Gifts 

1

1992

It was vacation time. You would be leaving for a month or so and I wanted to say goodbye properly. I knew your friend. She was my friend too. While everyone was waiting for the bus to take them to Mettupalayam, I suppose, you met me with our friend. I had this colorful, sparkly pencil that one of my Aunt’s had sent me. It was my favorite. It was brand new. I gave it to you. Hoping you would understand. I was glad you had something of mine.

2

1998

We may have exchanged letters. I don’t remember. You were three years my senior. I noticed you watching whenever I played with the school team in the girls’ basketball court. Until then, I had not bothered using a signature. I created a signature which when inverted revealed the first letter of your name. Drew it on my house school t-shirt and wherever else I could. You sent me a handkerchief once. Washed and scented. Sigh. Put our sign on that too. There was always a buzz when you were around.

3

2000

You said you were being called to your hometown. You did not know if you would be able to visit again. You were sitting on a swing, after the sun had set, and we were talking about life. I asked you if I could kiss your hand… hihi. You laughed and said no. I said, “Your feet then?” You laughed more and said no. Your elder sister came out of your home, about 50 meters away and called you in for dinner. I think we both know why she actually called you. Anyway, I was glad I asked. At least you knew how I felt.

4

2001

You wanted to go to the market for shopping. I said I’ll come along. I followed most of the time, since I never went shopping for groceries myself back then. On the way back to the school, you reached out and took my hand in yours. The road was empty, no one was around to see, but I was scared. You had some grip. I just gave in. When we reached the school gate you let go, so none of the kids playing would see. Firm hold. You made me feel secure.

5

2002

I was going to do a course in another part of Bangalore. 6 months, and I probably wouldn’t see you until the course was over. I told you I had some extra pocket money and I wanted to buy you something. My budget was only Rs. 200, so we went to one of those makeshift wedding halls where stuff is on sale. We decided the sarong would be a good choice, so you could use it when you visited a beach. It was below 200, I think 150, so I agreed. We walked back to your hostel and I went home.

6

2004

You talked as though it was your bike. Yes, you did put in some cash when I was buying it, but I returned it. It was my bike. We were going to visit my parents in Rayasandra as we made it a point to do so whenever we could. Since they were so against us even talking at one point. It was the monsoon and this being the outskirts, the road was just a slippery, slushy mess. That didn’t deter us. As expected, a kilometer or so from our college, the bike got stuck in the slush. We both had to get off and push it. We laughed so much. We were both filthy when we reached my parent’s house.

7

2006

You told me you had a crush on my elder brother – if only I had a rupee for every time I heard that – and wanted to meet him. So I asked him first if he was game and then told his girlfriend also that my friend wanted to meet him. I didn’t give all the details. Hihi. We met at Popsies for lunch, you sat across from me and my brother. It was clear you had run out of words, and well, my brother is no better. So I intervened and tried to make conversation. It was awkward, but I did it for you.

8

2007

Your parents were visiting, but since our parents knew each other, they didn’t mind us hanging out. I took you to see my brother’s band perform at Pebble. It was always dangerous riding with you sitting behind me. You would playfully hit me and tug at my helmet. Like you couldn’t sit still or something. I could tell you didn’t go to loud concerts like that very often. You were very tense and attentive. Just stealing glances back at me during the songs. During one of the songs, which I told you I liked, you took my hand and placed it on your heart. My heart stopped.

9

2008

We hadn’t been dating that long and we decided to ride to Nandi Hills one day. The usual devotee’s, tourists and monkeys. While we were relaxing at the food stalls near the peak, a lady wearing a blue saree walked by, and I exclaimed “She’s beautiful.” Haha. You lost it and walked away in a huff. I gathered our things and started running after you, apologizing, but you did not stop. Down the stairs, me chasing you, people staring, you not even looking back and getting further away. By the time I caught you I was in tears. I begged you to listen and said I was sorry. And we sat on the mountainside, out in the open, me trying to hide from onlookers, and you consoling me like you were the one at fault.

10

2010

Plumeria. I told you it was my favorite flower while we were chatting at work and you said you had seen it. And I tried to explain how lovely it smelt and it seemed like you were not convinced. That night while I was thinking, as usual, I decided to get some champa’s for you. The next day was a Saturday, so we could go late into work, but I had to get the flowers. They don’t sell them and this is a real crime, but I think the milk from the flower is poisonous too, so maybe that’s why. I rode to NGV and hunted around the park until I had a small packet of plumerias. God, it felt like I had collected rubies and gemstones. I knew this would do the trick and you’d fall for me. Haha. Got into the office, ran to your desk and placed the packet in front of you. “For you.”

