All we have left is words #rehash

At half past midnight, the veena sounds.

I try and tune the radio, but we are too far south to hear anything but white noise. I heave and pant and soon enough I’m crying, because the last time I heard those strings it was in the car on the way back home, dusk falling over New Town and the chants from the temple drowning any thoughts I could have. The dusty orange of Aruna Maam’s home and the pungent smell of her filter coffee are ghosts in the hostel rooms of bare white walls.

Do you remember the sky that night?

It was painted a dusty maroon and yellow at the horizon, and the eucalyptus trees were silhouetted inky black like in the Mughal miniatures on your room’s walls. I never believed that an evening could be so surreal, forever born and trapped in paintings from five hundred years ago. Then again, I never believed in many things being real, like the pain in your throat you kept complaining about. You should have seen it, the way the lake shimmered saffron and blue in the dying moments of the day and how the mosque’s lights lit up next to it. The drums from a temple behind the building broke the stillness of the night. There were no winds and no clouds in the sky, except for the gradients of grey rising from above the trees. The crescent moon was perfectly aligned with Venus, gleaming white together in a water-washed background.

Only then did I accept it was all real, because such a sight would have had to have been real to be painted so exquisitely. It was pathetically real, the way you were being swallowed into the depths of your own hell. Suddenly, words written in text messages every evening were hard to read, not without my stomach curling at the thought of yours eating away at the rest of you. It takes so much not to scream and want to shake you back into normalcy because its killing you and I cannot do anything but watch.
I can’t watch.
I was in the car on my way back, listening to the first programme on the government classical music station – a Tyagarajada-kruti again. The town centre was bustling below the many textile stores, sarees draped over mannequins caged in glass, sarees which would look sublime on you regardless of whether you can feel your hip bones or your 53 kgs, but I know its not about your weight or frame, its about something else, something more putrid and like ash. It is something I can’t fix as easily as I turn away from the shops’ blinking lights and clothes of silk.

You are one of the watercolour wonders of the world and more precious than the dusk today. Sometime last December we realised that wanting to die so young was not okay. Maybe this December we’ll believe it.

I heave and cry because only now when the veena sounds do I see that I am made of memories from current-homes and once-homes where my parents argued about how the door got jammed, and how my mother couldn’t lock it. It ended as all arguments end – that one of us wasn’t trying hard enough.

My voice is always loud and nasal, like background noise as people’es eyes roam to more important things, but it is not loud enough when they ask for me to say it again. I can’t see anything through this mask in which my face grows hot and my head pounds, the sound of my breathing and gasping roaring loud against cardboard.

(They said that this place would make me more, instead, I find that I am nothing at all.)

Tonight there are no red lines on my arms. It is too dark for it to seem right, but you tell me to wait till when the light comes in the morning.

It rains a little later.

They tell me not to lose myself, to hold on to what makes me, me. They speak as though I ever was anything at all.

But they don’t know, so I let them make the mistake.

Suddenly, we are all not trying hard enough when it becomes only about the best.

7 is when I don’t feel. 8 is when I feel too much.

My hair is falling. Pulling the strands and coiling them around my finger in the shower, I think that if I wash my hair long enough this afternoon I won’t have any left.

In the rain hitting the earth I couldn’t hear the voice in my head change to the voice screaming – Sanjana is going to Berkley and a ghost of her sits here – here open this flap behind my ear and you will find it.

Life is an exam where the syllabus is unknown and question papers are not set. Yet, today I write the last end-term paper for Torts-I and head north before I can feel like I have. I tell myself that this is the end of term, that people do go home after law school – there – your seniors are in the next car.

It feels too much like running away again.

The city was to treat us the way it had two years ago- with China rose hanging over ladies in the street with jasmine in their hair. The white Indica taxis were supposed to be familiar, but the car smells of something between coffee and cigarettes. So then, I think my memory is failing because the city is the calcium in our bones now and the life throbbing in it is bitter behind the teeth. With the sick cold of pretty mornings, they seem to be all the city is anymore.

It is still raining when I pull into our old neighbourhood. Bangalore has changed as we have. The airport is too far away from law school, so I stop over at your place for the night. None of the old suspects can be found on the streets. You’re driving down for the long weekend tomorrow but really, between morning flights and traffic jams at Mekhri circle, the city doesn’t leave us with much left.

There’s something about here that feels dead now. I almost laugh when I name it ‘adulthood’.

At times in the mirror I stumble across short, stocky eyelashes projecting from a rim and a soft white ball with brown and black circles in it.
Near it I find a round lump with two smaller casings moulded on either side, and below it soft, thick flaps-
ah.
This must be the face.
I pull on the lower lid of the eye and see red underneath.

