Sex without love and other impossibilities

All of today has been productive. I wish I live everyday with the same fervor as today. Although said fervor came from stalking women and their blogs. Anyway, one such stalking hour took me to this poem which has made me see sense – a solution to my needless self pitying sprees.

I found the poem on a blog I had been stalking all morning like a hungry cat. 

Sex Without Love by Sharon Olds

How do they do it, the ones who make love
without love? Beautiful as dancers,
gliding over each other like ice-skaters
over the ice, fingers hooked
inside each other’s bodies, faces
red as steak, wine, wet as the
children at birth whose mothers are going to
give them away. How do they come to the
come to the come to the God come to the
still waters, and not love
the one who came there with them, light
rising slowly as steam off their joined
skin? These are the true religious,
the purists, the pros, the ones who will not
accept a false Messiah, love the
priest instead of the God. They do not
mistake the lover for their own pleasure,
they are like great runners: they know they are alone
with the road surface, the cold, the wind,
the fit of their shoes, their over-all cardio-
vascular health–just factors, like the partner
in the bed, and not the truth, which is the
single body alone in the universe
against its own best time.
 

The poem hit me hard where I needed to be hit properly and immediately. I was slipping into my obnoxious self – a past that I don’t want to be in, a present that is reluctant to promise and a future that thrills me just as much as it scares me. All morning I was in deep slumber – inspired in part by my need for pillow talk and in part by my obsession with knowing – answers and clarifications to my doubts and insecurities. This odd bit of truth lay it all to rest in one fitting swoop.

‘They do not mistake the lover for their own pleasure’ drove home the point. My only hope now is to wake up as the same  person that is so much at peace and in love with herself today. 

It happened to me

When he told me to sit on his lap, I should have said no. There were empty seats in the van. I should have been clear about why I didn’t want to sit on his lap, especially today, of all days. Maybe this incident had to have happened just so I could learn how to say no. So I made my way over to my uncle and sat as lightly as I could on his lap. No amount of polite concerns for the health of his lap would have allowed him to let go of me. What’s worse than your family’s impoliteness is also a grand amount of politeness.

‘Could he have felt it?’ I wondered, through the 40 longest minutes of my life. I had no way of checking if I even needed to worry. At every tentative stop the van made, I grew hopeful of an excuse I could use to escape from him and his lap.

Nobody could have helped me. Not my mother, who sat in the corner of the bus, laughing at something dad was saying, not my sister who sat by the window, earphones plugged into her whole existence and definitely not me who was glued to her uncle’s lap and shivered everytime the vehicle ran over speed bumps.

Now I could feel it, the wetness, the thickness, the weird trickle between thighs, like urine dreaming its way out when you bed wet, you can feel it but are simply too paralyzed to stop it. I decided to sit mum and not do anything or say anything because I was sure the damage was done. There was no point in bringing everybody’s attention to the most embarrassing moment of my life, not prematurely. I wasn’t dreading it anymore because now all my attention was focused on delaying it. I wanted 40 more minutes, hell, I wanted the 40 minutes to not end, to never end. I wanted the daylight sucked from outside so he wouldn’t notice what had happened to his pants, on his lap. I wanted night, I wanted my mother, I wanted to lock myself somewhere and cry.

The van stopped eventually and I saw with wild fear, my mother, sister and cousins getting off the van, one by bloody one. My uncle had no way of getting up without budging me off his lap so I continued to sit until he summoned to get up.

As I stood up unhurriedly and scared, I turned to look at what I had left behind, and saw it. The most disgusting little three drops of bright red blood on my uncle’s pants. What followed must have been bad because I went temporarily deaf after a stupid boy cousin opened his mouth and screamed ‘Blood! Blood! Blood on uncle’s pants’.  As kind aunts shushed him to a full stop, I ran tearing out of the van and into the bathroom. When I came out, I had transformed into a firm believer of using 2 napkins on the first day of period.

Possession

On my right, a zoo zoo holding a bat with its mouth open looks on, a mug sits next to it, cold and white and as useless now as the teabag inside it. There are books on the table, piled on top of each other randomly, looking just the way I want them to look, deliberately careless. A bunch of black wires sticking out from a hard disk and a pair of earphones are casually strewn about by the books.  They feel left out, like they always do amidst books and paper and Net book and pen stands and coffee mugs. They are fillers between the time that you are completely uninspired and the time when you are 5 minutes away from writing a masterpiece you will secretly be proud of.

