Friday, October 10, 2014
It felt like we were the only three carefree teenagers in the whole valley that summer. We took day trips in olive-green jeeps with armed escorts just to visit some village with the best palangtod milk cakes. It was a surreal time - machine guns, land-mine detectors and ID checkpoints and three denim-clad kids from Delhi being ushered in and out of militarised zones. We would play antakshari with the soldiers in our car. Someone would end up having to sing a song beginning with 'ha' and they would invariably start with, 'ho gaya hai tujhko toh pyaar sajna...' before someone (me) would cut it short and say, 'no, no, no, no, it starts with 'na jaane mere dil ko kya ho gaya.'' We would end up fighting, calling names, threatening to throw each other out to the 'militants' and that would be the end of the game for the rest of the journey.
They were not much older than I was - one was 14, the other 15 - but they were more foreign to me than anybody I'd ever met. While I read Agatha Christie novels checked out from the library under my father's name, they would buy pirated discs of English movies I'd heard about but never been allowed to watch. They listened to music I had no context for and they wore 'imported' sweatshirts with hoods drawn over their heads as they skulked about the lawns, discussing NBA scores.
I was fascinated by them, observing their mannerisms closely as we played two versus one badminton, staring out of a gap in my curtains at them as they gave painstaking instructions to the barber who would come over to the barracks' verandah to give them their fortnightly haircuts.
My mother forced me to get a haircut from that same fauji barber one afternoon despite my protests. The barber gave me a 'mushroom' cut, which would have been bad enough, but he used a razor to trim all the hair from the bottom of my 'mushroom' to my neck. Like Skrillex, almost, but that wasn't a thing in 1998. By the end of that awful ordeal, I was in tears. I ran away from the verandah and sulked for a minute in the drawing room in the mess before the brothers tumbled in, helplessly holding on to each other as they laughed at me. The 15-year-old spent the rest of the day running his fingers across the back of my head, giggling at the prickly hairs that remained. Every time his hand touched my neck, I got goosebumps down my arms. I was painfully aware of him touching me, so careless and so deliberate - no boy had ever been that bold. It wasn't a comfortable feeling, but it wasn't bad either.
The next day, while the older one watched The Lost World in the mess, the younger one took me to his room to show me a collection of stamps he apparently traveled with. As I flipped through the cardboard pages of the stamp book, he reached for my hand and held it as he talked about the Queen's head on a purple British stamp. I blushed furiously, my hand suddenly clammy and I made an awkward exit from his room. From that day on, he became quiet. He wouldn't joke around with me like his brother would. Instead, he would stare at me across the dining table while we ate stale toast and fried eggs. I would try and engage him in conversation and he would give cryptic answers, look me in the eyes for an uncomfortably long period of time before yanking his hood up and walking off.
A few days after the stamps incident, I found myself in the boys' room again, alone with the older brother this time. He had asked me to come in with him to fetch his basketball. Once there, he talked about how he planned to make the school basketball team and how he has been training for it for a year. He showed me some muscles going down the side of his leg, near his knee and proudly detailed how he had developed them. He asked me to see for myself and again, I was amazed at his confidence, at his casual request. I remember feeling shocked when I tentatively put two fingers on his knee and traced them down his leg. This wasn't casual for me. I felt faint, and he kept asking, "Hai na? I told you!" He jogged out dribbling his stupid basketball and I stayed back just to catch my breath.
After that, I was terrified of being left alone with either of them because I had no idea what they might say or do and what I might say or do. I still spent all my time with them, watching TV or playing in the lawns or going out to other battalions for parties but I avoided being anywhere with just one of them.
Meanwhile, one afternoon, after a particularly loud game of tag in the lawns, I returned to the verandah to my mother as she sat having her tea. She had been watching us play and as I flopped into the chair next to hers, she quietly observed into her teacup, "Yeh ladke bade hero nikle, yaar."
One evening the three of us were in the TV room fighting about what to watch as usual. The younger one left the room briefly to find some snacks and Pepsi. The energy in the room suddenly shifted and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the older one flip channels mindlessly as he turned to look directly at me. "Scout, I have a question for you." I looked at him enquiringly. He carefully returned his gaze to the TV and asked ever so slowly, "Do you like me or my brother? I don't understand. And I don't want to... you know?"
My heartbeat slowed down and then quickened, my pulse throbbed in my ears and the room zoomed in and out of my vision as I tried to respond coherently. "Haha, what do you mean! Haha. I mean, haha..."
