Felicity in Frankfurt

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.

Posted in Happy Days | 8 Comments

Parvati’s Grief

You lose a baby.

The weight of that sentence is so heavy and thick with grief that the world tilts on its axis, and everything shifts.

You can’t shift away from that numbing loss that makes you lose interest in everything now that the baby is lost.

Babies can be lost once they are created in the womb. Babies are not those hopes you pin the rest of your life on. For that, the world has another word. That word is dreams.

Dreams are worthy only if you remember them and you do. You remember that the baby with its hair softly curled, skin a rich, foamy chocolate, eyes small and twinkling, and a smile that slowed the whole universe, saved your life and that of your mother’s and father’s and the whole damn family on both sides of the gene pool, hell, the entire bloody cosmos; but no one knew about all that now because the baby was apparently not born like the way a baby was supposed to be born.

The theme of birth keeps recurring in your grief and stems the tears, because how can you – even if you already are the mother of baby, even if your breasts feel heavy with unconsumed milk, even if your womb twitches when you sit – cry over something that doesn’t exist?

The world values only what does exist. So you stop the welling eyes and think that since the baby doesn’t exist now, even the father and mother have nothing in common, nothing to share, and nothing that will make them a unit anymore. Nothing exists.

In this universe only if you create something does it exist. Yet, in this same universe where you had created the baby in your thoughts, in those playful and tender conversations with its father, in those tense moments of hope and longing, the baby doesn’t exist because the baby was apparently not born like the way a baby was supposed to be born, and now you have lost the ability to mother a child.

So when you lost the baby, it was not the actual flesh and blood that meant home, that meant roots, that meant family, that you lost. You lost the baby’s father and the nebulous connection between two loving souls. You lost the thought of ever having a baby, ever being a mother, ever creating a new world, and ever adding to the cycle of birth and death. You lost your ability to pay back your debt to the universe. You lost your power to be a goddess and became instead a hapless, helpless woman at the mercy of the universe and its cruel sense of humour. You lost yourself.

Posted in Blue Funk | 4 Comments

Relief

It’s round and innocuous at first. She says it doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t do anything. She laughs and acts embarrassed if someone asks her about it. She is dismissive when anyone worries. She won’t see a doctor.

There are more important things in life to focus on. The lump on her throat isn’t one of them.

‘What about dinner? Shall I quickly make something and pack it for you?’

She is preoccupied with food because that is how she shows how much she loves you.

My ex didn’t even merit a cup of tea or coffee the only time he visited.

Her brother expressed a faint craving for akki shavige so she ignored the carpal tunnel syndrome, her bent, misshapen arthritic fingers, and steamed rice powder and rolled it and turned it into thin, fine, spaghetti strips, and fed her brothers. And just in case someone argued about it being merely ‘thindi’, she made rice, rasam, and vegetables.
After, she served coffee for the brothers and tea for the husband.

That day she told me uncharacteristically, “For as long as I am around, I will cook all these things for you.”

Was that when the fear took root?

The next day, I took her to the doctor because it’s ridiculous to live in ignorance.

The dreaded C word was mentioned.

Her face changed. Shrank. She looked more like a bird than usual. I filled up the car with practical lists. ‘We’ll go first thing in the morning. Let’s order breakfast. Don’t waste time cooking. Don’t worry about the tests. And don’t worry about food, we’ll eat outside. We’ll be in hospital all day tomorrow.”

She reached home and worked like a dervish.
‘I need to make all the powders – sambar, rasam, bisibelebaath, vaangibaath.’
By the next evening, in spite of the long hours we spent at the hospital running tests, chillies had been dried, the pulses roasted, the spices added, and the powders ground. There was enough idli and dosa batter for the entire street to feed on.

‘Come, see how I make these.’

I ignored her call with a sinking stomach and refused to budge away from my laptop where all the windows merged into something blurry and shimmering. She is a workaholic. She won’t sleep till everything in the kitchen is set right, till all the preparations for the next meal have been made. She’s also a perfectionist. In all these years, there have been few dishes that haven’t tasted like heaven. And she has a fierce sense of responsibility. She will cook and clean even if she’s unwell because that’s her duty.

So if I don’t see, if I don’t learn, she would be fine because she would have to be. Who else would cook for me?

The fear lodged in the throat.

