Friday, 23 December 2016

Flying Under the Coathanger’s Arc

With the hands that I once wanted to write poetry for her every morning, I was made to write the draft of her wedding card. I took the dictation. Word by word. Every word I wrote, shook one brick of the wall behind which I had safely hidden my feelings, feelings that had not so long ago made her very happy. Not enough though to not have me write her wedding card. 

There were corrections too. Redrafts and more redrafts. All those phrases and metaphors seemingly made the match between her and her fiancĂ© more apparent, more visible to the invitees. In the end the card actually looked beautiful. And I say this without any prejudice or anger or any feeling of devastation. I told her father that it was the perfect wedding invitation. I wished his daughter, the best in life. But someone else also told him about the other stuff hidden behind the wall I just mentioned. 

Terrified about my kind of past and ten ways in which it may ruin her daughter's marriage, especially with the marriage only a month away, I was asked to leave. When I left, I went away without grudges. A part of me was happy that I was going away. As I was drifting, I didn’t turn like in the movies to catch a last fleeting glimpse of a soon to be bride, even though the face once moved my sun and stars.

They have been telling me since God -knows –when, that true love comes back and that if it is meant to come back it will and all that kind of stuff they invent out of nowhere. When I hear them say 'true love' I wonder how love cannot be true. I wonder how that version of love has ever worked for anyone. I have even read that love is like jumping off a cliff with hope that you’d land safely in the midst of overwhelming indications that you may not. I had jumped off my cliff a little before six months of her marriage. The funny part was that she’d asked me not to. I did nevertheless. And for reasons only known to her, she decided to join me. Once she jumped, we floated together. But the flight was terrible with her slipping away every time I tried to hold her. Something told me that she never wanted to be held in the first place. That the idea of floating excited her, apparently far more than my snug warm embrace. Maybe, the guy they gave her in marriage, tried to catch hold of her too. But what he did was even more stupid. The poor fellow tried to smash her onto himself. That was never meant to work. I read about the separation on a common friend’s wall. Sometimes those kinds of things are written there. They are trying to get her wed for the second time. I felt awful hearing that. I could not lie to myself that I’d begun to re-dream about us when I’d learnt about her being no more married. I know I just told you about how terrible it was.

But even the second time around, I’m poorer than ever. No engagement  I can show off as my 'worth'. But I do have a hundred poems now, all written while she was in Australia, living the days and nights of her newfound foreign life. But those words were never meant for price. Some months later, my poor words actually get lucky. An abrupt email out of the blue and within the next hour a series of exchanges tell me how lonely she is. I start to write poetry for her, every morning, mostly telling her how beautiful this world is with her around to which she always sent a very encouraging reply. The sunrise of hope was getting nearer and nearer. Till I got no more emails for a week. A rare week since we’d got in touch after her divorce. I was a little disturbed but not worried. How could I’ve guessed that my words were so poor that they couldn’t stop her from floating once again. Stretching her hands, as if to mimic the Coathanger above her head, she had let herself off the Harbour Bridge into the endless depths of Murray. 

'Poor Words' is fiction.

Saturday, 17 December 2016


The solitude and the crowd
The mellow evenings and this night's quiet
Everything carries me to you.
As if a soul I were, set upon
A tiny ferry
Given away to waves
That wash the shores of your island

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The Symbol

Even though four years had flown by since we'd said goodbye, Asha was not supposed to see me with Malvika. It was not because I had anything to hide but because I knew that I may not get a chance to explain to her that Malvika was not someone I was involved with. Funny, how after all this time I was still worried about such things. There was no one I was involved with actually. It was only a harmless coffee outing with a colleague. Asha neither smiled (or maybe she was about to before she stopped) nor gave away any overt reaction when she saw Malvika laughing on one of my jokes. I was worried and could barely bring myself to think about anything else or even hear the words coming out of my companion's mouth. I was only lost in imagining what Asha would be thinking. I began following her movements, wondering if she will look at me again. I hoped that she did. I was ready to express in some quick way that it wasn’t how it looked like. The traces of that old zeal to come clean still moved me. This is how intense our affair was, it's relics as powerful as the challenge of time itself. It never saw the light of culmination into something permanent and I concede that most of it was my doing. But for a long time, four years to be precise, we kept in touch every now and then, pleading, arguing, going quiet, hanging up, chasing each other in spaces where we could never reach other, each of those attempts beginning under the light of what we nurtured for one another and ending in the abyss of what fate wouldn’t let us have. 

