Hunger

That’s the name of the book I’m trying to read. Hunger. Or at least, it’s the name of the book that is on my mind most of the time these days, although I’m really reading another book which is a pretty decent one. It’s on the top of my mind especially when I’m hungrily shopping for more books even before I’m done with the pretty decent one and a pile of others fighting to be read next.

That’s the name of the predominant sensation I experience every day, may be because I eat very little – may be not more than a little bite a day when I’m in the mood – and that may be because I can barely sense the taste of food when in public spaces – like a restaurant, a mess, a family dinner, a lunch break at office and that sort of a thing.

That’s the name of love that is not reciprocated at all, or worse  yet: that which is returned in meager doses. It is also another name for lust. Love. Lust. Hunger. What sin, what pain, what pleasure.

That’s the name of everything that drives every man to do what he does. That’s the inner voice, the spirit, the sinner and the saint, the will and the winter within.

That’s the name of self-penance, the pleasure of punishing the self. Being the master and the slave. Being the torture and the victim.  The offence and the defense. The test and the outcome. The victory and the failure. The victory is to survive hunger that long and the failure is to not survive it for much longer. Hunger prevails over hunger.

Hunger is what I’d like to call you, my love, if not for your beautiful name, because I want you so bad all the time but I know I’d die if I have you for any longer than this. You are good for my soul in little doses. I think I can kill you any day with just one good meal but you aren’t really dead, are you? You are just temporarily buried under all the barbecue chicken and mushroom sauce and chocolate mousse; you come back to me the next day or the day after, and I receive you with open arms just the same and lie down over there with you, under the sheets, curled up and delirious, happy and hoping to die of you some day, some distant day when I’m happier than ever.

Oh Hunger, I love you.

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Olivia’s husband

Part I

Olivia left home for work at the usual time that day.  Onir stood at the threshold of the house every day to look upon Olivia’s lovely frame till she disappeared around the corner. That day, she walked away from home slowly and without looking back, and paused only to pluck flowers along the way. Gently she plucked them – the magenta flowers of early spring – off the shrubs along the blue-gray road – to feel the softness of their petals against her cheeks and eyes – then softly blew them off into space – watching them as they landed delicately on the grass carpet below. They did not bear the fragrance that she had expected. They had no smell at all. She walked away, the flowers forgotten and wilting fast.

Not far behind, Onir walked and paused too, to pick flowers. He picked them off the grass blades, those magenta flowers that he wouldn’t leave lying there for the insects to feed upon. He remembered to take them back home and put them in a vase. Every day. He remembered to breathe life into them, to slacken the wilting, even if it was just for a couple of hours more. The way the flowers tumbled towards the ground – alighting on the blades of fresh green grass that then brushed against Olivia’s dark blue stockings as she walked off – that… he wished to remember forever.

The flowers had wilted in the vase, by sunset, before Olivia returned home from work each day. They fought that night too, husband and wife. This time over bills and payments. He dragged her by her arm, into the bedroom – latched the door, to be unheard by curious neighbors – slapped her across her face – she cried – their argument ended there. Olivia  stopped crying and Onir was on the verge of a breakdown outside the bedroom. The screams that night were the worst by far. The flowers drooped dead by now.

After concluding the fight, Olivia and her husband emerged from their bedroom, for dinner. Olivia’s tired eyes fell on the faded magenta flowers in the dining room but maybe she didn’t recognize them from that morning. She didn’t seem to try anyway. Morning and evening were like parts of two different lifetimes for her – she couldn’t recall one when she was in the other. She blew her nose into a handkerchief, ran her hands through her long, black hair to set it straight. Husband and wife sat themselves at either end of the dining table. Onir, the butler, looked at her helplessly as he began to serve dinner to the couple.

Part II

With the tip of her index finger she flicked off a tear that had flown over her cheek from one corner of her right eye. That made her suddenly remember the tenderness of the flaring magenta flowers on her cheeks, and her eyes, that morning. She recognized the faded flowers now. She shot a glance in Onir’s direction; he was nervously pouring water out of a jug into her glass.

