one night on the road.

‘You should be fully covered. Wind should not be able to touch your body by any means.‘ He’s giving bike ride 101.

You end up doing what you end up doing.

Quickly scramble your way up the backseat. You had already saved yourself a seat in the last bus to Chikmagalur. Plop yourself up, careful. But then at the last moment, he had confirmed. Budge. Stop. Shift. Still. Fidget. Adjust. Settle. You didn’t want to keep yourself waiting so you had booked. Soft into the comfort of the hard leather caress. You don’t like it. Legs flung apart. Making yourself feel dependent on someone else. Feet clutching tight, the opposite footrests. But it’s great that you are finally riding, together. Fingers digging hard into whatever they can find to dig into. A bike ride would be more fun anyway. This time, his shoulder. Should be.

It’s cold. It’s fucking cold. Hours later, the wind will make your eyes water. You shiver uncontrollably. Numb fingers fumble to change the song on the phone. But eyes, unrelenting. Even dreamy. Look at the stars above through all the mist. Stare.

The outside reduces to a blur, passing you by like a dream. You wonder if the haze mirrors your own.

Inside of you, unreal aspirations mount. You hear voices. Urgent, unusual, all your own. You hear yourself demanding things of yourself. Let’s collect all the stars, shall we? God! Change the song. Change the damn song! Play that one, that. Remember?

Stranger fields on dark highways do that to you. Or maybe it’s the moon. The moon. You suddenly want to befriend him. Maybe both of you could become welcome trespassers in each other’s territory. Maybe you already have.

You discover new blankets in the harrowing winds. Burrow deeper into them. Suddenly cold voids turn a temporary home. But how can home be a temporary thing? After all, it’s home. But home is a feeling, isn’t it? And feelings can be fleeting too. Or maybe they always are?

4 AM. You uncover a blessing in a small roadside bonfire. You had spotted it from far, burning golden into grey air. You immediately pull over. Walk towards it. Crouch on the tarmac. Hunch over the glowing amber.

You notice its embers. It’s mostly smoke now. It’s going to burn out completely. Pretty soon. You lose interest, walk away, order chai. ‘Fuck the dying fire.’ You settle for steam from the hot tea.

But this is unsettling. Giving up on things. Underestimating their true power. Slapping the ‘diminished’ label on them. Walking away. Settling for something else. It’s easy. It comes naturally to you. Because you’ve always known this. You’ve always known how to. You have been doing this to yourself. Invariably. Since forever. You are that ‘thing’.

He stokes a few wood pieces around and it flares right back to a comforting spur. To glory.

How a few gentle strokes save it from thinning away into its own ashes! How with a few conscious prods, it learns again! To defy the cold. To give away warmth and light. To everyone who extends a hand, wanting to soak in its fire.

Could you learn too? Could you be as defiant? Or perhaps more?

The fire unconsciously reminds you of your own. Still burning somewhere within. How it had been edging towards its death a few months back! But a few acts of kindness had saved it. Had saved you. How understated generosity is! You want to scream and tell the world what enormity little kindness is capable of. You want to offer it to others, just like someone had, to you, when you had been flickering on the margins. You know it now, you want to do the same. To someone, somewhere, seeking help. Or worse, not seeking at all. Badly in need.

You squat down there, a small puddle of borrowed pants and socks, clutching the plastic cup full of tea, tighter, as you inch it closer to your lips.

How infectious the warmth! How beautiful the light!

You feel almost dizzy. Out of place. Or perhaps back in place? Your own place. In your element. Suddenly you want to be feisty again. Suddenly you want to conquer the world. Suddenly you don’t want to be dismissive of yourself. Like, ever again. You make a promise to yourself by the fire. You make another promise to keep that promise forever. Fire’s a great galvanizer, but you earnestly want to break-proof everything.

Squinting through the light, with all the smoke getting in your eyes, you wonder if you have ever seen clearer before. You almost tear up. Notice a tiny waterfall running down your cheek. But all of a sudden, feel grateful once again, to the fire that silently picks up the blame, as you somehow bring yourself to mouth the words, ‘the smoke’s getting too much, can you please direct it a bit that way?’

not that usual ‘burnt bread’ morning.

