Sometimes you miss some things you’ve left behind. When I read a friend’s view about a photograph I’d posted on my Facebook page under an album named Us and the lives around us, I realised just how much a part of me that setting in that picture had become.
Bela’s been very generous today. As well as Bhartan. She is lying here next to me after having stayed with Bhartan for most of this Sunday. I miss her when she’s not around, but also feel like a little kid wanting to quickly do things she normally doesn’t get to — take a long shower, paint toenails, make a nice cup of tea, put eye-drops in my aching eyes, write. Write.
Here’s another etheree. I wrote a couple a few weeks back — about the ocean and about my daughter. I am going to try to write for them both today. I do not know how it’ll turn out. Let’s see.
For a bit.
Yes, you do that.
And then, you take it.
Your touch lifts it right up,
And then, ’tis eternity.
Your rush, and then your peace, your warm soul.
Take my heart, now. And keep it there, in you.
Images: Mogra/Bela flower from merinews.com, sea mist from macwallpapers.in. Pictures joined in a collage on picmonkey.com
My parents came over to visit us for a week and a little more. During my occasional walks with them, I remembered I’d been wanting to take pictures of the numerous birds that inhabit our neighbourhood and show them to you. The desire is like that of a child saying, “Look, I can see that! Can you?”
A few days back, I did take the camera, but was able to manage only a few pictures that are postable here. Perhaps I’ll ‘win’ some more in the subsequent days and post them, too.
A family living close to us has placed these earthen vessels on their wall for the birds to feed and drink water from. Mornings and evenings, a huge flock of parrots comes and satiates itself. This picture is only of one of their kind, but you get the picture!
Right next to this parrot haunt, there’s a silver oak tree (it looks horrifically chopped because people chop off the tops in winter — it helps the tree, and provides firewood for homes). This big guy was looking down right at us, we thought. My mother told me to take a picture of him, too. I had my doubts that it’d come. Backlit setting and all. But she insisted, I took the picture and lo, we can even see his eyes!
Ready to move on, I saw this dried vine with its gourd-fruits. We use the dried up innards as loofah. Do you? I thought it’d be interesting to show you. My current loofah is about to say adieu, but then I have a spare one, otherwise I’d have been aching to climb up the electricity pole and get a couple of them. Climbing is such fun, I’d have done it without any fruit at the top. But then, sensible people would stop me. For all of these reasons, I took a picture instead.
This bird has been intriguing me for two years now. My internet search tells me it’s a magpie robin, but his call doesn’t match the recorded calls I downloaded. Whatever the bird, this one is elusive.
Isn’t it amazing how the most incongruous of things can flourish together? This never ceases to amaze me. Of course they don’t always succeed in coexisting, but whenever they do, it is nothing short of a miracle of effort, I feel.
I itch to know names of things. Animals, birds, people, flowers, plants, even microbes. I look at these blossoms and remember I don’t know what they will turn into. Pears? Plums? Peaches? Apricots? And then I remind myself that it doesn’t really matter.
As long as I can continue to look at their glory, and enjoy it, it probably doesn’t matter.
Especially when I go closer to the tree to take a close-up, and the family’s dog fails to feel welcoming.
Or these beautiful finches. They’re finches, I think. But then, what’s in a name? My father kept whispering “look at these pink ones here! Look! No here, on the hibiscus bush.” They were so far away and so difficult to see, I’d have missed them.
Some associations remain for life. Like this woodpecker. We’ve learnt to call him Woody Woodpecker because of the story my father used to tell us when we were children. Whenever we see this bird, it’s always, “Woody!”
Not just parrots, but a whole colony of them. Chattering, preening, jibing. These are a different variety. They have rosy heads. But they talk the same language. At least I think they do.
The sun was getting ready to set. But it would take at least an hour before it did. Thankfully, its light lit up the tree and the parrots just right to give us a beautiful picture.
