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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Train of life

Death. The final destination. Baba had once told me that we are on a train. This train has a start and a stop. At the start is a lot of pain, a lot of blood and a scream. We begin with denial. The screaming infant wants to go back where it came from. It doesn’t want to be born.

As we get used to the train’s motion, the tire jerks on a stone and for a moment our world goes upside down and then it’s back to normal again. When we start to enjoy the journey and get used to the sounds and smells in the train, we are thrust out into a platform we had no idea existed.

We are in denial at the end of the track too. We are dead. We don’t want to go where we are taken. We like the train now. But no one listens. We extend a hand seeking help, run towards the moving train, scream for it to stop, but all of that is in our minds. No one can hear us. We are dead.

Death. The final station.

In between the start and the stop comes unexpected halts where other people, whom we have grown quite fond of, deboard. That is when we see death consciously for the first time. The cold hard rubber like skin and the smell of rotting flesh subjected to the mighty fire that rises high into the sky comes first. Follows it is its old friend disgust.

When I saw the lifeless body of my father, I couldn’t recognise him. The mount of flesh that lay on the slab was not him. It didn’t even look like him. It was without essence, without his poise and without character. It was dead. It wasn’t him.

He disembarked and I kept going. After touching death and setting it on fire, I know where I am headed. All I wonder now is when?

My Father

My father is a man of few words. Words matter to him and he uses them wisely. For the last three months, he has not uttered or typed a single one. I don’t think he will do so for a while atleast.

My father has a round face. If I stand beside him and remove the top half of my hair and cut the bottom half extremely short, you will probably not be able to differentiate me from him. I hope the next time I see him, he has hair on his head like he does in the black and white photo in front of me.

My father tells me that he sees himself in me. He will succeed when I do and he would finally have lived a full life. I have 7000 bucks in my bank account as off today. It would suffice to say that he has a lot more to wait for.

My father hugs me tight whenever i get angry. He repeats ‘all iz well’ in my ears till I calm down. He hasn’t done that in a while. But I have a feeling he will need to do that soon.

My father likes history. He tells me of Genghis Khan and Alexander; of Gandhi and of Mandela; of Nizams and of their servants. He has become a bit slow off late but soon all he will do is tell me stories.

My father writes e-mails to me. He writes better than he speaks. He claims to have a monotonous and off putting voice. So he avoids the telephone and sticks to the written word. He hasn’t e-mailed me in a while. But soon he will.

My father is a favourite among his students. He is a hard task master for me though. He never ceases to  point out that unnecessary adjective that I use against my noun. Off late he has been correcting me telepathically.

My father is dead for the world. But isn’t it a happy fact that I don’t fall into that group?

The clock and the black hole

I have a black hole and its name is X!

 

The night of 28 April, 2017 was spent walking from the living room where the body lay to the master bedroom where I was asked to get some rest. Much like today, every time I saw the watch the hands seemed to be getting slower and more sluggish with each passing moment. Time had become lazy.

Tick tock, tiicckk toocckk, ttiiiccckkk ttoooccckkk,….

It went on and on. The sun seemed to be taking an extended lunch break and the moon seemed quite happy and reluctant to move from where it was.

Sometimes I wonder what I thought then, at that very slowly passing moment. But all I remember is the clock and it’s hand. The rest is blank.

It is 1:40 am, 17 June, 2017. The clock has stopped. I wonder what it could be that made it stop. The battery? The temperature, global warming, apocalypse or just grief?

Maybe not grief. Maybe just a big slice of blank, emotionless space that has dominated my mind off late. Maybe it is the black hole. Maybe it is post traumatic stress. Maybe shock, maybe denial, or maybe nothing.

I asked the ether a question today, a quite serious one and quite seriously too,- what does death mean to the person who hasn’t died?

The ether remained silent. I asked again, and again, and again till my ears became deaf with the silence.

Then I had a sip of my whisky and I turned within and I questioned. The black hole told me- go to sleep, you don’t want to know.

I took another sip and I asked again. This time the answer came louder- Go sleep you moron. You do NOT want to know.

A third sip and the same question lead to a louder, much filthy version of the same answer.

Many sips and same questions later the answer was weaker, quieter- it means grief.

What does that mean?- I asked again.

Look in the mirror. What do you see?- the answer challenged.

I did as I was asked. I saw nothing. There was emptiness where I should have been.