7 PM. At the 2nd beat, he says, you have to stretch enough to bend over your back but not so much as to crouch at your knees. Your fingers try hard to reach your toes but the expanse somehow still falls short of the touch by an inch or so.

After the class, you feel unusual. Like baptized by the sweat. The sudden endorphin rush. The euphoric high that follows after. All feel like unexpected remittances earned on a whim. You haven’t felt quite this way in days, even weeks, perhaps months? And you can’t really put a finger on what exactly is working for you this moment, just that it is, and quite unparallelly well. You watch your reflection in the mirror. A body shifting and swaying. Swirling around and strutting its parts into shapes it has never worn before. Inside these walls now, there is no place for inhibitions. You immediately fall in love with the shadow dancing behind you.

11 PM. Winter doesn’t touch Bangalore half as intimately as it permeates Delhi. There, it marks its territory on your body through the cracks on your lips. There, when it arrives, you come to know it and know it well. But here, things are different. Subtle. And for once, you miss the harshness of it. For once, you miss Delhi. But maybe it’s just the memories. Maybe it’s just home and the roots and stuff like that. Snap to the next second and you’re like, chuck it! Delhi isn’t half as fun as Bangalore.

Anyway, the chill in the air is still well perceptible. You have been riding against speeding winds. Slapping your face. Trying to cut you into two. Biting a freezing hole in your chest. Your fractured self almost wonders if it could bury all its bruises in there.

12 AM. The hotel looks like a swanky place. You doubt if you should hit the bar here. One beer shouldn’t burn a hole in your pocket a size that big. But R says you are just overestimating the place. So you walk in, into the lobby, up the elevator. There’s some corporate party going on. You grab one of the chairs and blend in. Blame the fruit tarts and the green tea cheesecakes for their hypnotic pull.

You watch the city from this roof. A sea of bright dots punctuating the space all around. It looks beautiful. And the night’s perfect. Everything of it. The time, the place, the table, the view, the beer too. Eventually, you muster enough courage against your own self and try to articulate into words what you have been fighting, for a long time now. You try to put a name on your pain. Maybe, giving it an appropriate identity will make it ordinary, cliched, usual, normal? Maybe, just maybe, it will take away its power so that it tones down its wrath. So you try to label the source, categorize the hurt. Also so that you could outright blacklist that thing from your future. Everything else too, that comes bearing the slightest resemblance to it. You dread all that. You build walls now. But, funny thing: you don’t always get to pick what you experience. And weirdly, the party’s too loud to allow your pain to touch the right decibels. Nothing heard is nothing said. You quickly chuck it and settle with gobbling up the white chocolate swan. Sometimes, petty pleasures are the best things in the world.

1 AM. You crash at the next door bar at Hammered for a while. R says you don’t have to figure out your life this very night. You don’t really understand what he implies. Would there be ample time for it later, or would there never be enough time so there’s no point at all?

Anyway. Distractions are good. You never imagined they could be reassuring. Like stepping stones through a puddle. Helping you skip past the middle of nowhere. You learn to identify them for what they really are. All the bardot dresses choking your Shein e-cart? Passion weighing down on an app closet. The body craving the satiny caress of the scallop suede halter top that you cannot even slither into (will! one day, will!), but are still ordering anyway? It’s a waist-sized revolt. And this proud collection of rust, nude, and cocoa lip colours in the frayed pocket of your handbag? Palm-sized flags reminding you to also feel alive while you be. New folds on the pages of old books? Creases marking your reclamations of personal time and space. That tiny assorted pack of 12 sketch pens lying on your bedside table? Wilderness sealed in plastic. You pick a pen, implode inside a notebook, and take back the world.

2 AM. IISc Campus. You park outside the N Block. The institute air has something about it. A whiff of those days. Delhi. NSIT. Parking. MPAE block. You tiptoe into the jungle, and back in time, simultaneously.

4 AM. Chai-hunting all around Bangalore. Even the railway station doesn’t have shops open this late. (Or this early?) You end up grabbing some banana cakes on the road. It is an upbeat morning. Today you won’t feel small. Today you won’t run to the corners of the corners and hide. Today you won’t need to stain ten china cups with coffee in their bellies and lipstick marks on their rims. No. Today you already feel like devouring a slice of the sky. Today all mishaps are going to be merry. Today they can go ahead and break the melody in your head and you will totally forgive them for doing so. Today you can be a beatrice. ‘She, one who makes happy’. A beatrice. By yourself, to yourself, and perhaps then to some.

swaying to a flicker of the heartbeat.