A plate, empty except bits of yellow food is on my left gathering flies. Various branches from the only tall tree standing in front of my house threaten to knock the window down. I am sitting in front of it, trying to think of something sensible to write. A bundle of uncorrected answer scripts are trying hard to get into the picture, cutting into my time and view. I am very careful about not looking at them, atleast not right way. I do however, want to get done with it just so I can move on with my life and all the other things I will not do.

It’s a holiday today so this is usually the time when I am busy making life altering plans for the day, only to watch it from a distance and grin impishly as it passes me by.

The cursor and a half filled page mock at me now and then. Their voice, disapproving of everything I have ever written and of everything else that I have erased. I have used the Control A + delete button thrice since this morning.  All three were attempts at writing about the book I finished reading yesterday. I am going to make one last attempt.

I finished reading possession yesterday and I am in love with Christabel LaMotte. There were tears followed by quiet howls when the drama ended. Finishing a book has always been an emotional moment for me but more often than not they are accompanied by a brutish sense of accomplishment and relief. Yesterday, I felt neither. I was mostly unhappy because she planned to live differently and deliberately and bang in the middle of when she was getting good at it, she falls in love and is mercilessly burnt by it. A.S Byatt is a seductress and I know I will get kicked for saying this but I am thrilled that she is a woman. Finally now when somebody asks me why I don’t worship a woman writer the way I worship Llosa or Nabokov, I can scream ‘A.S Byatt’

No other book has caused me so much grief when it ended. Surely, when I finished reading ‘The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto’, I was partly grieving but I was also secretly relieved. It took me three months to finish Possession but there are no regrets. I still wish I was reading it. Most books, when they end, leave me vulnerable like a small child. A part of me died when I read about Ammu’s affair with that man and her subsequent suicide in  ‘The God of Small things’; I felt betrayed and wailed in misery when I finished ‘Em and the Big Hoom’, I beat my chest and mourned over Dobby’s death. She crossed a line there, that Rowling.

Some characters, some words, some descriptions, some moments are what I am left with when I leave the book. Every book read and kept back on the shelf takes a bit of me with it. They have more memories of me and my moods, my secrets and my tales, my desires and my pains than my journals. They are constant reminders of life as it happened while I was reading it. Of all the things I remembered and missed, of all the plans I made, of all the trials of writing a piece soon after reading a paragraph that made me jealous.

Possession is a beautiful book. Byatt weaves a plot thick with the human desire to go back in time to see how they lived, loved and wrote and the forgotten mysteries of the written word and what they are capable of. Maggi says I will have the Possession hang over for two more weeks. I am kind of looking forward to it while having carefully made my next jump to Llosa’s ‘Captain Pantoja and the special service’.

Between Hemingway and Wodehouse

His notebooks were always the same color, brown. And the pages were always handmade. Everytime he got a new one, he would draw his name out on the first page with a black pen, in big block letters. He always wrote with an ink pen. On his 15th birthday, his grandfather pulled him close to his lap, kissed him and gave him this pen. It was before he started to molest him. Everybody knew his grandfather molested him, he told them all. But nobody knew why he held on to that pen so closely and nobody asked.

He wrote short stories when he was happy. And like all great men, he wrote poetry when he was sad. Sometimes, when he couldn’t decide if he was happy or sad, he would go to sleep, even though he wanted very much to write. He liked Hemingway, sometimes more than he liked Wodehouse. His family had taught him to love Wodehouse. He learnt how to read Wodehouse but he didn’t quite grow to be inspired by him, like every other male member in his family.

He found Hemingway in his grandfather’s library one afternoon after they all went to nap. He rummaged through old yet sprightly and clean bookshelves for something other than a picture of cartoon people on the front cover. Trouble with Wodehouse was even though he was funny and everything, it wouldn’t make him laugh.

He found an unmarked copy of short stories by Hemingway. All the other books that he read from his grandfather’s library had all sorts of markings on them. This one was clean, untouched, new even. It looked removed from everything else around it. He grew curious. He wasn’t allowed in his grandfather’s study but nobody would know now so he tiptoed into the study, sat on the comforter and began a life long affair with Hemingway.

