Posted in Journal

The Best Sunrise

I suppose Dil Chaahta Hai (The Heart Desires) will always remain the quintessential Indian film on friendship, at least for us millenials who grew up with its music ringing in our ears. Every time I get together with friends, the title song makes a quiet run at the back of my mind –

Dil chaahta hai, hum na rahein kabhi yaaron ke bin

“The heart desires that we should never be without friends

S asked me once which my favourite sunrise was till date. I remember trying to imagine a picturesque scene by a beach or on a mountain top, watching the sun come up on the horizon, and failing to come up with an answer. I’ve never been a morning person, and could hardly recollect a pristine sunrise caught in the film of my mind.

If he asked me again today, I’d finally have an answer. The dawn of September 19th, 2021. I wasn’t at a beach, or atop a mountain. I sat with my feet dangling from a poolside, feeling the cool water rippling around my ankle. SE sat next to me, and SM diagonally across. We could hear birdsong in the background, as the sky lightened subtly. It had been a wild night – lying under the stars with our tongues let loose by too much alcohol and rambling on for hours about work, relationships, happiness, the present, the future and everything in between. I couldn’t remember the last time I had spent a whole night awake. As dawn broke and a rooster crowed, I revelled at how still the world was around me, how calm the world was within me. I belonged here. I was present there with all my heart, enveloped by quiet ripples of happiness.

This was where I wanted to be, always. On a terrace, by a pool, at the beach, on a mountain top, in a car… the place doesn’t matter, as long as my people are around me, every time I pass through darkness into the light.

Posted in Anecdotes

Coffee At Home

MB visited our new house for the first time yesterday after I moved in last week. By our new house, I mean the place we have rented recently. And by moved in, I mean shifted all our things into. I continue to spend the nights with him at his hostel as his shifts continue to be erratic and it’s near-impossible to drive down to the new place even though it’s less than twenty minutes away. But it’s closer to my workplace, so I can come home for lunch and hang out here till late in the evening, and probably even make dinner before heading to the hostel for the night.

There were no urgent calls from the Intensive Care Unit, so I suggested we go for a small ride, and maybe have coffee at the new house. I expected him to say no as usual, but he agreed. We grabbed coffee and bonda from a restaurant on the way, and I put two chairs out onto our terrace-balcony. It’s my favourite part in the whole house. There was a cool breeze, and we watched trees swaying around us. I pointed out a squirrel to him on a coconut tree across the road; its tail kept twitching in rhythm with every shrill squeak. We sat in silence, sipping the coffee.

He searched for an old book in the shelf I had decked with our collection; the other place had hardly any space and all the books had still been in the boxes that came from Pondicherry an year ago, till I finally let them out now. He picked one and went back to the terrace, reading. I bent down to put my chin against the top of his head, my arms loosely across the chest. I pressed my cheek to his and smiled as he absentmindedly kneaded my arm as he read. The world seemed to shrink within the terrace parapet – all that existed were the breeze, the quiet, the neem leaves, the squirrels, and us.

Ten, perhaps fifteen minutes, and it was time to leave for his evening ward rounds. A quick kiss on his cheek and I got up to clear the cups and lock up.

I suppose perfect evenings look a little different out here. Sometimes all it takes to create one is two cups of coffee and a home.


Posted in Verses

Someone I Knew Died The Day Before

Someone I knew died the day before.

Someone I knew
Briefly, for a day,
Quietly, of age, at peace,
The day before.
Someone I knew died the day before,
While I drank and laughed and sang.
He took in his last breath
While I held mine underwater
And learnt to swim for the first time.
Someone I knew for but a day,
An year ago from today,
Died in his sleep while I lay awake
On a terrace, counting stars,
Till a rooster crowed.
An year ago from today,
He talked to me of a foreign land,
Of exotic fruits,
Of half-forgotten phrases;
Of borders and tongues that yielded to his heart,
And a war that heralded his return.
Someone I knew, and forgot about,
Died the day before;
A quiet blip in my universe.
He died, and so I remembered,
A foreign land, a phrase, a war;
Someone I knew died the day before,
And, in death,
Reminded me of life.
Posted in Anecdotes

Playing Dead a.k.a Am I Really Right In The Head..?

I play dead. I wonder if it’s something people do in general, or just a habit of mine.

