When the mind cuts like a knife

In many ways, words become living beings in the course of our life journey. Words assume a life of their own when we listen deeply to our inner self.
She thinks of the word ‘Pining.’ And thinks of him. He taught her the word — through  his presence and absence.

Both of them feel they should have been together. It would have been wonderful to read, write, dissect, reflect and exchange ideas and world views. Night after night. In the midst of ordinariness of life.

Even though their  interests are different, they share a very strong sense of adaptive intellectual and cognitive connectivity. After all, all you can now only hear cacophony around you. There are so very people  with whom one can talk these days. Don’t get her wrong. She doesn’t believe in intellectualizing human relationships.

People think she’s flamboyant. They find her cool. But you see people see themselves differently. She feels the flamboyance is actually a kind of cover up for all the years of longing she has kept within her.  Lest the brutal world will shred her soul.

Over cups of black tea and Farida Khanum’s soul-stirring music, she tells to her friends, “Love and loss mean the same. I have loved only one man in my life and lost him so many times that in the process love and loss are intertwined.”

One friend asks, “What makes you stay attracted?”

“Tenacity and ability to look at the world like a sharp knife. It’s gratifying to see someone to cut the flab/the excess and hold on to the essence. Something like holding a knife and peeling the yellow skin of a mango.  A simple yet meaningful act. There’s immense beauty in it. Probably, that’s why I am always attracted to austerity, melancholy, bareness. Excess is vulgar.”

There was silence in the room. Silence can be sharp too.

 

 

 

 

I want to hug the Bay of Bengal

I woke up today morning, telling my husband, “I want to hug the Bay of Bengal.”

The Bay of Bengal is an emotion for me. An intense emotion. It’s much more than an ocean. I have grown up with it. I remember crying as a child when the rising waves took away my little shoes. My mother consoled me by saying, “The sea will not take anything away from you, it will give you back your shoes. Remember to always love the sea.”  The sea returned my shoes. The love lingered.

Both my parents loved the Bay of Bengal. We immersed the ashes of my father in the temple town of Puri which is home to the Bay Of Bengal. I feel, parts of my parents’ soul now remain in the Bay of Bengal. So, I feel at home with the rising waves, the falling waves, the rolling waves, the mellowed setting Sun suddenly disappearing in the horizon leaving no trace of its existence till the next morning and the cool breeze that strokes your cheeks as the dark nights become darker.

Years ago, I spent a mildly cool December morning all by myself on the shores of the Bay of Bengal to clear the cobwebs in my mind. My heart was full of agony, hurt and pain.My mind was a cluttered one. I had lost my way. I was afraid to grab tomorrow. I sat down to just look at the waves even as wild thoughts moved in a synchronized rhythm in my mind. I just sat there looking at waves. I didn’t know then anything about the ‘Art of Just Being.’ By the time I left the waves behind, I was clear in my heart and mind to move forward. The Bay Of Bengal gave me the strength, the wings to leave the ruins of the past behind and embrace the light of a journey ahead.  Sometimes the sound of waves on an otherwise silent morning gives you strength to listen deep within.

I go back to the ocean now to feel the presence of my parents. I go back to revel in the memories of my mother buying me delicate shingaras (known as samosas in masculine parts of India) filled with little cubes of potatoes with their almost silk like smooth skin, melt-in-mouth sweets that go by the name of Madanmohan, fiery, salty, seductive jhalmoori with a dash of mustard oil and cups of coffee which sometimes carried a faint smell of kerosene. I loved the sight of my mother taking out the money from her purse and then indulging me with these lip-smacking delicacies. The fiercely independent career woman within me took a backseat as I soaked happily in that moment of tenderness. I happily let myself to  become a little girl.  The ocean was a witness to the unconditional love that defined my world.

ocean

 