I saw that she placed her order at the counter, paid the advance bill and walked out to the courtyard to wait for the servings. There was too much traffic at this point of the day and to sit at the outer part of the cafe now would mean taking in annoying quantities of dust and smoke . The best time for the courtyard was sometime between eight and ten in the night when the breeze had nothing to interrupt or corrupt it. I’m sure she was aware of that. Still, she chose that spot. I was certain that she was only exposing herself to the unpleasantness of the dust and the noise because she thought it was far more unpleasant to see me around, more so with another woman. I had to remove the notion from her mind. I knew there was no chance of us getting back but that did not mean she had to carry some wrong idea about me. I had not moved on, much less involved with another lady. I wouldn't ever. We both knew it. We used to reassure each other about how the idea of moving on was foreign to our belief systems. Still, I needed to make sure that she knew I was still the same guy. Not that it mattered anymore. But in a few inescapable ways it did too. I excused myself and walked off the table I was sitting at. My colleague who was enjoyably sipping her Cappuccino had not the faintest clue of what had happened. Why I'd suddenly turned all serious in the middle of humour and where was I headed at. Thankfully she didn't ask, not at the time. 

When I step outside, I see that there are four 2-seaters, each under those large, multicoloured, beach umbrellas, bent slightly like aching waists. I see that she is in the shade of the far fourth one. The table is under the additional shade of an old thick tree that seems to have earned the mercy of the developer.  Its greenery is a sort of respite in the cacophony. Without much attention, I move very close to Asha, ambling like a phantom. She cannot see that I am standing there. She has her back towards me. I stop when I remember where I am. I see that she is mulling over, running her tip on the periphery of the ring I'd given her. Then she begins this act, of sliding the ring to the beginning of her finger, holding it there, turning it a couple of rounds and gliding it back to its spot, where I'd left it with a kiss five years ago. Her tea arrives. I swiftly turn around lest the waiter misunderstands my intentions. As soon as he is gone she resumes the act. Sipping the tea, pulling the ring to the top, holding it there, looking around and slipping the ring back to its place. My eyes catch the spot on her skin where my ring has sat for five years. Every time she slips it upwards I see the pallid mark of a white circle that my ring has etched on the beauty of her fingers. 

Having repeated the movement many times, she eventually stops. When she halts, the ring is not at its original spot, she is holding it at the tip of her finger, as if she is finally done measuring the journey it has cost to arrive at this moment. She and I, as lovers, and now, as strangers. Is she really going to remove it? A fear comes upon me. It makes me feel cold under the noon sun. It occurs to me. Why is her mind on the ring today? Is it only because she saw me with another woman? Or is it because she has to do it to convince someone else that she is finally ready to give up her past?  Or is it really herself that she is attempting to convince? Has merely my presence alongside Malvika assured her that she must take this recourse as the only one left?

Why can't she just ask? Why can't she just assert like the way she always did? Has she forgotten how I love being owned by her to the exclusion of the whole world? What if she did take my ring off? What am I supposed to do then?? Just pretend that henceforth we do not exist for each other and that we must step into the next moment and whatever that hollowness entails. That this was as far as we could have come inspite of our four year old goodbye. So lost I am in my thoughts, so consumed I am in the terribleness of the cusp of our beginnings and endings that it is only after she answers somebody on her phone that the edge of her voice pulls me back to the cafe. 

Watching her the way I am, I confront an urge to walk upto her and ask her to come back. I don't answer that urge. She wears her shades after graciously tipping the waiter. I quickly slip away to an inconspicuous corner as she starts picking her things, getting ready to turn. She walks slowly and then catches up. 'I love her. There will never come a day when I won't' I think to myself as she hollers for the cab and waits. I see my ring when her hand is raised. It is intact on her finger just the way she'd promised to keep it. The symbol lives. For her, that symbol could just be the ring. For me, it is the whole two years of our affair, crystallized in its stone, shining like the sun from behind an eclipse, with all its celestial might.