He would return to this moment often, when he thought about the big old house and its fresh cobwebs, his grandfather behind his big black armada glasses and that godawful Grinch like smile. When his grandfather died, he locked himself up in the study and went though all his grandfather’s papers and journals. He didn’t know what he was looking for, a sign of remorse perhaps? A hastily written ‘I am sorry’ somewhere?, a letter written for him to be opened and read silently after he had passed?

He found nothing except some really yellow photographs of his wedding day and honeymoon and some from his days at the university. By evening he had grown tired of not knowing what he was looking for so he settled down with his Hemingway on the comforter by the fireplace.

He couldn’t read and gave up soon. He curled further back into the comforter and looked at his grandfather’s life size portrait. It must have been a fairly recent one. He looked closely at his wrinkles which spread like little roots etching out of the corner of his eyes. That broad forehead with its legendary mole sitting sharply, like it still lived, after the face had gone, and its body now rotting. He kept looking at the mole until the mole itself became the focus of his eyes, sieving his attention from the competing thick eyebrows which were now beginning to appear now that his vision was back.

He stood up and faced the portrait. Looking, searching, breathing. His hand in his pocket, twirling the lighter around. After a minute his eyes softened and he let go. His throat was beginning to feel heavy. He looked down and rearranged his feet. They were now neatly parallel to the tiles. He picked up his jacket and waited by the door to bid a proper farewell. He needed to keep this vision alive for as long as he would postpone writing about his grandfather. Now was the time. A gentle rustle of wind lifted itself between the door now shut tight and the window. Outside, he got on his bike and rode into the darkness.

He would go back to his apartment and write his grandfather’s obituary along with some other things his journal had been waiting for.

Thiruvananthapuram

Traveling with the family has always been a messy affair for me. Dad has unhindered access to me and what I wear and what I eat and how I live; the comments ensue, the match begins. But this happens only now, although oddly enough it seems like there’s a history that’s older than me when I think of all the disagreements we have had. Our travel sprees were a lot different when I was younger. And so were the disagreements.

Back then, I must have been crouching in the back seat, playing referee to the two voices in my head – one his, one mine; making them disagree. In short, waiting to grow up so I didn’t have to travel with them to temples and other violent places children should never be taken to. 

Traveling all of South India with a joint family in a matador will therefore only remain a blur that I accidentally found while groping in the dark, looking for something else. Somebody mentions a beach, a temple or a hotel and I find myself donning my best cat behavior trying to locate the blur in my memory, now whizzing like a housefly to be caught, an answer to be found, a page to be filled up.

We covered the temple cities in less than 4 days, stopping very briefly at Trivandrum, which until last year I firmly believed I had never seen. Last November, I discovered the blur in my memory that was Trivandrum and everything did not come rushing back as I had hoped it would. It took me a while to realise that I was seeing 2 versions of a city. One of which is imposed on you by temple going freak shows in the family who turn a blind eye to everything else the city offers. The other is when you catch a passing glimpse of yourself, in a moving vehicle, a showroom, a granite wall, and you smile in whispers and curse your family, when you are out exploring the city all by yourself.

I saw myself, away from home, away from temple people, away from the prying eyes of my father, wearing shorts, carrying nothing but a little bag and waiting to be lost. I walked around the hotel, smiled at all the slopes, coconut trees and little brick homes that gave me all kinds of Mangalore flashbacks. I took random turns, and found out that it is not easy to get lost in this city. Either that or I was too scared to go all the way out and be lost. 

At the turn of every corner, I smelled fish curry and coconut oil, a smell that I shamelessly associate Trivandrum with even today. The city made me see and feed the small foodie I was beginning to take note of in me. It outperformed the beach person that I was throughout my life.

I gorged on idiyappams and Kerala chicken curry in Statue hotel, downed jars of Pankaj Island Ice Tea, scooped chemmen fry with mounds of red rice and fish curry at Mubarak, judged soggy bits of meen pollichathu and forced its taste to match with the taste I thought it ought to have had, wolfed down puttu and prawn curry at Black pepper, all the while trying hard to drown the voices and faces of my part mallu-part mangy mother and her relatives. I could hear them echo loudly behind me. ‘Ti amgel vari khaoche’ – ‘She eats like us’.

