Visiting the tomb of erstwhile love

It was a damp night, mind you damp and not wet. Chennai’s weather of late has been blowing hot and cold; with almost hot afternoons packed in humid sweat and reluctant drizzles well shy of being holistic downpours in the nights. So it was one of those nights and I was coming from a night show, to find my bike seat gently kissed by several raindrops, that had deceived the sky’s vigil. One of the primary cons of riding a bike during such times is, you can’t wear your lighter trousers. One, the raindrops leave an impression, not a good one- a wet smudge on the sitting area. And two, even if you vigilantly wipe your way off the previous possibility to preserve tushy dignity, there’s no way you can go unscathed, as the several puddles and inconsiderate vehicles on the way would somehow come together to leave a graffiti on the trousers.
Anyways I was wearing a pair of black trousers that night and it held very little consequence to the other happening of the night, primarily about which this piece is .This one’s about the route I took on my way back and the the trip it took me down the memory lane.

While coming back from the theatre, there are two routes to my place. One that goes through a residential  area and the other one that comes a little ahead, connecting me to the main road.  Over the last few years I’ve consciously and later subconsciously been ignoring the former stretch to take the latter. Initially, it felt like a can filled with worms, waiting to be opened up. Worms waiting to feed on my peace of mind. Then with efflux of time, I had grown oblivious and numb to this stretch’s magnetic negativity. It had come to only be a detour and the route that led to the main road had become an obvious choice.
But today was different, I was itching to take the former route. Not to confront the can of worms, but to take stock of my quality of peace. Curiosity had the better of me and there I was in the stretch I had forbidden as a sort of reality check. This trip was straddling between literal and figurative, for so much in my life had transpired in this L shaped stretch, the gravitas of which was getting to me as I was rumbling through it, metre by metre.

A few hundred metres into this road- painted in shadows of the trees behind -came this compound wall on the left. There was nothing fancy about it, just another neglected-marshy structure raised to mark the periphery of the house. But to me, it marked a new beginning. Back then it was always enveloped from the road by a fleet of school vans parked in front of it. It was our second date, I had just kissed her for the first time inside a deserted Mcrennett a little ahead on the corner of the road. She was pink with amusement and I was a cat, who had had his first taste of meat. We soon left hand-in-hand to take a stroll, incidentally my first walk with someone from the fairer sex. She was a bundle of nerves, obviously given that her folks stayed not far away from there and she was walking with a person who had just earmarked her left cheek with his saliva. Fairly educated on each other’s favourites, we had run out of topics and were in a mood for something non-verbal. The secluded compound wall on the right, stood there with anticipation and we got the cue. I lifted and perched her on it facing me, as I placed my hands on either side of her on the wall. Before we realised, I was kissing all over her face like a caveman, rocking back and forth like doing push-ups in a near state of trance. Together we had debased base one here.

As I drove ahead, came the Mcrennett I had mentioned a little earlier on the corner of the road. Apart from being the unwilling witness and stage to our first sacrilege, it had seen a lot of us. It used to be a favourite hangout, for it didn’t pinch on my wallet hard and it served the best cheese puff known to humanity. We’ve spoken about movies, debated about choice of careers, stolen kisses when no one’s around and have even gone for each other’s necks when arguments turned futile.

We were sparrows constructing nests on unnoticed loft corners of houses with little information to its owners, raising our own little monuments in common places of others surreptitiously.

As I turned right came this place, preceded by a newly fitted majestic metal gate. Back then, there used to be no gate. It was just a long winding driveway that led to a nursery school. We fondly called it “nursery”. Only both of us knew what nursery meant, when among a group of friends. So why were two grown-ups frequenting a nursery? This under lit place became uninhabited in the evening and the unregulated driveway that preceded the nursery, with tall trees on either side, became a tantalising prospect for long walks and the accoutrements that ensued.

Here, we became night creatures that made merry after sunset. Unlike the owls, we couldn’t see too well, but we didn’t complain. We could feel and listen to each other like  in no other place with heightened awareness- finding rhythm in our heartbeats, warmth in our touches, wetness in our lips and dexterity in the fingers to render clothes vestigial. This is where we caught up every time before being away for a while and this is where we came together after being away for a while. This was our ersatz room, before we got a real one.

