The Drive

Loneliness arrests me in the middle of a laugh in the middle of a joke, I just thought up. I scramble for a list of people to share the punchline with and realize that I must finish the laugh alone.
I do.
But it’s not funny anymore.

Driving hurts the eye, the knees, the ankles, and the mind. I kick off my sandals, feel the cold, hard press of the brake and the accelerator and I tell myself that I am not alone. I am in traffic. I am literally not alone. But I am. And no music can crowd the ears and the senses to fill up the burgeoning void that’s my heart. I scan my list of people to call but I have nothing to say now that my amusement dried up, so I drive on, willing time to speed up, wishing it would end.

From traffic to suicide, the leap is dramatic. That’s loneliness, I smirk. Get through the discomfort. Get. Through. The. Discomfort. Get. Used. To. This. This. Is. Probably. The. Rest. Of. Your. Life.

This is everyone’s life and you cannot kill yourself in traffic. It’s absurd. I reach back for my bag and cigarettes and my memories. It’s been months now since I realized that the universe shifted, tilted, and I am alone. And the pain is just as fresh and sharp as the papercut I get when I find my cigarette case. I clutch the lighter for support and swallow the ouch. Didn’t I just want to die? Then how can I complain about a papercut? I suck my finger in consolation as I bring the cigarette to my mouth. The flame from the lighter can burn my eyebrows if I don’t angle the cigarette just so. The flame reminds me to turn misery into fury, into art. Besides, burning (even if a measly cigarette or my thinning errant hair) is more satisfying than slashing at silvery words that meant nothing at all. But fury is crippling too. No art comes out of vengeance. Only vengeance. And if everything is self-inflicted, then I am the infinity snake swallowing my own tail in an Escher etching.

The thought of this grand metaphor puts me in a good mood. I am positive again. Loneliness can be centering, I tell myself in my best new-age guru voice. Yoga, pottery, body work, mind work, everything teaches us about the need to centre. When we feel we end where the ground begins or the ground ends when we step on it, but that negativity is not how you look at it. It’s really about the interconnectedness of everything. Sex cannot centre you even if sometimes (rarely) it connects you. Words can connect you, but like an orgasm, it’s only true for the second it’s uttered and perhaps not even then. But silence can still and instill interconnectedness. Can make you imagine you are a cog in the wheel, that it’s all predestination. That it’s all going to work and the wheel, with you, can turn. It will turn. Up.

I turn off the highway. People on the streets are alone. On bikes, or as they walk. People are lonely or so preoccupied they don’t recognise they are lonely. We have no capacity to love another truly, wholeheartedly. Some of us. We have no capacity to be loved by another entirely, obsessively. Some of us. And you would think that’s perfect pairing, but it’s not. Love simply cannot work because loneliness is an all consuming tsunami.

New traffic rises like a crushing wave and I am amused again that I am crying about loneliness on a drive in a crowded city. It makes me chuckle and I know exactly who will laugh with me when I create this scene and talk about things (although we’ve never spoken about such stuff before) but I cannot because the wheel turned a little faster, the wave rose a little higher, and the traffic silenced my protest, and the joke remained unshared, and the art unattempted, and nothing happened. Only my entitled expectations sink lower with each awareness. I breathe out cigarette smoke. I press the cigarette tighter between my lips to keep myself from laughing through the pain.

And loneliness arrests me in the middle of this wry epiphany. Surely, I can’t be so alone that I have no one to tell this story to. I scramble for a list of people to share this insight with and realize that I must finish the experience, the laugh, the drive, and the journey alone.
I do.
But it’s not fun anymore.
Perhaps it never was.

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Interrupted

[It’s crazy how this is the first poem I ever wrote. In 2001. It came to me, fully formed, like this. And some of these lines have been haunting me of late. Crazy.]

Where is He?
And who am I?
Questions go unanswered
As I reach to greet
A disembodied voice
On the wire – floats a friend
Or a stranger – or a creature
From outer space
I know not who or why or what
I am only conscious of the vacuity
As my speech remains brief in its brevity.

You are not who I wanted to call
You are not what I wished to hear
But that is neither there nor here
For who cares for what I want?
Certainly not I.
Nor do those mates of yesteryears
Who are busy loving, hoping, living
Their lives
Conquering their fears.