He kept staring at the TV as I stumbled through the fog until finally he relaxed into the couch and said, "Doesn't matter. Do you want to watch Zee Horror Show?"
That night, I heard them singing Dire Straits songs through the wall that separated our rooms. I lay in bed, excited and nauseous and horrified. I couldn't wait to see them the next morning and I couldn't wait to never see them again after the summer ended.
And it did end a few weeks later. Uneventfully, obviously. We all parted as friends and we made vague promises to stay in touch. Maybe our mothers might meet up in Delhi, bringing us together again. Maybe not. Maybe they might transfer to my school. Maybe not. It didn't matter. Summer was over.
A few months after we returned to Delhi, they called on the landline. Over the phone, they sounded exactly like each other and I couldn't tell which one I was speaking to as they took turns to talk. My mother watched me keenly from the kitchen while I giggled into the phone in the dining room. We spoke for a few minutes and then we said goodbye. I sat down for lunch, pink in the face. My mother placed a steaming chapatti on my plate and asked, "Kaise hain dono sher?"
Ab batayein bhi to kya batayein, Mom.
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
New York, I love you, but you're bringing me down.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
I don't love this city. It is grim like nothing else I know, its joy is brittle, its promise disingenuous. It is a city for ruthlessness, broken hearts and pragmatism. I don't hate it either. The collective dreams of millions of people make the air thick with anticipation, heart beats are faster, love is rare but fierce when it sticks.
There is dark magic in the streets, an unsettling bite to the wind, a disturbing paranoia that there are many things unfolding all at once.
Down the street, the sun shines on pristine snow-covered sidewalks full of people carrying grocery bags bursting with produce and baguettes. A few steps away, you find yourself chasing dark shadows down an alley where men move swiftly, hands tucked in oilskin jackets, murmuring phrases you don't hear to people you don't trust. They shake hands surreptitiously, partaking in what you are convinced are street drug deals. A strange whistle emerges from a second-floor window and a man taps a car window, as if in acknowledgement. Not wanting attention, you shuffle quietly, quickly until once again, the sun breaks out on a playground next to your Lower East Side co-op where dogs and children run in circles and a fireman sings a spanish song. And you remember to breathe again.
I don't love it here, but I don't not.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
This should not bother me as much as it does. I consider this a personal failing, concealing it from visitors, forbidding house guests from enjoying the excellent water pressure, sending them to the other bathroom instead. Sometimes, after a shower, I stand in the pool that is ankle-deep these days, and sigh dramatically. It does nothing, but at least I feel like I'm trying. At least I'm not giving up and conceding my place as the master and purveyor of my own fucking bathroom.
The rest of the house, it functions. Well, there is that issue with the kitchen light, but I have worked around it and it is no longer a hassle as long as I flick the switch super-fast-like a few times. I am also not a massive fan of the mouldy storage cupboard in the hall leading to the bedrooms but if I keep it shut and keep my belongings away from it, I can pretend it doesn't exist. But the bathtub! I can't ignore it, I can't pretend I don't need it, I can't just let it go the way I let go of my resentment of the dim 'chandelier' in my bedroom. The bathtub is a necessity and I suspect it knows that. No other reason for being so obstinately uncooperative.
And then I hear the news that they are tearing down my building. It is, after all, over 30 years old. It is too big, too old, too grand to remain next to the shiny new neighbours with their boxy gleaming rooms, stainless steel kitchens and unclogged bathtubs. I must move out by the end of the month and so the search starts for a new house. On my list of requirements? Gas hobs (none of that electric plate nonsense), balcony or a rooftop, built-in closets and a bathtub with industrial-strength plumbing and drainage.
It has been a week now. A week of stumbling around the city, viewing flats smaller than my useless storage cupboard, balconies with just enough room for two potted plants and a pair of legs, abysmally tiny kitchens which couldn't possibly handle me and my food at the same time. I have viewed flats where stretching a leg would be enough to transport you from the living room to the bed should you wish to take a nap. It has all been quite disheartening and vaguely disturbing.
