Sunday, 15 January 2017

So this is me writing something after a really long time and being all smug about it. And it's about, um, me writing something after a really long time and being all smug about it. Ink-ception? Yes, that.

-----------------

Ninety-Three
-----------------

One winter evening,

I wrote again.

Maybe it was the grayscale sky,

Or the dusk that fell too soon.

Out of pitch, out of song, I wrote.

Struck out every second word,
And wrote again.

I slept well that night,

Yet had the strangest dream:

My little notebook was on the floor,

And all the words were gone.

Breath and death and earth and fish,

Wars and cars and stars and quiche.

Freedom was out fluttering in the wind,

Fear lay shivering under the bed.

There was but one word that stuck -

Loyalty.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Childhood.



“Looking back on boyhood years, even unhappiness acquires a certain glow.”

-The Story of Lost Friends, Ruskin Bond.


This morning, I finished a book by Neil Gaiman that I happened to be reading - “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” - and I almost cried. The book had nothing to cry about, for it was about a man’s recollection of his boyhood memories and imaginary adventures - a book about children for grown-ups. And when I reached the last page, it left the floodgates of childhood nostalgia open inside me, for childhood is like those items of food that taste the best in retrospect.


Childhood is a time of freedom, the only true freedom you’ll ever get – the freedom to see, to just see, and not judge at all, and the freedom to believe everything you see or imagine or dream about. As you grow older, dozens of filters are thrust at your eyes, filters of good and bad, of right and wrong, and of gross social indoctrination. You have no choice but to wear them until you are old enough to throw them away and try to free yourself once again, but whether you like it or not, some filters find a way to cling to you till you end up as worm-food.


Childhood is a time of superstitions – some forced upon you by your parents or family or friends, and some that you momentarily conjure up (“If there is a guava left in the fruit basket, I will not flunk the exam tomorrow” or “If the lizard behind the clock squeaks while I’m up to something, then I’m in for big trouble” and so on!).

As a child, I was always, always curious. There was no end to my questions, and Papa would always bring me books and take me to every library in Trivandrum. I even remember the first book that I ever read by myself, “Bedtime Stories for Under Fives”, borrowed from a childhood friend*.


When my brother was born, I could not be happier, for I finally had the sidekick that I had always wished for. I would read to him from the “Young Scientist” series of books right from the time when he was just a smiling, crawling baby, and assumed that his little squeals and excited cries were those of comprehension and awe at what he heard. He was my partner in pretend-crimes and my loyal accomplice, my fellow scientist and explorer and time-traveller and mutant, who would never give me away or tell on me. Together, we tried to bend spoons hung upon kitchen shelves and teleport ourselves to strange lands.


And then there were my precious collections.


From as long ago as I can remember, I've always collected things. I had a collection of stones and pebbles that I hid safely behind a niche in the wall of my school. I had a collection of broken glass pieces that I could transform into princesses and demons at will. I had a collection of manjaadikkurus and kunnikkurus. I had a collection of feathers, and a collection of 10 paise coins. I had collections of stamps, both real and fake. I had a collection of little things - little books, little pencil stumps, little erasers and what not - I was always a sucker for little things.


When Princess Di died in 1997, I had a collection of pictures of the pretty lady neatly pasted in a scrap book. I had a collection of tattoos, and a collection of sequins and beads and buttons. I used to collect every single issue of "Young World" for years on end. I collected greeting cards and postcards, friendship bands and little cells from dead watches. I would even go around the school yard collecting lady-birds in little tins, and at night, fireflies. I would set up little lady-bird restaurants (leaves propped up with little twigs) for the bugs, give them shelter and sugar (yes, I thought they ate what the ants ate) and water, but they seemed to detest it all. I would collect ant-lions and ants and set them up against each other. But they all wanted their freedom.


I don’t know where I got this urge to collect things from. Maybe it was inspired by Papa’s collection of newspaper and magazine cuttings from the time of the Apollo mission to the moon in '69. I've always been intrigued by those bits of news (now bits of history) from a period so long ago. I've still not got over the habit, for I now collect experiences. I collect places and friends and smells and sights and feelings, I collect memories.


*Anjali - Dunno if you remember the day I borrowed the book from you, but I do, quite vividly. I was over at your place and I still remember the luscious, ripe, juicy mulberries that we plucked and ate from atop your terrace. And the beautiful, stubborn, purple mulberry stains on my hands that remained for a long time afterwards. :)

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Boiled Beans



This city awakens to the song of birds,
Drowned by the ceaseless drone of the diaspora,
To lucre-loving auto drivers declaring their preposterous fares,
And women in brightly-coloured sweaters on the side-walk,
Stringing garlands of marigold and jasmine.

