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.

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Bangalore or Bengaluru?

Bangalore Days was a wonderful movie. Especially so because just like the protagonists, I was also very excited with the prospect of moving to the city. As a starry eyed teenager, whenever I was told that there exists a city in the South which is bigger that Delhi, more cosmopolitan than Hyderabad and cleaner than Kolkata, I wanted to become a part of the hustle and bustle of this city.

Was Bangalore a revelation when I finally got here a few years later? In some ways yes. The cosmopolitan aspect of it was true. You could find both Punjabi uncles as well as loud Bengali aunties in the midst of Malayalis and Telegites. The Kannadigas were difficult to find though.

For a first timer, it comes across as too huge a city to fathom in a day or more. It’s too vast and too impersonal at some level. In the film Divya remarks that there is no one and nothing in the city that she can call her own.

That sentiment of alienation among the crowd of Majestic and Shivajinagar is very familiar to me. Everyone is too caught up in their own worlds to notice the other. However, after a series of dramatic events, DIvya, Kuttan and Arjun come to terms with the ways of the metropolitan.

For a conservative good boy like Kuttan it means being comfortable with walking on the side of road where a couple is kissing. For Arjun, that means learning the importance of a career and establishing one self.

The wanderer becomes the settler and the conservative becomes a liberal. It is a city where dreams come true. A place not restricted by traditions and customs as much as the rest of the country; yet a place which smells of culture.

Bengaluru is Bengaluru for some and Bangalore for others. It is the go between for some who are seeking a transformation from traditional living to modern living and vice versa.

The American girl that Kuttan ends up marrying is the example of how people come here seeking culture. That aspect of the film rings a bell.

But what the filmmaker missed was the traffic, the over-crowded BMTC buses that Arjun travelled on, the eve teasing that Divya could have faced when she came back home alone post classes and the judgmental glances of the neighbours when Kuttan stayed back at his girlfriend’s house.

However, it is imperative that one gives artistic freedom to the filmmaker.  Hence, keeping his perspective in mind, the film definitely did a good job in portraying the spirit of this vast, multifaceted city.

The Ghost

The bespeckled therapist gave me a puzzled look. She asked—anger at what child?

Anger at what? At who? Why anger? Why not tolerance?

“If I knew that I wouldn’t be here”.

I am an expert at being rude and unpleasant when the situation demands it.

There was a ghost in my life. The clinical term for it is ‘dysthymia or chronic depression.’ It had haunted me since the deciding age of 11.

My ghost paid me visits at random intervals. She knocked at my door and let herself in. She can pass the barriers of wood and steel and will power. She can walk through walls and possess the soul.

She shows me alternate realities. Possibilities that make my mind go bonkers. No it’s not always black or blue. It is various colors all at once. She is moody, like me.

“Tell me what you feel when she visits,” the relentless doctor probed.

“Umm…have you ever had your skin peeled when on meth or ecstasy? It feels good and no before you ask—I have not done either. A friend of mine is a pro when it comes to this and he keeps me educated.”

“I want your version.” I could see she disapproved of my attempt at humour. Perhaps a lover or a brother had been a victim.

“Okay. Have you ever been in love with the darkness? Doesn’t the night wrap you in a warm blanket and sing a lullaby? Doesn’t looking at the moon just soothe your soul? Have you ever fallen in love with something that is bad for you Doctor? I have. All the forbidden things that ever were. I like the darkness. I like peeling my skin off me. I like the peace and quiet. I like the loneliness. My ghost gives me all those—the calm and the high all at once.”

“How about the anger?” She adjusted her frame and smoothed her already smooth skirt.

Why was she so hell bent on the anger part? Didn’t she get it? It is in the anger that the pleasure lies.

I hear about how people enjoy getting tattooed for the pain instead of the symbols themselves. Another friend of mine had tattoos all over his body. He said he did it for the pain. It was in the pain that gave him a high; made him feel alive.

“The anger is the easy part. It is just frustration that has been bottled up I guess. When a volcano erupts, it doesn’t do so with a warning. It just does. It is a relief for the earth. Same goes with the anger. The anger is easy and promises a cure.”

“Anger on what?”

