Chew on it.

Chances are all we have.

Category: Otherwise

Screen 2. Act 2.

It couldn’t have been.

It takes more strength to resist doing a double take than you imagined it would. He is somewhere to the left behind you and while you were surprised he hasn’t seen you yet, you also know that he wasn’t looking for signs of you everywhere he went. The best sequence of actions would be to not look, get to the counter, collect the popcorn, and then head into screen 2 without a pause. As if nothing happened. Because nothing did.

It serves as a harsh reminder, and now you want to be anywhere else.

You look back at the menu overhead. 3 more to go ahead of you. That gives you ample time to change your mind about the kind of popcorn you wanted. Then make a run for it. He was always the classic popcorn guy. You never found out by direct information from him. But you knew. From the day you saw his hair combed and parted like a wet dream from the 80s. The same week that he had your reluctant heart swallowing his filler-less taking down of Bollywood’s blue-eyed filmmaker (even though a later conclusion was reached that he had contributed an unhealthy but essential chunk to your adolescence) whole.

You are now the first in the counter. You know that the man in the next queue 7 turns away from you wants classes popcorn with coke. You still don’t know if popcorn is what you want.

Very well. “Nachos and a coke,” you tell the server, tapping your fingers on the glass. The chatting of the servers, the passing of the card machine, the inefficiency of it all is getting to you. Theatres can be managed so much better. A 14-year old inside you clucks her tongue at the loss of patience and empathy for the working crew.

Food’s here and you let out a nearly audible sigh of relief.

Screen door’s to the left. You turn right. You hear him. You’re hoping he won’t/hoping against hope that he will notice you and thank goodness he doesn’t because now is not the time for pleasantries. You’re at the door. One last glance at the queue to make sure that was him so that you aren’t wondering through the movie is worth the risk and so you turn infinitesimally to your left and nearly drop the coke on his very visible, very chequered, very close shirt.

Fuck.

He helps you with the drink, says sorry and moves ahead. That he didn’t do anything to show recognition of your face, your presence, your hurricane emotions hurts you – again – after so many years.

Flashback to every time you passed each other in the corridor, in the train, in the parking lot. He never stepped back. And you never touched. You never had to. You and he, only wanted to feel his breath on your neck.

Very well then. Good riddance. Movie in peace.

You’re fucking sitting at the beginning of my row you sly fuck.

He mumbles an apology for his legs obstructing the way and lets you pass.

He still hasn’t recognised you and you want to deliberately drop more cola on him to start a conversation but what will you say and of course, that’s just rude. Also, no more drawing attention, he knows you from the crowd already and again. You want him to feel sick and leave. You want this thumping in your chest to slow down so you can breathe – afraid that he will hear you breathing from 10 feet away.

He’s looking at his watch now.

Stop looking that way.

Look here.

The lights are off, and you want the movie to start. Your friend, long forgotten and used to it, can’t connect the twitchiness of your movements to you and has settled herself into her seat. The movie has begun and you’re trying to keep a ready review of it in case he asks. Pat on your back for letting him trigger another hypothetical scene in your head. But it’s dark and you’re allowed to glance at him, because you aren’t interested anyway and any more. Besides, he doesn’t know you’re looking, so you turn your head to your right to see him looking right at you.

You both pretend to look away and you know it’s okay to speak for him.

The movie seems decent. You squirm in your seat because English movies without subtitles always make you feel uncomfortable just in case you miss heard the dialogues courtesy the accent. Is he still looking at you?

No.

He’s watching the movie, as you should. Obviously you have increasingly no idea what happened in it. Your friend does, you can ask her later.

You decide to stay put during the interval because movement is only getting him to pay attention to you and while a younger, naive you would have lapped it up, you don’t want it right now. It’s easier to say yes to a cake, than to say no to a cake, and especially one you love, when you’re on a diet. What is this analogy about? You hope he’s read your mind and nearly turn to look at him, ready with a knowing giggle from a version of you from centuries ago. Nearly. He’s just getting back to his seat. He still has the same neck. Your fingernail can feel the coolness of its skin and you’re not embarrassed, not here in the dark. The movie has begun. You’re out of coke. It’s alright.