11

2014

Mum was full of praises for you whenever I visited her in Attibele. So I thought I needed to get to know you, if for nothing else, just to see if what mum said was true. I asked you after we had been chatting for some time if you would let me take some portrait pictures of you. You agreed and we set a date. We decided to do it at the school where you taught on Sunday, so there wouldn’t be anyone to disturb. I had given you the responsibility of choosing what you’d wear. You were the first of my photo subjects that actually wanted to try two different looks. You were as enthusiastic to pose as I was to try different angles and expressions. The red dress was the best and mum was right.

12

2015

I don’t know who gave you your driving license, but I would argue its authenticity. I could never relax if you were driving and I was in the passenger seat. Speed bumps, potholes, you didn’t care, the car had to take all the abuse. I think after some time you stopped watching the road too, since you knew I would be keeping an eye out for everything. Following Google maps while returning from Hampi was a disaster. We landed up on some unpaved road used by truckers in the middle of nowhere. I was afraid the car would break down with all the scrapes and bangs it endured. There were moments when it felt like we were in a rally race, cause all we could see was dust covering the windscreen and all around these huge trucks. We made it out alive, and you patted my hand saying “Don’t worry, na.”

13

2017

The flight was supposed to land at 4:30. I had taken the bus from town but got off at the wrong stop. It was like some terminal only for cargo, not passengers. I was getting frantic since I didn’t wanna miss your flight and asked the security guy to help, since I had no data usage on my phone. I had no idea which terminal you would be landing at. After pacing up and down for a while, a guy called me over and showed me the terminal listing on his phone. I got the next bus and reached almost exactly when the plane landed. I searched through all the faces for yours, but nada. So I called you and you said you were trying to connect to the airport wifi. I told you I was waiting at the gate. There was this indescribable electricity in the air. Mothers reuniting with their kids, friends having a group hug. It was as close to a scene from a Romcom I have ever witnessed. It was uncomfortable standing there as people pushed their trollies by and rushed to go wherever they were going. I began to worry, as I often do, and then you appeared. Everything went quiet.

Advertisements

Another…

Do you ever wish sometimes you could just gather the whole world into your arms and comfort all the heartaches and mend all the broken relationships? If only it were that easy, right? 

Right? 

Wrong. A human life is both peculiar and predictable. Some experiences have such profound impressions on our psyche that it is almost impossible to ever fully recover from them. 

A loved one’s passing, an accident that destroyed something, an unexpected betrayal or letdown that came out of nowhere and uprooted our naïve foundations. Whether or not we are prepared for our disappointments they are very much part of the fabric of life. This is because we live in a society where the self is always in loggerheads with the whole. In order to survive and thrive we must learn to be selfish of what we can lay claim on and everything’s value is equally proportionate to what we profit from it. If it’s a job, we are looking for remuneration. If it’s art, we are looking for approval and patrons. If it’s a partner, we are looking at how well they fit into our dreams and ambitions.  

There is very little room left in our lives for being open to the unknown. For trying to see the world from the perspective of the terminally ill and downtrodden, or the crippled and mentally insane. Those are not the only types of people we should be concerned about, but they make up a good chunk of the populace that are pushed to the sidelines just because their realities are different.  

How many of us would be willing to give up any of the luxuries of our modern lives for the simplicity of living in a makeshift tent and sweeping the roads for a daily wage. I can already see the outrage on your face. You probably want to demand, “Why should I? I have earned and worked hard for everything I have. I deserve to indulge in the good things and benefit from my carefully planned out life.” Yes, of course you do. Nobody is questioning that.  

What you fail to question is why your mind is satisfied with following in the footsteps of your forefathers and sticking to the same routine of providing for you sustenance until you die.  

Why your idea of happiness has to do with owning property and gathering as much wealth as possible that is insured with enough left over for your retirement. 

Why you only focus on what you can gain, instead of turning your efforts on what your real talents could be used for. 

Above all, why do you limit your mind to the tried and tested method of being accepted, instead of following your own heart, your own dreams, and your own principles on a path that will enrich the years you spend on this planet.  

You might miss out on all the fun your friends are having, you might have to struggle to support yourself and actualize your plans, you might spend years adjusting your approach to achieve what you dream of, but can you imagine the elation when you finally fulfill what you set out to accomplish? There could be nothing better.  

