Monday, May 18, 2015

Jungle

I was gifted an interesting contraption yesterday - a latex-covered foot-long rod. Before you get the wrong idea, let me tell you how it works. You hold the thicker end of the rod and do a swish-and-flick movement. Like in that scene from the first Harry Potter movie where Hermione teaches Ron how to use a wand.

Except, you swish-and-flick with force. The rubber-covered rod magically extends to thrice its size. It transforms from an interesting contraption to a lethal weapon.

It was a gift.
From a father to his daughter.

----

It’s a jungle out there.

It’s not easy being a girl.
A woman. Or even a child.

It’s not easy being beautiful.
Pretty. Or even plain.

It’s not easy being a Hindu in a saree.
A Muslim in a burqa. Or even a Catholic nun.

----

I remember the first time it happened. I was at the medical store buying Crocin for Appa. Just as I was settling the bill, I felt a pinch on my butt. I was so stunned that I didn’t turn back - afraid that he would do something worse to me.

I was wearing a mid-length skirt and a loose top.
I was in fifth grade.


----

He was family. That’s what Amma told me.
He visited us one Sunday afternoon. Amma asked me to serve him lunch.

He chatted me up and asked me to feed him a morsel. I did. He sucked on my fingers in a way that made me feel dirty.

I ran to Amma and complained. She asked me to go complete my homework.

I was in sixth grade.

---


One day, I was home alone when a garment salesman knocked on our door. He was selling pant and shirt pieces. I had just started dressing in western wear and was interested in what he had to offer. He said they even took up tailoring orders and offered to take my measurements. I still regret having accepted that offer. Over the next half hour, he went on to strip me off my dignity even while I was fully clothed. I should have cried for help but the embarrassment of making this incident public stopped me.

By the time he left, I was sobbing openly.

It did not stop there. A few days later, he followed me back to the apartment and entered the lift when I was going up. He tried to kiss me. This time I fought back. I pushed him away, stopped the lift in the middle and ran out.

To this day, I get terrified every time a stranger enters home when I am alone. To this day, I take the stairs if there’s a lone man in the lift.

This happened in tenth grade.

---

Sometimes violence can be closer than you imagine.

He was my neighbour. He was my friend. I liked him. I looked up to him.
He liked me too. In a different way. I didn’t know it then.

We would sit for long hours on the terrace. He would tell me stories and I would share my dreams with him.
He was like the big brother I never had.

One day, he asked me for a kiss.
Without thinking twice, I planted a kiss on his cheek.

That day, the equation changed.
He made me sit close to him.
He touched me - not in a friendly way.
He held my hand - even when I told him I was uncomfortable with it.
He kissed me by force.

I should have told Amma about it. But I was afraid she wouldn’t believe me.

I was in eleventh grade when it happened. It stopped the next year when we moved to Chennai.

---

Chennai.

I had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. After successive bouts of depression, I switched from college to correspondence and stayed all day in my room, staring at the ceiling, thinking of painless ways to end my life.

The only upside to it, I barely went out. Life was peaceful, at least on that front.

----

My 21st birthday.

I was in Bangalore, waiting for the bus one winter morning when a boy cycling past me whistled out loud - “Hey sexy”. He looked like he was 12. Thirteen at most.

He didn’t touch me. He didn’t even ogle at me. Then why did I feel violated?

----

Back to Chennai.

Men on motorbikes grabbed my breasts while I was riding pillion, a look of triumph in their eyes as I cried out.
Men brushed themselves against me when I travelled by bus.
Men drove dangerously close to me when I walked on the roads.
Men ogled, whistled, hooted.
Men.
Men.
Men.

---

I got myself a pepper spray.
I kept my hair short after reading a newspaper report that said women with short hair are less likely to be victims of sexual abuse.
I wrote about it - hoping for catharsis.
I cried myself to sleep when the memories of it came back to haunt me.

---
Today.

My heart beats faster when I see a minivan approaching me.
I break into a sweat when I notice the man on a motorbike looking at me.

I pull out my pepper spray when I’m on a deserted road - be it night or day.
I maintain a steely expression when I go walking.
I stare down men who stare at me.

