fiction, memoir

Forgetting Ms. Z.

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For some days I couldn’t sleep. I would stay up late, hold my breath  and find something menial to think about for the rest of the night. That day I was contemplating whether the government should ban smoking in auto rickshaws. The thought had been nagging me for a while now.  While returning from the chemist after buying my Xanax, I would smoke a couple in the auto just in case. It was the only time I saw myself from the outside; from the eyes of the auto driver, the passing mothers, the eunuchs under the flyover, and the old guard of my colony. Sometimes I would see Ms. Z sitting next to me in the auto, sharing a drag, running her fingers behind my ears, laughing. It was easy to admire her until she laughed- then it got a little more serious. It was the kind of laughter that opened you up. When she laughed, a small line would trace her smile back to her eyes and they would light up, like a river in moonlight. I had caught her laughter; it was something she had left in me, something that would live on long after I’m gone – in my children, in women I would love. That way, I would never really lose Ms. Z.

With that thought I would often throw away my unfinished cigarette and pop a Xanax. After a couple of hours, that familiar feeling of plastic euphoria would creep up under my skin. Then, I would proceed to write songs. I must have written about six hundred songs in those three months- but they all had the same chords. G, D, A. I would be G – smiling. Ms. Z would be D- laughing. And A- that was the xanax ; a threesome I’d have over and over and over again until my fingers would curl up into fists and my songs would punch my guitar, my bed, my shirt into the stretching night.  I imagined they would chase this winter night to the vast skyline on the highway to mars. At three a.m, when I would finish performing Ms. Z’s song that auto would stop near a tungsten star and Ms. Z would be there, clapping stardust onto my naked body, laughing. The day that star dissolves into these nights of rum fuelled regulars and smoking limos, I will stop writing songs for you, Ms. Z. That day I’d pick up my guitar and make a grand fire out of  anything and everything that burns ; all your cards pasted with birthday lilies and all my shirts pasted with your scent. I’d let go. I would change the way I laugh. And then maybe I could learn to sleep again.

Note: The above photograph is a work by American photographer Richard Tuschman who turns Edward Hopper’s paintings into photographs. See more at http://www.fubiz.net/en/2014/01/22/composite-photography-inspired-by-edward-hopper

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To the lonely themselves,
sleeping with alarm clocks,
Peeping out through windows,
jumping out of public buses,
stealing seats in the metro,
clicking heels in elevators,
buying potatoes for dinner,
and xanax for the missus,
bleached moustaches
black shoes
fuck.

Uncategorized

“To the lonely themselves..”

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fiction, short story, Uncategorized

The Magician who was buried alive

Around last month, I got a couple of e-mails asking me to put up some more excerpts from the supposedly in-progress book that I’ve been working on for the last couple of years. The reason I delayed this was because I felt everything was just so scattered- tiny little pieces of something floating around missing a form. But tonight as I was reading this particular chapter, I thought, oh well..magic doesn’t need a form now, does it? Here’s another chapter guys. Dig in.


 

 

 

 

 

 

The Magician who was buried alive *

There was a soul. It glowed in apprehension of things to come, spitting tiny emoticons into the eyes.There was a heart. It beat itself silly for the flutter of eyelashes and strawberry lips. There was a brain. It thought and thought. And then there were none.

She was gone. Every time the hot water touched my skin; I felt a tingling sensation of loss, like little specks of my soul sizzling into the steam. A hot shower always gave me temporary dementia. I couldn’t recall names or faces, only sensations. There was no Ms. Z anymore, no tiger and no girl with the golden locks. Where was my father? My mother? The caravan of stooping servants? There was no home either. Where was I from anyway? I remembered a temple somewhere on a steep hill where little puppies followed me till the very top and then watched as I laid down in front of my black god.

Who was that deity? What was the trishul for? What was the serpent doing on his neck? Did it consume my memories?

I turned off the shower and watched the water trickle and bubble on the floor. Drop by drop it moved though the tiny foams and lather inside the drain head.  I wondered if the small hilly town was on the other side. I dived in.

