Thursday, 16 July 2015

Get that reading habit back.

4 comments:
About a year or more ago, my son, newly turned 5 then, and I were talking about reading. Now, for a while I had limited my reading to online or on device. So as I tried to avoid preaching while extolling the virtues of reading, he said to me, "But Amma, I never see you reading a book." He was right, in a sense. My reading had reduced drastically; from reading a book a week, I was down to one book in three months. His comment woke me up and told me I was letting my reduced attention span become worse by reading with the internet on all the time, or choosing to read shorter stuff, some days only headlines, without wanting to get to the details.

This had become a dangerous habit and it took me some time to get to a point where I could stick with a book. Thankfully, I've read a few this year, although far from the target I set for myself.

On an average, I meet at least one person in a week who tells me they just don't have the time to read. A lot of them don't use the time-to-read excuse anymore because it is really easy to counter. What is more tough to argue with is reduced attention spans. Everyone casually refers to their social ADD (though I wish they wouldn't use that term. ADD is pretty darned debilitating.) and says they can't stick to a book. No focus and reduced attention spans? That I totally get.

So from my own experience of getting back to reading, I wondered why we stop reading and what it takes us to get back. To answer both those questions, I knew I had to ask myself why we started reading. I began to read because I was thirsty to explore the knowledge I had been given in school. I became a reader because the first book I was presented with my name inscribed on it was Oliver Twist, a Ladybird Kids Classic, Abridged Version. The book was utterly and truly beautiful. The typeface, the illustration, the colours, the way the book felt (glossy and hardbacked), the ridge on either side of the spine. And my mother's beautiful penmanship inscribing the first few pages. Just beautiful. I am pretty sure I had books before that but none that felt so distinctly mine. Before that, all books were shared and were mostly books from which my parents would read to us. It was with this book at 8 years or so, that I obsessively started reading and hoarding. The world of Oliver Twist offered words for emotions I couldn't identify. I met people I would never meet in this lifetime. I saw clothes, streets and names that I hadn't seen till then. After that, school was an obstacle bang in the way of my reading life. Soon, I was done with pulp fiction by the time I was 15; I started reading literary fiction, rarely going back to paperbacks or what are now called "bestsellers".

Reading left me with a high like a good, hard swim; like the morning after a night of great sex, like the high of nice little joint -- these are all transformative experiences for me. There's a physical difference, not just a change, in my environment within and without. You see, the joys of reading are insidious, subtle. There's no instant gratification; there is no place for you to sound smart and seek validation as you comment publicly on anything, and no joy that comes with being thought of as wry and clever. The joys of reading are slow and stealthy. They don't quite appear till you're half way through the book and by then it would be a shame to abandon reading. And then it flowers, the joy of reading a good book. It starts from your eyes and enters all the way to your overtired brain, spreads to your forehead like a happy allergy, all the way down your neck and then rapidly, like a fever, dripping till the ends of your extremeties. And then, suddenly, like a wave in a glass aquarium, all of the gushing is contained. Reading doesn't make you jump for joy or dance with madness (it does but you don't do it because you are too busy reading). When this joy is suddenly contained at the tips of your fingers and the points of your toes, it lashes back; joy and rapture come back in waves all over you, right back to your head and eyes, even as you read more that's giving you joy. This back and forth of waves causes you to fall in love with characters without whom you're legitimately lonely for a day or two after you've finished the book. It causes a covetousness for words that leave you richer, and yet, bereft. It causes a greed and inquisitiveness for the writer; who is she? does he wear pyjamas to bed or sleep in the nude? does she always look perfect or does she have bad eyesight? All kinds of relationships are built with a book when you're in its throes. Watch and you'll see.

It's easy to give up reading because it is what you do when you have spare time. Once formal education is done with, very few people set aside especial time to read. Of course, then, reading suffers. It's also an easy habit to get out of, and the highs, like I said earlier, are slow. None of the instant gratification of being online.

If you've given up reading, or have never read, and are trying to get back on track, start with a book of short stories. They help you get your attention's impetuous flights back under control and keep you focused on reading for short periods of time; much like focusing on small tasks in order to achieve the bigger task of a work day.

Set aside time to read. Don't think you'll read on the bus, or when you're in the loo, or when you wait for someone. Those times are easy to demolish by other distraction. Set aside 15 minutes to half an hour, to begin with, to read. It really helps if you can do it at the same time every day. I try to read before bed, and for about an hour after I send my kids to school.

Always carry a book. Always. And no time to do it like now because ebooks.

Keep a book list, preferably in one place. And if you like to see proof of your achievement, tick them off every time you finish reading the ones on your list. I email myself new book recommendations or the ones that I wish to read.