What I mean to say is, I pretend to sleep or be unconscious when I feel like it. Or rather, when I don’t feel like it – when I don’t feel like getting up, or talking to people, or facing certain situations. I close my eyes and will the world to leave me alone.

When I think about it, I guess it mostly happens when there is an impending social interaction that I’m too tired/lazy to be a part of. Sometimes at home, sometimes while visiting other people. And it’s rarely ever premeditated. I might be resting on the bed when I hear someone coming in to call me and then pause. They’d call my name softly, but I wouldn’t budge. I’d make my eyes stay where they are, make my breathing even, and sometimes turn over to a more comfortable posture as if I’m simply tossing in my dreams. I’d listen intently to the hushed voice of my mother telling the relative that I seem to be asleep, and then the door closing softly behind them. I don’t break the act. I lie there awake, with my eyes closed, for as long as I feel like – usually till after the visitors bid boisterous goodbyes and their car drives away.

Some people are persistant. They suspect you’re fooling them, and keep trying to wake you up. I’d pretend not to hear my name till 4 or 5 times. I’d subtly bite the inside of my cheeks to prevent myself from smiling. The right approach in such cases is to half-open one’s eyes and shoot a grumpy look along with a groggy “whaaaat”, or “leave me alone” or, the winner “string-of-illegible-syllables-delivered-with-a-side-of-groans” and finish oft by turning to the other side and non-chalantly shutting those beauties again. Utmost care has to be taken that any utterance comes out in a slur with deep baritones.

Bonus tip: the groggy-groan phrases work well when you’re dealing with phone calls from people too.

So that’s sleep. Pretending to be unconscious is a whole different ball game altogether. The following stunts are performed by a manic professional; please do not try them at home.

I have done it twice. I think I was around 10 years both times, or perhaps just a tad younger. The first time I was at the town hall at the vaccination camp to get my tetanus shot. They gave every child a candy before getting the shot. The smell of hospitals and spirit always made me queasy (funny how that worked out career-wise) and I’ve always hated needles. I get the shot, feel nauseated and kind of melt into a lump on the floor. I’m alright in approximately two seconds, but by then my uncle has picked me up and put me over his shoulder, heading to the doctor in charge. I lie quietly with my body perfectly limp, and as I relax my hands to make them seem more realistically ‘limper’, the candy slips out of my fist. I hear the distinct sound of the wrapper hitting the busy floor, but now I’m in too deep to break character. I get placed on a table, a doctor checks my vitals, and decides I seem to be alright. Till date, I feel for two things – not knowing whether the doctor bought my little act, and the fact that I lost a perfectly good candy and had to look on as my cousin sucked on his.

The second time was in class. Math teachers pulled this clever trick where they would write a sum on the board for us to do, and the first few to finish them get a tick mark on their notebooks with THE RED PEN. It was such an honour, and it was often quite an aggressive competition. So a random day, she gives us sums, I hastily complete mine and rush over to her desk to get the tick mark. In my excitement, I fail to notice a bag that lies across the path, trips and falls flat on my face.

Now, this is happening bang in the middle of the class. In that split second I’m so embarrassed that I do not feel like getting up and looking at everyone laughing at me. So what do I do? Not get up. I lie on the floor on my face and do not budge. Kids crowd around me, and the teacher runs to pick me up and prop me against the desk. Still nothing. Then I feel the cold sprinkle of some water on my face, and decide it’s time for act 2. I blink, look around, and then blink some more at the worried faces around me. A few more minutes of making sure I don’t have a concussion, and then the show’s over, and the crowd disperses. I avoid eye contact with anyone, and start doing my sums again.

Oh what’s that you say? I’m a drama queen?? I wish I could respond but I’m kind of fast asleep right now, so.

Oh well. Snore, snore.

Posted in Anecdotes

An Epitaph, Overdue

My uncle didn’t deserve to die.

It’s close to 2 AM and I’m finally getting down to penning an urgent document. I open the Word file, and all the collected references, and begin.

“Patients with cirrhosis are at a high risk of developing bacterial infections. They present recurrently to the hospital with life-threatening conditions.”

I come to a halt. My fingers hover over the keyboard, unsure. I don’t need all these articles to tell me this. I know. Now I know.

