To Be Free

To be able to speak
one’s mind.
‘No!’
‘I don’t agree.’
‘I don’t like that.’
‘No, I won’t!’
To be
without excuses
without explanations
without apologies.
Is that what it means
to be free?
To be able to express
rage,
in words that say
just what they mean.
And then… move on.
No pent-up emotions
no suppressed hurts
no cutting regrets
no burden
to arc my back.
Is that what it means
to be free?
To be able to just be
Me.
Free.
Image by Eskay Lim on Unsplash

In my 20s I wasted way too much trying to be pleasant. With age I have become more comfortable with not always being liked by everybody, and being more honest. I still find myself saying, ‘maybe,’ when what I really want to say is, ‘no.’ But life is too short to waste on being anything other than true to ourselves, and why would one not want to experience the sense of liberation that comes with speaking one’s mind.

Morning Walk

I know we have not met. But I know you.

Head held high, airpods in,

Gap tracks on, arms swinging.

Walking.

Walking resolutely every day.

Every day, before you reach the metro station

we walk by each other.

I am the one huffing by.

Hidden silvery scars stretching across my skin

Like a galaxy’s arms shimmering in a starry sea

Storing stress in the fat lining of my stomach

Life, joy and pain in the lines on my face.

I like you.

I look forward to seeing you

Walking.

Walking every single day.

I envied you your focus, and your speed.

And then one day I saw you stop. Mid-stride.

Your chin almost on your chest. Wilting…

Breathing.

Breathing. Chest heaving.

Holding it all together. Breathing.

As though the act of raising your head

And holding it high

Looking the world in the eye

Just became too much to ask of you today.

It was painful to witness.

I wanted to take you in my arms.

Tell you, ‘It will be okay.’

Possibly a lie,

but maybe it will come true.

But other thoughts came chasing in its wake.

‘I should leave her alone,’

‘Don’t interfere.’

I am desperate too.

I need to speak to someone

whose share of suffering

maybe greater than mine.

Silly as it seems,

I want to feel better in comparison.

To think, ‘Thank God!

Her migraine is worse than my sinus!’

Yet, there is a part of me

That wants my suffering to be unique.

Maybe all we want

As we each lug a burden too heavy

Is to be seen

And perhaps, heard.

You were still standing there

When I neared.

Just then a young woman

Ran by; heels pounding

carrying a whiff of my past with her

She reminded me of me.

You straightened up and strode on

She, obviously, reminded you of you too.

Photo by Justin Clark on Unspla

I just realised that I did not even wish you guys a Happy New Year, in my last post! Such bad manners. Forgive me. But better late than never. :). Happy 2022 dear readers. Hopefully, it won’t be a bugger all mess like the last couple of years. This decade needs to get its act together.

The Road Was A Rainbow

I am writing my note at the start of my post instead of at the end as usual. This is a slightly longer missive than usual. This short story is nearly 3,000 words long, but hopefully a breeze to read. Hope you like it.

On other fronts – I am on book number 12 in the Wheel of Time series (Update – I finished the series:)). In one of my earlier posts, I cribbed about the story being let down by the writing at times. But I was thinking about this later – how I am constantly pursuing this ‘perfect’ piece of writing and am petrified to share something for fear of it not measuring up to my inner writer/reader-police. Sometimes a writer just has to let go off the piece, so that the story can be shared, find a voice and a reader. Having thought that, I felt like an idiot my earlier criticism of Robert Jordan’s writing. He was a far braver writer, and I should learn from that.

Writing regularly is still a struggle as I try to balance our innumerable hospital visits with the time and space required for me to write. My mind needs to write and at the same time, it cannot sit still enough (physically, emotionally, or mentally) to write. But I am glad that I am able to send this one out. Do let me know what you think.


The road was strewn with rainbows in every direction. Pink, blue, and white stars glittered and danced on the tarred highway half-melting under the afternoon sun.

“Come fast!” Anjali shouted as she ran ahead. At eight-almost-nine she was the oldest. Anila, her younger sister, Mita and I, aged six, were the minions. But with my birthday around the corner, I considered myself more seven than six. A point I rubbed into Mita and Anila’s face at every opportunity.

The way to school from our working-class homes in the Woollen Mill Colony crossed a couple of groundnut fields, along a highway and ended at the gate and the stern guard at the Air Force TACDE compound. It was a walk that no self-respecting modern parent would have let their young child go on alone; but the world was safer then or maybe we were just ignorant. We were all defence kids, our fathers serving in various roles with the Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment of the Indian Air Force. Every few years, the air force men and their families had to move out of the safe confines of the defence quarters and slum it in civilian zones. I didn’t mind.

The Woollen Mill Colony had once been home to mill workers and supervisors when the cotton mills had hummed with life. Now the mill loomed abandoned in the background, and defence personnel and farmers occupied the houses. Someone had even painted Lal Bahadur Shastri’s slogan ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ across the mill’s walls, trying to justify the death of a way of life, and challenging fate and time that had crept into the mill’s deserted walls.