Needless to say, turn notifications off and be mindful. Because even if you turn them off, you tend to check your phone because you get all fidgety and jittery without it. So, mindfulness will help you come back to reading before you go down the twitter rabbit hole till 2 a.m.

Everything becomes better about you, by the way, when you go back to reading. Your mind is stiller, and you might ask why is the mind being still a good thing. I assure you, a still mind is a creative mind. The things you think about become better and bigger. No longer are you worried too much about the small things that you occupy yourself with, and you know they're small things. You ponder larger questions, superimpose them on your life, or the lives of others, discover the sameness of humanity and soon, you start to actually think harder, in a more real way. You will eventually end up being and sounding smarter but that's hardly a priority in the scheme of things. I mean who wants to sound smarter when you could be mooning over Psmith?

Sumana Mukherjee tweeted this link on how reading is the only transcendental experience left in the world that we inhabit today. And I couldn't agree more with this splendid piece. 

This is a list that helped me ease back into my reading. I have added a few that I didn't read during this time but ones I think will totally do the trick. The trick, then, is to get back into the habit, because that's what it is. Once your brain is rewired to making this a habit, then the sailing is usually smooth.

1. Bhima: Lone Warrior by M T Vasudevan Nair. 
This book is a translation of the Malayalam Randamoozham . I recommend it heartily for various reasons but mostly because it is the familiar. You know most of the references and stories, you know all the characters, you know the eventual fate of the characters. What you don't know is what the alternative perspectives give you. Other reasons to read this book are: Terribly easy read and yet with the gravitas of a complex novel; a story that's engaging emotionally and intellectually; story telling that is a masterclass in the craft.

2. Any of the Harry Potter series. JK Rowling.
I went back to think of why it was so difficult to get back to reading and what it is that will keep someone engaged. I realised it was pure, sparkling, gripping joy that kept me reading. And trying to start with a difficult book that you've heard so much about is the wrong way to derive that joy. Start with firing the emotions that you felt as a kid when you read books that grip you. Harry Potter does that wonderfully. Once you can sit down and read for an extended period of time, read tougher, nicer, meatier, more meaningful books.

3. My Name is Radha by Saadat Hasan Ali Manto.
In actuality, you can pick up any book by Manto and find yourself back to reading. Manto writes with a sort of insight that defies the simplicity he presents his work with. This anthology is essential Manto; between its pages are many women, Bollywood, Bombay, Ambala, Delhi, Peshawar, pimps, prayers and poignancy. None of them decipherable, none of them so different from you and me.

4. Roots by Alex Haley
This is a book that finds its place in almost any book list for which you ask me a response. Non-fiction, terrifically written and deeply, intensely moving, Roots changed my world view forever. It changed the way I looked at human beings, our politics and our innate natures. It reads really, really easy for a non-fiction book.

5. Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis
This book gave rise to one of the most iconic fictional figures of our time. A monster so insidious and lethal that it kind of terrifies you how much you resemble him. Martin Amis's prose is, for the lack of a better word, just plain stunning. His writing unafraid and while some might think this book is ambitious, I assure you it isn't. It's worth every 15 minutes that you spend in the first week of your return to reading.

Here on, I am just going to give name and type without commentary. These are all easy books to read and yet meaningful, rich and gripping. Feel free to add to the list in the comments.

6. Fascinations by William Boyd (Short story)
7. Blue Beard's Egg by Margaret Atwood (SS)
8. Girls at War by Chinua Achibe (SS)
9. Kiss, Kiss by Roald Dahl (SS)
10. Burning your Boats by Angela Carter (SS)
11. Eleven Kinds of Loneliness by Richard Yates (SS)
12. Open by Andre Agassi 
13. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
14. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
15. Lolita by Vladimir Nobokov
16. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
17. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi
18. The Vagrants by Yiyun Li
19. The Fig Tree by Aubrey Menen
20. Malgudi Days by RK Narayan (yes, there are people who haven't read it!)
21. The Boy Who Talked to Trees by Yashwant Chittal
22. A River Sutra by Gita Mehta (SS)
23. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
24. Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
25. The Psmith Omnibus by PG Wodehouse. 

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

On not being the "right" size.

3 comments:

Bedtimes are quiet vulnerable moments, more so if you're little. The secrets, no longer able to roil in tiny tummies, make themselves heard. Two nights ago, after lullabies and stories were done, Shyama mentions that exercise causes weight loss; I agree, groaning inwardly at the thought of her asking me to lose weight. I ask her what made her think of it. She says she wants to start exercising and lose weight. I ask her again why she’d like to do that. Because the kids in class call me fat, she says.
Now, I never know if I am parenting correctly. There’s almost never a counterpoint to my method and behavior as a parent and I almost always wing it, erasing doubts on the run nice and gentle, quite like an avalanche demolishing pines on a slope. Because there’s no time to consider when you’re parenting little kids, and especially if you’re the only one who parents regularly. They demand and you better show up, or miss the moment and scar them for life. But at this moment, all my anxieties came rushing back and collided pretty hard with my parenting.

