Posted in Musings

Memories

I re-watched the 1991 movie My Girl after nearly two decades. The coming of age story of a little girl learning to cope with change. I think it is one of those movies that I’ve watched over and over growing up, or perhaps I’ve watched it only once, and yet had it stay with me. It felt good to watch it again today, reconnecting with some part of me, wondering if this is how I felt as a teen as well, feeling the tears inevitably flow towards the end.

Perhaps my current sense of loss might have made it a little too easy to connect to her again. Loss is loss, isn’t it? Whether you are a little girl of eleven and a half, or woman of thirty, sadness envelops your heart in much the same fashion. It opens your heart, makes you vulnerable, and yet some part of you likes holding on to that sweet pain, perhaps because it is also the result of beautiful memories that you want to cling to, even if doing so burns your fingers.

There is a scene at the end when Vada and her father finally talk about death and loss. I still think of your mother, he says, when I see pretty flowers or beautiful sunsets she would have liked. Maybe climbing trees will always remind me of Thomas J, she responds.

Memories are good, sweetheart.”

Even if they make your head reel, or draw out your inner demons, or make you question everything about yourself. Even if you sometimes wish you never had them, simply because of the heartache they entail. Even if you rise out of them in scattered pieces and find yourself at a loss from time to time, trying to understand how to seal the holes effectively. Even if they lead you to wonder about alternate endings and magical horizons and inexplicably leave you wanting.

They are a testimony that there was a time when you weren’t afraid of letting yourself fall, take a leap into the unknown for someone else. That you were once surrounded by sheer beauty and laughter. You’re entitled to all those little pieces of the people you treasure, of the time capsules that you hold within you as you move forward. What else is there, really?

And so I sing to myself,

Oh weeping willow, fear not when they part, for you still get to hold them in your heart.

You still get to hold them in your heart.

Posted in Fiction

The One That Got Away

Their conversations often bordered on the realm of surreal dreams, tentatively dipping into the exhilaration of uncertainty with bated breath. The short sentences were thrown back and forth with agility – stinging, soothing, keeping one alive. She often felt like this was where it was all supposed to begin and end and begin again, like the point where the curves of infinity met in this two-dimensional world of words. And in the real world, that point became an endless pole, the axis of her existence.

“I do not really want you to be happy, you know”, she murmured.

“Why do you say that?”

“I guess I am selfish that way. You aren’t entitled to happiness if the source is not me”

He laughed. She noticed how his eyes were a mix of brown and blue, like the end of the horizon where the earth met the skies. She could easily walk to the end of the world, if they were the destination.

“A bit of a burden, isn’t it? To be solely in charge of a person’s happiness?”, he asked playfully.

“I suppose so..”, she paused, “Especially when I have been so bad at it”

“It hardly seems fair then, when you acknowledge you are incapable”

“Nothing is fair. So why should this be? And anyway, it is all your fault.”

“Of course it is”, he laughed again.

She tried to remember what his laughter sounded like. She wasn’t quite sure anymore. Did it ring shrill against the wind, or bounce off the walls, or send waves of deep baritones that vibrated against her being? She couldn’t really say.

Of late she had started thinking of him constantly as the one that got away, and of their paths as being ridden with a series of unfortunate events of their own making. Who knew choices of youth would haunt you as an adult?

“Isn’t it funny how we all seem to be living different versions of the same life?”

“What do you mean by that?”, he asked, “Is this another of your discourses on non-duality?”

“No.. but I suppose you could think of it like that”

“What did you mean, then?”

“You know how we talked about how we go through the same motions again and again, over the years? The same lingering sorrows, the same insecurities, playing out in a loop?”

“Yeah”

“Well, it occurred to me how we are all doing simply that, as a society. Every person’s story has the same arc, lined with the same mistakes, the same regrets, the same desires to go back and change everything. We wish to re-write our stories, to tread a different path, and are so self-occupied to realize that our lives are recurrently playing out in front of us. Evolution has brought us technology and high-rises, and yet we are exposed as ever to heart-break.”