With its tired, working class, stand-alone houses, a gaggle of kids my age and huge backyards swollen with plantains, drumstick and mango trees, thorny shrubs that savagely grabbed us as we tried to rescue our makeshift cricket balls, the colony was magical. The heart of the colony was the sprawling banyan tree that had stepped out of the Jataka Tales, and which would be a haunted tree, or the magical Faraway Tree or a ship according to what took our fancy that day. If we did not create adventure, it came seeking us in the form of the beautiful grass green flying snake that we disturbed when we trampled a bush searching for a ball, or an angry neighbour driven to distraction by our loud, raucous games.

Every morning at 7.30 the four of us would step out of our homes for the half hour trudge to the Kendriya Vidyalaya Air Force School, located in the TACDE compound. The highlight of the otherwise boring, drudge of a walk was the stretch that hugged the farm’s edges as the approach road from our homes turned right into the highway. Hedges peeked through the fences, acting as an additional barrier against stray goats. Hedges laden with luscious blackberries that we plucked and feasted on as we walked to school. We felt wild, our hearts pounding, terrified that the farmer would cotton on to our thievery and chase us, or worse, tell our mothers. He never did notice.

On our way back home, with the farmer and his wife working closer to the hedges, the farm ceased to be something to look forward to. Despite our boastful goading of ‘today I am going to pluck one,’ none of us built up the courage to swipe even a single berry with him lurking a couple of meters away bent over his groundnut crop.

In the afternoons it was the road that was magical. The road itself was an ordinary road stretching into the horizon, bordered by groundnut farms, thorny scrub trees and the dusty barren plots that dotted the flatlands of Jamnagar. At times it would be a river in full spate that we rowed down battling crazed crocodiles, or a forest path overhung with creepers and with wild animals that tried to eat us up. The crocodiles and wild animals were soundly defeated by our ingenuity every single time. Once every couple of days, in a nod to reality, one of us would have to die. The dead person carried everyone’s water-bottles. Anjali, the oldest and smartest never died. Mita and Anila died quite often. If the dead person was lucky, the bottles would be empty, as we raced back home for some hot snack and the freedom of playtime. We had walked, trudged, dragged our feet, swum, climbed and trekked down this road, six days a week for the last nine months, and in all this time it had been a plain old road, never a field of tiny rainbows.

Photo by Ikaia Pal on Unsplash

The day we saw the rainbow field on the road, we were headed home, the farm another five minutes-walk away. Initial awe gave way to a mad scramble to the spot. And there they lay, on our side of the road. Hundreds and thousands, maybe millions of diamonds, twinkling gaily at us as they caught the sunlight. For a moment, the four of us stood and stared at the treasure lying in front of us. We looked at each other, the road and then the farm. The highway stretched lonely in both directions. In the distance we could see the TACDE gate in the direction we had come from and the farm to our left lay quiet in the swollen afternoon heat.

I squinted up at the sky. I had wanted a talking doll just like Mita’s, but my mother had forbidden me from asking my father for it. “He has enough to worry about, without having to find the money for talking dolls,” she had said. That night I had lain awake negotiating with God. I promise to be a good girl. I promise to study hard and get good marks. I promise… Sleep overtook me in the middle of my promises, and I slipped into a dream of Kapil Dev playing cricket with the colony kids, talking dolls and a flouncy Pomeranian.

Were these diamonds God’s answer to my prayers?

The stunned pause that had descended on the four of us was replaced by a sense of urgency. Following an unspoken accord, Anjali, Anila and I crouched to collect the diamonds. It was a moment before we realised that Mita was standing by, looking first at the road, and then the farm. A jittery bird poised to take flight even as it edged towards the breadcrumbs on the porch. She had never been any good with picking berries and she was no good with the diamonds either. But we had always shared our berries with her.

It was Anjali who let her know how things stood.

“Mita, we will not give you our diamonds, okay? You better collect your own.”

Hearing this Anila and I doubled down and renewed our efforts at collecting all the diamonds we could. We were stuffing them into our empty lunch boxes. At the back of my mind was the sour awareness that Anjali and Anila would have a lot more diamonds, because they are sisters, and they were going to combine their haul, whether they liked it or not. Their mother will make them. Most of me was okay with that, though I did wish my brother were old enough to be collecting diamonds with me.

Mita continued to stand to the side, looking rather forlorn. Maybe her family didn’t need diamonds. The memory of Mita’s mother swaying into Parul’s house for the Ganesh pooja came unbidden to my mind as I scrambled around for the precious stones. I had heard my mother and some other aunties sniff derisively and say something about necklaces and peacocks, and I remembered getting excited and looking around for one and being sorely disappointed. Sitting there, counting down to when the pooja would get over, the dots had connected. Mita’s mother was the peacock… the peacock with a shiny necklace. It must have been a diamond necklace. Her father, who owned two of the local businesses (Vasudev General Stores and Vasudev Flour Mill), was after all the only one in the colony with a car. An Ambassador that he unveiled every Sunday, when Mita’s family would drive away for a picnic on the palace grounds or a visit to the Bala Hanuman temple. Yet I couldn’t help but feel a bit bad for Mita as she stood aside with her lower lip trembling. Fool! Why can’t she collect some anyway?

