Quiet

There is nobody here now. The ten tables that I can see from here and the one that is tucked away behind a wall on my far right are all quiet. The chairs are all observing their tables. I can see reams of sheets, piles of files, happy pencils sticking out of full pen stands from the tables. I like how quite this place has the potential to be on good days. On the far end of the field, there is a flyover. Lines of vehicles urge each other ahead with a circus of noise. Behind me I can listen to a curtain of birds calling out to the now quiet, now loud noise of far away traffic. The sky is part vanilla and part black currant with flecks of dull orange today. They aren’t falling on my face like I want them to, especially today.

I am aware that I am breathing now. The chair moves back and forth, back and forth on my toes. I feel like the lover that I was, only day before yesterday, breathing, living, loving. An ugly red eye from a handicapped switchboard breaks the otherwise dimness in the room. The chairs look like the papers that some of them are holding, discarded, used and left.

Tomorrow will be a different day, there will be people and noise and fans and songs. I cannot listen to the creaky noise my chair is now comforting me with. The tea is not too hot now, its taste is mild, like the moment around it, devoid of coasters or conversations. Some chairs look like their owners were angry with it. They look pushed back in fury, in impatience, in a hurry to leave. Some chairs look thoughtful from inside the space they are looking out from, like they know their owners are coming back to sit on them tomorrow.

The click on the keyboard is soothing, it reminds me that I am writing. Too often I look back at the moment when the writing happened, I try to look for creases on her face, her furrowed eyebrows, a smile now and then, tongue clicking, matching the rude click of the backspace key now and then, but I cannot see her in the moment, writing. This clicking happening now is the only assurance that she is in the moment, writing. My words don’t remind me, the colors that the blanket in my mind sees don’t, the warm tea doesn’t.

When the cursor hits the ‘publish post’ option, I hear myself thinking ‘Will I write tomorrow’?

It is rude.

Advertisements

Colors

I saw him one evening, quite by accident. I was not meant to see him. I was on the phone, out in the balcony, pretending to listen and he sat out in the rain, with his tattered grey umbrella, smoking. He couldn’t see me, it was too dark. I saw him again the next morning, packing his little tiffin box and getting on his bicycle. He handed over a set of keys to another watchman and left. Since that evening, I see him everyday. He is very quiet, doesn’t smile much and looks 55. He likes tea and he likes to read. He smokes more when it rains.
I moved into this apartment 6 months ago, he’s been sitting on that blue chair longer than I have lived. A girl not older than me talks to him now and then. She lives in my building. She gives him a book every week and he reads through the night by the gate lamp. I know this because when I wake up in the middle of the night, I like to see what he’s doing. And he’s usually draped in a black blanket, reading. Now and then he takes a short walk from one end of the lamp post to the other. He’s usually done with the book in about a week. Then the girl gives him another book. And then another. A boy smaller than the big cycle that he lugs around with comes to the buildings to give all the watchmen tea. Our man hasn’t paid him in months so the small boy doesn’t give him tea anymore.

When I first moved in, I didn’t like the yellow walls in my apartment. When I slept on my futon, the yellow on the walls grew yellower, a disgusting vomit yellow. The light from the street lamp outside seeped through my white curtains and made grotesque shadowy shapes of lurking trees and wires on my walls. When Thaima was alive she would tell me stories of ghosts who lived in trees. I don’t believe in ghosts now but the trees on my wall look like ghosts could live in them.

The floor is a cold marble today and the heater is broken. Sometimes when I am looking at the marble, my feet playing OCD games, lying mathematically parallel, next to each other, I think of how easy it is to live alone. I remember dreading I was going to lose it all within a week of moving in. But overtime I noticed that the yellow was less cruel on days that I covered the futon with yellow sheets. After that my nightmares of being pawed and eaten by yellow wolves disappeared. I like getting back home to an echoing quiet that is my living room, to the windows shut tight like my eyes when my past comes rushing back to me, to the leaky tap in the bathroom that I don’t want to fix, to the uneven folds on my bed that never go, to the kettle that is always brimming with water, and to the curtains that are transparent enough for me to peek into the outside and opaque enough to stop my past from coming in.