And so, last night, when I came back to my own luxurious, 1500 square foot mansion, I sighed in relief at the thought of having to walk more than two steps to enter my bedroom. A few more weeks, that is all I have. A few more weeks to operate out of the storage closet so I can get used to a smaller house. A few more weeks to cook up feasts to last the entire length of my next lease. And most importantly, a few more weeks to wade through my own personal swimming pool. Life has a funny way of putting problems into perspective. Until next time, my friends.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
In one of the recent episodes of Gossip Girl, which by the way is nowhere near the stellar standards it set in its first two seasons of cattiness and guilty pleasures, Chuck Bass (formerly light of my days, love of my life) decided that he can no longer feel anything, including physical pain or hangovers, because things are definitely. over. between him and Blair Waldorf (whose wardrobe I emulated for about four seasons). I sighed and sympathized with Chuck, now determined that that had what had happened to me. I had finally become what I always wanted to be, cold and unfeeling. Numb to any external stimulus. Just going about my life, buying more clothes, drinking more vodka and deriving pleasure from fiction. Chuck and I were in this together, and we would live happily ever after. Or until they cancelled the show, realizing that all the characters had slept with each other and there was nothing else to do.
Imagine my delirious pleasure when, in the latest episode of Vampire Diaries, Stefan and Elena - the most insipid of couples, boring in their devotion to each other no-matter-what, were finally falling apart because Elena saw Stefan for what he really was - a really ugly dude. Just kidding. She actually saw that his true nature was that of someone who wanted to prey on her and kill her. She quickly found solace in bad-boy-gone-good, Stefan's brother Damon who I've been rooting for since his days as a Dolce and Gabbanna model. But not before she watched Stefan 'turn-off' the human side of him. The side of him that actually loved her, cared for her and wanted to protect her. She watched his face as he jerkily switched his brain off to affection and was horrified (belated response) when he strolled casually towards her before attacking her. I mean, how fucking convenient. If only humans were capable of turning off that switch and protecting themselves from ever getting hurt. Poor Chuck had to drink himself into oblivion before emerging numb and all Stefan had to do was turn this stupid switch off. I was extremely excited for what lay ahead, I really really wanted Stefan to finally be happy with himself and do whatever the fuck he pleased while Elena found someone else to protect her and take care of her. That's true love.
So where does that leave me? Do I think I'm the bad boy? Do I think I deserve what I got and that now that I am somewhat impervious to emotions and guilt, I should go about my life just making myself happy, screwing over anyone who didn't accept me for who I truly was? I don't know, ya'll. I'm quite pleased with my ability to shut out pain and rejection and feelings of low self-esteem but is it healthy? Will it all come crashing down in the next episode, as is likely seeing that these shows I take emotional guidance from are just one bitch-slap away from being soap operas? Will there be a voice-over at the end of the season, talking about doing the right thing no matter what it costs you? Who knows. Until next week. xoxo.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
I sometimes wonder if I fooled myself into stability. How did I manage to make sense of all those things, put them in little IKEA organizers and pile 'em high (watch 'em fly). I also wonder how much of my current mess, a return to old-familiar-form, is of my making. Did I just miss the tension, and this is a test run to see if I'm any better at handling it? Or maybe this is life - cyclical in it's spreading of bullshit and hopelessness comma helplessness. If so, then hello! It's been a while. Help yourself to the Medoc. I'll be outside, being all dramatic and shit. I'm sure you're used to that.
But you, I forgot this was meant to be about you. Wait, let's leave that to another time. Can we, for one minute, just focus on me? Sorry, does that sound too shrill? I'm kidding. You are the reason, or maybe not the main reason, but the catalyst that has led to this faithless departure from normalcy (where is a synonym when you need one?). But I don't think that could have led to this, to be honest. Maybe it wasn't a departure from contentment but actually a panicked run-for-your-life move towards self-preservation. And why should anyone apologize anymore for being shamelessly self-indulgent. Pragmatic is for day jobs and therapists' offices. As for me, I'm just happy (Gosh yaa, I just want to be happy) to smoke furtively and watch gray disappear into gray.
Monday, April 18, 2011
The smell of burning wood, its warmth against my bare leg and the cool wind in my face. That is all it took for me to be 15 again, for me to be standing outside my block, next to the tired security guards and their dying fire, for me to be waiting for the 7.15 bus to take me to school. And I longed for that time, some more of that time, so much that I almost choked on my duty-free cigarette.