It’s been seven years and that little tint of disgust on your mother’s face hasn’t gone.
Just like that I’m twelve again and the sun is beating down on my face while we wait for you in the bus yard.

Maybe its me who smells.

Your house is white and green, decorated like an IKEA catalogue left open.

So I think- ah, this is where you come from.

You have always walked with stars girdled around your waist and eternity crowning your temples, and from my seat in the third row I have only ever clapped you in and clapped you out again. The ink I was meant to scribble down the astronomical equations of my future with slips through my fingers and leaves a trail on the runway behind the clicking of your heels.

The masked glass is splattered with the stardust of the first monsoon showers. The sculptor’s urban hut of blue plastic and brick on the highway is close to collapsing, straw and jute left unmoved at the feet of a clay woman, hands raised in position.
“Food?”
“Raagi dosa, you want?”
“S’okay.”

Your mother hands me a plate of toast and a cup of tea. Looking at the trunk of the almond tree outside your window, she says,” the barbed wire really takes the charm away.”

I lived two storeys above your ground floor flat, and when the robbers came one night in the summer we went up to my balcony to see their footprints on the ledge above your window. Now, the vines of the money plant crawl over the new paint and into your neighbours’ house, neighbours who know nothing of when the white paint was still the first coat on these buildings and when the fences didn’t have barbed wire over them.

I’ve told your mother she doesn’t have to worry herself with tea, that I had lunch at college, but she insists I eat. As always, she has her way.

Sometimes I wonder how far two floors could be, when every two years we throw out our things and fold memories and sobs caught in our throats into cardboard boxes.

Its the small things, like how the floor to ceiling nets don’t fringe and stick out of their frames and how the books run in series along the walls of your house.

There’s a peace in the silence here, and I wonder how many times in that silence you would have heard the shouting from two floors above.

When it rains your mother makes tea and sits me down on the white canvas chair, and hopes I enjoy it.

I’ve never enjoyed the rain before, but I’m willing to try.

All we have is words, and for once, I have the prerogative to choose what they will be. Today, I write words which don’t have to mean anything in this world. In that, I think, we are allowed freedom. In that, I think, we might find something we like.

Somewhere else, the flowers in my grandmother’s balcony bloom, and she can’t contain herself. She limps into the room and reverentially places the three small flowers before the framed pictures of her blue god.

All we have is words, and with these whispers I sing my prayers.

 

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Refracted

You told me to fuck off, so I came here.

 

Two weeks ago I flipped a coin. Today it came out heads.

Maybe this is the hard part.

 

My hair is falling. Pulling the strands and coiling them around my finger in the shower, I think that if I wash my hair long enough this afternoon I won’t have any left.

 

By the fifth seven minute, I’ve had enough. There’s only so many times I can go up against anyone and lose in a day.
Tonight I carve a six into my thigh and hope it won’t happen again on a paper handed to me.

You’re lonely in the hills, you say. That when people from the lowlands call, you cry and cry and can’t stop.

There’s an emptiness in the chat that means you expect me to say something.
You cry all the time, you type.

So I ask, “from the loneliness?”

 

I always knew studying in the best law school in the country would be hard, I always knew I would cut everyday. I had the luxury of knowing this, it is a privilege.

If lawyers could sit in the hills like scientists, I wouldn’t cry at night.
I cry for wanting to be lonely.

Today you said we can’t help each other anymore, that there is no point of us.
Today, I say there will be one tomorrow.

You tell me to fuck off.

Ritwik was bronzed in the afternoon light, before the tube lights blinked on and pulled a blue evening behind the windows.

If I had my pastels I would draw him, who I would never be.

They forgot me again.
I retreat into my cave in these hills and forget that I actually do exist. Here in these walls my body is yet another thing that I’ve invented for myself, that my conversations with those who’ll have one are just simulations inside my head.

You can never know, with the constant clanging.

I cannot be sure of any merit I have because I alone didn’t have to prove it to be here, I cannot think of anything else but the walls of the academic block screaming at me, that I don’t deserve this, that I shouldn’t breathe unless I earn it, that I should not speak until I am allowed by those better than me.

 

I do not know what I am doing here, what I am working towards, why I walk into this class of the country’s sixty smartest of my age and still want to try, even if I finally don’t. (Its that my father has already paid so much-)

I cannot speak.

After four rounds of lost debates, I forget how.

I muster the courage to ask a question, and suddenly I can think of nothing but fog. Words come in broken spurts.

