To imperfection

In the ideal world there are no 2 a.m. dinners.

In the ideal world you eat three meals a day which magically appear at the table, before you set off to your awesome six-figure paying job.  Of course, life being what it is, you probably had to cook them yourself, but by now you’re an expert at this game and can dish out a biriyani or a fish moilee at the drop of a hat.

In the ideal world you fall in love at 21, get married by 27, have your first kid before 30. You probably own a car and your in-laws think you are the epitome of perfection.

Back in the real world, your bed still looks like it was hit by a tornado. Food is coffee and a sandwich and uppittu at the office canteen. But you have people who love you, and some days you do manage to get most of the things on your checklist done. And even if you fall asleep on the couch and wake up at midnight craving hot food, you can roll up your sleeves and make yourself a mean dinner.

And some days you get to do work that you feel proud of, or to make someone happy through a simple word or action, and it seems like all this is temporary: one day, all the loose ends will tie up to form a gorgeous ball of sunshine.

Meanwhile, the mother of two whose settledness you envy stays up till 2 until everybody sleeps, to savour the only moment of solitude she can get in a long day.

She hears in the morning azaan the same calming voice you do – memories of a simpler time.


The forgotten gift

You have a gift. Use it well.

​Many years ago, when you were young and green and the world was your oyster, someone said those words to you. Oh, the innocence of youth! You believed it then. You had a gift, you thought. You had something special to give the world, something only you could create. You were a very, very special being.​​Those were the days, of heady first loves and limitless possibilities, when every plot idea you conjured had the makings of a potential bestseller. Today those storyboards sound so ridiculous. Today you couldn’t think of a novel-worthy story idea if someone put a gun to your head. That super-confident self has disappeared, buried and defeated among a pile of rejection letters and not-too-polite brush-offs.
You take to the internet to write, because on the blogosphere the rules are relaxed and everyone’s hair is down. You can be anyone you fancy, manic-pixie-dream-girl one day, activist-with-a-cause the next. The anonymity, the freedom, are intoxicating. But even here, you find minor celebrities, people who are loud and forceful with their opinions, people you will never be. Are you not good enough, you wonder. A small quiet voice tells you, but you have a gift, child. 
Each passing day, you believe it less and less.

You stop attempting poetry, because someone once thought it wasn’t worth commenting on. They were probably right, you think. Poetry calls for a kind of sensitivity and empathy you sorely lack, anyhow.
You still write, of course. Not as much as in your halcyon days, but a little bit. In the middle of a tawdry job and the daily humdrum of life, you try to do something about that little promise you held out as a child.
One day, spurred by gushing reviews from a few well-meaning friends, you enter a writing contest. You wait, days, weeks, months, thinking that somehow this could be it.  Your breakthrough. You imagine telling your friends about the victory. Guess who won the xyz award this year? 🙂 🙂 🙂 Classy was never really your forte.
And then the day dawns, and you look up the results eagerly, thinking that maybe, just maybe, you might have won something; perhaps a consolation prize or an honourable mention, and you see your name is not up there. And you labour down the list, because hey, lots of dimwitted fools like you wanted to know if they at least made it to the top 10, and the magazine obliged by publishing a list. And you slowly make your way down the list, rereading each bio carefully, because what if you miss yours? But it isn’t there. A tight squeezing feeling constricts your chest, and you struggle to look nonchalant.
You have a gift.
​Some day, you will stop believing those words, and something will die inside you. ​

Random musings on a Monday morning

So here I am, lazing in bed, writing nonsense because I have 200 things on my to-do-list and don’t know where to start. Some random observations at this moment:

1. I’ve just realised I’m not a very nice person. Now if you knew me in person you might disagree, but believe me, it’s all an act. In my head I call you the vilest of names and wish unspeakable things to you.

2. I hate my job at the moment. It sucks! Mostly it has to do with stuff I can’t elaborate on, because though it’s getting on my nerves right now, on good days I like what I do and saying anything more is a sure shot way to not get to do it anymore.

