Sunday, September 2, 2012

Shadow Play


You know how we do that?
Conjuring up “friends”
when we feel
what we want to say
will sound truer
from elsewhere:
Oh, I have a friend who used to…

I think I am one of them.
I mean I am one
of those “friends”
conjured up
by someone somewhere
using me as a proxy,
tentative self.

Like a test-drive vehicle.
If it works,
they make more;
if not,
they improve upon it.
Or simply give up.

No complaints: first drafts
cannot  be disowned easily.
They go
into air-conditioned
glass cases in museums,
but only
if their author dies
a memorable death.

Even when committed
to the bin,
there is no taking away – I
was the seed, the kind
that wrestles gravity and rises,
growing tentacles of truth
gripping firmly both air and earth.
I now have a life of my own.

Or, at least, I
will be their shadow,
long and unignorable
when they are slanted away
from truth, and shrunk
and free
only when it shines
right over them.

I am out even on nights
when the moon lets me
follow them
or lead them into caverns of truths,
where they drink and dance
to songs and whiplashes,
where they howl and cheer,
yell and scream, and they don't
give a fuck. 

That's when I love them most.
That's when I leave them alone.
And they, me. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

For gods' sake

I love how often you think of god. You called Jesus when I spilled non-sacramental wine on your new linen just before we made crazy love.

You called him again when we made love.

And once after, while looking for the lighter.

God only knows, you always say, but you always know everything too.

You will go get ice cream tomorrow Inshallah, for, why not, when he is god of things
both big and small?

With you, Rama always defers to Ayyo and is utterly powerless when your palms
don't smack your forehead.

To sit or stand you need both hands and Kadavule to propel you up or down.

And I still don't know why I do things for God's sake, when they piss you off anyway.

When I sneak-eat at night, you catch me sometimes and put the fear of god in me, though,
by your own admission, the hour is not only late but ungodly too.

Golddigger Sun

A little while ago, the sun was shovelling gold behind the mountains. It appeared to be in a hurry; perhaps the day was running out. In its mad, last-minute work, it sent up the gold dust flying everywhere. They lay suspended in the cold mountain air after the rains, stuck themselves to the clouds, and even clung to my skin. Therefore, I glow.

Like moth to flame

In my previous world, moths went elsewhere to die. Now they throw themselves with vehemence over and over against window panes, showing such heartbreaking passion for any little light they can see. In the mornings, they lie dead in full view, and I walk past them like a soldier surveying the wreckage of previous night's violence. And I wonder if I was spared because my unwinged, two-legged quest for light is far less threatening than their wholehearted thrashing against the glasses of the world.

Friday, June 29, 2012

On Feeling Ugly | On Being Miserable


On Feeling Ugly

I have been feeling rather ugly for sometime now. I just don't talk about this, because it is simply impossible to say that I feel ugly without having my friends jump right in trying to convince me it is not true. Well, as friends, we are pretty much scripted to do exactly that. If any of my friends broke this code and said, well, nothing, I'd probably be even more heart-broken. 

Then there are the others, who would exhort me to seek comfort in some notion of inner beauty. At the moment, I could not care less. I am sure they are well-meaning, but I don't think I need it right now. 

Under intoxication, however, an acquaintance of mine managed to break free of the limits of civility and tell me she wouldn't dance with me, only with "one of the handsome gay boys." Had I not been swooning under the influence of a kiss that a much younger man had planted on my lips barely ten minutes before that, I would have fallen apart. I'd been dancing happily with him when he leaned over close and said, very sweetly, "Can I kiss you?" I had said yes before he had the time to change his mind. 

Of course, when I have guys wanting to kiss me, my feeling of ugliness must be entirely unfounded, right? Yes. So? If you can give me such evidences to disprove my ugliness as a fact, I can come up with twice as many to prove it. It is to circumvent this exercise that I have chosen to speak in terms of my feelings. They seem to exist per se. 

