How I found out what Jasmine was

As children, we were taken to Bhadravathi every Diwali to celebrate Hiriyar Habba. It’s a festival to remember and honour the dead– in this case, my grandfather’s father and his father. We would leave Belgaum early in the morning and reach Bhadravathi by evening. All I knew about the place back then was that it’s a little after Shimoga and that there is a lovely little bridge at the entrance to the city. Year after year, almost decidedly, dad would point to the bridge and say ‘This is a Bridge. Under this are the rivers Tunga and Bhadra. That’s why the city is called Bhadravathi.’

But I have come to associate Bhadravathi with other things. Things like the smell of bhajjis being fried and the early evening throw ball matches. At the junction where we took right to get home was the steel factory. I still don’t know how and why my uncle chose to live in Bhadravathi. But I know he had a job over at the steel factory.

My favourite part about going home to Bhadravathi was the home itself. It was a pretty long house. Long is the aptest word I can think of because that’s what it was. It wasn’t big. It was stretched long. I could stand at the gate and peep into the veranda, all the way into the hall, the dining hall, and be able to see the choola in the kitchen. The kitchen was the darkest corner of the house. The bathroom was further away, in the back. The toilet wasn’t located inside the house. One had to walk around the house, behind the shed and the clothesline to find another small shed, which was the toilet.

A bucket full of water had to be filled from the small tank near the clothesline before going to the toilet. I grew rather fond of this little adventure until one time that I forgot to take a bucket of water and had to holler for help.

Once we had settled in, I would see mother only very rarely. She would disappear into the kitchen and I saw her only when the gang got tired of playing and one by one, we would make our way into the kitchen to steal alu bondas and eerulli bhajjis. We ran wild and mad, away from the screaming aunties to some tree or the occasional park. Mostly we locked ourselves up in a room, where we would settle down on a bed sheet and munch away till we were called for lunch.

Slowly, I don’t know how but the boys and girls would start fighting and this would always lead to a throw ball match. Dad would be on their side and occasionally, on ours. N and H were always good at throw ball so the girls didn’t have to worry. They were our pillars. N manned the back and put H and me in the front. They gave the boys a hard time. Sometimes the boys would win, but we won the last and the most important match.

If they won, we wouldn’t talk to them all evening. They would snigger first, laugh next and eventually somebody would cheer us up into talking to them once again. While lunch was a festive occasion, dinner was grand. A section of the children’s room would be cleared out to make room for the photographs of those deceased. One by one, the girls would be sent to bring in the food and boys were sent to bring fruits, flowers and incense. Older uncles would stand in a corner and debate brands of alcohol. ‘Not for us, for them’, was whispered every now and then. I don’t recall being stumped by this back then. It’s only now that this detail interests me. Alcohol and beedis were brought and kept in the middle of all that food. Nobody looked embarrassed and it continued to sit there, looking like a showpiece, all innocent.

When I asked once, I was told that it was to please the dead people, to make sure that everything they liked to eat and drink was given to them. After the pooja, we would all leave the house and wait outside for five minutes so the dead people could come, eat to their heart’s content and go.

Later in the night, we wouldn’t sleep. We would stay awake to talk. About what? Nobody cared. But we did.

On our way back to Belgaum, mom would tell us everything that happened in the kitchen. The funny bits would keep my dad chuckling for weeks. The funniest so far was my older aunt saying that the darkest man in the family was the younger aunt’s husband. The younger aunt didn’t pause for a moment before saying, ‘ya, your husband is one nandi-battalu-hoova no?’

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On my 27th Birthday

I’m afraid I must write this quickly — before I get used to this, before Hyderabad and its roads, EFLU and its trees, its quiet corners become so remarkable that I cannot write about them anymore. So here goes.

At the pre-paid taxi kiosk in Hyderabad airport, the man with the lisp said eeeflu and corrected my efflu when I told him where I wanted to go. I took my slip and waited calmly near Healthy Bites. Goa has done me good, I thought. I started counting the number of ways I could get raped in only after I climbed into 4417 – my ride for the evening. But I stopped thinking about it because I was distracted by the driver’s good looks. When we left the airport, he was on his phone, arguing with his friend to book movie tickets at the PVR in Banjara Hills. I focused all my energy into paying attention to his delicious Telugu. I forgot Allu Arjun, I forgot Arundhati and I remembered how much I love listening to Telugu. Even the empty, stretching highway in the midst of nothingness and the occasional tall building couldn’t distract me. I continued to listen, praying he wouldn’t stop talking.

Within minutes, they had settled their ticket issue and he went back to driving and I went back to being the dog I become when I sit by the window.

A cracker burst somewhere and I saw the orange and the blue throwing their arms open in the air before falling down into a million little arms, and then dissolving into blackness.