Must he have changed, who is he seeing, is he writing anymore, was he ever in the same town before, what songs does he like?

You want to know it all. But not here. Not like this.

Not by pretence. Maybe you should ask him. What’s the worst that could happen.

You can’t put a finger on it.

You want to put your finger on his chin. Then, more than a finger.

You shake these thoughts off and that subconscious movement startles your friend.

You look apologetically at her, and for some reason no one else can decipher, look at him too, except he isn’t on his seat.

He’s gone. You’ve lost him. He’s gone again. You’ve lost him again. The rush from the train is back. The tide of regret rising like bile inside you and the movie is drenched and out of focus in the world of your tear-filled glasses.

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Dimmed.

“What moves you?” you ask

Looking at me in a crowded room

As the crowd presses with its eyes

On the new victim of your unwanted curiosity.

But I will know that later.

 

That evening of dimmed lights and glasses half full,

I have nothing to say.

I know your gaze anchored to my unseeing eyes

Is a game you have played and mastered;

But a game that matters only to you

A personal victory that does not scratch the surface of another soul

Yet here I am writing about it.

Let me explain this.

You asked a question,

And I will answer it because the question

Intrigues me.

Let’s not presume it’s you.

 

You don’t know how far back

I have to scroll my photo stream

To find a picture of myself that I clicked

That I may like.

That show my eyes without the baggage

Of nights I lay trying to court sleep

He, like everything I desire, rejects me gently.

A picture of a friend pulling me close

To share the moment.

Of family that does not hand me the camera

To capture them, ever so complete without me.

Of any trace of my existence.

 

Further back, when a boy asked me

If I could honour him with my love

I refused to believe that my love is honourable.

No love that has rolls of fat

No love that has broken teeth

No love with pimples is honourable.

I shall get my share of loneliness

That my loud faults warrant.

Because anything good in me

Is swallowed by my lard.

 

A little before that, not long ago.

A woman whose womb I come from

Looked me in the eye and said,

I cannot love you anymore.

And she cut the umbilical cord.

She was free.

I was happy for her.

She was free

Of being tied to a millstone of disease

Of shame, of questions and worry.

She climbs mountains now,

Watches birds, flies with them.

The farther she goes away,

The closer my demons breathe.

 

Before that.

A school bell rang and a gang of girls

With quieter laughs and thinner knees

Sat away from me.

When I opened my lunch to share with them,

They inched away.

I’ll have all of my lunch myself.

Yet I felt hungrier.

 

What moves me?

I don’t move.

Chaos.

I’d suggest you read this before you read ahead, and then continue with this post.


It’s the same spot. I’m waiting for you to come into the room so I may ask you to switch off the light.

The summer is leaving soon. I know it because I see clouds where I could see the Scorpio constellation, and the paper dial we bought is lying next to the bed under our Kindles, my watch, your pen, my wires and our empty mugs.

I’m starting to sweat a little, so I add “put on the AC” to my “list of things to ask you to do before you slip into bed.” Another uneventful day at our jobs and another night of mismatched dinner timings, reconciled only at TV – we support the same cricket teams, but the enthusiasm has drained off a while ago. Now it is just the prelude to going to sleep, and catching up on each other’s day. The term ‘defamiliarisation’ comes to mind. Schlovsky’s essay was right, but we did manage to look past the silhouette into the details and extract the art out of the algebrisation. What a rubbish thought to think, I scold myself – there is nothing romantic about being asked by your partner for a few years about plans for the weekend. The answer was for once not “working this Saturday”. We’re too old for double-takes.

