House with no mirrors

I took an auto to the market. I had some money. I didn't even bark at the auto wallah over the fare. I paid whatever he demanded. I was there to buy clothes for me. Dusk was dissolving into the air. And I was at the beginning of long and seemingly endless veins and vein lets of streets. Filled with hawkers selling split open raw mango sprinkled with salt and chilly powder, guava the same way, and bangles and wallets and trinkets for your home and you. Of course there were so many well lit stores, filled with stacks and stacks of clothes. Thousands and lakhs of clothes, I couldn't imagine how many there were. For the first time in months, I began to feel overwhelmed.

I randomly walked those streets to regain my breath. Paid for things in cash and hoarded clothes and bangles and bindis and earrings into my bag. It got heavy, but it didn't matter. It began to drizzle and I didn't stop even then. Despite knowing that the rain would wreck havoc over the city traffic and I wouldn't get an Uber to go home. I ran out of cash and started coaxing hawkers to take Paytm. I swiped my cards at so many shops, I don't even remember. And then suddenly, my gusto collapsed. It had enough reason to, alright. But that happens, you don't know why you feel the way you feel. You take yourself by utter surprise. It makes you think if you've been hiding something from yourself. Intimidating thought that.

My mind traveled back to my first apartment. It had a lot of windows but I had the maroon curtains so stretched out end to end that no voyeur would even dare. I lived there for about a year. And entirely by happenstance, that apartment didn't have a mirror. I lived an entire year without looking at myself. Not that there was anything to look at. Life batters the self esteem of a no looker by the time you are thirty. But nevertheless, not even the tiny flagellant remnant of the narcissist in me wanted to see myself for a year. So weird was that. I now come to realize. 

Self esteem apart, what does a mediocre laggard even get in life. Except crying in gulps sitting on the office toilet. Reading what great writers have written. And how every sentence of them once read pulls a chord real strong and pours out of those fucking tear glands. Because I know I will never write like that and never be cried over like that, at least, not anymore. I would rather go shopping in endless streets and feel overwhelmed. Once in a blue moon. 

Penumbra

There was a time when we were all,
Gleelessly stuck in Penumbra
Between the ages, thirteen to nineteen
Or twenty-one

That teen angst, wasn't like nothing else

One particular afternoon,
I wasted sitting in the sunbeam
That trespassed through my window
In the dark, and writing a letter
On pen & paper, yes, real blue ink
And sprinkling it with rose petals
An unposted letter with that angst
About being alone and unwanted

Don't recall much else though
Literally speaking, for instance
My first sip of alcohol (cocktail - sex on the beach)
Or my first kiss
The first smoke,
But I know I had many firsts

Growing like a multi faceted organism
In so many directions
And with so less control
Nothing could begin to heal that angst
Not a box full of books,
Or nights spent drinking coffee
Or making craft

So many years of constant rebellion,
Do you recall yours?
Stuck in Penumbra, glee-less-ly
So long, so long.


Amour Fou

Lately, I landed myself with a bunch of letters. Between two people I don't know. I exaggerated, actually. Not letters. They are mails. More like chats. Conversations. It feels illegitimate to read them, like intruding their privacy. I know, it's wrong. But I just can't stop, right now, I am knee deep in their lives.

They worked together and talked incessantly on an intra office chat messenger. Among their numerous typos and monosyllabic questions and answers and even entire statements consisting of punctuation marks only, I have formed two images of them, I can't seem to get past. I've never seen them, never will. It's just a bunch of chats erroneously downloaded.

Their talks are coquettish, least to say. The man seems to ignore the woman at first, but then later he too folds into it. They barely discuss their spouses, but reading on and on, I realize that they are both married. The woman's husband stayed away, probably, the reason she sought out his attentions. And he seems to fall for it, even between his short and precise replies, I understand, he is very much in the conversation.

If you take the two marriages out of the equation, it's even a sweet story after all. And even if you don't, even then it is.

If love doesn't find us, we seek it out. Like a blind child, in a dark room, we are pounding for love. There is no wrong time and age for it. They probably never had an affair, or kissed in the elevator, or booked surreptitious hotel rooms. May be their fling stayed at chatting only. Or may be it didn't.
But now they're apart. And I can't help, but imagine so many things.

Look at me, tonite

Won't you look at me tonite
With those sharp little tiny eyes of yours
Won't you glare them at me
Whimsically, as if by mistake
When our eyes meet mid air, mid way
Only to undo that mistake instantaneously
And look elsewhere with a shallow gulp of guilt

Won't you make me feel seen
Observed, wanted, needed
For what else do we need more
Than this need to be desired
Tonite, and every other night, like this one
Thirst and lust, and the feeling of being quenched.

How long has it been that I have felt this guarded and protected in the safe haven of someone's vision.
My goodness, hasn't it been long. It has.

So now, please don't look away, you.
As we run out of breaths and time
We run out of passion and even words
Just be, this way, and steal your coquettish glances from me.

