“Your writing makes me feel a certain way”, he told me once. “Like I have lost something terribly important and don’t know what it is.”

I smiled then. He didn’t understand a great many things, but he understood this. And for then-just for a little while, that was enough.

I remember the word I had used. Irretrievable. Tonight, I go back to it and revisit it-more emphatically, more ardently than ever.

I don’t know what it is about life that I miss. About life as I once lived it-between the impatient banality of school days and the self-imposed almost-exile of today, I almost lived.

An August morning, last year- a crisp dawn I didn’t see giving in to torrential rain later. We snuck out of campus, three girls huddled under an umbrella and I shrieked in laughter as I hadn’t in long.

Which takes me back to a different monsoon, and how beautifully, how cruelly it blended into autumn.

A night when we were perched on the terrace, and the city  twinkled around us with a certain dazzling glamour, yet a restrained dignity.

Were these moments as fairytale then, in the living, as they are in the reliving?

I do not know-but I know this, yesterday, a storm broke out in the afternoon,when I was home alone. It had been another blazing day of sunshine-and when it started raining, I squeezed my hands out of the balcony railings, I let the rain sprinkle over my arms, my face-and that, right there, was magic.

And I know how some days, when I am walking home early from college-in the afternoon, I am startled afresh by the beauty of the sky-stark blue, awash with the sun-or by the canopies of scarlet bougainvillea stretching across the streets. This, right here, then is something worth living for.

All this will be memory-I will remember,then, the rows of palm trees opposite our house-and how pretty they look against summer skies. I will remember the red-and-yellow blossoms amidst the green canopies at campus, and the soft fallen leaves crunching under my shoes as I walk out of gate number 2. Will it seem fairytale, then, too?

As I sit here, writing, someone, somewhere is falling in love, someone is watching a sunset set the sky aglow. There have been times when I, too, have known beauty in a way few do. The sun rise over the ocean, a quiet countryside rise to the rythm of a kalbaishakhi storm. I have known beauty and I will know it again. So will you. So will everyone.

This is when I laugh at irretrievability-there is no beauty that will not come your way twice. You will feel your heart come home, again, you will wake to beauty someday. Again.

There is much darkness and despair all around, and I cannot look away…but when it all sits too heavy on the heart, I remember this.

Advertisements

Tonight, I am almost alone. It is too hot even for the air-conditioner to make the room completely comfortable, and my head hurts. But I have Leonard Cohen playing softly on my laptop, so everything is okay-for a while, nothing matters. Not the fast approaching exams-three days away now, I haven’t studied,not really. Not the way I keep drifting away from everyone around me,a little further every day.

“And what can I tell you, my brother, my killer

What can I possibly say

I guess that I miss you…I forgive you

I’m glad you stood in my way”

Leonard Cohen always reminds me of winter now…last winter, and suddenly I am back to those empty,aching days of December. To think what shade of hurt I did not nurse in myself,then…how would I have lived through it if not for this plaintive melody?

“If I ever have been untrue…it was never to you.”

All the arms I almost took shelter in, just a little,just a few more days till I learnt to stand my own ground, even if my knees did tremble,still.

But all that was so long ago. It doesn’t seem so…I barely recall the last six months,except in bits and pieces…mostly in a few moments of acute despair. Yet I lived, and I will,now too…whether I like it or not.

May. Five months since December,when I quietly learnt to feel everything a little too much without breaking apart. Or maybe I had broken already and did so over again, the chilly 2 a.ms when I sobbed into the pillow, listening to Jeff Buckley cry for lost loves-“I think I have forgotten her now.”

I thought I never would forget you.

But I thought I would move ahead,all the same. I prided myself on survival. On how much I could hurt and not let it show. The sheer recklessness. I must have picked it off some song I listened to-the rage in Janis Joplin’s voice when she screamed, “so take another piece of my heart now,baby.”

A bright 4 p.m. and I am watching the sun set over stuffy buildings in some decaying part of the city. I never thought of heartbreak, not then, but I pondered its sheer inevitability the next morning as I lay in bed. It never came to anything.

I outgrew them all. The smoke. The aftertaste of beer. Short dresses. A chillum passed around in the park as we sat sweating, huddled in a circle. I lost it all. I gave it all up.

Where did I go, then? What about the after? I wish I knew. Only, sometimes, in nights like this when the moon is almost full and there’s a voice in my head, humming-

“Maybe there’s a god above, but all I have ever learnt from love,is how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya”- I wonder. Nights like these I am almost fifteen again, alone and reckless and frightened, and ready to throw myself in,headlong into any semblance of lost love.

What I am trying to say is, if I had ever known love, it was for you. That is why I keep thinking only of the horrible hurt I cradled in my heart all those months through. I don’t think of the summers of aching from when I was fifteen or the still sunshod afternoons of last December,when I think of having loved.

