This is out now.
This year has been like no other. When the year began, it gave us no inkling of what it held. And we end it on a note of bewilderment, not really sure of what happened and what will happen. Hope springs eternal of course, and we await the new year with a curious mixture of weariness and bated breath.
Personally, the year has been kind to me. Things have more or less been on an even keel and changes have been very manageable. I’ve realised that I am truly happiest by myself and suprisingly, life has rearranged itself accordingly.
I am so grateful for everything that’s come my way, and then some.
The happy news includes a story of mine published in this hot-off-the-press anthology. An excellent collection of stories, it is really worth reading. Here’s to more reading and writing in the new year too!
Stay safe and take care. This is the way. 😉
A friend posted a picture of her dad’s head before and after she gave him a haircut.
For a heart stopping moment, I felt it was my dad. It was the very same kind of head and hair, and I was seized with a wave of longing to see him again.
That sparked this poem. 🙂 So here goes
There was a time when we plucked the grey hairs from my father’s head
We giggled –
he would soon go bald
brown shiny mirror framed by typical male balding
reflected his brown comb
He insisted we check if he had got the parting of his long-gone hair right
That he remembered, not us
Secret bits of youthful vanity tucked and folded into wrinkled skin
My scissors snipped at
hair that grew, hair that did not give up
Ironic proof of life in dying embers
White as sorrow black as grief
On a whim, I decided to join a writer’s workshop Anita’s Attic, run by author Anita Nair. It was a good experience and I met several absolutely amazing young authors, some of whom were less than half my age!
Late last year, a call came from Anita’s Attic for short stories. I quickly wrote a short story in a burst of inspiration, which I was quite happy with. I sent it off, and yesterday, it came up on Quillr, a new pay-and-read platform.
Here’s the link to the story Running, if you’re interested.
A few drops in a drought are always welcome, even if they make you hunger for pounding rain.
So, in the barren wasteland of my writing last year, there were a couple of fat drops that made me happy.
The children’s library we started is such a source of joy, even though I’m unable to do full justice to it in terms of my time, thanks to the various health crises that popped up regularly. It’s an oasis for me, a haven of peace and happiness, to be surrounded by books, fantastic partners, and the sweetest sight of all – kids deeply engrossed in books. It never fails to move me, and I feel so grateful that I’ve been given this opportunity.
Last year, for Karnataka Rajyotsava, we came up with an idea of writing a picture book that introduced some common Kannada words/sentences. I wrote the story itself in a very short time. However, I had the most fun with the illustrations. Not having Photoshop or any other appropriate software, and too lazy to sit and draw out everything, I used PowerPoint. I had such a blast doing the pictures, and it gave me such a high!
We printed one copy of the book, and read it out to the kids. It was a hit, and the best part was kids coming up and telling me – “Tumba chennagide!” (very nice in Kannada, which was one of the phrases introduced in the book). It was really such a wonderful experience!
Here’s the cover of the book Aane Mari’s Feast (Aane Mari meaning Little Elephant, though quite a few call it Anna Marie :D)
This story is for Roshni, who actually remembered this from ten years ago and asked for a link! Thanks Roshni, and hope it lives up to your memory.
If you are reading this, I am hopeful. Hopeful because you have not torn up the letter. Hopeful that you have gotten over your anger against me. I know the turn of events was unexpected for you. I dreaded the day you would come to know the truth, because I feared precisely this sort of reaction from you. Perhaps it was wishful thinking on my part that you would come around, you would understand, and somehow you would find it in yourself to love me as I am. As once you loved me, even though it was for a brief moment, like the flash of a distant star in the sky that makes you wonder if you have really seen it.
Prakash, remember that day we went swimming in the village pond? I’m sure you remember. The cool waters were always our recourse during the hot summers. Remember the small fish that we tried to catch in the palms of our hands, and how they always got away? And the tadpoles we caught together and put in the pickle jar? I still wonder why they died, even though I know that captivity always kills: if not the body, at least the spirit. I know how it feels to be captive – how it feels to have your every move monitored, and even the freedom to laugh has a price attached. I was never under the impression that this was the perfect life, but I never could have imagined the pain it would drag along with it like a severed limb.
