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?

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The Ghost- a girl’s best friend

It’s been a couple of months since she visited. It was very often initially- everyday almost, then it reduced to about twice a week and then she vanished for a month without leaving a trace of where she had gone. I missed her. I cannot lie. I missed her cold touch and her visions, as weird as it may sound.

Somewhere deep inside the mesh that is my heart, she felt like home. She was my constant and her being there meant that I still had feelings. She would make me dream reality when awake and she would spin stories from the remnant fabrics in my mind as I slept.

Who is she? She is my ghost- my friend, my past and my present. It was six months since I moved back home- the small apartment with more windows than doors that I call home. The morning of January 25th was grey with specks of black dispersed here and there. The golden had been replaced by the gloom and even the birds thought it safe to stick to their nests and not venture out far.

The cookie man across the street didn’t show up to lift the shutters off his store and the milk man seemed to be in a smoke induced haze of opium as he handed the milk packet. I knew she was coming even before I opened my eyes.

I had to prepare for her- make her a welcome feast and burn down certain documents in the archives of my head. I kept the drugs close at hand. Just in case…

As I opened my eyes, I saw her dark boring eyes just inches away from my face. She had the same paleness and was accompanied by the chill. When she saw me smile, her cracked lips extended into a full smile. Now, reader, you might get deterred by her features. It’s almost death like, but know this she is the part of me that is just naked emotions manifested in physical form.

Very silently without a whisper, she changed positions and rested her hand on my head. Her nails were half eaten and half chopped. But it didn’t matter.

I closed my eyes and I saw a little girl run towards a dog. The dog wagged its tail and welcomed the girl with licks. They seemed happy. The kid’s hair was tied into a ponytail and her frock was turquoise. Her laughter echoed in my ears making me smile.

The scene changed. The dog, now old and haggard lay on a steel table that seemed to have no space for emotions whatsoever. A woman, presumably the little girl now grown up, stood holding the dog’s hand with tears streaming down her face. Her long hair was tangled and hung around her like mist and her mascara poured down her cheeks along with the salt water.

It was time, the man in the white coat said. It was time indeed. She gave the dog one last look; there were tears in the dog’s eyes but they smiled none the less. She bent down, gave him one last kiss and watched the life ebb away from her only friend. She was all alone in the white room, holding on to the only piece of life that was hers and hers alone.

It was done.

After what seemed like an eternity, I was back in my bedroom with her by my side.

“Until next time,” she said as she faded away in the grey once more, not to return soon.

The Ghost contd…

Introduction:

 

A guy I once had a thing with had accused me of being heartless; had said:

“You feed off pain, yours, mine and everyone else’s. That is the food for your poetry and prose; the nectar to your hive.”

I don’t disagree with him. I am no preacher and neither do I pretend to be something holier than thou. I am just a writer; a romantic if you will, always out to achieve the impossible; the impossible expedition, the impossible relationship, the impossible situation where you need to stick squeezed out toothpaste into its tube. Impossible, impossible, impossible.

But pain’s just my bread and butter and neither do I deny the fact that I revel in it and nor do I pose to be not-guilty.

I am guilty guvner; so hang me by all accounts.

Consider this: a tale for the passing traveler and a means of satiating their thirst. Thirst for gossip and thirst of drama.

A small tale whose end I leave you to decide.

 

The Ghost contd…

 

It had been two years since the exchange of glances in the bookstore. 2 years since my ghost walked out the backdoor with a smile on her face. 2 years of winters and 2 years of clearing the snow from our front porch.

I can see the dead bees in the ground- a bee graveyard. Last night’s thunderstorm had knocked the hive out of the tree and the unsuspecting queen had been crushed to death along with her children and servants.

They say that it is at moments you least expect that the force of the hit is most. I experienced that hit last night. It was a text message on his phone that got my guard up.

“Honey bun…I miss us. Come back to Cali soon my love…XOXO.”

The sender was titled ‘Work’. I could hear him whistling Bee Gee’s Staying Alive in the shower. It was 9:45 and we were due for dinner at the Mason’s at 10:30. They were completing their ten year anniversary.

