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?

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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 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 photograph

They were facing the sun—all three of them: a man in his mid-forties, a girl in her teens and a child of nine. Sitting in a line on the sand dune, they had their backs turned to the lens. The man wore a black Adidas cap, a cream pullover and a pair of black corduroys. The older girl seated in the middle had her hair tied in a bun and had worn a red full sleeved tee shirt and blue jeans that looked expensive. The youngest, sitting on the extreme left had her arms out stretched on both sides as if stretching and looked heavenwards. She wore a checked black-blue shirt and black tights. She had hair like a boys which flew in the wind, towards the right of the viewer.

It was December of 2010 and the geo tag on the picture would identify the location as Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. The horizon was crimson-yellow mostly but the patches of sky in the middle was bordering orange. The highest point visible in the picture was blue—the type between midnight blue and light blue. There was a slight wind that could be felt on the skin of those three. The rest of the frame had one camel standing in a distance, towards the viewer’s extreme left. It would seem that the little girl was punching the unsuspecting camel with her outstretched left hand. The camel was bending down as if searching for some foliage in the desert. It makes me believe that the camel must have been a very optimistic one. In its long years on the desert, it could only have survived due to its optimism. The image in my head right now- the camel is sitting on its back legs much like a human and meditating, exhaling deeply with its nostrils flared when it breathes out.

One can’t say much about their expressions since their back is turned to us but one can guess from their postures. The man is hunched on his back as if relaxed. You can almost see the signs of a smile on the visible part of his chubby cheeks. He wears glasses and you can see the black rim of the glass. He is a man of some style sense and gravitas.

The older girl, like the man, appears to be relaxed and staring in the direction of the setting sun. Her hands seem to be joined together in the front part of her body. She could have wrapped them around her torso to protect herself from the cold wind. I have heard winters in the desert are cold and temperatures drop to sub-zero levels in the evenings. Is that so? Have you ever been to a desert?

The youngest has an air of comfort around her. She is stretching as mentioned previously and is looking up towards the heaven as if giving thanks for that moment of peace. She is not interested in the setting sun unlike her companions. She is just breathing in the moment and is feeling the wind tease her hair. If you zoom in enough, you can see the goosebumps on her hands. She must be cold. Yet she smiles. It is like those smiles you see on the faces of Tibetan monks- ones reflecting contentment and a secret no one will ever know.

There are no visible clouds in the sky. It seems as if the great painter was too lazy to apply the final touches on his canvas and decided that that would be cloudless day and blamed it all on the wind. The sky was a large sea monster waiting to engulf the fighting sun. The yellow mango-like thing looked like it wanted to linger a little while longer but couldn’t. An invisible hand was pulling it behind the curtain of night, holding it by the scruff of its neck.

The three were on a holiday. One of those rare places which lack network connection, fast cars, geysers and emails. One of those places where the railway station can be filled with ten men standing on the platform. One of those places where people still waited for the postman to arrive and he was treated like the lover’s God. One of those places where a traveler had to strain his eyes to search for a fellow human being. One of those places where people crawled into bed by 9 pm and woke up by 6 am.

It was a week long holiday and the girls had urged their father to take them for a night stay on the desert. The tour guide had been given strict instructions to take them to a place far from civilization where the cries of monotony and routine couldn’t be heard and you were left with the wind in all its purity. A place where the sky kissed the sand without being hindered and the sun watched over the smaller creations.

It was a happy place. It was their happy place. The three musketeers sat one beside the other enjoying the silence of the desert. The desert spoke to them using a language more ancient than man himself. A language that lacks words and sounds. Something throbbed through the silence. Some mystics say it is the heart of the desert that throbs. But we will never know, will we?

Sitting on the sand dunes, they could see a vast expanse of nothingness. It was bare, dry and harsh. Yet there was beauty. A rustic, earthy kind of beauty. It took some time for their eyes to recognize the beauty of the desert but when they did, they smiled and the smile lingered on in the photograph placed right in front of me and I am glad for their smile.

Between the worlds

Between mind throbs and heart aches, there is a world where sanity prevails.

Between the small cats and large dogs, there is a world dominated by affection.

Between the muddy muck and the grey sky, there is a world where the lotus blooms.

Between sky jumps and scuba dives, there is a world of hikes and cycles.

Between your ego and my indifference, there is a world where our heart strings are attached.

Key lesson learnt: find the middle path; the world between the worlds.

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.