A few second later came this stretch inundated by tall walls that belonged in fortresses, baring faces of the neighbourhood politician and not so subtle slogans in fluorescent font. I could see a younger me going for the wall, as I discharged my bladder’s content in a blissful fountain. She used to be seated on the bike behind, embarrassed about my uncouth way of answering the nature’s call. As I got on the bike, proud and relieved, my comeuppance would come as she twisted my ear till I twirled along with it in tandem.

I pulled over my bike to take a leak. I was all alone by myself, with no one waiting behind to play mother as I sat to ride.

The L of the stretch was coming to an end as the subway in the end was becoming visible. She used to come out of this from the other side of the road, as I restlessly waited near it. I would check myself on the bike’s mirror a hundred times and would strike the best pose on , as she would pop out of the subway onto my bike in a hurry, to employ the harness on me. After dropping her back late in the evening, I would wait by it till she surfaced from the other side of the subway in one piece.In short, our days were bookbounded by this subway.

Over a decision, things that were very life itself had turned into distant memories I could only live vicariously. I  could revisit them, without craving to recreate. This stretch was like a black box that survived a crash. The drive was like going back to the place of accident after recovering- as a healed person – grateful about the second chance, stronger and peaceful. If I’ve learnt one thing over the years, it’s that there’s no such thing as good or bad in life as every experience culminates systematically in a memory. Good and bad are transitory, a mere reflection of the state of the mind from the time of impact.

The L had come to an end. And it felt like a place I was leaving place from, not one I was coming into.As I turned left to climb the flyover, I felt like Superman  emerging out of Krypton stronger than before. Life was one fear short.

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Price of privacy in an average Indian household

It’s pretty much like the conundrum of whether the chicken came first or the egg; the influence of movies on the society and the society’s influence on movies.It was in the mid nineties when, Sooraj Barjatya in the north and Vikraman in the south, spearheaded the renaissance of placing family before individual, making a virtue out of it. In the process killing privacy as a collateral necessity, making a vice out of it.You’ll see families in these movie walk in horizontal human chains- members on left and right extremes spilling out of every frame -even to modest places like blood donation camps, invading each other’s bed rooms spreading cutesy and going on picnics together. In this ecosystem, family was no mere crowd, but therapeutic. These movies talked about the trauma of being alone, establishing solitude as a comeuppance should someone dare stray to the other side, in the name of self discovery or love.

If you’re someone who had been raised on a firm diet of Tamil movies in the nineties, chances of having missed this spectacle called Suryavamsam are bleak. For the uninitiated it is one of the several evolutionary-anomaly Sarathkumar movies in which grandfather,father and son all look the same and get played by him. In a pivotal scene in the movie, the son’s kicked out of his house with his share of wealth for daring to get married to the love of his life. Notwithstanding the condescending nature of his overbearing dad, he somehow doesn’t part with the wealth to a farther haven.Because, it is hard after all, for an illiterate man pushing forty to choose between his hateful dad who acknowledges his existence while buying anti-fit khadicraft shirts on birthdays alone on one side and a prosperous life with a loved one on the other. His rather prosperous stay apart from his colony sized family is made to look like a stint at Shawshank prison  throughout the movie’s running time.

The thing about these movies is that the individual always put himself, his love, aspirations behind his family’s and dissolved in its well being.

The resounding success of these kind of conservative- and regressive -family films reiterated the moral code of most families across the board. The elders identified with what was sold off as non negotiable virtues and the youngsters were naive to believe idiosyncrasies to be traditions. These were strictly above-the-belt movies that would sermonize on vanilla values that were digestible, inoffensive and non-debatable. Even when it came to couples, they never went beyond the tropes of innocent stalking, crass duets, wedding ceremony and the coy first night sequence when the shy camera would pan up at the prospect of below the belt activity about to ensue, once the couple were done establishing chemistry over cold milk and ghee sweets. This systematic attitude to over preach sentiments as values and push icky topics below the carpet has systematically percolated from one generation to another to create elders who didn’t respect the post puberty phase of a grown up. For instance If a teenager’s found whispering on landline, the immediate parental instinct would be to launch into stealth mode. Pick the extension from another room and eavesdrop; for it might be a member from the opposite sex. Obviously the nefarious act has to be stopped. For you can’t afford to be friends with him and joke about his flirting skills, right. It doesn’t fall under the Suryavamsam family code.