The perfect life was when we were children. When you and I ran in the fields, shouting and laughing, scaring the peacefully grazing cows, and making the birds flutter into the blue skies, alarmed by the accuracy of your catapult. When we shared sour mangoes under shady green canopies, hiding from our mothers when they came looking for us at sundown. When we stole coconut pieces and camphor from the temple, while the village priest snored during his siesta. When we flew kites together, I could see the excitement in your eyes, the passion in your lips. And my heart soared like the kite, quivering and trembling in response to every tug of your hand. My heart is heavy now. I am indeed like a kati patang – a kite with no mooring, a kite let loose to roam where the wind wills, a kite that gets more and more ragged with every rogue branch that snags and rips through its very soul.
Did it make sense to you then, Prakash? That brief moment of passion we shared as your eyes caressed my body and our lips spoke a language of their own? That moment I have preserved carefully, like a flower pressed between the pages of a book. The memory of that moment is what uplifted me, that’s what kept me going through all the bleakness that painted my walls with its grey misery. Every time I put my kajal, it was for you. Every time I reddened my lips, it was for you. Every sari I draped around my cursed body, it was for you. The perfume of the flowers in my hair faded into the scent of your body. Do you remember how it felt? Or have you tossed it like discarded flowers that are swept away so swiftly by the stream? I cannot write any more. I am crying.
I have resolved I must finish what I wanted to say. I must unburden myself, I have carried it too long with me.
It’s been a long time since I cried, Prakash. The tears that bled from my wounds have dried, but they have left behind a raw salt residue that burns and stings. I cried when I boarded the train from the village in the dark of the night. I was leaving behind my innocence, clutching onto the useless currency of my dreams. I was leaving behind a life that was familiar but stifling and painful, towards a vast unknown. I was leaving like a thief indeed, ostracized and shamed. But I cried above all because I had to part from you, the sweetest love of my life. You were that first love one ceaselessly seeks in all subsequent loves, an unattainable fantasy fed by hungry dreams, a shimmering mirage in an arid and aching memory.
I cried again when I saw you at the bar. Isn’t it strange that of all the bars in Mumbai, you should come to my bar? Perhaps it was the tears that shone in my eyes, perhaps it was Fate playing a cruel game with me. What did attract you to me? Was it some vestige of passion that reared its ugly head just when I had begun to give up my battle with life out of sheer fatigue? Was it some wicked instinct of self-destruction that made me come and sit by you, and initiate that age-old game of seduction?
You didn’t recognize me, and I was both glad and hurt. I thought I could start anew what we had left half-finished so many years ago, in the cool waters of the village pond. After all, I had reinvented myself. I was Mohini, the enchantress. So many men had succumbed to my charms, but most had been disgusted when they found out what I really was. Did I really think I could take up where I had left off with you? Indeed, where had I left off with you? My fantasies had so clouded the reality of my memories. That entire night I tossed and turned, wondering in feverish anticipation if you would come back.
You did. And the night after. And the night after. You seemed content just to talk to me, to look at me, to tuck my stray hair behind my ear in a caress that sent shivers down my spine. I dared not to long for more. I had rolled dice with Fate, and even a modest win was enough. We spent long hours in eloquent silence, you lost in the smoky haze of your thoughts, and I, sneaking glances in a vain attempt to capture and possess your every feature and make it mine. It was a strange happiness, almost a contentment, and I clung to it as desperately as a drowning man a straw. For the first time in my turbulent, topsy-turvy life, I felt I was floating, just letting go, just being.
It was too good to last, wasn’t it? That night, when you finally came to my room, I tried to hide my delirious joy behind a mask of boredom. I didn’t want to tempt Fate, I didn’t want to ruin what I had. But Fate is an expert at playing cat and mouse: just when you think you’ve managed to get away, she sinks her claws deep into you and relishes the blood-bath that follows.