Again that question. Why couldn’t she just let it go? Why couldn’t she focus on the important part? I could see her eager for the information like a kid opening the gifts on his birthday. A greedy kid.

“It doesn’t matter. Anger at everything. Why doesn’t the circle have sides? Why isn’t King Kong our president? Why am I not born in a different era, under different circumstances?”

“But don’t you get it? All your reasons are extremely stupid?” She was losing patience now.

“Lady don’t you get it? The anger is directionless and random. I don’t have any sob story to narrate. The anger is not important. How do I exorcise my ghost?”

She fumbled and gave me a few exercises to do. “Paint or read or write or listen to music when you feel low. Here are some pills you can take but take them in moderation. The most important thing to remember is—never give up hope and try to think bright thoughts whenever you feel low. And I am right here if you ever need me.”

Nice. She gave me the text book cure and increased her brand value all in the same breathe. They should have a prize for this kind of ability.

She handed me a prescription and I walked out of her office. When I reached my empty flat, I was greeted by her. She came over me like a mist on a winter evening.

“Why do you haunt me so?” I asked her.

“I like you and you know you like me too, a tiny bit. Say you do and here now, don’t lie to me. I know you in and out.”

I smirked. I did like her a tiny bit. Help can only be given to those who seek it. Who was I fooling when I said I needed help? I didn’t. I like her and she understands me. She lets me be quite and be on my own.

She is like the drug which keeps you yet takes from you a little by little.

Well, I don’t really care. She keeps me and that is enough. Now I think I will go back to my darkness. You be happy basking in your sun. We are the children of the moon and we live at night. You be happy at your side of the fence and we will do the same on our side.

 

 

The day was grey. The rain god seemed to be punishing the earth for the fools it produced. It hadn’t stopped raining for 24 hours. I was sitting in the small balcony of my nine hundred square feet flat and basking in the mist.

She was there, surrounding me like a blanket and singing me a soothing lullaby that was haunting at the same time.

“X got a job and a girlfriend…she has big ones, you know and I hear that they are about to announce their engagement soon,” she whispered into my ears.

When she got no response, she went on to play the higher card.

“They are in Europe…the three of them must be eating croissants under the Eiffel Tower right about now. She doesn’t remember her promise clearly. She still hasn’t called. There they are a family in the true sense of the term and here you are, a sorry little thing stuck with me.”

Still no visible response from my side; just a lump in my throat. It’s not like I hadn’t heard this before and neither was I completely indifferent, just yet. But she didn’t give up. She came closer still, till she was right inside my head. I could feel her strutting about looking for vulnerabilities- going through the archives and dissecting each document she found.

A few rain drops later, she hit hard.

Tring tring, tring tring…you remember it don’t you?”

In that instance, I saw my father receive the call and his face contort immediately after. It just took two words to do that to him.

Now my eyes got moist and the lump rose up and hit my nose. The flood gates opened and a rusty tasting liquid flew out of my nose and eyes.

I could feel her trying to hide her smirk. But she was like me, pathetic at hiding things and keeping secrets.

“Have fun darling. I shall be back soon.” She gave me a cold hug and left. I remained in the square of the semi open space, with the patter of the rain in my ears and a raging ocean in my eyes.

 

 

The red pen stand in her room amused me. A latest addition, I assumed. It was a pig with a hole in its back with pens sticking out of it. Some of those instruments of torture and relief, lacked a head and some were stripped to their basic minimum clothing.

“Is that new?” I asked the doctor.

“Yes it is. It was a gift from a patient. You like it, do you?”

“I think I do. It is amusing how we disfigure objects to fit our need. The color is nice though. It’s the color of life,” I was talking to another soul after long. It felt different now; needed more of my concentration and effort.

“Hmm. I will gift you one if you succeed in overcoming your condition,” she said with a 32 all out smile.

I was back in first grade again. My teacher had promised me a caramel toffee if I finished writing ‘I am Radhika’ in cursive hand at least fifty times by the end of the hour. Well of course I could manage just thirty, but the feeling remained the same.

“Let’s get back now. Tell me about your father. Are you angry with him still?”

Suddenly her dirty yellow walls looked more interesting than her banter. A bee buzzed into the room and went straight ahead and collided with the yellow. It kept colliding with the same spot for five times before it fell on the ground and gave a sigh of relief (or at least I would like to imagine).