Growing up, I was an average-sized kid, not fat, but definitely not skinny.  And much like Shyama, I was surrounded by kids who were the latter. Teenage brought with it some weight, sure. So while I don’t remember being teased by kids around me about being fat (although, in class nine, a teacher burnt me for life by calling me “fatty”. You’d think an adult would know better) I do know that not being the size everyone else was made me feel infinitely less. It didn’t help that people close to me started pointing out that I was fat, even though I think back now and I know I wasn’t.  I grew up thinking I was fat. I think about the girl I was and I think of all the things I stopped myself from doing because I wasn’t the right size, and I wish I had known better. I was excruciatingly shy and felt foolish every time I uttered a word. And I blamed it all on the size I was. Nothing has been more shackling to me than feeling fat.

At 35, I am a lot more comfortable with my body but my anxieties haven’t left me. Sure, I wear whatever I want and am comfortable enough to look at my unclothed body in the mirror without hating it, sometimes I even like it. But I also cover up a lot. When I meet new people, when I want to make a certain kind of joke, when the situation is more intimate and demands a certain physical vulnerability, I freeze up. I am so little of myself. I wonder if I look ugly to the other person and I hope my flaws will be taken care of by my dazzling company. I kid, of course. But, jokes apart, this is one of the two things from my childhood that I haven’t been able to overcome. And to hear Shyama might begin on that hellish, corrosive journey paralyses me. Especially since she isn’t a fat kid. Just like I wasn’t. But I didn’t believe that of myself. And I am hoping she will be different and believe it when I tell her she isn’t fat.

At that moment, with anxiety rioting inside me, distress at the future of this lovely child suffering at the hands of the insanity of an ideal size, I didn’t have any solutions. Anger was foremost. I told her she was just right and shouldn’t listen to teasing. Next I asked her who it was in particular that teased her. “Everyone except K,” she says, mentioning the one girl as tall as her. Shyama and this girl are the tallest kids in class at 4’4”. I am glad she said that because I used that to tell her that maybe the rest just wanted to be tall like her and because K was already tall enough, she didn’t feel the need to tease Shyama. That seemed to satisfy her a bit. I tried not to preach but I did tell her that she was getting *plenty* exercise in school and that she was healthy, happy and running around, and had a bright bright soul; that’s all that mattered. I then told her to go to sleep and that we would talk about this in more detail tomorrow.

As soon as she was asleep, I reached out to two friends, both parents. I had no idea how to deal with this. While it wasn’t bullying and Shyama is no shrinking violet, my concern was negative body image issues. One friend instantly put me at ease by telling me of her own experience. She said something so wonderfully, sweetly vulnerable and true.  All the time, I was cool inside but didn’t feel it outside because I wasn’t the right size, she said. And it rung true. Another friend suggested I tone down the import of it by not giving it too much attention so Shyama gets the message that size isn’t important.

But tomorrow morning came bright and early and before she had brushed her teeth, Shyama said, Amma, you said we’d talk about something in the morning. I hadn’t forgotten, I told her. We bathed, breakfasted and buzzed off to the bus stop. Only this time, I had Shyama sit in the front next to me. I know she felt special; she stuck her tongue out her brother in the back. I asked her again, this time calmer, what her concerns were. She said I feel bad when I am called fat. We went over the ‘you’re not fat, you’re healthy’ routine, once more. Then I asked her if she believed she was fat. “Sometimes. But mostly I have great muscles,” she said. I then told her if she feels the need for a comeback, in a situation that she can’t handle,  she can always be kind and yet be teasing of her friends. “Go give them a shoulder hug and say ‘Hi Shorty!’” She giggled and said, “I’d never do that! It’d make them feel bad, amma.” The next best thing I could come up with took a while because I was too busy clearing the painful lump in my throat. If she wouldn’t turn it on them, I decided to let her risk being a bit haughty and say, “I am not fat, I am perfect.” Nothing gets people’s goat than someone thinking well of themselves. She gives me a big, heart-shatteringly innocent grin and says, “YES! I am perfect.”

I still have no solutions; I hope we will find our way together, she and I. I hope she won't let this nonsense that kids come up with affect her as searingly as it did me. Speaking of, how are these kids at *seven*  years of age picking this shit up? What kind of conversations happen at home for fat to be an issue when all you should be worried about this spending all your time at play? I will admit to cartoons ALL ganging up on fat people and making them figures of ridicule. But I would think steadying influences at home would teach kids that's not done. 

