remember them. I love dreaming while asleep because they are mostly pointless. They have no beginning and definitely no logical end; however they seem to have a body which is truly captivating. Seems like a beautiful exercise for a universe on a tea break.

A pond, that’s what this post should be called but its going to be called something else.

Laughter of the raucous kind, the one that sneaks in when you are in truly comfortable company. Splashing of water, joyous, like squealing children let out of school. Adventure glints in our eye, when caught by the sun above. Emerald, that’s the colour water wore to work today. Emerald, powerful in her capabilities but elegant in her demeanour.

Grace, mesmerised, twirled with water around us to the quiet music in his head. She dances along, smiling at us, an unshakeable confidence-that smile.

We swam effortless. I swam weightless. I held my hands out of the water and looked up at the water peeling away simply to check if I’d grown any thinner. No. My hands were just as chubby. Glee is what I felt, I never knew I could feel something as pretentious as “glee”. Years of accumulated fat like memory seemed to have melted away…no… dissolved in the all-consuming emerald around me.

I felt light, I felt great. I haven’t felt light unless I skip breakfast and lunch, but that’s a different light altogether. This felt like possibility to the touch. A vast expanse of possibilities where I could ride this laughter and surf the waves of absolute happiness. Even when I thunk it I knew it to be a fallacy, this business of the absolute. But I was impressionable, afterall I was feeling glee and my light self was laughing with friends in an emerald pond.

The land above was a grove of fruit-bearing trees laden with cashew, jackfruit, mangoes, tamarind and rose apple. An enormous banyan tree stood leaning, investigating the traffic in the pond. He watched us languorously with the air of someone who had seen many such rendezvous. He didn’t mind it. He liked the gentle distraction. Countless years of standing and shaking his leaves like jazz hands had made him gregarious.

My orchard wasn’t a jungle. It was a cool haven, a dream place for the lovers of fruit and shade. In the middle of the day when the tropical sun slapped you hard for stepping out, my orchard was the serene colour of dusk with the serene feel of dawn.

Just as the temptation to explore the orchard came over us we realised the difficulty. It was impossible to get onto the land from the water. They were like a discordant couple, living in the same house, but both aware of the lines not to be crossed. The banyan tree had let down his hair of roots into the water through the earth. That was the secret of his perfect jazz hand-leaves. These root-hairs had now acquired a mind of their own. The root-hairs had formed what seemed like a dangerous maze of a sturdy root-trap which came alive to get you stuck in them. Earth, who could not bear to watch this torture had collapsed a long while back giving way to an even more cavernous and indistinguishable ruse.

Adventure that glinted in our eyes had made its way to our hearts and without much thought we set forth to gauge the real danger of the root-trap.  When it was noticed that the root-trap, if we could circumvent it, held shimmery things, we stepped over each other to volunteer for that epic voyage.

The plan was simple. Take a deep breath, dive as far down as was required to get around the root-trap, check on the other side and be right back. In theory, this was child’s play. In practice we were all children of the swimming pool, with its chlorinated water and a lifeguard on standby.

One of us went forth with much gusto and was soon a bubble in the greenish darkness. Panic, on her way in, made way for Logic to leave. I walked straight into the root-trap to “save” my friend. Thankfully this was a dream and no man, woman or animal was harmed in its making.

Life on the other side was literally breathtaking. We forgot to breathe. Roots-tiny, thin, long, juicy, sturdy, purposeful- roots were in full attendance. The light too was different. There was a brilliant light, much like a wet sun, diffused yet luminescent, shining below us. The roots weren’t lit, they were glowing, like series lights. We were glowing, our skin translucent and orange, our mouths pale and our smiles bubbly. Eyes, all eyes in the vicinity had caught the light. The source of it, however, was far away and like the sun could not be stared at directly.

Roots, clean and pastel, were having a good time. You could make out how genuinely happy they were from the way they touched each other’s arm before stretching into the vastness and coming right back to share some naughty titbit about going south. They belonged. That’s when the thought crossed my mind like a certainty. This was root heaven. We were in root heaven.

The more industrious among us were sure that the light was from a hidden treasure. A trunk of gold, perhaps, maybe more. Before I could log away that thought as silly, we were making a beeline towards that light.

But as we got closer to the light, I felt myself sweat in my underarms and in the crook of my neck. Is it possible to sweat under water? I thought not. The light shone brighter and I tried to forget the evil feeling that I was somehow being wrapped in the water around me. Then came the high pitched deafening voice like thunder had caught a cold.

Then I felt the touch. Of something living on my shoulder. I could feel myself turn white with fear. The distance to my home seemed to flash before my eyes like a digital clock: 00:37

I saw myself turn around to look at it, and that meant yes I saw what it was that touched my shoulder.

It was Amma, shouting her usual high-pitched rant about my sloppiness and general lack of discipline. The lecture was into B-side after having switched on the light, switched off the fan and tried to pull my blanket off.

I sat up groggy and thinking I should wear green to work today.