New Year’s Eve / Time is a lie

Nan-Goldin.-French-Chris-at-the-Drive-in-New-Jersey-1979.-©-Nan-Goldin-courtesy-Matthew-Marks-Gallery-New-York

I hate parties
that end next year
and houses that burn
with promises and
resolutions doused
with cocktails named after
actors and saints or
sex on airplanes
I’m laughing in a corner
fighting my way through
slithering bodies / snake charmers
embraces that seem invincible
kisses that seem infinite
I’m laughing on the ledge
looking at the fireworks
If only they knew
Time is a lie
I was sent here by a friend
who’s drowning in somebody’s face now
their tongues swirling like a cyclone
that is now complete
I get up for a refill
trying to keep the chicken in
that god set free in my intestines
(Hallelujah!)
Mary pours me a double
says Jesus is away
It’s been a busy night
for gods and monsters
I know better so I walk away
If only she knew
It’s a thin line
between gods and monsters
plus i’ve done this way too many times
life conversations with the girl at the bar
the shine in her eyes, the broken star
all she wants is a girl
and a house in green park
And she promises she has a plan
this year she’s done with falling apart
if only she knew by now its too late
for a house, a conversation or a new start
Anyway, eventually, midnight crawls in
like a man that’s impossible to surprise
and the crowd screams
and the bottles pop
some skirts were torn
some fingers were locked
now I’m drunk in a crowd of vampires
and fake fin mermaids
and it’s hard to remember
which year I am in
and it’s hard to remember
if time is a li(n)e

photograph – New York by Nan Goldin

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The Five Minute Knight

                                                  tomatsu

Yes, if I’m being totally honest with myself- i’m scared of connections. There she was staring right into my eyes and there it was; a heavy lump in my throat stuck right in the highway to my heart. I would look up occasionally and it was as if I was staring into a deep, infinite pool where a glitter of interest floated up once in a while. Eventually she gave up too. Since that day, she would talk to me staring at my hair. So I grew my hair long and bought the most ridiculously priced hair wax so that they would stick to my head and flow down my eyes. We had nothing in common, I told myself. She restores monuments and I write stories. Well, if you thought about it objectively – we had a lot in common. We both took on to something hopeless and fell in love with it. We spent years repainting it, rebuilding it. Brick by brick we gave birth to a new kind of old- and it destroyed us eventually. So you see, when I looked into her eyes while ordering my coffee, I did not just see a pool. I saw us dancing in the deep end – wearing tinted sunglasses we’d bought on a flash sale. Listening to some hipster music youtube had so gratefully picked for us that afternoon. Flapping our fins to pink champagne. Talking about my next story and our plans or rather the lack of them. Then colliding in an embrace to shame the most horrific car crashes. And in that image, strangely, I remember not remembering how to swim. And then there are whirlpools and waves and bubbles and sentences that were meant to come out but got caught in that lump stuck in my throat. And so- I’m afraid of connections.  My heart calls out for a swimming lesson but words wander, like they tend to, when fear does it’s dance. And hence, I was proclaimed the master of five minute affairs and a connoisseur of solid half hour friendships. 

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Note: The above photograph is a part of a collection by Shomei Tomatsu ; one of the most influential Japanese photographers of all time. Check more of his work here.

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

~Memories of a sunflower

I remember that little girl from my first school. I remember how happy I felt around her, how she tied her hair in a twirled ponytail, how her voice quivered when she sang. But as hard as I try, I can’t remember her face. She comes to me only as a feeling, something which only a boy aged six years could understand. So I began writing a collection of short stories on memories..

~Memories of a sunflower

I noticed you on the roof, watering the lilies. You seemed worried and started whispering to me, so I told you to move around in circles. But then you started going inwards and your circles turned to whirlpools, and I tucked in my life, packed some plans and dived right in with you. I wished we would emerge outside the Ursa Major, the big bear, and ride him into carpets of celestial amnesia. I hoped to remember my dreams, but some things I needed to forget- like the monsoon you abandoned me.

Those cloudy afternoons, I swam and swam until everything I remembered had turned into a song of your whispers. I could hear it resonate across all stardust, it was right there with chuck berry, in the voyager. Some obscure being in a lonely, exploding meteor would fall in love hearing it. It would cock it’s ears to the spacecraft, eyes to the sun and see it’s blinding, furious fire. Like me, it would know crippling love for the first time. The kinds that would make it grow a heart, and orbit around the sun till the end of time. It’s your love that would make planets, nurturing little islands of dreams and oceans of being.

And today, as I face away from that sun, to watch your face, I pray that it’s sunflowers you prefer to lilies. I pray that my god is an animal. I pray that your whirlpools turn to cartwheels, and that you find happiness.

You did. Happiness came in a bunch of purple orchids delivered to your doorstep.And you marked it by plucking me off and setting me in your bun. I didn’t complain in those last hours, I would get a better view than the poor orchids on the fridge.

But I did wonder, Why my story titles were always better than my stories. And where did my stories take me? Into some paragraph in a page I barely remember, strung together in a line, stripped down to a word -Obscure.

 
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(The above painting is Room in Brooklyn By Edward Hopper)