My past is a red curtain I close my eyes to. It is one of those reds that I can vaguely see and feel with eyes closed. A band of plain red, unpatterned, fading now but quickly becoming stronger every time I open my eyes. I freak out when the leaky tap in the bathroom stops leaking. It means red. It means he knows where I live, it means he’s coming after me. The leaky tap is comforting to me, like the sound of a distant, heavy truck passing by somewhere, like the sound of lorries on highways during night journeys, like the sound of slow afternoons on rainy days.

My childhood was blue. It was an open field, with white clouds hanging close to the sky but not raining. My childhood was a blue letter box, a mini suitcase I put all my grandfather’s letters into. He gave me a blue bow for my 5th birthday. I cannot sleep without it. I keep it next to my futon. I don’t want to remember yellow, I don’t want it to be my present but it is much better than red so I live in it.

Sofa, sofa.

The sofa is a violet sponge today, sucking my tired body into it as I drink cold tea from a black mug. On cold evenings, this is warmest corner of the house. I like watching regular TV here on the sofa, after craning my neck on the net book over a movie I watch in all possible positions, the net book imitating each of these positions. Now and then, I have to drag my body half way across the hall when the doorbell rings. When I get back to the mushed up waves on my spot, it is just as comfortable. It doesn’t change how it makes my body feel, no matter how long it takes me to return and no matter what mood I return with.

On Sunday afternoons, this is where I am. Curled up next to a book that is a mute spectator to all the TV I am watching. I have a picture in my mind that I hope I see myself in, some day. I am curled up on the sofa, only this time I am actually reading.

It makes for a very bad bed though. I woke up one morning with my back disconnected from my body. For all the homeliness it offered to a sitter, it didn’t look too kindly on my sleeping self.

It smells like velvet and dust. Sometimes I wedge my palm into the sides of the sofa to see if I can find groundnuts or pieces of chapattis. Sometimes I find a bra.

The afternoon sun shimmers through the window and onto the white floor making shadowy ladders. A truck passes by and shadow shifts now. Very rarely do I run into the occasion of catching a movie when it has just begun. When I do, my day is set.

Food

When I was 23 and a seemingly pesky girlfriend, I discovered Zomato and all the various voyeuristic delights it offered. In much the naïve way, I had also introduced my unadventurous boyfriend to ‘Chungh Wah’, after which he married the restaurant and took me there 4 times a week for lunch. I mournfully lost my appetite for Chinese food but soon started looking elsewhere to raid all the other cuisines I had been dreaming of. Somewhere around this time, I discovered steak and dragged my boyfriend to ‘The Only Place’.

Midway when I was struggling to eat what I had ordered, which, on the menu sounded European and true to its name, turned out to be a gooey mess of cream cheese and meat, my boyfriend led me to an unkind revelation about myself. He said ‘You only like food, but you can’t eat it. You don’t have the appetite’. My nose puckered and I was mad at him for several weeks but I couldn’t run away from what he had said. Maybe it was true; maybe I just was/am a fake foodie.

As a young girl, I always found food to be more interesting in other people’s homes and plates. Even if I would be eating the same food on my plate, it would look dull, dry even. The earliest memory I have to prove this is when I was around 8 in Mangalore; Mouma made page (conjee) and Channa gashi for dinner. We sat in the hall, all the tube lights were off and only the colours from the TV fell on our faces as we cringed to look up.

Bubbly got her dinner and started eating it with wild interest. I looked into her plate. It smelled great, like good food. I hollered at Mouma to give me the same food that was on Bubbly’s plate. She looked at me suspiciously because she knew I had absolutely no appetite for page. When my plate arrived, it looked nothing like the food on Bubbly’s plate. It was, like all my food nightmares, gooey and messy. My nose puckered.

In school, my friends had far more interesting lunch boxes than I. They brought sandwiches and other unembarrassing food. My lunch box would open up only to see my curled up face at the sight of uppitu or chitranna. I had forbidden my mother from packing egg or chicken in the box because it seemed to have offended a lot of my Brahmin friends who would assemble physical distance between them and my lunch box. Some would cover their ears in horror at the mention of chicken/mutton. Some of them are my Facebook friends, still. When I feel pathetic about myself, I go and see their marriage laden – babies infested profiles and feel immensely pleased.