Now that they have left, and I look back on those ‘walks’ I’ve walked with them, I feel grateful for all of those sights they’ve shown me. It is uncanny how parents have the power to show in the most tacit of ways. As I prepare for a little one of my own soon, I realise the baton is getting passed on. Or duplicated. For parents never really stop giving, do they?
He was a tall, white-haired man who looked like he still had a lot of strength in his old body despite the number of years he’d lived. She was a short, plump woman with black, curly hair always tied up in a well-oiled bun. The discernible dissimilarities ended here. All you would notice about them was their smile. It never left their lips, no matter the temptation. And it always traveled from deep within where only love can live. I know, because I felt it every time I met them.
He was my mother’s mother’s cousin. My grand uncle. Our relationship was distant, interactions sporadic, for they were tested by the trials of complicated lives and time-chasing. But the memories have left a mark, like a cairn, flagging the trail towards meadows with daisies and candyfloss clouds. A place where you know that love, in the deepest sense, outsmarts rain and hail and sleet.
The fingers are drumming out Alanis Morrissette’s Ironic on the steering wheel. No, she isn’t singing or humming with the singer. The morning’s smile is gone. Her mouth is pursed in concentration. She will tell me soon what she is thinking of. I like her without the concentrating mouth. I like her little-girl features. I just mean her eyes here, mind you. They’re giving her away. If you take your attention from her concentrating mouth to her eyes, you’ll know that the mouth is only pretending. Her clear eyes are honest, and they betray excitement.
The world’s been running away from us. Trees, side-walks, houses and offices, cows on the side-walks, beggars and policemen. Farms. We could’ve been running away from them, but we aren’t. We are just in her new car. We entered Agra a half hour back, and could now almost touch the Taj Mahal if we stretched our arms out. If we wanted to. If I could stretch my arms out and walk, I’d want to walk to an ice cream parlour on my own, and point my finger at the huge vat of Cookies’n’Chocolates, and ask for two scoops. Or three. And then pick up the spoon with my fingers, and eat one delicious spoonful at a time. Myself. But I can’t. And I never will.
Don’t jump to conclusions. I can think. And talk a lot. And that is important. Speaking of which, she is important right now. Let’s look at her. Alisha. My kid sister. My fun world.
All is not fun in her own world. That is what she told me this morning. She came to get me at six. Amma let me wear my bow tie. Appa wheeled me out, and squeezed my shoulders just the way he squeezes the lemons for our morning lemon tea. I like it like that. Our parents are my care world. But I am still talking about myself. I do that sometimes. Alisha says I do that all the time. I just show her my tongue and ask about her day at the office. If we’re talking on the phone, I tell her I am showing my tongue. She should know.
Her office walls are red. I went there once. That is the only good thing about there. I don’t like advertising. It is like this road. It will take us to the coffee shop, but it will ask for too much of too many things. Being lifted from the wheelchair, getting adjusted on the car seat, the strangeness of the AC, the staleness outside. You know what I mean. Advertising is just like that. Alisha agrees with me. But she is the senior copywriter there. She told me.
She’s replaying Ironic.
We’ll reach Barista soon. We come here every last Sunday of the month. Just Alisha and me. Delhi to Agra. Just for coffee. People used to laugh at us, but Alisha said she didn’t care. I never care about pleasing people. Unless they are nice.
She’s not spoken a lot since we left home. That was three hours back. It must be because of the thing she is concentrating on.
I say, “Yeah?”
“Did I tell you I like that pink-roofed house over there?”
“Who likes pink roofs?”
“I do!” She couldn’t look defensive even when she tried. If I could put my arms around her, I’d hug her until she told me to stop, she was driving.
“Is it your paintings? Is that why your world is not fun these days?”
“My exhibition.” The drumming stopped.
“Do the people at the gallery not like them?”
“They do. But that’s not the point.”
I don’t understand. If the gallery people like the paintings, then there can be an exhibition. What is the point? “What is the point?”
“I don’t like them anymore.”
“But you painted them!”
“So what?” She pouted.
I think. I think I understand her less and less these days. I think I must try harder.
I say, “But the exhibition begins next Friday!” But I am thinking — can she repaint all of them before then?
