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 The golden had been replaced by the gloom and even the birds thought it safe to stick to their nests and not venture out far.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.

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What Pink did to me and what it didn’t!

I was reluctant to watch the movie- Pink since the very first moment. The reason was simple- whenever I watch films discussing gender issues and women’s issues in particular, my blood races and my heartbeat quickens. It makes me think and that is the worst thing I can do to myself because I over analyze to such an extent that I lose my night’s sleep.
 
Pink made me cry. Not because it had powerful actors (which it had) and a predictable plot (frankly a daily affair for those of us who get a chance to glance at the newspaper every other day), but because it showed Delhi for what it was.
 
I could recall the whistles and the whisperings behind my back about my cup size while I walked down the streets of Karol Bagh as I saw Minal being molested in the car by 4 boys. I could visualize how it must have felt as Falak was asked to leave her job. I could feel the gaze of the colony-walas on the girls as they got home late at night and their judgmental look was all too familiar to me.
 
As a girl who has lived alone in an apartment, had more male friends than women ones and as one who loves to party and drink, I felt the pain of Falak, Minal and Andrea. After all, which lady in 2016 would not?
 
I cried internally and then after a few drops of salt water down my eyes, the grand Amitabh Bachchan came to the rescue. The father figure, the best brand ambassador patriarchy can ever have (pun intended), was speaking for women’s rights. NO means No was hammered into the viewer’s head.
 
But I had a problem. I asked myself, “all of that is fine…justice prevailed at last, but why was it the same old narrative?” Why was a man defending a woman- the ‘pitas’ and the ‘bhais’ we tie our rakhis to?
 
Then I asked myself- how would it be if a woman had played Amitabh’s role. Instead of the father figure, if a mother figure had defended the girls or the girls had defended themselves, how would the movie have panned out?
 
After all Akshay Kumar could defend himself in Rustom. How about Minal doing the same in Pink? Then my twisted mind came to one conclusion- women, if not Kali when required (and a situation like this requires it), will become lazy if they rely on a man to solve their problems for them.
 
I don’t know about other women, but I do (unconsciously) turn to my father and boyfriend for protection when I am eve-teased or harassed. I never do what has to be done myself.
 
So today, after a day on intense debate and watching a film that made me cry, I take home one lesson only- never again will I turn to anyone else but myself for defending me. If that means fighting till the end and losing the fight, I will do so unashamedly.
 
I will lose my sleep tonight just thinking about what my world would be like- where a lady defends her own like Kali did. Call me a dreamer, but I do hope to God that I am not the only one!

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.

Rebecca

How is it that you can be haunted by the non existent? Fear takes many forms- I had learnt in school. But little did I know my fear would be a faceless beauty. She was me and I was her. But somehow at every step, she was shining brighter.

“Close your mind,” my friends said.

“Hush mind. I am trying to sleep,” I told that beast every night.

But all it did was show her in black satin and red lipstick. She smiled me a crooked smile and looked at me as though i were an ant deemed to be crushed. She lurked in my mind and hid behind veils. She was the other. I feared her and I fear her still.

She is my Rebecca and oh do I love her dearly.

 

The Human Dilemma

To love is easy

To live with- difficult

 

To the man who loved me:

 

It is easy to love me

And equally hard to live with me.

No, it’s not prejudice of any kind;

I just need my space and time.

I fall from a height

And love from a distance.

The routine of human existence

Interests me not;

I would much rather have

One night in a year

to cherish the memory

for the rest 364 days.

I would want to hear of your achievements then

And tell you mine.

No, let’s not hold the past too tight,

I’d much rather sail in a boat to the future.

Let us be the wave that meets the sand

once every few years;

Let us be the bird that romances the hill

every winter and then flies west for summer;

Let you and me be us

but only in our minds.

 

To the girl who loves me:

You know you are difficult

As am I.

We both are cut from the same cloth;

We both wear the same unaltered pride

On our skin.

We both are the cats who come together

Just for a meal.

We both understand each other

Like twins read their mind.

Do I love you more?

Do I love you less?

Do I love you at all?

You are an everyday dilemma;

You are something I am not sure about,

Yet I am dead sure about.

You are the wave, much like me;

You are the bird, again like me;

You are in my every day;

The only problem is the future.