It took us about 15 minutes to pick the diamonds strewn on the road. Stuffing the lunch boxes back into our bags, and dusting our hands, we half ran home, wanting to reach home before our mothers began to worry; because once they got over the worrying, there would be scolding for sure. We didn’t even look at the blackberries beckoning us as we rushed home. As I neared home, doubt began to set in, and the questions rushed in. Whose diamonds were these? Are diamonds like berries? Will anyone notice that they are no longer there on the road? Will they know we took them?

I didn’t have time to discuss these new worries with the much wiser Anjali, as I had reached home, and I could see my mother standing at the door. I waved bye and rushed in, sliding past my mother avoiding her questioning glare.

“Ma, I am hungry!” I said as I ran into the room I shared with my two-years-old brother.

“Wash up and come out. I have made upma.”

I grimaced. Upma. When will she learn that I couldn’t stand upma. I could not conceive a more boring dish than the clumpy, roasted semolina and vegetable porridge that my mother insisted on whipping up on a regular basis.

I stood for a minute, undecided about my next move. I heard the noise of the steel plate being taken out of the kitchen drawer. I pulled open the Godrej steel almirah and grabbed a top, poured my diamonds into it and tying it up into a potli, shoved it under my bed, into the dark recesses behind the rolled-up extra mattress. I was no longer sure about telling my mother about the diamonds. Seeing her waiting for me at the door had brought home the realisation that she would not see eye-to-eye with my ‘finders keepers’ ideology. She had after all walked all the way back to the pharmacy with my brother and me, when she had belatedly realised that they had given her back three rupees extra. “We don’t keep what doesn’t belong to us. We are not beggars or thieves,” she had told me as I had moaned about all the walking I had to do.

I sat down on the steps leading into the backyard from the kitchen with my plate of upma, feeling increasingly like a criminal. Diamonds were not the same as berries. What was I thinking! A part of me was now certain that I was going to end up in prison. Maybe I could throw the diamonds back on the road on my way to school tomorrow. Not throw. Scatter them, real natural like. I made my mind up to ask Anjali and Anila to do the same when we met in the evening to play. I didn’t want to be the one without any diamonds… though there was Mita. Smart girl. At least she was not a wanted criminal.

I was almost done with the upma when someone knocked at the front door. I heard my mother open the door.

“Sakshi!”

I sat frozen. How did they find us so quickly! Do they put handcuffs on children? I shot up and ran to the front door when my mother snapped my name out again. Mita stood at the door with her mother. For a moment I stood nonplussed. Why was my mother annoyed? These two were not cops. My relief did not last long as my mother fixed me with a glare.

“What is going on? Mita’s mother says that you are refusing to share…” and here my mother lost steam. She looked at me and then at Mita and then slowly back at Mita’s mother, “Did you say diamonds?”

I swallowed the upma still in my mouth. I looked at Mita and her mother, hating both with a clarity that stunned me. I was too young to have a word to describe what I saw in Mita’s mother’s eyes, but I could recognise the covetousness. I had felt the same ugly, grabby feeling for a moment when I had realised that Anjali and Anila could gather double the diamonds I could.

“Sakshi?”

She was tired. I could see that. It had been a long day of housework and taking care of a toddler who had no sense of self-preservation. And now here was this woman she did not like yapping about sharing diamonds.

“What diamonds is she talking about?”

I toyed with the idea of saying ‘I don’t know’ all innocent like; but remembered in time that Mita was standing right there. And what if they decided to drag Anjali and Anila into it! Anyway, there was no point lying to my mother. She always knew.

I ran to my room, pulled the potli out. It lay heavy in my hand as I dragged myself back to the front door and handed it over to my mother. My mother opened the knots and looked at the contents, lying flatly in the makeshift bag. They were no longer twinkling and glimmering. She then looked at Mita’s mother.

“Here, you can have them all if you want,” she said stretching her hand with the potli in it towards them.

Mita’s mother had also had a glimpse of my treasure trove. She spanked Mita on the back of her head and turned and walked away without a word, avoiding my mother’s eye, Mita trailing behind her.

My mother closed the door after them, handed me my potli, and took my plate of upma from me.

“Do you want some more?”

I shook my head – no. I stood there unsure as to what had happened. My mother didn’t look as mad as I had expected her to. In fact, I could have sworn that she was pleased. Did this mean that I got to keep the diamonds! She just shook her head in mild exasperation and turned back into the house to pull my brother away from the full plastic barrel of water stored in the kitchen that he was trying to climb into.

“Throw those glass pieces away. It is a wonder you did not get cut.”

Glass pieces!

I looked at the potli’s contents. They no longer glimmered, but lay flat, ugly, and shorn of life staring back at me. I tied the potli up again and walked to my room and pushed it back under the bed. Glass pieces. I did not want to go out to play that evening but staying back would have meant answering my mother’s questions.

Playtime was a shadow of its usual self. The sisters’ mother had made them throw the glass pieces away and given them an earful for bringing junk home. Mita did not even join us. When some of the kids decided to play hide-and-seek, my bad luck continued and I was the seeker and I could not find a single one, and then I lost interest and yelled that I was going back home. What a useless day! I wanted to cry but was too angry to. So many talking dolls.

