Tipping the Velvet

It begins slowly

at first.

And then, there is a slithering pause

after which

only an explosion

up the thighs,

and then behind the ears.

Nobody dares to leave the neck behind –

that’s why it was made in the first place–

to feel goosebumps of velvet,

tipping the eyelids into a well-

now closing,

now opening.

 

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useless

in my mother’s cupboard

there is the smell of naphthalene

that’s only a little stronger than

all the smells of all the houses we have lived in


my former best friend loved me very much

but sometimes she didn’t like the chappals i wore

and this she told me clearly

her long eyelashes now falling, now staying


sometimes i think you don’t like me

but that’s ok because today

i have found the courage to tell myself

that i don’t like you more


today she dropped her brand new i pad

and withdrew into a corner, shaken and dismayed

i picked it up and hugged her warmly in my mind

it’s ok, i told her — suddenly wanting to cry.

At Sixteen

On my 16th birthday, I made myself very happy. I decided it had to be a big deal, regardless of who wanted to make it big and who didn’t. I procured some money from my mother and took myself to Gandhi Bazaar to shop. I knew what I wanted. At 16, I always knew what I wanted with a clarity that was almost aggressive. I have neither the gumption nor the energy to love myself like that or know with clarity, what I want anymore. Somewhere between learning to love other people between 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, and 26, I didn’t love myself enough. Or maybe I thought it wasn’t that important.

At 16, the joy of sitting alone in a coffee shop, reading something was just about enough to make me happy. Between the ages of 17 to 26, I waited for other people to love me like I loved myself. When that didn’t happen, I hated myself and later, them.

So at 15, hours shy of turning 16, I stood outside Perfumer – a fragrance shop and waited, smiling. This was the first gift I would be buying for myself. And for a long time after that, the last. I took a small vial and decided that I liked it. It was a lovely shade of green-blue, colors that appeared on my palette when I mixed the darkest green with the lightest blue in my art class at school. At the counter, I asked for the perfume to be gift-wrapped. I picked the shiniest, the most expensive wrapping paper. It was pink, a color that still reminds me of unexplored freedoms I have chosen not to take because I am too busy doing god knows what.

At home, I lit all the candles I owned on the balcony I rarely used. The walls in my bedroom were a light lavender, the furniture, dark brown. I had chosen these colors from magazines that I had read. Tall, grown up women always seemed to sit comfortably alone on oval-shaped beds, light colored walls and the darkest brown furniture. I was painting, as it were, my independent life with my father’s money.

I waited for the clock to strike at 12:00. Ash was made to look excited because I had whined and whined about this day for months now. I suspect she was glad that in minutes, all the drama would be over and she could go to sleep.

At 12:00, I blew out all the candles on my balcony, picked up my journal and began to write. I drew the number 16 sixteen times on a page before making a list of things I had to accomplish by the next birthday. I picked out my outfit for the next day. A new shirt, a new pair of jeans. I was convinced I would fall in love when I turned 16. And I did. Now that I look back, it is almost mysterious how by the time I had turned 17, I had a boyfriend and at 12:00 am on my 17th birthday, I didn’t do any of the things I did on my 16th. I waited a different kind of wait. A Nokia in my hands, blushing under the covers, I waited for him to call and since that night, I have always celebrated birthdays with regard to who remembers.

I sense now that I’m about to say things like it’s time I go back to being 16 again. While it’s true that some reflection should go that way, I am happy that my birthdays now aren’t all that self-indulgent. It’s the other days I am worried about. Those should probably be more self-indulgent.

 

Stories

One should avoid either being a bride, or being in a story. After all, stories can sense happiness and snuff it out like a candle. ~ Carmen Maria Machado

Old stories grin like wicked grandmothers who have come to usher you into your wedding bed. They stand behind you, holding you at their arms’ length and fuss over your hair. Their palms grabbing your slightly sweaty ones, they hiss mean little things in your ear with their bad breaths.

You don’t wonder what you were like when you read these stories now. You wonder instead, if any of these stories have come true, here, in the now. And because the way you write now stands in between you and them, the older, discarded stories; you crave to be better.

Here’s one you aren’t entirely ashamed of, here’s another that makes you smile. Like trees and old lamp posts passing us by on journeys that we make every day, our stories stand so –still yet blurring. Now and then, you may cast shy glances at them and wonder why you continued to tell stories knowing you were so bad, knowing there would always be somebody else who could tell that story better.

Did you know that jealousy can speak in two languages and write in none? That’s why they are so darn good. They are bilingual little bastards. They don’t know how to write because they can’t, also because they know that they don’t have to. They can get to you simply by lying there in the Snow Mountains and the mustard fields and the stone chapels. They are telling you it’s pointless to see all this and more when all you are going to do is scramble back into your bed with your laptop, open the new word document because you are so ambitious, blink three times and then watch Game of Thrones.