Trivandrum’s streets are a marvel in themselves. An India coffee house, that looks like the leaning tower of pisa parked hazily around buses and bikes comes zooming back when I try to retrace my tour around the city. The buses looked easy to climb into unlike the whistling, red ones in Bangalore that are hostile bloody dynamites. At the far end of the street that I call Trivandrum is a little place that serves Biryani chaya – butter beer if I may. At the risk of getting kicked, I am going to say, drink it to know it. 

So when I go to Trivandrum, it is also to devour the best rice and kerala fish curry in the name of all that is fancy at Hotel Villa Maya, which, true to its name stands tall and quiet; unknowing of the city bustling all around it. I am no food expert but the food there is both sleep-inducing and exploding with taste.

This is how I remember Trivandrum, in its streets and food, in its friendly looking buses and pankaj island ice tea, but surprisingly very little in its beaches. However, nothing screams more Trivandrum than that familiar smell of fish curry and coconut oil when I check into its hotel. 

Sonal and some menstruating women

Sonal had to cook rotis for all of them today because she was the only woman at home who wasn’t menstruating. She cursed when the roti landed on the far end of the tava, leaving a thick, black line of coal on her wrist. The hob wasn’t being used today. A choola is normally used this time of the month.

Lunch is a grand affair in the Jain household. Menus are prepared in advance, telephone calls are made to husbands and fathers and brothers at the shop, to check what they wanted for dessert. The choice was between Elaichi Kheer and Shrikhand today. I sat on the slab and watched her as she rolled out more dough for a family of 13 people. 

‘Kai boliyo’ – ‘What did he say?’ asked a grandmother from a passageway that appeared to lead to the bedrooms on the first floor. ‘Kheer’, said Sonal, in a voice that wasn’t too different from her outside voice.

I had stopped wondering why North Indians call chapattis ‘rotis’ when I was distracted by colourful little vials that looked like they had all manner of Rajasthani spices in them. The Jains’ had a very interesting looking kitchen. They had an island slab in the middle of the kitchen, which was where I was sitting, dividing it from the dining area and the rest of the house. The wall was decorated with Mahogany shelves that held sets of white crockery. Above the hob was a red chimney separating lines of cupboards. The cupboards had all manner of interesting things in them. I was tempted to take a peek. I kept looking at a yellow box with a picture of a baby on it. Next to it stood a porcelain bowl, to which Sonal kept going every now and then, to retrieve chunks of rock salt.

Sonal stood next to me chopping beans now.  I looked at her standing all delicately in her white kurta – not her main clothing really. She was donned in a sleeveless white vest and jeans at the movies this morning. She had many white Kurtas that she wore outside of the clothes she wasn’t allowed to wear. It made me proud to be the only one to know what she wore inside.

This was my second visit to the Jains’ house. My first had been interrupted abruptly by Sonal who took one look at my knee length skirt and hurried me out of the door even before her mother could open her mouth properly. As we rode to college, she didn’t offer me either an explanation or a distraction. We usually rode in silence and apparently nothing had happened to change it that morning, three weeks ago.

I don’t know much about her. Except that she doesn’t laugh very much or talk very much and smokes a lot. I grew more and more curious of her with every unanswered question and every distant shrug. That’s why I had planned the day with great delight and I think I could have broken this sea of a woman if it weren’t for half her family who had to menstruate all at once today.

I yawned miserably hoping she would see that I was sleepy and would send me to her room to nap for some time and I could finally see her bedroom and where she slept and where she sat and how her mirror looked.  I yawned again. I may have overdone it this time. She looked at me with her usual bare expression and then went back to cooking. I sighed and thought of other nice Rajasthani things like the smell of her home and the paintings of Rajasthani women that adorned the walls in the dining hall.

‘Who paints?’ I asked.

‘I’, she said and coughed.