There are three things that guide me when I deal with this.
1. I want her to genuinely know size, not just hers, anyone's doesn't matter.
2. That there are loads of other things apart from body and size that she can and needs to spend time wondering about.
3. That she is healthy is the most important thing. After my initial confusion cleared, I decided to write her a story that will subtly talk about size without talking down to her. I have no idea what the story is going to be but it is what she loves more than anything else in the world, so maybe it will speak to her. Two friends suggested I show her achievers, just sort of slip it in, who are different in size so that she knows it doesn't need to hold her back, in case she ever comes to a point where she starts to believe her size needs to stop her. But the best advice came in the form of this: http://idiva.com/opinion-iparenting/dont-call-me-fatty/24222

Shyama came back from school yesterday and told me not many people teased her. And that she thought about it and didn’t want to tell them she was perfect. She wanted to tell them, “I am perfect the way I am and you are also perfect.”

Maybe I don’t have to worry after all.


*****

Friday, 12 June 2015

Hadal, A review: Stunning lines, meditations on what it means to be a person, and the sameness of people.

3 comments:
(A shorter version of this first published here)


To read a work of fiction that is drenched with splendid lines, intense examination of human complexity and a scathing criticism of a country’s systemic failures isn’t easy. CP Surendran’s latest novel, Hadal, is all of this, including being a compelling, difficult read.
Hadal, a word referring to oceanic depths greater than 6000mts, is a befitting title for a book that is, constantly, wave after wave of tight story-telling, and imagery that has lent itself deftly to the author’s will.
Honey Kumar, a police officer who is transferred to Thiruvananthapuram after being accused of graft, might be called the protagonist of the book, but only just. A deeply complex man constantly in denial of everything within and without him -- a fact that repeats itself in his addiction to cough syrup, his compulsive grip and dwelling on a painful past, and an affinity for masks – Honey Kumar makes life miserable for Miriam Zacharias, a Maldivian national and an aspiring writer, who has come to Kerala in order to finish her book.
In a classic plot development, Honey Kumar propositions Miriam when he realizes she needs her visa extended; when the attractive Maldivian woman says no, Honey Kumar is unable to take rejection and goes down a destructive, vengeful path. Slighting him further is obvious proof that Miriam is having an affair with Paul Roy, a suave, charmer of a scientist who is also the director of an ISRO centre.
Honey Kumar, in pure rage and evil pain, puts two and two together and comes up with 35, thereby throwing Miriam and Paul into a spy-scandal whirlpool entirely of the police officer’s making.
If your memory goes back to the news from the 90s, the above synopsis will tell you that the book is based on the infamous ISRO espionage case where a scientist was kept in custody and tortured after being accused of passing on secrets to a Maldivian woman. It took nearly six years for the case to be dropped and considered baseless. The risk one runs with rooting a book in a true life incident is that readers tend to expect a spiced-up version of the sequence of events. If that’s what you are looking for in Hadal, you might want to recalibrate your expectations. Make no mistake, the ISRO espionage case only serves as a starting point for the meditative but rakish ride this book is.
Replete with detailed boxing references, Hadal carries an almost ghost-narrative of pain; masterfully sculpted meditations of the various kinds of pain a human being can experience. From Honey Kumar’s never-ending trauma at his mother’s near-comical death, his being caned as a child by Father Almeida (and his cruel, cruel taunt when the former visits the priest later in life) to the physical agony that the author puts Miriam, Paul, Honey Kumar’s left foot, an American anti-nuclear activist Haws and even a dog through, pain is a recurrent and startling theme. Sweat, rain, and even a drink become painful as does the book’s reading, but only because of the keen, uncomfortable truths it holds.
Marriage is the other idea that the book criticises. All the marriages in the book are crumbling relics: oppressive, unnecessary and soulless. Miriam, herself somewhat cold, is married to an alcoholic college professor who has been unemployed since the recent change of regime in her country.  Paul Roy is married to the irascible Grace, and is himself a bit of a philanderer. Honey Kumar’s parents’ inter-caste, inter-community marriage is passingly referred to as a mistake. Ram Mohan, Honey Kumar’s erudite, deeply sensitive and thinking boss, lives in a marriage that he is sure will kill him. His wife Anita is said to be heartless and, in a shocking moment of realization on Ram Mohan’s part, completely wrong for the role of spouse and parent. Just like him. In detailing Ram Mohan’s marital trajectory, the language is often martial and you sense a parody, a role reversal, of the popular woman-stuck-in-a-bad-marriage stereotype. If Hadal’s characters are all heavy, burdened individuals careening to their inexorable fates along with the soul-searing rain that is constant in the narrative, the passingly-mentioned Anita is possibly the only one who seems empowered as she removes herself more and more from Ram Mohan’s life. Anita, and Vasu, an almost silent presence in the book.