Look at me as I walk in, and walk away, and stand and sit. Appear engrossed. Appear lost and fathom me in that loss.

Look at me, tonite.

Perambulations

I see a man. In the 11 PM darkness. His restless perambulations on the roof top. I can only make a silhouette out. It's dark but yet not dark enough. In the faint light of distant street lamps, I can draw his rough outlines. Is he walking this way because he has to burn his dinner up before he falls asleep. Or has he a story. Is he smoking a hard day away. While his wife has nodded off on their tiny double bed downstairs. Has he a little son in a Spiderman suit. And a little girl who sleeps holding her stuffed bear. Their room painted in cartoons and their toys astray as his exhausted wife catches her breath in the hall. Our perambulating man has to make it to the end of the month, pay the rent and the fees. And the milkman and the launderer. And for the loans and the groceries. How long will this last. Time will pass. Kids will grow up. It will get easier with time, it should. But is his life a means to an end and all it is, is that.

In a blink, I turn into his wife dozing off downstairs. Or his son in the Spiderman suit. I pass through them like light would pass through a ghost. I am him, I can feel his heart beating within mine. Is he an abberation, an apparition, a figment of my drugged imagination. Then I become the solitary woman staring at it all from the distant balcony. 

Behind me, the lights in my bedroom are dimmed. The air is cooler than evening's. My legs are up on the grille of the balcony. I sit here nearly hidden from the world. Behind my clothes strung out to dry at night. Or so I think. Or so I imagine. But the man can see me clearly. Or my silhouette only. And imagine things about me, as I do. About him. About my many a daily crises, about the chaos in my pretend peace, about my trash of three days that hasn't been taken out. About my inane loneliness. And my simultaneous inability to cohabit my space with another. About my unfinished stories and my lame ambitions. About the bangle stand behind the mirror that my mother gave me years ago that broke many times, and everytime it broke I set it up again with glue. The glue that is holding me together right now. 

This faint light, is faint no more. We can both suddenly see so much about each other. Too much.

Asafoetida

In the corner of the bottom shelf of spice jars sat the good old jar of asafoetida. That jar was as old as her wedding. It was a wedding gift. Yes, a jar of asafoetida. Heengu. It came in a huge trunk of spices, in which, as someone had quipped during their wedding that both the bride and the groom along with their future children could be accommodated. And happily. In that trunk came bottles of ghee and oils. Tins full of flour. Rice, obviously, gunny sacks of rice came separately, to feed the bride's new family through the famine, if need be. But the trunk, it contained, lentils of half a dozen kinds, and semolina and  vermicelli. And nuts and cashews. If the bride felt like making dessert for her nieces and nephews. And a cart of vegetables came separately. But the trunk, it contained papads and badis for a lifetime. And along with it all, it contained all the condiments a kitchen could imagine. From seeds of coriander, fennel, cumin, mustard, pepper, cardamom and cinnamon, bay leaves and the list seemed to go on. In fact, the trunk contained a neatly written list of all its constituents. That list ended with asafoetida. To the fag end of that long slip of paper, was scribbled in motherly handwriting, asafoetida. The queen of spices. 

After getting married on that benign winter day several years ago, Manini had moved around quite a few places with her husband. Several cities into which he got transferred. Changed houses as many times or more. Had two children, one three, one one and a half. A son and a daughter. In each of those kitchens she cooked in, all her spices were used up. In the slow process that life is. Packed in the lunch box her husband took to office, or for the pakoras she sometimes fried on rainy afternoons, in the rice tasting ceremonies of her two children, in some of the parties and functions at her house that she had hosted. She had fed herself and her family of three. Sometimes, she bought new packets of spices and used them just so as the make spices she had brought in her wedding last longer. She wanted to carry a bit of home with her wherever she went, after all. 

It's a strange phenomenon how the mention of the word home made so many chords string her heart. First two decades of life that she had lived in her father's house and shared with her brothers, the recent years she spent at her husband's, where she had given birth to his children. Sometimes, and no matter how hard she tried, she felt this duality of having two homes and being homeless at the same time. Ironical. Nevertheless, Manini tended to her young children and her husband, visited her parents on most summer vacations. 

Her bottles of condiments though, perishable as they were, ran out over the years, One after the other. This bottle of asafoetida, due to its frugal use probably lasted the longest. Every other day that she cooked lentils, she added a tiny pinch of asafoetida into the oil before spluttering it with curry leaves and red chillies. For a brief fraction of time, just the smell that emanated from a pinch of asafoetida sprinkled on hot oil filled every corner of her kitchen and reminded her of home, wherever that was. Her father's. Her husband's. Or somewhere in between. A chunk of her own piece of heaven. And Manini cringed with Hiraeth.   

Hiraeth

Hiraeth is a longing for one's home, but it's not mere homesickness.
Hiraeth is a Welsh word which doesn't translate well into English.