The Storyline Project

The Storyline Project is an ongoing collaborative writing project by a community of writers.


He sat down on the worn-out leather chair, breathing heavily, and ran his fingers through his long, wet hair. It always felt peculiar, touching anything with freshly bitten nails.
A voice next to him asked, “Are you sure?”
He nodded, his mouth too dry to talk, and closed his eyes tight while he waited.
It took ten frighteningly long seconds before the cold blade touched the back of his neck.
One cut. Two cuts. Three cuts.
“Loosen up, it’ll grow back you know?” the barber reassured him with a smile.
No, it won’t, he thought, not this time, it won’t.

“Son, what started out as a symbol of respect for Gurudevji’s legacy, is now the very basis of our identity. Don’t ever forget your roots.” His dad’s words from what seemed like ages ago, reverberated in his mind.
When he looked up next, he couldn’t recognize the face that peered back at him from behind the mirror. The barber’s thick British accent jolted him back to reality, “And we are done, I’ll be at the counter if you need me.”
Just as the barber walked away, his phone, clutched tightly in his hand, vibrated. It was a message from the unknown number again – Good job. Stand by and wait for further instructions

As he paid the barber at the counter, his phone vibrated again. He pulled on his jacket and stepped out into the cold breeze. He paused at the trash bin, the chill in his heart making the cold metal touching his skin feel warmer than a glove. Struggling for minutes, he removed his other constant since the thirty years, and threw the kara.
He checked the message and dragged his feet through three blocks, until he reached a moss-covered garage. Eyes wide open, he wrenched open the rusted shutter and entered. Cold metal touched his skin again, but this time draining any warmth from his blood.
“Quick, we’re on a schedule. Get down.”

***

“Will the weather ever get better in this god forsaken city?!” she thought to herself as she exited the grocery. It was going to be soup for dinner. Again. Veer had shown no sign of wanting a new job ever since that fateful Friday three months ago. Thirty people laid off from the small factory in one day, doors shut the next. Her three temp jobs were barely enough to cover rent; food had become an unwelcome burden on their savings.

She walked up the porch and rang the bell. The living room light was on. Must be watching the match she thought. I hope he was decent enough to wash some dishes.

Ten minutes passed with no signs of movement. She fumbled around for her phone and rang him.

His number was busy.

She had never wanted to leave Amritsar, let alone move out of India. Where was the glory in this life abroad! What was the big fucking deal about living in a dirty desi neighborhood, with crumbling Victorian houses and a shabby kebab shop at each corner.

This post code served the sole purpose of igniting an aspiration to do better and move elsewhere. Or else, she shuddered to think, it exacted a silent resignation to one’s fate.

“No, this will not do! No.”

Some tough love awaited her husband, if only he’d open the damned door!

It had been a steady decline since the factory had rolled down the shutters. He had slipped from the initial bravado of “we’ll get over this soon, Diti” to a visibly fake “only a matter of time, Diti” to broad proclamations of duty and honor. “A man provides, Aditi.”

But this was a new low.

When she’d left in the morning, he’d been slumped over the couch, staring at the scuffed old CRT they’d nicked from a backalley. And he’d likely passed out there.

She began hammering at the door, now opting for the cathartic approach. Just as she’d begun to work out some of that rage, the door swung open.

The dusty Daihatsu sputtered and clattered, weaving its way through the busy evening market. The man in the back reached for his kerchief, as the stench of yesterday’s fish wafted through the half-rolled window. “Step on it”, he muffled, cranking the window up.

Veer looked out through the glass, but all he saw were hazy figures draped in cloth and color, conducting trivial exchanges of verbs, vowels and things he didn’t recognize.

They were stopped at the intersection when a sudden smack on the window jolted Veer to his senses. His eyes scanned the crowded pavement and fell upon a toddler. It was a young brown-skinned boy looking directly at him with frozen, unblinking eyes. Veer couldn’t move. Just as the signal turned green and the car sped away, Veer thought he saw the boy mouth one word.

“No.”