The book’s greatest diatribe, however, is against the way systems in India work. Corruption, complete failure of humanity, a lack of basic facilities for its citizens and the scary things power and its illicit handling can do are all attacked in Hadal in biting, ironic, fluid passages that creep up on you, take hold and, sometimes, make you laugh in surprise.  Take, for example, an exchange between Ram Mohan and Honey Kumar at a point in the narrative where the former believes that all might not be as he thought.
“Honey Kumar, what do we think we are doing?”
“Getting to unearth an espionage racket?” …
“What’s the fundamental problems we face as a people?
Toilets? Sixty percent of India defecated in the open.  “Corruption?”

Dialogue between characters, in my opinion is incidental, in the book. There's no painstaking detailing of interaction between characters that furthers the story, no pauses and extensions. The more important dialogue, in fact, is an internal one. A constant making sense of the world they inhabit, a consistent attempt at understanding their own motivations, confusions, ruminating their fates, deciding their futures. There are no pauses in those dialogues; the relentless seeking of whatever resolution Miriam, Honey Kumar or Ram Mohan undertake is a constant gentle assault in the book, with no room to breathe. 

Speaking of relentless, the rain in Hadal is something else. A giant green monster breathing heaving and groaning at the universe and the machinations it holds within its belly. Read carefully enough, you can hear the rain long after you've finished the final pages of the book. Surendran's pen is perhaps most keen and strong here; the rain is a character in itself, almost influencing gently, like a reluctant, ancient puppeteer everything that happens in the book, in one way or another.

Silences in any book interest me and while this book is anything but silent (it is, in fact, worlds colliding), there are spaces and silences that I want to walk into and explore. Is there any truth to Ram Mohan feeling victimised in his marriage? Is Honey Kumar worthy of pity or should we revile him? What is Vasu's double life? Why does Miriam choose to go back on a safer path? What does Honey Kumar see in Ram Mohan that he offers kindess and deference to him that he extends to no one else? But silences are always telling and these form alternate stories that for me to personally explore, if I choose to.

Much like the author, the book is eminently quotable; but Hadal holds back in certain places: how it portrays its women, the forceful seeking of resolution and the inexplicable sadness of some of its characters. Surendran’s craft is impeccable, as you will discover, to your delight, in the many, many heart-stoppingly poetic lines in the book. Clever, unselfconscious word play peppers many chapters. (“Waxed legs, and veined too.”) Balancing poetic perfection, then, is humour that is subtle and wicked, coupled with a sense of irony that is reminiscent of M Mukundan, and dare one say, Marquez. The latter’s influence is also seen in the effortless weaving of absurd reality, and fantastical imaginings that the characters induce in their minds either through circumstance or substance. Or plain geriatric illness. 
***

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Traffic to Hadal

No comments:

Bangalore is late
Oh! Bangalore is late
I wait, and two others,
They wait
For CPS, the eminently quotable,
Burning, hellish CPS

To launch the book they forgot
To bring the first time.

A broken door, and a friend waits
For a car in gentle Bangalore.
Oh! Bangalore is late
Bangalore is late
As we wait

For a word from Hades.

*****

Friday, 20 February 2015

Hidimbi by the River

4 comments:

Bhimasena: lover,  keeper of secrets, healer.
How burdensome your love for
The lotus-blue Panchali
To whom the Saugandhika
and it's quest were just another sorcery
Of dark eyes.

My skin lightens,  Bhimasena, draining
Itself of jet,  along with the memory of you
The seed grows,  Bhimasena,  and I grow big
Enough to envelope the forest in my womb
In an incestuous hope that you will enter it.

The forest, it grows dark,  Bhimasena
Dark as our love was when you chose
To walk away,  dutiful son,  loving brother
Absent father. Bhimasena

(Inspired by Bhima: Lone Warrior, the English of Randamoozham by MT Vasudevan Nair)

Monday, 19 January 2015

Spicing up a boring evening

1 comment:

We sat watching the sky one day,
Me and I, drunk on rain and the universe.
We talked of love, and light that travels sullen and ancient,
A requiem to the stars.

The Saturday sky turned a many-layered cocktail
Heady, unreal, a sky that was ours
Each band of colour differing in weight,
Just like the love we knew

Dragons emerged from the periphery of our shared boredom, the suburbia of our existence,
Embroidering the sky with calligraphy of fire,
What if, we thought.
A gigantic T Rex, a colossal wall of water, a tired,  dying sun.

The world had been quiet too long.
What else was there to see but stealthy spaceships, resurrected reptiles
And wise dragons that extinguished love
With an ancient, magic flame.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

A friend indeed.

