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The minutes you spend.
Looking at her clothes. How the neckline of her blouse is just shallow enough to give away her delicate collar bones. You spend a minute too long on this, in fact. And sigh.
Onto the next. Your fourth grade crush has bought his own BMW. Ah but, you think to yourself, it’s commonplace in the states.
Onto the next. Your ex boyfriend’s ex girlfriend. You make a mental note to unfollow her. Another time. Right now she’s got a cute puppy and you’ve forgotten you hated her.
You scroll down. It’s your mum’s cool friend, showing way too much cleavage.
Further down, your own ex. A post about his football non profit. Unfollow.
Next, your other ex. Married now, posting a picture of his brand new six pack abs. You smirk and don’t unfollow him, because it mildly amuses you to see his scantily clad calls for attention, the same reason you’re still following the girl from high school you never spoke to, who makes an appearance in the next picture.
You continue scrolling, fast now because the promise of entertainment from this app is slowly waning and making you restless.
And then you stop.
Scroll up just a bit.
There.
Right in front of you.
The tiny thumbnail picture of the man you have a crush on.
It’s funny, you never thought you’d say man and crush in the same sentence. He’s posted something after two months. Not his face, not the weather, not some wannabe poignant picture of a derelict alleyway with a cheap filter and a borrowed caption. It’s a post of his latest animation, that he probably coded lying down casually in bed on a Sunday between his morning dose of Economic Times and his afternoon reading sesh (you think he likes reading Manto but you’re not sure it’s his Sunday vibe, so you don’t feature that into your imagination).
And then you scroll further. Slow now. Not really taking in anything. Memes. Selfies.
Comic strips come and go. By the time you’re back to the present, you’re already looking at pictures posted last night. With a pang of guilt you continue.
A quote with a bright background. A close friend’s terrible attempt at sketching. A stranger you follow in her latest gym attire (holy shit she got so fit so fast!). Because you like to know what exactly is up in their lives, three celebrities one after the other.
Your ex best friend with her new best friend. Your token cool colleague. And (just before it’s time to get off the cab) the guy who took his life last night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Summum Bonum

Today, like everyday, I woke up thinking about you.

But it’s raining today, so I’ll tell you about it.

It was a hot day, the temperature was predicted to hit a high of 41 degrees celsius and yet, I swear, at about 3.00 pm it hit 43. The elderly in the house had swapped their morning tea for lime juice.  The family dog was sitting quietly in the shade and lapping up water from his steel bowl. Crows circled the trees that posed as regular haunts for peacocks that frequent this part of Delhi. Even mangoes that fell from the mango trees had fallen too early, not because they were ripe, but because the scorching heat had sucked the strength from its branches so that they couldn’t hold on to the fruit any longer.

I woke up to the sound of the cleaner using the hard brush broom to sweep up all the dead leaves from our verandah. They crunched and scratched as they moved from the grass to the earth, smooth but parched from the summer it wasn’t prepared to face. Dust and dead leaves, a golden yellow heap in one corner of the house.

I was dreaming of you I think, when I woke up. I’m not sure what the contents of the dream were, but you did feature in it; you were probably the star. Probably, yes, because you were iridescent. Even in my sleep my subconscious had decided to focus the lens on your face and the world around you was just a disappointing backdrop, that failed, and how, to live up to the foreground. I looked at you and gulped – you looked like a dark cloud in a desert. You could bring rain and you could bring a storm and I’d take what I got because you were iridescent and I couldn’t look away.

I was dreaming of you when I woke up to the crunching and scratching of brown leaves on brown grass. We ate melon for breakfast, and took tea without milk, and then went up to the roof to pour water over every square inch of it. Grandpa says it cools the house below, but I think he just likes going up there to enjoy a couple of minutes of silence in the one place in his house where Grandma can’t reach – or at least where her voice can’t reach. He loves her, but it’s a hot day, hotter than predicted, and therefore hotter than expected, and even the petals of the purple summer flowers are allowed to protest in silence with their browning edges, so why can’t Grandpa.

It’s the hottest 29th of April in 29 years and the news channels have all sorts of things to say about it. The opposition is blaming the ruling party and the church is blaming science and Grandma is blaming Grandpa, and in the window of the house next door, the toddler shrieks with delight to commemorate her first spoonful of mashed unripe mango.