I’ve heard that my grandmother was considered barren for a great many years before my uncle was born. Ten years, to be exact. They visited famous temples and prayed to umpteen gods before she finally wore him in her womb. I’ve heard how he was a charming boy in their village – fair, handsome, well-mannered, quiet-spoken. Everyone thought he was worth the wait.

My grandmother was thought to have turned barren again after his birth. My mother arrived twelve years later to prove them wrong.

My grandfather was rapidly ageing by then. He wasn’t ready to be father again; so my uncle took his place. He pampered his little sister, gave in to her every wish and never let her want for anything. One day, when their parents were away, the back of her little frock stained with blood for the first time. He ran down to the town and came back with a cover of sanitary pads and a long piece of cloth. When she came in wearing the the newly stitched big-girl skirt, he picked her up by the waist, stood her on the dining table and kissed her forehead.

And when the little sister had a little girl of her own, he treated her like a princess. He held the tiny baby in his chubby arms in their frontyard and showed her off to the early morning sun. He bought her a doll that slept with its eyes closed as it lay near her, and accompanied her in her dreams. She would blush and squirm as he recounted her talents, her marks, her brilliance to everyone who listened. He travelled miles with a birthday cake every year, even after she grew too old to be blowing candles, because the shop at his town baked the best ones. And when she stained her dress for the first time, he brought enough sweets to feed a village, and an exorbitant silk skirt embroidered with fine golden thread.

If there is one thing that I would never forgive my father for, it’s introducing my uncle to alcohol. He was too naive, too soft. He was the fair, handsome, well-mannered school boy; he wasn’t a callused ruffian to survive its onslaught.

I remember the days they would slip quietly into my room as the rest of us played in the hall; how they would pretend that we couldn’t know of the quiet clinking glasses. I remember laughing at the way they behaved when caught. I remember feeling clever that I knew exactly where the bottle of brandy was hidden in my cupboard. I don’t remember ever thinking of asking him to stop. Maybe he would have, if I had asked. Only, I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t know what happened to well-mannered boys when they started playing with ruffians. I didn’t know he could get hurt.

By the time I reached my first year of medical school, he had started developing symptoms. I progressed through my classes, and unknown to me, he deteriorated into a wretched being. He joked over the phone about how he would present as a patient for my final year, that he could be my exam case. I think I laughed. I didn’t know. I think Mother mentioned hospitals and lab reports from time to time. I think she mentioned that the that they were selling off property to pay for the medicines. That his elder son, my cousin, left his education half way to take care of him. I was in college, surrounded by friends. I didn’t really pay attention. I didn’t know. I think I didn’t know.

My last memory of him is a large man swaying at the bottom of the stairs, smiling on a high, and talking to me in slurred tones. I was just about to enter my final year, and home for a few days, meeting him after a very long time. He laughed and told me I could practise on him for my final exams. His fair flawless face was now a dark mess of ailment, sagging prematurely – porphyria and lipodystrophy . His abdomen was distended – ascites. His legs were like two large pillars and the way the skin looked… – long standing pedal edema. Some part of my brain kept ticking off everything I had learnt in my textbooks, even as I looked on in horror, unable to find my uncle in the person in front me.

He didn’t make it to my final exams. I got the call early one morning, and I remember feeling nothing. Not on my 8 hour cab ride home for the funeral. Not when I watched my red-eyed cousins follow someone’s instructions regarding the rituals while holding back tears. Not when I watched my grandmother break down at the feet of her first-born. Not when my mother hugged me and wept like the world ended.

I remember telling myself how this was better. The mounting debts, his son’s broken education, my aunt’s incessant tears – it was better that he died than lived on as a ghost of his previous self.

Seven years later, I stare at the screen of a random assignment and sob uncontrollably into the night.

Posted in Musings

Raindrops On A Leafy Afternoon

You know how everyone is a type of day deep, deep, down? Some drip sunshine so bright that you wear sunglasses to take in all their beauty. Some are dewy mornings that invoke a quiet wonder in everything around you. Some are dark nights riddled with thunder claps and lightening strikes. Some are quiet evenings that calm you down. Some are light drizzles on a warm summer day that send a rainbow your way. Some are freezing winters pushing you to seek comfort in warmth elsewhere. Some are spring mornings weaving butterflies in your hair. Have you ever thought about what kind of day you might be?

