Amy

The phone rang. Thrice.

With her slender fingers , she picked up the receiver and put it to her ear. When the man at the other end started speaking she squeezed her eyes shut. The slim wedding ring on her finger caught the sunlight as it spilled out of a gap in the curtains. The gold band shone brilliantly, unabashedly almost. As soon as the line at the other end went dead, she rushed out of the room, closing the door on her way out.

 

Out in the street, the sun was almost setting. The sky was dyed pomegranate pink with a hint of tangerine. She watched with an unwavering gaze, as a fiery  red orb of light slowly sank beneath the horizon.

A quick tap on her shoulder.

Almost immediately, she turned back and saw him. His face – high cheekbones and symmetrical. The same deep brown eyes and tanned skin that she had seen the week before. He was still slender, despite his years.  In his hands, he held a manilla envelope.

“Your tickets”, he said as he handed over the envelope to her. She glanced over her shoulders several times.

She hesitated.

The adrenaline flew over her veins like a carp through the river, but she couldn’t move a single muscle. It took a lot of effort on her part, to grasp the envelope. He took her hand, gave it a slight  squeeze and quickly kissed her on one cheek.

Then a slight wave of the fingers. With that he turned back and strode away quickly in the direction he had come from.

She stood there, in the street for a few good minutes. Then, as if someone had jolted her back into reality, she woke up with a start and started walking.

The daylight had dwindled to a barely perceptible  lightening of the gloom. Each wall of concrete seemed identical to the next. Standing in what could be any part of the labyrinth, she folded the envelope and placed it inside her purse.

She walked steadily down the pathway and turned the key. She was greeted by her daughter. The little girl tugged at her skirt and as if this was signal enough, she crouched down and picked her up in her lap. She felt the child’s soft skin against her own cheeks.

“Mamyyyyyy homeee”, the toddler screamed from her lap. Her husband appeared in the hallway.

The hug was  a perfunctory gesture mandated by social etiquette and colder than day-old oatmeal. It was short, where it should be long, rigid instead of soft and it ended as abruptly as it had begun. Though his legs moved slowly, he was still walking away as each stride carried him further.

At dinner, she could hardly eat. He was sittting on the other end of the table. She watched him gobble down his food, in a hurry. Normal, she thought. Suddenly she felt cold and tightened the pull of her sweater over her shoulders.

The next morning when she woke up, he wasn’t there. He had already left for work. She woke up her daughter, gave her a bath, fed her breakfast, packed her lunchbox, plaited her hair, dressed her up , and walked her to the bus stop. As the bus rolled away, she walked back home .

The house somehow felt calmer. Stiller. She looked at the clock on the wall. 9 o’ clock. She had to get ready.  She went up the stairs. On the way to the bedroom, she peeped inside her daughter’s room. She took a good look at the bed, at her toys. She left the door open. Walking into her bedroom, she grabbed a duffle bag from the wardrobe and tossed in a bunch of clothes randomly into the bag.

Next, she stood in front of the mirror. With the thumb and forefinger of her right hand, she twisted the wedding ring on her left hand. She glanced at her face on the mirror. Her eyes blinked several times. She tossed back a few stray strands of hair from her shoulders. Picking up the duffle bag from the bed, she crossed over to the windows and pulled the curtains shut. With a last look at the ruffled bedsheets from the night before, she closed the door behind her.

She hailed a cab from the street. She paid the driver and took out the envelope from her purse.  With her bag in one hand and the envelope in the other, she walked inside the terminal. For a few minutes she stood outside the first class lounge.

Waiting.

Someone embraced her in a hug from behind. The familiar scent…it was him. He kissed her passionately on the mouth. Her throat burned. He handed her a small bouquet of roses. Then he grabbed her wrist and pulled her through the throng of people.

“Come”, he said.

In the mad rush of the platform, her hand slipped away from his clutch.

” Amyyyyyy, Amy”.

He called to her to follow. He got up on the train. She stood among the swaying crowd in the station, tickets still in her hand. Her cheeks felt cold and pale. Out of distress, she prayed to God to direct her. If she went with him, tomorrow she would be in a different place, in a new city. She felt nauseated. Her hand clutched the bouquet in a frenzy. She looked at him like a helpless animal, passively.

Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition. As the whistle blew and the train started to move, she gave a cry of anguish. She dropped the tickets on the station floor. She looked down at the roses in her hand, hanging heavy on their stems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Photograph

I flopped down on bed with the stack of photographs still in my hand. As I flicked through the pictures, I found the one I was looking for. Three girls , smiling at me, big grins plastered on their faces.

Curiously enough, I distinctly remember the first day  I had met her. It was one of those evenings at Meera’s place, wasn’t it? Meera had introduced her to me as her cousin. There was something otherworldly about her- the way she sat with her feet curled up on the couch, her hair strewn around her shoulders in a mess. Her dark rimmed glasses were bigger than her otherwise small round face. I remember trying to make out the colour of her eyes, but the reflection of light on her glasses  had prevented me from doing so.

Meera had introduced us, “This is my cousin, Millie. She’s also studying at the university.”

And then we got  talking.

Meera kept on talking, almost all through the evening. But all I did was, stare at Millie. In the course of the evening, Millie had caught me staring at her but she had returned my gaze with a smile.  And when she smiled, an unexpected warmth had rushed through me. There was only a slight movement of her cheeks, her lips had curled up and you could see the top row of her teeth. On anyone else perhaps, it would be a grimace at best. On her however, it was a sign of bliss. As her grin grew deeper, her spectacles slided, ever so slightly down the bridge of her nose.

I remember going to bed that night , my head filled with glimpses from the preceding evening.

Brown, I  had decided. Not like the wet bark of the oaks but soft reflecting browns. Those deep swirls of brown that coloured her pupils had bewitched me. Nevertheless, she had one of those eyes, that go into you like a bullet.

I remember being unable to sleep that night . I had  merely tossed and turned over in bed.

After a few  more meetings, one evening I had kissed her on the balcony. For a moment she yielded and let me lift up her face and kiss her; then suddenly she recoiled and shook her head. Perhaps she was frightened. Her unmoving gaze was accompanied by slow breathing, like she was fighting something back and losing. Without saying anything, she broke from me and hurried inside.

When the next day I told Meera that I might have developed feelings for her cousin, she flew into a rage. She refused to hear anything further. It seemed, that she couldn’t bear to imagine that her female friend had fallen for her aunt’s daughter. When I kept on persisting, she advised me to steer clear of Millie, that she would not tolerate any such nonsense with her cousin. She had looked at me as if I were a lunatic. Meera didn’t speak to me  for more than a month. When we  resumed talking however, I was informed that Millie had gone to the States, where she was pursuing her master’s degree. I wonder why Millie never contacted me after that evening.

The past is a curious thing. It’s with you all the time. All these years had passed. But I had not gone back to that day. There was time for everything except that. One thing about the human mind is that it goes in jerks. There’s no emotion that stays by you any length of time.

Yesterday evening, I had seen her outside the shopping mall. There she was, standing in front of me, after ten years. She didn’t notice me, of course. Here I was and here was Millie. Our bodies might have been a yard apart, and we were just as much as strangers as though we had never met. It was as if the whole thing had never happened.

But as a matter of fact, I kept thinking how different things turn out from what we expect. The times we had together, wouldn’t you think, it  would leave some kind of after effect behind? When you look back over a  long period, you seem to see human beings always fixed in some special place and in some characteristic attitude.

Sitting on my bed, I saw her again, like a hallucination painfully clear . For a while I was mad, mas as Schrödinger’s, cat  stuck in it’s box. I could feel the warmth evaporating from my eyes, faster than summer rain on the tarmac. For sometime, I know not for how long , I buried my head under the bedclothes. There was a sudden insanely rich scent of damp. All the while, it was raining, raining.

 

 

Memories

Anita was sitting on the floor of her bedroom and in her hands was a rather tattered copy of Joyce’s Dubliners. She however couldn’t concentrate on any reading. Instead she flipped through the crumpled yellow pages of the book, absentmindedly.