Alisha decides to bite off her thumb’s nail. Just at this moment. She knows I hate, hate, hate it.
“Don’t do that!”
“Don’t chew off the nails.”
She looks away. The moment is gone. She could have told me. But the moment is gone.
There’s Barista. We first came here 12 years back. And fell in love with it. That is when Alisha and I decided that this would be our Barista. There must be at least 200 Baristas in Delhi. But there’s none like this.
All is not fun today, though.
Alisha’s been running circuits and doing weights for years. Just because she doesn’t want to huff and puff when she lifts me off the car seat to put me on the wheelchair. And the other way around. She says it’ll spoil her nonchalance. I don’t like the word.
When she wheels me in, she says, “Our seat’s taken. Choose another. Quick. Look at those crows over there, they’ll take a seat before we get in.”
I can see through the glass. Why does she have to give a speech?
“Let’s sit next to the girl with the cream moustache.” We hate the poster. First, it is too huge. Second, she could’ve wiped off the moustache before getting her picture taken. But that’s advertising for you.
“Why don’t you like the paintings?”
“Vic. I couldn’t explain even if I wanted to.”
“You don’t want to?”
“You talk too much.”
I sometimes feel like getting up and banging my fists on the wall. I’d prefer if it is a red wall.
“The gallery walls are cream.”
“Jess.” We took to pronouncing yes this way a month back because we liked it this way. So there.
“Your paintings are all purple-y.”
“So what’s the problem? Cream goes with purple.”
“They, somehow, don’t go with me.” My sister takes pauses between words only when she’s really, really, really confused. This does not look well.
“I thought I was painting my soul out, Vic. Is my soul purple-y? The eyes of the girls look wistful. I am not wistful. The, the, background’s all yucky.”
“Yucky? Why did you continue painting, then?”
“I didn’t think it was yucky then.”
“I don’t know.”
“I am tired.”
This happens to me. But I don’t chew my fingernails. Raja, our favourite waiter, has got us our favourites. Mine is Devil’s Own. Alisha’s is Brrrrista.
I like it when she opens her mouth while putting spoons of cream in my mouth. It’s like she’s letting me have what she wants. I love her for that.
“The strokes. Do you like the strokes this time?”
“Jess. I think I did good.”
“Al, you can’t paint all of your soul. It is too, well, a lot.”
“So I just paint a tiny part of it? Everytime?”
“Jess. Every single time.”
I can lift up my hand and pat on hers. So I do that. I have a feeling the fun’s coming.
This almost-haiku revives me as often as I want it to. I hope you like it as much as I do.
is only the beginning, love.
Tread to make kind prints.
Originally posted here on September 7, 2010
We dreamed big, Shonu and I. Sitting under the shade of a tree similar to the Australian bottle tree, we’d dream of becoming small. We’d pick up one of its pods that looked a lot like a boat and imagine a miracle that would make us tiny enough to fit inside it. We’d plan to rip off a part of his shirt (it was always his shirt, never my frock) to make a sail of it, and sail the nearby watershed. Or, when the monsoon was gone, we would dream of sitting atop the very tree we used to be sitting under. Right where the birds sat. And look at the world from the eyes of a being that Saw It All. It was a big dream. At least we thought so at the time.
The three years between us was just the right distance. At every age, he was old enough to save his little sister, and I was young enough to satiate his sense of responsibility. I was a bungling, confused, irritable little girl and he was naturally suave and charming. But we were both incorrigible recluses. Quite a twosome. We laughed at the world, protected each other from it, learnt the tricks to rope in the moon just a little closer. Yes, we were great together. Perhaps that is why, despite having the usual friends at school and around home, we never really did need a special confidant for a tête-à-tête, or a best friend to chide us when we did wrong. When we grew older, we shared common beliefs. If one of us got past the other in overcoming a hurdle, the other was never left in the cold to wonder about the confusing labyrinth, for there was always a hand to chalk out the path. It was beautiful. We were old enough to call each other best friends of a lifetime, when he died.
