I stare at waves receding
And know they are my words
Going away from me, and the world,
Going away to a place
Where they will die
A quiet, dignified death.
I am less than a forgotten memory.
I make no dent in anyone’s world.
The world, like the waves,
Continues to ebb and
Continues to flow.
I have learnt
that when love dies
Then words don’t matter.
Then I must embrace silence.
Even if it’s oppressive.
Even if it’s death.
An ocean of words
Under an ocean of silence.
And my words recede from me
A little each day.
And my life is forgotten by others
A little each day.
I am ash
Fluttering in the wind
I am ash
Mingling with the ocean
Dissolving in nothingness.
I stare at waves receding
Your love is a drop of water
It lightens to air, floats,
Condenses, and rains.
The grass shoots.
Leaves dance green.
A new life is born.
But in drought, krishna
There’s no drop to be had
During endless summer months.
Only sterility stares at death.
Your love is an act of control, krishna
You give as generously
As you coldly withhold.
My devotion is fire
It’s without control
It scorches indiscriminately
Anything it touches.
It singes the universe
Brands its own destiny.
Kindles its own blaze.
My devotion fuels itself.
Even dying as an ember
It burns in love
It gives off heat.
My devotion is only about
Giving and being consumed.
And isn’t this madness exactly what you fear, my poor scalded krishna?
Thick grey clouds
Swirl in the wind
Thunder over houses
Without a trace
With empty promises
And no rain.
This krishna of mine
Also promises me peace
Shows me his soul
Coaxes my laughter
Makes me believe
Then suddenly sulks, disappears
The stubborn, petulant child.
The thick grey clouds
Ignore our parched soil
But pour over lands
That need water the least.
And my lying child
Will later assert
That his disappearance
Was for my deliverance.
The beauty about life is that you will always end up learning, and especially learning not to be a smug, superior, self-righteous prick.
You think you will never have an affair with a loserly, married man, no, not you with your values and with your staunch distaste for clichés.
You think you will never date someone whose English language skills are clearly always going to be a work-in-progress.
Life makes you fall in love with a few Germans or worse, many Malyalees.
You have seen the ‘Annavaru’ fans, and recently the ‘Amma’ fans, wailing and weeping when their idol passes on, torching things and immolating themselves in their grief, and you shudder and think, “What weak people! What absurdity this is!”
And then, George Michael dies.
On Merry Christmas day.
On the same night you stay awake all night, inexplicably, with a migraine and a sadness that can swallow the universe.
‘What?’ you think as your best friend calls you, crying audibly, at the ungodly hour of 9 am just an hour after you have finally managed to sleep, “Did you hear? It’s George Michael. It seems he died.” She can barely get the words out.
How can that be, you wonder. Didn’t you have this compelling urge to listen to Faith, just last night? You subjected your tiny Christmas party to a loud performance of Father Figure in the guise of checking the music controls as you and your best friend laughed and shared a knowing look because George Michael isn’t just about music if you were a girl growing up in the 1990s in Bangalore.
He is fun, and sex, and sanction.
He is the ultimate lover with a voice that makes your toes curl for the very first time, the one who writes soulful music but creates seductive videos, the sorts you are uncomfortable watching in front of your parents.
Yet, it is his poster, blue, hairy, signed, intense, looking slightly pained and hurt, that you wake up to in the mornings – a perfect gift from your then best friend.
That’s the intensity you are looking for in the many hapless boys that flit into your life, the poetry you want from the lovers you deign to kiss.
It’s a trend that never stops.
After school, when you come home and try to hover around the ubiquitous ITI telephone so you can answer the calls from the boyfriends and the girls without parental screening, you use George Michael as the excuse.
You play his hits one-after-another loud, crooning, singing along, even embarrassingly saying, “I want your sex” and knowing the parents will avoid your eyes, your corner, and just let you be for that one hour you play an entire tape loudly, almost in meditation.