She lifted her head and her eyes scanned the room. The furniture consisted of a study desk complete with a desktop computer and cluttered with books and papers, a wall-to-floor cabinet and a bed, clothed entirely in white. On the two bookshelves however, the books were neatly stacked in no particular order.

Looking out at the the tiny speck of sky visible through a small gap between the half-closed windows, she let her mind wander. There was nothing fascinating outside. A couple of dull painted houses greeted her eyes. The walls of the houses had once been decked with fresh coats of paint. Constant exposure to rain and sun had almost transformed their hue. There were patches of moss clinging to the brick walls, here and there. It had started raining.  The rain fell down in a steady torrent. A crow flew in and perched down on the ledge of a window of the opposite house.  The bird was so drenched that  you could almost see the skeleton beneath its wet feathers.Her eyes listless, she stared at the dull brick wall fixedly.

Somewhere, a faint silhouette of a tall boy appeared. He didn’t look at her and he stood with his back turned to her. She closed her eyes and opened them again. When she blinked, a drop or two ran down her cheeks. A drop fell on her cheek; touched the corners of her lips and she could distinctly taste the salty water.

Anita had a sweetheart in high school. He was the same age as her. They begun talking talking to each other via text messages. Within weeks, they had grown rather fond of each other and before long, their friends had tagged them as a couple. She distinctly remembered the very first time that she had been kissed and how afterwards they stood on the rooftop of her house- both breathing heavily and each glancing sideways to avoid the initial awkwardness. And then when she had turned to leave, he had held her hand and pulled her into a warm embrace.

She turned to look at the book in hand and this time , as she flicked through the pages a folded piece of paper fell out. A long time back, she had carefully put it between the pages of the book. As her memory began to wander, she felt that his hand touched hers. Once again, she raised her eyes from the paper and gazed out of her window. He had written her a letter on her birthday, the only letter from him that she had kept.

She sat there for a long time. The house was very quiet. She read it not aloud, but moving her lips silently as  a priest does when he reads the prayers. She realised that he had become a memory. It was almost an hour later that she got up and went to the roof . She stood at the exact spot where they had stood, three years before. She asked herself what else she could have done. She had done what seemed to her best.

As she approached the edge of the roof, she halted and looked towards the city. Dusk was setting in. The rain had also stopped. She seemed to feel his voice touch her ears. She felt that she had been outcast from life. Someone had seemed to love her and she had successfully turned him away.

She turned her eyes  to the evening sky. The daylight had dwindled. Each wall of concrete appeared identical to the next. The street below resembled an old photograph, every familiar thing a shade of grey. She stood there for some minutes, listening. She could hear nothing : the evening was perfectly silent.

What I Have Been Reading

With my exams being over, all I wanted to do was get some decent amount of sleep. The past one month was quite harrowing- what with three or four hours of sleep a night. Lack of sleep had reduced me to a live zombie.

Needless to say, under such circumstances,  I spent the better half of the week , sleeping like a log. However,once I was recharged from the much required sleep marathon, I was on the lookout for something to read. One of my friends, who also happens to be studying english lit. ,had by that time already started studying the next year’s syllabus and it is precisely at this juncture that she suggested that I read Charles Lamb’s essays. Now, I am not one for reading nonfiction. I have rather disliked the idea of reading nonfiction, since forever. But since I would inevitably have to read essays for my coursework, I decided to take the plunge.

So I started off with Dream Children:A Reverie. Lamb’s essays are rather short, six or seven pages at the most. I was quite surprised when Dream Children proved to be a rather smooth read, quite unlike how I had imagined it to be- rather dull with long sentences and full of archaisms. In fact,this particular essay was nothing short of a short story with an unprecedented twist in the end. I also happened to read a few other essays by Lamb , namely, Disertation upon Roast Pig, which I must mention, was akin to reading a children’s folk tale-impeccably simple yet insightful. There was also another one called  Old China and yet another , Old Familiar Faces, which is presented in the form of a poem. There is a wonderful synthesis of personal and universal interests in the essays. Although the style is old fashioned, bearing echoes and odours from Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici, Lamb’s essays also manifest his humorous and whimsical assuming of roles as well as his antiquarian interests. In Dream Children, his pathos deepens into a quivering sigh of regret.