Her glance persisted and quietly pressed Onir to look into her eyes. He gathered up all his courage, peeled his diligent eyes off the jug to look into her watery eyes – eyes that posed a question.  Onir briefly swept his deep blue eyes across her tear-stained face – her eyes, her cheeks, her nose, her lips – and in that fraction of time he effectively communicated the answer she sought and more. Onir proceeded to the other edge of the table and poured out another glass of water for the husband who was busy gulping down the contents of his plate to leave the table as soon as possible. Olivia smiled at her husband who was not even looking in her direction; she smiled at the dead flowers on the table; she smiled at the plate of food and the glass of water in front of her. Dinner was done in a few minutes after that. Onir cleaned the table for the couple’s breakfast of next morning. She slept peacefully that night.

Part III

The next day, after breakfast they wanted red roses for their bedroom. Olivia walked down to the flower-beds in the backyard to pick some. Onir, who at long last gathered the guts and got rid of his lover’s abusive husband the previous night, set the table for lunch. He forgot to remove the jug of poisoned water the previous night. He replaced that jug with a fine bottle of wine to celebrate. Olivia’s husband turned in his grave below the chrysanthemums in the garden.

Blind Belief

AS odd as it seemed to her children, Mrs Sharma strongly stood by the beliefs and traditions that were passed on to her by her parents (who in turn inherited the baggage from their predecessors), despite being experienced enough to not find any logic in such practices. Her children and most likely their offsprings hadn’t believed in any of that antiquated stuff even notwithstanding her continuing authority over them. For instance, Mrs Sharma’s kids have each gone through a couple of divorces at least, much to her dismay. Not to veer off entirely from what their mother desired them to follow when she inculcated to them through her moral stories, “One man, one wife, one marriage”, they had given a simple extension to the rule, thus turning it on its head, in actual implementation, “One man, one wife, one marriage. Repeat.”

Mrs Sharma was then a gentle old woman of seventy years. She missed her late husband. His existence was probably the only thing she appreciated about him while he was, well, extant, not because she hated him but because there was nothing much else she could identify in his being that commanded anything equal to her acknowledgement, leave alone appreciation. Similar were his affections towards her, except that at times, like when he was too drunk(he drank without her knowledge), he didn’t even remember she existed, or the fact that he was married. They both blindly believed that marriages were made in heaven, when actually they were only as bounded by marriage as two blind fish shuffling their chaffed limbs in a vortex of dirty water going down the toilet hole.

Such was her marriage of forty odd years that sort of lasted until his death did them farther apart. But, Mrs Sharma always maintained that she had had a splendid married life, though whenever she commented on her successful marriage she only thought of the well-settled kids, the prospect of having at least one more grandchild in the near future, her assessment of her expertise at child-rearing abilities, and the invaluable sense of freedom her husband’s death had given her when she was sixty. Since that death she lived independently in a house that was gifted by her eldest son who knew how much she wanted one that was her own all through her life.

While the older grandchildren politely declined every weekend her invitation to visit her at her suburban home, the youngest of the lot, twelve year old Lakshmi, would force her parents to send her over to granny’s in case the invite failed to be conveyed to her for some reason. Such was the fascination that Mrs Sharma’s curious ways held in Lakshmi’s innocent and inquisitive little mind.

Mrs Sharma still believed in Gods and ghosts that were introduced to her in the stories told by her grandparents when she was young. Mrs Sharma chanted verses to ward off evil spirits; she cut lemons in half at the threshold of every door of her house and assessed each half to see the imprints of ghostly spirits; she applied turmeric paste to the edges of every saree to bring good luck when she wore it the first time; she would tie amulets around Lakshmi’s arms and add charms to her necklace whenever she sensed an aura of danger around her loving granddaughter; she even had secret recipes for effective potions for every kind of ailment that Lakshmi suffered yet; she believed in arranged marriages; she believed in bad luck attached to black cats, crows, spiders, lizards, scissors, and whatever else; also, she had named every tiny article in the household after a god or a goddess from Indian mythology, so that when she couldn’t find, say, some piece of cutlery she would call out to it and it would make a clinking sound by some curiously natural accident. It all seemed quite magical to little Lakshmi and she absorbed all this mysticism that lived and breathed in Mrs Sharma’s secluded house in the luxuriant outskirts of the big city.