Veer started to sweat profusely when a horrifying realization hit him – he had absolutely no memory after the celebratory champagne on British Airways. His last memory was the piercing guilt of leaving Ditti behind and the toast he raised to Tanaka-san, the man who saved him. Everything after – was dark, hazy and incoherent in the annals of his memory. His survival instincts kicked in when he couldn’t recognize his clothes, his fellow commuters or the roads. But he restrained his urge to do something drastic, knowing that he wasn’t in the hands of amateurs. Two heavily tattooed men sat in the front while he was accompanied by a stern-faced man, in an unapologetically expensive suit. He noticed that the driver’s little finger was severed amidst the sparkle of a hundred rings. Veer sneered, “This wasn’t in the agreement.”

 

The man in the suit turned to look at him. “It was a one time job, you guaranteed full payment on delivery. What happened to me after the flight? Where are you taking me now?” Veer asked exasperatedly. The man in the suit turned his gaze outside and said, “We’re taking you to the foundation for further tests.” He turned to look at him, and said with a hint of excitement, “In over 15000 volunteers, you were the only one to show absolutely no side effects or lasting damage in the procedure. You could be the one.” Veer reached for his phone, which was somehow still with him and said confidently, “I’m calling 911, you can’t just take me against my will.” No one in the car reacted to his threat and the man in the suit smiled and said, “I don’t think they’ll be of much help”. He reached in to his breast pocket and pulled out a badge. Veer froze. He was being kidnapped by the FBI.

Of course. Who else but the feds. You needed some serious resources to pull this off. The lines on his forehead grew darker, sweat still bursting through despite the car’s air conditioning. He tried to piece all of it together. It was futile trying to think of the last thing he remembered; to be sure, his memory was tampered with. As a sort of test, he tried to recall some very early memories. Walking to cricket coaching as a 12 year old. That was intact. Walking along the isolated road behind the college workshop, smoking Bensons. Still there.

As he started to sift through his early 20s, he was struck with a realization that he was starting to lose sense of exactly who he was. This was not your garden-variety pill they’d given him. It took him inordinately long to recall his first job. He knew he’d been to a South-East Asian country, without any idea which one. Hell, he knew there was someone called Aditi involved, but his memory of her face was blurry, like it would be with an aunt he hadn’t seen since adolescence.

He evaluated this Borgesian nightmare. His options were bleak, but he seemed to have his wits about him. The captors were his only hope for information.

…to be continued


All rights are shared equally by all contributing authors.

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Your Sunday Morning Trip with Uber Pool

She bit her lip and fiddled with the ring on her finger, looking out the window at nothing in particular. It would have been wonderful if the city had given her an abyss to stare into, but it gave her concrete and windows and the occasional street vendor; really stealing the poetry from the moment.

She turned to me and mouthed something, so I unplugged my earphones and said “Yes?”

“Windows. Can we put the windows down?”

I gave her a nod and rolled down my window, as did she. The driver did too, almost too keenly, as the freshly generated fragrances of the suburbs started to pour into our cab. I could mostly just smell the rain, or whatever it smells like when it rains. I read somewhere that it’s the smell of some metabolic by-product of a kind of bacteria, emitted by wet soil. It’s the sort of trivia that hits you on an idle Wednesday afternoon when you’ve been scrolling down your phone for too long, your thumbs have gone to sleep, and then you realize you probably should get back to work.

Her phone suddenly began buzzing. She looked at it, sighed long and hard and then answered. The voice at the other end was shrill and loud, and started speaking almost immediately.

“Cut the gobi, clean the paalak and boil three eggs,” she responded dispassionately, once again fiddling with her ring. “I’ll be back in ten minutes.”

She had a melancholy look about her face when she caught my eye, and I couldn’t help but offer an understanding smile. Sometimes you just know when someone needs a smile. She sighed out a smile in return and said, “It’s just been a long day”

It was 8.37am, to be exact.

I looked out of the window on my side to see a vegetable vendor wrapping up his cart for the day. Behind him was his wife, who’d completed her cooking for the day in the three houses she worked in. His son would return from his night shift as an auto rickshaw driver soon, and they’d have their one meal of the day together. 8.37am could be a tiring time of day.