Another author whose works I  have started reading is George Orwell. I began with his essays. In fact, I made a list of some of his notable essays. His essays are extremely engaging and my favourite would have to be Bookshop Memories, where he recounts his experiences as a book seller in an old bookshop. There’s a little bit of subtle humour involved in the description of the people who happen to frequent a bookshop. If however, you have read Lamb’s essays and compare those with that of Orwell’s, you’ll quickly notice that the two  make use of rather varying streaks of humour.

The next essay that I probably read was Shooting an Elephant, where he talks about the time when he was stationed at Burma as a sub-divisional police officer. As the title suggests, he does describe the circumstances that led him to shoot an elephant but he also raises some significant concerns with regard to “imperialism”. Being a Briton, and as such a colonizer himself, he felt that “imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better.” He speaks perhaps for several other young English youths as well as for himself when he says, “Here was I the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd-seemingly the leading actor of the piece but in reality I was only an absurd puppet…”. The essay also conveys perhaps an idea that we generally never care much about –  the white man turns into a  tyrant , only when he surrenders his own freedom. This dichotomy between the colonizer and the colonized is a rather curious one and quite complex at that. I,for one, never thought that it was even possible for white men to feel manipulated by natives.

Another of Orwell’s essays, called Nonsense Poetry traces  the origins of nonsense verse  and talks briefly about the various specimens of nonsense poetry as found in nursery rhymes. Curiously enough,  while Orwell does not completely disregard Lewis Carroll’s contributions to nonsense poetry, he however deems Edward Lear as the finest exponent of this type of verse.

All non fiction and no fiction kind of took a toll on me and I decided to switch tracks. Next on my reading list was Animal Farm. The story revolves around a party of farm animals, who having been stirred into rebellion oust the farm’s owner, Mr. Jones whilst renaming “Manor Farm” to “Animal Farm”. The narrative is a satire drawing on the events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917. In his essay entitled Why I Write, Orwell comments that in Animal Farm , his motive was to ” fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole”. Through the rise and bloody fall of the revolutionary animals, the story reveals how totalitarianism creeps up in the most quixotic of organizations. Boxer , was for me the most heartbreaking character in the novel and I do not wish to be driven into a debate as to which animal represents what. The ending, perhaps quite anticipatory, does justice to the theme of the novel; the other animals gaze with astonishment at the striking resemblance between the pigs and humans at the table. This book was definitely engaging and I finished it with the span of two hours.

I am currently reading Down and Out in Paris and London, also by George Orwell (okay well, I’ll admit that I have taken a fancy to him). Once I am done with this one, I will probably move onto Ray Bradbury’s distopian novel, Fahrenheit 451, which I have been meaning to read for quite a while now.

Home Thoughts from Abroad

The phone rings.

She scrambles out of bed, dragging the sheets behind her. With the her shoulders slouched and her eyelids still shut, she reaches for the receiver and puts it to her ears. She is still sleepy, struggling to open her eyes. The voice on the other end is somewhat anxious and concerned.

Mrs. Dasgupta speaks up from the other end, “Meera, where were you? I called you twice already. Were you sleeping dear?”

By then ,Meera was already sitting on the edge of the couch; her eyes wide open. But her mother went on unperturbed, “Your father keeps on asking , whether we will be seeing you this year on pujo. You know it’s been two years that we haven’t seen you . Come home. We miss you here.”

Meera barely replied. She had only been promoted last week and there was no way that her supervisor, Mr. Smith was going to allow her to take some days off and fly back home. She knew she could never explain this to her mother because the woman would not simply understand.

“Ma, I have to work tomorrow. I am really tired. I need to get some sleep. I will call you in the morning okay? Love you.” So saying, she ended the call hastily.

Meera now reclined on the couch and looked around the room. She had done well for herself. She had been successful professionally and she lived a comfortable life. Life in London was good but not entirely fulfilling. There was one thing Meera craved.

Family.