I arrive at the Green’s Guesthouse that turns out to be the loveliest little place in all of Auroville. An entryway dotted with pebbles and a pail full of pretty flowers greet me inside.

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Enveloped in greenery, the place has a rustic appeal to it. The walls are haphazardly dabbed with several shades of green and look more like an artist’s giant canvas.

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The staff is very friendly and welcoming. Perceiving the exhaustion in my eyes (I had travelled overnight and the bus was not kind enough!), they ask me to take a nap first and pay later when checking out. Happy surprises!

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Anyway, I ask for some coffee to snap myself out of my weariness. However, they claim to have been using only “organic” products at their cafe. So, I instead have their soy milk tea and a toast with maple syrup, and enter the dorm room, pull down the net and sprawl out on the cozy bed by the window. Peace.

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Auroville opens itself up to me at a rather calm and unhurried pace. I wake up to noisy chirping of birds in the backyard.

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Weather is unpleasantly hot but the unusual old-world charm of this place keeps me hooked.

A short walk lands me at the Visitor’s Centre that has nice boutiques where I can buy all the cute stuff that I might want but don’t actually need. I end up buying pairs of earrings nevertheless. They look super cute!

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The town exists as an isolated, dreamy world of its own kind, lined by jungles and strewn with densely canopied roads. It is not frequented by too many visitors and is fascinatingly laidback in its essence.

Its name translates to ‘City of Dawn’ and the town stands essentially to foster human unity. Admiring the concept behind its creation, I take a compulsive walk to Matrimandir (Temple of the Mother Mirra Alfassa).

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But unfortunately, I find out, it is closed for the entire month of June, so I do not get to experience any actual yoga or meditation practices there. With heat beating my spirits down, I skip the rest for later and barge out of this quaint town to head to Pondicherry.

Wandering around, I reach the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is a Catholic church known for its Gothic-style architecture and cherished for the immense peace it offers. Which is true but my heart somersaults for the beaches!

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Soon I am traipsing down the long sidewalk at the Rock Beach.

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An old lighthouse stares back at me from a corner.

A towering guide to the ships during the 19th century. An inseparable part of the identity of the town in the 21st.

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A right turn later, I enter White Town, the most gorgeous part of the city. It traces India’s history back to the time when it was entwined with that of the French.

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This colony flaunting European-style streets and French architecture has villas in pastel colours of pink, yellow, rust, green and what not! These border the roads blanketed by a shade of Bougainvilleas. Exotic fonts yield recognition to these vintage buildings. Classic elegance abounds everywhere.

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Shutta_20180904_130241-01Later, on the Paradise beach, I take baby-steps into the sea.

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Waves are crashing onto the shore, curling up against me and dissolving into foam. I try to stand firm as the water recedes from under my feet, eventually merging back into the sea where it belongs. But no matter how hard I clutch at the ground with my toes, sand under my feet gets carried away with the ebbing waves and I am thrown off-balance. Swift, high waves come roaring back at me and before I can even process their intensity, I am tasting salt in my mouth, am feeling a burning tinge in my eyes, and am having an irresistible urge to scratch my ears out.

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My hair is all sand-flecked, with its tiny grains caught in my curls. Tiny lumps of salt adhere to my scalp, and refuse to come out, like they were glued there for life. Funny? Absurd? Whatever, there’s more grazing my toes, smearing my legs, smudging my feet.

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And. Yet I don’t mind any of it. I am too lost in my carefree abandon to mind any part of the mess. Isn’t that the whole point of living the moment anyway? To celebrate the unabashedly-uninhibited abandon.

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A woman clad in a gold-embroidered red sari is collecting seashells, and tucking them carefully inside folds of a corner of her sari. Notwithstanding the waves swamping her beautiful golden-brown drapes, she bends over to quickly seize any exotic shells she spots tinkling against her silver anklets or rubbing against her feet. Emboldened, I walk deeper into the water, digging my feet deeper into the sand, stiffening up against the waves.