So here I am writing about you again. I would not want to quote Neruda at you if I saw you now, believe me, I remember always having thought your features comically misaligned upon your face.But there has never been anything I could romanticise with the same ease as I can absence, so here I am.

Because that is just what it is. I have fallen for absence, for impossibility for distance, and even as I do not long for you anymore,that is what i continue to do. In writing to you, I am keeping alive the only thing I ever loved- I am keeping alive a mirage. For surely it was only the dusk playing tricks upon my eyes when I fancied I saw the softness in yours?

But that was a long time ago-a long time back when I would perch upon the balcony and watch the sunshine ruffle through the leaves with all the wonder of a child first seeing light. Everything that was dazzling and glorious then has simmered into banality now. A winter has passed and a summer and a winter …and here we are.

I don’t know if you know about the acute horror with which the world is collapsing around us, around all we once swore we held dear,and I cannot do much but write to you. Write to me. If, once, I had so much love to hold in my heart, surely our lives are not quite as redundant, our aches not quite as futile, as we have come to believe?

I wanted nothing more than to sink into banality with you. That was it, really, I wanted no grandeur more than what lay thick upon the autumn air that evening. I wanted it to be us, that crisp azure morning in the budding spring…I wanted it to be us that December dusk as the year limped to a close.

I wanted the starlit skies, the sprawling city lights clustering around us, the night biting cold upon our bare skin. I wanted 4 a.m. alone in my room, and I wanted it to be you.

This is the way love letters go. Love letters which couldn’t end up anywhere but plastered grotesque upon bright laptop screens for the public eye. To rue over common fates, to jeer at mawkish sentimentality.

I don’t even know you… anymore, or maybe I never did. Or maybe I was eleven and you were the bright-eyed child sitting beside me in Maths, maybe I was fifteen and you were obsessive ache projected onto something near-human,maybe I was sixeen and you were hope, and maybe I was eighteen and you were the rain beating down upon my borrowed umbrella that first day of college. And maybe I am almost twenty and I roll my eyes too much,  making a ritual out of only aching for the distant, the lost, the unattainable.

Maybe you were the first two lines in a poem about loss I started and scratched out and started all over again, maybe you were the unexplained smile I woke up with at five in the morning. Maybe you were the hurt that would not let me sleep at all, the bitter that woke me up a couple of hours from midnight and would not let me return since.

I don’t know, and I have given up looking for the answers. But I do know this- there can be a home amidst the hurt…and I am self indulgent to return every now and then.

Summer in Calcutta

It is hot already in Kolkata. Not April yet-only March sighing out to an end, sun searing itself on your skin, heat breeding sweatshine upon your forehead. There is something about summer that makes me want to write.

Maybe it is because summertime is somehow so intensely tactile. In Kolkata, at least , heat is a ritual. The legend of the calm morning- a reddening sky, a bird starts to chirp- and then the brutal heat, all day long. Food is the coping mechanism the Bengali mind knows best- so there is lemon squeezed to juice, there is sugarcane awaiting a similar fate-there are grapes soaked in water to clean them of roadside or bazaar grime. There is of course, also bright cans of Coke and the competing, jostling cries of ice-cream van owners.  Then there are the nights -a cool, gentle breeze, leaves rustling in assent- or the Kalbaishaki, summer storms typical to the region.

We experience summer, each of us, with an unique discomfort. And yet, here at least, there is also an universality to this experience- you cannot hide in air-conditioned rooms forever. Sooner or later, even the most exquisitely done kohl will smudge, every tumble-down crown of curls pulled back in a bun. The heat humbles us-some more than others.

Perhaps because of its sheer discomfort, the heat makes me dream. I tuck myself in blankets and I dream of winter, I walk to class and I dream I was at the beach. I spend long hours at the ledge as always, staring fixedly at the palm trees and imagining they would look the same anywhere else- draw up lists of countries to visit.

The heat drains you. The heat redeems you. Soon it will be a new year, by our calender and there will be new clothes- new hopes too, if you are lucky enough.

My father always told me the right way to deal with the heat was to close your eyes and dream yourself somewhere cooler. I scoffed and my mother scoffed, but this was before air-conditioners and  this was in the era of frequent power cuts, so I gave in. I don’t remember if it worked, but I have never really dreamt of cold places of my own accord. I guess I read enough about them in my books and on the news enough.

The cold does not have much place here- it is almost April, and it was never this hot in March before, as far as i remember. And warmth this fierce should alarm-only right now, it doesn’t. For five minutes, perhaps…it does not.

The change of seasons makes me intensely nostalgic, but in winter yearning is as quite and still as the world before sunrise. In summer, yearning is enraged at itself,its own impossibility.  The relentlessness of time, the irretrievablity  of loss- I wrote about all this, before-with hope in the autumn and mockingly in the winter…now what do I have left? Only boiled over indignation, only stale rage?

