Why did no one ever tell me that leaves quivering in the pouring rain is more than I need at any given moment— enough to wash everything away and bring back buried memories all at once? And when the soaked, chocolate-ridged tree trunk outside my window stands strong, knock knock knocking against the glass gently, saying: I’m here for you I’ll be here when you leave I’ll be here when you’re back, that’s when I know I am happier than I understand.
can I think thoughtful thoughts without blogging them
why are likes the new currency, why can’t we stop trading, trading
why does silence sound like no one is texting me
who are we now that we cannot be anything by ourselves
what did she mean when she liked the comment I posted on her ex best-friend’s current boyfriend’s brother’s photo
where is the space between the virtual and real, and can you meet me there
I’m home again, and walking down the deserted gulley that curves around my house. It was here that I half learned to cycle with my brothers (no one ever took our training wheels off), it was here that I skulked with friends on humid summer evenings. In this picture you see can the shadows of my brother and I, walking in the still warm winter air. The lights are a shade of golden I can’t find anywhere else but home. A man snores through his ramshackle powder blue window, his face sliced into sections by the window screen. A woman stares out, cooking in a worn out metal pan, watching us. She in her sari, me in my hoodie. Wires criss cross against the charcoal sky and meet the green trees, and the golden light filters through it all. My brother says it’s time to turn around and go home. I follow him, at peace.
I just spent two days in Assam, visiting my grandparents. I toured temples and whispered my wishes to the deities, drove around the colorful markets, bought things I did not need and came home stuffed with more food than I knew I could eat (with bags of extra food, in case I got hungry). I’ve been spoiled absolutely rotten. Dadi gave me her special garlic chutney to take to college, dada packed a box of homeopathy medicines for my skin, and is shipping green tea straight to my dorm in Chicago. My pockets are stuffed with so many chocolates, I could put a ten-year old to shame, and I didn’t lift a finger, because my granddad was adamant about doing all the chores while I watched TV. They insist I am not to lose any more weight, that I’m beautiful, and that two days is far too little for them (I agree).
They live in a downtrodden house in Guwahati, with shabby looking couches and clutter that spills over tables and drawers. My grandmother is ailing and sickly; she can hardly walk. She lies in bed most days, dressed only in her polka dotted nightgown, ringing the bell for the maid and watching TV. She wakes up at 5 am and turns her trusted (and ancient) portable Philips radio to the oldies station, and sings along till 6 in the evening. And when my cousin and I, her beloved granddaughters, surprised her with a visit, she couldn’t speak for a whole two minutes, stuttering to find the right words. Hugs and kisses exchanged, dadi told us that she was quite miffed at being caught off guard. She hadn’t even put on her nice rings and changed her sari!
Holding my hand to his wrinkled forehead, my grandfather insisted he was running a fever. Ever since I was a child, dada claims he turns feverish every time he skips work. I couldn’t feel anything out of the ordinary, but I agreed, because dada and work are inseparable. And so it was nothing short of a miracle that he took two whole days off to show us around his beloved Guwahati (although he claims it’s called ‘Ass’am because of all the idiotic people that live in it). Dada loves his abuses, and I learned the choicest Hindi words when I was an eavesdropping, overeager child. They fly from his mouth as naturally as most of us breath, and yet they’re never flung in malice. His temper is always dancing on his nose, but he somehow remains the most caring, level headed man I know.
My grandparents bicker with an intensity and frequency that I am yet to witness elsewhere— loudly, acidly and continuously. There are no stony silences or mellow moments of reconciliation or hesitant, earnest apologies. It’s a non-stop (and very colorful— remeber the abuses?) battle of the wits, and it only ever pauses when someone else intervenes. But dada called me the day before my flight, urgently, commanding that I keep my mouth shut about the visit. I was instructed to inform my entire family immediately: there could be no slip-of-the-tongue situations. He planned the whole thing, start to finish. My cousin and I were just going to saunter in and yell “Surprise!”, but dada had other ideas. He set up alibis, told dadi he was expecting the in-laws of a close family friend’s daughter (an elaborate ruse), cooked lunch himself, and made us practice an entire sequence in Marwari so that we could fool her when she heard our voices from her bedroom (I failed hideously at this part). And in case you missed that part the first time, she was surprised. Very surprised.
And so when dadi is telling us the story (she is an incredible storyteller) of the Kamakhaya temple we saw in the morning, and dada tells us it’s all nonsense, I look at my cousin knowingly. And when I ask him why he spends 12 hours at office everyday, he says it’s to get away from dadi, and dadi rolls her eyes at him, and I just laugh.
The stars in the sky are sparse.
A solitary horn
pierces through the dark
And I am overcome by this feeling
That in the end, words will remain.
Not books, not letters, not journals
But the things I whispered in
your ears in crowded rooms
The secrets you pulled out of
your ribcage to give to me.
We marked our time with words
When the silence could not speak
Questions dangling in the air
(no one asked them)
And answers seeking homes,
(no one wanted them)
Which you scooped out
into my palms.
I like words more than pictures
They taste a certain way in my mouth
You know‚ like aluminium, like oranges
like salt, like sweat, like blood
sometimes toothpaste, sometimes bone
I like to turn them over on my tongue
And spit them out on to pages.
But pages rip, fly away, crumple
And god knows where
Where all our pages go
But I’ll remember your words,
So please, come here,
can I tell you everything?
