Is it too late?

Every time I look at you,

you back come to me in different hues

that smile once inviting

holding me back another;

sometimes waiting to part into speech,

or break into a warm laughter…

those gentle eyes waiting to blink, as if.

And it’s all I can do to hold back;

stop my fingers from running on your lips,

part them and prod your mouth,

your teeth, then your tongue, with mine.

How much longer

before I touch your skin;

taste that salt of your sweat?

How much longer for this pain

to satiate, in love-making pleasures?

How much longer before you forgive

the pain I caused?

Can I let you know I am falling in love again?

Or is it years too late?

The permanence

They don’t hold back

When they comfort me;

I am grateful.

But I don’t let them know

That’s not the comforting I need.

They prepare me

For the inevitability of death,

When it’s the fear of my inadequacy in life

That’s consuming me.

Death is but a mere calm

After the storm.

But I won’t let them know.

Dry Umbrellas…Wet, Wet Rains! (Edited)

It rained again. Yesterday. I could have walked out into it. But I had her with me. And she was tired. Having spun around the city in less than 30 hours. No, the city is not that big either. Just spread out. Wide roads, huge circles. So it takes time, and energy, to reach the gate from inside an open space, say a park. So we are in the car, when I would have preferred the storm on my face, while waiting for the bus. But I had let it out loud (enough for her to hear) that I had no umbrella. And she was obliged to be the Samaritan. And it was pouring heavy outside. I wish I knew when to open my mouth.

I invite her home, even when I don’t need her around. It’s what I brought on me—when I spoke my angst before a stranger. So I’ll hang on to the consequences.

But all the while, I am aching to be out there as the winds scream against the car we are zooming in. The wipers are working overtime. No, it still might give in. Like that last time I was out in one such rain. Mine snapped. I hadn’t complained. I couldn’t. I could have chosen to stay at home, not to be a part of what was coming down. This once too reminds me of that day in the rain, that other once in the rain. I was yet again with someone I hadn’t wanted to be with then, asking her politely to run into the car to avoid the rain when all I wanted to do was shove her in, zip back home and drop her off to where she needed to be and simply savour what was happening around—for me.

The rain.

It happens for me. The ballet of the skies, I call it. Dimmed lights, and an entire chorus unfastening. For me to relish. Heavenly drop after drop. All for me. In me…in unison to all of that in me. Taking me just the way I want to be taken in… giving me as much as I crave for. I could drench in it, body and soul and still walk out untouched, unscathed. Such pleasure in remaining me despite what it may supposedly do to me. Like love they speak of, before the sub-jurisdictions of territories fall into it…before the rights and wrongs are matched…before the strings finally take on the relationship, well, that is what getting wet in the rain is like for me. That larger-than-life proponent to my life. I give in. Completely. Willingly. Unspeakable calm, inside me! Beautiful, languid. Rain.

We have reached home, mine.

“Coffee?”

“No, I like tea. With a spoon of milk in it. I can show you how we make it.”

“Yeah why not. Sure.”

Coffee arrives, as does her tea. She hasn’t ventured to make it after that line. I haven’t asked more of her. We sip on our drinks as on our conversations. There is not much we talk. We hardly know each other. But she had offered me a drop. And I was expected to oblige. The electricity has bushed. It’s the rains, they would say—the thunder and lightning, the storm. It would snap a tree on a pole, that is what they always say. Rain, it’s a pain to them. How, I wonder!

We are barely able to find each other’s eyes to look back into while talking. But we talk. Inane things. Those that show up in the papers, Deccan Chronicle, The Hindu…“No Times in the city yet.”

“No, though it might—in most cases. But keeping up with their policies might take a while.”

“Okay.”

I can hear the rain lash. Waiting for me to join in. I can’t yet, I say. She would have to leave first.

But the colours it has left around with its divine entrance have taken me in, like it always does. Somber, pale and simply grey—like most claim to hate in unison. I love that part. The grey, with no one to please. Just the reflection of the clouds, downwards, right down to the earth. Leaving behind shadows of the grey, grey skies…radiating its ambiance out into the earth. On the pristine greens, and the browns of the trees. I want more.

She would leave soon. And I am going to step out, at least walk into the terrace here. Give in. Simply make love to all that’s coming my way.

The coffee is done, so is her tea. It’s time for her to leave. I can’t wait. She looks exhausted, needs her rest. I let her know. I know she’s been on the move ever since she has landed in town. I wish her luck until the next time we meet. We will, I know.

I remember just in time my duties as a host. I drop her off to her car.

“Thanks. It was nice knowing you, meeting you,” one of us says.

“Yeah, same here,” says the other.

I wave at her car and get back inside the house to tell the girl at home that I am going out.

“Ummm…it’s raining, madam ji,” she says shyly as she hands me a brown umbrella. Makes me want to smile, but give in to her concern. I always do. May forever, too.