You’re here. The t-shirt has come off and I’d like you to throw it on to bed so I may wear it. We haven’t found out whose t-shirt it is. It’s a Calvin-Hobbes one so it could be anyone’s, even my father’s. I ask you to get the lights and AC, but you take a second to register what I’m saying. Work has a way of bogging your thoughts – I give them the space they require before you slip into bed. After which I am territorial.

But not yet. Have I forgotten to post the letter to the society? Nope. I have – wait, there’s a possibility that the electricity bill wasn’t paid on time. An unnecessary itch begins in my mind. You haven’t been at the door for more than a few seconds longer than usual and my mind has found its way to the archives of my insecurities. Is it work? Is it Ashwini? It’s Ashwini, isn’t it? She has called me thrice accidentally this week. I have always appreciated how she’s family to you – to us. But never have I seen you hesitate so much (it’s almost a minute that you’ve been looking around the room now) and never has she called me without any purpose. I need to stop thinking this way so I give you a smile and shift infinitesimally to the right of the bed, so your left is wider and you please, please get into bed.

You’re walking. What a relief. Before you settle into bed you open the window to let the wet air in. I cannot sleep any more. I need to know. I wish I had asked sooner than you had answered.

“How long has it been?”

I’m too scared to answer. I raise my eyebrows.

“Since we moved in.”

You want to ask me to move out. You’ve always wanted to move to a new city and have the family and I’ve never let you speak about this so you have spoken to Ashwini and you’re seeing yourself with her. Hold fort Ammu, hold fort it could be about a new wash of paint.

“4 years.”

“Hmm.”

I hate your fucking ‘hmm’s. They fuck with my brain. I shrink into the bed-sheet and I want to end this. You are now in bed. You want to soften the blow so you put your arm around me. Don’t. Be reckless. It’ll hurt less.

“Why’re you crying? What happened?”

The table lamp is back on.

The orange is seeping through your hair and I want to touch it but you seem so distant and not mine that I don’t. I also cannot see very clearly because there are hot tears in my eyes and I need some self-control. I shake my head.

“Was it work? Did Taufiq say something again?”

No no no. It’s what you aren’t saying.

Your hands are on my face and so are your lips. I struggle to break away. But you’re holding me firmly. Why are you doing this?

“What is it? It’ll be okay, I know it will be okay, you know it will pass. Problems don’t last.” You’re whispering in your this-is-not-what-I-really-mean voice. Fuck fuck fuck.

I calm down. I have to. You will drag this to tomorrow if not now. I cannot survive this. Do I have a suitcase?

Your lips are on my forehead now. You’re talking. I catch one word in the utter chaos of my thoughts.

“… Ashwini…”

I did not know I would hiccup.

Your eyebrows are knitted together. You were saying something and now you have been interrupted by my unnecessary sobbing which you are sick of for 4 years already.

“So you know?”

I nod.

“Let me say it?”

I squeeze my eyes shut. Will this go away?

“She’s been sitting on my head for this but I told her I did want to tell you already. She must have tried calling you.” I nod.

“So you know?”

“Say it.”

The defeat in my voice piques your attention. Your fingers are fidgety against my back.

“I’m sorry I did this without you knowing. But I checked with Taufiq, and you do have a holiday on Friday. The registrar will be available at 7 pm. Is that okay? I know you’re mad. Fuck you’re mad. I don’t want any change but this could save us taxes and getting the Mahim place. The fridge looks bigger here and I can’t stop thinking of the windows – come on you said you wanted a balcony.”

“Registrar?”

“The chairman said they’d prefer married couples. I told them of our situation but I really want to see our baby grow in that place – it has a park! Where do you find parks in Mumbai anymore?”

“Baby?”

“You said you wanted to have one before you’re 30? You’re 28. We need to work on it now.”

The bite on the shoulder was tautology in action. There is a lot of confusion on both our faces.

“I can cancel the registrar’s appointment. Ashwini’s idea. He works at her office and they usually take 6 months but she speeded the process up.”

Oh sweet panic in your voice. Ashwini, I love your dear soul, and I owe you lunch for a year.

“I’ll talk to them again.”