Anyway, so I started to hungrily eye my friend Deepika’s lunch box in school. Deepika was a Jain girl which meant that her lunch box had the standard Roti, Raita, Dal and on some special occasions, Sabzi. I was thrilled when she opened her lunch box. We would stand by the parapet overlooking the school playground and eat. She would politely offer me some of her food and I would reluctantly refuse it, hoping she would insist and I could finally sigh and eat her food.

When it came to just food and me, I think I felt repelled by it. I didn’t like meal times. I detested the business of eating with the family, under everybody’s watch. I hated even more that I couldn’t waste food in front of strangers and relatives. I owed them an explanation, an excuse – not feeling well, too spicy, heat boils in my mouth and fever were the top contenders. Most meal times were therefore self inflicted rounds of guilt and desperation.

It must be why it took me by surprise to see myself noticing food, a lot later in life. Around 4 years ago I ate the best prawn curry and rice in Pondicherry. I think that is a kind of moment worth going back to because a) I don’t have many and b) that is the one earliest memory I have of discovering food and c) it has prawns.

We were sitting at a table by the beach, and were both starved. It is indeed quite the tale because up until that point, I had only made bad food decisions, I never could order wisely. I would order all manner of exotic sounding things and waste it. I think I must have really followed my intuition that day because I did want to eat prawn. The only other item on the menu, competing with the prawn was the fish; butter fried in lemon sauce. Eventually I picked the prawn and when it arrived, I had no idea it would be that good. I mixed a bit of rice with the prawn curry and put it in my mouth. It had a warm coconut-y flavour which kindly held back all the spices that usually make prawn curry spicy. I don’t know if it was the wind or the sea breeze or the salt on my face or in the air or the fact that we were sitting by the beach but that was some spectacular food. The prawn just sank into the coconut flavour and the spices whirled about in my mouth without stinging it in rude burns. My eyes closed in agreement to this and the whispering breeze around my ears and the crashing waves beyond it.

A lot of my food connection since then has been largely restricted to coastal cuisine. I fondly remember that evening when I ate Idiyappam and Kerala chicken curry at a modest hotel in Trivandrum. After that, I seem to have developed a delight for food even though my appetite is embarrassingly the same. Even so, I have my moments. One morning, for instance, I decided to give Dosa and Avrekai Palya (Val bean curry) an overdue chance. That is the Sunday staple breakfast at home; Dosa, Avrekai palya and batata bhaji. As a child, I had very little patience and taste for spicy food. Anything my tongue found remotely stinging would be instantly dismissed or sweetened by five spoons of sugar.

It took me a while before I realised that the right kind of spice can be just as pleasing as sweet itself. I am trying not to sound too Gordonsy here but there is a kind of meditative throbbing in the left overness of spicy food on your tongue. Like the kind only a partially cooked plain dosa can rescue. Or like the explosion of heat in your ears from eating spicy lemony chitranna (lemon rice) that only the crunchy groundnuts in it can save. Or like harassing your tongue with Vali Ambat (Malabar spinach Sambar) that even the graceful red rice cannot salvage. On a bad day, I immediately cheer up at the sight of Dal, batata upkari and seeth (Lentil curry, potato fry and rice)

But I wasn’t always here. It took me a long time to learn how to like home food. I think the preamble to this journey was that one day when I was on some sort of food ennui and everything I thought of eating filled me with disgust and nausea. The only thing that brought me out of this misery was a plate full of page, gosalla upkari (Ridge Gourd Stir Fry) and mango pickle. Although to be fair, Ash had the same items on her plate and something about the way she was humming with every bite she took made me eat it. I must have really liked it because my ennui disappeared and has never once come back.

I think I’m no foodie but I am just happy that I started to enjoy home food and that my appetite seems to have developed some meek taste for food beyond my preferences.

Tuesday

Like the notes you make in an auto which go into some drawer later, and you don’t see them ever again

Like the debit card that goes into your front pocket instead of your wallet, like it should, after long sessions of beer

Like that last cigarette you were’t going to smoke

Like the mug of beer you don’t know why you drink

Like the earphones you can’t find when you want to pack in a hurry

Like reading blogs that set your heart on green-red and yellow fire

Like piles of books unread

Like the change that clinkers in your purse

Like the lie you forgot

Like the workplace that is yours

Like the workplace that is more yours after everybody leaves

Like the silence that falls on the room after you lock

Like the lights that hesitate to pull out fully

Like the ring of the bell that is freakishly long on Tuesdays.

