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Poetry

Along the way, we pick up little things.

Like what is the best time to sit by the sea so that you can catch the last dripping colours of a setting sun;

Like the best way to carry a kitten so that you feel all of her soft fluffiness against your skin;

Like how long nights can be without your lover’s voice;

Like the exact number of times you can listen to a song on loop before you get tired of it;

Like how good the first drag of a cigarette feels after a long time without it;

Like the way your lover likes to be kissed – long, deep, wet; 

Like the best bookstore in your tiny town where you always, always find a steal, even when you’re not looking;

Like how the stars look in a night sky when there are no lights;

Like the sound of your mother crying when she is sick, happy, tired; 

Like the feel of him inside you, around you, with you;

Like the exact angle you lie on a park bench on a sunny day so that you can feel the cool breeze and the warm sun on your face while you doze; 

Like the feel of the summer’s best hibiscus bloom against your fingertip;

Like the taste of melted cheese and salty fries on your tongue;

Like the smell of fresh, clean sheets after a long day at work. 

Along the way, we pick up little things.

These little things, they make up this big thing called life.

 

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about languages lately. Hence.

***

My mother’s tongue comforts me on days
I yearn for familiarity –
Words, feelings, colours that come to me even in my sleep,
Subconscious-awakening, fed to me with
Breast-milk,

And then when I was a little older,
Sambhar mixed with rice, one handful, one kaipidi at a time,
By world-weary hands stained with manjal.

(“Protects you from cancer”, Amma used to say,
She, who would, years later, survive chemotherapy drinking
Milk laced with turmeric, still, still believing)

When I say “my mother’s tongue”,
Really,
I am referring to my mother’s culture, her beginning,
Her mother’s beginning,
Ancient, fiery, pulsating,
Like the colour red that dances between my mother’s eyebrows
Her pottu, that she never leaves the house without.

(“Wear your mangalyam with pride”, she tells me, the
wayward daughter who forgets more than she remembers,
forgets, forgets, until – )

The days when the belonging disappears,
When the brown skin is always reminded of its colour,
When English, the deserting friend, the language of the adopted
Slips through my fingers no matter how hard I
Try to hold on to, because,
It has never been mine, never will be.

When I stand on the outside, looking in, trying, trying,

My mother’s tongue comforts me on days
I yearn for familiarity –
Words, feelings, colours, that come to me even in my sleep,
Subconscious-awakening, fed to me with
Breast-milk,

And time-tested love.
***

A memory trigger.

***

Relief, as the music begins, weaving its way through tightly knotted ventricles,

lightly, lightly, the heart is released,

as light as the lavender drifting between the narrow walls of this –

A reminder of days long gone. Cold days, days we hunkered beneath thick quilts, a candle burning into the early evening, the sky dark, darker than black,

again, the same lavender drifting between narrow walls of this –

History always repeats itself. We remain, the characters,

indefinitely changed by the slow-moving hands of time –

Moments of lightness, then, moments that came and went, but the best, and sometimes, the hardest moments came as the sky turned dark, darker than black,

and just like that, a memory trigger –

Of warm hands, of the comforting smell of cigarette smoke, of music that made me catch my breath once, twice, of warmer hearts, of a single burning lamp,

of persons who existed just so, just then, and then,

History always repeats itself. We remain, the characters,

who leave time behind, and move on, on, on.

When a city makes you reminisce…

***

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(timcarterphoto.com)

Watch the way a city wakes up, sometimes ever so quickly, when there is no light, only the errant coughs of an early riser, the quick footfalls of someone rushing to work, the mad rush for early morning transport, the loud whistles of a steamer setting off, the creaking of old beds and older hearts, the silence of subway stations and the slight noise of just-open breakfast joints, the smells of fresh bagels and something slightly sweet,

and then, and then, you decide.

Watch the way the light falls on a building sometime just past 9am, watch the way the windows of a brownstone catch this light just so, watch the way it illuminates the railings along the fire-escape, watch the way the building receives and settles into being,

and then, and then, you decide.

Watch the way the traffic in a city builds up, watch the driver honk at the pedestrian who flips him a finger and tosses her hair, watch the lunch crowds settle in squares, watch the people rushing from store-front to store-front, watch the Big Apple come to life mid-day amidst the flurry of snow, watch another driver curse at a pedestrian,

and then, and then, you decide.

Watch the way the sun sets right over the park, watch the way the barren trees laden with snow glisten, bejewelled during the witching hour, watch the way he clasps her hand just a little tighter and the way she leans into him just a little closer, watch the park hold the families and the couples and the animals firmly in its embrace as it too, watches the setting sun,

and then, and then, you decide.

Watch the way the buildings so tall, so tall, glimmer and shake and shimmy in the night-time, watch her with the reddened cheeks and redder lips pose before the Broadway sign, watch the way the lights seem to get brighter as the night gets darker, and the buildings, so tall, so tall, watch the music grow louder and louder as the performers wow a crowd, and then two,

and then, and then, you decide.

If someone tells you that cities do not have souls, don’t believe them. At least, not immediately.

Of memories, and thoughts, and days, and this life –

***

Last week – a documentary that ripped at the insides and asked what does it mean to be a woman, where big words like indigenous and minority rights lay like fine haze in a dark air conditioned room, where at midnight, we talked about being women, and how there was no generalisation, there could never be a generalisation on behaviour, because your woman is very different from my woman, but together, women, we love, we need, and we will help and support one another. That night, for the one hour that sleep visited, dreams so dark of intestines spilling out, a girl’s tears, and a mother’s disappointment. Women.

A few days ago – 3.5 years later, a reunion, but is it really a reunion when the friendship had always been there, where the cord of love had always remained, pulsating some days brighter, some days, not so bright, but always, always, present. 3.5 years later, when conversation flowed around Truth, and memories, and a smile so bright, and a declaration: I am happy. I cannot write, I have not written, but I am happy. Maybe, because, there was no more sadness to fuel the words, maybe, the process, the business of living had taken all the emotions and set them aside for a while – rest, says life. Know me first. Then, the words will come. That night, for the one hour that sleep visited, dreams of swarthy hands, and wine, and salt, and a shade of tea that I can never forget but with only two sugars, and the goodbye, but with love, with love, the finality, after 3.5 years.

Yesterday – the colours of red and fractured orange making patterns behind the film of incense that twirled and caressed and rose into the dark, somewhere into white ceiling, with the sound of waves, crashing, furious, furious, continuously crashing, a medley of arriving and retreating, a little like two people, a little like two hearts, a lot like two mouths, the red, the deep red of bruised, the deep red of a wall hanging, the deep red of a spot on the map, the deep red of wine, and inside, silence. That night, for the first time, in a long time, sleep.