 

The boat is still just wood.

Traversing the city of joy

Kolkata is a city of contradictions. A city where the local bus conductors scream ‘aste ladij’ (slow there is a lady) when a lady tries to get off the bus; it is also a city where men fall on women in those very buses pretending it was an accident.

“I remember this one man who was standing behind me on the bus. He was very sweaty and smelled like a pig. When the driver applied the brake, he had to fall all over me and then did not have the courtesy of correcting himself. I had to shout at him to get him off me,” says Trishna, a college student.

“It was hilarious actually…it’s like he didn’t expect me to react. He seemed so frightened when I shouted at him.”

As more people from other states come to live in the city of joy, they find it hard to communicate with the locals. “Some people are nice though. When I tell them ‘ami bangla jani na’ (I don’t know Bengali) in my accented almost-Bengali, they smile and speak to me in Hindi. Some even try English.”

Roshni Sharma, a local who takes the bus from Dum Dum to South City every day, has a different story to tell. “I find these bus rides fun. I come via the by-pass…the lakes along the way and the breeze is very refreshing, especially early in the morning. I have made friends with the conductor. He keeps a seat for me behind the driver’s every day. He sometimes yaps about his kids and how the older one (a boy of seven) asked him what ‘bara’ meant and he was left open-mouthed, unable to answer.”

Roshni is best pals with the auto drivers and comments on how everyone is very approachable. “Bengalis are a peculiar breed. They can talk on almost every topic in the world and they have an opinion ready even if it’s on the US elections,” she laughs as she sips on her coffee in the Indian coffee house on ‘Boi Para’ commonly known as College Street to the non-Bengali resident.

Dilip, described by all as a ‘bhalo chele’ (good boy), complains about the city’s traffic and the concept of share autos. “The traffic is horrendous…especially during Durga puja. You should see how the drivers drive at that time of year. Everybody is in a hurry to go. Once the signal turns green, you can see the cars race as if they are racing for their lives. And I don’t understand why we have to share autos with noisy people. Why can’t I have an auto to myself and stretch my leg?”

Kolkata witnesses a constant fight between the pedestrians and the drivers. In places like Gariahat and New Market, one can see middle aged women adorned with more shopping bags than they can handle, break all traffic rules and cross the street with admirable confidence when the signal is bright green. They seem oblivious about the screams and insults thrown at them. After all, it’s their ‘baaper rasta’ (father’s road).

An elderly lady who had broken one of the many fundamental rules of crossing the road when the signal was green, had almost come under a yellow taxi. In the argument that followed, I heard her scream at the driver, “arrey dada ami pedestrian…ami age jabo. Apni dekhe chalate paren na?” (Brother I am a pedestrian…I am entitled to cross first. Can’t you look and drive?)

The metro in Kolkata tells a very different tale. Those who swear by it, say that it saves them from the hassles of the road but at the same time present a very stuffy situation every now and then.

Sayantan, a student who takes the metro from Kabi Subhas to Park Street on a daily basis says, “The conversations you get to hear on the metro are hilarious. Since there is no ladies compartment, even the men get to listen into the darkest secrets of a woman. How bad her mother-in-law is and how the mutton curry cooked by the maid had no potatoes in it, are some of the many things you get to hear.”

“Once a man accused a lady of molesting him in the metro. The poor girl had fallen on him when the train braked and he seemed very upset by that. The conversation that followed got everyone in the compartment laughing. It was a good way to start the morning.”

When you think Kolkata, you immediately picture the tram. A foreign exchange student in my ex-college was very thrilled by the prospect of getting on the tram. He begged me to take him on one. Despite my repeated warnings that that mode of transport was nearing extinction, he was adamant about his decision of getting on one.

“I need to tell my folks back at home that I rode a tram…it is going to make them jealous,” he said.

He was left visibly disappointed after the experience. The heat was too much to handle and to top it all, the turtle like pace got on his nerves. After all, the glamour of the tram does diminish after one has spent ten sweaty and slow minutes on it…especially on a hot May day.

Some of my fondest memories of the city are that of the boat rides along the Ganga. You would remember it with equal fondness if you can manage to catch the sun rise or set while on a boat with Bhatiali music (music of the fishermen) playing in the background.