This city awakens to the call of muezzins,
And little girls in little black burqas skipping to madrasas.
In another part of the city,
A little boy waits meekly beside his ayah,
With a branded bag, wearing branded shoes,
A packet of biscuits in hand, and filtered Cauvery water in a branded bottle,
For his air-conditioned school bus.

This is the city of mains and blocks and crosses,
Of hallis that aren't hallis any more.
This is the city of haute cuisine and homely street-food,
Of puliyogare, bisi bele bath, holige and kodubale.
This is the city of brands and bargains,
Of flea markets, open markets and openly-fleecing supermarkets.

This is the city of wretched shadows in alleyways,
Who demand lurid favours from passers-by,
And of love that must not be named,
And people who must not be shamed.

This is the city where distance is measured in hours,
Where traffic signals go red, yellow, green, and cow!
Where horses and donkeys walk past like people,
Oblivious of other people or horses or donkeys or cows.

This is the city of unassuming second-hand book stores,
The city that bursts into bloom at the mention of spring,
And the city of chilly winters and scorching summers.

This is the city of firsts and lasts,
Of mediocrity and excellence,
Of fame and fortune and filth and failure and flowers,
Of hungry eyes and pot-bellied wallets,
Of dreams, made and broken and fixed again.

In this city, the dust never sleeps.

PS: Here's to the city that has been home to me for the last two years, the city of boiled beans.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Dream.


It's been more than two years, two very long years. Welcome back, self.

***

What I have here isn't quite a story or a write-up or anything of that sort; it's a dream, and a very weird one at that, that came to me today during my afternoon siesta.

***

It's the first umbrella that I ever had, a sky-blue one with little brown and white puppies all over. Its steel framework is still intact, but the fabric is a murkier shade of blue. I don't want to throw it away, but I must ...

***

A little boy chases his toy car, an uninteresting, off-white hatchback, about the size of a big shoe box, over the stunted hill covered with rocky projections and stretches of some slender, long-bladed variety of grass, that had turned hay-yellow in the scorching summer sun. Suddenly, the boy senses movement somewhere and looks up. He surveys the area and slowly walks up to the dry canal some distance away. He stands by its edge for a while and sees nothing. Perhaps, there was nothing there, after all.

***

A noisy, little dark blot appears on the horizon, like a swarm of agitated wasps. It grows bigger, bigger, and bigger still. They are no longer wasps, and they now start shimmering in rich shades of red and green, like a blanket of thick velvet. Together, they swoop towards the ground like one huge eagle, determined to make the kill. But no, it's no eagle; there are tens and hundreds and thousands of them, little winged creatures that look like colourful quetzals. But one thing is for sure - they are to be feared.


***

Angela Merkel (strikingly resembling her namesake) narrows her sharp little eyes and glares at the man behind the steel trellis, a little notebook and a pen clenched in her hands. 

'Dietmar?', she says to the man, as if expecting an answer for an earlier query. 

'Are you with them too?'

No answer.

'I'm sorry, Dietmar. They will decide your fate now.'

***

The winged visitors fly past the building with a stone-cold, robotic determination in their eyes. Must kill. They may be little but their collective intelligence shines like a sunbeam off the edge of a sword.

***

I'm trapped. The iron cage hangs at the end of a rope as thick as an elephant's trunk. There are other people along with me, trapped, helpless, resigned to their fates. There are friends and strangers, and then there's Dietmar.
'They're going to burn us all alive...', says a scared-looking woman in a knitted white shirt. Death awaits us beneath the cage, its fiery jaws anticipating us with a burning hunger to extinguish our little, personal flames.

***

 

THE END

*** 

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Librarian


          The modest single-storeyed building that housed the library stood like an obscure temple of knowledge, on a busy street in the midst of the town, flanked by residential apartments that seemed to look down upon its ordinariness. There were a dozen shrewd men in the flourishing real estate business in and around the town, who would have willingly paid crores of rupees to own the land where the old library stood, and raze it to the ground, only to erect yet another monument in honour of man's ever-increasing hoarding tendencies.

          The library was his world. He would arrive at a quarter to nine each morning, dust and sweep the place himself, and throw the dilapidated wooden windows wide open, through which sunlight would stream into the room like water crashing down from the floodgates of an ancient dam. He would then sit back and stare at the dust shimmering in the shafts of light that filtered into the room from a corner window, obstructed by the branches of a huge jacaranda tree adjoining the building, weaving beautiful recreations of its filigree on the wooden floor. The dust was sacred; it was the sacred dust of ageing books preserved in the sanctum sanctorum that he always thought the library was. He wouldn't dream of obstructing the careless levitation of those sacrosanct specks. 

