Wednesday, March 30, 2011


He saw her coming out of the cafeteria. He froze. She looked prettier than ever. She had probably lost a kilo or two which made her look slightly more fragile, her hair tied loose, falling on her shoulders. She wore a thin shirt on a skirt that reached her knees and revealed the legs that he knew all too well. She was talking to a bunch of girlfriends. He took a breath. Two years ago, in his car, when they were together for the last time before he went inside the airport and left for the U.S., she had told him that they would not try to remain in touch. They wouldn’t write. They wouldn’t call. They would try and get over each other.

Before coming to see her, he had been talking to her in his head. He told himself it was okay to pay her a surprise visit and just say harmless things like how engineering didn’t quite work out for him, how he’d gone photographing the Pacific Ocean on a cruise, how he finally settled for a major in physics and how he played in the first five for his college.  That morning, he asked for her department, peeped into a few lecture halls, checked in the café, and just when he was beginning to lose hope, he saw her.

And when he saw her, he just wanted to look at her some more before getting noticed. He stood at some distance, out of her field of view. He had always found her attractive. Earlier in those days he had tried to explain to her why he found her attractive. Once,  when he was telling her that there was a very subtle pride which governed the nuances of her movements; which made her look regal even if she wore a tee shirt three sizes too big, she had suddenly raised herself on her chair on her arms, kissed him full on his mouth, and cut him short. He remembered it so well because it was the first time she had kissed him, and also because he was holding two cups of coffee and was just bending to keep them down when she had decided to do so. They were at a restaurant which had a small hookah parlor, to which they carried their coffee. She said that he had looked so cute in that instant that she couldn’t resist, and she didn’t mind the stoners. It was a slightly shady place. But she said that she thought it alright to go there with a man who was six feet and three inches tall, and who would run on both sides of her if they were to stand in front of a mirror. She had the weirdest of similes to draw. She said that she functioned like a typical cost curve- concave first (rising at a diminishing rate), and then convex.  So later when she would reach for him in her crazy ways, her hands and feet always ice cold, he had to learn to stop being surprised.

The group of her girlfriends was beginning to disperse. He could sense something rising up his stomach, flooding his insides. He knew she must be leading a life of her own, and that he had no right to tell her how he missed her; how he missed the way she smelled; how every time he’d be with a woman, he would catch himself comparing her with her; how whenever he got drunk he only thought about her; how he’d feel helpless for weeks altogether, unable to reach her, talk to her, see her, touch her.

The group finally dispersed. She started walking away. Before he could think things out, he realized he had already called her, and she had stopped. She turned. She blinked in disbelief. She smiled, started walking toward him, kept coming close to him until she was less than six inches away. She looked in his eyes. That look, he knew, registered everything else on his face too, like, exactly when he had shaved last, had he been smoking a lot of late, had he been sleeping well. She swept her eyes over the length of him, and then with graceful little movements which fused into one another- she raised herself on her toes, got her arms around his neck, smiled and hugged him gently. He could smell her, feel her skin soft against his and her hands cold around his neck. She fitted so well in the curl of his arm. He pressed her to him. And she dug her face deeper into his shoulder.

Friday, March 25, 2011


I jump off the roof. I suffer an abysmal fall. But I’m not hurt. I look at myself, surprised. I get up and start running. I want to reach somewhere. I run fast. I cross a railway track. I am in a train, on an upper berth, my body moving to the train’s rhythm. There is laughter and chatter. I see long forgotten friends; dead grandparents. They offer me potato chips. I am confused. The berths come down rolling to form desks, the coach keeps widening until it is a perfect square, like a classroom. I am in my school, taking a chemistry test. But I don’t remember the +I Effect. What do I do? How did I miss a thousand days of school? There is sunlight entering the classroom through the windows which open in the side gardens. I am in the garden. But it’s a different garden. I am with my mother and am barely half as tall as her. She is holding a small plant in a pit and I am putting mud around it, with feverish enthusiasm. I am so happy. Each time I fill my small fists, and empty them into the pit, it’s an accomplishment and I look at her and let out a chuckle. She smiles. I can smell the sandal soap on her. She looks beautiful with the sun on her cheeks. After I fill the pit completely, she presses the ground. She waters the new plant. She asks me to wash my hands and turns to go inside the house. I want to stop her, but I am unable to speak. I run and catch hold of the loose end of her cotton saree. But it doesn’t feel like cotton. It feels like my quilt. I wake up.