I sit in the master bedroom and join Usha, the help, as we fan my grandparents with yesterday’s newspapers (seventy odd years back the only electric fan in the room was thoughtlessly installed in the north west corner, a corner now full of pictures of the children who left the city when the summers began to get too hot). We fan them as Grandma talks of how things were back in their day, how the summers actually brought everyone together in those days in Srinagar, when they’d pluck apples out of trees from their backyards and play house in their mother’s dupattas. The younger generations, she says, forget to give thanks for the little things.

I smile and look away, silently disagreeing, because today, like everyday, I woke up thinking about you and with it came a wave of happiness. I had sighed, more than once, as I tossed about in bed, dodging the morning light that filtered through the blinds so I could go back to sleep and see your face again. I had sighed and I had smiled and I refuse to believe that in that moment I hadn’t given thanks for the little things. For the silly nicknames and the imminent laughter, for the words in verse and the words in prose, and even the words that we never write. For the space on your bookshelf, for the dim yellow-light lamp, for the movies we’ll never finish and the books we’ll never start and the kisses aimed at foreheads and noses and chins.

And all of a sudden it began to rain. At first we just heard the light pitter patter on the terracotta that capped the verandah, but it slowly grew stronger and louder, accompanied by thunder and lightening and shrieks from the toddler, once again rejoicing, her arms and hair and toes splattered with mango pulp (because her mother had warned her the bowl should be clean when she’s done).

A cool breeze blew into the house and the golden yellow heap of dust and dead leaves soared into the air and back onto the lawn. Inside the house, Grandma pecked Grandpa on his cheek and Usha cleared the newspapers and the family dog came running to my feet, trying to hide from the thunder and the lightening. And with all this, and everything else, I thought of you, just the way I do everyday. I thought of you and the little things.

And it rained today, so I thought you should know.

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.

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.

In Staccato Rhythm

It’s a rainy day in a college by the road, and my two corridor mates are introducing me to a blend of guitars and endlessness they call classic rock. I’ve heard its kind before, but never when steeped in someone else’s enthusiasm.

It’s yet another rainy day, in an apartment by a different road. Four years of my steadfast indifference has done nothing to dampen their enthusiasm. There’s new songs blended in now. One of them now hunts and gathers new music from the scuzzy underbelly of the city. The other has rekindled loves from his past. I still don’t understand it. I’m beginning to suspect I don’t understand music at all.

It’s the wee hours of the morning, and I’m sitting in a shared cab back from work, listening to my borrowed tastes. It fills the silence better than inflicting conversation on my fellow corporate drone. His stop is before mine. I come home to a girl who is no longer here.

It’s been ages since college when we set out to ride back to it. The road is the same, it’s sweltering hot, though. We’ve forgotten most of our CDs. This was before we, as a country, could afford streaming. There’s no classic rock. There’s the corridormate-turned-flatmate’s newest find. He goes on about how we should support the local music scene. For the first three hours of the drive, he insists it’s all alright that we can now recite the lyrics in our sleep.

I’m at the beach by the college by the road. The breeze brings back memories. They say music brings back memories. Places do, too. Smells, sounds, the feel of a place is stronger in my mind than notes in the ether. I’m convinced. It’s not music that I’ll miss.

It’s Sunday and we’re all staring at each other across a wooden table. This used to be a bar for Sunday afternoons, it’s now one for Friday nights. It plays every song you know, smeared into one explosion of sound. It reminds me of clubs, not in a bad way. New people are at the table. They remind me of clubs, not in a bad way. New people bring new music.

It’s a lazy Sunday in a new house, and the rain has obliged. I’m sipping tea with a girl I’ll hurt. She’s talking to me about electronic music. That can’t be good, I tell myself. I profess my borrowed inclinations, scoffing at the idea of anything new being good. Funny that the corridormate-turned-flatmate, in his final months in the city, would wax endlessly about how the goodness of anything new.

It’s the same early morning on another day. There’s no one in the cab today, no one waiting at home. I stumble in sleepily to soundtracks seeping through my flatmate’s locked door. Soundtracks, I understand. I begin to wonder if I’m overthinking this. One of the classic rockers left long ago, the other left less long ago. The guitars are no longer endless where I live.