The boys in your life capitalise on his power of seduction.
Birthdays or Valentine Day gifts in college from the richer boyfriends include cassettes and CDs of George Michael.
They think misguidedly, poor sods, that the 90s Bangalore girl will now unshrug her jacket and walk straight towards them, lean back in challenge for that kiss just like in Father Figure on the television.
The girls may kiss but they are thinking of George Michael.
The newspapers erupt one morning with news of his coming out.
It’s the first time you actually understand that it is possible for a man to not desire women. Yes, George Michael, yes, after all that!
You are saddened, confused, shocked, but the hope lingers.
You only half-joke to your friends, “I will convert him. He only needs to meet me and then we will be married.”
Wisdom, life, friends and family with excellent musical tastes have led you to discover other gay geniuses – the raw masculinity of Judas Priest and the unadulterated orgasm that is Freddie Mercury. You can now stand to have an idol who is gay.
It’s selfless, somehow. It makes your love purer.
What could you offer George Michael other than your devotion?
Thing is, you couldn’t have not devoted yourself to the lilting, high-pitched saxophone riff in the 1990s in Bangalore. The riff was soon followed by a voice that will always define molten for you. On the 12 pm show on Sunday on All India Radio, George Michael first entered middle class Kannadiga households.
While young, you thrilled at the pure music it was; older, you whimpered at the pathos in the poetry, the voice, the diction. How his voice shattered your heart when he sang ‘Pain is all you find.’
You discover Last Christmas.
You set about uncovering his lightheartedness in WHAM.
Someday, you would dance to Wake Me Up and wear white shorts. You would too do that.
You love the sweetness in If You Were There.
Club Tropicana is a summer vacation.
You are grateful to your cousin who has photocopied all the lyrics from an Archies lyrics book so you can sing along to all his songs.
The first time you ever enter a pub as a cowering, excited gang of girls in college, the riff of Careless Whispers immediately puts you at ease amidst the assault of beer, smoke, and strange men in dark, purpled corners. You know then that you can handle Queen, Metallica, The Doors, Led Zep, all those roots of yours that are slowly foot-holding your soul along with the alcohol and cigarettes, and, of course, the men.
But it is in Faith that you find religion. An album replete with messages for the converts. Kissing A Fool breaks you. This is a man who knew pain, and passion, and still cared about the world, about society, who advised how you were to listen without prejudice.
A man who told you repeatedly to chase passion and the heart and have fun while doing it.
This is a man who defined sexy for you in high heels, leather, smoky eyes, and lipstick that looked like stains.
This was the man who told you again and again that he would be your father figure, that you gotta have faith, and that sex is natural, sex is good, sex is fun, sex is best when it’s one-on-one.
A message everyone in your society neglected to give you, but a message that was now etched into your consciousness so you would never be awkward around bodies, sexuality, and love.
His own life and his scandals taught you that in an unfair universe, you were right to seek your bliss, stake a claim, and look sexy while doing it.
You learnt too that celebrity could be good, bad, vulnerable, maligned, confused, but essentially human.
Most of all, you learnt to bring genius and passion into your work because in the end, true worth in the work is what always stayed.
This was the man who first taught you to look outside the reality of middle-class, urban, Indian existence so years later in clubs in Berlin, walking around international airports, meeting people around the globe, you were never awkward, weirded out, or intimidated. No. This was the world that you already knew.
So you could give of yourself with the same energy with which he paid a tribute to Freddie Mercury and sang Somebody to Love (Best tribute ever!) in any city in the universe and bring your own brand of sexy while doing it.
George Michael is dead.
Yet, you are always looking in other people, for the man that emerged in the music you first fell in love with.
And when no one matches it, there’s George Michael and his music, compiled best hits in your favourite stage phrase, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Another righteous bubble gets pricked.
You spend the day in bed weeping and grieving this man you never knew, but one who changed your concepts of life, love, and sex so irrevocably.