He looked amused. “An evolutionary cure for heart break. That will surely lead to a brave new world.”

She ignored the pun. “They ought to teach this in schools. How not to mess up your life. How not to jeopardize something rare and precious. How not to get tangled in a web of wrong decisions, and spend a lifetime trying to set them right.”

“So basically, self-help books in the school curriculum.”

“No! Not… It’s… You always ruin everything.”

If life could be thought of as a giant decision tree, she knew the nodes where things went wrong. The wayward phrases, the rash comments. The impulsive resolutions taken for self-preservation that ironically heralded what it hoped to avert. She took their story apart and looked for ways to put it back together, leading to the right ending this time. Maybe if this message never got sent? Maybe if she called to say she was coming? Maybe if she were better at letting out her feelings, or hiding them? Maybe if she trusted him a bit more? Maybe if she trusted herself a bit more? But no matter how hard she tried, they refused to line up, refused to give her the reality she wanted. In every path she took, he continued to remain a relic, a requiem. She fought against the tide of moments rushing past her, searching for alternative trails.

Will you travel in time with me? Perhaps we can go forward and change the endings. And thereby the beginnings.”

“Would it help?”

“I am not sure anymore”, she sighed.

“You are never sure about anything, are you?” He sounded bitter.

She felt a small storm of indignation rise in her heart. “Well, it is all your fault after all

“Why do you keep saying that??”

“Because it was you all along, wasn’t it.”

“What was me?!”

“Who never wanted to stay in the first place.”

She took in a sharp breath as it hit her; why the pieces couldn’t line up, why he always remained a relic.

He wasn’t the one that got away. He was the one that chose to leave.

Posted in Fiction

Story-Picking

His stories seldom carried names. They were like pieces of a puzzle, without definitive timelines or protagonists, just flashes of bright colours and emotions on a wordy canvass. They fell dangerously from his lips, as if cast to the wind with abandon – a million wispy seeds of a dandelion drawn from every bright yellow memory.

She liked catching hold of them as they came her way and trying to put them together. Fit them as well as she could, so it’d feel like she was right there with him, looking on when each moment happened. Like on the nights he spent under the purple stars or wandering the streets of a distant city with a pretty woman. She wondered if it could be thought of as treachery, this stealing of another’s nostalgia and making them your own.

Sometimes it irked her that the people were nameless and faceless. The scenes in her head were splotched at best, with the hues a bit runny and the textures mostly grainy, and the sounds quite muffled – you could never tell if the laughter that sprang up at the beach and the hills belonged to the same person, or if the shadow with the silver trinkets had eyes of gold or of green. But at other times, she felt relieved that he stuck to pronouns. Names made people too real, too important, and she preferred to think of them as expendable characters who didn’t really matter at the end of the day. Like the crowds at concerts who exist only to create a blurry background for your excitement. Names meant he cared enough to give them identity and carry them carefully from one story to the other; like their presence in that space made all the difference. And that wasn’t something she liked to think about. She preferred to let these fall to the ground. The lines were too stark for her to merge into them, and she always felt the faces frowning at the intrusion, letting her know she didn’t belong, reminding her their moments aren’t hers to hoard. She pushed back a twinge of jealousy and waited for him to speak.

“Did I ever tell you about..”, he began.

She shook her head no, and spread her arms wide, ready for another night of story-picking.

Posted in Verses

Stories

Are you the ghost of a dream

Or the dream of a younger self,

An obsession to be lost

Or a loss to be grieved,

A slice of my heart

Or a phantom in my brain,

The life of all my thoughts

Or the death of reality..?

.

I weave stories after stories

Of entangled memories –

A smile, a hug, a missed train ride,

Tears shed in the night,

A lonely song played on repeat,

Words lost when out of sight,

Days of eternal sunshine,

Coloured illusions of youth,

A wayward glance, a stolen kiss,

The taste of strawberries;

.