It’s raining as I bid them farewell, the first time. My flatmates, neighbors, collegemates and the girl. Raining. Rain is a place by itself. I wait for my flight at the airport, watching the drops race down the glass. Drinking seems inappropriate, like I’m tarnishing the memory of the past years with more of the same. I plug in, and listen to more of the same, taking my mind off the last things I’d seen.

It’s a different early morning. I’m in a different cab. It’s driven back from the airport by two grim chauffeurs. I reach home to utter silence. The entire flight here, I’ve drowned anxiety in simple mash seasoned with the occasional weird taste. There’s no filling a silence. That phrase shouldn’t exist. Silence breaks. You can only break a silence.

My second farewell is less charged, if more permanent. I’m back across the oceans. I move from the job with the late night cab and find another one. I move from the city with the job with the late night cab and find a new one. With new people. There is a bookshop under my house. I almost never go. My little portable speaker is still in my boxes. I’ve forgotten the playlist on my phone.

It’s a cold winter’s day as I trot from the bus into work. I rummage about in my backpack, looking for a mouse. I find earphones instead. I plug in. It’s the playlist I’ve built over these years of growing up. It’s every rainy day, on every road, in every house, in every cab, for every farewell. It’s everything silence isn’t. I’m still unconvinced I understand it, but it’s getting harder to believe that.

It’s the same day’s evening. I call the corridor mate. He’s crossed the same oceans as well. We talk like it’s all one day, seven years wide. He has new songs, of course. So do I, now. I hear the new ones, while I finally listen to the old.


This post was originally written by Abhijeet Sathe.
All rights remain with the author.

Maybe I’m a Dark Star

“To know one’s own state is not a simple matter. One cannot look directly at one’s own face with one’s own eyes, for example. One has no choice but to look at one’s reflection in the mirror. Through experience, we come to believe that the image is correct, but that is all.”
― Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

I met all kinds of people this year; each one kind of left a bit of themselves behind. And the world that I’d created for myself, with my own ideas of black and white and acceptable grays, ultimately came crashing down. Things changed in the last one year. It’s funny how you realize you’ve changed by small simple things. A song doesn’t make you feel the way it used to. A fragrance doesn’t stir what it used to inside of you. One passive sense at a time, you realize, you’re a different person.

It gets harder every day; accepting that you kind of forgot color exists. People can be blue all their life, and for a fraction of a second they come in contact with someone yellow, and suddenly, just like that, they’re green. It’s nobody’s fault really, it’s a pigment thing. But that’s how long it takes for someone to change you. One look, one smile, one interaction; we’re all dynamic, ever changing. It scares me sometimes, how much I let people affect me.

And I can’t go back to yesterday, because I was a different person then. I believed in true love, I really did. I’m not so sure anymore. People seem to be living out of convenience more than anything else. I can’t love you because you’re too young, too old, too far away, and too inconvenient to love.

Oh, but I can. If only you’d let me.

So many people.  So many nonentities that now constitute my world. So many times I tried to keep myself to myself. So many cages put up and torn down. To what avail?
At the end of the day, we’re all just people, trying in ways we know how. The trouble is that we’re almost always on a different page. Haven’t you realized how your idea of a happy ending changes as you progress through a book? One can’t sit on page 7 thinking of all the hidden opportunities, new characters and plot twists that lay ahead and still hope for love to catch up.
It’s not something that catches up with you.
It sneaks into your life when you’re least expecting it, at the most inconvenient of times, and it makes you question things. And while you’re still contemplating and wondering, it begins to run away. And then it’s up to you to catch up with it.

But opportunity is an ill-mannered guest. And life goes faster than it comes to you.

I think I may have let it go once. I may have thought about it too long, and it may have slipped out from right between my fingers. I think that was the day I became a little evasive. I met a lot of broken people after that. We had chemistry, we had space and we had the capacity to love. And then I felt terrified because I realized that once people are broken in particular ways, they can never go back, and this is something no one ever tells you early enough and it never fails to astonish you to see people in your life break one by one. You wonder when it’s going to be your turn, or if it’s already happened.

Is that why it’s not working this time? Have I forgotten how to love right? Maybe I love differently because I’m a different person now. Maybe I love differently because even though that song doesn’t make me feel the way it did, I found another song that does.

And you can’t hear it, because it’s on the inconvenient end of your playlist.