Monday, March 21, 2011

That Bath on the Road

I hadn’t bathed for three days. I was in Rajasthan, on a specialized ‘rural’ school trip. I was in grade eleven and was new to the school. I had joined late and my own section had already been on the tour, so I was with a bunch of absolute strangers from other sections, except for my math teacher of fifteen days, a sweet South Indian whose lips hid her teeth when she smiled.

I thought it was too much of effort to try and make friends for ten days. People were happy with their lives, they noticed you and you smiled and they smiled back. Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns had just been launched and despite the strict instructions on not carrying laptops, iPods, and books so as to ensure that the students were perceptive to the whole experience, I was carrying the new book, obviously. Its cover was particularly interesting, a woman walking on a sand dune on slightly high heels (how do you do that?), with pretty golden leaves framing the picture, if I remember it right.

So, we were in a weavers’ community and the school had struck an arrangement with them so that they taught us weaving, spoke to us about their lives and our lives, that kind of thing. Also, if you were a girl, they rendered you free matrimonial services and suggested you prospective grooms from their village.  So that’s how the days were spent, and we kept changing our base camps every three days or so, visiting new villages.

Getting to the point, there was less water and we had been advised against bathing. But this specific base camp had no taps or bathrooms, so you just could not bathe. The layers of sweat, sunscreen and sand that I had to scratch to reach my skin were making me sick. I couldn’t believe I was so dirty. Bathing at a villager’s house was not an option, because then the world would come to know about your irresponsible behavior. My eyes would constantly be looking for water, my head refusing to accept that the body it inhabited was my own.

On the third evening of this ordeal, my weaver- tutor told me that we, the university students, should visit the Block Development Officer and tell him to get the leakage in the water tank repaired without any further delay. I asked him to show the leakage to me. The water tank turned out to be this huge one, just ten minutes away from our base camp.

Next morning I got up an hour early, at four. It was okay to sneak out by yourself because there were no toilets, and people were supposed to do their business behind the sand dunes. You just had to ensure that somebody knew you had gone. So I stirred the math teacher and told her, got hold of my bodyshop paraphernalia, took out fresh clothes that smelled of the fabric softener at home, and left.

It wasn’t light. I reached the tank. The only sound I could hear was of the water gushing. I saw right and I saw left. There wasn’t a soul on the road, only a full moon in a sky which was bluer than black. There were sand dunes on both sides of the road. They glowed silver in the moonlight, their sand perfectly still, resting and preparing for another hot, windy day.

I was glad. I got out of those wretched clothes. I took a real bath.

By the time I came back, it was almost light. This hunk was brushing his teeth, the others were still asleep. When he saw me, water dripping from my hair, he stopped in mid action. He asked me how I managed that, pointing to my hair with his toothbrush. I told him.

The next morning, I got up late. We were supposed to go to a new village after breakfast. I was told that there was a long queue in front of the tank, so nobody except for the hunk and a few other guys ended up taking a real bath.

Also, I didn't need to go back to Mr. Hosseini’s book for the rest of the trip. The hunk and I struck quite a friendship.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hell, no!

“ACP Rajat, Crime Branch”, he said, showing a laminated card which I couldn’t see properly, my head and neck in bandages, immovable, resting on the raised hospital bed.  “How are you doing? Can I ask you a few questions?” he added.

He was not dressed like a policeman, nothing like they show on T.V. No policeman’s cap to remove while talking to a victim; no trailing juniors to wait outside; no beetle juice on his lips, but pants and an easy t- shirt, on a broad frame. Something about him made me think back, but I was sure I hadn’t seen him. It was this queer sense of inexplicable déjà vu that gets me way too often to be taken seriously.

“Yeah, sure,” I said, managing a little smile, and grieving at its diminished impact due to the bandages that framed my face.  

“So, tell me from the beginning, how did it happen?”