Another dreaded recurring occurrence in most Indian households must be the Sunday morning special visits. That’s when an out of town relative would pop unannounced into our life like a pimple. But that or their amusingly large breakfast appetite wouldn’t even form the primary concern. Like a frog run over by a lorry, we would peacefully be sleeping in the safe confines of our bedroom in an awkward position when mom would come to wake us up to say, “hello”. Even before your brain can begin to process, a lecture about how showing courtesy to a guest is more important than precious life would begin. This would go on for several minutes. And it would only be a matter of time before her persistence would take the form of a loud scream, promise of a bad lunch or the most dangerous face expression before emotional blackmail. That’s the time when you would know that you’ve got no way out. Your eyes would detest. Your entire body would resent. But you’ll somehow drag yourself to only say that dreadful, “hello” and go back to bed in the hope of better karma.And just when you thought that the misery would be over with the thirty painful seconds, the relative incapable of understanding body language or silent “fuck offs”, would endeavor to stretch your tenure with one sensitive question after another. By the time he/ she gets done with you, you would start hearing the liver churning bile from within.

The sudden invasion of a dad or uncle into bedroom while generating handmade pleasure is one of the most disturbing things to happen to an average Indian teenager. What’s more disturbing than the ocular exchange between the two, would be the awkward silence that follows, as he contemplates euthanizing and the elder behaves like having walked into a satanic mating ritual. The sexual curiosity of the youth, his coming to terms with his own body that’s looking different with each passing day and his sudden mooning over girls his age is something the average Indian  elder diligently pushes under the carpet, courtesy the  Suryavamsam family code.

We in this part of the world never really acknowledge the importance of an individual’s identity. His coming of age, his love, lust, failures, successes and how they shape him as a person. His dreams, aspiration, yearning to create a legacy of his own. His alone time. His spiritual growth. Notwithstanding all this, all that matters is that he has to be married at a certain age. And she has to be married as well by a certain age that often comes a few years before. The dreams can wait, goals can and aspirations…stop joking..are certainly not as important as creating a family at the right time.

Most elders operate with the sole purpose of getting an individual deeper and deeper into the institution of family, drifting him further and further away from himself. Not every flower needs to get into a bouquet, some can look beautiful by themselves. An individual’s privacy has to be respected. His personal space has to be acknowledged after a certain age. And more importantly his values have to be let the place to fashion themselves into something independent, not necessarily agreeable.

 

Ghosts of mobile phones past

It was a dingy place that found its odor in a spot between molten iron and plastic lava. The ground was punctuated by systematic crevices, each leading to an endless abyss beneath. This had everything that went on to make the perfect hell, no wonder it was in fact one.  Well almost. It was the lobby, from where the deceased got demarcated, before being taken to hell ahead or heaven above.
Amidst the chaos, there walked in this guy to bulge the sea of heads by one person. He seemed wet, from head to toe like someone had gargled him out. The small, but prominent marking on his rear end caught the attention of another individual— with a sharp cut that ran across his entire body —who bore a similar marking. Glances were exchanged amongst them, before he gesticulated to the new guy- “Skip the queue, come here.

If the hell’s lobby was a morbid cake, this motley bunch of broken individuals was the icing on top. They displayed between them every anatomical casualty fathomable- some were headless; some deaf; some had deep cracks running across their solarplexis and the recent addition seemed to be stewed in dampness. Different from each other, they were unique works of art in carnage. But these two, though born to different parents,  were there because of a single destructive individual, who’s initials got them together- AT.

I was his first…err…first this month. He seemed pretty nice in the beginning. And just when I was starting to feel special, his butter fingers took over.
Yeah, the butter fingers!“, the wet guy coughed in unison.
He constantly keeps dropping us, like a bad habit. And should his homicidal streak continue at this rate, soon there will be a colony here, named after him.

Anyways, where was I?”
“Butter fingers.”

Haa…butter fingers. I’d unlike many other misfortunate brothers of mine managed to come unscathed through every onslaught, till his trouser zip screwed with me.
Trouser zip?!
Yup. you’ve seen freak deaths doled out in final destination movies right, mine was like that, just a tad miniscular in scale and vision.
We were at work, a few minutes from his presentation when he decided to take a leak. All was hunky dory, till then. I was already starting to feel like the last survivor in those serial killer movies, when he took me in his mouth, like a dog holding a bone, while he continued emptying his bladder. In a fatal flip of a second, he zipped along his “little guy” with his trouser and ouch…his teeth pierced through my upper body. And like that I was rendered lifeless, thanks to a fucking zip!”
Ouch. that explains the torn solar plexus. Caught between the lip and the zip.
Very funny. Now tell me how you ended up like a wet sock?