Life, we know, always goes on.
It will continue in loving lesser mortals.
Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyant, put on weight and reformed herself.
In these cards, I hold wealth and abundance she said from her tower overlooking Ulsoor lake.
An emotional raven escaped his Poe and fluttered morbidly to the balcony.
“Pay attention to atmosphere, seeing into the future is not just about the cards.
But from these same cards, I will help and heal, now that life is so abundant,”
she said heaving her large bosom and shuffling her deck.
“I wonder why this weight makes me feel blind.”
“Look”, said she, “the colours are green and yellow, yellow and green
Only good things shall your fortune bring. But, here, look at this card.
Do you know anything about the Major Arcane and the Minor Arcane?
No? Never mind.
Just see the picture. You have turned away from the comfort of a water body.
Look at the moon. It’s pale and curved to the right. Clearly, you are in the middle of a fight.
I wonder why this weight makes me feel blind”, she said nibbling on her lower lip.
“The thing with being blessed with sight, you know, is how curved and rounded your body gets.
Everything is written in the stars.
It’s not what you eat or how much you walk or what tai chi you do.
It doesn’t help if you are known as the wisest woman in Europe
With a wicked pack of cards, and the entire world knows you have a cold,
Because a silly poet once proclaimed it.
It’s all in the stars, but even so, I wonder why this weight makes me feel blind.” she said offering coffee.
“Do you have a question?
Yes, your labour will bear rich fruits. Try not to eat them.
One must be so careful these days.
I see seventy percent effort and cloudy nights.
By the full moon give it your hundred
And only then shall you enjoy the sights.
Even with sight, I feel so blind.” she said placing newer cards in a Celtic cross.
“Tarot is in the practice and I have had plenty of it.
I have to thank Eliot for it, I suppose.
All this wealth now, what do I do with it?
My future and my past are so painfully clear.
I no longer even need the cards to report an impending war.
I don’t have to look too far.
And when I look, I am blind.” she said fingering The Sun card.
“Tell me, have you ever considered bariatric surgery?
They tell me there are very good doctors at Colombia Asia right in Bangalore
A stitch here and a tuck there, they say.
Just four to five lakhs, I have heard.
But one must be so careful these days.
Abundance is also a failing, you see.
As is sight. So I only sit and serve these days.
Really, how can weight make you feel blind?” she asked and breathed a sigh.
“Thank you. If you see dear Miss. Bangalore, tell her I am glad she left her husband.
He threatened to kill me, for telling her that he was fond of dicks.
But it’s all in the stars, you know.
I only speak about what I see in the cards.
I made him sit, drink coffee, even when I foretold the rest.
See my swollen feet? Please kill me, I begged.
This weight makes me so blind.”
“He left me alone after drinking my Chikkamagalore coffee, just as I feared.
His cards did not show violence, not even in bed.
His stars, you know, he’d never know true love.
She didn’t matter to him except in the abstract.
But loving, you know, it’s not a good business.
How could she be in love without sex? True love, she said.
One must be so careful these days, and true love makes you blind, I said.”
“I tell you this story so you may grow.
Control, that’s what love is about.
See this? The Emperor. Do not settle for less.
That’s inviting a mess.
One must be so careful these days.
Think, recognise his disinterest with your head.
Don’t let love make you blind.” she warned waving a thick finger.
“Fear death by water. It’s not an issue if you learn to float.
Love, learn, let go, and live. Accept and move on.
My only problem these days is how to scratch my toe.
So I help and heal. Tell people whatever I feel.
A medium even when maximum, must channel.
You can leave the money on the seal.
But to wealth and fame, I am, really, quite definitely blind.”
I didn’t know that the smells would haunt me. Scratch that. I did.
Specifically, detergent mixed with the coconut on skin.
I think it’s my most favourite smell in the world because it is you.
It smells like home. Which is also you.
So now I am exploring the world independently, without you, and mostly it’s pretty okay.