I raise my eyebrows, noticing the number of times you’re blinking now. Nervous blinking.

“The chairperson and all? Ridiculous rules about families. We’re in 2018 for goodness’ sake.”

I’ll wait for your argument with yourself to stop. Your eyes need kissing. The puzzled silence hangs in there, an imp dancing on your nose.

“Say something, woman.”

My lips have better things to do.

You’re breathless now.

“Is that a yes?”

“Yes, cancel the appointment. Yes, speak to the chairman about those ridiculous rules about families. Yes, baby.”

Geez, boy, stop those tears. I can see them, as hard as you hope that I don’t.


There it is. Another post about guys making their proposal for marriage to a girl a whole new experience while standing atop a rock in the middle of nowhere or in a cave in South America or on a boat in the canals of Venice.

And a photographer, capturing the exchange.

Two people who have probably been together sharing moments intense enough to make them wish that the bond lasts for as long as they have their wits about them need to express to each other in elaborate ways that they want to legitimise what they have for the sake of grandeur and in this moment that they share, have a third person with a camera, doing their own thing.

It’s unsettling. The urge to make everything an act that anyone else tries to outdo, and importantly, rubbish the intimacy of the moment (which you probably had coming) by adding a third into it – it’ll take a while for the why of this to sink in. If it does, at all.

This blog was how I imagine such an exchange happening.

 

Window berth.

Perhaps the strangest, perhaps not. But it started with me staring at his hand for a second too long. My fingertips found the thin skin between his thumb and index and I ran the pad of my thumb over it. He hardly looked down. Until the edge of my nail found a spot. There, I dug it in. Imagine a normal 20-something couple sitting in a train by the window wordlessly looking outside, and my concentration on the crescent crater I created in his armour. The green sped by. The grey water and steel bridges rankled. His thoughts grew heavier – a shield he builds with every time my fingers deliberately brush against his skin, his scars, his forehead. He does not need this.
I did.
I needed to feel human, perhaps female, again. And I wanted to break that unspoken barrier we had built between us as children. I did not feel like a child anymore. Anything but. I felt like a woman. Sitting there, the sideways rattle of the train, rain outside, green in our skin and the poison of existence clouding my mind.
But I knew what I was doing, and so did he. It was a side berth. We could have sat opposite each other. He could have pushed me away as I sat with my head against his chest. I wanted to be wrapped. That moment I did. To not give to him anymore of me, but to greedily, ravenously take every ounce of strength in his mind and arms. He did not hold me how I wanted to be held. Perhaps if there were anybody else in his place I would have done the same and the imposter would have held me the way I wished to be held.
Instead he had only bent his knee against mine, so that mine doesn’t slip off the berth.
The scenaries changed. The winds changed. We were over a river. We thought of the same river, where a boat capsized and a half-English, half-Malayali girl drowned. My crescent was on his hand, and so were my fingers. I couldn’t take my eyes off the growing beauty of what was mine on his. My mark. My doing. My territory. My skin on his. The gentle bump has my breath in its fist. The fist where it was was loosely clenched.
Then the gentle breath. Fingers silently pushing my hair aside.
And the breath again. Some I felt as his stomach grew and shrank against my waist, some as it moved the hair tucked as an amateur would, behind my ear. We were still except for my finger on his hand, and his breath.
I felt guilty. This was not enthusiasm, it was consent. He should want this too; this was just an exasperated response to stimuli.
I retracted my finger.
His fingers put it back.
We stared out of the window again.

Fold in

Find someone you want to fold yourself in and
stay there. For the moment for the day for whatever
seems like eternity to you. Who needs a reason when
you can hear your heartbeat every second calm
running calm sprinting inaudible there again and
sprinting? Find arms that don’t love you but don’t
leave you because habit is greater than illusions of
love and a broken habit is easier to mend than a
broken hope. Find anyone someone any fucking one
who breaks you from the first moment especially if you
love putting yourself back together. Turn off the lights.

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