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.

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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.

Ver 3.0

It simply stated “Ceasefire ceased, member states stationed at summit summoned home.” Within 24 hours all cable connections and internet services were shut down and 91.9 FM employees were all fired. Just like that. I suppose All India Radio, too, but who listens to them?
Most refugee camps were vacated overnight, leaving empty tents in government sanctioned settlements. Newspapers were much in demand and some printing presses were even attacked and vandalized. Printing equipment selling like conflict diamonds on the black market.
One day all the ATM’s stopped dispensing cash and the banks closed their doors for the final time. It wasn’t long before currency ran out and people started exchanging goods.
About this time, there was a rumor going around about hordes of people immigrating across state lines as most of the security at these posts had returned home. Taking this as a sign, I packed my Wildcraft backpack and exchanged my Greg Bennett acoustic guitar for a full tank of fuel. I couldn’t know for certain how far it would get me, but I figured doing something was better than staying at home.
She had said, “Come as soon as you can,” and up until now it wasn’t possible because of all the visa issues that popped up. Now, visas were not needed and she was the first person on my mind. This would certainly be a surprise.
The fuel was used up by the time I entered Maharashtra, so I exchanged the bike for a horse and continued. The horse gave out on the outskirts of Gujarat and I hitch-hiked till I got to the Pakistan border. I was stuck there for a few days because neither of the armies were willing to leave the border for even a moment. Big surprise! Finally I convinced them I was going on a pilgrimage and they had to let me pass.
On through Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan I hitched rides on trucks, cycles, motorbikes, cars, horses, and for a short stint even traveled with a group of gypsies heading nowhere in particular.
By the time I reached the Russian border, I only had the clothes I was wearing and rubber sandals a group of Thai businessmen gave me when they saw me barefoot. They were actually doing a round the world trip when war had been declared. Of course, it being the start of winter already I had to get warmer clothes and some snow boots. I took a job in a
stable and spent a month milking goats and making cheese until the owner paid me with some worn out boots and wooden skis.
Skiing across Russia wasn’t the most fun thing to do with the majority of towns all boarded up or destroyed by RPGs. It took me around two months to reach Raate on the Finnish border. The officials there were very impressed that I had made it that far and as a gesture of goodwill gave me a sled with four huskies. I promised to mail them a few bottles of Prosecco if I made it to my destination, but they said to think nothing of it, ’cause they might not be around to receive it anyway.
A week later I was walking along the Oulujoki on the way to my lover’s place. The locals were kind enough to guide me even though my Finnish hadn’t gotten past “Noni.” Walking up the flight of stairs to her door, I couldn’t help but smile at my adventures. Before I could knock, it swung open…

way

Libraries

As the sunlight streamed through the open window, he remembered the sheen in her hair. The echo of a falling hammer from the building coming up a street away brought back memories of his heartbeat every time she was near him. Close enough for secrets, things he knew she never told anyone. It made him feel special. Voices filtered into his sparse room, bringing back feelings he thought he had buried under other faces. There was no escaping the fact that she had left a lasting impression on him. Was it her beauty, he thought. She was good looking in all the ways most men found pleasing. Their eyes pausing a few moments more than necessary when they passed her in the street. He had gotten used to those glances, because she barely noticed. She had that gullibility about her. She didn’t feel she was pretty enough. And when he questioned her about it, she shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t give it that much thought. It’s just something you have or don’t.” She was right. Confidence in one’s looks is more about one’s own estimation of self, rather than what we typically believe comes from other people’s praises. But it wasn’t her looks, there was something more. Could it have been her intelligence? She read a lot more than him, could quote poetry from the classics, like she had written them, and had managed to snag a Ph.D in psychology in her late twenties. It was probably their polar opposite personalities that sparked an interest in each other. That first meeting in the second-hand bookstore would have sounded unbelievable to his own ears if he hadn’t mustered up the courage to ask her for help in finding a particular book he was looking for. John Fowles’ Magus was a title most people hadn’t even heard of, but she had. She told him she had read it and found it interesting. She mentioned that the plot appealed to her since it dealt with psychology and offered to lend him the book if he wanted. That was how they met a few days later on their first date. From the start, it was her conversation that kept him interested in being with her. She was witty and funny and serious and ancient all at the same time. He wondered what went on in her head when she wasn’t spouting some theory she believed in or an experience that had taught her something about people. The mind has an uncanny way of latching onto things it finds confusing and incomprehensible. That was how he felt around her, his brain always in a constant state of flux to keep up with the information she was feeding it. One day, a few weeks after their “Magus meeting,” they were walking in a park in the cool evening. He remembered the light breeze blowing her soft hair onto her face and her efforts to try and keep it tucked behind her ears. She had grown awfully quiet and he wasn’t sure if he was meant to start a conversation or interrupt her thoughts. She blurted out that she had feelings for him, which caught him off guard, because they hadn’t spoken about anything to do with romance or a relationship. It was like a casual camaraderie between friends that he assumed she preferred. He responded that he felt something for her, too, but he wasn’t sure what it was. She tried to change the topic and commented on how green and beautiful the park was. He wanted to tell her that he thought she was beautiful, but decided it was not the right time. They continued walking till the sun went down and before they parted to go their separate ways, she told him that she had got this invitation to lecture at a college, a continent away. It was a prestigious college that would add to her credentials and give her a chance to do research in her branch of study. As she said this and waited for him to respond, there was a storm brewing inside him. He looked at her and the street and he felt this queasy feeling rising in his throat like he was going to be sick. He knew he wanted her to stay, but he also knew a part of him wanted her to be free. To be the way he liked her to be, a ball of energy and lightheartedness that had kept him entranced all these weeks. He held out his hand and she took it. They had never so much as hugged each other since they had met, so this was something new. He felt her warm hand, and as he looked up, he saw the warmth in her eyes. He did not want to spoil it, or make it complicated for her to decide, so he said, “It sounds like a good job.” Their hands parted and she said that it would be a good move, all though she would miss a lot of things. He joked that maybe she wouldn’t like the job and would have to come back. She laughed and said “maybe.” He bid her farewell as she got a taxi and they promised to keep in touch. That was a month ago, and he had tried putting her at the back of his mind, so he wouldn’t think of her. His cellphone rings and he doesn’t hear it lost in his thoughts. It continues ringing and brings him back from his reverie. “Unknown caller,” he takes it anyway. As soon as he hears the “hello,” he knows it’s her. He almost bursts into laughter, but manages to reply with a “hi.” She says “I didn’t like it, so I’m back. Would you help me find a book?”