3. So I was skimming through the education supplement in the newspaper and feeling envious of all the young ducks studying hornbills in Ecuador and doing their Ph.D. at Georgia Tech, when I realised: this envy is never going to end. At some point or the other I’ve wanted to do practically everything under the sun, and the wisdom (!!) of passing years tells me that unless I can somehow turn back time and live three lifetimes in one, that isn’t happening. The other thing I’ve come to accept is that this crushing restlessness is going to last me my whole life. Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe it’s good to never settle, to always be searching for greener pastures. The whole idea of knowing your goal in life is a scam sold by puerile aunts and columnists in aforesaid education supplements, methinks.

4. These to-do lists will never end. No point stressing over them. This isn’t really something I get most of the time. Mostly I’m either frantically rushing from one place to another, or so bugged by everything I end up doing nothing. Mostly it’s the latter.

5. After staring at the screen for a good half hour, it strikes me: I’m not good at long pieces. Woe betide if I have to write something longer than 350 words. At the stroke of 350, realisation dawns about what balderdash I write and how terrible I’m at it, and how I’ll never be the writer I dream of being and how much I suck at ‘ideating’. (By the way, this is a fancy new word I learnt in office recently.) On a more positive note, I am definitely a copy-editor’s dream. I always put in less then the amount of words asked for. The moment I reach the golden number, I’m dying to hit the send button and run away.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Ciao!

A little whimsy

I sat there, forcing myself into that uncomfortable space.  Putting my phone away, feeling that “incredible loneliness”, as Louis put it. Listening, really listening, to my despair.

That Crillon cake was perfect. And the tea too. It’s good to be able to feel it; that aloneness. You can almost hear them, those unhappy thoughts, wailing as they crawl inside. And all those shiny happy faces… are they looking at you, wondering what you’re doing? No, they’re living out their lives, just as you are. You’re the stranger in the window they see for a fleeting second.

A moment of sonder strikes you. You leave a note for the stranger who will take your seat. “To the person who sits here next: have a wonderful day.”

Continue reading “A little whimsy”

Life’s questions and the internet

The most powerful thing about the internet is the connections we make through it.

The other day, troubled by an old grudge (seriously, it just never goes!), I randomly typed a few words in a search box. Google is a good place to look for life’s answers. Well, not really. The more accurate thing to say is it’s a good place to find others looking for the same answers.

And this is what I found out:

I am not alone in my pain.

There are thousands of people who have felt what I feel and are trying to forgive themselves and the people around them.

Sharing helps, even with a stranger. Maybe more, because strangers cannot judge you.

Everybody struggles with forgiveness and acceptance. It’s human nature.

Life is hard, and a lot of people have it harder than me. Some wise soul said that if you could see everybody’s pain, you would grab your pile and hold on to it.

There are lots of fools like me, feeding their worries into search boxes around the world, and expecting an answer!

And sometimes, for no explicable reason, it helps.

First Impressions

Tada! Here I was, at the Asian College of Journalism. India’s best journalism college, according to the better informed. I stepped into the foyer of the imposing white building, and the first thing I heard was a distinctive nasal voice.

“You know what happened to me when I was traveling to Chennai?”, and so it went, in a sing-song, clippity-clap fashion, like an over enthusiastic teenager on a school trip. I looked around the reception area. On top of the stone table that filled half of the sunlit hall perched a tiny specimen of a girl, all of five feet and two inches, regaling a bunch of twenty-somethings with some shitty story. Her audience seemed to be lapping it in. Or perhaps they were being polite to her, it being Day One and all.

Then she saw me.

“Hallo there! What’s your name?”

Twelve pairs of eyes turned to me. “Um, hi, I’m…”

And then everyone else offered their names and degrees and places of origin. Pointless exercise, really. Apparently none of the authorities had turned up yet (Strike one, ACJ!), so they were lounging around and getting to know each other. I dragged my luggage to a corner and joined the group of shiny happy faces. Miss Clippity-clap had done her B Tech and worked at some brain-killing tech company before throwing it all away to come to this dump. That would make her, what, forty-five? She hardly looked fifteen, with her riotous mop of black hair and seventy watt grin. She had forgotten to bring her certificates, and for some reason it did not bother her at all.