I fear being one of those we hear about, those pitiful names who leave this place because it was simply too hard. I hate them, and I grow sick to think that I might be one of them.

My father says its only been a month, that I don’t have to do well – just pass. That they have my back and they’ll support me – but my mother’s eyes are more tired with each time she video calls, and I see bruises behind a pixilated screen.

“Don’t come back,” she says, “there’s nothing left here.”

 

(I want to leave, everything.)

 

I study and read and work, yet the class has answers that I do not, I don’t think what we need to. I cannot understand the words, I cannot recognise the sounds.

 

dontspeakyoudontdeservetobreathe

 

LnD took me this year, but they won’t next year.
I wonder if they’ve figured out I am excellent at pretending to be better than I am. They’re some of the very smartest here, among the smartest. Surely, they have.
Each time I’ve spoken in committee, I was proved wrong.

 

 

I like to think it’s not that I’m not trying.
Its just something I can’t convince myself of.

LnD sent two teams and both won the debate tournament. Grabbed best, speaker too.

I am scared that if I start to get real, I’ll find out that I am not.

 

(Annyeong, he said last October, and soon it will be October again.

All he has left is his voice to drown out mine and his long lidded eyes on sheets of drawing paper.)

11:59

This is a question of who I want to be.

(but I can’t tell the six people advising me that)

 

I want to be something more, and for once, the people I idolize are asking for me.
They sent three people, and the other side sent me a line written in gold for a CV.

 

This is about who I want to be, but for the rest of the world it’s sheer stupidity.

The boy from the slums told us to just do what we want, and we’ll get to the top, like he did in his penthouse in London.

Flip a coin.

(Are you scared of which side will face up?)

 

LnD.
Maybe I’ll come to regret not having a golden line on the CV, one that’ll bring me a job.
But is it my place to decide as a 17yr old what is more important – loving myself or my future?
What audacity can one have at 17 to make a choice like that.
What insolence can I have to choose the thing I love?

 

The coin falls. It falls on the same stone slabs as it did two years ago.
Last time, it set my sights here, to these halls where I must make the decision.

StudAd.
I have a golden line on my CV, but I’m no different.
I am still not the person I came here to be, but what I came here to do is set in stone.
I chose returns over happiness.
I’m the person I came here to be, but I regret not being the person I want to be.
But I can hate myself and blame it on something bigger, something that’s not me – something that’ll give me 3 lakhs a month, but I will regret.
Maybe the regret will be worth it.

 

Maybe insolence is when I choose to do what I love on my father’s money.

I will hate myself anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The coin shows me a heart.

while

It rains here, and when it doesn’t it threatens to.

Throwing away Old Things, I find your letter signed ‘You Know Who’. You apologize in two pages and full lines of ‘sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry’, that you missed me now that I was not there and all my boring talk of the one thing I loved.

In the last line you tell me not to tell Aditi, and somehow it has been raining for seven years because now I still have apologies and promises whispered into my ear, hiding, hiding, hiding away from Aditi.

You are no longer here and there are others, there are more of you taking and folding sorrys into envelopes, but Aditi is still here.

In the rain hitting the earth I couldn’t hear the voice in my head change to the voice of her, but now Aditi is going to Berkley and a ghost of her sits here – here open this flap behind my ear and you will find it.

 

 

The rain has stopped so I fold the creased sheet another time and leave it next to the bushes. Maybe someone will find it and take it.

They might even read it, but there’s no harm in it. There are no names but of the thing I loved, not of you who so loved me and not of me, who had forgotten loving you.

just another silly love song

I miss your voice in the still mornings.

There was a melancholy entwined with our arms and my dry lipstick rubbed off on your discoloured white cardigan.
I miss the way the weak gold of the morning shimmered through the slit in the curtains in the wisps of sandal incense.

Your voice sits in the thick green of the curtain cloth, and as you whispered I kept my eyes on the way nothing could breach it.

I cannot remember what your face looked like.
I remember you from the spots in the house, where the afternoon made the table a sullen brown, and how our feet shuffled noisily in the terrace. We needed jackets and soft blankets with our coffee mugs as we watched the sun slowly rise in the dampness.

I miss the comfort that came in the cold midnight.

There was a blue fog that never went, and I miss it as I miss your bleached hair and freckled skin, the curve of your eyes which my fingers know by heart.

(We made love in front of the gods as if we could and didn’t care for what they thought, they couldn’t be heard as we walked, background noise muffled and muted. Only the green of palm and vines on the buildings seemed alive, and shyly the yellow rose around the block in a happy film.)