I stumble upon the truth sometimes
That we are alone and meant to be
Sacrificed at the altar of responsibilities.
We owe you one and he another
And to them – all the rest.
What is then left for you and me
If not memories of the dust?
They too are fragile and flippant
Nothing in them to cause you repent.
I breathe the air and so do you
And isn’t that all we are meant to do?
I lost what I most cherished
And now even those dreams must perish
Tarnished by mockery and defeat
How oft those lines can I repeat?

Where are you?

That hardly matters
You chose your path
And so forced mine
If it be hollow what of it?
If it be a farce then so be it.
I have nothing left in me
Maybe there never was.
Shrivelled, dry, and dead.
And that’s not only my thoughts.

Who am I?
Now is it different than the then?
Questions arise and go unanswered
Only science books have
What happens when.
I smile at my own lack of humour,
My weary thoughts and addled brain
If only I could rhyme saying train.

The conversation ends
Another begins
Then another and yet again
Murmured responses, meaningless replies
And only a wire carries them all.
I seek; I seek for what is lost
Knowing it is all for naught.

In the meantime,
The silence shatters
The thread of thoughts goes broken again
And I answer to the voice again
Hello?

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Whimper

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
– The Hollow Men by T S Eliot

Aloneness is carved so deep
Into the millennial DNA.
We are the potter’s art
Being scraped away
into Instagrammable shapes
After being turned on the wheel.
We take pottery classes
On weekends
To play with mud
and to feel…
(at one with nature).

Eat dirt or ass or pussy
We say in our memes.
We use the memes
to talk about
How difficult it is
to talk about
Working
On relationships
that
take
Take
time and effort.
Time and effort.
We don’t have time for that.
We ain’t gonna
give
Give
In.

Our effort
(Five seconds that loop
Into moments, days, years) involves
the next big thing
(That lasts for seconds like our orgasms)
On our phones and tabs
and
On Netflix
We chill with the devil
Even when he is just
A human facsimile.
Just like we are.

We are heteronormative
And cisnormative
And majority tinted tonedeaf
In a world of queer rainbow coloured meme makers.
(Own it)
God, those gays
(Own it)
With eggplant dicks.
(Own it)
And peach asses.
(Own it)
And their squads
(Own it)
Are so real
(Own it)
So OMGLOL.
(Own it)
So woke.
(Own it)
So fun.
(Own it)
The bitches.
(Own it)

So we top it.
(Secretly)
So we suffer.
(Secretly)
But we enjoy
(Secretly)
Entitlement, privilege,
Modi and Trump,
Our lack of suffering.

Instead we talk about
introversion.
(Own it)
Because we have
High-functioning anxiety.
(Own it)
And ADHD.
(Own it)
Adderall, please.
Or vapes.
CBD or acid
drops
in the
vegan smoothie.
(Own it)

We are introverts
(Who never read a book.
They made a show on Prime.)
With a dash of FOMO.
We then contradict it
With JOMO.
Time and effort
Takes time and effort.
We are too busy for that.

We ain’t got no time for that shit, mama.
We assure past generations.
We are not lonely.
We fuck through Tinder
Our love lives
Hinge
On ghosting.
We might be
Commitment(Except we could now get you committed. Dang!)averse
Phobic of letting anyone in.
We let you, the parents, get in
And look where that got us.
(Bitch, please.)
Thank you, but no thanks.
Say yes to aloneness.
(Yass!)
That also takes
Time and effort
To cultivate these beards,
These looks,
Spread this air
Of superior indifference,
As a social influencer,
And go viral.
And
time and effort
to create
Trending hashtags
and
Followers
(who might easily murder us because they)
always know
through Live Stories
Where we are
@
our aloneness.

We may bleed blood
(after we cut ourselves)
(secretly)
But we clot aloneness.
(Own it.)
#mikedrop #totes #wordporn
#aloneness

Posted in Idle Thoughts, Intoxication Induced | 4 Comments

Hair

I count each strand of my hair
To account to krishna
Of my love and care.

He tugs at my braid
But stares mesmerised
At another’s gait.

My hair locks in dreads
He ruffles the knots, laughs
And that hot love continues to spread.

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Verboten

I whisper his name among the weeds
krishna krishna krishna
He does not hear.

I wear in my hair jasmine strings
And intoxicating sweetness
krishna does not smell.

I show him sights familiar, familial
krishna smiles, but he doesn’t see.

I offer him nectar,
all the flavours of the world – a life
He doesn’t taste.