I have seen that even the most stunningly goodlooking people have some body-image issue going on. So then it all must be crazily subjective, tweaked only by varying degrees of self-obsession? I am not so sure. Not everyone who hates the way they look are invisible, are passed over in silence in everyday parades of eye candies. 
  
I thought I could write interestingly about feeling ugly. But it only comes out as pathetic whining. Note that I still do not say I AM ugly. I have to keep saying I FEEL ugly, resorting to the slightly assuaging perspective that it might only be my feeling, not reality. 

I am sure there is some radical perspective that claims a rightful place for ugliness in this world. Until I find that, I should perhaps disable comments for this post and put my friends out of misery! But what I cannot avoid is the utter discomfort of having them look at me closely next time, their eyes tracing the contours of my face, trying to find in it the ugliness I feel, or looking for what would help them prove me wrong. 


On Being Miserable


This only partly follows from feelings of ugliness. At this stage of overall miserableness, everything gets enmeshed in a chicken-and-egg conundrum. 

I might cope better if I relinquish my exacting notions of living, which demand that I live with gusto all the time, that I live life to the fullest, throw myself in it one hundred percent. Whenever I go through phases where I simply cope with life rather than live it, I feel like an utter failure. 

The other day I went to meet an older friend of mine. When I entered her home, she was sitting with a few other friends of hers, and I was shocked by how disheveled she looked. Not one to ever present herself in human company with even a string of hair out of place, she shocked me with her sweat-stained face; faded, old saree; and dark circles ambushing her lovely eyes. In addition to all these departures from her usual image of being on top of things, she broke down in the middle of the conversation, held her head in her hands, and shook in sobs that came with the force of things held back for too long. Through her crying, she said she was finding it hard to cope. 

Even as I put my arm around her, let me confess, I found some tight knot getting undone in my heart. I was relieved to see that it was alright to just cope; that even she, whom I had thought would always be in control of things, was merely coping. I felt less alone. 


P.S. I am still trying to figure out how to disable comments!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

No End to Surprises

(Originally written for a column in Page Seven magazine. I have made some changes here.)

You might have heard this famous line from The Philadelphia Story, that Katharine Hepburn's character says: "The best time to make up your mind about people is never." Intellectually, I have always known it to be true, but I have also always gone ahead and made up my mind about people anyway.

The last place I expected that to be challenged was on the crazy roads of Chennai. But then why should I have made up my mind about what could happen on Chennai roads!

I have had this ongoing battle with autorickshaw drivers for years now. I know many of you think it is perfectly reasonable to be so. But the sad fact is that after a while it stops being about right and wrong, and it becomes a great source of negativity and anger. At some point, I started using my interactions with the autowallahs as moments full of possibilities for spiritual growth. My reasoning was that if I could manage to not get angry, not shout at them and not create a scene, if I could bargain calmly and, actually, wish them well, I might become a better person. I have been doing this with some success, but I have always judged them a priori, and my expectation of them has been a set one: they are here to rob me!

One gentleman challenged me on this recently. When he asked me for what I thought was the most reasonable fare, I was pleasantly surprised, but I also grew wary. I thought, "Hmm. He doesn't know the distance. He is going to start off an argument once we get there." My fangs started emerging, so I sat back and meditated and tried to bring to the fore my so-called best self. Also, I checked with him if he had change for a larger bill/ note, and he said he did.

When we arrived at the destination, to my great surprise, he did not ask for more. Nor did look sheepish and discontented. But he looked in his pockets for change and could not find it. My alarms went off: "Aha! He is going to say he does not have change!" And he said, "I don't seem to have the change I thought I did. Sorry." My best self, that had just started to peep out, went right back in, and my fangs came out again. "What do you mean you don't have the change? It is late, the shops are closed. We could have stopped at a petrol station....."