Our experiences are what make us who we are. You can learn all you can in school or college, but it is life that really shapes what we become. Psychology might explain why we behave and react in certain ways, but each of us is unique in the effect similar emotions have on us. We hardly have much say in what kind of people we turn out to be, because we are not in control of any of the variables. Some might end up with explosives strapped to their chests, while some are abducted before they could even utter their first word and sold like cattle. Neither of them asked for what befell them, and still life goes on as it does.  

Another child is dumped at the steps of an orphanage, another landslide wipes away victims in their sleep, another drone flattens a hospital, another… another… another… 

If you could just gather the whole world into your arms and pause everything for just a few seconds, wouldn’t that be swell? Yes, alas, your arms are not that big.

Frisbee

“What’s the color of love?” she asked. I replied, “Violet, intense and unquestioning.” She snorted a laugh and joked, “I always thought it was red. You know, red hearts and balloons and Valentine’s Day… All that (in a french accent) passion.”
We had been sitting on a bench facing a little lake in the park, and the sun was almost setting.
As the rays of sunlight danced over the water, I looked at her. She was looking to the side and I noticed her swallow as if she was nervous or afraid. I turned away and asked, “Why did you agree to come?” She was silent for a while and then, very carefully, as if her life depended on it, “Because… I… needed… to.”
We heard a dog barking somewhere behind us and turned together. A man was throwing a Frisbee for his dog to catch. It brought a smile to my face and she turned and laughed. The dog leapt into the air and caught the Frisbee mid-air. She clapped and cheered.
“You are still the same,” I said. “No, I am someone else.” She laughed.
“I wanted to see you,” I said, “because I didn’t know anyone else in town.” “Yeah, how are you finding it?” she questioned. “I was surprised when I read your email about coming here for a week. Do you have some work here?”
“No,” I said. “I came here because of you.” She looked at me for a second, and her eyes narrowed a bit before she turned her gaze to the dog again.
“How is she?” she whispered.
I thought about it for a while and answered, “I don’t know. We’re not together.”
Silence. Some birds settling in for the night. Kids running to their parents. The sound of the water lapping against the muddy banks.
“I am sorry,” she said. “I hope you’re all right.” “Yes,” I said. “I realized she did not want to be with me.”
“What are you going to do now?” she continued. “I don’t know,” I replied. “I just wanted a change of scenery and something I could be certain of…”
“Me?” she asked. I looked at her and tried not to show my embarrassment.
“You were the one who left, remember?” she added.
“I know,” I offered. “I know I hurt you. I didn’t come here to remind you of what happened.”
“Okay, what did you come here for?” she asked.
The sun had dropped below the treeline now and it was getting darker. I looked at her, but her face did not give anything away.
“I came here…” It was difficult to say it, but I tried… “To ask if you will take me back.”
I heard a soft gasp from her, but nothing else. She squirmed and for a second it looked like she would get up and leave. But she stopped and leant forward, her face buried in her hands. I decided not to comfort her and make things worse. I waited as the crickets began singing to each other. The park was quieter now. They were turning on the lamps along the paved paths.
She sat back and reached for my hand. I curled my fingers around her warm fingers. There were tears in her eyes and that smile… The one that was hard to forget.
“When you went away,” she started, “you took a piece of me that I thought I would never get back. I thought I would never love anyone that much again. As the days passed and I didn’t get any replies to my texts or calls, I realized you had moved on. I found out from a mutual friend that you had moved in with someone. It took a while for me to accept that. It was hard to be replaced with another so quickly.”
“I’m sorry,” I offered.
She shook her head and continued, “It took me a while but I realized that we thought of love differently.” She chuckled. “Like you said, violet. Intense and unquestioning. Something unattainable and mysterious. To me, it can’t be described by a color. It is all the colors and more. It is the complete, unashamed, savage, filthy and uncompromising truth, as well as the soothing, vulnerable, childish and trusting belief in someone. I did not stop loving you, because love isn’t that finite, but I stopped believing in your love for me.”
It was my turn to keep silent now. She was right. So eloquently put. I wish I could have written it down.
“I can’t push you away. Nor can I throw away my love again,” she concluded. “Let’s go grab something to eat. I know a great place for rolls just around the block.”
I followed her. This woman I had all to myself once. And as the last rays of daylight vanished with the night, so did my hopes of ever being hers again.

