My Organic Romance

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I met this girl at the grocery store

while shopping for Christmas

Wrapped in cheap toilet paper

and abundance of cat food

I was sulking at the pompousness

of organic honey on the organic shelf

she asked, have you ever been happy

The question threw me off

Like a clown thrown in a court room

I grabbed the slipping toilet paper

and hid it behind packets of cigarettes

the fragility of impressions now secured,

I thought about the year’s highlights

A storm rose in the climate of my eyes

I’ve been angry, I said

The only thing that was never inspired

neither borrowed nor stolen

From books or lovers or abusive mothers

Happiness is dull, like my father’s shampoo

Safe, unassuming, clinical in it’s purpose

I could feel her burning stare

The kind of look that makes you feel

Like drowning in the whirlpool of a woman’s body

or atleast trying organic honey

But luckily I’d been a floater for a while

butterflying on lakes and municipality pools

Give it a chance, she whispered after a while

Write about singing in the snow

Sing about writing love songs

Love like it’s going to last forever

And last forever,

Like the Milky Way,

Like the Lochness Monster,

Like the Indian Ocean

Like organic honey!

With that performance, she left

pausing only at the vegan shelf

And like always,

All I wanted,

Was to last just a little more

Than I lasted.

************************ photograph by Brassai********************

The absurdity of telephones

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“I’m always writing about feral waves and dark alleys. Never clear lakes or interstate highways. It’s not like I’ve been caught in quicksand more than I’ve found myself swimming in pools. It all started when I found out that Newton was wrong. Einstein was right. Everyone was so way off when they said, time is the absolute truth, the only thing that passes, the only linearity in a world of dimensions. No, when I was sleeping on the longest day of summer, it was still smaller than that moment when I heard those words. Humour me here for a second now. Moments, I feel are like black holes in the vast universe of time which remains unchanged as a whole, if you see the universe as a physical entity that has a start, an end, length and breadth. Now, that night I got a phone call. And you know as phone calls go in the middle of the night – no good can come out of them. So this phone call of course had a sombre tone. It could have been anything- a requiem, a heartbreak, car crashes or lightning strikes. But you get the drift. Now that moment when I heard those words, I swear on everything that is good and holy and not God, I felt the black hole of time sweeping me in my entirety and my consciousness being swallowed whole by it’s vastness. And then I felt nothing. I was nothing on my own. Now, I was a part of that moment, and soon I was growing limbs of a heartbreak and features of a car crash. My voice creaked like a funeral song and my eyes crashed like lightning. I was that moment on that day of that year of the mighty, the invisible black hole that time is. And I remember waking up next morning and having kids I didn’t want and a house that looked straight out from a comic book about the world’s end. So I swore to have another moment swallow me up and throw me out in a different world with blue beaches and wooden guitars. But I feel so young now, being older. I wonder if linearity is a lie too. In any case, I’m not using telephones anymore.”


ps: The picture is by Makahisa Fukase. For a glimpse of his stunning work, google A solitude of Ravens.

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.

Fix you

I survive the night
on noir films
and leaves of grass
Now i’m getting done
in the back of my car
love notes precipitate
left by acid romeos
mock my dreams
I keep the names i like
for next season
and wait for the rain
to wash away the
scents of women
lingering on my wounds
splashes of nail polish
clawed on my neck

Well, friday’s here
I should write a love song
but tonight everything
sounds like heartbreak so
I’m looking for a chemist
some xanax
some time
to fix you
fix me

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.

 

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?

 

Mending storms.

Some nights are empty. Like a bottle that’s been wasting away at a bookshelf for far too long, gathering dust, watching silently to be filled up. With anything, anything at all, it can be that rather sweet pink syrup for all it cares; just not this space, this space representing everything that’s not, everything that it could be.  My dog sleeps on my blanket, dreaming. He twitches his face from time to time, jumping in a dreamy garden, chasing cars, fetching frisbees. The fish seem to be holding an intervention in their little corner. Diving around the bubble man in their aquarium, they are going to get through the night just fine.

But my mind is cooking up a storm. It’s heading towards this nice little cottage, with a rather plaid windmill accompanying it. Imagine a photograph if you may, a swirling hurricane in a wide meadow, filled with wooden desks and ties and bills, all going round and round in circles, heading towards the cottage. If the rule of fifths is to be considered, I might be standing at the crosshairs on the bottom-left of the photograph, looking straight ahead. There’s a face peeking out of the only window in the cottage. A face that looks violently familiar, but I can’t remember who it belongs to. Every once in a while she looks at the approaching hurricane with the same, calm expression and looks away. I imagine she’s brewing her last cup of coffee- a good cup was to die for. But looking at the spinning windmill was making me feel queasy. Although it would make a good mixer about right now, the way it was chopping up everything that flew into it, branches, beds, books.  Soon, that beast of a storm is going to hit the tiny cottage and break it like a pack of cards. Already, the tin roof has started to slide away. She comes out of the door now, munching on a little cracker and looks at the roof with quenched eyes. I imagine the dust particles are hitting her like needles. Our eyes meet when she turns. She’s got angry eyes. I turn away.

Yes, I had no right to be taking up my storm everywhere. So I took off my tie and wore it around my head. As the night grew colder, I burned the college grade sheets to keep myself warm. And sometime around midnight, I planted some flowers in that bottle.

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( A painting by the famous American landscape painter, George Innesse)

~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)

February shivers.

It was just a subway ride. Really. But this year around, february seems as lost as me, sometimes rainy, sometimes angry, but mostly lost. Did it lose it’s way between the crushing winter and the promised spring? February, rattling up my heart. February, my wandering lover. February, don’t you see? This is how we’re meant to be. Wandering, wandering, shivering, shivering, till summer comes around and we realize. Oh it was better, so much better, when we were drifting, wandering, shivering in february.

 

You know they say
memories are strange things
I think they’re like metro stations,
disappearing one after another,
blocks of steel railings and hazy tress,
pushing you to where you ought to be
But I wish I could get off on my favorite station,
and stay there forever
Right when the door opens at age sixteen,
I realize this is it,
I want to be in school forever,
the world full of possibilities,
my veins full of life,
looking forward to football every week,
and the prom every year.
when all the books are still new,
and women haven’t lost their novelty.
With the MJ cassettes & a superman cape
You don’t really need anything, or anybody
floating around in that crystal ball
of four chord songs & afternoon dates.
Every little morning sends your body to shivers.
everything is exciting, everything is magic.
But well you know, you didn’t get out.
Your station is here, age twenty two.
Stepping out,the cold city chill does make you shiver
But not every shiver is the good kind;
So you head for a smoke.