I saw actor Nagarjuna on a billboard advertising Kalyan or some such jewellers and wondered how often he saw himself. Later, I imagined him in the back of his long, black car, returning from shooting abroad, sitting a little apart from his wife with nothing but 20 years of marriage in between them, mumbling something to her in the way Telugu men do — their lips barely moving and the words etching out of the corners of their mouth and forming little shapes of clouds and bells.

Little by little I saw Hyderabad from the window. The last time I came here, dad took us to Ramoji Film City, Charminar, and Golconda Fort. Everytime the guide who was showing us around called me Shahzaadi, my dad looked like he wanted to throw something at him.

What I saw tonight is a Hyderabad I didn’t see then or didn’t think to see then. Tonight I saw Hyderabad growing dramatically outside the airport into its Bawarchis and the Mustafa Sweet shops, and its Dulquer Biryani Take Aways. Then I saw it shrinking before we reached Secunderabad in its little Bata shops, and its charming Urdu on the walls. I watched with envy as the driver took sharp turns, avoiding a dozen dividers. The streets were quiet and the shops were busy. There were no addresses written on the shop boards. But then I saw Lakdikapool and remembered the big lake dad took us boating to.

When I entered EFLU, I knew I would like it immediately. N cursed when I told her how beautiful the campus is. She said that when she studied here, the campus was greener and freer.

My red bag, safely tucked under my right arm, I parted with the good looking driver. I saw students walking along the length of the narrow road, singing. I saw a girl laughing with a group of boys, I saw two North-eastern girls standing outside their hostels, wearing knee-length nighties, hugging their friends goodbye. As I made my way into Amrita Pritam Hostel for Women, I glanced at the notice board. One flyer announced the advancement of a Phonetics class. Another said ‘Students to be in their hostels by 11:00 PM’

I let out a silent whoppee and imagined studying here. I had picked out the classes I would take in 5 min, and had prepared my daily schedule in ten. In the lift, I made small talk with the warden. She looked happy when I told her I was from Bangalore. The lift opened and she took me to my room. The walls were white and the marble floor looked wider and brighter because of all the tube lights. She handed me my keys and I made friends with the blue key chain that said ROOM 223.

In the room , there are two tables and I pick the table closest to the balcony, obviously. I throw my bag on the bed, and check out the rest of the room. I already know which the geyser switch is and which lock on my door doesn’t work. I know that my side of the bed has a book shelf on top, which I am already learning to mind when I rise to get up. I am not even thinking about the roommate I may have to make polite conversation with tomorrow.

Sitting here, my legs stretched out, my laptop plugged to the socket on my left; I am already growing used to the noise the Maroon LG fridge is making in the corner.

When I told S and I about this on Whatsapp, I used more exclamations than I have in the past two years.

 

Writing. What else?

It’s one of those evenings. After a heavy and splendid lunch at Rayalseema Ruchulu, I got under the covers and watched season 5 of Gilmore Girls. Three hours later, my stomach wants more food. In the kitchen I find two varieties of Dal, one with garlic and one without. I pour them both on the mountain -rice on my plate and head upstairs to point out more similarities between my parents and Richard – Emily.

Four episodes down, Gilmore Girls plays in the background while I am stalking writers on Facebook. Found a video. Creative Breakthroughs, it was called. I paused GG and played the video. It was Ta- Nehisi Coates explaining why writing is an act of physical courage.

For a moment I wondered if he was going to talk about pleasure more than struggle in writing; inordinately making me feel that I got it all wrong from the beginning. That there really is pleasure and if one doesn’t find it maybe one should stop writing. But he spoke of struggle. He spoke of translating the music in the head to sensible words on paper, and how disappointing it can be to find that what you think of as a writer-dreamer does not write that easily and certainly does not read easily.

When I became a more or less regular blogger, I remember thinking how easy it was to write everyday. I wondered why it had taken me so long to start writing. And then I heard the whispers. People talking, hissing mean little things. In all fairness, there were people saying nice things too. But I found it hard to believe them. It was the whisperers that I had more faith in.

I went back to the earlier episodes I had had with writing, as a hot-blooded teenager. I had found a quote that I used to think best suited writing. You sit in front of a typewriter and open a vein. Over the years it became many things, not just vein. Then came a point in my life when I threw cynicism at that quote and every other quote I found. That the process sucks, but when it’s done, it’s beautiful. Bollocks.

I haven’t stopped writing. Haters gonna hate, potatoes gonna potate isn’t just a kick-ass whatsapp status.