On the Wings of Halcyon

Acceptance of all things – that is peace. Whether it be tragedy that takes lives or failure in one’s personal undertakings, the only way to rid oneself of fear, anxiety or disappointment is to submit to whatever happens. It wouldn’t be too far from the truth to conclude that finding peace is a selfish pursuit. A certain lack of empathy is required to push all concern for others aside and continue meditating to achieve enlightenment.

Even then a mind that is focused on peace is preferable over one that reacts to every situation randomly. The latter is volatile and prone to cause damage or harm, while the former is always controlled and seeks to diffuse any kind of danger. To put it simply, those who choose peace over their primal inclinations are predictable and contradict the most basic laws of nature: Survival. There is a sense of self-preservation in the way their goal is pursued, but the motive is more universal than subjective.

The belief that everything happens for a reason and that even the smallest grain plays a vital role in the sum of all things is a pretty radical concept. Let alone trying to bring such trivial occurrences into perspective, there is not enough time or resources to catalog every aspect of our existence. Yet without grasping this most irrational of theories, there is no way of justifying the necessity of peace.

Life is a beautiful mystery. Faith, love, generosity and integrity are admirable qualities, but they are not separable from hate, deceit, violence and depravity. They exist side by side and counterbalance every action and reaction around us. Peace traverses these minefields and is a most skillful of arts. Its vulnerability isn’t chaos, but morality. For where there is peace, there can be no doubt.

“Vimal, 33, Black Belt. Tell me a joke. Quick”

People say the initial stages of a relationship are the best, ’cause that’s when you learn things about your partner and become familiar with their quirks and habits. I would rather skip the whole “getting to know” section and get to the “you’re quiet, let me not disturb you” part. I feel preliminary introductions are really tiresome and in some cases a waste of time (when the relationship goes nowhere).

I was thinking the other day that people should start wearing stickers on their foreheads to describe things about themselves. You know, just so people don’t get into unnecessary awkward situations in public. So, we could have forehead stickers that state our sexual orientation since that is something many of us are curious about. We could have stickers to show if we’re married or looking. Even stickers to show our moods, like “unintentionally stressed out because of abrupt ending on favorite serial,” or “might be interested in hearing knock knock jokes,” or the random “looking for signs of life.” We could get so creative.

The intent would be to make communicating with people easier. Like those mood rings which change color according to body heat. Instead, here the message would be clear to anyone who can read. If you’re somewhere where people can’t read you’re on your own. I think my sticker would state “not present” most of the time. I’m like that, see, just floating on through life on my invisible cloud of self-satisfaction, oblivious of the world falling apart around me. It’s not a crime, so leave me alone.

So many of our problems could be avoided if we did this.

Coming back to modern relationships. If such a thing even exists, ’cause most of us can very well be on our own even when we’re “with” someone. By the way, I’m using double quotes with the hopes that you make the air quotes gesture when reading those words. Just for effect. Also, pause for an instant before reading the word within quotes, you’ll be amazed. How does one retain a positive attitude toward finding “Mr. Right” or “Mrs. Wrong,” which ever floats your boat, when the definitions of right and wrong have been turned on their head? We have men who want to be in “open” relationships, so they don’t feel trapped or emasculated. haha. We have women who are looking for men who dress well, work out, constantly strive to improve themselves, have dreams they wanna achieve, are kind, love kids, are funny, are good-looking, are chivalrous, are sensitive, etc. See, both sides have high expectations, which neither party can live up to. And that’s just the start.

So almost any eligible partner would have something that doesn’t rub you the right way and unlike a half century ago when couples just stuck it out for the sake of the kids and other “parampara” reasons, these days we just sign a piece of paper and find someone else to torture. Okay, I don’t mean torture literally in the physical sense. I mean, psychologically and emotionally. Now, I am not going to try and pontificate on the state of today’s generation or dish out advice on how we might “be the change we wanna see.” That’s a fool’s errand. What I’d like you to take from this is to realize the playing field has changed. Relationships are no longer the focus of human interaction, self-improvement and social development are. We don’t just want true love. No, we want the penthouse, the company car, the separate work cell phone, the managerial post, the club membership, the frequent flier privilege card… the list goes on and on, and on. Our focus has shifted from the sensual to the superficial. We know in our hearts that we would be more satisfied without the endless pursuits society has attuned us to, but the alternative seems too “crazy” to comprehend. We would rather play the cards we have been dealt than take the risk of being different.

It’s not easy, there is a lot we’d have to give up, and we might not get anything in return. Except maybe ourselves. Presently, my sticker would read “soul-searching,” what about yours?