The cab took a swift turn off the main road and she reached inside her handbag and put on several red plastic bangles on both her hands. As she did, a piece of paper flew out of her bag and onto the seat. She looked at it, pursed her lips and crushed it and threw it out onto the road. Then she directed the cab to her destination, and almost braced herself a little before she stepped out of the cab.

Another pickup was scheduled just down the road, and a pleasant young boy in very crumpled clothing and worn out chappals got into the front seat of the cab. He leaned out the window to wave excitedly to someone on a higher floor of the building we were outside, then buckled up his seatbelt, turned around to look at me and wished me good morning. I nodded back with a half smile, the way one does to strangers. He whipped out his phone from the back pocket of his jeans and settled into the seat, visibly grinning as he read through an old conversation with the concentration millennials seem to reserve only for social media.

After a couple of minutes, he made a call. As he reclined his seat a little too far back, he said, “Yeah, no gym for me today. I’m exhausted.” He then plugged the hanging aux wire into his phone, put on a song I couldn’t recognize and settled back into the overly reclined seat with a smile on his face and a sigh of contentment.

And soon, I left the cab and walked back home, feeling not so alone in this new city, as half of Mumbai embarked upon their Sunday morning in yesterday’s clothes, without yesterday’s company.

Leaving the Lighthouse

“The dip of the light meant that the island itself was always left in darkness. A lighthouse is for others; powerless to illuminate the space closest to it.” ― M.L. Steadman

I was young and foolish. Agreed, young is an arguably relative term, but then so is foolish. And yet, it’s all I’ve got to work with. I was young and foolish and in love. I wanted to be in love and he wanted to be happy; so that’s really where the trouble began.

Such a small word, and it means so many drastically different things to different people. To some it means stability. To some it means loyalty. Love to me then meant magic. It meant unpredictability and thrill and just a little bit of danger; enough to seek a lighthouse but not quite enough to seek harbour yet.

I think love for him meant peace. I think he was young and foolish too.

Do you know what lighthouses do? I don’t. But from all the stories, movies and legends, they seem to be both guiding lights and warnings signals for each and every ship at sea. Am I the only one who senses the irony in that? It must take everything in a lighthouse to look at a pretty little ship and say “You’re beautiful, but if you come any closer, you’ll get hurt. So go there.”

Some people are like that too. Selfless, you’d think. Strong and selfless and guiding lights to those who need them and those who don’t. But while we’re all applauding these lighthouse people for their maturity, we forget that it must take everything in an unbalanced ship to hear “You’re beautiful, but if you come any closer, you’ll get hurt. So go there.” The unhinged love stronger, you know. They run towards the light and seek warmth and love louder.

You were my lighthouse. I guess it was hard to see my hinges off from way up there. My ship wasn’t even in the midst of a storm, the sea and sky were clear and calm and I think that’s really what led me to you; the insufferable quiet of it all. I thought I’d dance in your light for a while and leave at day break, and so I did.

Once.

Felt like enough, until it didn’t.

It took me months to pass by you again. I even took a detour, for the heck of it. What harm is a lighthouse, I must have thought. What harm is another dance in the light, the light that’s shining for everyone to dance in anyway. And so I came, and danced a while in your warmth, and just as it was time to leave I noticed that the closer I got, the darker it became. You weren’t meant for me to embrace, you were meant for me to love from afar, for everyone to love from afar – little did I know then, it’s darkest where the light is being cast from.

The trouble with our tryst was that you never offered me safe harbour, you just told me the rocky island was secure. I nestled my head on your shoulders and asked if you were comfortable. “More than I should be,” you’d say, because you knew you had no room for my anchor. I was a universe too late and the spoils of the ship at the bottom of your island weren’t mine to keep.

How much we fools in love bite our wretched tongues until they begin to bleed. I loved you till I realised you were a warning sign for a menacing coastline. I loved you till I realised your light was meant to usher me, not warm me. I loved you till I realised you weren’t mine to love, till I realised that who I was wasn’t for you. A cage made of hopes is but still a cage.