Dinner was torture, as I had to sit through my mother’s retelling of the events.

“Can you imagine? She thought they were diamonds and she collected them all!”

“Not all,” I grumbled. “Anjali and Anila also collected the diamonds.”

“Most probably a truck’s broken window pieces!”

“Do you think we should take her to the clinic for a tetanus?”

My parent’s voice droned on in the background. A truck’s broken window. A hundred million pieces of rainbow! Who knew truck windows break into a million beautiful pieces!

The next day, the four of us walked to school as usual. We plucked a few berries more out of habit than any desire to eat them. Anila did not even bother; just slapped the prickly leaves away. None of us shared with Mita. As we reached the spot, we saw a few diamonds, that had escaped our eagle eyes, glimmering. I could not stop thinking of them as diamonds. But none of us stopped to pick them. Anila kicked one away into the bushes on the side of the road, as we walked on towards school.

It was another full day before we spoke to Mita. It was not her fault that the field of rainbows turned out to be a lie, but we needed to blame someone. Her unwillingness to be a part of our little clique and join in our games even as she craved the undeserved berries and glass pieces, made it easy to blame her. She also ended up dying in every single adventure we had on the road and carrying our water bottles for the next couple of weeks. But she never complained, and then one day we decided it was Anjali’s turn to die, and after a moment’s shock she agreed and carried our bottles. And just like that an unrecognised bitterness dissolved into laughter as we ran home.


Today, She Gets to Play

Photo by Anthony Cantin on Unsplash
Romance has begun anew.
Lying gentle and bright
on a bed of tender laps
moving in and out
of the Arabian bay.
Madness bubbles in minds
laughter escapes lips
milk spilled on waves
as night melts into day,
The full moon has her way.
The sea smiles.
Draped in a blanket of light,
Flung, not wrapped tight,
her toes tease the shore.
Today, is her favourite day.
Today, she gets to play
With the gentle light
she secretly loves.
Even as the land tugs and pulls,
silent where he lays.

A little poem to ease back into the newsletter routine. The last few weeks were tougher and busier than anticipated, but the good news is that the kiddo is recovering well from her surgery.

This disease and its treatment are both designed in the very bowels of hell, and we (and many others) walk through it on a daily basis. The simple act of facing another day with hope, and not giving in to despair can demand every ounce of energy one has. The fight against the rage and envy that one invariably feels when we wonder, ‘Why me?’ ‘Why my kid?’ or as we watch everyone else live their cancer free lives, corrodes my insides.

At the same time, it has taught me patience and how to live in the moment. Of course, the journey is not yet complete – we have a few more months of radiation and support chemo to get through. Right now, we are in the testing, scanning and planning stage and by God! it is the most frustrating stage as we wait for everything to line up before treatment starts. But at the end of it all we have the carrot of being cancer free dangling at the end of the treatment stick.

However, we all hope to have some semblance of a routine back in our lives once this phase of the treatment commences, sometime next week.

In the meantime, on The Wheel of Time front, I have reached Book No. 11. It was tough going at times because I was irritated as hell by how the female characters were fleshed out – almost all of them were irritatingly stubborn and arrogant. And not one single woman simply crossed her arms. She would cross her arms under her bosom. Every. Single. Time. Despite that I could not set the books aside because the story gallops ahead. Am yet to watch the show though… maybe after I read all the books.

Motherhood – And You Are Angry

And you are angry at her for being careless and silly

You are angry because you wanted to write

and now… and now,

after a whole day spent being mum,

when you desperately wanted to write,

you have to be mum for another half an hour.

You are angry because you feel this way.

You are angry because you had shut the door

that hurt her finger.

All the logical explanations about

she should not have kept her finger there don’t cut ice.

She’s old enough to know better doesn’t cut ice.

You are angry because you were so tired

that you scolded her for placing her finger near the door.

You are angry as you watch those tears stream down

because of all the things you can handle on earth

her tears are not one of them.

You are angry because you are tired.

You are angry because she doesn’t blame you.

You are angry because she agrees with you

– she was being careless.

Damn it! You are angry.

Motherhood is one bloody ride

You are angry because you can’t forgive yourself.

Picture by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash

This is a poem I had written a few years ago. I love being a mom. It is a full time job. I love writing. It too is a full time job. There are only 24 hours in a day. Final result – I was often left feeling frayed and irritable trying to just hang on to some sense of identity.

Now as my daughter battles a rare sarcoma and recovers from a surgery, I am left amazed at how much we take for granted and how ridiculously small and unimportant everything else looks when we are brought up hard against mortality. I can’t relive those years again, but I have promised myself that going forward I will slow down enough to enjoy the moments – with my family and by my own self. To hell with what the world thinks a successful life should look like.

My Father’s Daughter

I am in my room, plucking photographs from an album and putting them in an envelope. Randomly picked out photographs that remind me of the good times – Appa, amma and I. Appa and I.

Neither Appa, nor I are the kind to smile into a camera, but Amma had an obsession with recording events and non-events. Most of the photographs of the three of us would have Amma grinning broadly, and Appa and I trying hard to not squint or shut our eyes when the flash all but blinded us.