Writing about a loved one gone is sometimes threatened with the prospect of the words sounding like eulogy. Please remember while we traverse through some of these memories I have of him that this is not a eulogy, it is a love note.
When I was born, my mother tells me, he would stand at her room’s door in the hospital and refuse to come in. He would just keep looking at this tiny bundle from a distance and probably wonder what it had done to his mother. He was in the habit of sleeping only if there was a strand of our mother’s long hair across his lower lip. I had come in between him and that strand. When they brought me home, he kept his distance from both our mother and me. We were with my grandparents at the time. The whole household was worried that he wasn’t accepting me well, and such a delightfully pleasant boy, too. A couple of days later, probably tired of sulking and dying with curiosity, he agreed to come to my crib-side. When he did, I grabbed his fingers, I am told. He grinned for the first time in days. That must have been the beginning of a relationship of mutual delight and support.
Through heartbreaks, failed cycling attempts, Rambo I – First Blood stories, climbing guava and mango trees (only to get stuck at the highest branch) and shoddy academic performance at school, he continued to hold my hand. I slipped and fell often, guided by my rebellious, confused ideas. In such times, he first did what I thought I needed the most. He saved me from my mother’s acerbic remonstrance, in turn saving her and, sometimes my father, from the agony of having to say difficult things to their much loved but annoyingly headstrong daughter. And then, in private, he gave me a piece of his mind. Ever so gently.
Our father had to be away often for months together on military exercises or deployments. We all missed him, of course. Mummy and I would tell him as much on phone. Shonu acted the man of the house, hiding his frustration when he needed this or that answered, or just wanted the dining chair next to him to be not empty. To keep us a little happy, my mother kept a picture of my father on the television in one of the bedrooms. She began to notice that on some days, the picture was turned down flat on the T.V. Blaming it on her own failing memory, she thought she sometimes forgot to put back the frame after the dusting. One day, she happened to be in the room when Shonu was going to take a bath. The bathroom was right next to the T.V. While going in, he turned down our father’s photograph. Curious, she asked him what he was doing. “Papa’s looking at me. When I come out, there will just be a towel around me,” he said shyly. “I sometimes forget to put it back up.”
But his gentleness was selective. And extremely biased in favour of those that he loved. I was 13 when I began to notice the attention from the older boys at school. I told my brother one day about this guy who’d buzz around my friends and me, exhibiting his newly discovered hormonal surge. He was the school’s newest, much-feared ruffian. The next day, this buzzer came to me and my friends, head bowed down, and said, “Sorry, sister,” and walked away. My brother was standing at the far end of the school quadrangle, watching. When I asked him what he’d done, he said, “Why would I do anything? He must have seen sense.”
My brother could lie too.
At his interview for joining the Indian Military Academy, the interviewer asked him how he rated honesty. He said he couldn’t possibly think of being honest all the time. “How can you tell a bride on her wedding day that you think the look is not quite right?”
Twenty seven years is a lot of time to leave memories that may last a lifetime, and more. Which ones do I type? What do I tell you to tell you how this absolutely brilliant individual changed my life forever? In his life, and with his death.
This vicissitude in our lives, my parents and mine, after we lost the one strong anchor that had helped us home in to the Goodness, has left us struggling to find a footing somewhere. But he wouldn’t know. He’s probably up there sitting on this tree-top outside my window, grinning his usual grin. Yes, he had a way with his grin.
About the title: Had he become a pilot, as he had wanted to, he’d have wanted his call name to be Fulcrum.
It is only love. Or is it? I would never say ‘love’ and ‘only’ in the same sentence. Or allow ‘only’ to come any closer than two paragraphs. Never. Because — it is an emotion that punches you at a point (still unknown to science, philosophy, religion, and whatever else likes to blow its trumpet) with such heart-numbing, heart-stupidifying precision that you see stars, feel winded enough to wonder whether you had ever in your life breathed at all, smell heaven from wherever you are, cry bitter tears, and sweet too, see hell everywhere else, or right here — all at once. An emotion like no other. Only? I am not off my rocker.
