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

Small families

A trip to the rheumatologist in now incomplete unless we stop at the Central Tiffin Room in Malleshwaram after the appointment for their golibajje and benne masala dosa which really is the best in Bangalore. The taste hasn’t changed in all these years we’ve been eating there and some of the waiters even smile and remember me, which is a nice thing.

The food is the only nice thing about Malleshwaram and such areas because they make me feel distinctly uncomfortable all the time. I can’t put my finger on it. But it’s a combination of hauteur and fear. I am entirely too disdainful of the people from those areas when regarded en masse and the fear that I could have so easily been them. I might still so easily be them – typical, middle class, Kannadiga Brahmin girl. And then where would I be? A cousin’s daughter once said “chee” to people eating egg dosas (that looked wonderfully delicious) on a trip. Those are my roots. At least a part of my roots. Now you can appreciate why I am so uncomfortable.

Like today, at the restaurant, it was terribly crowded as usual. The restaurant is very quaint, old, busy with small four-seater tables and equally small chairs as if it were designed for the mass of tiny, hard-working, self-effacing but talkative Kannadigas who would sit on the edges of these small chairs as they gobbled the dosas and gossiped about the relative’s children settled in the US.

And so when we were half-way through our goli bajjes, a thin man in his early 40s came by, shook the bag that was on the extra chair said “Yours?” And when my dad said, “Yes”, he promptly lifted it, handed it to my dad, ordered a dosa for himself and waited to eat.

In my world, this won’t happen. In my world that is the regions of Indiranagar, Whitefield, M G Road, even Koramangala, people would say “Please, may I sit here?” if at all they had to share tables and chairs in a crowded restaurant. We would be polite and awkward about these intimacies and we’d both be very conscious of encroaching on someone’s private space.

But not in Malleshwaram.

I consoled myself with the magnanimity of how hungry he might have been to have behaved in such an abrupt fashion. Maybe he was having a bad day. Maybe he just didn’t know manners. Maybe no one taught him these things. And I barely tasted my dosa wrapped as I was in all these thoughts. I worried about how shallow I was to spend so much time thinking of this mild discomfort. It’s not like I had to share a life with that man, just a table for the duration of one dosa. It became fairly easy after that. I even warmed to him because like me he couldn’t stand the empty plates lying on the table and he summoned the cleaner boy himself to clear away our used plates – as if we were truly companions eating out together.

Then when he left, another man occupied his seat, again with scant ceremony. This one was in his 40s with an overbearing paunch and a manner of arrogance. By now I had stopped caring about this communal dining experience and just waited to see what would transpire. We sat waiting for our helping of an extra dosa and coffee. He fidgeted, drummed his fingers on the table, willing us to finish early. So I ate rather slower than my usual pace. Then, finally, when the coffee came, he shouted at the waiter. “Couldn’t you tell me that these people had also ordered coffee? Do you know how many seats I let go thinking this will empty?”

I rolled my eyes. The waiter merely shrugged indifferently. The man had asked no one’s permission or approval or advice when he sat in the seat. The waiter quickly gave us the bill to appease him somewhat, I think, and when I paid a 20 rupee tip to the waiter, I felt a quick wave of disapproval from the paunch. I had noticed that not many people tipped the waiters in that place.

My father had barely tried to move his chair before the paunch started rearranging the chairs hoping to claim the four-seater all to himself.
A wife materialised.
She said meekly, “Wait, it’s okay. Let them finish.”
“They are finished. You sit.” he ordered in a very haughty tone at the poor woman.
Just to be capricious, I lingered over the terrible Kannadiga coffee.

I tried being kind again and told myself that maybe he was terribly hungry too. But I think I had reached the end of my kindness quota in a day. These people could easily have been my neighbours were we to have continued living in those areas. I’m sure a few far-flung relatives behave just as obnoxiously. In another universe, I might even have been the wife of a man like him. Shudder.