Bells were ringing, chimes and chants could be heard if you strained your ears really hard. And the temple could be seen at the pinnacle of a thousand steps. A red flag flowing on top of a triangle. My mother was there, but in shadows. Now and then I tried to look up to the thin, frail figure wobbling up the broken rocks, but I couldn’t see her face. Soon we were halfway there, marked by a simple but effective sign -“Keep Walking. He is near”. The cold breeze was stronger; the ringing of the bells was getting louder now. I wanted to turn back and see how high up we really were, but it always made me dizzy. So I clutched on the soft fur of the black puppy trotting behind me. Bhoot (as I called him) was accompanied by six of his minuscule siblings, brown balls of fur, tails wagging aggressively in hope for some treats. But my mother was in no mood to stop and oblige. In the entire town, there was one government school, a bank, a railway station and a lively market that sold everything from woollen shawls to grumpy cows. But most certainly, this ruined temple was the star attraction of this forgotten place and every Tuesday evening I would accompany my mother to the very top, to ring the gigantic iron bell and to eat the delicious halwa that was generously poured into my tiny hands. Bhoot groaned loudly as we reached the top and I left his fur to run to the temple entrance. There were about fifty people seated on the doorway, beneath the bell, and the priest was chanting mantras while a tiny bell rang furiously in his hands. I didn’t know the words or the meaning but I usually moved my lips and uttered gibberish when present in the aarti. This time however, I thought against it as it was a special annual pooja to appease the snake god. The priest’s face was smeared with ash freshly brought in from the nearby graveyard, and a snake solemnly rested near a bowl of milk at his feet. I was both, scared and intrigued, with cobras. Many a time, I’d lifted up a stone in my backyard to see the serpent dashing across or seen my resident mongoose shred apart his double mouthed cousin, but was always warned by mother not to get any closer.

“Snakes reflect your own demons, son, deal with them from a distance. You get too close, and you may never get away.”

But I always did. I watched them from the branches of the mango tree in my courtyard, as they wound themselves to a nearby branch or gobbled up an unsuspecting rat.

The priest was shaking uncontrollably now and taking names of men seated for the aarti. One by one, they came and took the holy water along with his blessings. Sometimes, before giving the prasad, he would slap a man across his ears and shout out expletives. The man would then proceed to ask for forgiveness and move on to bow in front of the snake.

“Will he take my name, too?” I asked mother in a hushed tone. I was not afraid of the snake, but slaps were not my idea of a fun day.

“No, of course not. You’re a child, not a man yet.” She said smiling. Unconvinced and a little insulted by her reply, I slipped out and ran to the back of the temple where no one could see me. Bhoot rolled in the damp grass behind me, right at the edge of the steep drop. I pushed him away from the edge and he whimpered in protest. Quite a daredevil, bhoot was. I pressed my ears against the wall, right behind where the black statue of the deity with the giant trishul rested. The priest was screaming out my name.. I turned to bhoot in panic and he gnawed at my slippers in consolation, pulling me to the edge. He was trying to climb down and he wanted me to take the plunge too. I looked down, one steep rock, a little terrain and then a terrific drop of about a hundred feet. My head circled as I gave it a thought. Suddenly, the large iron bell started booming and  shouts of my name grew more urgent. I took bhoot in my arms and jumped down. I hid under a depression in the algae-ridden rock. There seemed to be a hole big enough for both of us there. Bhoot crawled out of my arms into the darkness and I followed him on all fours into the damp cavern.