I think I’ve always been a rainy afternoon.

Waking up to rain at dawn makes you cozy and reminiscent; you reach for the blanket and contemplate wistfully about staying in all day. Rains in the evening have you reaching for a cup of warm coffee and watching the droplets fall idly from your roof. Rain at night has you huddling around to share stories and perhaps read a love story by candlelight.

Afternoon rains are a different. They are the kind that makes you think about the umbrella you forgot at home, and has you crowding impatiently at the doorway, waiting for a respite that doesn’t come. The kind where a chilly air blows through your hair, and cold water drips down your neck from a leak on the roof as you join a bus full of strangers smelling of damp clothes. The kind where the walk home is bound to be full of a million brown puddles and muddy footprints on the staircase. The kind that makes you, a pluviophile, want nothing more than a fresh pair of clothes and the safe indoors. The kind that reeks of heartbreaks, loneliness and melancholic violin notes.

I’ve always been an afternoon rain, and yet something is different.

I’m so used to the cold, that I surprise myself every time I smile widely at an empty room. I feel an ounce of light leaking from the tip of my lower lip, and then another from a fragment of my iris. My tongue rolls in my mouth, unsure about why it’d want to aid in the escape of a laugh that’s brimming on the sides of my cheeks. A sparkle leaves my eye and lodges itself in the corner of a mirror. I lean back and sigh at the raindrops that fall in a cool cascade around my heart.

One word resonates – ambient happiness. Like the enticing charm of a new love, like a clandestine rendezvous on a forest path.

Did you know time ceases to exist or matter in the depths of a rainforest? When hit by a cloudburst, it catches each harsh splash in its foliage and eases it down; letting the drops fall like dainty flowers at its feet. That’s where afternoon rains belong – down in the misty darkness of its entangled roots.

The doorbell rings, and he steps in after a long day. My dear, darling rainforest. I burst forth, falling into his strong green limbs and he lets me cool his weary sunburnt skin, as a quiet trickle of bliss seeps into the earth beneath our feet.

Posted in Anecdotes

One With The Hills

To me Mumbai was a dot on the map that we were taught to mark for 5 marks in geography class. There it was, just below the large mass jutting out like a misshapen right claw off India’s body. The dot was Bombay when I started school and Mumbai by the time I finished.

You land in a place, and suddenly the miles stretch farther out; it goes from being a single dot and two syllables to an ostentatious display of sights, tastes and colours. I watched majha Mumbai expand in front of me and become a cluster of entities with their own standing that I got to know just a little bit – Dadar, Worli, Kaala Ghoda, Vashi, and yes, Navi Mumbai. That’s where my friend SR lives, a new Mumbai in its infancy, all timid buildings as opposed to the coastal city’s skyscrapers.

Even before I arrived, I had decided that I would be visiting SR. It was only later that I realised she lived over an hour away. We decided to meet halfway to shop for some work clothes for her, and then go from there. The travel from Dadar to Vashi tired me out. I had skipped lunch in favour of starting early and beating COVID curfew, and there was the heat and the traffic – I ended up sleeping half the way. By the time I met SR, I didn’t possess half the energy I initially had while heading out, and we didn’t make it in time before closing time either. Police patrolled the streets, ensuring everyone stuck to the evening curfew, while shop owners hid inside closed shutters – occasionally smuggling potential customers in through backdoors and make-shift curtained corridors, after careful communication with a counterpart who kept vigil outside. We wandered the market playing hide-and-seek on a Sunday afternoon.

It was when we reached Kharghar that I truly came to life. The ice cream cone that I managed to have on the way helped, but if there is one thing that can revive you truly, it’s the thrill of discovering green hills where you least expect them. After two days in Mumbai, I was used to tall buildings and narrow lanes, but there it was in front of me as our cab approached – a shiny green hill right by the road in all its monsoon glory, set against the bright blue evening sky, speckled with trekkers. I remembered S asking me in if I preferred beaches or mountains, and in that second I knew where my heart truly belonged.

SR saw the sparkle in my eye, and agreed to head out there immediately lest twilight should fall. She had been living right there for close to a month and never thought to go there! She was never a fan of trekking, but it was an easy route worn down by hundreds before us, so I coaxed her up to halfway up. And then sat against a rock taking in the green landscape dotted with nothing but tiny pink flowers and fellow dreamers.