          He loved walking in and out of the aisles, now glancing lovingly at the hard bound, time-worn books, now pausing to take in the sweet, vintage smell of the rotting pages. Some books were moth-eaten, some tattered, but each was as precious as the other. New arrivals were infrequent, but when they did arrive, he would classify them at once and stack them neatly into their respective shelves. He couldn't stand the kind of glazed-cupboard treatment that was meted out to new books at other libraries, and he felt it wasn't proper for bibliophiles to stand drooling at them rather than get to finger through their crisp pages. All books were equal in his eyes. He took pride in his knowledge of books and authors, and he served the purpose of a living catalogue, for he always knew what books were available, and where exactly they could be found in the quaint little library.

          He had initiated several reluctant children into the world of literature, but had also failed miserably at times. He loved the wide-eyed innocence on the faces of little ones as they sat reading Grimm’s fairy tales, on the high chairs in the children’s corner, and the sound of their little feet pattering against the wooden floor as they came running up to him and tugged at his well-pressed trousers, seeking help in extracting a book of their choice from one of the higher shelves that they could not reach.

          He chuckled at the way proud old gentlemen with perpetual frowns and receding hairlines inched their way to the shelves, often pausing to figure out the best way to squeeze themselves and their potbellies through the narrow aisles. He pitied the insecurity and nervousness in the eyes of first-time visitors who were either forced to come due to a pending assignment or write-up that had been nearing submission or had been simply busy with their lives to find time for books. He looked away from the sophisticated young women who hid behind the shadow of shelves to adjust their expensive clothes. Many a time had he noticed young lovers at their hide-and-seek games, looking blushingly at each other's eyes through the gap in the shelves from where books had been taken out, oblivious of the sagacious words that generations of authors had penned down, about the fleeting nature of love and life itself.

          Every time he issued a book, he would make some random comment about it, saying that it was a good choice or that he thought that it wasn't the best of so-and-so's books. Some people would nod politely. Others would glance hurriedly at their expensive gold-plated watches, with mother-of-pearl dials. Time was a valuable commodity for them. 

          There was no rude wooden sign that demanded silence anywhere on the walls of the library, for he had taken them down, the very day he took charge as the librarian. He would often give chiding looks over the frame of his glasses, at children who were not yet aware of the importance of maintaining quiet in a library. He never hushed them, for when the word 'silence' was spoken, he felt it was but being broken unnecessarily. The children would understand at once. Within the library or elsewhere, grown-ups, as always, would continue to bend the rules to suit their needs, he thought. Silence was a mark of respect to the sanctity of the written word, and it pained him to think that few people cared to acknowledge the fact.

          Twice a day, once during the lunch hour and then again in the evening, just before he locked the place and left, he would push the rusting trolley around the place, taking care to make sure that 'Pride and Prejudice' was replaced in the shelf labeled ‘AU-AZ’ and the timeless works of Wodehouse were neatly stacked in the one labeled ‘WO-WY’. He loved the orderliness of the place and would never leave the place in disarray. He would sometimes mend the damaged books himself, meticulously gluing the torn pages back, or securing the loose cover with transparent tape.

          He had a few friends, old men like himself, who took pleasure in the society of books as a means to ward off the vagaries of decrepitude. He never spoke about his family. He seemed to have remained a bachelor all his life, for he had no children who would drop by to enquire about his health. He seemed well into his sixties or perhaps in the early seventies; no one knew for sure. They took his existence for granted. He was paid only a meagre sum, but he felt it was more than enough for a man who had no one to take care of. He felt that his work was a reward in itself, for there was nothing he enjoyed more than simply being at the library, among hundreds of yellowing books that looked smilingly at him, day after day, year after year. 
At dusk, he would make sure everything was in its place. He would then push the trolley into its rightful corner, shut the windows, eliciting muffled creaks from them, lock the main entrance and walk home in silence, a contented man, with a kindly light in his bleary eyes.

          They found him dead on the library floor one day. Beside him lay a tattered old copy of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, open to the last chapter, which describes the fulfilling of Melquíades’ last prophecy. Yes, the ants had begun to eat him by then.

Monday, 18 April 2011

The Unassuming Möbius Strip.

If you're the kind of person who has no qualms about admitting the fact that you've never heard of Möbius strips before, then I have nothing for you here. You might as well leave at once. Thank you.


I've never been able to fully explain my seemingly irrational obsession with Möbius strips. It all started when I, as an unruly, impressionable preteen of twelve, happened to watch a show aired on the National Geographic Channel, that featured these intriguing topological marvels, conceived and designed by the German mathematician, Augustus Ferdinand Möbius. I remember myself having gone through a half-hour of awe-struck wonder, and I've been a die-hard fan of the unpretentious Möbius strip ever since. :D

At school, there were just three or four of us who had heard about Möbius strips initially, but by the end of class XII, even the so-called Commerce students knew a thing or two about them. (Thanks to me, of course! :P) Back then, I remember having pledged to work for a Möbius-strip-literate world, which now sounds like the next most impossible thing to rooting out corruption from the political set-up of our nation. Ha.