“It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.” ―John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent

COME AS YOU ARE

Picture Credits: Hardik Batra

Welcome to my standard night at ISB. It’s 4am and it’s both late night and early morning. I can hear the Gurbani playing in the east as Calvin Harris slowly morphs into Nucleya to the west of my room. Outside in the living room, people are discussing public policy in rural India over a game of Monopoly, and as I look out of my window I see a rabbit hop towards the wood heated from last night’s bonfire. It gets too close and immediately backs away, hopping once again into the darkness. None of us gets a how-to guide, you see? Everybody’s just somewhat winging it.

The wine is over and the temperature is at it’s lowest for the day, so we bring out the rum. The Monopoly has begun to disturb friendships, so we bring out the rum. We’re out of ideas and the paper is due in two hours, so we bring out the rum. A little liquid courage never hurt anyone, so we bring out the rum. Only to wake up the next morning, thirsty, exhausted, drowsy – yet somehow more accomplished, dearer, warmer.

I won’t lie, it’s been an especially gruelling year – but that’s what we came here for in the first place, isn’t it? A year that would ideally have taken two. Not just in what we learn and experience but also physically, mentally, emotionally. Some days we surprise ourselves and own it – the classes, the assignments, the study groups and the networking, still somehow managing to spend quality time with the ones who matter. And yet, some days, we leave our spectacles in the refrigerator.

That’s the beauty of life at this pace. Ever so often it reminds you that you’re still human. Allow yourself a breath – a wasted day, a missed deadline, a failed interview. And then get back up, immediately. That’s what we came here for in the first place, isn’t it?
A year that would ideally have taken more time.

And now with graduation day almost in sight, I try to think of all the ways to tell people all the things I wish I’d known when I began my year here, most of which have to do with emotional stability. That even as you start out, you will meet people who see the same stars as you do. They will inspire you, overwhelm you, bring out the best and worst in you and slowly become a part of you.

But people, as people do, change. Sometimes you just outgrow the ones you started out with, for you mature with experiences, not with years. All of a sudden you’ll be looking at the same stars, seeing different constellations. And nobody is better or worse for it, we just make our own momentum as we go from bone crushing hugs to firm handshakes.

And then there’s the ones you find and keep – different momentums, different starting points and all that jazz. But the same escape velocity. They come out of nowhere and as they do, you realise that for this one year, you’re always one decision away from a parallel universe. And for that one reason, this year is the beginning of anything you want.

I wish we could have bottled this year, like a perfume. Breathed in a little every time life got dreary or uninspiring.

But we can’t, so we bring out the rum.

Mohali Skies

All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop – Kabir

For the first time in almost 3 years, I sat in a classroom today.

It was hours past noon and my eyelids were fighting gravity, my hands periodically jotting down sentences I barely managed to hear to completion. From across the room, a friend would pass a sly smile in my direction every time the instructor made an attempt at a joke.

It wasn’t so different from sixth grade after all.

We were just studying scarier things from friendlier people, finding comfort in the midst of strangers, united by anxiety, fear, ambition, and luckily, a sense of humour.

Just till a few days back, the previous class was still here. Guiding, supporting, frightening us for the year to come. We learned forty five new names a day, twenty one new background profiles, maybe one odd fun fact. And then next day, we all had the same questions – What’s your name? How old are you? Where are you from? Gathering information on demographics, as if it mattered.

This is why we forget people – we don’t ask the real questions. Ask a person how old they were in their earliest memory. Ask a person what fuels their midnight lamp. Ask a person if hot chocolate and Ed Sheeran give them the same feeling. Sing a song with someone. Run a race against someone.

Then try forgetting them.

All of a sudden we’re walking on grass at four in the morning, fuelled by wine and the need to let out our ideas, pausing for breath now and then because we’re overwhelmed by the pace of this time machine we’ve volunteered to ride in. We let ourselves into each others minds, too much too soon, for better or for worse.