I weave stories after stories

Streaked with reds and blues

From the depth of every night

To the edge of sanity,

Stories after stories

Of what you and I could be

Even as my footsteps falter

And my fingers turn to dust.

Posted in Anecdotes, Musings

Maari

“Off we skip like the most heartless things in the world, which is what children are, but so attractive; and we have an entirely selfish time..”

I do not remember when it was that I came across Peter Pan for the first time; perhaps my vivid memory of being shown the 2003 movie at my school in the 7th grade was the first. I obsessed over it for months or perhaps years; enchanted by the concept of Neverland and never growing up. And when I read somewhere that Sagittarians are known to have ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’, I was elated at the discovery. I divulged to every passer-by my noble intention to never grow up or be an adult. The concepts high-schoolers attach to coolness are strange indeed.

At 29 years old, looking back and recollecting some incidents, I am glad that I grew up. This is going to be a difficult write up, more cathartic than usual, because I am going to talk about things that I had blocked out from my childhood – perhaps because it was inconsequential, and perhaps because I knew that all said and done, I was just being a horrible person. We want childhood to be all about magic and innocence and rarely acknowledge Barrie for his realistic reflections in Peter Pan.

.

Her name was Maari. I remember it distinctly because I was taught the word first by my Malayalam teacher. I remember noting it down, in that little ruled notebook covered neatly in brown paper and with a colourful sticker in front that announced the details of its owner.

Naanarthangal (synonyms)”, she wrote on the board.

Mazha (rain) – maari, varsham

I knew her name must mean something else in Tamil, for she was from an obscure village in Tamil Nadu (I never bothered to find out the name), but it always reminded me of what was taught in class. Rain. And although I would love for someone to be named Rain, surely even myself, I did not want to be called that, as my cousin did at times. He would call me Maari to spite me, and I would be indignant. How could he call me by her name?! Sure, she was all of 10 years like me, and perhaps even the same height and weight, but she was darker, she was illiterate, she was the household help. I did not want to be her namesake.

Looking back, I wonder where my innocence lay. Why I could not accept a girl my age and play with her as I would with a classmate. Why I found it weird that she would be reluctant to approach my cousins and I, and would stick to her mother in the kitchen as far as she could. Why I found it hilarious when my cousin would threaten her with a knife or a pair of scissors or a dummy spider and she would retreat to a corner or squeal like a mouse; why, he was only playing around, wasn’t he? Why was she so scared every time when he really meant no harm at all…!

Perhaps I did not realise that anything can be scary for a 10-year-old living with strangers who speak a different language, because I never had to. Perhaps my entitlement did not allow me to see beyond her skin colour and notice the same fears in her, the same insecurities and the same dreams in her heart as were in mine. Perhaps I was so conditioned to there being two classes of people, masters and servants, that I did not feel the need to question anyone why I went to school and she did not.

I wonder whether I would have been nicer to her if my cousin were not around. Perhaps. Maybe children learn heartlessness from each other, and maybe it is cooler to be cruel than to be nice. And every act of spite eventually gets washed away by our colourful daydreams, and the reality of our childhood becomes that of wonders and laughter and sweet nostalgia.

It has taken me 19 years to come to terms with what I did. I do not know where she is now. All I can do is send my apologies out into the universe, wishing that they would reach another 29 year old woman existing somewhere, a happy place hopefully.

Whenever I come across the question of what I would go back and change, I would always say nothing,. But today, I realise it isn’t true. I wish I could go back and talk to her, be her friend and make her feel welcome. I wish I could go back and have the courage to stand up to my cousin, to tell him to leave her alone. I wish I could go back and tell myself how she and I are the same.

I wish I could go back and make sure that I do not have to write this post with blurry eyes.

Posted in Verses

My Scars

My life is a summed total of my scars.

A round shallow ditch,

Dark brown,

That shines like a misplaced nose ring

On an otherwise uneventful face

Talks of an impatient teenage hand

That picked at a chickenpox scab

And two small uneven mounds of flesh

One on my hand,

The other on my belly,

Corroborate the story.