I am so removed, so distant from those days but I still can't help going back. But you can't go back. Even when you do. It is never the same again. Sometimes, when I visit Delhi and drive around in a car, I get glimpses of the place that used to be, the place that still lives in my heart. A wide road lined with trees, a man with a cart selling peanuts and yellow popcorn. The bright orange of the setting sun, bringing alive the film of sand hovering over the city. The gurbani heard from a rooftop, the smell of aloo-tikkis. But it is never complete. I can't replicate something that existed ten years ago. Something that existed only for me. I still seek out the omelet-sandwich man when I go back and the damn omelet never tastes the same.
And so I am stuck in-between. Forever longing for the place that doesn't exist anymore, never satisfied with where I am now. I treat these new streets so carelessly, tottering around on Tuesday nights, and yet I worry that when I leave them, they will bring me more despair. I know myself, I will sit in another new city and look back on tonight and wonder if it's possible to do it again. As if everything in life is open to negotiation. As if there's a from-the-top option.
Maybe I'm rambling, maybe I shouldn't listen to The Cure so much, maybe I just prefer living in my head. It makes me sad but it also makes reality more bearable, in a twisted way. I have always been an advocate of escapism, of wanting something you know you can't have just so that what you have doesn't hurt you as much. Or maybe I enjoy pain, just as long as it's of my own choosing.
We can't stand being told what to feel.
Monday, October 4, 2010
So, we have a new country! One fine July day this summer, I packed up all my seven years of adult life and moved out of what I will still call The City for old times' sake. I packed the books and the shoes and the old regrets and moved further East. Clearly, one was made to live in Asian cities. Dumplings and Pokka green tea, my friend(s). Too strong a bond to break just yet.
It has been three months that I have been away from The City and in this new life with new crazy rules and new crazy expectations. It bears repeating, this craziness. It is crazy. I have worked harder in these three months than in the last two years combined. I've also consumed alcohol like it was 2006. I have, however, not made any friends. Good friends. But that is expected - you know me, I was never charming and truth be told, me trying to be charming is even worse than me being Deep and Tortured. But some friends. Some not-friends that I hang out with out of sheer desperation and boredom. Some possible potential friends who just haven't seen how cool I am yet.
But mostly lonely. I sometimes stand outside bars and look longingly at people drinking and talking amongst themselves and I wish so desperately that they would just take me. Take me into their cool little groups and show me how to be a real adult. Because honestly, I feel like someone just dropped me in a planet full of rich, successful, intelligent and beautiful men and women and I'm now expected to make this up as I go along, gently correcting people who mistake my Zara cardi for MaxMara and pretending like selling handbags for a living really is, like, relevant. And that I meant for my hair to be this shaggy, that I'm making some sort of political statement about sharks by refusing to get a cut while actually I'm just struggling to find a hairdresser that doesn't cost more than my rent. I'm not even kidding. I so wish I was.
But you know, that's life. Or so I've been told by these MaxMara women.
I will, however, leave on a good note. I was out for dinner with some people from work who have just moved here from our US office. Girl A asks me where I'm from. I say I'm from India. Girl A has a strong, nasal, almost fake American accent.
Girl A: Where in India?
Me: From Delhi.
Girl A: (confused) Where.... is... that?
Me: It's, um, in the north? It's the capital of India?
Girl A: Ah. I grew up in a town full of Indians. It was like full of them. Everywhere. And then I moved to San Diego and I was like, where did all the Indians go?
Where did all the Indians go.
I didn't know what to say.
But I got a catchphrase out of it.
Monday, February 8, 2010
Here I am again. I can’t remember how many times I’ve found myself sitting huddled in front of a computer, poised and eager to break my newest mystery to myself. Only, now there is no eagerness. There is a sort of dissatisfaction with my fickle self. I don’t care anymore. I don’t care about the rationale. I don’t care about carefully, secretly thought out arguments. I don’t want to know anymore. I don’t want to know why I am the way I am.
The question of being is not new. Not in the least. I have it on authority that really intelligent men and women with very little income often succumbed to puzzling over the one thing that cost the least effort – themselves. But I came upon this philosophical quest very early on in my life – what with my early teens not being burdened with the trap of puzzling over fucking boys (all the boys I knew were straightforward in their polite dismissal of my womanly endeavors) and demanding parents (mine were irritatingly supportive of my excesses, given my excesses involved purchase of cheap paperbacks and begging to stay up later than 9.30). There was no teenage angst and there was too much of time. So I read. I ate. I reflected on life, pensively sitting on a window-sill staring at the neighbors’ laundry flapping impotently in the insipid Delhi breeze.