We learn. We had been waiting only to realise we shouldn’t have waited to create the things we wish existed. We learn that almost everyone is just skin, bones and questions, and that’s okay. We learn that we have more patience for others than we do for ourselves, and that’s not okay. We attempt to walk down a path with it’s jarringly new topography with someone who can’t adapt to our pace. We learn from what people say. We learn from what people don’t say.

“Averaging reduces variation,” I scribble onto my notebook as I look out the classroom window. The sun is setting in colours I can’t name. Blues merging into pinks, oranges emerging from yellows. It takes an uninterrupted sky to realise the horizon is infinite. Luckily, we all start as strangers.

The Goodbye That’ll Do

I was supposed to eat healthy this year. I think I wasn’t supposed to fall in love with anyone new. I had to write a book and complete blog posts and talk to publishers. I had to work on my art and fill all the empty canvases lying around my house, yearning for attention and colour as they gathered the year’s passive grey dust. I was definitely supposed to travel and subconsciously that’s the only promise I kept. And thank god for that.

I travelled to Mumbai and saw the filthy drugged and the stinking rich live side by side in perfect ignorance of each other’s worlds – not hating, not loving – just existing for purposes they found sufficient. I travelled to Pondicherry and saw three Italians pulling vegetables out of their kitchen gardens to make a meal for me in their wood oven. I travelled to Bangalore and saw some old friends. Some grown up more than they’d have liked. Some grown up less than I’d have liked. I travelled to Los Angeles and saw women with botoxed foreheads holding Prada handbags, their worry lines now buried deep inside their skulls, invisible to everything but their own soul, because that’s how they like their foreheads. I travelled to San Francisco and saw a homeless woman reject the pancakes I gave her. I danced to bluegrass banjo music with people whose names I couldn’t pronounce or hear. I saw seventeen miles of a sky in colours I can’t name.

I also loved. Deliberately, consciously, carelessly and then carefully. I loved like I had never been broken. I loved a person across cities, states, countries and continents because it’s 2015, and distance is nothing but a minor inconvenience. I got over emotional unavailability, only to realize that it’s the most selfish reason not to let someone love you.

I read books I couldn’t relate to that taught me so much about the people I’m not. The people I want to be. The people I must allow in others.

I lived with my family long enough to fall back in love with them and then remember why I can’t live with them anymore. I heard my father talk to me like I was seventeen, and didn’t get irritated for once because the last time he spoke to me over breakfast on a Tuesday morning in pajamas was when I was seventeen and we both forgot that we both grew up in the years between that Tuesday and this one.

I think I learned how to breathe slower this year. I learned my feet freeze the fastest when I’m out in the cold, my stomach last. I learned that money is important to live a happy non-materialistic life as well. Because it’s 2015, and money is nothing but a major convenience.

And with 2016 three days away, I’ve decided I’ll eat healthy this year. I’ve sipped fine sake and guzzled shitty absinthe and my body deserves some peace. I won’t fall in love with anyone new. Because my heart’s only this big and it’s full. I will write a book and complete blog posts and talk to publishers. Because I started seven books this year and they’re all now just unfinished parts of me. I’ll work on my art and fill up those canvases with colour. For no reason in particular.

And when 2017 is three days away, I’ll tell you what I did instead.

Featured Image – Picture clicked in the Standford Museum of a notebook with doodles and scribbles. This particular page ends with the lines
“Made it from there to here and now
Here’s there again”
Anonymous, like all good feelings

 