It seemed stupid and pointless to say ‘Wow, I didn’t know you painted’ but I wanted to. Something told me she knew I was withholding the urge to shake her and ask her who she was. When we ate, her shadows on the walls of Chinese restaurants looked more animated then her. Soon, it was lunchtime and one by one, all the men arrived. She looked like a carousel balancing hot rotis, easing her way from one male to another at the dining table.  I was still sitting on the slab and watching her, and them. I wasn’t unhappy or uncomfortable about the fact that none of her family members had noticed me, much less asked me to sit for lunch. I was as invisible as her in this house.

After an hour, I was watching Sonal carousel around the ladies sitting on a special white cushion arranged next to the sofa in the hall. The cushion was pulled out more than once every month for menstruating women to sit on during lunch and dinner. All breakfasts on all 5 days were served in bed, perhaps the only luxury that was offered to them all their lives. We ate on the divan and watched reruns of Comedy nights with Kapil. It was funny. Sonal snorted her way through all the moments that I wanted to laugh my ass off on so I paused and reconsidered the jokes.

Clearly, whatever it was that we shared did not last. She stopped coming to college and nobody knew why, nobody cared, actually. It was as though the last couple of months had never happened, as though all that remained were memories of a woman I wish I could have held and touched and knew. Her house was locked up when I went looking for her. The watchman said that they had gone off to Rajasthan. I didn’t miss her but it bothered me that she never thought of me as somebody who could have saved her.

I moved to another city after my graduation and forgot all about Sonal, until one evening 2 years later I saw her for the last time. She was in what seemed to be her wedding saree, a bright red. Face decked up like homes on Diwali; her hair, a giant turban of beads and silk.  If I didn’t know her, I probably would have laughed at her. She was sitting at the bus stop and smoking. She looked the same – distant and rueful. I didn’t stop to say hello or maybe I would have if she hadn’t climbed into the next bus that stopped in front of her, and just like that, in seconds, she was gone.

The Parisian Cafe

Yesterday at PC, an English something woman came by to meet 2 other English something old women. Something about women my grandmother’s age speaking English makes me sit up in my seat and gawk at them. So I was gawking and soon I started barfing because one of them was groping dog to make him sit next to her. She pestered him to ‘sit’ and shake hands. Poor dog later toddled its way next to me and spent the rest of the evening under the table trying to escape evil groping grandma.

This place is what helps me put my sanity back after mad days at work.  I love these initial few days when the place is beginning to open up to me but the people in it aren’t familiar yet so they won’t smile. Not even the waiter who brings me my coffee smiles. I must learn how to fucking tip properly first. I have this crazy need to make friends with the waiter just so it all fits an image in my head, for writing’s sake at least. I wish we become best friends or he becomes somebody who will miss me if I don’t turn up someday.

I see lots of stories here. There’s an 11 year old little boy who sells tea to all the watchmen and the Istri walas and the Raddi walas. Sometimes, I forget my book and listen to him glide around the neighbourhood, selling tea, striking up easy conversations with everybody. He is really sweet to you if you don’t owe him money. He won’t give you any tea if you haven’t paid him for the last two teas. How do I know this? Evil bastard will shout out to the entire neighbourhood about who owes him money and who doesn’t. A trick he’s learnt to make sure he doesn’t get blackmailed by nicely talking watchmen who sometimes catch hold of him and eventually get that cup of tea.

Cops do their regular rounds now and then, picking up cars and bikes parked in no parking areas, looking absolutely alert and waving to somebody occasionally, nodding to most others, looking carefully for signs of drug abuse in youngsters standing near pc.

A bunch of working men come by around the time I go. They chat up on a range of interesting things. They talk about all the happening places in Bangalore, why Plan B is the best option for anybody with little money to spend on Booze, on Sonia Gandhi and why she doesn’t deserve to die, on dog and how friendly he is, and on girlfriends who were supposed to have come by now.

Much as I look forward to seeing all of this, I love those other really rare days when I am getting epiphany after epiphany, when I make great, life altering plans and decisions, when I discover the bestest short story ever written, when I hit upon something to write about, when I eavesdrop on a conversation that has left me with giggles which will come bursting out only after I make a quick exit.

Then there are days when I feel betrayed because nothing any of these other people do in their lives will arouse me so I sit there cursing everybody and their uninteresting lives and mine. I am not fond of those days. They make me question everything that has kept me happy for a long time.

What day will it be at PC today?