At the hospital, we turned strangers before the operation. Not for us any sentimental talk. It was my turn to be dismissive of the surgery, to mock her very real fears – will I lose my voice? Will I live past this? – that she hadn’t articulated.

‘Don’t be silly. It’s a small surgery. What’s there to worry? You will have permanent wrinkles at this rate.’

As long as she lives through this, everything is fine. Please. I have to be her strength.

She is my strength. How can I be strong when my strength is weakened? I fear getting into a kitchen that smells of her powders in a world where she doesn’t exist except as a whiff in the memories of all of us who have sampled her cooking.

In that moment, I resent deeply her powders, her culinary wizardry, how she told me that someday I will love to cook because it is an art form. How she is proud that even when I don’t like it, I cook just like her. If she will leave me before I am ready, and I will never be ready, I don’t want her skill or the taste of her food or the cravings for her gojju or sambar or rasam. In that instance, I recognise the futility of my life if something happened to her. I bury these fears and fall asleep taking pills because I can’t even pray when I am mostly godless.

I dream of walls that are barren, white, and uninviting even as I sense that it is home. It doesn’t feel like anything. I am looking for her, hungry, trying to smell food, but there’s nothing.

I wake up hungry on a strange cot in the hospital. I wake to see that she has finally slept. I want to wake her and tell her how she’s the only home I recognise, the only reason the world makes sense, how even my father is a stranger without her defining our relationship, how much I love her, how indispensable she is in my life.

But I don’t.

We are not sentimental. We have never spoken to each other that way. We wouldn’t know where to start and how to say it. Besides, we never state the obvious.

We have bought time instead.

So when we come home healed, even as the threat of the C word hangs over us, innocuous and relatively harmless now that her entire gland is removed, I show love the way she has taught me.

In sheer relief, I cook.

I cook.

Posted in Blue Funk, In Sickness and In Health | 4 Comments

Ajji was born in 1929

Ajji was born in 1929
and so she doesn’t care that she was born on International Women’s Day.
She begins her day with strong filter coffee brewed almost black with just a hint of milk.
She no longer prays at the altar in the house.
Nor does she talk of dying anymore.
When we moved to the villa, ajji got her own room with a TV and a cable connection.
Ajji also got a break from running the house and discovered daily soaps and Bollywood.
At 85, it’s as if Ajji has finally discovered what makes her truly happy.
Even last year she talked about dying and becoming one with God.
She cooked and fed everyone until last year.
No one made shavige and obattu like ajji did.
So she had to make more of them each time.
This year, she wonders if she likes Deepika or Priyanka more.
She’s unembarrassed about saying how much she likes Shah Rukh Khan, especially with Madhuri.
Or why Pakistani serials are better than the Indian ones.
She has even learnt about Facebook, vegan diets, and dating sites.
We repeat that her birthday is celebrated throughout the universe.
“What do they do on Women’s Day?
Will they give women chocolates and red roses like they do on that love day?”
She says none of that matters if the women have to cook again for the whole house.
“I lost my life in the kitchen, you know?
Only once your grandfather took me to Ahmedabad
and I didn’t have to cook that entire week.
But I didn’t get to drink coffee either, so I was not very happy.
And those Gujjus put sugar in everything.
The girls these days don’t cook if they don’t want to.
Maybe that’s why they can have a day to celebrate womanhood.”

Posted in Idle Thoughts | 12 Comments

Ambition

This year, the fish washed ashore on International Women’s Day.
Dead, inedible, and entirely an eyesore.
Naturally, we blamed the fish.
We realised that it was asking for it.
The reports confirmed it.
The fish wanted oxygen.
Imagine that kind of overreaching!
Happiness lay in being content with what you had.
Ask any good, virtuous woman
who has learnt to toe the line.

Posted in Idle Thoughts | 2 Comments

Masturbation

At least they made me cum.
The assholes I fucked
Sometimes even loved.

And then there was this one
I just loved.
Didn’t know how to stop.

He killed time with me.
Wrote me stories that I could build.
With sunshine and seashores, we created another world.

But when real life happened
Other parties beckoned
I was just a good-to-have.

Fool.
I had fucked myself over.
And I didn’t even fucking cum.

Posted in Blue Funk | 2 Comments

The Birth of Baby

The baby would not be born.

The mother did not believe in sacrifices or martyrdom.
The mother grew taller instead.