Why in the world am I writing about it, then? Something that can’t be quantified, judged or in most cases, expressed in words? No, not because it is Valentine’s Week, as the retail market is wont to call it. (Today is Promise Day, by the way.) Perhaps it is because I feel obligated to continue the sequence of emotions I have promised myself to cover in this category. And probably because I love. And so do you. Same pinch. (Or punch).
But I confess there is no purpose, no message to give, no angst to release, no thoughts to share. At the end of this post, you will be right where you started. Some things still have to be done, however. So, for all these reasons, and my love for sparring with the undoable, I am going ahead.
The beauty and horror of love could spin us around a million times over, and back. In fact, it has! Heartaches float invisibly, acting like catalysts to give birth to music, paintings, photos, sculptures. The Wheel, even. And there are even more healed hearts to revolutionise art and science and sports and religion. And the retail market, as we all know. Haven’t you noticed how they fuel all of our planet’s existence, demise and rebirth? Isn’t it justified, then, to think that it is so, so very empty to try to express it through a card, send in chocolates or big diamond rings? And yet – surprise of all surprises! – it is so meaningful to express it through a card, send in chocolates or big diamond rings. Whatever the choice.
The horror begins when things come to choice, actually.
You simply love biking. And you love your spouse and children, who’d rather sit in the garden and count the bushes. You love counting the bushes and you love them, too, of course. But you have to choose. Bike or Bush. (The latter with your family thrown in as a bonus). Choose both? Choose one? Choose none and run away with a tattoo-maker? Like everything else in the 21st century, there are options galore! (In fact, I suspect it must be for the love of things and misery that we’ve decided to inundate our closets with options. And throw the skeletons out. We have evolved, Darwin.)
So, back to love options. They do cause hyperventilation of all kinds, don’t they, now? And yet we go on. It is a many-splendoured thing, after all.
It is the phenomenon that makes people understand without having to use language. It is the energy that can make a person rise up and say, “I am alive, because I love. And am loved.” It is the lovesome succor for the soul that makes people get up in the morning to make bed tea for their loved one. Or do something else that is their cup of tea. Love, not surprisingly, needs no words to understand. And yet, surprisingly again, words make so much difference. Or gestures. Perhaps love cannot survive without a carrier, regardless of what it is.
The splendours of love. Who’s to count them? And how? And more importantly, why? As long as love for one is there, floating through the mists of life, at once illuminating and relaxing, never tugging at a love for another, there is hope.
I am grinning from ear to ear as I write this. Waiting for B to get us some rum. It’s been a trying week. A challenging assignment I enjoyed doing, but since it involved more brain-work than usual, I am feeling drained. The reason I am grinning is because my radio just played Allen Karl’s Tonight Carmen. I’d never heard him, so his voice came as a surprise.
Old-world and somehow soothing, it boomed through the speakers, and I began grinning. It is like watching an unexpected flower bloom after living in a dry, dry land. Working on an assignment that makes you happy and absolutely irritable at the same time does seem like cruising on a very, very dry land.
Sometimes you need just a little to turn it around.
Have a beautiful time today. And I, I am going to drink rum with B.
I discovered Etheree at Dan’s blog a few days back. It is a concept so beautiful, I am still in raptures. And the name? Etheree. Wow. To make matters more delightful, Dan’s poem added such calm, petal-like softness to its already simple beauty. Perhaps this is what encouraged me to write an etheree myself and see if I have it in me to make it a regular in this blog’s Poesie category.
and come here
closer to us,
me and the fire bright.
Walls are warm, my heart too.
Close that door behind you, do!
Look, the fire’s ablaze with the wind
the door’s let in oh-so shamelessly.
Come now, the cup overflows so, my love.
An etheree comprises of 10 lines. It begins with a one syllable line, increasing one syllable per line until the last line of ten syllables. The syllable count of the entire poem is 55. The syllabic structure, therefore, is 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10, and is unmetered and unrhymed.