There we are, enmeshed and eager, when your eyes fall upon the photo. A faded photo pressed into a cheap plastic frame. Your eyes widen with surprise. My mouth is suddenly dry, and I can feel my breath coming in short bursts. I try to turn you away, but you reach out and pick it up. How did you get this photo, you ask me, puzzled. I mumble something incoherent, while my thoughts fly to that morning. Our mothers smiling and asking us to stand together. The painted cardboard cutout with brightly coloured flowers as the backdrop. The photographer urging us to stand closer. You put your hand on my shoulder and I turn and look straight into your eyes. Something changes between us that instant, and I am immediately conscious of the warmth of your fingers pressing into my skin. I look away, disturbed, but not before I catch your half-smile. And that is the moment the camera clicks. The photo lies: it does not show your smile, but it catches my naked awkwardness. An awkwardness that remains when we jump into the pool later that afternoon, peeling off our clothes in a strange exhuberance. And when I run away, both exhilarated and ashamed, you look on, unfathomable.
I am jolted out of the past when the edge of the frame hits me on my lips and draws blood. Tears of a twisted anguish flow as I battle my demons. I try to calm you down, but you are as disgusted and horrified by me as countless others. Listen to me, I weep. Let me tell you what an agony my life has been. A life that is not a life; no hope of love, no hope of dreams; trapped, with no release. A life where Love is forced to walk fettered in narrow corridors that open no doors for the likes of me.
But you were so angry with what you considered my deceit. You are not the Mohini I thought I loved,but you are not the Mohan I once knew either, you shouted. What are you, you freak, you perversity of nature? My face, my body still bears the bruises of your beatings. I haven’t gone out since you left.
I began this letter on a conciliatory note. I wanted to beg your forgiveness for the hurt I caused you, for my perceived deceit. But now I just wish to thank you for opening my eyes, and for shattering the one dream I had. Unshackled from the ghosts of my past, I experience a tremendous sense of relief. I can now hope that my true love is still out there, waiting for me. A true love that loves me as I am. And for that, I thank you.
Choreography is defined as primarily “the sequence of steps and movements in dance”.
If we go strictly by this definition, then yes, I’ve choreographed dances.
I love dance. I love the fact that the human body is so beautifully expressive, that just a flick of the hands or a look in the eyes can convey so much. I tried to learn formal dancing very late in life. I could not take the whirls of Kathak and so stopped even before I could put on ghungroos. Bollywood dancing was very interesting in terms of the different steps, the basic tools that they use, and the interpretation of various gestures. However, it felt rather alien to me, and I could not connect to it as much as I’d have liked to.
So, I am not a trained dancer. When I dance, it looks like I’ve stumbled onto the stage by chance, even though I know all the steps perfectly. I was told this in college once by a classmate, and I was highly offended. However, recently when I saw a dancing video of mine, I realized how accurate that assessment was! However, I am much better at choreographing. I learn steps very quickly, I’m able to break down the dance into palatable little bits, and I think I am able to get a good dance out of an interested group, even if I say so myself! 🙂
When I was a kid, I used to make up steps to popular tunes. I think TV had a huge influence on me. I loved the dance programs on Doordarshan. Some of the dance ballets deeply moved me. I began to weave fantasies about bigger and better productions. In college too, I quite enjoyed choreographing a few dances. I began branching into more abstract dances, trying to translate what I felt when I heard the music into dance. I remember chalking up a rather ambitious dance-drama based on Sleeping Beauty for Chitti Babu’s music on the veena. I choreographed a “Dance of the Waves” for one of his lovely numbers, because that was what I visualized when I heard his music.
All this was laid aside for quite a few years of my life, when career, marriage, and kid took over. The spark glowed again with DD’s interest in dance. Slowly I’ve got into the groove again. Now it’s become an almost regular feature, and I enjoy the challenge of choosing and editing the appropriate song(s), learning and coming up with the steps and expressions, and bringing the dance to shape. Now that DD and her friends are grown, they learn much faster, and I need to keep abreast with all the latest trends. It’s fun and though I’m still quite old-school, I try to keep an open mind.
I’m sure in a couple of years, DD will no longer want to be guided by me and will want to do things her own way. Till then though, I’ll derive great pleasure from making her (and her friends) dance to my tune. They are the Dancing Queens of my life!
Be whatever you want
Wear whatever you want, say what you want, eat what you want
No body shaming, no fat shaming, no idiot shaming, no shame
Be what you want to be
Your dress is too short, you talk trash, you eat only junk
Eyebrows raised, lips pressed
Wafting fragrance of disapproval
Sure, feel free
As long as you are the self I want to see
Oh my! What a week it’s been!