Sifting through memories, I smile, until the tears start rolling down my cheeks. The tears take me unawares. This is an unexpected reaction for me. My normal gear is stuck at calm… no, strike that out. My normal gear is stuck at controlled. The only emotion that comes easily to me is anger, an emotion that I know how to handle and use.

My basics have already been packed into an overnight bag. I don’t need much. I am not going away for ever. I am sure I will be back. He can’t live without me.

Another 15 minutes before I have to leave. I had not planned on taking the photographs. But then I had changed my mind. What if my mobile crashed and I lost everything!? What if… what if I don’t come back? I needed the photographs.

There is a knock on the door.

No, no, no please don’t let it be him. I can’t face another argument. Not now. I have to leave soon.

But it was him, standing at the door, not entering, waiting for permission.

“Amu…”

There is something odd about him today. Something that is new and at odds with who he really is. Even as I wonder what is different, the answer shocks me into silence. Diffidence. He is diffident today!

He is a short man, but you’d never notice it thanks to his larger-than-life personality. But today his awkward nervousness fills the space between us and he is not looking as tall as he usually does. He sort of stumbles in along with a rush of words, as though he had been practising these lines in front of the mirror for the last few hours.

“Amu, you are right. I am quite rigid in my own way. I know that! I think I … I think… I did understand you. Now… I am trying, but I don’t think I have… I don’t think I have understood you.”

He has never backed down from his point of view. Ever. Shock extends my silence.

***

It has been lucky for both of us that all these years we had been on the same page, about pretty much everything – music, architecture, friends, aikido. He has always understood me and backed me.

Picture by Artur Aldyrkhanov on Unsplash

I had seen what he could do when he disagrees with you. He used his razor-sharp intelligence and rational mind as a weapon, and there was no way, I or anyone else could argue with logic and win.

Amma used to just throw down whatever she was holding in frustration and walk out of the room. I could never understand how she put up with losing every single argument or how he managed to make it up to her after. But the next morning or even a few hours after the argument, she would be smiling at him and laughing at his anecdotes. He adored her. She was the centre of his universe… maybe because she let him rule hers.

When she dropped down dead of a stroke in the middle of the living room, his entire world was sucked into a black hole. The only thing that kept him alive was me.

And we never argued. Ever. Funny when you think about it.

Maybe all the disagreements, complaints and grouses were being set aside, over the years, on a shelf for later, when I would need them .

***

And then I met Mithun. Carefree, hardworking, loving Mithun. Mithun of the average intelligence, who had no time to read plays, tomes on philosophy, politics and finance, or biographies. Mithun who hated to debate or argue. Mithun who treated me with respect. He calls me masterni because I have an explanation for everything. Mithun, who my appa thinks is sweet and harmless and utterly unworthy of me.

He never let an opportunity slip to let me know how wrong I was to consider Mithun a potential life partner. Initially I laughed it off. But after a while, my laughter sounded hollow, and I began to snap back. Argue. Explain.

However, nothing prepared me for when he turned around one day and said, “I think you will be better off getting a dog.”

It had felt like a punch, and I gasped, “A dog! Better off?”

“Yes, yes. You will be better off getting a dog than marrying that silly fellow. You will not get bored of the dog.”

That had been the final straw and we had set civility aside and the argument had raged on for weeks. Neither one of us willing to give in. I had not known it. I had always considered myself to be more like my mother – acquiescent. Turns out I was actually my appa’s daughter.

I don’t think that he had realised it either. Every single verbal parry of his, I encountered. We, the lovers of logic and analysis, passionate worshippers of poems and prose, philosophy and psychology, met as equals in a battlefield that shifted from the dining table to the kitchen, to the muted lulls during the ad breaks as we watched TV.

The last argument had begun quietly enough among the leftovers of dinner. Mithun had come over for dinner. Appa didn’t mind that. You see, he likes Mithun. He looked him in the eye and said, “Son, I like you. Which is why I am advising you against marrying my daughter. She will eat you alive. And you will bore her to death. Yours will be a match made for burning.”

I hated that Appa could pun at a time like this. I hated it even more that Mithun didn’t get it. We sat at the dining table and argued while Mithun cleared the table and left for his home. I did not even hear him go.

As he was going to his room that night, Appa turned around and again told me that I would be better off having a pet dog. I will not have too many expectations then, and it too will do my bidding. Tears stung my eyes and I stood there wondering what kind of a woman my father thought I was?

***

That night I called Mithun and told him that we were going to get married – a court wedding.

He was happy yet concerned.

“What will your father say?”

A lot. But that is nothing new. I can handle it.

Mithun agreed to give the notice of intended marriage. It would be another 30 days before we could tie the knot. I was willing to wait. Now that the decision was taken, I could deal with Appa’s constant snarky comments about Mithun and my future.

But the wait was not peaceful. Appa continued with his sarcastic needling. But now instead of losing my temper and arguing, I responded with cool, off-hand retorts that would drive him insane with anger. Now it was his turn to bang things and walk out of the room.

Oh God! I wish amma had been there. She would have laughed to death at the sight of Appa losing an argument and his cool.