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In front of me, the seamless horizon stands as the perfect metaphor for endless possibilities. I feel a sudden rush of happiness tugging on my heart. Turning my head back, I watch as the sky morphs into a pretty canvas for the sun playing with the clouds.

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I look up, only to find a curve of rainbow curled up in the sky.

A sweet gesture from nature, smiling back at me, in all of its raw, vast, and expansive surrealness.

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Suddenly it’s drizzling, and the sky turns darker shades of blue, that eventually escalate to grey, and soon black.

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The sea is hitting against the shoreline even more uproariously now. I spot ships in the distance, shimmering like tiny dots of light, floating against a backdrop of immeasurable darkness.
A smidgen of hope on the horizon.

Lightning and thunder trill the sky. I ride out of the place, craving for the peace and quiet of Auroville, where my cute little home awaits me, amidst the silent wilderness.

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And this wild, wide smile is exactly the one I leave Pondicherry with! 😀

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This is the 4th post in a 4-part series on my travel stories from South India. If you like this part, you can read the other parts on Coonoor, Mysore, and Ooty.

and that’s pretty much everything you want to know about change.

Every time you step into the woods, the breeze encircles you and bares your gasps, loud into the presence and absence of everything.

At first, you flinch, you waver, you look back for a return.

But then you walk further and feel the earth digging into your toes. Whatever direction you walk, becomes ‘the’ path.

You watch the sun filter in, through the canopy of trees. Nothing, however wild, could hold it back.

Ans so it dawns on you.

Every small step, an undaunting of you.

Every dare, your metamorphosis.

With every rise of the foot, a newer you.

the fumble for a path.

Tripping yet again upon a choice, you fear a trap. Unable to view the choice for the gift it is, you frown at the privilege, of having possibilities to pick from.

But no, you are not being ungrateful.

Rather, you know yourself. Your indecisiveness. Your impulsive decisions. Your sudden quirks. Your weird whims. Your idiosyncracies. Your screwed sense of direction. Your ambiguity. Your failed sense of judgement. It’s all happened in the past!

So, fear paralyzes you at the crossroads.

It’s funny when you get lost on your way and accuse the GPS of betrayal every time. But alarming when you have no idea what you’re doing, where you’re heading. In life.

Wedged between what to do and what not to do, you are scuttling through cities, flipping over jobs, tipping on the edge of aspirations and apprehensions.

But then, you have never been a calculative one.  You would never weigh the pros and cons in and out.  You wouldn’t tread lightly over gunpowder.

You have always been this frivolous, this turbulent, whose impulse would flutter like butterflies refusing to be bottled up, who would shrug all conscious rationale, at one bend of intuition, at one slant prick of psyche.

And so, even knowing the magnitude of impending change that will rock your world, may be, even upend it, you turn the page to the next chapter of the book, and watch anxiety melt into excitement!

Okay, you might be clueless. But you are not naive.

You attempt to sketch your own path.

You realize that, you yourself are the anchor to your chaos. You might be the epicenter of your quakes but you yourself are your recovery guide too.

You have this storm raging inside you.  And you use it to arm yourself to meet the one brewing in the outside world.

And even if it churns you to dust, and you end up gutted under the rubble, you would not fold your cards. You would rather choose to learn from your mistakes.

It’s hard, daring to defy the odds. But you have this thing knotted in your memory that you can’t forego.

This moment is all that’s there to live, and whatever you choose to do right now will become what you will have ever done at all.

 

when you unbottle to unbother.

you watch the stars parcel you an invite into a night

so perfectly pinned to the sky at its fuzzy dark corners

that you don’t want to dim its beauty with your inhibition

or dissipate its magic with your fear

or ruin its romance with your indefinite whys and why nots

so you ask reason to pack its bag and leave

and tell responsibility to stop weighing down its burden on you

and as the duo give in and walk away

you lean over the parapet

into the glass in your hand

and roll your head an inch back

and exhale

what had been asphyxiating you since eons

tonight, you let this roof become your salvation ground

and as you sprint around the terrace

and giggle into the moonlight

and dance without watching your step

you realize that you are capable of seeing beauty

even in the darkest nights

that you are capable of being happy on an unfamiliar roof

when the roads leading home seem illusory

you had been feeling unreasonably displaced

or rather like a misplaced LEGO piece

made to fit into blocks

that bulge and dip at all the wrong places

only if you had realized any sooner

that your universe is different

that you cannot fill, with what you don’t have

so you stop caring anymore

about anything at all

and from among the billions dotting this night sky

you point your finger at a random star

wish upon it, a countless fantasies

then unclench your fist in sudden keen

and let all go.

hanging in there.

