September 02, 2014

Parents Know Best

It was a dark and stormy night. Expectedly, there had been a power failure in the neighbourhood. A few houses were quiet while raucous singing erupted from others as each little family dealt with the situation in their individual ways. Transistors belted songs from old Hindi films and the sounds and smells of cooking became more prominent over the general quiet that falls when television sets collectively fall silent.

This house was among the silent ones. A child sat by the open door clutching her book. A solitary candle cast shadows on her face as she tried to finish her reading exercise. She was muttering under her breath, reading out lines from her textbook. She could hear her mother in the kitchen, the sharp sounds made by the ladle against the metal pot as she fried pieces of fish. It should have made her hungry, but it only terrified her. She knew that ladle too well. It had cooked more than fish - it had left bruises on her legs. The parents had always agreed that the children must only be hit on their limbs. The morning before, the ladle had made contact with her arm because she had spilled a glass of milk. Her mother had not spoken to her since, using silence as punishment, an art the child would perfect later.

The child sensed her mother enter the room. Her body tautened involuntarily. She heard her mother place bowls on the dining table. At the same time, she heard her father’s bike pull into the courtyard, the dull hum of the engine dying. She knew his footsteps well. Her heart was beating a wild tattoo against her ribcage and she quickly got up and fled into the house to keep her Math books ready. She’d be quizzed on those after dinner and her father disliked her being unready.

Dinner was a quiet affair. The child’s parents mostly ignored her and the family sat at the table and finished their food by candlelight. The child had goosebumps on her limbs and fear rose like bile in her throat. She hoped desperately that there would be no silly mistakes in her quadratic equations. As soon as the dinner table was cleared, she brought her books and placed the candle close enough for her father to see her work. She sat quietly, trembling, while he examined and looked for errors.

The child relaxed. It had been ten whole minutes and the father had not found a mistake yet. She felt she would make it this time. Her heartbeat returned to normal and she looked away from him for a moment. Like a deafening clap of thunder, she heard the slap before she felt its sting. His palm had made violent contact with her skull and she fell off the chair. The mother rushed into the room and raised her voice. The child heard her say that there was no need to be so harsh. She then heard the father’s voice respond harshly, something about making silly, repetitive mistakes.

The mother retreated. The child scrambled back into her chair, wiping tears and clutching at a pencil to fix her mistake. Her father glared at her. She caught a glance at her mother, ladle in hand, also glaring at her. She erased the equation and started again.

Later that night, the child heard her parents talk about how disciplining is a necessary part of growing up. She heard her father confess to the mother that he felt bad about it but it must be done. She heard her mother consoling him. She silently wept herself to sleep.

May 22, 2014


I have imagined, often, what it must feel like, to die. Do I gradually lose awareness of my body, one part at a time and slip away? Do I become excruciatingly aware of it as the mind recedes and the life force that I am makes it's presence known? Is it painful? Is it relieving?

I do hope I will remember death clearly, though. At least this time. Unlike my birth, of which I have no memory, a memory lapse so acute that I believe I never really was born. Is that why I am not palpably aware of how easily I could die this very minute? People do it all the time.

In this sea of questions I bring up about death, I have never had any doubt about one thing; how much I look forward to it.

Imagine you have three days left to live. You are acutely aware of your every action, word, the grandeur of what is about to happen to you. In face of that magnanimity, details stop mattering to you. That guy on the road who leered at you, that pathetic little raise at work that is so demeaning, your spouse who keeps forgetting to put the toilet seat down, and your constant guilt about skipping gym.

Imagine that you have two days to live. Your conversations change from talking about people to talking to each other, from waiting for your turn to talk to becoming one big, personified ear that just, truly, listens. A lot of it revolves around gratitude and forgiveness, perhaps resulting in peals of laughter and tears you never thought you would shed. What you look for with every glance shifts; getting a window seat on a train ride home is more important than glaring at the person who stubbed your toe on their way out.

Imagine you have one day left to live. A great wall of quiet descends on you. You are here. You are now. Every breath is so important and you know, for the very first time - not because somebody told you or because you read it somewhere - but because it's happening to you right now - that this breath is what's connecting this whole universe in one continuous thread. Your thoughts are not scuttling like roaches anymore. There is, for the first time, a silence inside you, a silence so thick, you could slice it with a knife, like butter.

Unrelated, disconnected and unnecessary details recede into non-existence. That may probably explain why they say that the devil is in the detail. Because the details are where we get caught and the details are what convince us that it's normal to waste whatever precious time we may have here.

My home is this promise of death. This promise of closure is why I live my story. My journey may be important, but my destination, I truly, deeply desire. It is my rest, my solace. I have my home in this promise of death.

April 05, 2014

To The City That Loved Me Most

Some cities are motels. Others are luxury suites in a fancy five star hotel. Then there are those that are just waiting rooms, a place where you can sit down for a while but you know inside that you are going to leave any minute.

But every once in a while, you arrive in a city that feels, instantly, like home. For most of us, that city is the one we were born in or grew up in. It’s familiar, it’s clogged with memories and there is a lingering sense of nostalgia around it, however unpleasant. And often, like a victim who is afraid to stand up and say no to his victimiser, you remain in its familiar shelter. Or maybe like a lover, who has no space in his heart for a new love, you return.

But were a strange, new, unfamiliar place that drew me in like a moth to a flame. Your streets became all too familiar within days, your little ways and alleys did not feel foreign. I told myself that it’s just the people – they are so warm and welcoming, you cannot help but fall in love with the slow, lazy unfurling of morning chores, of colours that brighten with every passing hour, of aromas that waft through unknown doorways but still tease your palate.

I thought you were my home. I found lost branches of my family tree in you. You grew, gradually, from a city that somehow, inexplicably, fascinated me to a city that I hoped I’d call home one day. To the world, you were the Venice of the east, the city of lakes. To me, you were the certainty of home on Shastri Marg. To the world, you were an oasis in a desert. To me, you were the sound of the dhaak, the face of a goddess, Doodh Ke Laddoo and scratching the tummy of the world’s best dog.

But he died, the man who turned you from a strange, magical city, into a home, comforting, and familiar. I lost sight of everything inside you that was turning you into my home. I raged at you, I wanted to abandon you, I blamed you and I told myself that I’d never fall in love again. Not with a city. I tried so much to keep away from you; I tried so hard to weave my life into a secure, safe cobweb of logic and practicality, away from you.

I tried. I may have partly succeeded too.

But I have seen you mourn with me. I have seen you, stripped away of your colour, glory and royalty. I have seen you break down, shatter into pieces, arrive in hordes at my doorstep because you had more tears to shed at my loss than I did. You attempted to recover. Your ability to take time out to mourn, to take a step back and look deeply into the level of trauma the death of one person can cause, threw me. Isn’t mourning the first step to acceptance and recovery? To my surprise, you also dragged me along that path to recovery too. And I found myself coming back to you, between every few breaths. All my promises to never see you again quietly dissolved.

To the world, you were and are an oasis in a desert. And now, you are that to me too.