“Really? It was written in the letter??” she asked.

No, we all just like lugging our certificates around. Damn proud of our credentials, you know.

“Duh? Of course you had to… didn’t you read the letter?” I said.

She cocked her head side ways, closing one eye like she was concentrating very hard. “Nope, I guess not carefully enough!” and she broke into a grin.

At that moment the receptionist walked in and everyone clamoured to her desk. I lost my new friend in the crowd.

The next I saw of her was late in the evening at the hostel, I was going downstairs with a couple of people I had just met.

“Hi! Come down, man, everyone’s in the lawn!”

Her smile lacked the seventy watt brightness of the morning.

“Mm… I think I’ll pass for now.”

She slipped away into the corridor, dragging her feet as she went.

PS: This was a class assignment about what I think would be someone’s first impression about me. Does it come anywhere close? 😛


From a Die-Hard Fan

(To the honourable school Principal next door)

Dear Father,

               I love your kids. I really do. I love that they bang away on the drums and give erudite speeches in the wee hours of the morning. Amazingly talented kids. Day and night they regale me with the latest film songs and keyboard recitals. Speaking of which, why do all the kids play only Fleur de Lis? All huge Beethoven fans, eh?

             I must admit, nothing beats the high of a few thousand kids bashing away at my ear drums.

For Ammoma

“Get a cup of tea for Unni,” she said. I checked the flask. It was empty. I had only brought two cups from the canteen anyway. “There’s no tea.” Two minutes later, Ammoma repeated her request, only more earnestly. “Jayasree, get some tea for Unni.”

Jaya aunty walked to the counter, poured a glass of hot water from the flask into a steel tumbler, and quietly handed it to her husband.

“Here’s your tea.” He quietly joined in the charade. Ammoma smiled with satisfaction. Jaya aunty broke into giggles.

“That’s my mother… tubes stuck down her throat, and still she wants everybody to be happily fed.”

That was my grandmother, and she was bedridden in hospital at that time. She passed away a few weeks later, taking something deep and quiet from me. She was always like that… Continue reading “For Ammoma”

Frozen In Time

A wedding picture is a thousand stories in the making. One black-and-white snap with a lifetime to narrate is that of my mother on the morning of her wedding, her fawn-like eyes gazing at the camera lens. She was barely nineteen. Forced to drop out of college to take up the role of the eldest bahu of a demanding family of ten. My mother was beautiful, in a simple, unassuming way, right down to her long nose and petite mouth. While taking the photograph, she sat on a rusty metal chair, legs crossed, fingers clasped at the knees. Her back was turned towards a large mirror, showing off long, lustrous hair (which I am certain was fake!) hanging down to her waist, plaited in golden ribbon and adorned with jasmine buds. She wore a bottle-green Kanchivaram sari with a jari border of flowers. The colour I can vouch for, because it still occupies pride of place in her almirah. Maati,  jhumka, a string of gold chains and a dozen bangles. The essential round bindi. And the bride was ready!

According to mom, the day dad came with the marriage proposal, no one asked him if he wanted to see the girl. It was simply not the done thing those days. But he did manage to catch a glimpse of her eyes peering through the ledge above the window. And he was smitten! In the picture, those eyes look much larger because the beauticians of the day inadvertently smudged the kohl. Mom looked so innocent, so terrified. Had she even guessed then that she would leave her country and travel to Libya, the Gulf… raise three boisterous kids and stay very much in love with the man she married, thirty years later? Of course not. My mom, frozen at nineteen on the morning of her wedding, had no inkling what life had in store for her. Her doe eyes held hope and anxiety, and the promise of a future in which luckily, God gave me a part.

Mom on her wedding day