Being busy helps. Watching TV with complete concentration, especially murder mysteries and not guessing whodunit is the best antidote to miss. No mystery there. I have discovered Ms. Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and I won’t recommend it to you anymore. I have given the Honourable Ms. Fisher three days of my life. Entirely well-spent.
And like her, like Ms. Fisher, I have sex, lots of it, so the endorphins keep swimming whether they work or not.
I think to eat sugar in defiance and in defiance shut the tin and show you, ‘Look, I am looking after myself.’
I cook for everybody out of necessity and a grudging love. Again, I am becoming my mother’s daughter and every time I look at the seasoning box, I think, I must buy this for the house there and then my breath catches because without you, there is no house there anymore.
I think I have entirely stopped black coffee and the way the steam wafts out coffee in a French press.
I wear clothes that are cut low and deep and skirts that are short and swirl because I won’t deny my sexuality anymore. I am mostly ill but I am also sexy. And so I won’t hide it and cloak it in the worry that I am sending out the wrong signals. I am sexy. Everything about me needn’t scream sex but if you look closely enough, you will find that I won’t deny knowledge anymore. I enjoy myself. I have stopped denying how sensual the feel of rain is on skin, and how easily I am seduced by the wind in my hair, and how walking in heels makes my hip angle just so and how I feel the movement in all the right places, and how the taste of anything good makes me moan. This enjoyment is who I am. It has nothing to do with you. It never did, I realise now. I was wrong to deny myself because of awkwardness or your imagined discomfort.
I have stopped speaking like you with the ‘mmms’ in between thoughts, and the ‘umm tasty’ for food, and the ‘beautiful’ for trees, bees, birds, people, everything that you see. The only beautiful I reserve is for the one person you refuse to see beauty in.
I have not shed a single tear.
I don’t have a real smile either. Not the sort that reaches the eyes and lights up the entire face. That’s okay. No one needs to see. And I know someday when I least expect it, it will come, and all this will be done.
I have decided I won’t define us anymore. I don’t care who you are to me anymore. I don’t care if you are anymore even. There’s no need. It is as he said to me once when he assumed I was breaking it off with him, ‘We had a good ride, so I am grateful.’ Are you my brother, my best friend, my lover, my husband, my son? I don’t need to define it. I only know one word. Everything. And if you take that away from me, why then, I will survive this too, won’t I?
And when the numbers pop in my head, I remind myself slyly that I don’t know how to count and so it’s not 10 years and it’s not 15 days and it’s not 31 days and it’s not, it’s not, it’s not. What it is, is having your breath catch and your heart still because cactus fruits showed up on Instagram; because a certain beat in a particular song is from the night we danced at a distance, like strangers, not touching, not speaking, avoiding each other, lost in the music; because the letters that make your name suddenly pop on the timeline and it’s mostly not you; because it’s 8 am and I am wondering if today you managed to wake up on time like you assured me you would; because you live without me easily, happily, successfully.
I live without you. And notice I will not say exist. I live. I run errands, I make decisions, I am rude on the phone, I grieve for other people and while reading the army stories on Humans of New York. I curse crazy drivers on the streets. I worry if I will die of cancer. See? Real life. I am living without you successfully.
It is only in dreams that I am tormented. So I try and sleep lesser than I used to because even in dreams we never speak anymore but you are always there, always lurking behind some episode, some incident, some lover, and I worry about you constantly in my dreams. I had stopped worrying about you. Now it’s back multifold, a gnawing dissatisfaction with the world because an entire part of my being that has no voice in my waking hours worries about you, thinking ‘but no one understands you like I do. You said so yourself, and what will you do now? Whom will you share how the salad turned out, how the electricity units are so high because I kept the fridge open too long, how it rained, how this guy checked you out on the train and you didn’t encourage him, and how you don’t know why…’.
My mother says, ‘Why are the sheets so tangled up? It’s like you were wrestling on the bed. Aren’t you sleeping well? What’s the matter?’