There was complete, pitch black darkness. As I crawled into the tiny space it opened up, downwards, where tiny bits of lights glowed now and then. Fireflies? I could hear bhoot  trying to whack them with his paws. I climbed down, manoeuvring through pieces of jagged, wet rocks. Soon enough, the cavern widened with neatly cut stones and enough headspace for us to stand. I cleared some stones and a tiny bit of sunlight crept in through, lighting up the area. Bhoot was munching on some insect he’d managed to catch. I noticed we were both sitting on some window of sorts, an iron doorway perhaps, with rusting circular handles. Whenever we moved, it uttered an echoing, thumping sound, as if hollow. I moved to a little tiny edge and pulled the handle. With some effort and a lot of creaking it gave way and slid across slowly. A burst of air filled the room with a peculiar stench. Bhoot whimpered and hid behind my legs. To my horror, a man was sleeping inside. Dressed in a magician’s costume, with a black hat and a shining tuxedo complete with a cane, he seemed to be snoring away to glory. Bhoot uttered short, aggressive growls but stopped, as his arms slowly started moving.  I let out a tiny cry of desperation and ran back to the opening, but it was too steep to climb back for a ten year old. I jumped with all my might to clutch the top but fell down and bruised my elbow.

“Where do you think you’re going, young man? “ A loud booming voice rocked the tiny cavern triggering bhoot’s growls to a series of loud whimpers.

The magician stretched to its full glory, his cape flowing back, his tiny moustache curling up in anger.

“Well, if you go out from that side, you’re going to roll down a hundred feet and break your skull. It’s a steep drop, son.” He announced, brushing off dirt from his red collar. I looked at him in confusion.

“You must enter my grave; there is a narrow tunnel that opens up right into the ramlila maidan. That’s where I enter and exit from. It’s safe and discreet.”

He picked up the whining bhoot and handed him to me. I stepped away from him and his glowing cane.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Ghutur, the magician who was buried alive on Dusshera. You do remember me, child. I saw you clapping when I did my vanishing cow trick.”

“Oh. Wow. Oh. You’re..the magician?” I said, smacking my head. It made sense now. People used to come all the way from Varanasi to see his fabled show in our small town. Every year, in Dusshera he was buried alive for fifteen days, after which on the eve of Diwali, the festival of lights, he would rise from the ground dressed as Lord Rama and burn the effigy of Ravana with his fire arrows.

“That’s right.” He said smiling.

“I’m scared. The priest was chanting my name and I have a feeling my mother will be very angry.”  I muttered shaking his outstretched hand.

“Well, child, do you want to go back?”

“Yes, please.”

“Right after I show you a magic trick.” He said smearing some mud from the ground to his face. “Now, child, do you believe in magic?” he asked, his moustache curling up with enthusiasm and his eyes shining like fireflies.

“Yes, I do.” I said, clutching bhoot tightly.

“Very well, then, close your eyes, count up to three and open them again.”

I closed my eyes, counted up to two and opened them again.

The water sizzled warmly on my beard and trickled to my feet. I took my towel from my shoulders and buried my face in it. I would rise in a while, in fifteen days, with fire arrows in my spirit and magic in my soul.

 

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fiction, poetry

A hard day’s wanderin’

For those of you haven’t read the poems of Henri Michaux, I recommend getting to it right away. The man has destroyed all notions of poetry I ever had. His works are like hallucinatory experiences-and after reading them you will not remain the same. This little poem I had written out of extreme frustration after reading a lot of his poetry that has deeply influenced me. Sometimes something that inspires you too much also pushes you into a writer’s block. And then slowly you make your way back with the Simones and the Murakamis..

 

“A hard day’s wanderin’ “

I haven’t written anything in a while and maybe

it’s because sugarman told me to look for god in the sewers

or the spit of an old girlfriend stuck to my beard,

when she found me wandering as

the gutter rats were reading me poems from the underground

I felt inconsequential like a black dwarf but

rats have been known to do that to wanderers,

 so I stole the cigarettes stuck to the lips of my passed out friends

and I stole their acid stories

And I stole the angry messages of my woman

but I woke up in a painting, coloured the bluest blue blue’s ever seen

and everything i’d stolen seemed colourless,

 and then i took some photographs of this dead night

before the long walk to the coffee shop,

where the rats said god used to work before recession struck,

I called some deadbeat friends and we talked

about our plans and good sex and this year’s winter,

and when they blasted Simone at midnight,

I knew I’d met her before, maybe in the sewers, so

I swayed too, in between

the bottles of gin, whisky, cheap rum, sweet soda, bleeding feet,

dry lips and sticky hair, till we found a place to rest our heads,

slowly making our way

back to the seedy bar before the seedy bar,

when Murakami taught me how to think again.