I try to be brave, but I am afraid.
Very afraid.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

To write or not to write

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). When I signed up for it in late September, I had no clue life would become such a dizzy haze.

I have a great idea for the novel. I've sketched out the character in my palm-sized pink notebook. The details and sub-plots are dancing around in my head. I'm waiting to breathe life into these characters. I'm waiting to tell their stories to the world. I'm waiting to write. But I'm not able to. And no, it's not writer's block.

I suppose I jinxed it for myself. Over the last six months, people have been asking me about the wedding preps and I have been giving them my standard - "Oh there really isn't much to a wedding. And ours is just a half-day affair."

How wrong I was. There's so, so, so, so much to a wedding that my mind hurts every time I think of it.

You strike one ToDo list and a longer one looms intimidatingly over your head.
You send invites to one bunch of friends and you suddenly remember a long lost set of friends whom you have to email.
You think you have finished all the mind-numbing shopping that your wedding trousseau demands, when you realise you forgot to buy the purple bangles.

Phew! Just writing about all this tires me out.

But don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. I actually enjoy this madness. It's just that I wanted to give myself a valid excuse for not sitting down to write my second novel.

Oh! I'm getting married by the way. His name is Naresh and he is the coolest guy I know.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Triumph

For the last one month, every attempt I make at writing has been the same.

I open a Word doc. Type a few words. Read them out. Make a face. Delete the words. Type a few new words. Read them out. Make a face. Delete the words. Type a few new words. Read them out. Make a face.

I sometimes feel like blaming him for it.

I haven’t written a word since that incident three weeks ago.

It happened on June 22. The night was going to bed. The day hadn’t woken up yet. Life seemed wonderful. Naresh and I were riding the bike to Besant Nagar. We had registered for a half-marathon. I was doing the 10k run while Naresh was going the full distance. Having ignored the training schedule until the penultimate day, we were visibly nervous. But we pep talked each other enough to get convinced that we could do it without collapsing mid-way.

We were on the big bridge near home when I first noticed him. His was the only other vehicle on our side of the road at that time in the morning. He must have been around 19. I remember looking at him and wondering what such a young boy could be doing out at this hour. ‘Probably getting back from a party,’ I thought to myself as I turned away.

The next instant, I felt someone grab my breasts.

I have tried explaining what happened next. I have tried describing how I felt. I can’t. Sometimes you just don’t find the right words.

I take the same bridge every day – at least twice a day. On my lucky days, I am usually deep in conversation. But when I have only my thoughts for company, I often see flashes of his face. What I remember is not the way he violated my body. But the look on his face when I screamed. I will never forget the look on his face. The look of triumph.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Click

Sometimes
Over the phone
I wait
After you have
Hung up.


Every time
I hear
That click,
I feel
A twinge
Of sadness
That tugs
At my insides
As if
To remind me
That you will
Never
Be mine.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Touch

Last evening, I decided to walk through the gullies of Thiruvanmiyur and Besant Nagar to spend quality time with myself at the beach. The sun had long set but you could still feel its warmth. The breeze seemed to have gone on a vacation. After just five minutes, large patches of sweat had formed on my back. But it didn’t bother me.

I walked about at a leisurely pace, taking in the sights and sounds of life in the bylanes. The grandpa playing catch with his grandson. The little boy trying to catch the hen. The two girls standing on the road, pointing fingers at a political hoarding and whispering into each other’s ears. The clock repair shop that was in serious need of repair. The volleyball match in progress.

I was walking in a happy daze when a grey-haired paati stopped me on the road and said, “Dear girl, don’t mind this paati’s words…”

I stopped to listen. I thought she would ask me for money.

Suddenly, I find her hand on my left breast. “You shouldn’t walk with your breasts uncovered. You must wear a dupatta,” she said in chaste Tamil.

I brushed her hand off and resumed my walk, at a faster pace. The happy daze in my mind was replaced with a buzz of thoughts, not pleasant ones. Yes, she was just an old woman. Yes, she probably just meant to give advice. But strangely, I felt violated. Not only did I disagree with what she had to say, there was also something about the way she touched me. Something wrong.

Thankfully, a friend’s called just then. A short phone conversation later, all was forgotten.