And then he stands before me
In the flesh, wearing only a question
And now I cannot touch.

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Migraine

My migraine is a pulsating red dot in a sea of indigo
A Bengali bride ullulating under the pandal in the bustle of a wedding hall.

My migraine stops me in the street and says:
Those lights are far too bright for any kind of real happiness, don’t you think?

Or my migraine complains about the sun:
No good can come from so much sunshine.

My migraine peaks around the full moon.
A romantic guest, it clings to my left temple and whispers a new song each time.

But mostly, my migraine is unreasonable about when it strikes.
An interview, meeting friends, a sexcapade – all are equal, all are dust.

My migraine comes on because I have been lazy in dispelling energy –
A furious, indignant toddler she sits, busy with her tantrum in the mall, and kicks, because I don’t. Yoga.

My migraine is also a man – He needs constant tending to and kindness.
He can perform only in the darkness.

My migraine was bought at a store.
The doc said: I didn’t realise the contraindications of this drug were permanent. All the best.

My migraine is the best.
Because it’s mine. More mine than the family or the friends or the lovers or the fortune or the words – all of which are temporal.

My migraine is a lesson to be attentive.
Life is passing on. Every minute matters. No one matters more than you.

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Memory

The fear is what will happen if the hoarder of secrets loses all his memory?

Where will those secrets go?

Who will hide stories about my paternal ancestry?

How will we ever discover what happened to all that money all those years ago? How did he lose it? Who won it?

These are important secrets.

My mother and I tried uncovering these secrets on our own. We went to trusted sources before my father’s tumour was discovered and the operation done.

We ran to his ex-manager (who continued to be friendly, especially with him) after that final massive fight at home where I almost killed my father. It was kill him or die. Neither happened because our Telugu neighbour intervened. My father still treats her like his own daughter, maybe to thank her for what she did that day.

After the fight, my mother and I spoke to the ex-manager, hoping my father would listen to him should he advise him. We hoped he might know the big secret that began the fight in the first place – where was all the money my father had? He said he no longer had it, that he gave it to someone in need, but he wouldn’t tell us who or why. The bank statements only showed that he had withdrawn all the money.

He heard us out when mother and I cried and showed him marks on our bodies from all his rage. He tut-tutted and smiled when I said in all my youth and all my ignorance that I would kill my father if ever he tried to hit us again. He heard us but dismissed us when we cried and bemoaned how my father’s come to this; he never was this way. That I was the apple of his eyes and today he had hit me this way!

He started sharing. He said how his temper always got him in trouble at work and no one liked him. How everyone hated him. How he never worked. He was idle, improper, his work was always shabby, and as a manager it fell on him to clear it all up, to clean it all up. He had no brains even then. He was just anger, meanness, selfishness, and carelessness. All he cared about was eating, drinking, and lazing about. He was a spendthrift.

The man refused to counsel my father, or get involved beyond the sharing of these truths. He would never have said all this but for the fact that we already had experienced it for ourselves. Shocked and horrified as we were, we couldn’t force him after hearing him. And at the time, living through what we were, we believed him.

It made a mockery of my childhood and all that I believed of my father. It shamed me to realise that all of Papa’s friends, who visited us so often when he still worked, derided him in secret. And his friends who told me to study well, to make my father proud, to grow up and become a noteworthy daughter to the man who was already special, were lying or pretending.

We found it was a brain tumour.

It might have been fatal had the stress of all this in my life not given me the sudden, painful twitches that had me finally seeking a neurologist. My reports were normal. The neurologist sat there flummoxed. I was only 29, riddled with rheumatoid arthritis and a host of other issues, but nothing that pointed to the twitches or what was causing them. He said, ‘Let’s do an MRI and maybe a thorough check-up of everything. I can’t imagine what it is. It could be stress, sometimes, that can cause such things. But you’d have to be tremendously stressed for something like that.’

He looked at me, certain that I couldn’t be stressed to that extent.

I merely laughed. I said, ‘You have no idea how stressed I am.’

And that’s when the story poured out and he immediately suspected a tumour.

And that’s what it was.

That’s all it was. Hence the rage and the violence. The lack of all manner of control and inhibition, the loss of an interest in hygiene. This, from a man who ironed even his underclothes. He wasn’t lazy or mean, poor man. Just ill.