Time passed thus and Lakshmi grew to be a beautiful young girl of twenty-four years. Mrs Sharma was hale and hearty too but was growing blind in her left eye.

One Saturday, Lakshmi visited grandma as usual but there was something conspicuously unusual about her manner, her appearance, and her behaviour. Mrs Sharma inquired into the evidently positive change but couldn’t get any satisfactory answers. So she left the matter at that and appeared to have not been bothered at all by it for the rest of the day. Not being able to bear such complete indifference in Mrs Sharma’s attitude, the following day Lakshmi came out with the truth that she was in love with a certain young man. Mrs Sharma was taken aback by such a drastic aberration, something she imagined would never happen to Lakshmi after all happened, love, such a poisonous idea!

Mrs Sharma felt deceived by Nature. She cursed every known God. She upset Lakshmi by waving her hands in all directions hysterically and chanting some new prayers. Lakshmi was equally surprised by Mrs Sharma’s reaction and said helplessly, “At least, won’t you ask me who this Daniel is?” She received no answer. She continued, “Daniel is the writer whose stories I read to you last month, remember? You said you liked them very much. He is a lovely person, Grandma, won’t you please listen to me.” Mrs Sharma refused to listen by shaking her head sideways and all the time praying under her breath. The last thing Mrs Sharma said to her in the midst of this frenetic upheaval, “You are young and foolish. So is the young fellow who lured you into this abominal scheme of things. Either that or this man must be struck by your money and beauty. You utterly disappointed me.”

Lakshmi left instantly after promising to return with the young man the following weekend to seek Mrs Sharma’s approval for marriage. Lakshmi hoped that her granny might like the lad after all if she met him in person.

The next weekend Mrs Sharma stood at her bedroom window overlooking the frontyard, waiting for Lakshmi to arrive alone. Very soon Lakshmi’s car appeared and from it emerged a strikingly handsome young man followed by Lakshmi. Mrs Sharma could see through her blurring vision that they both glowed with joy as they walked towards her door, hand-in-hand, and she muttered to herself, “I spoilt her. It’s all my fault. I was blinded by my love for her; I could’ve taught her better.” She didn’t budge from her bedroom. Unable to get the door to open, they returned to their car holding hands lovingly and left.

Lakshmi called her granny many times on phone, wrote scores of letters, visited her unforgiving front door several times, sent people over to talk to her, but nothing helped. The wedding took place eventually in a month’s time with the approval and good wishes and gracious presence of every member of the family except Lakshmi’s most beloved grandma. The young couple
relocated to the United States soon after.

After some weeks the old lady thought back in time to see if there were any omens that she carelessly ignored. She could remember the crow cawing interminably at her window the day that wicked boy came here with Lakshmi. She remembered the scissors lying on the table with its blades open when Lakshmi first told her about her love. She also remembered that it was a Friday when Lakshmi read out a story from his book – the story was about a man who cheats on a woman. So many bad omens that she was too careless to notice. They all invariably pointed towards the young man’s ill-will, she thought. A bad marriage. They gave into physical attraction and nothing better. But she regretted not having opened her door to Lakshmi that day.

In a couple of months, news arrived back home that the couple died in a tragic plane accident. The whole family was distraught. News was conveyed to Mrs Sharma too. Mrs Sharma lost perspective. She just couldn’t believe that Lakshmi was never going to come knocking on her door again. She had been waiting for her to come back after all. When the shock of this news subsided a little, Mrs Sharma made a transition into a different state of mind where she held herself responsible for Lakshmi’s death. She thought that it was her curses, her bad wishes that brought about this accident.

Some weeks later, she wished she could hug her grandkid for one last time, though she still disapproved of her marrying Daniel. She knew it was he who brought bad luck upon her baby despite all her efforts to protect her in every way possible over the years.