I often think I thrust these notions on my poor parents who probably don’t mind the area or the people. I know my mother loves the flower markets and vegetable vendors there. My father will calmly and blissfully walk with all our bags as we troop up and down those noisy streets. They also feel very comfortable that it’s a predominantly Kannada speaking area, another fact that gives me something of the heebie-jeebies.
​And then my mother said, “Did you hear that man in the restaurant?”
“Good thing he didn’t ask us to hurry or anything,” my dad replied, “I would have given him a piece of my mind.”
“How shabbily he treated the waiter. It’s a good thing you didn’t hurry. I thought you would when he was trying to rush us.” she told me.
And that’s when I was reassured that this gene pool did indeed make me.

<An excerpt from the brand new journal I have begun keeping in 2016. Ha.>

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Greta Garbo

The year has taught you reticence and fear.

You fear revealing too much of yourself.
You know judgments don’t matter to you, but they matter somewhere, elsewhere, and this year you have seen what it means when the otherwheres collide with your world – nothing remains inviolable.

You fear conversation now.

You are bored by those conversations that reveal others, revile them, render them tragically insignificant.

You keep it light. You keep it tepid.

You are the Bangalore winter, not the life-defying winter of Delhi.
You even talk guardedly about the weather because there is no going back once you utter the words. Once you utter them, they are forever open to scrutiny and criticism. You have committed yourself to the weather.

You are afraid to even post something you like on Facebook now with the standard, “I liked this because…” You know there will be three at least who will say, “But, how can you…” Even prefacing any comment with a ‘personally’ won’t keep the critics quiet. They will defend their tastes and opinions. They will rarely forgive you for submitting your tastes while not being subservient to their likes.

And suddenly, everybody knows of you. Because they know of you, they think they know you. So you are watched. Strangers are constantly ticking what they see of you with what they think they know.

“My God! So lucky! I love what you do. I wish I had your job.”
“I love the way you write things on Facebook.”

They think they know you. They think this is all you are. The writing. The irreverence. The boldness on paper. The outgoingness of having a million friends and a million followers everywhere.

Of course, you must be the life of the party. You are fun, and radiant, and bitchy.

They look at you meaningfully when they mock the way someone speaks or something someone wears. They want you to join in the mockery and say something cutting as they have been told you do. Again, you don’t know how such stories spread, because you haven’t done that ever. They are nonplussed and disappointed when at a gathering, you avoid looking at anyone for long because you are shy and bored.

‘Why won’t you make fun of accents? Have you seen that ridiculous dress!’

It has to be because you are acting superior, they deduce.

They try the more personal route.

“I love your pictures.”
“I hated you in that one because you both looked so beautiful. What is your scene?”

It’s your turn to be nonplussed. You try and say ‘thank you’ with grace and find something to compliment them on, but they see it as an invitation to pry into your most sacred relationships. You want to not be rude even though you are offended at the familiarity. You say, “It’s complicated” when someone asks. It’s the worst thing you could possibly say. It only piques their curiosity.

You realise you will end up something of a happy recluse as a successful year draws to a close.

You live with your thoughts, the promise of Skype calls over the week, the instant messages that help you wake up and face newer days, the few rare outings with people who have known you from a simpler and tortured time. And you don’t desire much else. You are unimaginably wise in shutting out the world and so utterly foolish to have shut out the world, so much so that you sometimes feel life is happening elsewhere.

You exist as a mass of contradictions.

You will not leave social media nor will you stop pursuing the media, but you know the price you will pay for that because life apparently spills from there onto the real world.

Instead, you revel in the make-believe world of books, those you are going to read and why you will know the things you do.

You will plan holidays and meetings with family who expect nothing more from you than that you will have a good time. That you will live happily again. That you will support and sustain the relationship with yourself, first.

This is the biggest lesson the year taught you.

You are infinitesimally small, an important being, yes, but not at all significant.
Your world is shifting, changing, reforming. Everything is mutable. And you cannot control anything. Everything changes. Even you. Mostly you.
So you don’t take yourself seriously anymore.