Time

6:30 am:

Did I get 8 hours of sleep? I did not. It must have been six or five actually. I should wake up and go for a jog. It’s too cold outside let me just snuggle for 5 minutes. Why am I dreaming about horses so much? Am I attracted to them? Should I just go to Princess Academy and sign up for training? I should schedule my mornings differently. I should do one hour of exercise and one hour of writing. How do people wake up so early when it’s so cold outside and get more work done within 9 than I get done all day? I am sure that student with the nice hair doesn’t like me. She saw me by the lift that day and didn’t even wish me. Did I say anything wrong in class? Maybe that class didn’t go too well. Why do I keep thinking that classes have gone well when they clearly haven’t? I should tighten up my class hours strictly from now on. Maybe I am too close to students. Maybe that’s why nobody likes me. What am I doing in I O.E today? Fuck, forgot to post that reading for them on the group. Will do it the minute I wake up. Next time that tweed comes to me, I’ll give him a piece of my mind. What the hell? I am wasting too much time in the Department doing nothing. I should be doing shit. It’s because I hang out there so much that shit happens. Wait? Why the fuck should I go anywhere? It’s my workplace. I shouldn’t have to go if I don’t have to. Maybe it’s not about pride anymore. Maybe it’s more to do with the fact that I am wasting my time. I don’t read, I don’t write.

Yoga:

I don’t think I can ever get my foot up to a right angle. It’s so hard. Maybe I should begin by doing my favourite asanas. Wait, how many asanas do I actually like? One? Two? That Twinkle Khanna’s book is funny. Wait, what did she say about feminists in her latest article? Bra Burners, she called them? Is it ok that I like her still? I thought she was having fun in that article. Maybe I should take this to class. That could be fun. There’s so much I haven’t done in class this sem. Should have just gone ahead and taken the class out to watch Bahubali and made them read that piece. I’ll do that the next time. I need to write about Bahubali first. I need to watch it again.

Deep breath.

Yay. I just took a deep breath. Hope I can take as many as I want today.

8:00 am:

I waste so much time thinking. Now look at this, there’s no shampoo. How am I going to wash my hair? I have to go out nude in this cold? Where’s that bathrobe? Bless Bubbly for ordering bathrobes. I should buy one too. Lavender. No. White. No. Baby pink. No lavender’s good. What, Himalaya shampoo a? Thoo. As it is my hair looks like some mountain rat’s tail. Himalaya shampoo, my ass. I should be really quiet and do work today. Fuck everything, fuck everybody. I’ll go to BCL today. Haven’t gone there in a while. I am such a waste. I should have a packed schedule. Why do I have so much free time on my hands? What am I doing in life? I should buy that watch before it goes out of stock. I should get new formals. My butt looks big in formals. I shouldn’t wear formals. What if I am trying to write on the board and they see how big and shapeless it is and laugh. Wait, it’s my butt. I’ll wear it how I want. Should I just finally start wearing sarees? The cotton ones. I’ll ask Nams where she got that lovely blouse stitched from. Maybe I’ll meet my own personal blouse mohan this way. See? That’s what I need in my life. Stories. How am I ever going to write shit if I haven’t met enough people. I shouldn’t run away from family functions. It’s where the best stories are buried.

What went wrong with the Anusual piece? Maybe I can make a list of things that went wrong and use it in class next sem. I can give them a set of books to read and get them to review it.

Inner peace. Why can’t I calm down? I need a me place. My Parisian cafe is gone. Can Marzipan be my new Parisian? I need a new A to Z challenge. I need a new life. Why is my hair getting thinner and thinner? Is that a new mole? When did it come here? I don’t know my body at all. I will be at the Body workshop 12th 13th 14th. I can raise it there. I need a vacation. I am on vacation. I need 8 hours of sleep.

Versions

I don’t know how many different versions there are of me. I don’t know which one to trust. But there is a fake one, a moody one, an overthinking one, a frequent one, and a dishonest one. I have become increasingly suspicious of what I am saying to people in moments of intimacy. I think that whatever I say will be lodged somewhere in the air or in my own head, and that it will be said and used by the people they were told to. Or it will be said repeatedly in my own head until I have extracted all possible meaning out of it, tested it and vowed to never open my mouth again. This does not mean that I cannot trust people, this simply means that I am losing what I was once capable of: the ability to keep quiet and not offer comment.

I am growing more and more desperate because I am not able to decide who I want to be. On any given day, I am the over-thinker. I watch myself cautiously, pausing now and then to test the waters, exercise free speech – withdrawing every once in a while and eventually reserving all my comments for people I am comfortable saying anything to.

Lately, I have been asking myself – Should there be people in my life I can say anything to? Why? Why risk it especially since I know for a fact that I have never been able to continue friendships? That the bottom line of all failed friendships has been never to grow too attached to people?

Then there are other days when I manage myself pretty well. I listen and say nothing. But then there are also days when I blurt things out to people in moments of excitement and wonder why I am alive. Although with a lot of practice now, I know when I am saying things that I will later regret — my brain sends me green signals but my tongue ignores it and goes at it. This is followed by five minutes of recalling what I have just said and ten minutes of considering becoming Buddhist.

At one level, I am losing respect for myself because I think I have become information hungry. Like some fucking news channel. My only option now is Buddhism.

All my energy today is going into not explaining why I have so much free time.