There is nowhere to go, other than just to be on my own. With the rain. My stimulant.

It has receded by now, a little.

But I am not going to open my umbrella yet. I want to feel it on my face, soaking into my skin, one drop at a time…dripping down my hair, trickling onto my back. I want to experience that feel of getting wet…of something close to making love.

I like dry umbrellas. I like wet, wet rains.

This blog has been edited. I had first published it here (some many years ago).

A little longer, I’d make this winter stay

This morning,
winter shone
into my rooms,
the mist in its air
drawing crisp lines of
sunlit pastels
of different shades
streaking my floors
with playful dust
that stayed hanging
a little longer
than they always do,
then falling
in a dizzying trip,
yet unhurried
on my sheesham-wood chair,
the freshly changed linen,
and my uncovered skin.

A little longer
did I let it linger,
the golden specks of dust,
and watched them settle
in my heart,
as the memories
of a winter,
that I turned
into a warm reflection
that lasts me forever.

As wet as the rains get

It’s the view I want to wake up to—
the light shades of grey
shying into my floor through the green leaves
that adorn my window sill.

The summer breeze has not left;
for even today the sun rose with vengeance,
and hardly had the walkways gotten crowded
that it grew into a blob of angry red.

But now, my tinted glasses show me a grey world—
not of character, but of colour.
It’s the day of the clouds today;
one that promises a climax just as wet.

The only gust of happiness

 

There’s wonderful beat here playing into my ears,
making my heart thump to its chorus;
a lover’s note still lying on my desk,
my mind debating whether to respond to a slight in it.
And just when the dust was beginning to settle in,
over giving in to the vulnerabilities of love,
a gust of wind caught my eye, flying past my window
through the greens of the tree in sight.
Settling right there doubts over what matters the most;
that nothing brings more joy than the lights in the sky,
and the wistful greys of the floating cool rain clouds
especially when a few miles away
they can still move trees into making me smile.

In love, only long after

I see you—
Sometimes a little,
and then some more—
even when you withdraw
after you barge into my life.

I haven’t fallen in love still,
though it’s a possibility I have
kept for a rainy day;
When all the fun here has drained,
through conversations that have run dry.

Or in moments of loneliness
tinted around memories
of a wood-based fragrance;
then shall I admit to the void
your absence has designed that I loved you.

A sweat-soaked afternoon’s tale

Her arm aloft, she looked searchingly into his eyes, and then in one quick move, she was near him, her right arm groping around his waist as if, even as her left arm went for his right arm. She adjusted her position a little so that it was perfect, perfect enough to engulf him in her arms. This was just how she had hoped to get him, behind her. She was breathing heavy now, and she could feel his breath too, warming the nape of her neck, his sweat mingling into hers where he leaned into her back. His heart was thumping in his chest. She could feel it resonate on her upper back. Everything was going as planned. She moved in a little closer, her back to him completely, and as if on cue, her hips moved to the side (and she could feel him shift slightly too). Now her right leg was next to his, so close…touching right up to his thighs. But just as she moved her left leg closer to his, she suddenly felt the weight of her body. ‘Easy, easy,’ she told herself and held on, for this was just the moment she was waiting for, the one she had been planning for months, waiting, watching…preparing, hoping to be the one who took him, and she couldn’t make a mistake. Not now. And just as she tightened her grip on him, she could feel his breathing quicken in anticipation of what was to come. Then moving with lightning speed, she bent her knees, lifted him off the ground on her back and pulled him over her shoulder, dropping him just ahead of her. He fell with the customary thud echoing the hall, his hands breaking his fall. She then completed the drill with the mock punch, even as he guarded his face.
Another hip-throw-and-punch beautifully executed!
Seven-year-old Ankita Wadhwani waited for her partner to get back up on his feet before they bowed to the reverberating applause of the audience at the Jiu-Jitsu International Annual Day celebrations, and headed back to her position on the carpet laid out for her class.

Review of Khaled Hosseini’s ‘And the Mountains Echoed’

Khaled Hosseini is a master storyteller. He pulls me in every time, all the three times, I have lent myself to his words. Each word simply adds up to the next and I am enchanted, reading on, to find out what mysteries of the human endurance his story will reveal this once. Each character he brings into the picture adds more to the story he is lining up for me. And I am completely entranced. I have nowhere to go but deeper into his words, and I give in willingly.

And The Mountains Echoed held me just as steadfast. Till he entered the Spring of 2003, talking of Idris and Timur, of Roshana and Amra, etc. And then on, I am struggling to stay attentive, lest I seem impolite  to the storyteller. I sense a yawn coming, one that I stifle long before it fills my chest. But I trust the author and know he will join the dots along. He has done it before. Twice. And with a craftsmanship that I envy. Because he knows to line up as many dots and lead it to a conclusion while keeping the climax visible only to himself. The illusionist, wiping away traces of predictability that will give away the plot. A master illusionist, who makes me believe that the end is what I can see logically lining up in my mind and not one that he had devised all along. But I have enjoyed playing along. Khaled Hossieni has built up that trust in me.