I've never been inducted into one of those esoteric 'decoration committees' at school (not that I wanted to either! ) that used to sit around and decide what piece of ludicrously coloured paper should be hung where whenever some kind of celebration was on the cards, apparently to complement the festive mood, probably because they feared (and darned right they were too! :P) that I would resort to hanging Möbius strips where the tawdry pieces of decoration should have been, and Klein bottles, their equally amiable half-brothers (literally! :D), in place of those awkwardly shaped balloons with unsightly splotches of colour all over them.

Then again, we had just one Mathematics teacher at school who knew about Möbius strips, and she also happened to be a hardcore fan of the South African cricket team. The utterance of the word 'cricket' was more than enough to make her forget all about arithmetic progressions and correlation co-efficients, and trigger a passionate commentary on the previous day's match. The one sir at college who told the class 
about Möbius strips also went on to discuss the Four Colour Theorem and the Könisberg Bridge Principle, but he failed miserably at inspiring a majority of my blissfully ignorant classmates, who, as a rule, do not give a damn about anything that does not find mention in the B.Tech degree syllabus (2008 scheme, mind you! :P).   

At a certain 'renowned' engineering college in the city, there is a newly-installed solid model of the Möbius strip, and only once have I tried to pose with it for a photograph, for I was given cold stares and raised eyebrows by the dozen, for attempting the mere fête of standing near it and 
affectionately stroking its undulating surface. :D


Few people can comprehend the subtlety of the Möbius strip, however hard I try, shredding it mid-way between the edges, and in several other ruthless ways, to demonstrate its amazing characteristics. What most people see is a mere strip of paper given a half-twist and joined end to end. What they fail to see is the quintessence of its magical, one-sided existence in a majorly three-dimensional world.

My friend Adira with whom I share a mutual soft-corner for Möbius strips, once made a pouch shaped like a Möbius strip, with the ends stitched together (like, duh), and good-naturedly called it 'Möbi'. She later confessed to me that it was supposed to have been my birthday gift, and that she eventually grew so attached to it that she couldn't bear to part with it! She's at present a student of Product Design at the National Institue of Fashion Technology, Hyderabad, and on the 28th of October three years ago, the day I turned eighteen, she dedicated to me, a model of the Möbius strip that had earned her an A grade and expressions of incomprehension from her classmates. It helped me come to terms with the fact that I no longer qualified as a minor, and with the right to vote that was rudely thrust at me that day. 
Hereitis:


Thanks a lot, pal. :D

Sadly, there's already a fashion label titled 'Möbius', but I'm pretty sure she'd come up with a comparable name and go on to create awesome designs inspired by the inimitable twist of the Möbius strip. Good luck, girl.

Thanks to my enthusiasm, my little brother learnt to make Möbius strips even before he could count beyond 100! Now, that's something, ain't it? :D



Also, a bunch of my best buddies from school have promised to gift me a Möbius-strip-shaped ring for my wedding. I presume it would look something like this:


Ha to you, reader. I swear by the Möbius strip.


So there! :D

Trivia: 
Until a few months ago, I was the proud owner of an adorable little tabby named 'Möbius D'souza IV'. My neighbours lured him away with bigger bowls of milk and renamed him 'Appukuttan'. Damn.

Friday, 15 April 2011

The Departure

Whither are those singing voices?
Whither, those smiling faces?
They're gone, all gone!
But something still remains-
The ghastly feel of noises closing in,
Accusing me,
Not of what I'd done,
But what I hadn't.
The darkness seeped into my consciousness,
My eyes neglected their part,
Yet I could make out a shade by me-
A nebulous shade of mist. 'What are you?'
'Your Fate, my child!'
And there shone two black pearls for eyes,
And their owner, smiling a womanly smile,
A watery smile, a curious smile.


"Weeki Wachee Springs": Photograph by Toni Frissel.
With arms outstretched, she bade me near,
'Come, come, my child!
These shoulders of mine-
They long to rest thy tired head...'
How could I turn down
Such kindness from one I'd never known,
Yet seemed so familiar?
For all I once thought dear,
Had forsaken my hopes to Despair.
And through the woman's warm embrace,
I felt the life in my veins anew!
And listening to her throbbing heart,
I felt my own, lonely and pale,
Springing back to life!
'Don't you hate me, O woman,
As my kin do?'
'My child, you're my very own;
Whoever hates her own blood?'
I rejoiced at her answer,
And smiled as though I'd never before!
'Ay! But I must leave, dear,
For the sands of time have turned...'
'Alone? And not with me?',
I wailed, but without tears;
I'd drained my eyes ere the time,
For those who'd shed none for me.
The woman smiled again,
Her mysterious half-smile,
And rose to the darkness above,
Riding on the deathly chill o' the night,
And I stood watching her dissolve,
Unaware of the sighing breath that left
My being, never to return.