Until.

An hour later, I was sitting by the walkway at the beach, petting a stray dog when I felt someone touch me on the back of my hip. There was something warm about the touch. Something innocent.

I turned and found a round-eyed toddler smiling toothily at me. Before I could turn around fully and make my acquaintance with him, his family whisked him away. But that little touch had made me happy.

In the same evening, one stranger had made me cringe, another had made me smile. With just a touch.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The poetry of a South Indian living room

The poetry of a South Indian living room with its skewed symmetry and chaotic aesthetic. Where footwear is meant to be removed before entering and arranged in neat rows in the verandah. With the welcoming smells of curry leaves, garlic and coconut oil, and on special days - ghee. The faded sofa cover neither matches the cushion, nor contrasts it. Blouses, petticoats and trousers decorate the chairs around the dining table. The lady of the house enquires about the status of your stomach before asking after your health.

The wooden cabinet in the hall proudly showcases photographs and medals of the son - the swimming champion, snaps from the daughter’s graduation, and images of the grandparents’ black and white past. In a corner is a tiny picture of the balding father’s office farewell. The mother’s artwork fill the gaps - emboss and glass paintings, quick stitch, cross stitch and crochet.

The centre table is a jumble of newspapers (all of them The Hindu) and a few magazines.Weighing them down is a copy of Webster’s as thick as the Maami’s forearm. If the Maama is a fan of The Hindu crossword, then a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus too.

The television is flat and conscpicuously large. Under it is a DVD player; next to it is a music system; on top of it is a Tata Sky box - all four remote controls are covered in transparent polythene kept in place with coloured rubber bands. It was the Maama’s idea, “So what if it looks odd, as long as it serves the purpose.” An astute mind will know what the Mama said about the remote control was actually meant for the living room.

Those forgotten kitchen aphorisms

All through my high school, Amma held a job as a Hindi teacher in another school. This meant that she had two sets of children – “you both” (my brother and I) and her “other” children (the ones in her school). Every time my brother or I misbehaved, she would say, “I have had enough of you both. My other children never throw spoons at me.”

“But you are their teacher. Not their mother. Even I wouldn’t dare throw my spoon at my Hindi teacher,” I would say, shivering in the thought of my Hindi teacher, the tall, bespectacled, and forbidding Premalatha Ma’am. Shanky would nod in assent, possibly imagining his own tall, bespectacled, and forbidding Hindi teacher.

Being a working mom also meant that Amma’s evenings would often be spent in correcting answer sheets and preparing lesson plans. So when it was time to cook dinner, she would enlist my help. After complaining about the injustice of things, and how I was the only one among my friends who was forced into helping her mother, I would ultimately shut up and do the work.

As we rolled chapattis and made the accompanying curry, Amma would give me various kitchen tips. The right way to peel garlic, how to get the bitterness out of cucumber, how to cut onions without tears, the best way to roll rotis, how to make your dough softer.

“Amma, why are you telling me all this? Anyway, I won’t be cooking when I grow up,” I would moan.

“Oh, so you will eat out every day, huh?” She would ask.

“Mmm… I guess so. Or I’ll hire a cook. Oh, even better, I’ll marry a chef,” would be my reply.

We would then digress into the topic of marriage. The kitchen aphorism would lay forgotten on the cutting board, only to be swept off into the bin once the day’s cooking was done.

Twenty years’ worth of water has flowed under the bridge. I live by myself and cook by myself. I have not married a chef. I can’t afford to eat out every day. Nor can I afford a cook.

Every evening, when I get down to cooking dinner, I look at the vegetables lying in front of me – uncut and uncooked – and I wish I had paid just a wee bit of attention to my mother’s words when I was younger. At least then I wouldn’t have to spend 20 minutes every time I have to peel half a dozen pods of garlic.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Wait

4.30pm
The sun blazed overhead
She rushed out
Forgetting to wear her sandals
Remembered
Half-turned towards the shoe-shelf
Changed her mind and started climbing the stairs
Noiselessly
Reached the terrace
Out of breath
Looked around
No sign of him
Heaved a sigh
He had promised to meet her at five

4.45pm
The afternoon breeze had cooled
She stepped off her perch
Placed one foot on the open terrace
Then another.
Smiled.
The floor would be the perfect cool at five.
She heard a noise from behind.
And turned hopefully.
It was the wind against the door.
No sign of him.
He had never surprised her.
Never turned up before time.