“Radhika, Radhika.”

“Ya right…umm…angry at him? No not really. Did you notice what the bee did? It seemed like it was on a suicide mission.”

“Suicide. Well, do you have any suicidal thoughts?” she asked as she raised her glasses up to look at me. Her interest in me had doubled now. I was a complex code she was trying to decode and she had found her first big lead.

“Ah…no. It takes too much of effort and I am kind of attached to my flat. So no.”

“Haha…right.” Again the forced laugh. I bet if we counted the number of times an individual forces emotions on themselves and remove those instances from their lives, they would be left as zombies with poker faces.

“If not anger, what emotion do you feel when you think of him?” By now she was sitting absolutely upright with her back as straight as a crane’s neck.

“I can’t say for sure, really. I think I am sad but how does one know what emotion they are feeling? We give a certain type of feeling a name and get done with it. What about the other types?”

“What other types of emotions do you feel?” She was squinting now.

“How about something bordering indifference and sadness? Or something where you are so happy that you are sad.”

“Right. So your ghost…how is it these days?”

“It is a she and I would much rather you address her by her gender,” I was offended. Nobody referred to her as ‘it’.

“Why a female though?”

“She has the subtle beauty of a woman and she makes me suffer like a dog.”

Now she was confused. Who wouldn’t be? I wanted to get rid of her, but I respected her. She was slowly becoming a part of me. I would miss her if she went away. I would feel empty once more.

As soon as I realized this, I grabbed my bag, made a lame excuse about having to pick up the mail for a friend and headed towards the door.

I hadn’t much cash on me, so I headed for the subway. While I was waiting for my train, a butterfly flew next to me. It had the eye on its wings and it stood there, fluttering its wings waiting for the train, like everyone else.

It got on the train with the other passengers when the coach arrived and got off two stations before mine. I would only assume that it, like me, had urgent business to tend to.

Once I entered the apartment, I called to her. She came out running with her white teeth bared and hugged me tight.

“Welcome home darling. What would you want to see today?”

I gathered my courage, looked her straight in the eye and said, “don’t go. Don’t ever leave me. I need you for survival. I’ll make you a deal. You torture me as much as you want but don’t ever fade away in smoke. Please.”

“Never.” She looked scared.

 

 

He had dark hair and pink lips. I could see his brows burrow through the crack of the book rack. He exhaled and put the book back in its place. Ten seconds later, he picked it up again and sighed. No one can stay away from that one.

Everybody has a Rebecca in their life and so did he. Those eyes found mine and smiled.

“Don’t do that to yourself. It’s a trap. He will leave, like everyone else,” she insisted.

Suddenly I was transferred to a room from my childhood. It was decorated with souvenirs from my past and a closed suitcase, ready to board a flight. My dad came out of the adjoining room and without a second glance caught hold of the other girl with the pink ribbon, took the suitcase and left.

I was left with my souvenirs and a muffled voice that didn’t speak when it ought to have.

My fingers reached to wipe away the ocean of gloom, but instead found the desert. I checked for lumps and a fluffed nose, but found none.

“Hi. You couldn’t resist Rebecca, could you?” I asked those eyes.

“Can anybody really?” They twinkled. “You like your coffee black, I assume?”

I smiled.

“Is that what you want again?” she screamed at my folly.

“Exactly. I am sorry,” I replied.

I could feel her leaving from the back door and on her way out, she smiled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perfect Human

The world dominated by the perfect human scares me. Imagine looking at all the fashion magazines and seeing the Dolce Gabbana clad models- perfect in their waist size, hair length, height, hair style, eye makeup and clothes; and then looking at yourself. You, clad in the old pajamas with pimples over your face; possibly above the golden weight, already feel way beneath the freckle less beauties. You have an inferiority complex and start to starve yourself. After a year of forcing yourself to vomit out every meal you have eaten and matting yourself with mac makeup, you might achieve that golden weight. But to what cost? A failing digestive system and a draught stricken body that will fall down at the slightest blow of air?