Posted in Idle Thoughts | 2 Comments

PMS: Please Maintain Silence

This was originally published in The Affair, an online literary magazine from India, one of the best there was. I recently realised that that website is defunct and so I am posting here. A reader, who loved it when it was first published, told on Facebook, “Not for the fainthearted.” and I would have to agree. So, dear reader, you have been warned. The poem was first written and published here.

PMS: Please Maintain Silence

“But how many lovers has this poet had?” he says.
And I sit up straighter in the chair.

The ‘he’ is the intellectual, spiritual snob in my class who likes to quote Kierkegaard. The baser instincts of lust and love are completely bourgeois, Madhav Rao likes to say.

“Kierkegaard says that we must always strive for the improvement of our soul. The positives in this poem that I see, therefore, are that I am being exposed to sexual writing. But I am a logical person. What is worse is that I am spiritual. So I really want to know. How many lovers has this–-can I say poet–-had?”

It is no surprise to me that he doesn’t get the idea of the poem, which is not about the number.

I am trying very hard to act blasé, which means that my ears are turning red. Soon it will be my cheeks. If I continue to act blasé, I will get a butterfly rash and look like a patient with Lupus in exactly five minutes.

Fortunately for me, I am not expected to answer while being workshopped or they will know by my husky timbre that the brash, loud, mostly rude classmate is not so put together and invincible after all.

But then, Amanda Ma’am, our facilitator speaks up. “I wondered the same thing too”, she says unexpectedly.  Amanda Campbell – I call her Amanda Ma’am because it suits her – is a feisty, single woman all of 65 who only wears pleated skirts in grey and black with paisley printed shirts. Her breasts sag under her shirts and she smells like Yardley Lily of the Valley. We are a small group and informal in this workshop. She insists I shouldn’t call her Ma’am. But that’s my brash persona; I will do just what I want. She is not Indian, she told us in the first class, she is of Irish descent. She loves Yeats and Seasmus Heaney. She had once told me that my poetry is reminiscent of Seamus Heaney and that had made my day. Yet here she is today.

“How many lovers has this poet had?”

I gnash my teeth silently. I am dramatic like that. This is not going as I expected. I have a headache that has begun at my left temple. It is going to be a long, unending session now.

Babita Soundar, the offspring of a Sindhi woman and a Tamil Brahmin man, pipes in. She has the sharp cheekbones of Sindhi women and the curly hair of her father. Cheerful, young, all of 22, she is a surprise to me. I never expected to get along with her because I dislike young girls intensely. However, in the past four weeks, I’ve ended up liking her the most in class. She balances all of us; that is her role. She adds harmony. She’s also unimaginably clever and sensitive. And fun.

“Let’s count. First there is the you in the lover, then there is a blue-eyed lover, then there is the past lover, who is bad and terrible. Then it’s the same you as the beginning…”

Unexpectedly, my heart beat quickens at the mention of his blue eyes so casually in conversation. He was a friend, almost a brother. And, somehow, in the most real sense of the term, a husband. I met him the day I landed in Pune. He was exasperated that the taxi driver couldn’t understand his English. I translated and he insisted I share the taxi with him when he learnt that I was going in the same direction. Two strangers in one city. It was inevitable. I started living in his fancy apartment because we had so much fun together. I cooked for him, cleaned for him, fought off Airtel for him, and answered calls for him. The apartment staff and colleagues assumed I was the wife. At least a glorified mistress. But since we slept in separate bedrooms, they were kept guessing at all times. It didn’t help that our hands would gravitate towards each other mid-conversation in a crowd and he would hold mine tight and not let me go. And that I would lean back, lean in, and rest on him as we chatted with others. But we were never lovers. That was indeed too base for what we had.

I could see myself for the very first time in life as a good wife, even a great wife. I had a lot of baggage about that thanks to my previous failed relationships. But now, I could do wifely things. I could manage his household for him.