13 comments:
How do you relate to social media and its presence in your life? I have a complex understanding of my relationship with it. I don't Facebook much and finally gave it up two months ago. I tweet and instagram a LOT, and these two are my primary SM vices. I lost a friend, temporarily, and assorted family for a while because of how much I tweet, to whom and what. I read this piece today that said women who are on social media a lot tend to cope better, and are less stressed. I don't know about that but for me places like Twitter and Instagram and to some extent, Facebook, have been a refuge from what's going on inside my head or out in the world.

It isn't easy to explain why I tweet. I am not even sure I can, even if I wanted to. I'm always surprised when people say they enjoy the things I tweet. I tweet mostly about completely irrelevant things, sometimes I open up a discussion and at other times I tweet links to my writing. My following list is impeccable, though. News, feminism, writing, poetry art, music, cars, crochet, photography and friends. I truly believe the list of people I follow is a delight.

But there's always some level of discomfort when I am asked how I met one of my closest friends, or when someone asks me how I know something, or someone, when the answer is Twitter. It isn't the easiest thing to say in a social setting that isn't online. It gets awkward and I shy away from the judging a little.

The truth, really, is that social media has opened up for me the world. So much has been altered and affected because of it, especially with regard to information, to the kind of people I choose to interact with, even the kind of books I read. For the life of me, I wouldn't have been this aware of issues of, say, trans people of colour if it weren't for Twitter. Or about the complete and utter asinine attitudes of Hindu right wing fanatics. That's the kind of stuff newspapers in India rarely ever carry. While all of it is fascinating, the larger gain has been the wealth of interactions and the few friends I have made.

It isn't very difficult for me to feel affection and take to people who are interesting. I trust them to be good human beings and have very rarely been let down. On social media, it is particularly easy because, according to me, you weed out the peripherals right in the beginning. Your interests bring you together, perceived anonymity and not being physically present in front of someone makes it easier to say what you really want to say without being intimidated by their presence. Even when you aren't having a conversation with them, you are witness to what they talk about and make your own mind up about them. Someone seems talented and beautiful, and you feel that you want to get to know them a little better but suddenly a bigoted streak emerges, and you shut down. Another seems intelligent and charming and then you meet them and you understand everything about them is made of Google. It's quick, and judgemental, to do this but what I am trying to say is that you actively choose your friends, instead of hanging out with colleagues, train friends, old school/college buddies or neighbours because chance threw them your way.

The friends I have made on Twitter are solid gold. The connections I've forged are simple, direct and full of love. When I hear people say, "Wow, people make friends on Twitter," in that condescending tone, it makes me feel a gamut of things. I feel defensive, amused, annoyed all at once. And then it occurs to me that these are also the people who have fallen for a Nigerian bank scam or found their partners on matrimonial websites.

These connections I have made have all moved offline, into a space where we make the effort to keep in touch with each other in various ways. It is also the reason I prefer to use the words offline/online life instead of real or virtual. Real life automatically assumes that the connections made online are fantastical, or illusions at any rate, and therefore insignificant. But look at the scores of people who have found companionship, help, sisterhood and love online. How is that unreal? What part of throwing yourself into a teeming timeline alive with personality when you want to get away for a bit is unreal or unwelcome? I get a glimpse of a shy, funny guy who goes trekking almost every weekend and his Instagram in autumn is soul-fillingly beautiful. A new father, doing his best to be an involved one, tweets about his little child with pride and love. A homemaker, a magician with words, makes me look at flowers, snails and torn leaves like I've never seen. I get a peek into the life of young girl who lives a charmed life, everything perfect and she, grateful for it and beautiful at it. A girl who likes elephants and is honest and open, another who embodies love herself. Yet another who created the word optimism. One who likes post-its, another guy who says exactly what he wants. Another who hides, and another who reveals. People who constantly make choices that make you think about your own, people who bring serendipity into your life by being who they are, people who are genuine and warm and empathic. Why would I exchange this for a neighbor who concretised his entire lawn or a colleague who doesn't like to dance?

I spend a lot of my time alone and for me Twitter has become a huge companion. Does it reduce stress? I think it might. Does it help me cope? You bet. And it isn't just me. A friend tweets about being alone with her child, and a wave of warm sympathy flows to her. Another tweets about a health issue, and I see a swarm of concerned tweets directed at him. I tweet about being lonely, sad, sleepless and the lucky ducky that I am, I am deluged with messages and tweets from complete strangers, filled with hugs, stories of their own, suggestions to sleep better, offers to call me.

It restores my faith in the goodness of people and gives me the luxury of being able to continue trusting people. I am glad if women feel better about themselves because their selfie gets a ton of compliments or if you use a heavily-distracting time line to get away from your little mess. Am I going to die, old and lonely with my phone screen for company? Maybe. But hey, at least I'll die with people who will tweet about my funeral.