Sometimes, the universe feels the thread of emotions that run deep in our hearts, deep in our veins. The universe comes like an guardian angel to hold us, comfort us, soothe us. As I was longing to roll in gay abandon in the wild embrace of Bay Of Bengal, I received a photo of my niece holidaying in Florida in the company of Atlantic Ocean. The photo soothed me. She’s a 15-year old bright, intelligent, creative girl. In the pic, she’s enjoying her solitary moments with the ocean. Albeit a different ocean, I grew up with. I don’t know what thoughts are running in her mind. But she’s having her moments of solitude. By the waves, by the shore. It’s necessary to have your moments of solitude. Certain emotions are universal. And certain legacies are always carried forward. Even without any realization.

My Father

I love men who can cook, buy handloom saris for their women, write long letters and look after trees.

My father did all these beautifully, wonderfully and elegantly.

No, he was not a superman. He was a man.

I miss him dearly but looking at people around me, I love him more intensely.

Even when all that I have of him is memories.

Memories of a Father.

Basic Instinct

Love can be a heady feeling. So also sex. When you are in your 20s, this combo can be a cementing factor among your friends in the hostel with whom you share a meal, a cup of tea, a newspaper and most importantly, a bathroom.

Cut it to the pre-liberalized India. In a bougainvillea laced  exposed brick campus called JNU — Third World’s Harvard (as it was called then). We were all young and many of us were in love. Matters on heart were exchanged at regular intervals. But somehow, for us love was less about sex more about heart. At least that’s the way we all pretended. We chose not to talk about our kisses, hugs, close embraces. These are things that we kept close to our heart. To ourselves.

But then Sandra from Barbados who stayed on the ground floor of our hostel did not think so. A thin girl with thick lips, she was passionate about washing clothes. That too in the middle of the night. Somehow, she took a liking for me from day one. Probably this was something to do with my curly hair. One night, as I was struggling to open the lock on my door, Sandra took a look at me and said, “You are glowing. I bet you are a woman in love.”
I laughed the way she asked me the question. And then she entered into my room. And
said, “Darling, I want to talk to you tonight.”
And came her next question, “Are you a virgin?”
I almost fainted hearing that question, but then I answered, ‘Yes.’
Then she held me hand and said, “Tell me is it by choice or by force?.”
That was a difficult question to answer cause I had never thought about it.
She did not mind when I couldn’t answer her question. She told, “But you should go for a
French lover. They are the best.”
I looked at her, “What about a Bihari lover?”
She said, “No idea dear. Never had one on bed.”
She could talk about sex. Openly. Without any inhibition. But I, along with many of friends, could not talk about it.  We still carried the burden of our childhood within ourselves. Even in a campus as liberal as JNU.

Looking back, I feel, probably the times were different then. This was much before India went mobile. And “r u fne… tc” as a whatsapp message had not become the mode of
communication. Much before everybody you know have a Gmail account. Actually not one. But more than one. This was much before  virtual friendships pretending to look more real than real. This was much before  the onslaught of Facebook, Hifriends, Twitter, Tinder in our living rooms and bedrooms. Day and night. For different purpose. For official. For not so official. And this was before Mcdonald’s came to India and introduced us to Mcaloo tikki burger and probably gave a swanky image make over to the humble vada pav.
And around the same time Domino’s was actually getting ready somewhere in the west coast to come to India with their branded cheesy pizzas and give serious competition to our very own Nirula’s cheese- mushroom- onion- capsicum pizza. It was much before seeing a movie in the darkness of a  multiplex with caramel popcorn and fizzy sodas. And who would have thought then single screen theatres gradually would become as invisible
as sparrows in cities. And India’s urban landscape would change for ever.

Having a personal computer was only a distant urban dream that time. It was not a necessity as it is now. Only limited offices those days had limited computers which are now part of antique collection. Neon- lit streets of Delhi had Maruti 800s driving past in a languid way. Mercedes or Audis  were still looking  at us from glossy foreign magazines. Not right in front of our eyes. Zooming past on rough Indian roads.