He was completely unperturbed, and said, "Sir, don't get upset. It is not so bad. Don't worry. We will drive to the end of the road. There are some shops there that are open late. I will get you the change and drop you back here." He did not have even the slightest urge to entertain my drama. I have never seen such calmness, respect and peace on anyone's face on the roads of Chennai. I cannot distill the brilliance of the moment here, but I can say that he definitely awakened something in me. I bow down to this teacher and his lesson.

The second instance was even more stunning, since it happened at the infamous Jayanthi signal in Thiruvanmiyur, where the idea of "every man for himself" gets lived out in the most basic and vehement sense. Intrepid pedestrians run across the intersection trying not to get run over by the buses turning in from the East Coast Road, rubbing shoulders with the giant volvo buses that belong to big IT establishments on the Old Mahabalipuram Road. People on motorbikes get sandwiched between the regular autorickshaws as well as the share ones, both of which have this killer ability to take sharp 90 degree turns.

One evening, in the middle of such madness, I was sitting in an autorickshaw, pretending to be the calm center of it all. That's when it happened. A taxi driver leaned out his window and addressed a motorbike rider in front of him, "Friend, can you move a little please? I turn left here." Everyone in the vicinity looked at him like he was the Buddha himself come down to show that civility was possible even at the Thiruvanmiyur signal in the evenings.

Well, there seems to be no end to surprises in this world! I am glad I had these reminders not to make up my mind, not to live in a "furnished soul," to borrow e e cummings' brilliant phrase. Others give me the benefit of the doubt all the time. The least I could do is to the pass the kindness forward!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Every morning a new arrival

(Written for my column "Monthly Misgivings" in Page Seven magazine)

I am not always very good to myself. I am talking not only about being kind and gentle to myself, but also about having the discernment to know and do what is good for me even when it is not gratifying right away. For instance, starting my day by logging into Facebook is one of the things that always throws me off balance. Of course, this is not a statement on Facebook or any other social networking site. They are what they are. This is about the use we put them to.

The other day, I started my day the way many of my friends start theirs - I got the usual morning things out of the way, put the kettle to boil, completely forgot about it, forgot to take my morning medication, forgot my previous night's resolve to start the next day with some yoga and meditation, but managed to remember that the laptop had had very little charge left on it when I'd closed it the night before, plugged it in, and logged into Facebook.

I think that all of those were very innocent actions that did not, by any stretch of imagination, deserve serious retribution or punishment. But I felt assailed by all the new feeds and status updates, many people's take on those news feed and status updates, and others' opinion on those takes on those news feed and status updates. Then there were those people who, in the little time I stayed logged out to get a decent night's sleep, had somehow managed to orchestrate a campaign, finish their most brilliant performance, won awards, given birth to babies, made most nuanced arguments about a most current issue, published articles that were already 'liked' by 746 people and commented on by 106, etc.

My heart raced, and I thought I had been left behind, that the world had moved on while I had done nothing with my life. After all, I could have written that brilliant article. After all, I could at least have read that article so that I could now post an intelligent comment. After all, I could be celebrating that anniversary if only....

Before I had taken the time to ground myself in the delicious mundaneness of my day, before I had made life-changing decisions about whether to eat peanut butter open toast or aval upma for breakfast, I had let into my unformed, delicate, full-of-potential morning the mind-blowingly diverse energies of hundreds of people, coming at me like supersonic darts pinning a disarmed me on to the dartboard of the lost moment. 

I admit that I am prone to the entire gamut of human emotions, which, of course, include insecurity, jealousy, anger and hurt. Rumi, the great Sufi mystic and poet, puts it most beautifully:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor

Welcome and entertain them all...*

Every morning is already full of its surprises. I would rather spend time preparing myself to receive, welcome and entertain them instead of cluttering myself with those I can avoid. Therefore, I have now made it a practice to sit with my fragile yet powerful self as soon as I wake up from my night's sleep; to hold this new day and this new me in a bubble of quiet before letting them open for other things to enter. 
* from Coleman Barks' translation of Rumi