It was enough for now that one could enjoy the same sleeplessness of baby care all night long talking about pop spirituality. The mother had understood finally what it meant to be mindful. It was not an achievement to treat lightly. Conversation and its heart had to be carved from language that was always inadequate. Baby babble had no place in this complexity.

It was enough for now that the days were spent dreaming. Matching her nose with his lips. Her cheeks with his jaw. His hair but her texture. His height but her curves. And gender? Would the universe be contrary? Would they have a boy because they would love to have a girl?

The baby could, naturally, choose what it wanted to be when it was time to decide. Mindful as they were, this decision about identity would always be personal and left to the sole discretion of the baby.

The baby would be born independent. The baby would be born a personality already. The baby would be born amidst happy wishes from the families who had given up any dreams of newness and rejuvenation. The baby would assuage ancestors and aid rebirths.

The baby would grow up surrounded by books. The baby would learn solipsism. The baby would learn to present clever arguments (from her) with a solid backing of facts (from him). The baby would be utterly special and have dimples, surely.

The baby would not be born, though.

There was no time.
The world was in a hurry to be fucked over.

The father wanted to travel, to explore other bodies, different spaces.
The father hated convention although he was the most traditional of men deep where it all really mattered. The father was a rarity in that he was also a sensitive man and deeply respectful of men and women and their bodies and their desires. The father spoke gently, firmly, and in a quiet voice. The father had a warm, soothing touch. When the father hugged, it was as if the entire world was cloaked in the hug accepting and loving. The father could teach and talk patiently. The father was kind. The father was funny. He knew how to horse around and laugh loudly at himself and the world. The father lit up the world. The father was sunshine. The father would make a great parent.

The baby would not be born, though.

There was no time.
The mother’s eggs were depleting unfucked.

The mother also suffered from commitment issues. The mother could not see herself as a parent for all the rest of her life. After years, she finally adjusted to the thought of being yoked to a man, to people, to a family. As long as they didn’t make demands on her. As long as they let her read and sleep and keep her friends and clothes. As long as she was not expected to cook everyday. The mother was all about discovering herself and happiness. The mother was selfish and satisfied and completely unsuitable to be revered as a mother. The mother harboured secret ambitions of being a whore. The mother was after all a woman. The mother was the turbulent sea on a full moon night. The mother was powerful and giving. But she didn’t want to give up her life.

The baby would demand many tiny sacrifices.
It would start with him having to put aside more money as savings. Money he would have used to visit friends in his favourite city. It would start with him having to make hard decisions about his future. He was a man who liked living in the present. It would start with her not being able to smoke that cigarette on weekends and have that wine. It would start with her not being able to meet a man to discuss business because her stomach was bloated and she had flatulence which is so unladylike, especially in a business woman.

The mother could not have a baby because she already had one. Her work needled her, pushed her to perform, behave, sleep less. The work sat on her waist and held her across her neck choking her, claiming her, smothering her maternity. And if the baby were born, the baby would roll plumply around the bed and make cooing noises so that she would have to hoist it up on her bare thighs and sing old Hindi songs to it. The baby would watch her work and wail its importance indignantly. The baby would demand to be fed from fat, overflowing breasts that mother already suffered with. And then the baby would spit the milk onto manuscripts and ruin a day’s work as it laughed in gay abandon.

The baby would not be born in gay abandon. The baby would be born as a deliberation, almost as a deliverance.

It was best if the baby would not be born, though.

The baby would demand that the love between mother and father get trivial, common, base. The baby would maybe even demand that they have sex. The baby would watch gleefully as its strong father pinned its powerful mother against the wall and kissed her instead of merely asking her for time or a holiday.

And then the baby would be born.

It was best if the baby would not be born, though.

Then the baby could watch the parents go about their lives confused, hiding huge, gaping baby-sized holes in their bodies because they forgot what they did with each other and the baby when they could have done something about the baby and each other.

Mother would suddenly grow dimples then and colour her hair red. The father’s mole would darken and his frown lines would become more pronounced.

But the baby might also watch how the parents would wait sensibly for the universe to iron out all lies. The parents would understand the true nature of love (it defies explanation).

The parents would tell stories about the truth of their lives. They would deny convention, labels, and demonstrate through simple joys and powerful loving how life is to be experienced.

The baby would not need to be born then because the mother would have found her dreams and the father his happiness.

And that is when the baby will be born.

Posted in Intoxication Induced | 4 Comments