*****

Monday, 1 December 2014

Lyra's Painting

2 comments:
This piece of fiction walked out of this picture on instagram and stayed with me.



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Lyra’s Painting

After Lyra left him, he didn’t get out of bed for three days. Work calls came, friends texted him, his phone buzzed with the determination of a cheery firefly who wanted him to chase it. No one had ever known him not to respond, even if he owed them money or had to meet a deadline.  The morning of the third day, a couple of friends decided to come round with beers to see if he had lost his phone or if he had suddenly been inspired by impulse, and spirited himself and Lyra away for a few romantic days somewhere. He hadn't let them in. 

Saturday morning stood stoutly in his living room, a room that was neat as a pin, as sunlight and order bounced off the walls. All morning, this room harvested the benevolent sun, past heavy curtains that were drawn aside to let warmth and light in. The shock-white rays fell on a perfect rectangle patch of carpet, rough-hewn and tribal in motif, from his travel to a distant village in the Turkish mountains.   If you were to stand with your back to the window, the sun warming your yearning, then to the left of you would be a book case, one that stood till your waist if you were a tall person. The books, curiously, were arranged with abandon. The short ones stood guard over the taller ones, the thin ones had a wanton time between two thick ones. Nothing in alphabetical order either: the Ns followed the As, the Ss slacked off after the Hs. Genre? No. Biography sat in all its lofty seriousness with a shy, leather-bound volume of short stories; and science deigned to hobnob with plastic-encased issues of comic books.

Directly opposite the bookcase, on the other side of the room stood a bicycle; one bicycle and a hook where Lyra’s hung till a few days ago. His bicycle, red, sleek and perfectly steady against its hook on the wall looked like it had never been touched, when, in fact, all he ever used was that to get around the city. Just above his bike, was the ghost of Lyra’s.

In the space between the bikes and the bookshelf, two feet away from the carpet stood an undisturbed green sofa. No one had sat on it for some time. The cushions looked startled into being equidistant from each other, and there was no trace of a depression or crinkle on the seats.  No one, indeed, had sat on it for some time.  On the carpet was a minimalistic table that he had made himself -- from picking the wood to curing it and bringing it to still life.  The top of the table was covered with a carefully careless collage of coasters, the kind you place your drink on. If you looked a little more thoughtfully, you could see the coasters were placed, to a crazy scale, in the vague positions of where various countries were placed on a world map. To a far corner sat a coffee-table book on style and fashion in the 1920s, neatly angled, elegantly placed.

Everything was in its place and the house was just right, as it had always been. Nothing was missing, everything was as it always was; everything, except Lyra.  As he lay in the two feet of space between the sofa and carpet, blindly watching maniacal dust fairies in the streaming sunlight, he idly wondered what she had been wearing when she left. Maybe the green dress she had sewn herself, but that dress had come apart a long time ago and he didn’t remember her having mended it but he was pretty sure he saw her wearing it recently or was that another dress of a similar shade and he hadn’t noticed because he was largely colour-blind as most men are Lyra used to say but then she said a lot of things about men like they couldn’t find the things they were looking for even if they were right under their nose just like he couldn’t find Lyra all this time when she was right under his nose as he taught her month after month how to become a better artist than he was and he couldn’t see her limpid eyes, crooked smile and razor-sharp chin because what she created on her canvas was far more than he ever could have imagined doing himself or teaching his students. Teaching had never been what he wanted to do as he had always been told those who can’t teach, do but these aphorisms, what were they in the real world but methods of pigeonholing other people and circumstances and sometimes just making yourself feel better at the cost of others and that is exactly what he had been doing with Lyra for a long while though she hadn’t complained and he didn’t know if she actually believed that or if it was just his imagination that she had been a dissatisfied because he constantly made himself feel better by being associated with her because oh the places she would go with her art! Even in the year that she had lived away from him after her lessons her work had been marvelous and talked about and that is how he had found her again; all he thought he wanted was to be with the things she created, the things he couldn’t read in her eyes (not for the want of writing but because he was so unread) he could see in her art and soon her heart came pouring out of her eyes and heart and mouth and everything she made, she said, was inspired by him and how she loved him and she had loved him the day he taught her how to look at yellow truck and see an entire city in it. Or so she had told him and he had trusted her, he had chosen to trust because he couldn’t believe someone like Lyra, with the beauty of the sky and the heart of lark could be his, that all the art she created stemmed from her love; he knew not if it was love for him or love in general because that is all she was and now there was no warmth in the house but that of the morning sun which was oh so cold –

The bell rang and he came right back to the dust fairies, cold from his thoughts and the morning sun. It was day four, he realized since Lyra had gone and if he spent any more time away from the world, he wouldn’t be the one Lyra fell in love with. He got up off the floor, straightened his light sweater, ran his hand through neat hair and rubbed his shaven face.Yes, he was okay to open the door. At the door, stood a boy with headphones and mouth chewing in askew circles, presumably according the beat that filled his head. He held forward his hand which had what looked like a handwritten note. Not letting go of the door jamb, the bereaved man took the note from the boy. Before he could offer him a tip or say thank you, the boy walked away, completely immersed in the music that his red headphones piped into his ears.