I started addressing him as my husband. His free spirit and love of solitude rebelled at being labelled so. We fought. I finally ran to my tiny one-room apartment till he came by with flowers and tears, looking like an impressionistic painting. Then, he accepted it. Called me ‘wife’. We became closer, and I grew eager. I grew greedy. I was his wife. He was my husband. He was the man I had been the closest to in the two years it took trying to make a new city home. I was alone. This non-Indian was all I had as home in Poona.  And so I decided, when I was 32, that I could have his babies. Our more adventurous friends shrieked and said “What a perfect idea.” The ones who grew quiet, like my parents and a few close friends, broached the idea of responsibility. A multi-racial baby of a single Indian mother? What would people say? It was bad enough I was writing erotica on the side. It was a good way to make easy money. A content manager gets paid only so much. Did I have to compound that by having a child out of wedlock? And that too with a foreigner? What would I do? How would I bring the baby up?

I would wail, “The baby will have my curly hair and his blue eyes. She will be so beautiful.” And they would ask us, “How will you bring this beautiful child up, though?” As tears would well in my eyes, he would say, “You are my wife, no? I will look after the child if the clinic does its work and we make a baby.” And so it was that with him that I felt the most married. I felt like a wife. Is that love? Without sex? Would that make him my lover? Would that make him an ex-lover now that we no longer spoke? I don’t even remember why we drifted apart any more. Last I heard he was in Australia. And so, I packed my bags and came back home to Bangalore and joined a theatre group. When that didn’t fill the ache, I joined a poetry workshop. And here I was.

Hemant Chaudhary, our answer to the inevitable Bengali import in all art-related courses, raises his voice after coughing thrice. He’s harmless, if anal about grammar and punctuation, and very verbose. It’s as if the British Raj still needs to be adhered to. He strikes out the multiple exclamation marks we deliberately use in our poetry–-my idea this–-in green. And to show he is harmless he adds a sad smiley like this one. 😦 But he still can’t say the word communication without sounding like a Bengali whose mouth is stuffed with luchi and potatoes. The idea of food nauseates me now. All that oil. I am coming down with something for sure.

“What I didn’t understand are the personal pronouns in this poem. There are simply too many of them. Communication should be simple, I always say. But then, of course, that is just my personal opinion. You are all free to disagree. Like my question, given the caveat that too many personal pronouns are confusing if they are all inhabiting the same poem, is: who is the ‘you’ in the beginning, and again in the end?”

The ‘you’ in the beginning was the man who held me all through the last year when I was alone and looking for meaning in life. The man who promised me a baby–-not a blue-eyed one–-but a regular Indian with Indian preoccupations of Engineering studies, negotiating girlfriend and relatives, of becoming a breadwinner, and most of all being seen as male. He was sure we would have a son together because I wanted to have a daughter so badly. And also because he already had a daughter with his wife who was still his wife. By then, the doctor had told me I would not conceive easily. I had female problems. That’s the way we don’t talk about what ails more than half of our Indian girls. We never talk about PCOD or hypothyroidism. I had both. But men in India didn’t know what that meant, really. Madhav and Hemant would die of embarrassment if we discussed it in class. So Babita had one day. She can never have a child either because they cut her ovaries off. Endometriosis, she said. Her poem was titled Padma Lakshmi. That day we had laughed and laughed after workshop, reliving the horror on the men’s faces. At 22, you are happy if you can’t have children, and have been accepted to do an MFA in Iowa. At 33, where I was, I wanted that son he promised me through old Dev Anand melodies and romance that happened wearing saris. So we tried making babies. We thought if our carelessness made us parents, we would become husband and wife. But after, he developed cold feet. What if he really had to leave his wife? What alimony would she ask? And how long would I bear the stigma of being an unwed mother of a baby made with a married man? Time, cliché alert, was of the essence. For his divorce, for our hurried civil wedding, for my pregnancy. It all had to happen within nine months. So sensibly, within 24 hours we had to locate an open chemist who sold us the emergency contraceptive. A hundred odd hours wasted in wait and longing. A hundred rupees and some change to wash away a sin that felt so bloody right.