In the midst of it all,  India was just probably getting mentally ready to have its first peg of liberalization. The glass was getting ready for the cocktail. The signs of change were there on the horizon.

That was the time when Basic Instinct was released in Priya cinema in Vasant Vihar.. And it became the talk of a city where men talk about women and tandoori chicken in the same breath. Everybody wanted to watch the film. And everybody wanted to see the much talked about act on the screen in the comfortable darkness of the auditorium. The desire was raw. So very basic.

But you can’t really blame. That’s what being young is all about. But there were so many ways to do it. Each did it the way he/she could do it. Like the way my friend Nitin came to my hostel at 8 in the morning. As Ramlal Bhai, the chowkidar of my hostel called my name and screamed at the top of his voice “Room no 28, Visitor”, I just dragged myself from my bed and thought to myself who could it be at this hour? Then seeing Nitin’s face my heart froze. What’s wrong? Was it something really serious? He was one person who never looked grim. But that day he was unusually grim. And he looked at me and said, “Ashish has met with an accident. You just go and change your dress. We will rush to Holy Angels’ Hospital.” In minutes ,I was back with whatever little money I had with me and on his bike we headed towards the hostel. He ignored all the hundred questions I must have asked about Ashish on that short journey we took from JNU to Vasant Vihar. And when he took me towards Priya after parking the bike, I asked “Why are we going this side? The hospital is on the other side.” And then he did what many young men would have probably done on that day. He looked at me and said with a laugh, “Actually, I have brought you here so that you can stand in the ladies’ queue and get us two tickets for Basic Instinct. If I would have told you the truth, you would have given me a long lecture and would have never come here.” Well, there was very little I could do at that time. I did stand in the queue and got him his prized ticket. And I thought to myself, this can only happen in India, the land of Kamasutra. A young man had to resort to this trick just to watch a film which was up for a screening. But making up for his superb acting, he treated me to Crispy Fried chicken and 21 Love in Nirula’s.

And for some in the campus, probably Basic Instinct came in very very different way. Nonetheless interesting, I must say. When you are young, you see the world differently. You are not young if you are not irreverent. About the way the world thinks. Behaves. Or Acts. So when the world around us was getting so excited about Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, JNU students not only produced reams and reams of term papers on all possible angles of the invasion which even Saddam Hussain would have never thought of before doing it. They also added their own version of ‘invasion’. So, suddenly the campus had jokes circulating around—– not through sms/whatsapp or chain mail. But through words of mouth.“Why women like Saddam Hussain so much?” Even as you scratch your head for long for a possible witty reply, you could be stumped with this one, “Because Saddam doesn’t withdraw quickly.” And what does Saddam look for when he goes for late night walks? The answer was ‘BUSH’.

It might have been a different story now. When MMS clips are so easily available and porn
films can be seen on your mobile phone and Sunny Leone is the most searched celebrity in the virtual world,  why bother cooking up a story for a film which in the end did not actually deliver much though its name promised some thing more.

Trailers sometimes don’t live up to what they show. They are just teasers. Life’s something else. Much more than just a trailer. But the show must go on. Within the dark theatre. Outside the theatre. Painted dreams will always be there to titillate you. And sometimes it can be too quick too. Just like instant coffee. Instant noodles. Instant rajma masala in a packet. You can heat it and have it. It’s a different kind of heat we are experiencing now. In the coffee shops. In the malls. In the pubs. In the closed hotel rooms. Within the four walls of home. All in the name of instant pleasure. So I actually laughed when a friend told me the brand new liberalized version of the poster many of us had it on our hostel walls in the early 90s.

If you love a man, set him free,
If he comes back, check him out again,
If he doesn’t, shoot that bastard
And find another one…

 

Happily Tired

Happily tired

Me:  “Baba, I am tired”, I would say to my father when I was a school girl.