I have been thinking quite a lot about the land of the Bhils and Gonds – the tribals of the region of India I have my roots in. A long time ago, it seems, B and I visited a section of it, and fell in love with the greens and the browns and the blacks of the place. I’d love to, someday, write about it. But today, I am so full of the memories, that all I can do is post some pictures and reload the page over and over again through the day to keep looking at them. Why post them and not see in my personal gallery? Well, posting it in the blog has an added advantage of pretending I am storing it in a diary. And I was a religious diary-writer as a kid.
Besides, I always love to share what I think the world deserves to know. So, here goes a collection of memories from a land that has not seen ‘civilisation.’
This outing, just a weekend, was an important one. I grew up very far from all these visions and smells and experiences. Despite the lack of familiarity, I somehow felt a part of it all, as I walked these roads. A feeling akin to home. B; a child of lands much beyond these, lands of tall mountains and great lakes, with people so different yet not quite; also, for some strange reason, felt one with the land. I know no better pleasure. Bhoramdeo is the place that brought me closer. To what? To life itself, I daresay.
I was six, I think. It was Deepavali. Preparations for ushering in Lakshmi, the Goddess of Prosperity, involved my favourite part. Collecting diyas (terracotta lamps), immersing them in water so that they didn’t soak more oil than they burnt. Sunning them. Putting cotton wicks, oil. Placing them on a thali (a large platter with sides turned up) and waiting for sunset for Ma to offer Puja (prayers). And light the diyas.
But there was a part that I didn’t look forward to at all. I was frightened of firecrackers. Even sparklers, if you can believe that. But believe it or not, it is true. Thankfully, there were other attractions. Like diyas. The new clothes. The first nip in the air. Yummy food. Colours. Light. Reminders of love and joy.
Coming back to firecrackers, I had secretly hoped my parents and brother didn’t invite me to try my hand at it. To distract myself from sheer desperation to fly to Mars, I shuttled between the kitchen and the rooftop. The kitchen was the source of powerful smells of love. Puri, Kheer, Pulao, Aaloo ki Sabzi, Bara… Thankfully, Ma concentrated on a scrumptious dinner rather than on deep-fried snacks (except Puri) that would lose their charm the next day. The hot meal after the Puja was something else.
And the rooftop had diyas. The small bits of light that lit up not only our home, but also warmed our hearts with unequalled joy.
So, diyas had dried, were ready to be lit, Puja was done, Bhog (food offered to God. It is believed that such a food has been tasted by God, and is hence sacred) was ready. Was it time for dinner? No. How about a little hand at firecrackers, then? And I could’ve flown (to Mars, yeah). The sound of exploding bombs, the teeny bits of fire falling on my hand left me no choice, you see. But my dear, insistent mother, took my hand, walked me out, asked my father for a sparkler. And gently told me to hold it. “I am with you. I am holding it too.” I held the sparkler, shrieked with fright at the angry bits of fire on my childish skin. She held on, and I did too. They have a picture of me, screaming in fright. But my mother, her sweet smile, gently holding on to the sparkler with me. We , or rather I, got through the first one. The next picture in our family album shows me smiling with another (burning, sparkling) in my hand. Joy on my face.
Why this particular Deepavali? I’ve lived and experienced 36 of them. This one is special for another reason.
That was the only Deepavali Pa bought an Akashdeep, The light in the sky. A lantern, to give a more inadequate translation. It consumed my childish curiosity. It was shaped just the way the above akashdeep is. And it burnt away all my fears. Brought more colour than I could manage. For some strange reason, all of our subsequent celebrations were without any. Pa never bought them, we never asked about them. (Busy with diyas and firecrackers and food, perhaps).
This Deepavali, yesterday, I saw a small boy selling these. And got reminded of how all my other Deepavali’s have slipped by, without this light from the sky making it more special. I bought two. And put them up at our two doors.
And called up Pa to tell him how I neglected to ask for it all these years. How that one stayed with me all these years. And how this one after such a long, long time is my light in the sky.
The six year old has grown up. And has her akashdeep. And is no longer frightened of firecrackers.