“Right”. I swallowed. “So I was in Amber Mall. I came back to the parking lot, shopping bags in my hands. I unlocked the car, opened the back seat door and put the bags in. I shut the door. Just as I was about to enter the car, I sensed somebody very close behind me.” I paused. It crossed my mind that just then, before entering the car and after sensing someone close behind me, I had registered something else too. But what, I couldn’t remember. I tried to recall. But it just wouldn’t come.

“Then what happened?”

I shifted my gaze from the wall, to him, and back, and half thinking, said, “I felt somebody right behind me. But before I could turn, whoever it was landed a massive blow on my head. I thought I would die. I remember thinking that. And the next thing I remember is waking up in this room, with bandages all over, and thinking that I didn’t die, after all.” I looked at him. “I’ve been told that the car was intact, with the shopping bags, and I was intact too, except for a fractured skull, of course.”

He looked interested. Studying me with a strange look, he said “Don’t you remember anything else? “Anything that may help us catch the offender?”

“I said I didn’t see him. That’s all that I know.”

“There’s nothing else that you remember? Are you sure?”

“Nothing else. Yes, I’m sure.”I said, trying as hard as I could to remember what I had thought in that fraction of a second before being hit. I closed my eyes and tried to peek through the opaque sheath of my memory of that evening, of that second.

He shifted in his chair, and my memory yielded to my insistence. A rent appeared in the opaque sheath, and it grew and grew into the gaping hole of a recollection. It was the smell. It was his smell. I had registered the same cologne back there in the parking lot.

A shiver ran through my body. Hell, no! He is going to kill me, I thought. I put a hand near my ear and winced. I rang the bell for the nurse. He gave me a questioning glance. “It’s time for the pain killer,” I said, as calmly as I could. The nurse came that very instant.

“You will have to excuse us for five minutes,” I said.

He searched my face for something. I smiled an apologetic smile. He looked at the nurse, who looked at me. He went out.

I asked the nurse to bolt the door, first thing.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


She sipped tea, sitting opposite to a plastic chair in the small balcony, eating Marie. Twenty years ago she had found Marie too bland for her taste. But he had liked it.

She stared at the newly tarred road. There was no hurry. The kids would come only after three. They’d finally resumed school. All the relatives, her parents, his parents, had left. The furniture was back into order.  The balcony smelled of the incense that had been burnt, and of the charcoal from the road.

She went back to it for a hundredth time. He had called her at eight. When he didn’t come by nine, she had tried calling him. By ten- thirty, she had called her brother and set out with him on the route he used to take to office. They found the car, with the hazard blinkers on. He was unconscious. There was no pulse. The doctors said it was a heart attack.

She had gone over the series of events each time she’d woken up to find her daughter sleeping beside her; she’d waited in the kitchen for the milk to come to a boil;  she’d looked in the mirror after bathing. But now she waited for the realization to sink in. She shut her eyes tight, and waited.

She accidentally dropped the cup, spilling the hot tea on her bare foot. She didn't move. She just sat there, and cried.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Because the Time is Running Out

I recognize what you are wearing, the green kurta with red dots. You wear it with jeans because it doesn’t have a pocket. I know. But those earrings are new, I think. You have on, your shoes, and one cannot see much of your funny socks. You walk fast, that stride of yours, slightly bent under the weight of your laptop.

Why do you have to struggle with your phone to know the time? Why don’t you just start wearing a watch? 

I keep walking behind you. I don’t mind watching you from a distance. We are going to the same place, anyway. I’d just enter the metro after you, and pretend that I happened to run into you. Your hair is already beginning to get untidy. Its grown long you know, it needs a bigger hair band. Your neck is ever so clean.

Why the hell do you have to take the stairs? Why do you insist on not holding on to the side railings, despite having that weird smelling sanitizer in the side pocket of your bag? You will fall one of these days, I tell you, and break your teeth. Its time you started acting sane. What’s wrong with you? Why are you in such a hurry? There’s still time.

Now you walk even faster. I didn’t know you heeded announcements. I speed up, too. You run, and climb the escalator up. I follow suit. There’s a metro beeping before it shuts its doors. You rush in. But the doors shut on me. You turn. You see me. The metro starts moving.You fix me with your eyes. You are gone.

I was wrong. There wasn't all that much of time, really.