He: “What is your age? And you are tired…” He would say.

Me: “Yes Baba, I am tired.”

He: “Are you happily tired?”

Me: “Yes, I think so.”

He: “Excellent. Let us read one more science chapter. You must write an essay too.”

i would then bite my own words and get into action.

He died four year ago. Just tired. Not happily tired. Clinical depression had made him very tired.

*********

I want to live. Die. Happily tired. Inshallah.

The act of missing

memory

What do you do when you miss a person? I cling to something that feels/smells/reminds me of her/him? In my moment of missing, I cling to the ear-ring both of us bought together in a city which is not home to either of us. It was a gift for me. Not a ‘surprise’(liberalised India is now obsessed with the element of surprise in relationships) gift but it smells of ‘us.’

I never wear the same ear-ring for two consecutive days. But I have been wearing this beautiful ear-ring for the last two days. May be I will also wear it tomorrow. If my heart still continues to ache/long. You know, the act of missing. A person.

Comrade, this is for you

They are almost extinct now. Probably, a tad better than Rahul Gandhi’s Congress tally in recently concluded Delhi Assembly elections.  But there was a time, they symbolised hope and intimate dreams to change the world. Gut-wrenching poetry, heart-warming songs came from them. And India swore by its friendship with Soviet Russia. Decades ago, when I was a wide-eyed young student of JNU, a bastion of left politics, I was madly in love with one of those unique species called ‘Comrades’. So, on this Valentine’s Day, I am taking a journey down the memory lane of those beautiful years when ‘left’ mattered more than the right (though Right is ruling the country now). Till very recently, I took love (man-woman) very seriously. Now, I am almost enlightened … part Sufi, part Buddhist, part minimalist,  I see now life with a twisted eye.  However, Here’s to you, comrade. For old time’s sake.

TEA

An… I address him by this name when I write to him. So, let us stick to this name. In JNU, if you throw a stone, it will hit one comrade or another. I don’t know why I was drawn to this comrade. There is no logic to love.I m not dwelling on this.

His room (unlike other hostel rooms) had no bed. Not that the hostel authorities didn’t provide him one. They gave him one but that was honorably put on the balcony so that the visiting comrades from different parts of the country will have more floor space to stretch their legs and arms. The room at any given time had more than four people. On very few occasions, the room was locked. He could be anywhere but his room was 24X7 open for fellow comrades. Modi’s Vibrant Gujarat talked of ‘atithi devo bhav’ in glowing terms but the comrades practised it with all sincerity much before it became a pure marketing gimmick.

If you were very lucky (that happened very rarely), you could find a water bottle in his room. I was very happy when I spotted a plastic water jug once in his room but then it vanished in no time. In JNU, the ‘special’ tea made by the hostel mess staff in the early morning was the best (it was mostly meant for their consumption). There were days when our comrade used to get the ‘special’ tea for me too. You see comrades have a natural talent for finding a solution even in extreme situations (for nothing they talked about class annihilation). Thinking about having a tea/coffee mug in our comrade’s room is like expecting United States of America to go slow on giving moral lectures to the whole world on racial equality, human rights and religion tolerance. But being an organic ‘jugaadu’,  he always managed to get tea in a steel glass (borrowed from some friend or the other). Even decades after, it’s that endearing image of having chai in a steel glass that brings a smile on my face.

Our comrade never had enough money during those ‘student’ years but he always travelled in an auto (which was a luxury then). I remember one Sunday morning when I went to his hostel room, he was selling old newspapers to the kabadiwallah (a national ‘Sunday activity’ in India which also generates income). Suddenly, I found out that some issues of the Hindi magazine called ‘Saptahik’ (if I remember correctly) containing his articles were also up for sale, I screamed “No, don’t do it. Your articles are there” but it fell on deaf ears. But he did treat me to a very nice dinner, thanks to all the money he got that day after selling newspapers and magazines.