And like you, I say, ‘Don’t bug me. Don’t talk to me now. Don’t talk to me.’
And unlike me, she listens, leaves me alone, and mutters to herself.
Another conversation closed.
When I am awake, it’s easy. I remind myself of all your new friends, old lovers, the many people around the world who love you and desire you and consume you in real life and my heart hardens. My resolve strengthens. You don’t need me anymore. You admire all those people now, love all those beings, and you feel nothing good for me.
I imagine you reading this, feeling that cold clasp of death because of the intensity, what you make out as drama, and resolving again that this space, this distance, this timing now is a good thing. Yabba, I hear you say. Yabba, who needs this heaviness, this mindfuckery in life, anyway?
I need you even less. See?
I choose the tiles on my own, the colours and paints and bathware on my own. I design the rooms on my own and I don’t care to ask you for an opinion. I watch what I want to on the TV, eat when I feel like, sleep when I absolutely must, and I don’t speak to anyone. I don’t ask anyone for an opinion. I don’t share. Not a single thing. Not with anyone. There’s no need. If I lose my mother or my father, I will deal with it. If I am grieving because I lost someone like a parent, I will deal with it. I will deal with coming to terms with the exhausting responsibility of parenting old parents who refuse to acknowledge their increasing age and decreasing abilities. And I will deal with taking myself to hospitals and check ups and knowing someday all this will surely end. I will deal with my own stress about money and health, money and health, health and money, health and money. I will deal with everything that comes with being alive in this world.
On. My. Own.
So everything goes on the way it probably always has.
I have a date.
So I meticulously choose clothes that I have washed without that detergent.
I wear black everywhere. Colour, just now, is abhorrent to me.
I wear them and do my eyes, but on its own, my kajal smudges, and I decide I must darken it all around, go smokey eyes. The way you like it, the thought forms and I squash it immediately. I wear neutral lip colour – not because you like natural – but because, really, red would be too much even if I am behaving like that rare, independent woman in the 1920s and singing jazz tunes by King Oliver and His Orchestra.
You were only passing time with me.
My date asked to go steady today.
I tell him I need to think.
I will agree, I think, if only in the hope that I will feel again.
I only hope today is good.
It is. Better than I imagined.
For two seconds, I am myself, unencumbered by thoughts of you, by the burden of everyday things.
And then as I am wearing my sweater, the one piece of clothing I carelessly carried, it wafts in, assaults me with detergent that has mingled with the coconut on my skin and I come undone then. It’s a good thing he nuzzles my neck because a whimper escapes me. I become you. I am you. Full of condescension and loathing towards everything to do with me. But I am also me – misunderstood, little girl lost, bereaved wife, distraught mother, banished sister, depraved soul, dispossessed queen, friendless and fainting, but smelling richly of you.
I am home.
This is home.
It’s all just the same as I left it.
Of course, there is more furniture now and he has repositioned the furniture but it’s the same.
It smells the same. There is that hint of verbena in the air and I know every time I sniff verbena somewhere, anywhere, it will immediately teleport me to this apartment here in the heart of Frankfurt sitting high on the fourth floor of a beautiful street in the banking quarter. The apartment is perfect. White, warm, welcoming, I feel that it smiles when I enter, and I am happy to be the perfect housewife there ever was here.
We unpack and I know just where everything goes and how to organise things. This house, too, is overflowing with clothes and books as if in reassurance. It’s all so the same. It’s like I never left. As we are cleaning, we listen to the same old playlists and sing and hum and smile at each other thinking of our memories of the past year. I know this smiling together and working in perfect harmony will be another memory when I go back to my other world and my other life and my other home some seven thousand odd miles from here.