I haven’t written anything in a while but before sunrise

after a hard day’s wandering

I’ve been known to quit smoking, find love

and write a book or two.

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(Above is an Abstract blue painting by Ad Reinhardt)

 

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fiction, poetry

Mary the Mannequin (SOC experiment)

What do you get when you close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and write anything that comes to your head? I had heard of writers doing this before. Virginia Woolf, Michael Cunningham,  John Frusciante of Red Hot Chilli Peppers, others. It’s a great exercise to loosen that writer’s block- that’s for sure. My first stream of consciousness experiment- unedited, right from the mad hat.

painted orchids around my

neckline tied with window

shopping around neon-lit

mannequins i’ve asked to

marry me, marry me

Mary I promise you our odds

even out my god

of probability and the universe

will tremble to it’s knees

when you utter the words

like magic will free my tiny locked

heart and explode in a magnificent

big bang my veins pink champagne

dinosaurs in my stomach

Say yes, yes, yes

now, not long now

before it’s closing time, again.

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All rights of this image are reserved by Yago Partal. To see more of his awesome zoo portraits, visit http://www.zooportraits.com.

 

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Uncategorized

Requiem for a dog.

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In introduction to this post, I would just like to say- James Herriot and Miss Stubs, you were right.

I should have pocketed some mud off from that garden; I would’ve at least remembered how you smelt. I know I promised to visit every year today, but I never did. It was hard. Now I’m sitting in a room as big as loneliness, with a heart that’s shrunk to the size of a teardrop. The most terrible thing about terrible feelings is that they fade away with time. Now I have to look at a photograph to remember how your face looked.  Touches and smells have been replaced by carpets and nicotine. My memory, it’s a jumbled up wonderland. Sometimes I wake up clutching the pillow, sure that you’d be there. I look under the rug, inside my guitars and even behind the aquarium..before I can convince myself to be 23 again. I watched a film long before you came into my life –  it said that if you dive into the ocean deep enough, you will come across the department of lost & found of the universe, guarded by mermaids and centaurs. I never found you after you limped out into my front yard. Too bad I can’t swim. Now I just walk up to the rock where the two rivers meet and pretend you’re in the line separating the greys from the blues, space from time, dreams from memories- and it is there I find you, in lost moments. For a long time I contemplated if you had a spirit, a soul. Now, I know. You’re something better, an afterglow. I know for certain, love exists, because you did. How can I explain all this madness inside my head otherwise?

 

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fiction, short story

Chapter 5 *Elephants on the road*

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It’s been three years since I’ve been writing this book. Part fiction, part experience. Sometimes I’ve loved writing it. Other times I felt like I needed to write it. Some stories need to be coughed out. Chapter 5- Dive in folks. Everything you need to know about the book is here.

Sixty three days ago, when I had packed my backpack and stolen some money from my father’s desk drawer, I had started running the moment my feet stepped out of the bamboo gate. Even though no one was home my feet raced to the end of the road, to the colony gate, as if even a glimpse of my mother, my father or even one of the maids would make me freeze in time. I had hoped the letter would explain something, and offer some respite, if not consolation. Wasn’t this something sixteen year olds, the rebels without a cause did? I had looked at my reflection through a car window and my stubble glowed like wildfire. No, it wasn’t an act of rebellion; it was more sacred than that, and definitely more urgent. Before I boarded the 329, I smoked a menthol cigarette, the last remainder of Zar, of Sarojini Nagar, of the university, of Tiger.