A cool breeze blew through my open hair, as we clicked each other’s pictures and sat exchanging stories. A lone hen wandered a short distance away; we wondered about what seemed like its home in a tiled house at the bottom. I watched the wind create waves and ripples on the all across the smooth green meadow, like a hand caressing a lover’s locks.

In that moment, I was the wind, I was the grass, I was the rocky earth beneath my feet. I was the little pink flowers peppered around me, and the coolness that enveloped it all.

I was calm, I was spectacular, I was the throbbing of a thousand hearts.

I was alive.

Posted in Musings

The Creation-Consumption Conundrum

You’d think that all kinds of art would make you feel the same way. But it doesn’t. Music. Literature. Films. And of course, writing. Each of these gives me an entirely different experience, sets whole different moods.

Writing, for one, being something that requires very active involvement, is set quite apart from the rest. It brings me joy when it flows on its own, and makes me frustrated when I feel like I’m pushing it, or when I’m not entirely happy with what I’ve written. To be frank, I feel the latter right now; noting down my feelings without an end in mind. I feel more like a commentator than a writer.

Books are probably what gives me the most guaranteed happiness. For one, it requires little effort from my part. For another, it’s books. ‘Nuf said.

I’ve a love-hate relationship with music as I’ve mentioned before. I hate how much power it can have over my psyche, and how it can manipulate me so expertly and play mind games. Prior to discovering Spotify, I wasn’t even one to listen to music, and suddenly enters this software whose algorithm figures me out better than I ever managed to in 30 years. Sly b*&@#%d.

Films. Videos. Netflix. Why does watching something on our phone always feel like we are doing something bad? It’s the opposite of reading a book. Always a sinful activity. There ARE some random shows and channels that energize me, but most of it wears me out and/or makes me feel like a horrible person wasting away one’s life.

A couple of years ago, (or was it last year?! This pandemic has made me lose all sense of time) I started following a YouTube channel called Pick Up Limes. I loved the sheer positivity oozing out of the host, and the stunning frames and beautiful food preparations were a bonus. One of her earlier videos that I watched at the time talked of the necessity of maintaining the ratio between creation and consumption. How taking the effort to create something energizes you, while passively consuming someone else’s work ironically ends up making you feel drained.

I suppose my ratio has never quite been a healthy balance; it always tips on either side. And whenever it tips on the favourable side, you can be sure that I’m either emotionally vulnerable, or trying to escape a task. Like right now. I have deadlines piling up, and I choose to make a hideout out of WordPress.

It’s an hour away from midnight, and it’s too late to start afresh on work. Maybe tomorrow I’ll finally learn to strike a balance.

After all, isn’t that what tomorrows are for? Hope??

Posted in Anecdotes

Piecing Together A Memory

While searching for an old picture for the previous blogpost, I came across a photograph from three years ago. I was in the middle, clicking the photograph and on either side were friends. One was my senior at college and the other my hostel room mate at the time. I had no recollection of how, why or where this came to be. Behind us, against the dark night and pale silhouettes of trees, there shone a sign that read “Tanto’s”. Aah. My memory flickered, and I saw us having dinner – mine was the special for the night, seafood pasta with crunchy crab shells in the juice that I loved in the beginning and got tired of towards the end; someone ordered a small pizza that came with tiny purple squid tentacles sticking out; there was a pannacotta whose cream I loved and sour topping I hated. I remember that the bill wasn’t cheap, either.

But why did we have dinner together? These two were from different parts of my life. A play. Yes, there was a play. Of course, we had decided to check out a performance scheduled at the Adi Shakti Theatre in Auroville. I remembered the little indoor theatre, the lighting, us sitting on the floor. Of course, now it made sense.

I forwarded the photograph to both my friends. More montages started appearing.

“They gave us each a card at the end of the play, didn’t they?”, asked SE.

I wondered briefly where mine could be. “Something about love, yes.”

“This is the play where they had the moon lamp”, added SE.


“Towards the end of the play, a woman came holding a round lamp that looked like the moon. You mentioned how much you liked it, and that’s why I gifted the same last year”

“Oh.” I was stumped. I recollected a woman and a man, husband and wife, writers and actors of the play in an exploration of their love, but nowhere in my memory was there a moon lamp.