We decide to walk and buy groceries and I see the clean streets are washed by the rain. Last year, this time, the sun was harsh, white, piercing and had boiled away my face so much so that I had lost all interest in taking pictures. Later it became about not dwelling on previous baggage and showing a finger to the future and only experiencing the present, living in the moment. This year, though, I want to document our life and times together here. I want something tangible and sharable to take to the other life. Also, I think maybe someday it might explain something.
The city has not changed. I remember all the streets, their names come back to me, and the trees that had become favourites, shimmer at me as we walk past talking desultorily. It’s a beautiful, urban landscape full of lush green trees amidst towering skyscrapers. In the mild rain, like in the sun, it’s glorious and romantic. It helps that the rain is at bay now and only a whipping, cold wind reminds us that it could rain later again and we must be quick. The people too are the same. Bouncy, lithe, tall, lean, and friendly only once you get to know them. I smile at them anyway because smiling costs nothing. Yet it works.
I am wearing heels and that’s different from last time. I feel better, as if I have levelled the playing field. I feel more visible in heels amidst these tall mostly skinny people. For once, I feel rightly dressed. But the wind teases and even under the heat technology t-shirt and the billowing asymmetrical top I wear, my nipples harden. How easily this city seduces me back! That too is the same as last time. I wonder idly why I panicked about coming back again and why I stressed about the holiday so much.
I crave filter coffee now as I know we are walking close to the only good South Indian restaurant in the city, and especially because summer seems to be evading the city still. I crave heat and warmth and reassurance of knowing one’s place in the world. It’s a tall order for just a cup of coffee and he rightly laughs at me and mocks me for being fickle. I had insisted that this time we would not eat or drink at restaurants and cook at home.
The showers start and hide my sheepishness. We have eaten well – idli vada and pooris and I have had a satisfying cup of hot filter coffee. The rain plunges the city into gloom and the grey is the indifference of strangers. For a moment I panic again. Who am I? Why am I here so far away from home? And who are all these people? But just as suddenly, and just as we near the Alte Oper square, the sun shines again piercing the rain. We try in vain to capture this sexual dalliance of the sun and the rain on camera and fail. Our selfie shows us as red, tired, and happy people. The photo taking bores me again and I decide to soak in the moment and enjoy this beautiful opera we are seeing around us. We linger, laugh, plan the rest of the day.
I think just how happy I am sitting by the fountain at the square. And even as I think it, it fades and guilt and worry replaces it. Did I really need to go on a holiday now? I worry about her health and his. It’s so hard to be truly happy for long. But here, like last year, I have understood the import of the word Felicity. It’s not just a word that made sense in Jane Austen. That word describes exactly how I feel about life and the world when I live here. I stare directly at the sun and smile away the discomfort. The sun is always reassuring, even if here, the sun is hot, white, and blinding, unlike in India where it is ochre, demanding, and scorching. The sun increases the bounce in everyone’s steps and makes people smile more easily.
A stranger says hello to us. At the supermarket another stranger recommends a good wine as we stare at the wine bottles unable to decide. Is it a special occasion the stranger asks him. I smile at this exchange which is a rare occurrence he tells me later, as people in Frankfurt, especially, are not so upfront and forthcoming or even curious. I can tell why. It’s our first day together and we are being kind and solicitous towards each other. We are oozing friendliness, enjoyment, and contentment. We are shining red in this weather and our eyes are kind. We buy the recommended wine and walk home.
A friend comes by for a drink and we talk wistfully about Berlin and other cities. The recommended wine is a hit. Talking comes easily here, and here wanting and getting great conversation is easy. But as we are chatting, I slink lower into the covers; the bed is familiar, unchanged, and shapes itself to my body welcoming me in. Warm, exhausted, even the endorphins I am swimming in aren’t enough to keep me awake. We are listening to the best techno music I have ever heard, coming to us straight from Berlin; Germany has just won a football match against Italy and there are celebrations on the street below. The music is intense but cathartic in a way that’s hard to explain. It lulls me into a meditative state. It’s the best homecoming ever. I am home. This is home.