I climbed in with that blooming head rush, looking back to the road that lead home. Everything seemed surreal to me, as If I was watching a memory slowly sliding down a waterfall, disappearing into rising vapours- familiar faces, shops, trees, all floating backwards into the smog as if a gigantic landslide was forcing them away from my bus. I turned to the road ahead and immediately felt a little better. It was long and unfamiliar, strange and unknown, all the things that I needed at the moment. The bus jerked to a stop on the market road, right where it narrowed, interrupted by a huge procession of a brass band. Dressed in synthetic red uniforms, yellow feathers adorning their caps, they painted a picture of  grizzled grandiosity. Every white glove moved animatedly with a sparkling instrument, followed by four dancing ponies, two elephants, all decorated elaborately with bright colours and traditional punjabi attire.

 Aati Rahengi Bahaaren,   (Springs will come)

Jaati Rahengi Bahaaren   (Springs will leave)

 My departure was being thoroughly celebrated by the stinking rich bureaucrats of South Delhi.I got down as swarms of passengers descended into the road like insects on a honey jar. One of the horses was moving her legs rhythmically to the beat while the baraatis gyrated around her, pumping champagne. Before I knew it, I was thrust into the procession, behind the whisky saxophone and the dhols, right between the two elephants. I liked it there, hidden from the overdressed men and their shining wives, and voices of my past seemed distant in that narrow space.

“L-e-a-v-i-ng home, are we mister super-tramp?” a hoarse voice stammered in a British accent on one side.

“ And which tremendous force of existential crisis has pushed you to take such a step?” the other voice boomed, with a slight brush of the trunk. I straightened my backpack and did not reply.

“You know, both of us tried to run away once too, but Raja here was hit by a bloody bus on the highway near the banks of Yamuna.”  Raja bobbed his head silently. I noticed he was missing half an ear on the other side, but it was well concealed by elaborate patterns of bright colours, which stretched from his forehead to his legs. “And Changhez here was the s-m-a-r-t chap who took the bright dec-is-ion of taking the high—wa–y to escape. Of course, who would notice two scrawny el—ep-hants on the na—ti–onal highway?” Raja said tilting his head to my side. “Well, the old chap who was driving the bus didn’t notice you did he?” Changhez bellowed, adjusting the carriage kept on his back with his trunk. This attracted a sharp reprimand from the mahavat who shouted something in Malayalam and showed him a stick. Changhez let out a little shriek.

“Oh, Mister Supertramp finds this amusing. That stick, sir, hits sharper than the bridegroom’s mustache.” Changez said, widening his shadowed elephant eyes.  Raja guffawed, as if he’d heard something extremely witty.

“Let me ask you a question, Changez ?” I shouted. The brass band was deafening now as the bridegroom’s uncle was handing out packets of notes.

Both trunks nodded in sync.

“Why the hell do you have a British accent?”

Raja let out an exasperated sigh and Changez nodded his head in disappointment. My limited intellect had missed the obvious.

“What do you think we are, Mister supertramp, some unkempt beasts from the Western Ghats? Dear sir, absolutely not.” Changez put out his trunk to my face. It smelled peculiar, of a mixture of grass and ripe bananas. “We are successors of the Raj. Yes, you heard us. Our grandfather was the..the.. royal comma-nder in chief’s wagon in Lutyen’s Delhi.” Raja stuttered with some pride.

“From the Raj to Raju Brass Band in Sarojini Nagar? ”

Changez groaned and stamped his foot loudly. Raja looked me straight in the eye, curled his trunk around my neck and said, “ Look around you, mister supertramp.” I turned around.

The bus was still stranded, leading rows of honking cars and scooters, their drivers busy in a flurry of  sympathetic expletives; the bridegroom’s friends forcing a bottle of scotch down his throat; members of the “Raju Brass Band” busy collecting falling notes ; but constantly missing them on their instruments. I felt for that moment, that I was inside a TV trying to tune itself to sense. Chaos. Nothing but a mad mix of hair and beasts and saxophones and alcohol, all rolled up on the street that lead to the railway station.

“You pla-n on catching that t-r-ain?” , Raja stammered slowly, weighing every word. 

I thought about what he meant. A teardrop floated upwards from somewhere in my chest and stammered inside my throat, much like Raja. Immediately, I ran back to buy another menthol ciggarette; running, a different kind of running.

 

 

 

 

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