If you are a selfie freak, then a boat with the Howrah Bridge in the back drop provides the perfect selfie moment. A walk along the ghat in the evenings is equally mesmerizing. One can feel the wind on their face and hear the sound of the goods ship entering the dock.

Kolkata in monsoons is much like Paris in the rains. There is something so romantic about it. Just get an umbrella and Bata chappals on and you are good to go. The smell of the earth just before rains is more noticeable in this city for some reason. If you walk down Park Street and Maidan during that time of year, you notice how the green trees become even greener and the ancient buildings donated to the city by the British start to sparkle.

If you happen to be in Park Street at 1 pm, you realize how proficient the Kolkata traffic police is at their job. The direction of the one way, switches at one o’clock and miraculously, there are hardly any traffic jams.

I find travelling in Kolkata oddly amusing and it makes for some great stories at the end of the day when I am back in the comfort of my bean bag and laptop.

The Satin

I remember it hurt. Looking at her hurt.

She looked at me through the clouded glasses as she tried to stop the tears from falling on the expensive satin of the dress. She was a vision in midnight blue. Her strawberry blonde curls were neatly pinned up in a bun. But one stubborn lock fell on her left cheek. Her nose resembled a ripe tomato on her pale face.

“Can I help in some way?” I asked as a worried friend.

“Just make sure nothing happens to this dress when I am gone. You will take care of it won’t you?” she asked in between sobs.

The well cut blue satin on her had been her mother’s and her grandmother’s before that. I had heard of jewelry and china being passed on through generations. But a dress was a peculiar concept to me.

“Yes I will. You can leave that worry to me.”

“Thank you deary,” she said with a grateful smile.

Rose had been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. The good doctor had given her a month at most and had suggested she get her affairs in place before she got admitted one last time.

“You know Soaf, this baby has seen all sorts of days. My granny got her as a wedding gift from her husband back in the 1900s. It was the first of its kind. A daring design and perhaps the first above-the-knee dress my gran owned. Theirs was a love marriage, you see. Grandad was a jew and she a catholic. They ran away to Switzerland and got married. They didn’t ever hear from their folks since.”

“When my mom came out of the closet in the late 1900s, my gran passed it on to her. She said, ‘you wear this to your first date, you understand that? And take good care of it. It has seen me through a lot of troubles.’”

“Five years back, my mom passed this on to me when I got pregnant with Jamie. She said to me, ‘wear it when you get him home from the hospital and make sure you give it to Jamie when he gets old enough.’ But Soaf, Jamie is gone and I don’t have much long. Now you need to take care of this kid.”

I had tears in my eyes as she slowly got up from her arm chair, took the dress off and held it to her ear as if to hear its heartbeat. She handed it to me and got into a spare set of pajamas she had brought along with her.

“Do not ever wash it. It has the smell of all the women who possessed it. It will give you strength and comfort all at once.”

She left shortly after, never to return again.

Ten years later…..

The bed has been slept on. I can still smell him in the sheets. The toothbrush still decorates the bathroom sink and his razor calls for him, but in vain. My head throbs. I haven’t slept in two days.

Disaster struck in the form of a phone call from Pam, his secretary.

“Soaf, I am so sorry. Mike couldn’t get out in time. The building had collapsed by the time the rescue team could reach. I am so sorry…”

Two aircrafts had struck the twin towers on a bright sunny day in September. That was the end of it. It didn’t matter who your God was now. All that mattered was that you were alive.

Little Natalie came into the room with eyes brimming with tears and held me tight. We sat entangled for almost a full afternoon.

“Why ma? Why dad?”

I couldn’t answer her question. It would have been a lot easier if Mike had been an alcoholic or a rapist or a fraud. I could have blamed it on fate. But my boyfriend was a good man and prayed to his God religiously. What could I answer my daughter? Should I tell her that bad triumphs over good these days and that our Gods are temporarily unavailable.

We have a funeral for him today.

I put on the satin and bend my face down to smell it. It smells of all those brave women who wore it before me. I can’t let them down. I have to be strong for my Natalie.

One day, not too far from now, I shall hand it over to my brave daughter. She will wear it when she needs strength and the midnight blue will be a witness to the changing times and difficulties faced by our sex.