Coming back to sit on the sofa for the first time in days, he took a deep steadying breath, opened the note and read its contents. Cold fire iced his veins and his hands shivered, making the letter paper seem afraid of being held. He put it down gently on the table he had made, sat for a moment with his palms on the sofa by his side. He heaved himself up steadily, went into the bathroom, washed his face and picked up his razor; methodically yet swiftly, he changed his clothes – a pair of red pants, a beige shirt, a sweater and a white hat. He went to the door, got his keys, bag, umbrella and a book and left his apartment.

Outside, the world looked like it had stepped out of one of Lyra’s paintings. There were umbrellas on the lampposts and the sky was a parallelogram that hadn’t died, the trees were lashing wildly, rejecting being strangled by each other, even though there wasn’t a wind, the men and women were 10 feet tall and everyone wore benevolent smiles, the sea stood like a large rock, at least a foot taller than the men and women, vertical and immobile for a good five minutes before it receded gracefully, gradually instead of being tropical and messy by crashing into waves; stray cats had spindly legs and they trod drunkenly, children walked in dizzying circles, revolving and rotating, like little earths around their parents, the flowers were singing and the sidewalks rose and fell in gentle waves of sighs. A seamstress, a guy on his phone, a tuba player and a motorcyclist all played cards and talked loudly till the 10-feet-tall passersby had to tell them it wasn’t allowed to talk in public if they didn’t want to end up without a sewing machine, a phone, a tuba and motorcycle respectively. They talked some more, loudly, and continued to laugh.

He walked across the square and looked at the ground to see if it would steady him and tell him if he was in his city or in Lyra’s painting. His head spun when he looked at ground, so he looked up again and looked back. Up in a sunlit window, he saw a man in a spring sweater watching him, watching a man walk across a square that was filled with geometric, intersecting lines, neat lines that were fast filling precisely with the red of his blood, or was it the red of his jeans.


*****

Sunday, 30 November 2014

What do you know of love?

1 comment:
How impossible are the things you ask of me.

Ask for the moon, I say, or the stoic, boring sun
Let me write your name in blood, I offer,
A wild flourish on this vast, ever-changing sky.

Let me pledge my first-born to you, and make you
An unwitting Rumpelstiltskin.  Let me tattoo our love
On every wall, door and window of my vision.

Ask me for an arm, an eye; any organ that you don’t already own
Ask for my flowers, my words and my thoughts
Demand that I lay them out as a carpet for you to tread on.

Amuse yourself as you throw me a challenge
Pepper it with a kiss, as I tell you I’d do anything for you
Ask me to part waves, ask me to be abhorrent.

I place these offerings, scented with incense and sincerity
For you to pick and choose, so I may prove my love
Even though you’ve never asked.

How much more can I offer, I ask, as you reject
Hyperbole, and laugh, albeit lovingly, at the drunkenness of
My soul. What more can I give you?

None of this is enough, you say; Or did you say too much?
Pretty words are just that. Instead, you say,
Give me your understanding, give me a world without you.

How impossible these things that you ask of me
How small, how devastating.



Sunday, 2 November 2014

Litany

6 comments:
I've loved a poet, a dreamer, a boy who never grew up,
He loved me with kisses on the forehead,
Strung poems in my hair
As I lay against his warm skin, on a bed on the floor,
While a Madras moon stood guard outside my window.

I loved a magician once
With dancing feet and a crooked smile.
He claimed my shoulder as his own one night,
As he made the stars rain with his sleight of hand;
His vanishing trick, an unmatched act.

I've even loved a bore, a nice guy who couldn't see
That I would be best when I lived free
He gave me trinkets in silver when I ran
A bribe, an imploring or a slave chain.

Totems for each of them, a horcrux for all.
A radio song for the magician,
Scars for the poet,
The bore, books and patience.

My evening  settles, gentle and low, a houseful of silence
Knocking at my door.
I open up a magic box, the magician's gift to me
Take out a poem, yellow, old and rusty

A caress here, a paw there, a hard yank of my hair
A memory, a moth, an unused black quill
They clamber out of the poem, and sit on my hands,
I greet them, gentle and slow
Where have they been, I ask
To the poet, the magician, or with the bore?


*****