Black beauty

Coffee was not always my beau. My relationship with the beverage started out as a disastrous one. I was eleven and it was a Sunday morning. As in most Bengali households, the morning ritual consisted of reading the Telegraph or Statesman and simultaneously sipping on coffee.

My father, a man loyal to his habits, was doing just that. I had woken up and like any eleven year old charged with adrenaline, wanted to engage him in one of my games. I pestered him for a good ten minutes and finally, when he couldn’t stand my goat like voice calling ‘baba, babaaaaa’, he admonished me and asked me to leave the room. In my anger, I flung the coffee mug on the floor and as the glass shattered and the black stained the floor, I fled the scene of crime.

My father is an angry man, by nature. He doesn’t forgive easily and has a memory of an elephant. No, he is not quick to forgive and forget. As a result of this feature, he refused to talk to me for the next few days. “Boro der shathe ayerom byabohar…it’s unheard of,” (such kind of behavior with elders…it’s unheard of) he would remark whenever he saw me. Those times, I would cower like a puppy with my tail between my legs.

As days went by, he forgave me and resumed his normal interactions with me. But that black liquid continued to repel me and reminded me of that incident. My father had placed his morning coffee higher than his elder daughter on the priority list.

His habit didn’t change and the ever present cup with the bitter smelling liquid resembling tar continued to be his faithful companion every morning.

As my limbs grew in length, I was made to shift to a hostel in college. The only thing in their kitchen that could be consumed without giving you a bad stomach was coffee. ‘Coffee kills hunger…try drinking it in the morning,” my friend had said to me.

The first time I had a sip, I almost threw up. It made my body warm and I had to take off my layers one by one. “It is an acquired taste…give it time to work its magic on you,” baba told me over the phone when I asked him how he drank it.

Initially, I had to plug my nose and gulp it down without breathing as if taking a bad medicine. But as days went be, I caught myself relishing the bitter and sweet after taste of it. The smell didn’t repel me anymore and the light brown froth pleased the eyes.

I drank coffee wherever I went- the bookshop down in Park Street where my love affair with Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca began; at night when I had to stay up to mug up pages and pages of text; and at 2 am when I had to write. It became a constant companion which accompanied me to the interiors of my mind palace and helped me make sense of my tangled emotions.

When I went home after my first year, I had my first cup of coffee with my father at 1 am. We were watching the papal elections live and it was freezing cold. We both took our coffee black and unsweetened. The discussion that followed made me feel like my father had finally started taking me seriously.

“You have grown up. I am glad,” baba told me before going to his room with his friend in his hand.

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To the little girl who was afraid of the sea

When you were six, you hardly ever spoke. When in the company of strangers, you would hide behind my back and hold on to my shirt. When you were eleven we went to the sea and you were scared of how the waves splashed against the shore. You were terrified of the sound and smell of the water. You held on to my hand and refused to go anywhere near the it.

When you were five, we went on our first flight together. You were so shy that whenever any passer by tried to talk to you, you would squeeze my hand in a death grip. The nights they fought, we would lie close together on the bed holding each other while we shed tears.

Now you have grown up and I know are a strong independent woman. You were always the brains of the family and you always tried to do good by everyone. You are my little over achiever who aims to please. But amidst the world of thick books and medals, I hope you don’t leave your childhood behind.

Don’t make the same mistake I made at your age. Do not aim to please. Enjoy the sunshine after sleepless nights of hanging out with friends; enjoy the hangovers and the love pangs; enjoy the school dramas and the world of movies. Get your fill of sleep because after eighteen, you can bid goodbye to that. Get your fill of your family because people grow old and apart with age. Explore territories that you haven’t before. Fail once, fail twice and fail again because failure is a better teacher than success.

Dream a dream and then change that dream the next day because now is when the possibilities are most. Fall in love and realise the difference between love and infatuation. Get a job at McDonalds and understand that there is a lot of value in the smile of the boy who is given a happy meal by his father.

Join a cause and fight for it because if not now, when? When they ask you, “what do you want to be?” tell them that you want to be happy. When they ask which university, tell them the name of all possible ones because there is no end to learning.

Learn that experience is more valued than mugging up facts and that you can always change what you want. There is always a new dawn after a bad day.

Dear kid, don’t be sorry for not knowing what you want to do and for wanting something no one wants to give. It is okay. You will fail. You must fail. But you will come out of it shining, just like the time you boarded the plane on your own and made friends with the other passengers.

If a shy little kid could become a confident woman, there is nothing in this world you can’t do. I wish you knew how proud I was of you and I wish I could be the one you had your first smoke with and told all your secrets to.

But alas! It is what it is. All I know for a fact is that I will always watch over you even if it is from behind a screen.

The editor’s tale

It’s not always that I get to open my laptop and scrutinize the work of others. Today, after procrastinating and coming to terms with the weight on my shoulders, I finally sat down with a cup of black coffee and read the first line of some obscure article.

It made me cringe- not in disgust but in apprehension. Someone out there, at some point in my life, will look at my work with the same hawked eyes and critique every coma that I use. That day, I would be sitting helplessly on the other side of the veil waiting for the verdict like a sinner on judgement day.