When Mrs Sharma recovered enough to recount all the happy moments she shared with Lakshmi, she got reminded of the letters Lakshmi had written her pleading for her approval. The first letter that she opened was written the day Lakshmi left her house promising to come back with Daniel. It went like this: “Dear Grandma, I know you’re angry with me because you always told me
how inauspicious and foolish love marriages are. I respect your beliefs and know you speak from experience. But I want you to know that I’m confident it is nothing like what you think. And, it hurt me when you said that he loved me for money and beauty. Daniel is a great guy who loves me very much.  I have been his lawyer all these years. I love him a lot too. I want you to meet him next week.  Now that you’re going to meet him next week when I bring him over, I want you to know beforehand, so that Daniel is spared from hearing any hurtful words, and also since Daniel will never come upto saying it himself, that Daniel is a very rich man himself, apart from being the son of one of the richest persons of the world, and also, Daniel is born blind…..”

The letter dropped to the floor from a loosened grip, along with the old woman’s traditional beliefs. She forgot all the bad omens that she diligently listed out earlier, as if she did not believe in any of them or known them before. All she could recollect now with tears blinding her eyes completely, was a blurring vision of how the beautiful couple walked upto her door one morning, glowing like angels, holding hands lovingly. She wished for nothing more anymore.

——————————————————————————————–

(P.S. Dedicated to those people who are no more, including my grandfather and grandmother whose death anniversary falls on March 14 and March 15, respectively. I’m sorry if I’ve ever hurt them when they were there.)

My women, my everything!

I

That day, I saw her the first thing I woke up in the morning, like every single day, smiling at me but not expecting me to return it. I rubbed my eyes, reluctant to get out of bed so early in the morning, but got out unquestioning. Her reassuring smile told me that the day was going to be really good and even if it was not, she would say, I would still find her there at the end of the day, sitting right there smiling at me when I came back home from the world outside. She sent me off, out of her home, with a kiss strongly pressed on my forehead.

I got on the same blue bus as everyday and found a suitable seat after some deliberation. Like everyday, I was slightly perturbed by the sudden emergence of so many new faces, voices, and attitudes all around me. Same faces as the previous day, the day before and so on, but still new to me every day. At that point daily, she came and sat next to me, with a heart-warming smile, and all the new faces disappeared, submerged into the unintrusive background, and I was myself again. She held my hand as I got down the bus and helped me down so that I wouldn’t stumble and fall like I did the previous day. That day, as the bus left I realized that I forgot my water-bottle in it. I looked at the bus, I looked at her, I looked at the bus again, dumbfounded, not knowing what to do, not knowing what to say. She tapped me on my shoulder and I turned towards her again, while she waved the water-bottle at me and said with a knowing smile, “I got it.” I went inside the building, hand-in-hand with her. I reached the door to my room and she left me there with my water-bottle and my sweaty hands. I entered the room and there were new faces again, making noise, laughing, jeering, shouting, mocking – so much noise that I felt like rushing back to her, join my hand with hers, run back to the bus, sit next to her in my favorite seat and go back home.

I turned around towards the door, determined to leave at once but frozen in my place. I was counting the seconds in my head and she entered through the door, with a loud Good Morning that went ringing through the room, bringing everybody to silent attention. She walked briskly towards me and ushered me in, with her delicate but firm hands on my shoulders, and whispered “Good morning, sweetheart, had your breakfast?” in my ear. A special greeting just for me, everyday. I took my seat just in front of her. I shut my eyes, joined my hands for the morning prayer, and opened my mind again, and thought, “She looks absolutely smashing!”

II

At the end of the day, I went back home from school and found her running about the house, reading a book, cooking supper, talking on phone with her husband, watering plants, changing out of clothes she wore to work – all at once. She looked at me once in the middle of all this, the kind of look I was longing to get, and it satisfied me – I felt like a part of her life again, along with all her clothes, the bangles on her hands, the plants she took care of, the food she cooked, and so on. I thanked god for her – my mother.