Jake came out wrapped in a towel with his hair all tousled and brown, just the way it was the first time I had seen him. His eyes still had the piercing power it held and his hands- his strong masculine hands covered with a layer of light brown hair- reached for his shirt.

“D why aren’t you ready yet?” he asked in his honey voice.

“Who is ‘work’ and why is ‘work’ crooning for your love from Cali?”

His face changed. From a light hearted spark, his eyes went to that of a defiant child caught with his hands in the cookie jar to that filled with rage.

“You’ve been reading my messages? How could you do that to me? To us? Don’t you trust me? This is unbelievable. I am out of here.”

And just like that it was over.

Bags were packed in a matter of minutes and the taxi was called. The funny thing is that none of us spoke. The Masons were sorry that we couldn’t make it and ‘work’ was really pleased that she didn’t have to hide behind a noun anymore.

I was back home- to my tiny flat- in a matter of two hours. The storm was raging outside and I could hear the wind whisper- I told you so.

The tequila bottle stood innocently on the shelf and called to me, as if asking me to embrace it like an old friend.

It was successful. Half a bottle later, I could hear her sing to me:

“Drink up baby, stay up all night,

All the things you could do, you won’t but you might…”

This was our favorite song: her and mine.

“Missed me have you?” she asked while caressing my hair.

“In a way I have,” I sobbed into her lap.

Her cold hands brushed against my cheeks and her cold lips pressed against my forehead in a sisterly way.

When she bend down to kiss me, her curls covered my eyes and all I could feel was darkness.

The night held comfort. Nothing could go wrong anymore. The worst was over and she was back. I was free to rejoice in the night once more. The pretention could be thrown out of the window.

After an eternity of her comforting embrace, she pulled me up and led me to the balcony.

It was almost dawn and through the pool in my eyes I could see the horizon: clear with a hint of cloud and the tiny speck of light that was the sun. The breeze rustled the trees as if waking them up from their deep slumber and telling them of a new day, a new opportunity.

I went close to the railing; spread my arms and felt the chill pass through me. If was scarily beautiful. That beauty could destroy, just like a set of luscious red lips on a petit maiden.

But warning of those evils never stopped anyone from falling for them. I remembered Desiree and her tragic love affair with the fearless Napoleon. Love consumes all till only ashes remain.

Today was the dawn of ashes and along with the rustling, the puppeteer upstairs rained down ashes of a fragmented relationship on me, freeing me from the clutches of him and his web of lies forever.

The storm had cleansed at last and my ghost was back with me for eternity.

 

Tuntuni pakhi and jet sprays

My favourite dress was a hand me down from my sister. It was sleeveless and had blue cars drawn on it. I could sit any way I wanted wearing it (not that I would have followed any propriety as a child) and there would be air coming in through all sides.

One of my many nannies was a young girl named Sonia. She was only one feet taller than me and wore her hair in a high pony that resembled a palm tree. She used to take me out to the lake in front of my house and we would throw stones into the water. Hers would always go farther than mine.

Kanta Singh owned a lot of bulls. His hut was a short walk from home. He was quite fond of me and would let me get on his bulls. They didn’t seem to mind either. Quite on the contrary, one of them (named Kalu) licked me across the face once.

I never liked Barbies much. The only thing they seemed to be fit for was to be chewed on. My first act of violence would be to cut their hair, then remove their clothes and head simultaneously. Then, I would spend a good half of my afternoons lying in bed, chewing their limbs till you could make out the fingers from the hand no more.

Dadan was my favourite white haired adult. He used to take me on his lap and feed me rice while my eyes remained stuck to the TV screen. It was Sunday and Tintin was chasing some bad guy across a little island.

Ma had to always run behind me to get my homework done. Being the defiant kid that I was, I had once shoved an eraser into my right ear so deep that the doctor had to jet spray my left ear.

I could never get the tables right. Why did five have to multiply with five at all? I didn’t see any use.

Baba would put me to sleep by running his hands through my hair. He would sing the same song every time. That was oddly comforting. Ma would come next and tell me the story of Tuntuni pakhi. Everyday.