Now place yourself in a world of the perfect human- one that did not have to starve itself to look good. One that has it in their gene. One engineered to beat the highest specie on the food chain- itself. The Homo sapiens would have perfected its flaws and become invincible. The parents just need go window shopping- choose the hair color and the waist size along with the gene that makes your IQ above that of Einstein’s’. How would you- the mere ‘natural born’ who has a fit of cough and cold every other day that makes you slow in performance and bed ridden even when you don’t wish for it- then feel among the almost Gods?

I, for one, would declare myself a hermit and go reside in the deepest jungle with the lesser adequate species for company, all the while living in the fear of seeing a human. Such a world would come. I am sure it would. But does that make it fair or does that make it just another form of evolution?

Let’s start from the beginning- the world as we know it now (with the primates) only came into being after five ice ages- all of which annihilated life forms. Now in a future where we manipulate nature (another name for chance- chance for the kind of genes you inherit), we would be stopping evolution. My limited knowledge of genetics teaches me that mutations (another kind of chance) are not all bad.

For example, a nucleotide combinations- ATTTGCC- that is otherwise non-coding (also called intergenic region in DNA) and seemingly useless to us may become a new combination of nucleotides- say ATCTGCC- in the child which has had a natural birth. This new combination might code for a gene that continues the evolutionary process. In my little mind, I want this gene to make our eyes go the full 180 degree in opposite directions just to increase our spectrum of vision. Call it wishful thinking; but I call it evolution.

In the world of which we talk (the one in which making a baby is equivalent to making a custom made outfit) this would not be possible. We would already be perfect. But doesn’t perfection differ from person to person and from circumstance to circumstance? Today a perfect life for me is when I can sleep 9 hours a day. Tomorrow my perfect life might entail not sleeping at all.

So in such a world what happens to choice? How is it any different from Lenin’s communist Russia or Hitler’s Nazi Germany? Having said that, it is safe to conclude that our world 500 years hence will be bereft of choice and will hinder evolution.

Now think of what would happen to the spiritual realm. There would certainly be no God. Though an agnostic myself, the fear of the Supreme Being does prevent people from committing a lot of heinous actions. For that, I am grateful to the abstraction that is God. In this society of perfection, the fear would not exist and what happens when everybody becomes God? It’s a one word answer- bloodshed and revolution.

The funny thing about perfection is that although it is advisable to chase after it, it can never be achieved. It would be like a dog chasing its own tail. Does that mean we stop genetic research? No, we don’t. We are doomed to create a society of the perfect human, only to be wiped out of this Earth by that very idea. What has to be, will be!

The last fight

Feminism had been talked about in almost all domains of her life. If one claimed to be from this century, one had to be aware of the term and all that went with it. Since play school, kids were taught the theory and by the time they reached middle school, they were expected to know how to treat the other sex fairly. However, the country she belonged to had a different story altogether. The theory was taught but the practical was skipped.

She belonged to the modern world and was an extrovert on most occasions. This trait gave her the access to the homes and private lives of people from her race. After a lot of consideration, she observed on a social media site that: In India, men love feminism only till before marriage (in most cases).

She had been prepared for outbursts from the other sex and even had her retorts ready. No sooner than she had put up this status, comments began to flood in. To her delight, most people seemed to agree with her but as in any story, there had to be a villain.

Our villain was an obnoxiously rude male who seemed to be very offended by this statement. He began his argument with a string of profanity stating that women were the culprits and pretended to be victims of a patriarchal setup. They had brought the tags of ‘delicate darlings’, ‘favourite rape victims’, ‘weaker sex’, etc. on themselves. Our man was quite a poetic soul. He went on to say that women were like the beautiful pitcher plants that trapped unsuspecting insects in its web of lies and deceit.

‘He must have had terrible relationships with the women in his life,’ she thought. By the time she could reply to his argument, another comment had come in from the same soul. This one, however, had a calmer tone and stated the example of an article in ‘Business Insider’ where Naina Lal Kidwai (the country head of HSBC) spoke about how feminism had empowered women and went on to sing praises of her husband’s support.

‘Well, all of that is good but how much of India consists of CEOs and CFOs. These folks to whom you refer have enough money to get their household chores done by others. But what of the rest of the county? How many husbands help their working wives at home,’ she asked.