So as the story moves from the landscapes of the fictional village of Shadbagh into the streets of and life in Kabul where Abdullah loses his little sister Pari, to the clammy cold of Paris and then ultimately a doleful apartment in San Francisco, I wait for that pattern to show through. For the hope to crackle with life, like only Khaled Hosseini can show how, through dormant human bonds surviving on a trail of guilt, like in The Kite Runner, or those that survive, thanks to that adamant need of the spirit to come shining through, like in A Thousand Splendid Suns.

As the story starts, I have understood that it is the brother and sister that the author hopes to bond with a new lease of emotions, with life itself perhaps. But my wait is slow and tiring, and in the end, the hope, rather faint. And even as I wait for all the dots the author had set to line up together, by around the 380th page, the subject had moved, unknowing to me, from Abdullah to his daughter. And the end shows up like a vague reflection of what the author may have had in mind when he began telling the story.

All along, there is that unmistakable ache for what has become of his country, something I have come to look forward to from the author. And yet, I wonder if this once he could have done away with most of it. But what seems to have lost the plot for me is the number of characters introduced, each of whom—let me not be misunderstood—painted beautifully. So I know who they are and how I need to read them. Abdullah, Pari, Nabi, Nila, Suleiman, Gholam, Adel and his ‘Baba Jan’, Idris, Timur and little Roshana, Markos, Amra…. Each of them strong-willed and complete. But in the end, I am slightly annoyed because I don’t know what to do with them still walking around in my head, following me everywhere I go, waiting for me to release them. And I don’t know how to because I don’t know why they were brought to me in the first place.

And yet Khaled Hosseini sparkles in parts: you feel little Pari’s contentment as she lies with her head on Abdullah’s laps. The brusque cheekiness a 14-year-old Gholam uses to lightly cover his precocious understanding of the life he is born into. The melancholic acceptance of the life 12-year-old Adel discovers as his.

And yet.

But all said and done, I will remain biased about the author. And in spite of And The Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini will remain a master storyteller to me—always enthralling me with stories of the lives he has seen or lived in parts. Because they teach me my lessons in hope despite the cynicism that shows up once in a while. So I’ll just hang around and wait for him to tell me another story.

The Menons (A short story… and finally, Part 3)

With all the work remaining, Parvathy was trying to ignore that by-now familiar tingling sensation deep around her navel, which she had the week before. Her mother-in-law had dismissed it completely.

“Oh it must just be a heartburn that has traveled to that area of your stomach. Why go meet a doctor and all that for those silly things?” she had said. And then, as she was walking away from her into Prabhakaran’s room, she paused a moment and added (with that laughter at the end of the sentence), “The fuss you girls these days create about being pregnant! I can’t imagine. Why, when I was pregnant I did all the jobs at home—washing (there was no washing machine those days), cooking, chopping, and getting water from the well at the backyard. (You are very lucky your father-in-law has employed enough help so you need only supervise the affairs at home.) And when it was time to deliver the baby, I didn’t even have a midwife attending to me (let alone my husband, like they have so shamelessly these days in the west and the Americas and all). I lay on the mat and the Ramesh just slipped out. In fact, it was so during both of their deliveries! I didn’t even feel the slightest pain! I think it was the result of all those good deeds I collected in my earlier lives.”

Thus, that subject distinctly erased from being brought up ever again, Parvathy continued to concentrate on her work—sweat drooling from her forehead and armpits like she could never remember during another summer. Her arms seemed to be melting away, with sweat oozing out from every pore. And Jaanu was nowhere to be seen.

Prabhakaran Menon had requested (for they were never rude to anyone, or ordering about) Jaanu to stay back a little longer than her usual five hours in a day because of the party and she had reluctantly obliged. But Parvathy could see that even as she stuck around for an hour longer, all she did was to sit in the corridor under the fan there cooling herself, and drinking tender coconut being felled by Shankaran.

Prabhakaran Menon would come out of the room once in a while to check the progress of the evening. “Mole,” he would say all enthusiastically. “Shine up everything. Don’t we need to show off right into the hearts of everyone how well we are doing together—even without Ramesh around at home?” And then, he would get back into the Master Bedroom. And once in a while the big-hearted man would check the clock too, just to ensure it isn’t too late for dear old Jaanu to return home. “We give our maids enough rest. They need it, you know. They work—so what if they shirk a little work, poor things—they are so sincere too. For they come home every time either I or Susheela needs them. And moreover, in a world today with the kind of goings on… Shiva, Shiva… One knows how important it is for even a woman of 50 to get back home from work early enough.”