Once I got hit on by a cricket ball because I had dared to play with the boys. Never again did I go near another.

Between the once and the now, many years have passed; years I don’t really remember. Some I choose to forget too. But today when I woke up and looked at myself in the mirror, I wondered when was the time I started taking my own decisions and deciding what to wear to school myself?

The answer left me feeling lost!

Oh Kolkata!

1

Oh Kolkata, oh Kolkata!

How I sigh every time I think of your lanes, of your various moods, of the ‘aste ladij‘ of the bus conductors, of the kakimas and the didimas, the smell of cha on hot coal mingled with the smell of burnt tobacco. How you have been and will always remain a mystery to me. This is an ode to you- the only subject I can write a novel on:

I started off in Kolkata- my local Amsterdam, as a white blob called Diya. A few years later, I came back as Radhika- only to leave it again as a strange amalgamation of the two. My two year stay in this city might seem to all as ant years in a human’s lifespan- but to me it feels as a lifetime. The drastic change I underwent while here cannot be described in words- at least my vocabulary is insufficient to do so.

After a lot of brain wracking on my part; cups and cups of coffee; walking down the memory lane; I finally found a metaphor for this city—truth be told, I found plenty of them. The first thing that came to my mind was- a black hole- an oddity that sucks in every bit of a person, rips apart all of their ideals and give back pure bits and pieces of the soul. But this seemed very negative. Further down the road- I thought of it as a rehab center—people come in for a while; undergo agony and excruciating pain and leave a better person. This too was black. Then I thought of Kolkata as an oxymoron—a city which wants to progress yet is stuck in the past. Too clichéd? I know.

Finally the romantic in me came up with another metaphor which, I thought, fit best—my first love. Very like the first lover one has ever had, this city comes across as a much needed break in a person’s life. It is simply different- its many facets, one can never understand fully; its vibrance is blinding; the twist and turns of the its lanes- a labyrinth in a sane mind; its heat and humidity- suffocating and its mentality- claustrophobic.

My initial feeling towards my new love was one of hatred. But as days went by, I just got used to its vices and its way of life. The city moves at a caterpillar’s pace—viscous and slow. It took me some time to realize that this fact will never change and in trying to change it- I changed as a person. Here every day is a continuation of the previous- there is no new day.

Hence my hatred gave rise to resignation. This is how it is; no point trying to change it—I said to myself. I had come into the city as a ‘know it all’; I left it, a humbled soul. Every step of the way, my lover challenged me—it gave me a hard time; kicked me in the ass and helped me back on my feet. In short it gave me room to grow. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly face of the city. I will not try to fool anyone by saying that I take back only the good. Quite on the contrary, I take back the whole experience.

Kolkata taught me the value of hard work and humility. In the multitude of people, I found certain strange faces which later became family in the true sense. The city, I later found, has numerous layers to it—it starts with being cold and harsh and proceeds by giving you the warmth you have never felt before. It never gave up on me- yes, I personify the city. Why I do so, you will only be able to understand if you have lived here. It has a bit of everything to offer- art and culture for the intellectual; music for the harmonist; lights and glamour for the party freak; money for the businessman; solitude for the loner; bad habits for the indulgent and religion for the believer.

Kolkata is life personified. I might never go back to stay; but I know for a fact that the umbilical connection is there to stay for life. Like the tough school master, Kolkata has made me able enough to face the world. 20 years down the line, I will still sigh with wonder whenever I hear this name. I am mesmerized and yes, I am finally in love with it- the purest of the loves- the ones which survive years of separation.

To the vitruvian woman

Your lips the color of my womb

bleed words that take me to the moon.

The look in your eyes set fire to my tomb

while your touch comes to me as a boon.

 

Bukowski, you say, is your lover,

you claim to be his bread and butter.

Gertrude has your heart in a cover,

your beauty, if shunned, can lead her to a gutter.

 

Life ‘came a full circle when I first saw your face,

your fire burnt my soul to the depth of my grave.

A Madonna on earth, you weren’t from my race,

had a halo around you, I could see you brave.

 

Your memories taunt me like something I haven’t got,

How I worship your feet and I can help it not.

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!