The massive arguments would be followed by a few days of tense peace. The last big argument was yesterday. A day before the court appointed date for my wedding.

We had both, in the last three strained months, forgotten how to talk to each other. This was the man that I could sit and dissect a movie or book with for hours. This was the man with whom I had shared my every single thought and idea to solve the problems of the world! When I had felt hurt, angry or left out at school or college, when I had trouble with friends or teachers, I turned to Appa. How could we now not talk! How did he bear it? How could I?

I think he must have been haunted by the same thoughts! When I got back from work, he was waiting for me with a peace offering of a cup of tea. Unfortunately, the tea which was much needed was accompanied by advice that I didn’t want to hear repeated. The tea was left half-drunk as I stormed out of the room, but not before snarling that I can’t imagine how I ever thought that he understood me!

***

And now here he was, standing at my door. Telling me, for the first time, that maybe he was wrong.

The sun may have as well set in the east.

“Amu you are right. I am quite rigid in my own way. I know that! I think I … I think… I did understand you. Now… I am trying, but I don’t think I have… I don’t think I have understood you.

To me, you have always been my mirror image. While other fathers talked about not understanding their kids, I stood proud and even laughed at them. We were so alike that I forgot that you and I are two different people.”

Mithun would be waiting near the Café Coffee Day around the corner. He had decided to come by auto instead of bringing his bike, because of my bag. I had agreed to be there on time. I didn’t want to start our new life on a tardy note. I sneaked a look at my watch. I have to be there in 10 minutes… but I will have to leave now.

Appa was running his hand over my table and my files. He did not seem to notice that the photo frame with the photograph of the three of us smiling and squinting into the camera was missing.

“Do you remember the time amma and I had had that big argument about attending your second cousin’s wedding?”

Yes, I did! Amma wanted all of us to go to Chennai for it. I did not want to go to Chennai and deal with all the “yeppo kalyanam panna pore?” (“When are you going to get married?”) Appa didn’t want to go and have his routine disturbed. That was the one time that amma and he had not made up easily. The argument and the suppressed anger had simmered for nearly three days.

Appa had kept trying to convince her over and over again as to why it was not necessary for all of us to attend every single wedding in the extended family. But Amma wanted us in Chennai. She was sick and tired of making excuses for Appa’s absence. Or maybe she had just had enough of giving in to Appa.

She had given him and me the cold shoulder for the next couple of days. Appa was amused. This was a new Amma, and he was intrigued. But even he was not prepared for her announcement at dinner on the third day that she had booked her train ticket to Chennai. Before Appa could protest that he did not want to go, she said firmly that she had booked only one ticket. For herself. And she would be back in 5 days.

Appa had accepted defeat though not too gracefully, but he didn’t push it. Even he could see that something was different this time.

Amma returned after five days, full of laughter, happy memories and a lot of photographs. She had even posed in some of them. The smile was there. But she had looked old and frail and alone in them.

Two weeks later she lay dead on the living room rug.

Yes… I remembered that fight.

***

He was looking out of the window… at nothing in particular.

He turned and walked away. I nearly sighed in relief. He was leaving.

I watched him as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath, readying to take my bag and jump out of the window and make a dash to the café.

“I have always believed that if I had gone with her to Chennai, she would still be alive.”

The words sliced me. To hear him form words that brought to life my own greatest shame and regret numbed me.

“I still feel I was right. There was no need to go to Chennai. But I did not go. I could have. Five days are a small price to pay in the larger scheme of things. But I let my pride and ego get in the way. I didn’t want to lose or give in.

I don’t want to lose you either Amu. I know what I know. I know he is a nice boy, but you need something more. I know this because I know you. But you are right. I could be wrong too.”

My mind stopped tracking the time. In that moment I also lost all my reasons for wanting to marry Mithun. Appa never allowed himself to lose an argument because of his ego. I was going to marry someone for the same reason… to prove Appa wrong.

What was it? Was it that a lifetime of being in agreement had resulted in a need for a tectonic shift in our relationship? Was this my way of drawing new boundaries and building a few essential walls? Or did I just want to confound him and make him wonder who the hell I was?

Why did I think marrying Mithun was a good idea? Did I just want a third person in my little life to ease the intensity of living with an intellectual giant? Maybe I just wanted a break from Appa or maybe we need to be a threesome as opposed to an intense twosome.

I was alone in the room again. I got up, opened the window and jumped out on the pavement. Mithun would wait for me at the cafe no matter how late I was. My packed bag lay on the bed.


The Wheel of Time proceeds strongly. I am on book number seven, The Crown of Swords.

Regarding this short story, this was not how I had ended it in the initial drafts. Do let me know what you think of the story and the characters.