Not that she didn’t have friends here. In the last two years , she had befriended several people. But perhaps family is a different emotion all together.

She suddenly remembered her mother telling her that it was the day of mahalaya, just a week to pujo. She went back to bed, while switching on the recorder. As the mellifluous incantations of Mahalaya filled the room, Meera sank into bed.

8000 km away from home, Meera felt homesick. Nostalgia, bhog, ashtami anjali ( the offering of flowers to the goddess on the eighth day),sindoor khela and Durga Puja festivities flooded her mind.

When Meera was a toddler, her mother had told her what Durga Puja signified – the triumph of good over evil. But on this day, several thousands of kilometres away from home, Durga Puja for Meera was a reminder that  every year,happiness finds its way back home; that every woman looks stunning after a vermilion bath on dashami ( the tenth and final day). 

With the rising cresendo of the hymn , her cheeks became wet with warm tears. She couldn’t remember the last time she woke up to the stirring fragrance of shiuli phool on a brisk autumn morning.

Writing

So, one fine day I decided that I will create my own blog and start writing. And then obviously there were other factors at work. I have been struggling with writing. The essential act of writing seemed truly gruesome. It still does.

I will probably sit for hours in front of the computer or with my notepad. My mind at that point of time is like a tabula rasa , a clean slate. And that doesn’t help at all.

Firstly, more often than not, I am at a complete loss of ideas. I could write but I can never decide on a topic. I am always cautious and aware of mindless ranting, because I doubt that it is as interesting as a structured piece of writing which is based on some kind of theme or idea.

Secondly, there are times when I have all these exciting  ideas  in my mind. The moment I sit down to put these all on paper, it all goes away. Poof! I have tried to analyse this rather peculiar phenomena time and again. The only conclusion that I have arrived at is  that maybe I am just scared of putting it all down on paper. Maybe I am quite conscious of whether or not my writing will be pleasing to the reader. But I guess, the most important reason is perhaps, I myself won’t be pleased with it. There is this  idea always working at the back of my mind: what if I don’t like the stuff that I have written down? What if I cringe on rereading my own work? And this has happened. Time and again.

There have been times when I have felt like, ” Oh this is great stuff! Carry on.” , and moments later when I am done writing, I will reread my work. And I am left feeling so terribly dissatisfied with what I have produced. And my morale goes out  of the window. And then comes that dark period, where I can’t  bring myself to write anymore. I grow apprehensive of the fact that I will again end up writing utter nonsense, stuff that doesn’t necessarily provide any pleasure.

During one of these so-called dark periods, I found myself questioning the very purpose of writing. I worked out some theories of my own:

1. Writing because, that’s the only thing that makes you happy.

2. Writing because it gives you pleasure.

3. Writing because you want someone to find pleasure in your words.

If asked why I write , I would say that I write because I feel liberated when I write. And really, it can be any form of writing.

So back to where I started from. I created this blog so that I would be constantly reminded of my need to write. I used to write once a week. But I didn’t feel like I was improving much. Hence , here I am. Also the fact that I have published only poetry , is ample evidence of me being unable to find a topic to start writing on. While I was on the quest of finding the right topics to start writing on and also when I was on the lookout for improving my techniques, many people suggested that I read. That I read like hell, like my life depends on it. Fiction, non-fiction, prose ,poetry …just about anything. Anything really. 

When I read articles written by a fellow blogger or a friend or just any random article right off the internet, i suddenly wish that I could write like that. The ability to write well is a much coveted capability, one that I desire to master.

So there you go. I just wrote this article that I now consider utter nonsense. Just complete mindless ranting. And I don’t want to publish it. But I will go ahead and do it anyway.

Winter Night

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Night comes like the spell of an enchantress,
It advances like a feral beast,
Night comes whispering sweet nothings.

The rain beats against the glass,
Thick as a beer bottle,
The dark lullaby of an unanticipated storm.

The icicles hang from the railway bridge,
A pale finger traces words on the window,
Laced with frost around the edges.

The lamp post, a charred bone against the snow,
Is cold metal to the touch,
Rough to the fingertips.

The world is a wasteland of white.