It’s been a year of having no time. I woke to shrill alarms, I lived on sheets of paper that lay tasks before me like death bells, I hurried from deadline to deadline, I shared a room. My solitude was of the fugitive kind. It was stolen during summer nights as I walked from building to building, captured from early mornings on my way to breakfast, and occasionally, on weekend nights when work had eased itself into check marks on to-do lists. I was too busy to miss my solitude. I like having things to do, people to see, places to be. Busy means I’m working, learning, creating memories and friends and accomplishments and other banalities of that variety. Busy means I’m not slumbering my way through my life, busy means I’m doing something right.
But then the summer began. At first I was thrown off by the endlessness of days. What could I possibly do with all this time? Time was a luxury I had forgotten the taste of, and it tasted a lot like boredom. I wasn’t used to being alone so often. I commuted alone, I sat at my desk at work alone, I spent huge chunks of the weekends alone too. I was lonely. When I was in Chicago, I missed home like someone had taken my bones and flung them across the globe. And now that I was here, I ached to go back to my routine, my friends, my busy life. Before my internship in Delhi even started, I was in Calcutta, at the same time as my family and friends, and yet I couldn’t let the comfortable prison of counting my hours go. What was time if I could not divide it into neat little squares of productivity and leisure?
But as the days of summer dwindled, my internship ended, and most of my friends went back to college, something changed. I still counted my hours, splitting them by my commitments and responsibilities, but there was an addition— my commitment to myself. I’d almost forgotten what decompressing felt like; how to pick myself apart, sort through my days, and piece it all together— alone and unhurriedly.
Every morning, my brothers leave for school, and my parents go to work. I awake early enough to enjoy a leisurely breakfast. I sip my tea like nectar from the heavens. Hours of solitude stretch before me, like someone hung up a purdah to shield the world from me. Time is suspended, shimmering in the sunlight, just still enough for me to scoop up greedily. I read, I watch TV, I write, I doodle, I nap, I listen to music, I do whatever it is I want. I have time to think, and to let my thoughts fester without urgency, without worry.I can enjoy my own company without wondering what I’m missing out on, because in sleepy, sweltering Calcutta the afternoon is for rest. It feels sacred— the couch under the bookshelves is a temple in which I pray to myself. In varying degrees of dishevelment or dressed to the nines, I sprawl my legs on the sofa just like morning crawls into afternoon, accompanied by the same calm silence that has become my favorite sound.
My favorite afternoons are the rainy ones. The sturdy tree knocks on the window that faces my nook, its leaves waving hello. I set my book down and stare out the wet glass pane in peace— no noise, no people, no impending ticking clocks. It’s just my city and me, insignificant in the face of clouds roaring their power. And yet, I feel like a part of something monumental and important. I feel more complete than I’ve felt in months. I feel at home.
Clouds spread like watercolour on a grey-blue canvas, emerging from behind trees to say their nebulous hellos. Or goodbyes? Only the skies know the answer. All is uncharacteristically still, but rain is in the air. The leaves feel it. The windows pulled shut scream it. The watercolour clouds are soft, floating past buildings with their gentle, wispy caress. The white and green building is touched by the darkness of dusk, and its colours blur to make one big expanse of grey and black. But even then, even now, as horns blare and the city rolls on, the grey is not dull. It’s quietly beautiful, more beautiful in the knowledge of its power. Clouds and sky melt into one and I can hardly tell which is which. Leaves stir, like their eyes have been coaxed open by the monsoon, the smell of damp earth rising into the sky like smoke, fresh from the last rain. I’m not quite sure what periwinkles look like but the word drifts into my mind, as if on its own, as I watch the skies change through the window.
When I was a child, I’d take my brush and mix all the paints left in my palette at the end of class, just to see what colour they became. It was a few quick seconds, but I loved the surprise of creating something new. Something unknown from the carefully separated splotches of colour. Back then, I hated when it all turned into one big mess of grey and blue. I favoured bright colours, the reds and pinks and oranges. But back then, I knew not of the sky, and the way it churns all our stories into one big mess of grey and blue as lights flicker on in the streets, as I ache to open the window but the mosquito bites erupting on my legs warn otherwise, as tiny golden spots peep through leaves and tease the darkness.
Small talk that tapers off into nothing, buried by fear in a grave dug by anxiety
Ugly jealousy that swells from the pits of my most acrid thoughts, noxious and sly
Silences that don’t speak, that aren’t of familiarity, silences of I give up, I won’t try
Silences that catch in my throat and push words down like corks on 12 dollar red wine
The three pages I wrote for you that lay ignored, wilfully but not maliciously
The excuses I can make but the truths I can’t utter, bite bite bite your tongue
Plans on plans on plans that rise and totter like a mountain in which doubt laughs
A cough rattling like an animal in a cage, 6 weeks and the cage clangs in my lungs
Messages I write to you that stand untouched and virginal in a sea of things I never send
The stubborn curve of my gentle belly in the mirror, jutting its chin out saying no-no-no
Spots scattered like angry pie crust across my cheeks and down my back, battle scars of puberty
Bushy eyebrows and careful grooming and pain at the hands of the heartless parlour lady
All the insecurities I stuff into my not-even-a-gap narrowest of narrow triangular thigh gaps
Brown skin and a tan like a patchwork quilt across my body from hours spent in the sun
The fact that “dusky” is sexy, a way of saying even though she’s dark she’s beautiful
Sari-clad relatives who doled out skin advice and tut-tut-tutted as they inspected me
Checking my phone like an emergency, only to see I got fewer likes than last time
I hate a body I can’t help but love, can’t help but admire in the reflection of the metro door