*'The Symbol' is a work of fiction.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Silhouette of Our Lives


Many of us often confront the crushing realization that our lives do not turn out to be what we want. There is this ever present, invisible wrench of some powerful force, quietly moulding the course of things. And often the influence that the force wields on our journey is inescapable. We are, in reality, no masters of our fates. We do not, cannot control it. The truth is that in all the wholesome determining of life and its path, there is already a plot, to which one has no choice but to fit in. My endorsement of fate's authority should not have anyone perceive me as superstitious. A believer of fate is not necessarily superstitious. Superstition involves expectation of a definite result in a certain situation but fate alters and varies and remains unpredictable, free from all kinds of comprehension as to the manner of its progression and immune to predictability, working per a higher scheme; while superstition breeds fear, belief in fate is known to inspire humility.

As it turns out, fate has always sketched the silhouette of man’s life. I am not saying that men are born bereft of independence or that free will is a myth. We do own our wills. But there is only an extent to which we actually exercise it. Conceding to my lack of competence to eloquently explain the co relation, I’ll borrow Pandit Nehru’s words, the ones he memorably told Norman Cousins, the doyen of American journalists who once put to Nehru ‘How do you reconcile free will and destiny?’ Nehru answered, ‘Both have a place in our life. The best analogy one can think of is to compare life with a game of bridge. The cards dealt to you are out of your control, but the way you play your hand is your free will. Given a good hand, you can still mess up the game and vice versa’ Even Shakespeare has proclaimed through Hamlet how God has a plan for us as much as we might criticize it, protest against it, or try to dodge it. He writes:

 there’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
                rough - hew them how we will’

I derive a great deal of comfort from Hamlet's lines when I'm in distress.

It is said that when Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, the then President of India was a Professor, many years before he became President, Cheiro had predicted upon reading his palm lines that he would become head of state. What was winked at as a family joke at the time came true to the last word. Many of us, I’m sure, have had a similar chance to experience the extraordinary actually occurring by stroke of something unknowable. Let me share a personal experience to illustrate it.    

My cousin often joins his friends on road trips . Everytime he starts, invariably, almost like a ritual, my aunt tries to stop him and doles out an annoying list of what could happen etc etc in unsupervised trips. But my cousin enjoys the tacit support of his father, my uncle, who never prohibits him from having fun . There was this one occasion however when Mitesh uncle turned startlingly adamant against permitting him to travel. My cousin kept asking ‘Why?’ to which Mitesh uncle only said ‘You are not going anywhere today’. Regardless of no concrete reasoning my cousin was prevented from making the trip. It was an unusual scenario. As I said Mitesh uncle is usually soft with him, but that day he was someone else. I watched his demeanour change as if he was possessed. Like some third person was controlling his actions. The same evening news of the car crash in which my brother’s friends made that journey shook us to our core, particularly the four of us who had been part of the debate that afternoon. One of his friends had died on the spot and the rest had landed in hospital with grave injuries. I shiver as I recall the proceedings of the day, projecting in my head scary images of what could have happened.

What could possibly explain my uncle’s stubbornness that afternoon? Providence, according to me was at work to save my brother. I never asked my uncle what made him stop his son. No one asked. As though we had already in our minds bowed before the powers which took hold of his will that day. I wouldn’t be surprised if after all this time uncle still has no idea what compelled him to change his stance. I understand it too well why he may not have an idea about it. It is natural to not grasp the conjuring of fate.   

I have often encountered disagreement of peers against my perception of destiny and its role in our lives. They find it imaginary, intangible, and hypothetical. But aren’t there enough things in this world that subsist beyond our knowing, invisible to our eyes, immune to our skills of comprehension? Their presence is felt only by the undeniable persuasion they play their hands with, in moments when it matters, just like what happened with my cousin.

Trusting in fate or not is entirely upto us. We may choose to or not to. But, sooner than later, we all arrive at circumstances where we are swayed to spare a thought in favour of its existence. Perhaps what I have shared has been suitably put in words by Dr. Johnson in The Oxford Book of The Supernatural. He writes “all argument is against it, but all belief is for it.”