I still don’t get it and I hope at least a minute has passed since!

The clock is still stuck at 1:40 am. I am not too sure of the date and day. All I know is- I need another glass and then hopefully I can sleep!

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.

Life in Grey

“Do you know who you are?”

-One question which haunts me. This question, a child had innocently asked me to which I had replied saying my name. But it got me thinking, am I just a name-one given to me by my parents or grandparents? Something I did not choose for myself yet I have to identify with? What I am? What is my purpose in life? Why do I live for the heck of it? All these questions played in my head. Then I decided that I would consciously make an effort to get to know myself.

I asked my mind, “Dear brain, what do you want out of life?” My brain woke itself up from its deep slumber and thought for a moment, then very pompously replied, “Look here my child I am too young to know what I want out of life; all I know is what I don’t want. I don’t want stagnation, I don’t want to wake up one morning and have nothing to do, I don’t want to ever not have a choice. I love my options and I need them. I want a life of adventure; change thrills me and I never want to settle down.”

Looked like some part of me was clear about what it wanted or in this case did not want. Moving on I asked my heart the same question. It replied saying, “I want to be filled with love. I am scared that I will end up all alone in a room filled with people. I want my life to be filled with people from every walks of life but after the party is over, I want to be able to go back home with the one. That person will be my reason to live and my inspiration in whatever I do. I want to be able to wake up in the morning and see his face, I want to be able to say how I feel about him before it’s too late. I want to hurt thinking of him and I want to be filled with a glow when he walks into the room. I want it all. I want novelty but with that guy by my side. I want to see Cote d’azure and the Bay of Naples with him breathing on my neck. I want to come home to him and at that point home is anywhere he is.”

After comparing these two, I felt utterly confused. Which part was me- the brain or the heart? What did I want? I had no clue. I tried every trick in the book- I meditated, I visited holy men and I tried having an internal dialogue. What did I get out of it? A labyrinth where the more I entered, the more lost I got.

The girl who worked in a bar

“I dropped out of a college, changed my stream, started over and worked in a bar.”

-Words I need to say in order to repel people or to get them to judge me. The aunty in the bus with her kid on her side becomes the cat on high alert. Her ears perk up and her hands cover her daughter’s ears. But she can’t contain herself. She has to go on and ask me; or atleast try to figure out why a girl from a ‘good family’ worked in a bar or dropped two years.

“Umm…but beta why?”

None of the explanations I give satisfy her. In her mind, I have already failed in more exams than I can count, got rusticated for rowdy behaviour and conducted myself in a shameful manner (slutty too).

“But all those men in the bar…was it safe?”

She might as well have asked me how many times I was raped or did something that would elicit the response ‘shame shame’ from her friend group.

The uncle I tell these words to looks at me like I am a piece of meat. Suddenly the wisdom in his eyes is replaced by lust. He is licking his lips mentally. Yum!

What I am doing now doesn’t matter. What matters is what I did. And what I did defines who I am right?

The girls my age run away from me. They have their morality to protect. Their mothers would disapprove. The guy I give my resume to is confused. A 8.0 gpa and then a dropout. Why?

Choice is not something I am allowed to have.

A girl from a good family cannot work in a bar because ‘those places are dangerous for women…’ As if only men drink. And a woman doesn’t have a voice, lest hands and legs.

Our girls should be kept in parda at home; should not have relationships of any kind before marriage; should not go out of home after 5 pm; should not have opinions; should not disobey- says the regime.

Marriage is the only solution for women. Once married, they are the property of their husbands and the slaves to their children. Marital rape is normal. There is consent of course- hey lady, you signed a social contract. Remember always,- the regime continues.

Why blame the regime. My gynecologist told me to not have premarital sex. ‘It can lead to all sorts of problems,’ she said with a wink.

Let’s not come to sexuality. I don’t have one. I can’t have one. The only desire I am permitted to have is that of wanting a kid. Where do kids come from? The angel plants it in my belly. In my case, the angel is my husband offcourse.

I am not allowed to be a single mother. “Shame shame,” Pammy aunty says.

Now our union minister has said surrogacy is not an option for homosexuls, single mothers and partners in a live in.

There goes my chances. After all, who will marry me? I am the girl who worked in a bar remember?

Damn I am doomed. And I am so bloody happy being doomed!