For a while though, I dismissed these lonesome trysts with my overworked subconscious. I developed boobs, you see. I bought a bunch of tight t-shirts and I went to dance parties with girls from my class. We stood sipping coke, staring at boys in GAP sweatshirts, boys who we went to school with, boys who smelt of their dads’ colognes. Boys who talked in Hindi, boys who loved Pearl Jam. Boys who were shy. Boys who had ‘chick friends,’ boys who even had girlfriends. Boys everywhere. I developed massive, one-sided crushes on classmates with boy-band style hair-cuts. I wrote obsessively in my diary about unintended meeting of elbows or fingers. I agonized over my sheer ugliness.
I grew up some more. I grew into my awkward body, I realized I had pretty eyes and fairly good legs. I played to their advantage. I learned the subtle differences in hair partings. I secretly smoked cigarettes, learning to blow smoke rings like old Hollywood actresses. I took sips of wine from my father’s bar, often sleeping in a Bordeaux induced coma. Ah, if only I had seen the nights that were to follow the flight from home. If only I were to see the many nights I’d spend sitting next to my toilet bowl, cursing the Scots, the French, the Irish and the Americans for introducing me to alcohol.
And if only I had seen one particular night in my 20th year of existence. If only I had seen myself sitting in that closet of a bedroom in Barcelona, weeping and glugging cheap Rioja straight from the bottle. If only I had seen my crazy, teary, unfocused eyes. If only I had felt my heart breaking with unrequired, unrequited love. I would have held on to sobriety a little longer. Premonitions should be more popular.
And so, for a period of about five or six years, I turned into a normal girl. A girl vaguely similar to the one I used to be, but a girl who had a lot more to think about. Things that didn’t leave her time to puzzle over the reason of her being her, her having been born on a particular day, in a particular family, her own control over herself and things of that nature. She had to think about relationships, about missed calls, about parties and shots and hangover cures. I forgive her the frivolities. They were just as enlightening, or more, than staring stupidly at toes, marveling at their very existence.
But lately, I can feel the pre-pubescent girl coming back to me. I can feel the residual teenage angst seeping away and again I find myself drifting off like I used to. I’m even reading differently. Like I’ve just discovered other minds. And other causes apart from personifying the Indie spirit, complete with black skinny jeans, nautical tops and a penchant for garage/basement/other-depressing-quarters bands.
And indeed, other causes apart from being seen at the right places. Apart from knowing everyone at Clarke Quay on a Saturday night. Apart from surviving terrible jobs. I’m going back to the old me. Only, in a manner that is a lot less mature than it used to be. Of course, out of practice and all that, we’ll be fine soon. We’ll be deeply philosophical soon. And we won’t even need to quote the philosophers as reference – we’ll be that compelling. Say no to pseud-giri. And easy escapes.
And the leggy outfits and the pretty boys are still there. Only, I fear I’ve played that bit of my life down to death, so much so that nothing about it excites me anymore. I sometimes find myself stifling yawns when I notice someone coming up to talk to me in a club, encouraged by the careless flaunting of legs and the subtle dip of my dress. I don’t want to explain myself to anyone anymore. I don’t want to tell my story to yet another ordinary boy. I don’t want to see him trying to understand what I mean. That look on their faces; it’s always the same. It borders between forced interest and veiled impatience, it is supposed to show how very enchanted they are with my wit. Because don’t you know, I’m stacked with wit. That’s what they tell each other. She looks witty, that one over there in that skirt, I’m going to go talk to her, the guy says. Maybe she’ll read her poetry to me tonight. Man, I would just settle for prose, his friend retorts.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
presents wrapped in red and gold paper on a cold morning, slipping on iced-over pavement and running after the last bus, eating kebabs impatiently and guffawing through full mouths. christmas dinner and leftover turkey cranberry sandwiches on challah bread. long tube rides into town with headphones firmly jammed in, reading discarded Metros and staring at women in long fur coats and thick accents. smoking out of the window of an attic, looking back at him, sitting in his room, in his childhood home and feeling so much love, so much that i could only either giggle or cry. dancing to music i thought only belonged to me and then being delighted when i wasn't the only one joining in on the chorus. the giddiness that comes from belonging, finally, to something. even if just for two weeks.
london remains my friends. and it better had.
hope you all had a great christmas and new year's too. you know mine couldn't get any better. i can't claim to be anything other than extremely lucky.