The answer to this took time to come. After about two hours of waiting for a reply, our genius man stated the example of a ‘real life couple in a Bengali locality where the wife controlled the husband.’ ‘Ah, my friend. That is not feminism, that is oppression,’ she replied. Then she went on to explain how the word was not about one sex dominating the other but equality between the two and so on.

The person in question now had nothing more to say. He ended his argument with a private message to her saying—I hate women. That, for you reader, is what feminism leads to in our country.

Habits

The fragrance of Davidoff Clearwater and sweat mixed on fabric was divine. He had just come in from his football match and had hurriedly taken off his shirt to go wash up. I had picked the piece of garment in my hand, got the atoms close to my nose and smelled. It was heaven.

That was my first encounter with smell. Prior to that, I had never thought of using my nose to such an extent. That hot day I realized the pleasure my brain got from breathing different odors in; especially sweat mixed with perfume.

Ma’s sari was kept in a corner. She had worn it the night before her sister’s anniversary. There was a lot of dancing that night and I naturally assumed she had perspired. The thought got me excited. I crept towards the sari from the other corner of the room like a thief walking stealthily to steal the object of his desire. Ma did not like me smelling things, so I had to do it quietly. Her smell was different. It was Chanel no.5 and sweat. I realized Davidoff was better.

Only yesterday I got caught smelling my dog. Her wet dog smell was oddly comforting. She smelled of old shoes, rotten eggs and strawberries. After her bath, she even sported some jasmine in her scent. My cat smells different though. She reminds me of raw fish, baby powder and milk. She has a very indifferent smell.

The first thing I do before I put my clothes on me is to smell them. Every fabric takes up the smell of the detergent differently. Jeans, for example, has a fresh citrus like smell when washed, whereas cotton tends to take up the same smell in less intensity.

My favorite is satin. I have a hilariously expensive satin bra that I gifted myself on my twentieth birthday. The best thing about it is the way it smells after a few day’s wear. It smells of me and sniffing it in the middle of the night or early in the morning give me the consolation that whatever might change, my smell will remain constant throughout the worst apocalypse.

Of luxury, old ladies and winged creatures

I am sitting in the lap of luxury as I write this. My room is a suite- bigger than an average upper middle class person’s flat. I am wearing white slippers and have central air conditioning. A bath tub with pebbles around it; half resembling an oasis in sub Saharan Africa. Separate enclosures for taking a shower and for the water closet. The bathroom unit can easily accommodate two people for days on end.

The patio has all sorts of exotic plants and that piece of heaven is at my disposal for as long as I like. There is a 6 seater dining table that makes me want to keep eating. A pleasing omnipresent fragrance (whose origin I’m yet to find) surrounds me 24/7.

Every time I look at the many mirrors in the suite, I feel like a different person. As if this life was meant for me. I feel beautiful. All of a sudden, my Levis jeans is not good enough for me. I need Secret Circus. I crave for the Jimmy Choo handbag and the Victoria’s Secret bikini set I had seen in the last issue of Vogue. Now I want it. Moreover, I want to flaunt it- that perfect hair, the perfect mind and the perfect life where I don’t need to think about my bank balance before purchasing a surface pro.

But then I feel guilty. Guilty for wanting more. How can I not be happy with what I have? Whatever happened to satisfaction? Moreover why do I need more?

At this conjecture, I meet a lady. She is a cleaning staff who comes to clean the suite. With greying hair and a warm smile, she politely asks me about the pain I need to endure every time I wear the 6 inch heels that are now lying on the floor. This innocent question leads to a conversation and she tells me about her daughter who recently got her degree.

“She also has a boyfriend now. He is a driver and about to purchase a new car,” she beams at me. She is happy for her daughter. She goes on to tell me how her favorite time of the day is feeding the birds left-over rice, early in the morning.

She recalls an instance where one of the birds had sat on her lap and demanded to be fed by her hand. Her eyes smile. That is when I realize that my joy at admiring my situation is nowhere compared to her joy at being loved by winged creatures.

Conclusion– I am never going to stop wanting more. After all, I am only human. But no matter which stage of life I am in, or what plate I use to serve food, I am determined to smile the way she did for as long as I breathe.