All That I Want…

Picture by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash
A beautiful old wooden table
with scratches smoothened by age.
T’s heart shot through with an arrow shot by J,
jostling for space with 25.8.1973.
a butterfly and a faded pyramid.
My journal on top, waiting
for me to pen secrets, hopes,
poems, petty thoughts, and some lonely stories.
Five cubby holes to stack paper clips,
erasers and those sticky notes, I never seem to need.
A special honoured place
for that smooth grey veined pebble
from Beas’ violent, rocky bed
each vein a secret tale just for my ears.
On a panel below it a happy picture of us.
Picture by Riccardo Ginevri on Unsplash
A raised platform on my aged table
to hold my favourite books and those old
jam jars enjoying their second innings,
as home for my pens, pencils, a leafy twig
and a ragged peacock feather – a gift from the kid.
An open window to look out at greenery
that spills, vulgar in its excess.
To be able to breathe
the fresh fragrant mountain air
as it wafts in, lazy on a morning breeze.
A lonely, winding path  
through tall mountain trees
the fog a not-so-distant dream
as the sunlight trickles in, warming patches,
even as the moss reigns in the shadows.
The sound of crunching leaves
as I make my way through a lattice
of light and dark; spinning ideas –
tall, shy and fantastic, to spill on the pages
waiting on my beautiful old wooden table.
Picture by Dale Nibbe on Unsplash

My Pinterest board has about 31 images of my dream writing zone. They all have a few things in common – the tables are wooden and old, they are placed near a window and the view outside is green. The value of greenery is only truly understood when you live in a desert city. I tell myself that I would be a better, more prolific writer if I had the ideal conditions. By ideal conditions, I mean at least 4 to 5 undisturbed hours, endless supply of tea, and perfect, inspiring surroundings to write.

Reality is far from it. If I get an uninterrupted hour, it is a very good day indeed. With regards to tea, I am luckier. Mom and dad are visiting, and I do get tea on request. As for inspiring surroundings – on a good day I can see the Arabian Gulf in the distance, but on most other muggy, dusty days, all I can see is a chain of under construction high-rises, and empty construction plots promising more of the same, and I want to scream.

This poem is an ode to my dream writing zone, which is more than just a writing table. 😊

White Lies

Picture by Tania Malrechauffe on Unsplash
It started with a lie… a tiny white lie.
I console myself, ‘no one else is hurt.’
Anyway, never again, I tell myself.
The lie resides in my yesteryears.
Now, I am in the future.
My tomorrows have morphed to the present.
Time turning slowly to dust.
I have made peace with truth withheld,
or so I think.
For even now when the light is turned off,
as I lie, naked in my own thoughts
the lying scar tissue niggles and squirms.
‘Shut up!’ I mutter and turn. But sometimes
the guilty scab writhes and crawls off,
revealing the lie. The tiny white lie.
Faded like an old scar
No longer so little… or white.

It is so damn hard to write at times. Life, and if I am absolutely honest, all those TWOT books, overwhelm, but thanks to this newsletter, I am writing something at the least.

A theme I like to explore through my poems, and a novel I hope to serialize soon, is guilt. As part of my exploration of the theme, I wrote about white lies – those we utter, and those we sometimes commit by staying silent. White lies are always accompanied by justifications – often valid ones. But what if truth is absolute and ruthless in its purity? Whether you believe in absolute truth or consider truth to be relative, sometimes our defences and justifications for our half-truths and truths withheld crumble and we are left staring at what we have become.

Anyways… do let me know what you think of the poem.

#Life

Another hundred meters more and I will be at the top of the chimney. The communist era metal stairs were rusting here and there, but it held our weight as I scrambled up it, Andrei right behind me with his new Nokia C2 safely strapped to his chest. I held on to the rails and turned around as much as I could capturing the panoramic view on my GoPro.#climbing #chimneyclimbing #instafilm #chimney

As I looked up the grey brick wall of the disused factory chimney that loomed over me, I laughed out loud. Looking back down at Andrei I gave a thumbs up signal to the live audience watching us on our live Insta feed, and then turned back to the chimney.#climber #urbanclimbing #urbanphotography #yolo

Picture by Yeshi Kangrang on Unsplash

The 180 meters high Paroseni chimney curved over us blocking the bright evening sun. The plan was to reach the top, record, and air the stunt against the setting sun, and then enjoy the Zaganu that was cooling in an ice pack in Andrei’s backpack. It was only right to pay homage to the bearded eagle that stared at one from the beer bottle label after conquering one of the highest structures in Romania. Andrei and I then planned to drop the Zaganu bottles into the chimney’s mouth and see if we could hear the glass break.#adrenalineaddicts #paroseni #sick #zaganu #beerstagram #abandoned

The wind whipped my face as I surfaced over the rim of the chimney. About five feet wide, it had a metal rail across the centre. My goal was to complete my gymnastic floor exercise routine that I had adapted to the chimney’s rim-track dimensions. After all this was the land that gave the world Comaneci’s perfect 10. #extremehobby #heights #fearless #gymnasticslife #adventures #gymnast

I removed my jacket and sweatpants and stuffed it back into my backpack along with my climbing shoes and handed it to Andrei. I then slipped on my beam shoes and adjusted my GoPro. Andrei sat with his legs dangling over the chimney walls, checking the live feed, and adding a few comments and hashtags. We had more than 40,000 people following the feed already. This one was going to go viral. I just knew it. #worldrecord #trending