It is difficult to unsee it once you see it, this magic beaded into your nerves, this power that stems from your soul, and once you do, you feel like you are high on your own depths. You have been called out ‘unproductive’ and ‘incapable’ and ‘undeserving’ of love, but you have also been called irrevocably strong and a go-getter and easily-blending-in-with-anyone lovely, so may be you are a labyrinth of opposites that melt into each other and you cannot perfectly label yourself on who you are and what you are because may be, you really belong only to the betwixt and between of everything.

It doesn’t matter, you don’t want to be caught up in this mesh anymore, you want to be no-thing, nothing. It is what makes you feel above and beyond all the tyrannizing mess, anyway. It is what makes you feel akin to the birds, gliding above the rest, watching the world from a distance.

You think, may be, you were not cut for being categorized and put into boxes depending on your skillsets, possibly because you don’t have many (or any!). To be blatantly honest, if at all you were asked to recount your skillsets because your life depended on it, you would say, you excel in laughing out loudly, you are at times clumsy, at all times non-elegant, you hold high honors in not being able to keep things from people, and that you know to draw yourself a line to tell apart your intrinsic parts from the extrinsic ones so that you bare out only the extrinsics but over time, everything just bubbles up to the surface and exposes itself and you, to the world.

You are learning to go from ‘terrible’ to ‘tolerable’ at your job. You are bumping into deadlines more than ever now. Meeting them offguard like that, you feel stupefied, your past-self would have never thought its future-self could upgrade so high.

You gather, it can always be learnt, what is expected of you, to learn. But what they don’t tell you is, it cannot always be found, what you don’t even realize, is missing in the first place. You know what you long for. Openness. Clarity. Liberation.

You don’t see a clear path ahead, but you do see a path. You decide to take that anyway. How lost will you be?! Your innateness will catch up with you soon enough. After all, no matter how much you try to blend in, you are never able to contain all of yourself, inside yourself, somehow the essence always spills out and every path you walk on, starts reeking of you, becomes home. May be, there never is a sureshot destination for real, and whatever it looks like, exists only in your head. May be, the path in itself is magic, strewn with signs for you to pick on, and carry on from there, but to nowhere really, the journey is all the magic that is there to unfold.

You have this memory, ringing constantly at the back of your head and though you have been trying so hard, for days now, to wipe it out clean, you actually haven’t been able to erase it quite completely. You have often desperately wished it were material so that you could get rid of it, the way clean out your closet. You have tried to rearrange your thoughts around it just like you reorganize your clothes on the shelf, but now you are howling for change so bad and there’s no point in repositioning the clothes when what you really want to do is throw away the closet.

You have got problems, and so everyone has. But you are unique in your own way not everyone is. You learn to stop generalizing every thing around you, every trait of yours inside you. You learn to replace the word “everyone” with “I”. You learn, no boulders are big enough, no muck is grimy enough, no wind is bristly enough, and no cold is biting down enough on you, because you are a different protoplasm, there’s stubbornness mired into all of it, into all of you, in disproportionate inconsistencies, disproportionately aplenty.

This is your canvas, you planted the easel here and you will finish your painting, replete with the exact grace that you had wished upon it. 

And if you run out of acrylic, you pick up your bottle of water color and start brushing in and if all those bottles break and spill out, you smudge pastels over the piece and if you lose your pastels, you fill crayon inside those lines and if you exhaust your crayons, you pencil your sketch with insane undertones of graphite and if you misplace your pencil, you ink your heart out and if you drain all ink, you glaze oil over the sheet and if you have burnt out all the oil, you claw into the magnificent white space with your fingernails but you bring out that damn picture that you have always wanted to see. Means or no means, you don’t shy away even if it comes down to your own blood to evoke the scene in the painting you had set out on arriving at. After all, you got only this one canvas to sport.