They know that you will keep the new word document open until the last moment, until all that needs to be watched has been watched, until you sigh into the dying whispers of your closing laptop and go into deep, guilt – free sleep.

New stories are like new lovers. You seek them out by tracing the lines on the palm of their hands, the wet corners of their eyes and lips, and the thickness in their backs. In moments, when time slows down in their eyes, you see the beginning of a tragedy. One that you know is going to leave you battered and poisoned.

On naked afternoons, as the sun empties the room for you two and sends shadow after shadow of windows carpeting up and down your sultry bodies, you wrap each other in stories of shame and embarrassment, of loss and fear. The curtains raise and fall, imitating your breaths and hair as you fling each other from far to close, from close to closer.

You hold them in your arms until you can, until they let you, in much the same way you toy with stories until they need to be written. Because before you know it, they have rescued their arms from your crushing weight; steadied their tired bodies while gathering their clothes, and left you alone with your awake and throbbing nakedness. As you lie listening to the small echo of their footsteps, you hug your cold body and make promises.

Stories are better lovers because they don’t make promises to you. It’s when they begin to, that you need to snuff them out like a candle.

Detachment

It’s like peeling wet jeans off your legs. You can’t do it standing anymore so you lie down on the floor and heave your thighs up and pull your pants down. It’s scraping off your butt and you can feel your panties sliding down with them. You aren’t in the mood to see your genitals so keep your panties back. The jeans now knot themselves up and about your ankles and you manage to extricate your legs back to your body. Dump the wet jeans in the bucket and get into the shower. Hot hot shower. Sigh and let your body soak its coldness in the steam. Put your face under the patter of scalding hot water and think of everything you want out of your life. All those disgusting little moments you made an ass of yourself in front of people you dress up for in the morning. Turn around slowly and watch clouds of steam rising up. Open your eyes to new promises and newer anxieties. The speech you made in your head about telling people to screw themselves and die isn’t worth it anymore. Nothing is. At the end of any bad day, you know you can always count on a hot shower to unhook yourself from yourself.  And like the wet pair of jeans you dumped in the bucket, the bad days go there.

Strangers

If stranger had a name, it would be the awkwardness that hung over our heads at lunch yesterday, the hope of seeing a familiar face, the desire to add an extra chair at our table. It would be the skillful way I avoid his eyes and hands. Every movement your feet makes in that hour is a calculation, every word; measured and uttered in thoughts before anywhere else. Three years ago, the table we sat at and the food we ate was enough to make me sigh in content all day. It’s a different sigh now. One that comes only after you drop me home. Letting go is a lot easier, now that the stranger between us has a name, a face and seems more sombre than us.

‘Fine, Fine!’

This is a story I love telling. I have fought with people just so I can tell this story my way simply because it is that funny. When I meet new people, I tell them this story and wait to see if they laugh. If they do, we become best friends. If they don’t, I sit quietly and judge them.

Many years ago, maybe not so many, because it is in color and not black & white in my head, a man and a woman were deeply in love. It was a happy love, undisturbed even by an ex wife who one day called our hero for a favour. The ex was a writer and needed help with selecting readings for her book launch. Our hero being the kind man he is agreed to meet her for coffee scheduled an hour before he was to meet our heroine, the girlfriend.

They met at famous coffee shop which we will call K. The ex who came with a couple of girls who are important to the story only because they are girls, decided to go somewhere quieter because K was noisy.

It is at this point, I must introduce a man who is responsible for all the giggles this story gave me. Outside K, a man named Abu helped park cars. He knew our hero quite well so when he went over to say hello to him, he witnessed the hero being ambushed by the ex and the girls. Hero couldn’t say hello to Abu because he was being hauled by the women half way across the road. An hour later, after the favor had been done, hero returns to K to meet girlfriend who has only just arrived. They were only just exchanging hellos when Abu steals the moment and appears on the scene and utters these words

“Maydam, aap nahi thi, maine saab ko hi bola lekin who kuch ladkiyon ke saath bhaga jaa raha hain, bhaga jaa raha hai”

(Madam, you weren’t here. When I tried to say hello to him, I saw him running off with some girls)

It is at this point that the hero’s face falls flat to the ground like meteors to earth. In a hurry he tries to explain what just happened before the face in front of him was going to balloon up into an even bigger balloon. After the last full stop to his story had been put, the heroine gathers all her face into her two eyebrows, raises them and heaves them down to her breasts and hisses “Fine, Fine!” jumps into an auto and leaves.

Our hero’s face by now is just a hole. It is difficult to say if the hole was because of the open mouth or it was how his face was going to look for the rest of his life. Nobody really cares what Abu did after this. I don’t know if he left soon after he had dropped the bomb or left after the hero’s monologue. All I know is the hero went inside, had chai and left.