Next, I picked the phone ringing in my room and I heard, “Sorry.” I knew who it was because every time I had ever walked up to that phone to answer a call I wished that very voice to say ‘Hello’ to me. I asked, “Why? What happened?” She said, “I was not in any hurry to leave but I left without saying goodbye in the evening…I’m so sorry.”  I saw her at the gate in the evening, waiting for me even though I got very late; she was worried for me; when she saw that I was alright, she left without saying goodbye. I forgot that I promised to meet her at the gate at 5 sharp. I broke my promise. I felt punished when she left without saying goodbye. “How could she know how to punish me?” I thought all along. Though I hated to accept it till then, I missed her goodbye all through. That phone call broke my ego and I said, “Sorry”, for the first time. We talked about the waterbottle, the bus ride to school, the promise I broke, among other things. I thanked god for her – my best friend.

Later, in the night, I pictured all the fairies, the princesses, the maids, the magic wands.. as my  mother narrated a bedtime story to put me to sleep. She kissed me goodnight and put off the lights. She went to her room and shut it close, perhaps knowing that I wasn’t really asleep. They shouted at each other for an hour or so, a daily routine, while I trembled in my bed, trying not to visualise how they fought, how they slapped each other, how my mother suffered the beatings – for my sake. I wished it could all stop. I hoped it wasn’t the same with my class teacher too, because every single day after the morning prayer she would say, particularly to the boys in my class, “Remember, treat women with respect, always, no matter what the circumstances are.” I hoped it wasn’t fights with her husband that made that beautiful young lady say so everyday. I hoped that her daily lesson would make better men out of the boys of my class. I thanked god for her – my teacher.

I thank god for these women – my mother, my friends, my teachers – and all other women in my life, that are protecting me, nurturing me, and helping me grow into a woman too, every day.

Happy Women’s Day to all!

Things to remember on this Valentine’s Day, especially if you have broken up a relationship recently

Lately having read many a blog-post dripping with cynicism over the tradition of Valentine’s, the overt commercialization, the artificiality of setting aside a day for loved ones, blah blah blah, I, for a change, decided to depart from my own customary cynicism and write something positive about Valentine’s, especially for those of us who are healing the wounds caused by a vicious break-up. After all, there is still space for “love”, the concept as opposed to the emotion, on Earth, in whatever form or method it is practiced. Well, well, I’m atleast trying to be positive.

Love comes in many forms these days. Let me roll out a few examples, as they come to my mind with or without price-tags,…..greeting cards, SMS, e-cards, balloons, cakes, occasional lengthy phone calls, rarely flowers. While these are on the low-end of love tokens, on the high-end they have candle-light dinners, designer clothes, vintage watches, expensive perfumes, diamond-studded  earrings, sleek cars, bungalows, aircraft, nuclear armament…I mean there is no upper limit to it. I don’t mean to underscore the commercial element of it. Money is only secondary; at least, it ought to be so. The reason being – whatever token of love you receive on this symbolic day, it is not as lovely as when you receive it from the man/woman you most desire.

There is a lover in every one of us. While many of us are fortunate enough to be accompanied by a Valentine on this special day, the rest of us can still dream about having that special person by our side in the nearest future. There must be a few of us who may have broken up with  our partners recently. Those of us must be viewing the impending Valentine’s Day as a major stumbling block to the obscenely difficult course of moving on. To this last group of lovers I want to say, cheer up, because there must be better lovers waiting for you elsewhere. Here are a few tips to get yourself back on your feet, feeling great and looking up again.

First and foremost, get out of those social networking websites which can only beleaguer you with a barrage of status updates and photo uploads from people who are ever ready to flaunt their fake love, and loveless gifts from their insincere lovers. (I assure you that those who update their V-Day adventures surely haven’t enjoyed the day as much as they did uploading the pictures in the aftermath. And, if some of those usual self-publicizing dickheads didn’t update it surely means that they didn’t have any worthwhile adventures to share or are just trying to be elusive. So, there is nothing you would likely miss by not logging into those loser-friendly networks anyway, any day.)

Take a warm water bath. Put on your best-loved dress and get out of your cubbyhole. Get yourself some bright-colored fragrant roses, and chocolates… treat yourself.

On this cheerful day spread your love to those who have the capacity to cherish it. Flush out from your fragile mind those unwanted memories of your ex, forever and ever.  Light up his/her photos with a match and wash them down the drain. It works well as surely as it did for Geet and Adi in Jab We Met.