But not today. Today was my day of power and authority. I could feel my heartbeat quicken; the writer’s fate was in my hand and in some small way, I was going to make or break his life. ‘Impact it’, if you may. It would either be a crash landing or it would  be a smooth one.

The sadist in me looked at the doc file with glee. It could finally use the virtual red ink on every misspelled word, every misplaced punctuation and every wrong usage- sometimes out of spite, too. If the words are a writer’s baby, it was time to go on a kidnapping spree for the sadist ‘me’.

The more rational part was, however, scared. I would be blamed for any additional coma in the article by people unknown to me. I was transported to the veil again. Only this time, both the writer and I were huddled together like a bunch of scared kids waiting to be reprimanded.

God! What pressure to be faced for one damn article and God what a dilemma to be faced by one small mind- to kill or try not to be killed!

Girl on the bus

I never thought I would actually see her in real. Yes, she did dominate my imaginary world at one point in time. There were dreams—when awake and asleep both, and in those dreams I had lived this situation a million times. I had played it over and over in my head like a song that is stuck on loop. I thought I was prepared for it, for her and for those eyes.

I have never been more wrong.

I recognized her the moment she got on the bus– as if she owned it along with the rest of the world. She smiled at every person who she laid her eyes on. It was a private smile—the type that emerges after knowing a person for decades or more.

My luck– she sat in the seat right in front on me. That is when it became difficult to breathe. The way she tied her hair in a high bun, her black earrings, the way her nose crinkled in the corners when she smiled and the dimple on her left cheek—they were all as he had described them to me, a lifetime ago.

My heartbeat raced and the body started responding. Along with difficulty in breathing, I could feel the perspiration and the hollowness in the chest. You would know the latter if you are familiar with bungee jumping or paragliding.

After about half hour of that ordeal, she turned back to look directly at me. She could probably feel my eyes boring into her back. Our eyes met and I could see that she recognized me. I knew those eyes. They were mine but a hundred times more powerful. He had a fondness for our eyes. There can be nothing better than a pair of hazel buttons, he used to say.

Did I expect to see anger, irritation or shame? I know not. What I saw in them took me by surprise. It was love—unadulterated love. She smiled. But this one was different. It calmed my racing heart, cleared my nasal passage and relaxed my muscles.

She came over to me and kissed me on the cheeks. “Hello, I’ve missed you,” she said. I understood her. “Sorry to have kept you waiting. It won’t happen again.”

I gave her space to come and sit in the empty seat near me and we held hands the rest of the way home.

She had loved him as I had and now, we had both lost him. And in loving him, she had loved me more than she would ever know. She was half me and I was half her and now we could start getting to know our lost pieces.

To my muse

Dear muse,

I started writing to you about you when you left me; when you exited my life; when you stopped calling and asking how I was. This birthday, you forgot to wish me. I haven’t spoken to you in weeks and yes I miss you. You are always there at the back of my mind. You are there in my every thought and action. The day you leave my thoughts, I will lose my art and myself. My only way of keeping you alive is when I write to you about you. My muse- how I owe you my sanity and myself. If you hadn’t come into my life the way you did, I would never have felt surprise. If you had never stayed in my life as you did, I would never have experienced ecstasy. If you never left me the way you did, I would never have known agony. Whatever makes a person a writer is definitely not happiness. My love for you knows no bounds. You will always be my firsts—my first love, my first mistake, my first act of defiance, my first sinister deed and my first awakening. I will never really move on. You are a phenomenon; a storm that uprooted every one of my ideals and beliefs and left me barren. Barren, yet full of knowledge of how the world works. My sweet—you will always be the one. Many will come and many will go, but you shall remain in my heart forever. Maybe one day we will meet in a distant city as tourists who have landed up lost in the same coffee shop. Maybe then we will talk, share a cup of hot caramel macchiato. My touch will remind you of those endless nights we spent together, your laughter will remind me of our innocence and maybe we will relive the past together, as one. Maybe then we will realize what we lost and what we have the chance to regain. Maybe then, we will never let each other go. Maybe then, we can give it a try again. Till then, all I can do is dream—dream of the distant city with fog all around; of women in turtle necks; of men in waistcoats; of the smell of patisseries; of the taste of that caramel macchiato and dream of the taste of a possibility in my mouth. Live long inside me, my muse. I need you for survival. God knows I do.

LEAVE

That day she asked him to leave;

For once and for all;

Perked up the courage, squared her shoulders,

Puffed up her chest and did it.

Didn’t think, didn’t tell and probably didn’t mean,

But she did anyhow.

She did.

How long- she asked her lingering doubt;

How long can this go on?

Being sorry, being sad,

Being missed, being loved

And back to being sorry again.

How long?

Unsaid words, uncomprehended thoughts,

Unfelt feelings- all hung in the air.

The thick viscous, invisible mist;

It was all there- all encompassed in one word-

LEAVE.

That was the day she saw freedom.

That was the day she tasted loss at the tip of her tongue.

That was the day she said ‘enough’.

It was that fateful day she grew into something more.

It was that day she finally became HER

loss2002_edited.