On a very romantic rainy evening, with great enthusiasm I made coffee for him and with equal difficulty I managed to find a big flask from one of the girls in my hostel. As usual, there were many ‘revolutionaries’ in his room and after having my coffee, one of them looked at me and said, “Deepikaji, waike hi aap bahut accha chai banate hai (Deepikaji, you actually make very good tea).” I wish I had an AK 47 with me that night.  He survived and here I am telling the story with a tinge of affection.

On another occasion, when I was soaking in love and affection, I bought a shirt for our comrade. It really looked good on him. And in less than 48 hours, I saw another lanky comrade wearing that shirt and happily sipping tea in the JNU’s much popular Ganga dhaba. I must say, I was really heart-broken that day. I was young then with a sense of possession. Now, I have evolved.

Yes, we did exchange some letters mostly during vacations. His letters read like Marx’s ‘Communist Manifesto.’ Even then it was a joy to just read anything in his hand-writing (you know that silly thing called love which makes everything feel so beautiful).

There was one occasion when three of us (the comrade, me and Sanjay) were supposed to write a research proposal for an NGO. The deadline was nearing and our comrade was absconding. So, in utter desperation, Sanjay and me went to his room. The room was dark and as expected four/five people were sleeping. Sanjay kept on telling, “Hello, hello… where’s An?” There was no response for almost 10 minutes. And then out of sheer frustration, Sanjay shouted, “Comrade, comrade..”  It worked like magic and suddenly one of them got up and told us, “We have no idea where’s he. As the room was open, we came and slept.” We called off our search operation and the next morning, our comrade somehow appeared on the scene and as we were very angry, he did the major chunk of the work.

Epilogue: The comrade is still a very much part of my life. No, I didn’t marry him. He is no longer dreaming of an armed revolution. He has changed for the better — a better human being, a more compassionate thinker, far more democratic than what he was. He has become worldly-wise though I am afraid he still can’t indulge in small talk. His e-mails now read like the ones written by one human being to another. The letters exchanged between us contain the collage of images of changing India. I wish, we could publish them in future. These wonderful narratives are precious to the understanding of love, life and most importantly India.

I love him a lot — in myriad ways. If you ask me to define the relationship and put a name to it, I just can’t do it. Both of us are now married and charting our own journeys in life. A lot of credit also goes to our respective spouses for understanding and respecting the space we share. In those heady years of love, longing and a passion for changing the world, he had lovely mop of curly hair. Today, he has lost much of that adorable mop and I still don’t tie my curly hair much to his disappointment (like my dad, he always wanted me to tie my hair. But I never listened to both of them).

I have lots of respect for his superb razor-sharp mind. Whenever I am in ethical crisis, dilemma or trauma, I always turn to him for healing. Friends often ask me how have we managed to keep this connection alive all these years? I guess, the answer is respect for each other. Both of us have deep love and appreciation for Gandhiji and the wonderful diverse, fascinating land called India.  And we laugh a lot together (of course, I have a better sense of humor than him. But he’s improving with every passing day). We still talk to each other for hours and hours — the conversation ranges from identity, love, gender, food, India to Gandhi. Whether it’s the counting day of Delhi Elections or the day of brutal Peshawar attack, my first call has always been to him (even if it means an expensive ISD call). I tease him now, “Thank God, I didn’t marry you. Otherwise, I would have ended up as a divorcee.” He laughs and says, “You would have written three brilliant books.”

We have never celebrated the Valentine’s Day (you know we are not just  those petty bourgeoisie kind).  But this note is just a warm narrative to remind me of those lovely years which give me so much of strength in good times, tough times and sad times. Comrade, this is for JNU, life and us.

(Tea figures a lot in our conversations. Over skype, sitting in different continents, on many days we share a cup of tea. The tea cup here sits prettily on a coaster gifted by him. No matter how tough life is, a cup of Earl Grey tea makes it a lil better).