Monday, December 25, 2006


The trapped fly kept pummeling the clear window pane. Tricky transparency, I thought, and the alliteration tickled me. Headlong it flew, hit, swerved, and then once again thrashed against the glass with all its force. Does each fresh blow erase the memory of old pain?

I watched,
That's scary.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

What Orkut does

What Orkut does is to hand you a sharp pointed pencil, and you kneel down on all your fours, as you used to do with your friends during recess prodding at the dirt that had accumulated in between the wooden planks of the flooring, digging out the dirt with the pointed pencil until it yields you enough goodies: rusted needles that escaped frustrating needle work periods: broken pencil points: bits of erasers: half-rotten rubber bands. Priceless stuff.

And, it throws at you the basketball with which you had gone thud-thud-thud in the court, your love of the game blossoming only in early Summers when the mango trees along the court flaunts small green mangoes.Thud-thud-thud you would throw the ball at those tantalizing bunches until a nun came out of one of the dark convent rooms and stood there on the verandah, expressionless.

It can file you in single lines of blue pinafores,

white shirts and shiny shoes and ribbons (often

cut out of your partner’s neat bows and frantically

tied around your hair just as the assembly

bell went off) with the sun shining above and

the day stretching before you. A tiny bit of ribbon

– no pleases or thankyous- you had it then,

friendship in its rarest form.

Orkut also gives startling gifts. It first tickles you with the memory of that Hindi teacher with bad English grammar, and you giggle like you did that day with the entire class as the teacher wrote new words on the blackboard, giggling and shuffling feet until she turned back, red-faced, eyes glaring, ‘I turn the board and you laugh, why?' and the class bursts out, ha ha ha you go at the memory, and somewhere along your laughter sandpapers your throat as you see that the look on her face that day was not of anger, but of humiliation.

It also takes.
That huge pupil tree behind the nursery, that one with tiny cement benches built around it, Orkut can take that away.
you went leaping from one bench to the other in circles around the tree-
your most cherished memory from the days of red gingham uniforms
None of your long-lost-and-now-found friends remember such a tree, and you stand there dumb, robbed off the next bench to go…

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The girl from the glass house

The girl from the glass house drowned herself in the well, and I listened to the news with fascination.To me , with that single-act which adults alone are capable of she had stepped into the remote world of adults. You know that for a twelve year old adulthood is what a star is to the moth, right?

She lived in a wasted house with tile roofs just behind my Grandma's house where I grew up. Mildew drew bizarre pictures on the outer walls of her house and the well stood in a silent corner. Large glass windows on all the three sides saved the house from blending into the many worn out houses that clustered by. There were no walls between any of these houses. Deep red shoe-flowers on green hedges softly marked their boundaries. Against this the wall of my Grandma’s house stood tall dividing the neighbourhood neatly into two worlds. Ridiculously tall.

We were of the same age; still I had seen her just once, a glimpse through a dusty window in one of the deserted upstairs rooms of my grandma’s house. She sat on the cement steps of her house, hunched over a book. A shabby kamees, wet hair let loose to dry- that’s all. Yet, she would join me in my silly games often, coming and going as I willed, even after she drowned herself in the well.

Last time I went to my Grandma’s house the tamarind tree in the backyard brought back memories of my old playmate. I tried to recall her face, and that’s when it struck me that I never knew her name.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Blue Sofa

The most vivid memory of their life in that city of long winters was that of a blue sofa. It was a three seater with cotton upholstery of deep blue. They had bought it at the annual auction held by their University for an unbelievably low price. It came to them mottled with ugly stains, and with the thick upholstery frayed at the corners of the armrest revealing the teal colored inner lining. Each stain, they knew held a story within it. The first weekend they brought the sofa home, they tried to erase the tales with laundry stain remover. Subtle tell tale signs remained.

Over the days the blue sofa picked up from them newer, brighter stains. The stench of spices and hot oil that loafed around their apartment on days they cooked a real meal now clung to the sofa as though holding on to a long lost friend. Every afternoon sunlight fell on the top ends of the sofa and everyday it aged. It was an old three seater , frayed, faded and mottled with stains. Yet you couldn’t call it shabby. Old, used, dirty -yes. But not shabby.

Beneath its removable seat cushions it held a medley of things: a squished pop corn: a hair pin: an old pen: coupons- wisps of their history. On cold evenings he curled up on the blue sofa and drifted off to some mesmerizing landscape that PBS had been showing that evening. Some evenings he felt warmth radiating from the sofa, as though it could read his mind. She waved it off as his perception. A sofa after all is just a sofa. She felt she could write better papers sitting on the sofa with her fingers occasionally straying to caress the rough surface. It was as though the rough surface stimulated her thoughts. He said she was being superstitious. A sofa after all is just a sofa. This one in particular was an old sofa with a foul odor.