First, there was entertainment for our block dinner to organize. Brainstorming about a unique format, fielding calls from parents eager for their kids to perform, trying to come up with good prizes, getting together all the props for the games…that was a breeze, wasn’t it?
Of course, it went off great! The kids had a blast dancing away on stage, everyone pitched in good-naturedly to play the games, and we (a fellow resident and I) could put up our feet happily at the end of it all. The biggest surprise package? Lil D, who had the role of MC suddenly thrust upon her, and I am truly proud to say that she did a whopping top job of it!
It didn’t help that the very next day was Lil D’s birthday party. A theme party, the theme being Harry Potter. Oh yes, the girls are truly, madly, and deeply into HP! So there were wands and badges to make, classes to arrange, and the Triwizard tournament to prep for. No easy task this, and I sleep-walked through it all.
The evening began soon enough, wands chose the wizards, the sorting hat was sorely missed (and so was Slytherin, to avoid ill-will!), but sorted they were. Potions class saw them making some of the yuckiest tasting potions (with all edible ordinary ingredients labelled exotically). I urged them strongly not to drink if they felt even a hint of nausea, but these wizards have strong stomachs, I tell you! Transfiguration had them doing dumb charades to guess magical creatures. They even took an O.W.L (one of the HP Trivia quiz apps), and I am happy to say that most of them were Outstanding! (If only HP was a subject at school too – sigh!)
The Triwizard tournament saw them defending a fancy Russian egg from the other teams (the old dog-and-the-bone game, actually), rescuing a stuffed toy blindfolded (with confusing instructions being yelled out by members of all teams all together – oh the cacaphony!!), and doing a Word maze. The Word Maze, I am rather thrilled to say, was an invention of my own. It was a grid like a word-search, except that there was an entire continuous sentence hidden in there, which got one from one end of the maze to the other. They fumbled initially, but Lil D *astounded* me with the speed with which she cracked this! I really hadn’t expected that, but it was a fitting finale, you must agree. Gryffindor won, naturally.
They finished off the evening watching part of The Chamber of Secrets, and then proceeded to the Grand Feast, which I will leave to your imagination. 🙂
Well, that was that, I thought, and settled down to some well deserved rest. But the universe had other plans. I received a call from a student of one of the top engineering colleges in the city, requesting me to judge a creative writing contest! Well, you know me. Just jumped up and off I went.
If I ever meet you in person, remind me to tell you about the most hilarious incident that happened en-route. I dare not put that down for posterity, for fear it will jinx me in some way or another. 🙂 But suffice it to say that I arrived at the venue in literally good humour!
What a lovely afternoon it was. And how lucky I was to get to read some really good writing. The first prize was a winner all the way. The second prize was beautifully lyrical. All in all, it was an experience worth having. I’m so glad I put aside all my inhibitions and agreed for once.
Well, apart from missing the cricket matches, and the budgets, and the cycling marathon, and every other thing, I’ve been doing pretty well.
So, how busy have you been? 😉
I took a Songwriting course on Coursera last year around this time. Needless to say, it was an awesome course and made me marvel at how little things mattered when it came to perfection.
Here’s one of the songs I wrote. I like this song. I like the melody I put it to. It’s mournful, it’s fatalistic, it’s very me.
NOTHING MORE TO SAY
Searching for the right words
where the shadows weep
Chasing hidden pearls
But when I paddle to the shore
it’s clear I have
Nothing more to say
Nothing more to say
Nothing more to say
Always been a winner
Soared up high
Where the angels guide
Basking in the shimmer
the spotlight shone on my soul
I smiled — I had
Nothing more to say
Nothing more to say
Nothing more to say
Gotta move on
Move on move on move on move on
Fighting harsh terrain
This darkness grows
And the ghosts encroach
Breaking under strain
And when I curl up on the floor
I know I have
Nothing more to say
Nothing more to say
Nothing more to say
I think I’ve reached that point. I’m tired of all the noise. I’m curled up on the floor. I really have nothing more to say.
I’ll be back when I do have something to say.
Until then, hasta la vista, baby.