We didn’t find it on time but we found it before I started hating the man whom I loved more than anyone else. We found it before it killed him. Another few days and the neurologist said it certainly would have.

And in all his pain, and all that haze, what I saw foremost on his face when we lied and conned him and took him to the hospital was relief, followed immediately by worry. For me. The daughter I was sure he hated by then.

“But how will you afford all this?”

That is my father.
His concern for others overshadows any concern for self.
It is possible that he did indeed give the money to someone deserving or a very good con.
We’ll never know.
And my father was right about that – it doesn’t matter.

The result of the operation was immediate. There for all to see. He was back to being clean, meticulous, conscientious, and caring. He even made people laugh like he used to. And so many of his friends visited when they finally heard. They were upset we hadn’t told them. This couldn’t be a man everyone hated, a wasteful, disengaged colleague or employee.

Back home from hospital, he started cleaning and taking care of things like before.

When our conservative Telugu neighbour, his other daughter, chided him for sweeping the outdoors being a man, he told her, like his old self, ‘What are you saying! Why should I not clean my own house?’

Importantly, we no longer had fights where he would raise his hands. He never ever raised his hands again. I never felt that murderous rage again in my life.

And sure enough, the ex-manager never showed his face to us; how could he?

And then over the years, my father began to withdraw more into his shell. We said age.

Only when he’d have a drink sometimes, he told stories. He loved telling old stories to people he liked. The same stories repeated in the same sequence every time. Not a change anywhere. You could never doubt his sincerity. You could only admire his skill. Storytelling; some of us are born performing.

We still knew so little about his birth or his family or anything beyond the day he landed in Bangalore with a job in hand and ate ‘chitranna’ for the first time as his first meal, expecting to eat something exotic and tasty, and finding cold rice with lemon instead. That was his first taste of Bangalore. This is a story I have heard twice now. But that’s all I know.

All the rest are stories of my childhood. The sort of child I was. Such a mouth on me. So much intelligence. Even when I was a mere baby.  

He was born also to be a father because my childhood was the best time of my life. I never lacked anything and in spite of everything, I grew up knowing I was special, intelligent, independent, and that the world might not be all correct and right even if everyone thought so. He taught me to always trust myself. That is what made me. That my parents made of me single-handedly. My mother sometimes made me feel less than beautiful, but in my father’s eyes, other people got fatter, darker, fairer, thinner, lost their looks, but I was always beautiful.

But what birthed my father? What was his story before Bangalore?

We tried uncovering his past. We spoke to his longest surviving friend. My mother did.

Uncle told tales of heroism, wealth, power, and then startlingly enough – murders. That’s why my grandmother warned my father not to visit her again when I was seven years old. That’s why we never went. The family was connected to all the wrong sorts of people. To this day, my mother is not keen on learning too much about the secrets of my father’s past. What we don’t know, won’t hurt us.

We never doubted or questioned Uncle. Another friend of my mother recognised my father’s father’s name long ago. Repeated the story of wealth in Kasargod, a large family, a quarrel among brothers, a saint of a man that was my grandfather who donated huge chunks of his wealth to temples in Dharmastala and in Mangalore. A man who lost everything because he married my grandmother, a city girl who hated the life in Kasargod, who insisted they move to be closer to her mother. All of this tied in with what my mother had been told by my father before their wedding. He was never a liar.

And now as his memory fails a little bit each day, he lies often about small things, or maybe he forgets.

A week back when we were on a trip to Shringeri, he lost his way and forgot how to get to the serviced apartment we were staying at. Finally, he found the building but couldn’t find the flat. That’s when he admitted that he was indeed losing his memory, that something was wrong, and he finally agreed to see the doctors very docilely, without protests.

For the first time in my life that day, I saw my father so afraid.  

I worry it’s dementia or even Alzheimer’s. The reports and the doctors say it’s not. Not yet. Only that the after-effects of the tumour will age his brain faster than others’, and that his brain is shrinking with age. So we must engage him with mental activities, do more reading and writing. The neurologist told him that he must write his memories and thoughts down.

The neurologist doesn’t know that my father is the hoarder of secrets and that he will never share.

I am afraid his stories are going to be lost forever.

I will never know my Shetty roots, if indeed they are Shetty roots.
I won’t go seeking them. Why should I? The family I was born into and the family I have made is enough for me. I anyway suffer from chronic anxiety; do I need more?

But how do we uncover the secrets that a dying memory might guard?  

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