We never had a car, but I remember the both of us sat in one. You were singing your heart out and your eyes were pressed when you hit the high note. We went nowhere but wherever you sang us to, the windows hazed and the blue paint silvered. Your hand was in mine but I felt nothing.

(I felt an ecstacy and a joy but even today all of it feels like you were a ghost, and I am holding onto wisps of nothing.)

I miss the old peach and white bed-cover we used to have, and how your mother hated it.

 

 

We were sad, but we were happy enough to put up with it, and now in this loneliness in the summer with all the sun for our skin to soak, you are not here, only the cold.

 

This summer is insipid.

 

You never left- you faded away as winter turned to spring and the mornings grew so bright it blinded me and I could not see you any further. You faded as the sun came and only the stars can speak of what we were.

 

 

The synthesizer hums behind us, somewhere in the calendar when we first met. You’re gone but the keys still play at the small of my back, a place that is still safe.
I miss December, but I know now that every December  will be our December with every new calendar I buy.

So for you I write love songs, but my voice breaks and the words die in the wetness on my cheeks-

 

 

I decide to pause the recording because it is half past midnight and this grief for tonight has been appeased enough.

(Tonight the moon will rise again.)

Cardboard boxes

My grandfather calls for dinner. My grandmother says he will get none, its only eight-
“Its eight o clock!”
“You have done nothing today, you slept the whole afternoon through and now you want to eat?”
“Well! Now do you see how your grandmother treats me?”

An Indonesian batik painting emerges from behind the worn sofa my mother and I move to the living room. It’s the third one in the house, caked in dust, its thin protective film of plastic torn.
“What will we do with all of these?”
It is a question for my grandmother to ask and for us to give no answer to.
My father has the answer, but he’s not in the country for the next week, so there is only silence today.

There is little my father does not share with his friends, and into this small box of the untold goes another truth.
So, he lies into the phone and says that he’s here in Kolkata on holiday, and yes, the family is here too. No, he’ll be back in Bangalore next week, sure Venky, they can meet up then.
He hides much from us and is who he really is with them, so when they aren’t told it cannot feel like this decision is a good one.

(They are people who excel in their fields, so secrets from them like this cannot be good, but we cannot suggest it.)

We set up new house with our old things, and with every new house I see these things are unfamiliar to me altogether.

It hasn’t been a month, but I already  associate a different anxiety to the roads that lead ‘home’. This time, it is shame. The city lights are beacons that tell me there is no time left, and that the box of truths is too full, its metal lid can’t sit without pressing down on it.

My grandfather helps himself to a second sweet after dinner, and after telling him off, my grandmother lets him. I think this is how it should be, not the constant quiet that lingers over food between my own parents.

(it is as it should be)

 

The flowers in my grandmother’s balcony bloom, and she can’t contain herself. She limps into the room and reverentially places the three small flowers before the framed pictures of her blue god.

 

 

 

 

I look at them and hate it.

8:45 pm

There’s a throbbing in my chest that doesn’t go away when I crawl and sit upright. I’ve been seeing things again, like the woman who was stood next to me a second ago. I know she was just the brown boxes and blue suitcases placed the wrong way in this light, but for fuck’s sake she was so real-

It’s not just her, it’s in the day throughout – when I flinch and swerve aside because there definitely was some rodent moving there but it was just rubble
It’s a good thing I’m normally by myself when I see them, but there’s some desolation in that.

The curtains billow, clapping against the metal beams of the window. For a few moments I stand before it and do nothing because it is the pigeons flapping furiously. I touch it and curse, because it was stupid. It was just the goddamn wind and I knew it. I shouldn’t have let a small panic uncurl.

There’s something in me that has never been turned ‘on’. I’m always in my own world, and sat in the taxi last week I was shamed for it, now that I am so close to adulthood.

I have always dismissed my mother when she says my father takes pleasure in shaming her, but this once there is some truth in her mania.
I can’t believe either of my parents or myself and I can’t trust anyone anything anyplace my mindfuckfuckfuck

I look out the narrow gap in the window and let the wind hit my face.

Maybe for these three minutes I do not have to be so scared.

The wind grows stronger and the loneliness abates a little.
The lights are out and the curtains are drawn in all the houses in the block. I feel insolent in braking their norm, but they can’t see me here.

I have to push against the pane to keep it open now, it wont be long before the rain comes.

Something hits my eye and I let go-
The window slams shut.

Rubbing my eye, I feel a pointlessness in having the door open.

I leave and the curtain falls back, unmoving and still as the rain roars.