A smoothed patch

Of hardened skin on a knee

Acts as the reminder

Of a yellow divider on a busy bus station,

A littered ground that broke my fall

And the hands that picked me up.

Discoloured stripes

On a thumb

And a forefinger that tingles on touch

Where enthusiasm made a mark

On the amateur cook,

And dishes enjoyed proudly

With fingers wrapped in ice.

Chipped corners

On a beating heart

That caught itself on sharp words,

And a tongue that learned

That retaliation

Hardly hastens healing.

And thus goes on,

Each scar a story

And they write the book that I am.

Posted in Musings

Change

As always, another self-centered rant.

Introspection.

Change.

Do I like change?? As an escapist, I welcome it. As an emotional wreck, I despise it. The revelation of the multitudes of meaning the single word has for me makes my sanity come undone; bares open the wounds that years of internal conflicts have wrought upon my mind – those never ending battles between thoughts of my own; I am the saviour and the enemy, I am the fleets of marching infantry and the crowds cowering at their feet.

I prefer to run away when all world seems to be collapsing around me – nightmarish reality or just a nightmare? – and I embrace the wild winds tussling my hair, heading to a new horizon, a new cliff, a new ANYWHERE.. just so I wouldn’t have to stand by and be engulfed by the earth I stand on.

And yet, I shed tears when it’s time to say goodbye, when the grounds and walls do not shake for me, but for someone else – and parting becomes not about wild winds but a tornado shaking my core and tearing me apart.

They say change is inevitable, parting is too, but never how the moments leading up till then seem to sum up to a contorted melee of emotions, memories and vagrant thoughts, sweet moments that one never ever thinks of treasuring past the prosaic milieu of scattered laughs and photographs that dissipate like the occasional cool breeze of a summer siesta.

You wake up to the harsh still air and wonder if it was all a dream.

Was it?

 

Posted in Musings

The Invisible Line

I bought my copy of The Help by Kathryn Stockett at a large book fest last year. The stall offered any 3 books for Rs. 200 which was cheap by any standards. While scrambling for good ones from piles of mostly trash, I found this one. The cover page looked interesting and the title seemed oddly familiar. It was three days ago that I noticed the untouched book tucked into the shelf and decided to give it a go.

It was a revelation.

For one, the setting – the 1960s; only 3 decades before I was born. Whenever I watch a Hollywood movie that features ‘coloured help’, be it Django Unchained or The Notebook, I’d somehow always imagine the story unfolding in the far distant past, the 1800s perhaps. Even when I was nearly halfway through the book I was under the impression it was happening some time yonder. That such racist laws existed so close to the present was definitely a little unnerving.

But a greater shock, one I never ever anticipated, was how much I could relate to this story from another continent. The only dissimilarity would be the fact that, in our case, we were all coloured.

Growing up in a quasi-aristocratic family in rural Kerala, we had our share of servants and labourers working for us both at home and on the fields, some of them migrants from the neighbouring state. We were all shades of brown, but they were different – I know they were never abused, but there was definitely a divide, a line of separation that I painfully realize still exists. But I suppose I was never fully aware of it till now. When I read the conversation about coloured bathrooms in the first chapter, I was warily aware of some recent memories that had started playing in my mind…

“Unbelievable!”, exclaimed a relative, pointing out the flaws in her brother’s new house, “An awful lot of money they spent on this place, with all these useless rooms inside, and they didn’t even have the common sense to build a servant bathroom…!”

“Do you know what their new maid does? After cooking, she takes her share and eats it before the family does… technically that means they are eating her leftovers. If it were me, I’d fire her right away! Such audacity!!”

I didn’t think much about these comments then, although I remember finding the first one somewhat logical and the second mildly disconcerting, but now I am left wondering more than ever.

My family per se, constituting Father, Mother and I, was not exactly rich, thanks to my father’s prodigal ways, but all our relatives were. So while they had multiple cooks and maids at home, Mother just had one, and only after I was born. This was the early 90s and most of the mechanized household equipment had not made its way to our rural hamlet. Laundry is anything but a piece of cake with a perpetually pooping creature at home (diapers were unheard of). So, it came to be that Mrs AA was welcomed with open arms into our home. She figures in all my childhood memories and was an integral part until she moved in with her daughter in another town when I was in high school.