Moments before guests walked in one of them would hurriedly spray some cheap room freshener all over the sofa in an attempt to camouflage the foul odor. The effect was a heady mix of scents- over ripe bananas and spoilt milk- which left their guests’ olfactory senses bewildered. They never grew tired of narrating their favorite stories about the sofa – how they had brought it home strapped on the car late at night, how the single cushion that adorned it cost more than the sofa- tales that tickled their friends every time. Their friends never knew of the countless attempts they made at mending the tears and covering up the stains. It was an old three seater, frayed, faded and mottled with stains, and a sickening stench of spices and hot oil clung to it. It was the best sofa ever.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Strawberry sherbet

We sit side by side on the warm brick steps, a bowl of strawberry sherbet between us. A scrap of paper flutters in the breeze. Evening light skips around on the green blades and in your voice. Your laughter bursts like ice against my palate.

This moment, how do I capture this moment before it melts away.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A tiny flutter, and a whole new universe

"One who picks one’s friends from all age groups need not pick one’s nose out of abject boredom.” Tao wisdom of the season

All our close friends are of the same age group, the fruitful 25-35 age group, when lulled by stable relationships and constant paychecks, people start producing little tyrants aka babies. So now, without any warning, we find our self in the midst of doting new parents, anxious parents-to-be, and a few anxiously working to be anxious-parents-to-be.

It is as though a pregnancy virus is havocking around us, transforming normal couples into baby monitoring systems. The whole conversation in our weekend gatherings revolve around these tiny tyrants, and what they can do- sleep, eat, burp and go ssssss and poooop. I can hardly remember those glorious days when our conversations didn’t start with how many times junior did potty today, or which music little one (she is yet to make her royal appearance to world) prefers. Just as I cunningly steer the conversation to a no-baby zone, my pregnant friend shrieks ‘feel my tummy now, she kicked, she kicked’ and the whole lot goes berserk over a flutter. Such attention grabbers!

You think am over-reacting? Listen to this. Having not heard from a friend for a while, I call her up, and she makes me listen to her tyrant go gabloo blu blu over his bath. I play along hoping to talk to her, and finally she takes the receiver to tell me ‘okay aunty, we are going to sleep now, bye bye aunty’. Eh? And this is the same girl who used to call me at 12 am throughout her third trimester because she couldn’t fall asleep. I know I have to do something before these tiny tyrants take away all my friends and I relapse into my childhood habit of gold digging.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A drive through the country

Charming houses with elegant gardens sit on either side of the winding road, a measured patch of lush green between each of them. A glance is enough to tell you that they have been put together with much care: colors, furniture, trees, even the pots of flowers by the elegant wicker chairs on the front porch chosen painstakingly so that the first impression is of harmony. You can almost picture their merry Thanksgiving dinners, arguments about summer retreats, and handmade cards from grandchildren displayed on refrigerators.

And then down the same road you see a broken-down house. Chipped paint makes the walls look sickly, its roof seem to be jutting forward, and the door like an invitation to darkness. But what ruffles you is the futile effort made to patch up :a washed out bedspread covering a tattered sofa: a reluctant plant on a crooked bar stool. If your eyes can pierce through the darkness seething out of the windows maybe you can see its people, hunched over, silently mending their life. Perhaps when they step out into the world, they walk with their shoulders jutting forward to protect where it hurts the most, just like their home.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

What i seek

Wide sweeps of blue sky
lures me; not
to soar and flit,
like a stringless kite,
to stretch my limbs and mind
on this brown earth.

The poetic Golden Cage
ruffles me not.
It is the cages within,
I break against.

Earthborn, Earthbound
I seek ; not
ethereal stars
morsels of Freedom
on this dry earth.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

So did I

Yesterday too, as we sat yawning at the usual scenes of late night news voices intruded from the other side of the wall, raw voices rising above the screams of panic-struck Iraqis scurrying with a bleeding young man on a stretcher(so distant, so ugly). Raw voices and loud thuds of furniture being thrown about- furniture or whatever it is that makes a thud as it strikes down. As their voices grew louder and took the shape of ugly words thrown recklessly, we grew silent; reddening like children caught peeping in through the windows of strange houses. By the time we retreated to our bedroom a faint whimper was all that I could hear. Hers.

Today on my morning walk, as I stood indulgently pining over a withered bloom (so beautiful, so sad) I saw him ; a big burly guy with a sudden smile. Just an ordinary looking guy. He waved and greeted me.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


They are springing up everywhere, calmly on winter harassed lawns, recklessly on the creeks in weathered side walks. Buoyant golden yellow flowers and lush green leaves. Against scraggy grass and ashen side walks, their bright yellow makes you wonder whether Hope is of the same color ? After all, Hope too is not so easy to weed out.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A visit to the beach

High 63F. Low 42F. Mostly sunny. Unseasonably warm day, the weather forecast says and like house plants straining their necks to catch a little sun, we drive to the beach. Old Malayalam movie songs, anecdotes from each other’s past, and pleasant silences gives an endlessness to the drive; yet by the end of the two hours drive it feels like a few minutes. Too short. Is that how Life would feel like?