However, the party went off well despite that slightly disturbing news from Sree before the party began. Puja was aborting her child, he had said half-minded. It seems the timing was all wrong about starting a family. Timing? What timing? How irresponsible these girls nowadays! And to think that they actually permitted their little boy to fall in love with this manipulator woman! The cheek! And how much more would they need to witness of her ‘independence’? Of course, it was clear as daylight how Puja manipulated Sree into letting her go ahead with it. There had to be some motive in it all! At least Susheela could not be fooled, she was sure about that. And like she did every time she was sure about something, she ensured Prabhakaran Menon felt just the way she did about this issue too!

Now, they couldn’t wait to get her on the telephone and give her a talk-down—yeah, sure, politely. They are kids—all of them, you know! They need to be shown the right from the wrong! And especially if their own parents can’t do that…. “Moreover, what if she took it wrongly and left our Sree all stranded?” Susheela had confessed to Parvathy. “Bhagavathy, one could never trust what these new-age girls were up to! What does one do? One has to just grin and bear.”

In any case, all that had to wait until the morning. Tonight, there were guests to be entertained, and matters such as Puja’s were to be dealt with in private! “Isn’t it, Mole?” Susheela had gushed back then! (What an ample relief to have a level-headed wife for her elder one. At least, they chose right!)

And so, the topic buried for the moment, the party wore on—and well too. Everyone there thought, just like the Menons had hoped for, that Parvathy was a beautiful and complete fit in their lives. Even they, for their part, reminded her of how lucky she was to be a part of the family that was so tender and caring of everyone that was a part of it. And then suddenly, as if on cue, Prabhakaran Menon remembered how much Jaanu had been a part of the family too (the dear old woman was with the family for almost a decade. In this day and age, who has loyalties as pronounced?) And right then, in consultation with Susheela (before the guests), he had asked Jaanu to leave home early—so what there is work that needed doing. “We will do it,” he beamed in pride at a slightly surprised Jaanu, who, nevertheless, jumped at the chance to leave for home.

“…So that she doesn’t feel too stressed. She has to come back in the morning too, no? And anyway, there is only just keeping everything back in its own place that is remaining—we can all do it ourselves, can’t we, Mole,” he had announced it to a shy and obliging Parvathy, all (of course) before the gathering.

So there it was, the party underway and done, Parvathy was back in the kitchen sorting all the glasses that had gone into the rounds of drinks.

Once again, that tingling sensation was back and this time with a slight feel of pain. Or was it that she imagined it? It could just have been stress and the unending heat—she had after all been on her toes all day long, needing to keep walking either into the kitchen or then the backyard to check on one thing or another. Her heels were swollen and her back hurt, but those she knew she could rest. What really worried her was that tingling sensation. Because despite her mother-in-law, she had heard Revathi—her best friend in college—talk of how the slightest complications during the early stages of pregnancy could be dangerous.

The memory of that information had her worried, and yet the sensation was yet too small to be discussed further—here. And moreover, there was the kitchen to be cleared up.

Finally, when the whole household had gone quiet from the party—the guests departed, the other helps around the house retired, with the constant low hum of air-conditioning in the Master Bedroom being the only noise, Parvathy was thankful. For, even as her back ached more than usual and the tingling sensation had started growing into an almost loud pain in her lower stomach, there was only the last bit of crockery that needed to be kept inside the 50-year-old antique cupboard in the kitchen. And she ached for the feel of her bed.

Slowly, Parvathy staggered into her room, turned on the fan, and lay on the bed. At some point, the heat had cooled off and a slight breeze had picked up outside as well. She opened the windows of her room and let in the flow of the air. The mosquitoes, be damned. There are other things to be worried about, she thought.

And just as rightly as she imagined, so there was.

Just as she got out of the bed to pick up the book that she had left reading so she could forget the exhaustion and drift off into sleep, she could feel a warm flow of some kind between her legs. She turned around to check, and found the blue flowers on her white and blue Bombay Dyeing bed cover clotted with her blood into an unnaturally purplish-maroon tinge.

Epilogue
Obviously, the call the Menons intended on making the next day had to wait.

Nobody really recalls what transpired in that household there on. But it seems the Menons are now on the lookout for a bride for their elder son Ramesh. (“We are looking for just the right kinds now!” “Yeah, the marriage didn’t last—she divorced him almost six months after marriage! Women these days!”)

And then there were one or two newspaper ads.

“Bride wanted for Male, 33, Hindu (Menon); All of 6 feet; fair (and endowed with looks of his princely maternal grandfather); working in the States; very lovable and family-oriented; once divorced. Good, reputed and very loving family. The bride needs to be more than five feet tall; fair; well-educated (preferably convent-educated); very loving, can gel with the family; dowry no concern.”

Glossary
Bhagavathy Goddess (in this context, calling out to the goddess, in despair)