5pm
The sky was more blue, less yellow.
She squinted at the sun.
Looked down at the matchstick men.
Trying to spot
A dash of yellow
In a sea of gray.
Her alarm beeped.
It was 5:01.
No sign of him.
A mental note was made.
Get Boy a watch

6pm
Overhead, a flock was heading home
Below, the sea of gray turned thicker.
Her eyes darted about – restless.
Left, right, extreme left.
Suddenly she saw it – the yellow.
Her eyes danced.
Her lips began to break into a smile.
Stopped.
A lady in gray picked the yellow bag
And entered her house.
No sign of him.
She shrugged.
Wasn’t the joy in the wait?

7pm
The sky turned amber, deep blue and then grayish-black
She had finished the whites
The greens and the reds
She was counting the blue lights now
The yellows – she would save for the last
She heard a low rumble – her stomach.
She hadn’t eaten since lunch.
No sign of him yet.
Blue light number thirty four.
Blue light number thirty five.

8pm
The stars had begun to form shapes.
Her tongue was parched.
The rumble in her stomach grew louder.
She continued making faces 
At the make-believe mirror in front of her.
Frown. No.
Deep frown. No.
Angry eyes. No.
Flared nostrils. No.
Sad smile. No.
No sign of him yet.
Back-turned. No.
Disappointed nod. No.
What face was she to greet him with

9pm
The moon seemed farther away than usual.
An hour.
An hour before the terrace would be locked.
She made up a new game.
He will jump down from the moon.
He will parkour up the walls.
He will come sailing in a hot-air balloon.
He will steal a helicopter.
No sign of him yet.
He will hire a crane from the construction site.
He will come riding on a giraffe.

10pm
The stars had disappeared. So had the moon.
The watchman climbed the stairs in slow measured steps.
She said one last silent prayer and looked downwards.
Still hopeful.
The sea of gray had thinned.
No sign of yellow though.
A drop of tear trickled down her cheek.
She wiped it hurriedly and turned
Just in time to stop the watchman from locking her in.
No sign of him yet.
Maybe something happened to him.
“I hope he is alright.”

10.10pm
She crept into the house.
Picked up the phone.
Dialled his number.
It rang twice.
He answered,
“Hi! Are you OK?"
“Yeah! I’m sorry about earlier today. I had to go out.”
“That’s ok.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow evening. Terrace. Five sharp. OK?”
“Ok.”
“Bye.”
“See you.”
She went to bed on an empty stomach.
A smile on her face.
Waiting for tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Luncheon

Do you remember that afternoon we were all sitting on the floor in a shapeless circle, sharing the contents of our lunch boxes?
I wasn't particularly hungry then. I ate only because i wanted to sit by you.
Do you remember that question we were discussing? And your answer. I remember it. And i wished then that i was that girl. I still wish it.
Do you remember my reply?
I spoke about someone else. Something else. 
It got me thinking - have i ever done anything sweet for you?
I couldn't come up with a satisfactory answer to it that afternoon.
Today, i think of it again. 
Today, I have an answer.
And this - is it.
Poetry. 

I remembered the lines i had written for you - on sultry afternoons and rainy evenings.
The words i had read out to you in the wee hours of the night.
The words that seemed so effortless - that they almost took me by surprise.
I hadn't attempted verse in seven years.
I had almost given up on prose as well.
And then you happened.

No, you weren't a gust of wind.
Neither were you the stormy rain.
You were more the quiet drizzle, the gentle August breeze.
That blows softly all over you - just when the drops of sweat are about to trickle down your forehead.
You made me a poet - again. 

And though we know so much of each other
That our farts and burps have ceased to cause shame
I still feel conscious now, as i type out these words
A strange consciousness that comes not from being watched but from the prospect of being read.
Do you like my words?
Do you find my poetry poetic enough?
Or should i stick to prose.
Should i simply say - I love you.
For i really do.