“Baby, you know, we’ll make a baby together, no? This is just not the right time. I promise you, once my divorce is done, I will keep you pregnant forever, if that’s what you want. Ignore the doctor. And don’t think of blue-eyed babies.”

Once the divorce is done. Another cliché alert. No married man ever leaves his wife. The wives must feel reassured, really. He just won’t.

But yes, he would count as another woman’s lover.

“This is my favourite part,” Prarthna Prabhu gushes, ignoring as usual the thoughts around the table. Adorable Prarthna who will never know what a feminist she is. Prarthna who will toe the line of arranged marriage, EMIs on a flat on Sarjapur Road, and keeping in-laws happy with pathrode and occasional gad-bad ice-creams because feminist thought when it applies to life will fuck you over. So she appreciates the idea and the literature, but she won’t live it. Maybe I should be more like her. “The humour in ‘Your mother will only think you have been had’. That’s a brilliant pun. I really hate this man who is so useless. I don’t know why the poet, I mean, narrator, sleeps with him.”

You and me both, love, I think. My face wears an approving, almost amused smile. I am encouraging them, silently willing them to see what a feminist I am. Such a bold poet. Clearly, one who will not be hurt or cheated by anything as lowly as a man. I want them to know how even so, a woman can slip, trip, gash herself, bleed on the wayside because it’s not the man but another woman who wants to see you desperately unhappy. The dreaded anti-hero martyr in all of Indian cinema. In one word: Ma. And always his.

The smile fades. I find myself ridiculously close to tears. PMS. It has to be PMS. That’s why I am feeling so sick. But I have another 10 days before I get my period, I know. That means this month is going to be really bad. I will have to make excuses at work again and I will have to watch my tongue. It will be best if I don’t speak. I will have to watch my temper especially now, here, in the class. I will have to see the doctor again, and meet the counsellor maybe? If I am lucky, I won’t be late this month.

It was never this bad. She did it for me. Ma. Sarala Singhania. A proud name for a proud woman whose son looked like Rahul Gandhi, our colleagues said. And the heart-throb and blessed catch of every woman in Shibum Technologies was in love with a 30 year old, curvy bodied, boldly attired Communications Manager. Me. I was the one he would always talk to, sharing stories of how Sarala never made lunch and sent him off with leftover rice and curd mixed together so that in school his was the tiffin box that always stank and he was made fun of.

Thayir Saadham they called him. TS. Not Tarun Singhania but Tayir Saadham. I was fat, he said. I thought he would be more sympathetic about my curves. “I love your body, honey. But Ma, Ma wants a thin bahu, you know. It’s a class thing. Do you think you can lose 25 kgs? It’s not much for my Ma to ask, surely. She’s agreed to this match. She even agreed to getting married in court. It will be a simple affair, just like you always wanted. And then, we shall make babies.” His hand wouldn’t even touch mine. So one night I took advantage of the fact that we were spending a night together because we were stranded with a flat tyre. We booked into a hotel and he asked for a single bedroom. I looked at him aghast. “Honey, please understand, Ma doesn’t know you came with me to the meeting. If I show her the double bedroom bill, she will ask all kinds of questions,” he whispered as the receptionist stared at me pointedly. She said she would charge a hundred rupees extra along with VAT. He nodded. We huddled uncomfortably on the single bed. Our wedding was a month away. I had quit the company and was serving my notice period so I could practice being a Singhania bahu. I couldn’t afford the double bedroom bill even if I wanted to. Is this my future, I wondered. I couldn’t sleep so I switched on the TV and bumped my head because the room was that tiny. California Dreaming played on MTV Classics and he didn’t even ask me if I was hurt. He just touched me. I melted. But then he stopped. So I had to do the work. And I was thinking, this is wrong. How can Tarun not be a good lover? But I kissed him. He turned away. Ma will know, he said. Ma. She did know. And she still broke it off. And she said, she would always be my friend. “Beta, Tarun, na? He’s so strange. I understand your pain. But what to do. I can only do so much.” And I remembered how much I had done that night to make him come. After, he had slapped my butt and whistled an aria. A week later he had stopped meeting me or even taking my calls. Not even when I emailed him proof that I was leaving Bangalore and moving to Pune on work which meant I knew our marriage was off, which meant I had accepted it. I wanted him to at least say bye. Only Ma would speak on the phone to me and mouth platitudes. ‘Beta, so young you are na, this family shamily is not for you. So clever also. A writer, Tarun told me. Be happy. Someday you will find a good man. Not like my Tarun but everyone can’t have whatever they want, no? I am large-hearted like that. I am still trying for your sake. After all, you had sex together. Beta, who has sex before marriage? Something against premarital sex your parents must have taught you, na? But in some families these days, especially, middle class, no, they don’t have our values. In my house, it’s different. A girl, na, she has to be responsible. We, women, can’t do things for one minute of pleasure.”