Don’t cringe at posters of romance movies or at the sound of love songs on your i-POD but enjoy them in your new-found freedom.

Gorge on your favorite pastimes in your renewed perspective of being by yourself again.  Try out new clothes, new tastes, new music, new movies, new books, new forms of art.

It is not really a good idea to reconnect with your old friends on V-Day  for you may be risking hearing an aggrandized update of their V-Day news by doing so; but don’t block an old friend from reconnecting with you.

Finally, take a deep breath and take a moment to realize that  the day wouldn’t have been so awesome had you tried to stretch that exhausted relationship this far and spoiled one of the most divine pleasures of mankind – solitude. So congratulate yourself on breaking that unwieldy relationship for the better. Remember not to blame yourself for entering into it or for being the one who was dumped. No mistake is a bad mistake for you get to learn  something from every one of your mistakes. Likewise, no relationship is a bad relationship for you get to learn something from every one of them.

Happy girl

Remember that though it may seem to you presently that every man or every woman, as the case may be, is as big a douche-bag as your ex, it is not quite true.  So do not hesitate to welcome love with open arms into your life. It may come in the form of a cheerful ray of sunlight, or a wild flower blown into your window by a stray breeze; or perhaps, embodied as a lover knocking at your door on this wonderful day.  

(Photo courtesy: http://umangsota.blogspot.com/)

Nowadays!

The following story and all the characters in the story are purely fictitious…

“Nowadays, every five minutes or so, I have to keep telling myself that it is not the end of the world.
Things seem to be going wrong almost EVERYDAY.
                      Like, three weeks back, I had the biggest fight ever with my boyfriend, on Valentine’s day, and as a result, we broke up after promising never to see each other again. And there is absolutely no hope of getting back together because long before the break-up, we reached a point where we couldn’t stand each other’s company for more than a minute. In fact the only thing that was holding us both together till then was the Valentine’s week’s excitement…yeah, weird as it may sound, we exchanged teddy bears, chocolates, and stuff, just like any other couple in love. He is smart but, I guess he is just incapable of love. I’m feeling better that I got out of that meaningless relationship anyway.
                       Just last week,  after a long series of disputes, my parents finally decided to separate forever. I tried desperately to settle things between them. They seemed just too immature to do anything about peacefully solving their silly problems and misunderstandings. Even if I’m their child, it is not like I can’t comprehend the problems faced by two working people in their married life. I had relationships too. They wouldn’t listen to anybody… not even my grandparents. Fine.
                       And two days back, I had the greatest shock of my life when I got a call from mum about my little sister…sis met with an accident, she said, when she was crossing the road. She got hit by a motorcycle. It was Saturday night and I was hanging out with my friends when mum called. I immediately drove down to the hospital, crying and sobbing all the way. I found her with mum and poor mum looked very disturbed. Sis was fine, after all, no major injuries. 
                       Yesterday, I finally found the time to go to the tattoo place that my friends have suggested. I parked my new car outside. It is silvery blue in colour and I still have to christen it. My dad bought it for my birthday last month. It was a surprise actually. My best birthday surprise ever! Well, I went in and got my favourite fairy tattoo on my wrist. My first tattoo! I came out in flying colours and hell! I didn’t notice the tiny Latin lettering on the wings of the fairy. I got it pierced into my skin without noticing the details. I rushed back in to know what it meant, hoping it was something nice…atleast something sensible. The woman translated it to me, with the dirtiest smirk on her face; she said, “It is ‘Hairy fairy’.” I came back out to the parking space, feeling horrible. And bloody hell! My car! Its left tail light cover came off and was lying on the ground. It got hit by something. But thank heavens, just some minor scratches in the rear…fine!
                         And, for the latest mishap, believe it or not, today morning, when I was on the phone with my best friend, wishing her ‘Happy Women’s Day’, the most disastrous thing ever happened to me- my first period. I didn’t want it to happen so soon. I mean, I’m just 13.”

Happy Women’s Day!!

…also, this story is a spinoff from the discussion with a friend on ‘teen freedom, how childhood is changing, and the transition from childhood to adulthood happening too soon in teenagers nowadays’