‘used to’?

i heard him call me endless

and i almost immediately believed it

as if i were the water                                            

that was roaring at our feet

back then believing used to feel easier

the person telling me, there’s no end to me, hadn’t ended seeing me yet

it’s an art, at my workplace, they say

being able to compress three hours of some encyclopedic content

into a thirty-second video that keeps you hooked

i learned it up close, from him

he distills 30 hours of his life into a 30-second phone call and offers it all neatly wrapped with a bow of cold disappointment to me 

‘it’s alright’ 

‘everything’s alright’

don’t i wish it were!

like that night when it was, it really was

the sea was loud

but our conversations were louder

and the air tasted of invincibility

and my curls were just the shade of the horizon in my eye

eyes that shone like the flimsy silver anklet on my feet

and i almost slipped on a rock

looking for crevices to burrow into

to be able to sit beside the sea and him

to be able to sit beside the sea in him

still rumbling like a storm

back then, how i used to look for the simplest of things in life

and be able to find them at the oddest places in the world

back then, how i used to find the oddest places themselves

and be able to call them home.

 

 

overstepping?

At work, they say being emotive is tacky. At work, they say being expressive with your feelings is tacky. At work, they say a lot of things. You can’t bring yourself to agree with the half of it.

They embrace a ‘vanilla’ kind of marketing. They don’t believe in smiling or winking or sending over cute hearts to people. They fear getting personal. They call it stupid, disastrous, even blasphemous. They don’t believe in conversations. They believe in passively stating things out loud. More like a broadcaster. They don’t want to be striking those chords that could touch people. They say being apathetic is all the identity they will ever have. And will ever want.

You can’t tell anymore if it is apathetic or just pathetic.

You believe in quirkier voices. Chirpier voices. Human voices. Unlike robot ones. Unlike theirs. 

No one hates no one but you can’t help what you believe in.

 

Pull back. Now forth. And back. Push forth.

Layzie Bone’s New Life is drowning out the whirr of the cross-trainer. 62.5, it had read on the scale. An extra 6.3 kilograms trampling down your hard endeavor to be a normal BMI.

Why ain’t weight just a number? 

62.5. 56.2. Fucking same three digits. Just different arrangements on either side of the decimal.

So a bad case of permutation and combination doesn’t just fuck up your math exam.

 

Fresh apple slices. Dark molten chocolate. In the night, you ditch the rules to fill your soul. You figured, crumbling only under salads and eggs and more salads and eggs is just depressing.

Whenever at crossroads, pick mental health over physical.

 

There’s Bollywood music. There’re disco lights. There’s you. There’s he. Some vodka and a pinch of lime later, every silly move feels the greatest dance move in the world.

Ten more blurred steps down the road to the left and you sniff waffles. You don’t walk further down. You can’t. He lifts the halfway-down shutter and you sneak in. The aroma is more intoxicating than that vodka at the bar. All the diet drama goes whizzing out the tiny space under the halfway-pulled shutter. You place weird (you-are-still-a-wee-bit-health-conscious) orders.

Plain dark chocolate. No sugar. No waffle crust. No milk. Only water. And a few strawberries to go along. For a nice snack.

They are sweet enough to prepare you the not-so-sweet craving. In the cab on the way back, all’s devoured even before the next signal arrives.

 

At the kitchen table, there’s more poking at the chopping board than at the onions. Dicing them is making your eyes water and watery eyes ain’t letting you dice properly and suddenly you are not sure which is leading to which, just the realization that collecting all the nice condiments in the world isn’t half the cooking you had thought it was.

The loud exhaust feels pleasant against the noise in your head.

You tap open Pocket in the phone. Hunt down that Coconut Curry recipe from among the million ones carefully bookmarked earlier in the day. Zone out.

Heat a large saucepan to medium heat. It ain’t easy to fall for someone. Add 1 tbsp of coconut oil. It can’t take just this. Just this? Add the onion, garlic, ginger, carrot, broccoli. This is a first. An uncanny first. Salt and pepper now. Maybe you are thinking too much. A pinch each. And one pinch back to normalcy? Cook stirring frequently until softened. This is hard. You are raising questions you don’t want to hear answers to. Add curry powder, chilli pepper, coconut milk. Raising them anyway. Maybe the act itself is enough time to live the fantasy. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat slightly. Slightly? This is more overwhelming than it should be. Because now you know what he could see. Now you know how he had felt. Now you know why he had wanted all that he had wanted and how it could have felt like there could be no other way about it. Now you know how he could not grow over that. Now you know how you had been enough. Now you know how only you had been just enough. Now you know how things had been however they had been. Now you know how he could have stayed attached. Now you know why he could not let go.  

Now you can see how the boundaries go invisible.

Now you know what an overstep is.

You have once witnessed how much it costs.

Now you’re scared you’ll end up there.

The aroma’s intoxicating. It’s flooding the kitchen. Not so much of you though. Not yet enough on the distraction-scale for your head.

This is not love. Perhaps this is no affection too. This is a misidentification. Classic even. Because actually, it’s fear. You’re scared you’ll turn into him. You are scared you’re turning already.

Now you know what acceptance is.

Now you know how certain things cease to matter, how certain conditions cease to hold. When that happens. That. The little four-lettered behemoth.

Now you know why it hadn’t mattered to him at all. What he had seen different. How he had seen it differently. Why he had wanted to be with you, around you, anyhow, anytime, anywhere, and how it had sufficed. Him. How he had wanted his world to be a certain way. How he had imagined it to be. How he could the way he did. How he could not have had it any other way.

You couldn’t relate to this so much back then. Now you’re scared that you are beginning to.

Hope might be a good thing. False hope is not. Is never.

You know how it had ended.

You don’t want to come full circle.

But.

Is knowing it better than not ever having known it at all? 

Now you get what B had meant when he had said all of that. That you’ll know when you’ll know. That it would make sense then. All of it. Even the clumsiest parts would.

You don’t want to end up in a mess. Maybe you already are in one. But you don’t want to end up deeper.

The good parts light up your world.

But is it all worth getting buried under something you don’t know how to wriggle out of?

You don’t know. You don’t have the right answers. You don’t have any answers. 

All you know is, they underestimated the power of emotions when they said, they couldn’t care enough to be emotive.

All you know is, emotions can be pretty powerful. So much so, you fear them now. They are insane. 

Suddenly you want to adopt that workplace ideology. Suddenly you want to not care enough. Perhaps not care at all.

Suddenly you want to turn apathetic. To any emotion. To every emotion. To all of them out there. To all of them in here. Within you.

You would rather choose to keep your sanity. 

 

What you don’t know right now is, they won’t leave you much choice.

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 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, little pleasures are the biggest 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.