I hadn’t come at all. Not even for a minute. And her heart seemed to be the only large thing in their house. I faked it. And when I hung up on her that night, I vowed to myself that I would never fake it again.

Yet here I was in class, faking it. The attention was on me. I couldn’t reach into my bag and pick my stash of blue Spasmoproxyvon that has been banned because Nepali boys get high on it. That’s what the chemist told me. My gynaecologist said that it was the only drug that would make me human during PMS and the actual periods. I had no reason to doubt her any more. And resourcefully, I had found me a man who would buy these blue capsules for me on the black market. No, I cannot let them see me pop a pill. Already, I feel, I am slipping from Seamus Heaney level simplistic greatness to the obfuscation of an amateur poet who thinks she is a genius. I cannot add pill popping proof to being wannabe literary and messed up. But one blue pill will make it bearable though.

“What are these blue pills though?” Kirekegaard strikes again, startling me. Fuck. This workshopping of poetry is too bloody personal. Intrusive. I should never have joined this course. “I only ask because I feel this is what changes the tonality of the poem. Much like Kierkegaard said you know: face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are. I think it’s Viagra. But why is she, I mean, the poet, I mean the narrator, buying Viagra?”

“Sweetheart, I will fuck you till I die. You know, I will not lose my hard-on for you even when I am old.”
“What? You want to fuck me when you are 85? You will have to take Viagra then and I am not even sure that will help you.”
“Come here, just one second, and I will show you how Viagra should actually work.”
“I can’t. I have my periods.”
“So?”
“It’s icky, no? I don’t know.”
“Sweetheart, it’s you. Nothing about you is icky.”
“Really? Then why won’t you go down on me? Why am I the only one giving oral sex?”
“Except that. Besides, you don’t like it. Now come here, my Aunt told me that having sex when you have periods will ensure you have no cramps or even PMS the next month.”
“What village tale is this? And why is your Aunt talking to you about these things?”
“Sweetheart, this is the Aunt who first showed me how to fuck a woman. We are close.”
“Ugh. Gross. That’s bloody incest. That’s also molestation. How old were you?”
“12 or 14, I think. So what, it happens everywhere. She was good. I like her. Anyway, all you writerly types must analyse everything and twist everything. Life is simple, sweetheart. Uncomplicate. Suck me.”
Strangely, the technique had worked as long as he was there. PMS was low, low, low. Negligible. But I was also young. Only 23. What did I know? And he was the one I thought about when I was fucking Tarun because he might have dumped me after six long years of all kinds of sexual positions, but at least he taught me how to have great sex. He taught me to be a Goddess in bed. He is the reason I could write erotica on the side and make money. And money was the reason he had finally left me. “Sweetheart, I’m sorry. But this babe my father wants me to marry has six factories in Coimbatore and they are my caste. She is the only daughter and child, like you. I can’t give up all that money now, can I sweetheart?” Now, suddenly, I am feeling light-headed. It’s the worst PMS in a long time. I am hungry and I want the class to end.

Hemant wants to sum up the experience. I know he is dying for a smoke. We have been at poetry for three hours now. “Frankly, there needs to be enjambment. I am not even sure it looks like a poem now. But when you see how bold the narrative is, it’s commendable, I think. Except the end. Is the ‘you’ in the end, the reader? I felt uncomfortable reading the end. The pronoun confusion again.”