The beach is beautiful; clear blue sky, bleached golden sand and blue-gray water. It is off-season, and so we get to share the entire stretch of beach with occasional dog walkers and some sea gulls. The sweep of blue sky above us, the warmth of toasted sand beneath us, and the music of the waves, my companion sits musing. I lie down beside him, feeling like a mutineer. A simple action like lying down in the open can be revolutionary to a body that has been trained since childhood to bunch up like a tight fist every time it is in a public space, a tight fist wary of intrusions.

I must have been lying here for a long time. Voices, smells and the taste of salty peanuts nudge me awake.

Choodu kadaley, choodu kadaley

A dirt smudged face calls out just above my head. Will I be encouraging child labor if I buy peanuts from him? I think of the bowl of kanji he could have at the end of the day, and buy some. He disappears without giving me my change. The meager sum he owes me fattens up my ego, and I look around with my benevolent smile.

People sit in semi-circles facing the sea, some groups large, some small. Here and there a lone figure sits gazing at the sea. Pieces of broken conversations play hide and seek in the air. Two kids build an under bridge in the damp sand. Squatting on the sand a step away from the other, each digs towards the other, slowly and carefully, removing fistful of sand in between. Finally, when their sandy hands meet in their tunnel, eyes lit up. Joy. They lift up their hands together, breaking their bridge. Glee. Another bridge is being built in a distance. A group of men sit talking and listening earnestly. I hear wisps of Neruda and long to join them, but there are some distances I will never cross.

Saarey baakki the dirt smudged face is suddenly in front of me, with a toothy smile that takes away the edge of my guilt. I meekly take the coins he hands me, ego pierced and smiling at myself.

Eyes open, and I see the clear blue sky, empty beach and my better half looking bemused. A lovely day, just the kind of day which would have deserved the much repeated ending of my old school essays “It was a memorable visit”.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

yes Ma, I'm learning

We are visiting Meera aunty. I like Meera aunty because she doesn’t pull my cheeks and call me chubby cheeks. Ma also likes her. You know that by watching ma smile. When she smiles at people she don’t like, Ma flashes her teeth and stops smiling quickly.

Ma and Meera aunty are lying down on the floor.
'I love Saturdays. Life slows down and Monday is aeons away’ Ma smiles at the ceiling.

Ma said Meera aunty is her best friend. A best friend, she said, is someone with whom you can be yourself. I did not know how anyone can ever be some one else. ‘Never mind, you’ll learn with time’ she had said.

They are talking and laughing. Meera aunty’s face is animated.
‘And she has the audacity to tell me ‘‘Meera your house doesn’t smell of spices’’. God! when will people learn to unlearn these stereotypes’

‘Yeah. They look at us and see curries and elephants and snakes and half-naked fakirs’
Ma laughs. She is pretty when she laughs.

‘Mom, can I go out and play?’ Akash asks.

‘Not today dear. Why don’t you watch some cartoon with Nita?’ Meera aunty says .

Akash looks at me. He is nine and big. He doesn’t like me, I can see that, but lets me watch TV. Ma and Meer aunty are giggling and it makes me happy. I want to tell Akash that his mom is my ma’s bestfriend, and that you can be yourself and someone else. But I am afraid because he says ‘girls are sissies’ and he is nine. I take out my coloring book and sit by Ma. ‘Don’t you want to watch cartoons?” Ma says. I shake my head and start coloring. It always works. They think I cannot hear them when I am coloring or reading. I like it too, lets me be a part of their world .

A boy walks in . He is holding a ball.
‘Mrs. Agarwal, can Akash play with me?” he says.

‘No dear, we have company. Thanks for asking” Meera aunty says.

Akash comes running “ Mom I want to play with Benny”

‘Listen Akash, It’s rude to leave when you have company’ Meera aunty’s voice is sharp.

The boy looks at Akash and leaves.

‘Neighbour’s kid’ Meera aunty says. ‘I try to keep Akash from getting too chummy with them. You know these Black people …’ she whispers.

‘Yeah. You never know what our kids will pick up from them’ ma says .

I wish Meera aunty would let Akash go because now he will think that ‘girls are sissies and stupid’.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Some memories are like precious silverware. On a dull day you gently lift them out of their case, and relish the soft gleam of its polished surface as though for the first time. As your fingers caress the intricate carvings a song ease its way into your mind, and you put away the memories for another gloomy day.

Some others are shards of a once treasured dream shattered not so long ago. You had hastily cleaned up the mess, yet invisible to your eyes countless sharp shards remain to pierce your flesh with fresh pain.

And then there are those that thrive in the region just beneath your consciousness. Without any apparent reason a long forgotten picture is thrown into your mind, and you see it wholly for the first time and grasp it, only too late. An ember pours out its brilliant gold and fades instantly, and within you someone stands holding a fistful of grey ash, hands singed.