Once we got back on the ground, Andrei was going to combine his Nokia recording with my GoPro bits and load it on our YouTube channel. I had just one goal in life – have more followers than Casey Neistat and Flaviu Cernescu and be the greatest adventurer on Romanian soil. This video was going to do it for me.#adrenalinelover #rebels #urbexer

I stretched to relax my muscles, closed my eyes, and breathed deeply, slipping into my competition mode. I felt ready. The sun was also in position. I turned and nodded to Andrei, who immediately climbed a few steps down the chimney’s face and anchored himself so that I had an unimpeded pathway to do my routine. The mobile camera was now strapped to his palm, and he was going to record me. “Screw Coach Adrian. Screw the gymnastics team. Screw the authorities,” I thought as I turned fully towards Andrei to strike my starting pose, “I am going to show everyone that I am not done.” #rebel #alwaysastar

One more deep breath, as I slipped fully into the zone and the whipping of the wind stopped. So much like the hush that settles on a stadium as the audience noise falls away when the gymnast gets ready to let loose. I heard my routine music in my head and swivelled on a one-foot turn. This was followed by a series of split leaps, back handsprings, and cartwheels. When I was across from Andrei on the other side of the rim, I stopped at a handstand at the very edge of the chimney mouth.#nowornever #heartinmouth #risk #crazy #height

Twisting to a standing position, I continued with my routine all the way back to Andrei and ended with a gazelle like split leap and finishing pose. It had taken me barely a minute, but my heart was racing like I had run a marathon. Anger and a desire to prove myself had combined to fill me with a confidence that I had never felt before… not even on the mat. Now that I had done it, I could not stop shaking with relief and disbelief. #extreme #adventure #gymnastontheledge #ontheedge #gymnasticqueen

As the adrenaline seeped out of me, I began to feel the wind again and could hear Andrei screaming with delight as he clambered up the rim. The live feed was breaking all our previous records and the viewership was already in to six digits. We high-fived and hugged each other and jumped up and down for a bit. Feeling like the kings of the world, we sat down with our legs dangling down the inside of the chimney mouth and took our bottles of Zaganu out. Andrei used his keychain to lift the caps off and we took our first sip of the cold beer as the sun set. He picked up the phone to share a photo of my face silhouetted against the setting sun with the hashtags – #goodlife #followyourdreams #bravelife. He fixed the mobile back into the chest strap and leaned back on his elbows to look up at the sky.#heaven

In a few minutes, the bottles were empty. We counted to three and leaned forward slightly to let the bottles drop. And that is when it happened, and it was over before it had begun. As the keychain slipped out of his hand, he instinctively leaned forward to grab it. I turned and grabbed but all I got was a clutch at empty air as his scream ricocheted and echoed all the way down. I did not hear the Zaganu bottle breaking. I could not even hear Andrei hitting the ground.

The next few hours and days were a blur of police enquiry, interviews, and the funeral itself. When I finally logged into my social media accounts, Andrei and I were trending. Our live feed had been the most watched in the history of social media. Once I am done with writing all this down, I am going to complete combining the recording of the live feed with my GoPro recording and load it on YouTube. In Andrei’s memory of course.#RIP #goodlife #keychainssuck #famouslastwords



When hashtags became a thing, I was still playing catch up with social media. It took me a while to understand how it works, longer to use it myself and even longer to not hate them.
I still get all stick-in-the-mud about them at times. This was a story written to explore the brave(?) new world that has a shorthand for every emotion and thought out there, where being viral is more alluring than being alive. It is also an experiment in that I have tried to use hashtags to give an insight into a character’s mind. Do let me know if it is working.
Side Note – I am on TWOT’s book number 3. And I am rather pissed that I am not Aes Sedai.

And Then, There Is Grief

As a writer, I wondered…
Can I create poetry that tore?
What after all, did I know
about pain too pure to bear,
or grief too deep to share?
What did I know?
Indeed!
I looked up the meaning
of words that stood in
for grief.
Distressed, in agony,
desolate, in purgatory, or
drowning in sadness.
Why, one could even be melancholic!
But all mere words that did not…
could not
sum up heart-breaking misery.
Picture by Michael Held on Unsplash
Now, I know better.
The words aren’t just on paper.
Tattooed into life,
they flutter on my every breath.
As always, I put pen to paper,
to seize the naked rawness of it all.
And, hit a wall.
Bearing witness to a pain
beyond the reach of medicines.
Words fail to capture
the silent darkness
of private anguish.
All the ink in the world
cannot pen the wretched misery
of this unrelenting story.
Everything is at a standstill
inside of me.
Poised to start living,
Once… Once this happens or that.
Once I wrestle the pain
down on to the page.
Fool!
There is grief
Beyond the reach of meaning.

This poem was written in response to a prompt on my writing group. Walt Witman wrote, ‘I contain multitudes.’ And now our grief is reflecting it too. Layers of grieving. Even as we all struggle with the pandemic, some of us are also fighting parallel, personal battles in our own little pandemic induced bubbles. Nothing will ever be the same again – a cliché but true. We have all lost our innocence, and every day I mourn for what could have been, even as I am grateful for what is. This poem is my attempt at depicting my grief for that loss, because I can begin to manage things, feelings and vague notions only, and only when I write it out.