Brown Girls Don’t Have Homes

we are mutilated,bandaged into womanhood when we are here-in splintered lands we call h-o-m-e

and when we step out we carry the sun-shame onto the frozen honour of civilisation.

when we are home our mothers teach us to soften our tongues- mellow the edges of our anger so

others don’t get hurt. fold the knife inwards-the only rightful claim to the wounds is you.

when we step out their eyes trail our erring adolescence-reminders come, shroud yourself in shame

a few steps forward, and we are chained by those who seek

to save us from our own.

when we are home we are too much

we step out and spill out and the world doesn’t have enough room to house us

our hair curls wrong. our bodies rise and swell and recede as they please.

our voices ring too high. our words are too big. our desires too crude.

we carry too much spice. too little ease.

our mothers were right. the streets are not for us. not the way men’s eyes

sneer in the guise of desire. women’s bodies cause men to sin – on our part,

desire itself is.

the only real way to escape is to pick one man and build his home.

pick your prison. not everyone has license to choose. savour your luxuries.

squeeze out a child maybe two. pray they are not cursed like you.

brown girls build homes in words. you are lucky if the vultures don’t follow you here.

pillow-homes, shake out the feathers. you are selfish if you write your self into being.

brown girls don’t have selves. look at sita. how she sunk in dishonour.

if we write about others it does not matter.

the blood in the north does not matter.

the cries in the north east does not

matter.

the flesh at the border is just part of a procedure.

shut your eyes. brown woman. brown man is only protecting you from the other.

don’t dream of home. don’t you learn.

your grandmothers left theirs. in more ways than one.

if need be. build one in your head. but don’t speak

don’t flaunt it don’t plaster invitations on the wall

all your womanly sentimentality it gets in the way of progress and development.

only progress builds you a home. we will build you a home.

a home where you can veil yourself in discarded respect. a home built on blood and bones.

brown girl don’t scream don’t speak so loud

what is home to you if not a noose our great empire flung down?

brown girl take the noose. take the hint. don’t blink a lash don’t bat a lid.

we build you home brown girl we give you safety we ask in return one thing

one thing only

your vision and  voice.

Nostalgia,In The Age Of Social Media

I am scrolling through Twitter. I have tweeted about the daily displays of sexism I am sick of facing, and got a few favourites.

I am back on Twitter after a very long time, so I find myself going back to my own profile. In my photo gallery here, I am, when I appear, eighteen. Chubby-even more then than now,more pimples,hair freshly shorn. There are other photos too-books I am reading,snug under blankets as I wait for first my board exam results, and then university acceptances to come along. The first few days of college, and I am documenting every stretch of campus I am newly enraptured with.

Instagram. The story is the same. Hazy shots of books strewn across bedsheets, screenshots galore, shrines in dedication to my seventeen-year old mind’s heroes-Jim Morrison, Edie Sedgwick, Talitha Getty, Janis Joplin.These give way to a month spent vacationing in Delhi, then starting university-here again, a campus documented lovingly,if rigorously.

Someone said the digital media has killed albums-photo albums handed down generations, the intimacy of leafing through your childhood, your family huddled round you.

I am sure it has its charms. But..they died with Facebook,with Instagram,with the new non-commitment  of Snapchat and Instagram stories-they are replaced,you allege,by something that doesn’t deserve to replace them.

But these are our albums now,our stacks of journals,our letters,and these are our feeble,frantic,tiny histories.

What social media lets us do is tell our own stories. A little filtered maybe, a little adjusted sometimes to suit society’s expectations, or win its approval.

We still document,we still archive,we edit a little with time-who hasn’t?What documentation is, in this age,is a very personal, very individual-if not a little narcissistic, affair.

I am scrolling through Twitter,and I am thinking of nights I spent in a similar way,the glaring blue-and-white screen providing a series of distractions from the inevitable worries-results,college acceptances…I am thinking of playing Mohiner Ghoraguli in my room,alone, on a night like this-and dreaming of all university would open up to me,if only it opened up its gates. I am thinking of the youth I dreamed up and never got to live-the spirit of rebellion bubbling down from the 50s Beats-Hungryalists, and the 60s surges of counterculture-the rebellion that bubbles down to a Facebook post or two.I am thinking of the book by Deborah Baker I read, about the Beats in India-the quotes from the Kolkata chapter neatly archived on my Tumblr. I am thinking of the scarlet dupatta I bought from the Gujarat emporium on my 18th birthday and how pretty it made me feel,how a hashtag #reclaimthebindi made me re-examine everything I have ever learnt about my own culture and its backwardness,its sheer uncoolness.

This is how we assert life,dangling earrings and a selfie-I was here,I flaunted a defiant crimson smile. We leave traces of our thoughts,trickling off our heads,messy and glorious,we scatter our rage and our laughter onto Tumblr #aesthetics.

It is just part of how we live, do not dare tell us we are anything short of majestic.