I don’t think we ever explicitly discriminated against her, and indeed Father and Mother aided her a lot financially and emotionally, helping her deal with her daughter’s education and her son’s drug abuse, but there was an invisible line drawn somewhere. I believe she was even more aware of this than we were. I vividly remember how she absolutely refused to sit on chairs… not even the plastic chairs that the servants usually used (wooden furniture was always reserved for family alone), and sat on the floor of the hall while we sat at the table. It was quite a normal phenomenon to pass on old clothes to her and her kin; and these were of course gratefully accepted. The class divide was such. And the bathroom. Our house did not have even a guest bathroom, just the two attached to the two bedrooms. I asked Mother yesterday which one Mrs AA used during her time with us.

“Well..”, Mother paused thinking, visibly bewildered by this question out of the blue, “she was only here during the daytime..”

It was obvious this was something she had never really given a thought to.

“Yes, but what if she needed to use the bathroom in the daytime?”, I persisted.

“I suppose she must have done it in the backyard somewhere”

At a time when even women’s rights were a novel entity, it is not surprising that no one might have given a thought about the needs of a maid.

But when I look at this phenomenon after blurring out the distinctions in class, colour and race, I realize out it all boils down to is convenience and egoistic altercations. If I were to raise the issue with anyone, it’d be less of a debate and more of a discussion culminating in but-this-is-how-it-has-always-been and is-it-not-better-this-way… and maybe even a glimpse of the other spectrum of thought where rigid pseudo-realists call for the line of division to cater to a vague sense of discipline. And this extends across all fields, this phobia of chaos, this rapacious need to submit to order; be it a new army recruit, a new intern at work or a college freshman, the first thing you do is teach them their place. Somewhere in the maze, the components of respect and inherent integrity are forgotten and servility takes an upper hand.

It would seem that the apparently invisible line is quite vivid still.

Posted in Anecdotes, Musings

House Of Cards

My father has always been a rather distant entity in my life. Always there, but never really. I’ve never exactly been petted by him, as is the case with most fathers in the Indian scenario. But two things that I hold fast to my heart till date are cards and carroms – games I shared with him, and those he excelled at.

It was pure joy to watch him deal a hand, shuffling them this way and that, and even more so for a child. He is a leftie which was unique itself then – the way he held his deck and flung them out in triumph. We’d sit in a circle, Father, his friends, their kids and I, and we’d play for hours even as our mothers chided us in the background. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him lose; he was great at cheating even. And carrom! He would always make the first strike, hitting the coins exactly at that sweet spot that never revealed itself to me even after years of persistent practice; I can still recall the awe I’d feel when he sent coins flying in four directions with that single strike, bagging four coins at once. Two blacks and two whites. And of course, the red queen would land in his lap in no time.

He had a drinking problem, and managed to gamble away a lot of money. As time went on, responsibilities and liabilities grew and Father quietened down. I cannot ascertain if the change was abrupt or gradual.. He refused to play with us anymore even when we pleaded. Maybe one round of rummy once in a while, but then those too stopped. Even as the drinking came down and he started getting a hold on his life, he was not the same fun person he used to be, and I do remember that I often wished he’d just drink, just so he’d look happy. The cards lay unused and gradually disappeared in the way things do, and the carrom board came to life infrequently when I had a random cousin or friend come over. Cracks developed on the board and the wood pealed at places and it was quietly put away. I too grew up.

A few days ago, some friends came together and organised a little party for Christmas on the roof of their house. Someone brought along a few decks of cards, and as I spread my share in my hand after more than a decade, I was reminded of the rare laughter and fun and frolic that I shared with Father. Fragile times. A huff and a puff and it all fell down. My childhood really was a house of cards.

When I left the party, I held on to a deck and took it back with me. For home.