How Love And Lust Came To Be

They didn’t plan it.
I guess the stars above did. Somehow, the stars let everyone know about their plans.
Everyone, but the two of them.
There were four stars at work. They’d work hard night after night, trying to get their formations right so the two would notice each other.
Every design, every arrangement, every little deviation of angle was tested. Ah! The permutations were endless.
But nothing seemed to work.
The leading star, called Star, looked up to the heavens and sighed in disbelief. How could two people, so beautiful, inside and outside, so enchanting, so charming, so made for each other, not notice one another? He asked God to check his records.
God looked down at Star and smiled, “Sorry Star, I’ve checked and double checked and triple checked. I made her for him. And that’s just how it’s gotta be. I made her mother tell her bedtime stories about him. You can’t disappoint her now.”
Star knew he had to fix this.
He looked at his three followers. Place. Time. And Shiz. Poor Place and Time would work round the clock, trying to get the two of them to the same place at the same time. But Shiz was lazy. Every time that Place and Time finally managed to work something out, Shiz would mess things up.
So Star went and spoke to Shiz.
“Listen, dear,” Star said, “I see you’ve been trying, but you don’t realize how important your task is. The two people in question really need each other, whether they know it or not. And if you want something truly, with all your heart and soul, the entire universe conspires to bring it to you. If the two don’t end up with each other, the universe will collapse. And every time you work your magic too late, they end up with the wrong suitor. We need to fix this.”
And saying this, Star asked Shiz to leave the constellation working on their Love and appointed Perfect instead.
Now Perfect, as his name suggests, was perfect. The moment Time and Place managed to create and opportunity again, Perfect did a perfect job, and hence the Love was created. Star was pleased, and so was God. Now the universe shall live on.
But Shiz was still there, in the sidelines somewhere, his ego hurt. He wanted revenge. He didn’t want the two to part, for then, as Star had warned, the universe would collapse, so instead, he decided to mess around a little. Now he knew the constellation he’d just left had been working on Love, working so hard only because it was the most beautiful Love ever to be created. Shiz didn’t have the power to destroy that. So he did something naughty.
The next time that Time and Place unknowingly worked their magic together, Shiz worked his own magic and created Lust. He watched it blossom between the two in Love, and thought to himself, “Hah, Star should’ve known better than to throw me out.”
Now Star, being the leader, knew everything each star was up to. When he saw what Shiz had done, he went to have a word with him.
But then, he saw, the most beautiful thing ever.
He saw the two lovers, as they took every drop of Lust and poured it in the Love, and created the most wonderful fusion of the two. God had been right, of course. The two were meant to be.
At a distance, he saw Shiz, looking at him watching the lovers proudly, and he said, “Thank you, Shiz, for being part of the team. We couldn’t have created this magic without you.”
Hearing these words, Shiz’s naughty smile faded and his eyes went moist. Yes, he was part of the team that created this fairytale romance. And to this day, every time you see Shiz, you see his colour changing because of his light shining through his moist eyes.
Disco star, as the two silly lovers call him, twinkled away a little more brightly than the rest of them.
But he’ll take that name.
After all… he was part of the team.

Window Seat Chronicles

Travelling to Chennai for the first time after hearing people talk about it for several years is kind of like going on a blind date with a stranger with a bad reputation. You don’t know him personally and when you finally see him, your first thought, no matter how he looks, is “Oh…”
It’s an I-didn’t-really-know-what-to-expect-but-had-I-known,-I-would-probably-have-expected-worse-than-this-so-you-come-as-a-pleasant-surprise kind of “Oh”. I would imagine that’s how strangers with bad reputations score so much. Low expectation is key.

Anyhoo. I had about five thoughts on my three hour flight from New Delhi to Chennai because I spent most of the time sleeping and most of the remaining time making faces at a particularly obnoxious kid who kept making funny-scary faces at me (which was unnecessary because his face was funny-scary in itself. If you’re judging me, I have two words for you: Green snot).

Thought One:
Why are people travelling in heels? Stupid question – Heels are sexy. So I’m going to amend that to HOW are people travelling in heels? Oh dear lord I feel the pain as I watch Delhi women with their Delhi figures from their Delhi appetites, balancing themselves on six inch long and one decimeter wide stilts, as they ricochet from item x to item y for support, passing off prolonged glares if item x or item y happens to be a man (though the good looking men get shy oopsy-daisy-tee-hee-hee smiles). On third thoughts (hey, if second thoughts is a thing…), I’m going to amend my question back to WHY.

Thought Two:
Its 6 am in the morning and the last time I ate at an airport pre-8 am, things did not go down too well. Literally. So even though I’m hungry and I can feel the hungry people I ate for dinner last night running around in my stomach for food, I will not eat anything.