M’s reply was regarding something else altogether.

“That’s the night we saw the actor! She came in and had dinner at the corner table, remember?”

Yes.. I remembered. Her hair cut short, wearing a large hat, sitting against the corner wall. It was exciting to see a movie star at random.

“And the bike broke down”, she added.

I was puzzled. The bike. Yes, something did happen to the bike. How did we manage to get back home? The rest of the night was fragmented beyond recovery.

Memories are so odd. The three of us experienced the exact same things, and yet had such vividly different recollections of the evening. The Booker Prize winner, The Sense Of An Ending deals with the same; the inconsistencies in our memories, the obscure algorithm they follow in deciding what bits to keep and what to let go. To the point that we might even be left wondering about their authenticity, and have difficulty discerning them from dreams.

Isn’t it interesting how every detail of our life gradually fades into a hazy illusion?

Posted in Journal

10 Out Of 10000

As part of my work, I’ve been roped in to contribute a dot to a large canvas of research that’s expected to revamp the public health system in the country. I received an email yesterday, asking for a short bio and a photograph to be uploaded to the collaboration’s website. As thrilled as I was about being featured in such a space, having to produce a picture bugged me. I didn’t have any.

Well, I have tons of pictures with friends. In a group, I’m a hoot. I look amazing when there are people around me whose energy I can feed off of. I love being with friends, and that shows in the photographs. You can almost hear the laughter.

So it’s not so much that I hate having my picture taken; I hate having my picture taken when I’m the only one in it and am aware of the fact. There is nothing that discomforts me more than posing for single shots. I get extremely nervous and self-conscious and my smile gets all creepy and fake. Hate it, hate it. Needless to say, photographers had a fairly horrible time at my wedding. I never click selfies either. Of the 10,000 odd photographs in my gallery, there are less than a dozen photographs where I’m the sole object of attention.

It’s quite funny too because I am quite the narcissist. I stare at the mirror and have more than the required level of appreciation for the woman in it. I don’t think I’m ugly; I think photos of me are ugly. And this has been the case for as long as I can remember.

There is a passport size picture of me at 7 or 8 years, long well-oiled hair tied back in the typical Malayali fashion, eyes darkened with kohl, with just the barest of smiles at the corner of my lips. I remember hating that picture, because I always hated my oily long hair. Looking at the black-and-white picture now, I think she looks adorable.

There is another photograph from a couple of years later. I am wearing a red checked sleeveless frock with a white tee-shirt inside, the sole modern outfit among all the dresses I owned at the time. My hair was cut shorter, and I was smiling just a bit more, because I was proud of my dress. When I finally got the print, I remember the dismay that struck me – I had forgotten to hide inside the tee shirt the ritual black thread that I was made to wear around my neck for good fortune. So much for a modern photograph. Now though, I don’t mind the thread so much. I love the innocence in her smile.

The last monochrome passport size picture is from when I was in the 10th grade. I’m in my school uniform, and my hair is braided on either side. I was never very good at braiding, and it always happened that the one on the right would twist 90 degrees once I was done, and no matter what I tried, it would never look symmetrical. My big ears stood out conspicuously. I remember being conscious of the hair and the ears, and wishing I looked more like another classmate, whose picture showed off her silky hair and casual flawless smile. I hold the picture in my hand and struggle to recognise the pale, youthful, fifteen-year-old, and wonder at how small and vulnerable she seemed.

There is a photo of standing against a rock on one of our trips from college. Another picture marred by the skewed stark black thread seen against the clavicles. I was always so fixated on the thread that I never noticed how sweet she looked. On the verge of 20, much too young and innocent.

I look through the gallery and finally find one recent picture that seemed to be fit for submission. I have the institite’s identity tag around my neck. It was taken towards the end of the day by a colleague; my open hair is in a little disarray, and the eyeliner that makes up for my droopy eyes has all but vanished. There is a big toothy smile on my face. My skin looks dark and oily. I put in a subtle filter to make myself look a little better before uploading it.

A few years down the line, I’m sure, I wouldn’t notice my hair or my skin or my bare eyes – all my focus is sure to be on the bright big smile.