Finding fanny

A dog yawns, an old aunty sits at her tailoring machine, and a middle aged man lies half awake – half in a drunken stupor, his newspaper imitating his posture on an arm chair outside a Goan home porch. Pocolim, as Deepika puts it is a sleepy town, and to show you just how slow they mean by sleepy, another cat yawns into the silence interrupted only by the lazy croak of a frog. That pleasing coastal sound which comes only if the green in the surroundings is just as pleasing.

Finally a movie set in Goa that doesn’t freak out on beaches. They actually show you a whole other side to goa – its green, the trees, and not just coconut trees. Homes with Goan brick compounds, uncles sleeping in front of dusty chess boards, and a ceiling with unambitious cobwebs.

The town is delightfully Macondo-like, in its half- sleep, half-awake state. Nobody is happy and nobody is sad. To add to that, there’s also a rusting old blue car, a dead cat that is forced to look alive to keep its master’s sanity and a weirdass painter who follows the cat’s tragic fate. Atleast the cat’s dead body got to lie on Dimple Kapadia’s chest.

The movie has some fine flattering bits of comedy. A scene shows Deepika crying on her bed and her mother in law asks her if she is crying and she says yes. Another scene has Naseeruddin Shah howling like a baby while simultaneously riding his bicycle. In much the same spirit, this is what weirdass painter says about the cat that is out to scratch human eyeballs out: ‘Billli pyaari hain lekin thodi paagal hai’.

Even as Arjun Kapoor is contemplating his abilities in bed, random young children appear on screen only to show him their middle fingers. The movie bumps off Pankaj Kapoor (weirdass painter) and nobody notices, a seemingly charming death for a man who looked confused at the concept of biscuit falling off into tea due to over dipping. He gets shot by a bullet that wasn’t even meant for him, rolls off the car, falls into some fishing net and then into the ocean. Ranveer Singh meets his end after choking on his own wedding cake, in much the same way that the cat meets its end after having been flung out of a moving car and hit by a tree.

A letter remains undelivered, sleepy town doesn’t wake up, and the remaining action of the movie unravels in an open field: sex, confessions and denials. The climax boils down to a broken mirage of love as it should be (I want to say, like a Marquez novel here, but I will not). How love may not change but its intensity may plummet down with a massive force after the lover discovers that his loved one has put on ominous amounts of weight, even as she lies dead in her coffin.

I love this movie and not because it was my first time watching a movie alone, but because it didn’t have to try hard to make me laugh. At no point does the movie take itself seriously, not even when the 4 single people that initially went to find fanny get married to each other.

Along with the people and cats dying bit which was hilarious; even interior knowledge that the characters in this movie have about one another manifested into light hilarity. Even as Naseeruddin Shah is recovering from the horror of an undelivered letter, Arjun Kapoor asks him if he was the one howling like a baby the previous night. The over infused ‘mad or what’ in between dialogues cheered me up.

Also, I have decided to move to goa. If I cannot find Pocolim, I will call a stretch of land Pocolim and live there. And I want a cat. Its name will be Dominique Bredoteau.

My 100th

Motes of dust floating happily in sun lit corridors

thinly sliced onions

the smell of ghee and onions frying

baked potatoes and chicken

Thin crust cheese and pepperoni pizza

Rasam with spices drowning inside it

coffee mugs – enough said.

bookshelves with old leather bound books

finding old letters, bills and tickets in borrowed copies of books

the first sip of tea very early in the morning

waking up early and not feeling sleepy

waking up early to find the house really quiet

early morning breeze

the smell of cuticura

the smell of sandalwood incense

coming back to an empty home

watching it rain outside

finding old pencils sharpened at both ends

reading things you wrote as a child

stationery shops

watching a former friend from a distance and not talking to them

old and antique-y coffee shops

London and its small towns as shown in the movies

traveling alone in a train

everybody around you reading quietly or sleeping

hot water baths after getting drenched in cruel rain

making people laugh without intending to

sleeping on warm bedspreads on cold nights and waking up only in the morning

sleeping after a bath in the noon

when menstrual cramps are calming down

reading long letters from lovers

a published post

your 100th published post