Oh my God that’s a lot of cheese in one burger.

That chicken looks juicy.

Oh my God I can smell the cheese and all the marinated chicken and wow is that yesterday’s dead animal you are serving me no issues make it two.

Thought Three:
I know I said I wanted the window seat but now I have to pee. That is the tragedy of life, in a nutshell. You get what you want and then suddenly it’s not what you need (#deep). It doesn’t help that Mr. Venkatanarasimharaja (Boarding passes are very informative) is snoring in the aisle seat and I’m so fixated on his surname that I want to wake him up using it. Should I attempt it? He snores louder, as though in response to my thought. I don’t want to pee anymore.

 Thought Four (with subthoughts):
What?! Why??!! Why is the seat belt sign red twenty minutes into the flight? This is NOT the outfit I want to die in! Oh man I really should have learned to swim well. WHOA did the pilot just say we’re experiencing mild turbulence?!?! Even Mr. Venkatanarasimharaja is awake and all this moving and shaking in the seat is just torture to my bladder and now that kid is crying because his milkshake fell out of the container. How cute, little does he know he has bigger things to cry about. Like death.
With a funny-scary face like that, it’s probably best he doesn’t live to grow up though. Just kidding. I don’t wish him ill. I just hope the “mild” turbulence makes his green snot fall into his milkshake before he drinks it all up. Ok now I’m going to read the safety manual, because death is definitely taking me to hell.

Thought Five (post – nap, landing, pee-break):
The total number of known languages people use in Chennai is minus one. Zero, because they know none, and minus one for incorrectly answering instead of ignoring other languages. It’s as if they’re communicating through their eyes.

“In which terminal do the Air India flights land” I ask a man.
His eyes widen and his eyebrows go up. This means “Huh?”
“Air India. Flight. Land” I say, while I somehow also expertly act it out.
His eyes go back to normal size and eyebrows flatten. This means “I dunno watcha sayin’ bruh”

I go to another man and ask the same. He points me to the washroom.

I ask a third man, he says “No”

He’s probably right though. The Air India flight in question is already delayed over three hours and “No” just seems like when it’s finally going to land. Now I shall proceed to memorize the Chennai Airport while I wait.

Pills We Don’t Take

It’s hot and my toes are sweating. It takes a special kind of heat, you know, to even realize that your toes are sweaty. I push my way through the crowd and head towards the balcony. Some ventilation would do me good, do my toes good.

As I reach the balcony, I notice a boy sitting in the corner. I haven’t seen him before. To be fair, I haven’t seen most of the people at this party before; but this boy, this boy looks especially out of place. Like I wasn’t supposed to have seen him before. I wonder if I should step into his line of sight. He seems like he wants to be left alone, at first. But as I linger at the entrance, he looks up at me and smiles.

It’s not so much a smile, actually. It’s a half smile. And a half smile is a dangerous thing. Half smiles hide more than sullen faces ever will. Half smiles come with a sense of resignation, the wrong kind of peace.
He smiles at me, half smiles at me, then looks away, into space, at nothing really – maybe a star, I can’t be too certain. I walk across with my drink and stand at the edge, looking down into the beautiful city, lights dotting the landscape till as far as I can see.

“How does one bring themselves to forget someone who loves them?” says a voice from behind me.

“Nonchalance and distractions, mostly,” I say, still look at the moving specks of light in the distance.

I can feel his eyes on me as I say this. He’s probably hurt. He’s probably aching in love, furiously looking for a profound explanation to justify his pain.
I turn now, to look at him. There’s an interesting expression people have when they don’t get answers they want to hear. A look of confusion mixed with incredulity, a feeling of “How could you!” with a side of “Oh”. His moustache is barely sprouting and his eyes are red with memories of someone who held his hand one moment too long.

“You’re young,” I say, as I turn back to face the city and its specks of light, their anonymity comforting me.