“Hmmm..”, the damp guy’s excitement left him like a silent fart.
I was cherry picked. And I guess it was the guilt from his previous kills or probably simple prudence, but he actually took very good care of me. He was always around and to be honest, despite his reputation, I kind of started to feel secure around him. And then..

Yeah there’s the “then”.

The butter fingers phase began. All the paternal warmth from the previous days of nurturing had paved way for coldness of anxiety. And one fine night, he had to take a leak.

Wow. Same pinch. Same place.“, the broken guy was giggling till the cracks on him contracted in tandem.

Yup.Same place.Same guy.Different modus operandi. He seemed excited, he was talking to someone that made his face pink. Probably his girlfriend, when he accidentally dropped me into the commode. And I suffocated to my last breath.“, a tear rolled down.

Brother. I don’t understand how he doesn’t fall often.”
“And all that love for animals, my ass!
“This place can’t be hell, if it keep us far away from his reach.”
Yup, god bless his new victim.
Redmi 4, right?!
Yup.
************

Ashwath get up, it’s nine in the morning.“, mom screamed.
I accidentally pushed down my new phone, with an outstretched hand in an endeavor to wake up.
Thud, it fell.
Dey…it’s your third phone in two months. If they have a mouth, they’ll cry.
I think my Motorola and ASUS were in fact rating in my dream, before you woke me ma.

Butter fingered. And now delusional.God save my son.And these phones from him.”

 

Teacher’s Day nostalgia

I’m three quarters short of stepping into the third decade in my life. My head is nothing but a cluttered space of learnings, lessons, predispositions, likes and stronger dislikes, tastes, preferences, habits and endless nostalgia. It wasn’t this way all the time. There was a time, when all it registered was the music of lullaby. It was a clean slate when I took my first baby step into PSBB, my first school.

My world was a place full of nameless objects without a curiosity to count and comfortable gibberish, before names and language dawned upon as necessary friction. It’s here I learnt to name call— for a syllabus —animate and inanimate things alphabetically. This is where my naive fingers became a counting apparatus, before algebra and logarithm came to break the cherry of numerical goodness.
Each little miscreant that steps into school is like a sown seed. Some turn out to be flower giving; some fruit bearing and others mere show pieces. But all of them, irrespective of their origin and purpose, need the dampness of soil and the warmth of the sun to become what they’re meant to be. Once they grow, so do their needs. While some grow up to be creepers, needing a scaffold to twirl around, some flourish autonomously with the occasional pruning on the rough edges. The garden metaphors- the soil, sunlight, scaffolding and the gardener are the teachers and mentors who curate the seed in each individual, till the blossom of self sustenance.

I’ve had many such wonderful teachers in my life. Some taught me maths; some accounts; some English; some science and some life itself. I remember one such person, my accounts sir- Mr.Devakumar. A stiff man in his late fifties, there was nothing conventional nor congenial about him. An air of mockery preceded him among the students. When the norm was for students to itch for a period to end, here was a man who had turned the cliche over its head. It could be a critical part of a crucial problem he would be solving on the board or a conversation he would be having with us, all it took was the ring of the school bell to bring him to a stand still. On the sound of it, the chalk would drop,mid air and the verbal exchange would halt mid syllable. You could pay him a crore, but you just couldn’t stop the man from evaporating  out of the class. We laughed at this demeanor. The nonchalant style of teaching accounts, where he would just teach the basics and expect everyone to figure things on their own. At least that’s what I thought. We would receive his assistance, but only when he saw desperation.

By the time I passed out of school I had become acquainted to the rhythm of debits and credits like a million other unimaginative dunces before me. But I had, that they didn’t was the street smartness I had picked from Devakumar in problem solving, inside and outside of books. This lighthearted approach to every situation in life.

And just like that this irreverent man who was supposed to teach me accounts had instead taught me to live life, I really don’t know, how much of this was intended by him, but the lessons from this phase of my life had left an indelible impression in my subconscious.  In a nation, that waits for an instance, any instance to worship certain designations; it is sometimes important to remember and respect the simple individuals behind these designations.