“This was published in UtterlyVagina, no, Divya? I read it then and loved it. I think it’s more of a female thing. Men, I can see, don’t understand. The ‘you’ is the reader, I think. We are judging this poet. We are judging women in our society always.” Prarthna springs to my defence.

I smile weakly. I’m really ill and trying hard not to let it show.

Amanda Ma’am doesn’t meet my eye. Something has changed. Babita has gone quiet too. But then she says, “I feel sorry. This is a poem about loss. Impermanence. All she wants is to have a baby, and she can’t. So I think there are only two people in this story. The current lover who buys her the contraceptive and her own voice. Everything else is what she’s thinking. Her desire for having a baby never being met. And her sense of loss at being judged even though she is really the victim here. But by writing this poem, she isn’t a victim any more, you know?”

That’s Babita. I told you, she always surprises me. I nod gratefully. I am still not allowed to speak. The irony is not lost on me. When Amanda Ma’am speaks, it’s to conclude the class. I can tell she is pissed. She offers no insight. I expect none. I have been judged and found wanting. As a woman. As a writer. As a student.

“Divya, please read the poem out loud. Poetry, as I always say, must be read aloud. It’s been a great discussion, class.”

And so, I pretend to arrange the printouts and buy time to read. I am low and hesitant now. Close to tears. This is a poem that’s already been published by a feminist magazine in the US yet I feel hollow. Cold. I am done. I see the value in being the Victorian ideal of ‘girls must be seen and not heard’. But then my ‘fuck you, world’ attitude kicks in. The anger rages. Fire burns in my stomach. I meet everyone’s eyes, being the drama queen I am. I open my pill box and extract a blue Spasmoproxyvon and dry swallow it. Babita smiles. Prarthna nods. This workshop will be over as soon as I read aloud. I think I will share a smoke today with Hemant. And so I start. I read softly at first, distancing myself from the text.

But then, I am the poem.

PMS: Please Maintain Silence

I owe you 100 rupees for that emergency contraceptive you bought me.
And another five to include the VAT.
A necessary precaution for an imagined possibility.
The thought of a baby that just wouldn’t go.
So you showed me blue-eyed dogs in a dhaba that afternoon and told me that’s the sort of children I would have if I went ahead with my plan, and made babies with a blue-eyed man.
What a jealous bear, you are, I said. Stealth was never your thing.
And I was glad I could kiss your mouth, stained as it was with the red curry of lunch.
Jealous bear, I repeated, and smiled.
It set me thinking about what a hairy man that last lover was.
Though, lover is hardly mot juste if all a man did was lie in bed, and wait to be serviced and then complain that he had lipstick, on his pale pink lips.
Would he be a lover still?
And whatever would his mother think!
Only that you’ve been had, love, I joked.
But he didn’t find it funny.
It should have told me something that morning, should have.
That I rode him all the time wishing, hoping
You and I would get to do it again. And wondering again if you’d trade me for wealth, and become another millionaire among the many in Moscow.
This is your problem, you said, you read too much.
No good has ever come from a girl who reads.
Less from one who shags me.
We can’t remedy the latter, but must you be masochistic and add reading to your list of vices?
That night we had the best sex ever. You said you counted how many times I came. I only knew I cried. And I didn’t know why.

I drag myself to the present, stare longingly at the blue pills.
They are back in the tar black market of medicine.
As with everything else, you just need to know a guy.
I can get you boxes of this if you like, said the chemist.
Just pay me a 100 is all. And, of course, 5 rupees VAT.

I indulge with two packets. No pain for the next five days. This period will be painless. So I don’t have to think. So I can believe I no longer live.

10 blue capsules in each. That child we would never have. That’s what this is I thought. And then I heard you saying,
This is really your problem, you said. That you read between the lines.
This is really your problem, you repeated. Now everyone reading will think you are a junkie                                                                                                                                                                and a slut.

THE END


 

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