“Until I’m not”

I don’t know how to respond to that. That blatant crisp truth. I’ve been young, I’ve been in love and I’ve been in pain and I’ve been in thought. I’ve wanted to sit in someone’s lap and not be touched at the same time, I’ve wanted to play with someone’s hair and not call back and I’ve been young and I’ve been old and it never really goes away. I don’t remember much but I remember feelings.
And the trouble lies in the expectation. The expectation that someday true love or maturity or destiny will work its magic and you’ll fall into a love that won’t make you claw your insides out. The expectation that things will turn out the way everyone who ever comforted you said they would, the way everyone who ever comforted you wished they would.

So I turn back to face him, determined not to fill his head with false promises of a world that’s fair and a heart that beats one beat at a time. But as soon as my eyes meet his, I know he knows. He knows what I want to tell him, and he knows I won’t.

“I know,” he says. “I know”

A few days later he jumps off the same balcony. I don’t feel anything.

He’s left a note for me, they say. I still don’t feel anything. I open the note that looks like it has been scribbled hurriedly in pencil, rewrites on top of rewrites, and remnants of a chewed up eraser the only saving grace of the words meant to be hidden.

“How could you forget? What kind of sickness of the brain eats up your ability to love someone back?”

Nonchalance and distractions, mostly, I think to myself, as I forget what I’m reading.

The eye of my storm

What is this need to be in a constant unrest that engulfs you? Just when the air around you has settled and the sun is finally shining its brightest; this need for a hailstorm, for rain and thunder. As if the calm doesn’t make you feel alive enough. As if the fragrant wind doesn’t please you unless it ruffles some feathers if shouldn’t ruffle, unless it breaks some branches it shouldn’t touch.

What is this unsolicited aversion to tranquility? Has your life been so tumultuous that when peace finally arrives it must be nothing but the eye of the storm? And even so, who can explain this itch to take a step out into the whirlwind? Is the silence beginning to bore your demons?

It’s late in the afternoon as these questions cloud my mind. I sit on the balcony and enjoy the rain, watching it turn the blue sky grey, and the yellow soul blue. Lightning breaks the horizon in the distance and I feed off it like a parasite of havoc. Drenched to the bone, the cold takes my head and makes its way down my spine and I smile as I feel it warm something inside of me.

There you are, somewhere, happy and whole, loving me with a love I can feel to my toes, a love I’ll never have to recover from. It’s so serene it’s killing me. This recklessness will be the death of me and yet it’s what’s kept me alive for so many years that it’s the only way I know how. And even as I feel my dreams take shape in the distance as you talk about us ten years from now, twenty, even forty… I can’t help but wonder what happened in all those dreams I don’t remember. What did I create some nights with my own imagination that was so confounding, my mind decided to leave it behind in my pillow instead of carrying it along? Was it something different from these pictures you paint, was it what enters me every now and then, this sudden urge for chaos, for godless limitless fearless love that takes fate by the throat and says I know you have plans, but bugger, so do I.

I feel myself settling into the cloud of plans and as wonderful as they seem they’ll amount to when they do condense, there are moments when I feel I need the rain tomorrow, or I need to fly. This silence of the clouds is making my demons restless.

I may be wrong, I may be so wrong, I may be wishing upon stars and planets as they twinkle in the sky for something completely and ridiculously unholy. And you may be right, you may be so right, when you tell me stars are just distant suns and tomorrow, maybe day after, I’ll be doing and not wishing, but not today.
But I wasn’t made to stand on the sidelines. I wasn’t made for rationed rational love and I wasn’t made to wait and wish.

I find it staggering that my soul knew a time before you. Who was I? What did I do in all the time I now spend talking to you? In whose heart did I live, how was it warm? I can’t remember a time I wasn’t incessantly wishing, waiting, hoping for the future, the next five years, and the next plane ticket that’ll bring me to your side. I can’t remember a time I wasn’t dreaming about your beard scratching my cheek, your elbows cupping mine; I can’t remember what I was waiting for before I waiting for this.

You feel like home.
And there’s something amiss when home feels way too far away in space and time, don’t you think?

Lost daydreams, interwoven with quotes from Sylvia Plath and Haruki Murakami and a million others who touch my mind.