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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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.

homecoming

There are things more important than a silly sadness that comes at night. Things more real than this.
Men cut through mountains and men move them. My aunt drives on the roads in Sikkim and my uncle here next to me says the mountains are soft and its cliffs will give way.

Men and Woman are real, so they talk at dawn how they will change the world.

My feet walks but I am not here.

I try weakly to collect these scrambled thoughts and memories, but I find nothing but the cold sun rising. I remind myself I am in Bangalore, that Sikkim is someplace else.

This once, we travel south.

The hills will fall, he says. The hills will fall when the seismic plates shift and no man can stop the earth from raining.

The dust spells out a language, but I do not understand it.
So none of us speak.

It is too quiet here.

The cold sun makes for cold walls at six-thirty, when you can only hear the rustling of the avocado tree and father’s footsteps drawing a picture for what he will be today.

The rain from last night comes from the metal tap and makes a loud splatter in the sink. The iron pipes are rusting and the ceiling is high. The houses here are old in Cook Town, the trees are even older and only the first of the many have started to die.
We don’t know how it will fall so my uncle parks the car further down the road.

There’s a red cut on my palm from two days after that. Only the jutting stone slabs on Davis road saw me fall, so I turn it into a party joke –
“ and I heard the perplexed auto driver gasp as I went down-”

Only Davis road saw me fall in the rain before I could panic.

I see the cut on my palm and red skin at the Investiture Ceremony, hidden to all who do not want to see, and think it is better than having cried. The small gash hurts and numbs too much with pain to want more, so I forgive myself for not pressing it. No leader with the badge I wear cries in these streets.

(No leader forgets the two streets he was to cross. No leader forgets the right turn onto Hutchins road. No leader forgets where he was. No leader forgets he was ever walking.

 

 

 

 

 

But they don’t need to know that I did.

 

In the wetness I could see everything-)

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.

Give me one more day,

i.
Waking up today,
the view from this small window
repeats the same tale.

ii.
With another day,
Another piece of the woods
Is lost forever.

iii.
Walking home alone
pink blossoms beneath my feet
cry under dusk’s light.

iv.
The ceiling fan turns
the still summer air slowly ,
under the dim light.

v.
In this dark a night,
the moon is too insolent,
to shine fast and bright.

 

this morning

It’s like the rumbling beneath the surface of the earth, below the persistence of the roots of trees and hands of man in this fight with the wind.
The slow movement of tectonic plates echos in this deep rumbling within my skin. It is pinned to my sleeves and has bleached the colour of the clothes I’ve worn for three days now. It is so much a part of me that it is easy to forget that is here.
It is easy to live above the surface in an untethered state of blindness.
It is easy to pierce the bubble and anchor me to the truth.
The drills screech and burrow deep by the highway and the deafening roar of this beast rolls around in choppy waves. I can hear nothing but the tide crashing against solid shore.

 

I seek comfort in the silver light of the snake in the dark night to swim.