Kaleidoscope

Have you jumped over dried summer leaves,
Just to savor the symphony of crushing sounds?
Have you bunked enough classes,
Or were thrown out of them with your buddies?
Have you lied to your crush that it’s not your bus,
Just to steal an extra hour of waiting together?
Have you walked home with your best friend,
Balancing your feet on the tracks that disappear in a tunnel of trees?
Then consulted a stray kitten,
about the hint of rain trailing the changing wind?
Have you chatted up with your roommie about times like these,
And had a Deja Vu that you’ve had the same conversation before?

About time.

“May I”? He asked her finally.

“Sure,” she turned around and let him join her at the bar counter.

He ordered a drink. With a side glance, he watched her askance.

She was nodding her head to the tune of some song and was humming along with it .

She stirred her drink and smiled a little. She was conscious of him looking at her.

“You like The Smiths? They’re one of my favorites,” she lowered her head as she spoke.

“Yup. I like them,” He replied.

“And I like this time, specially.”

“What, 10 pm?” she had her eyebrows raised.

“No. The 80s.”

“Why so?”

“Because it was the best time.”

“Was? Hmm…” she looked at him from head to toe as if to study him and asked again, “Why so?”

“Well. You know, the rock music. People becoming more open-minded. Technology was changing. TVs and later, computers coming in…, and there was some innocence in these times” he scratched his head and continued speaking.

“In 90s, we had FRIENDS as well.”

“Well, that’s true. But then, no Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. No Twitter,” she responded.

“No virus pandemics either.” He completed.

“Wait a minute! How do you know about the social apps from the future?” He said with a surprised look.

“Well, you think you’re only one who can travel?” Her left eyebrow went up and down like a wave.

He smiled and the edges of their glasses kissed.

Cheers!

“I didn’t’ ask. What’s your favorite time?” He turned his chair to face hers.

“2040s.” she answered instantly.

“2040! Wow. I don’t get it. I keep coming back here for the love of simplicity and the tranquility of this time.”

“Why 2040s?” He stared at her.

“You’ll know.” She smiled and gulped down her drink.

He pondered over that for a minute before turning back to her.

“I do not see how a girl from the 80s be in love with 2040s. I mean I live in 2020. And It’s terrible.

I can only imagine how 2040…”

“It’s beautiful,” she interrupted. “And I like it precisely for the same reasons that you keep coming here for.”

“For ‘the simplicity of…?’ I don’t get it how 2040s can be beautiful.”

“Yup.” She stared at him for a few seconds before speaking. “It’s a different kind of beautiful to be honest.”

“Tell me more. I don’t think I can wait for ten long years to figure it out.” They both had pulled the chairs closer as he spoke.

“Ever heard of post-apocalyptic world?” She said.

“You mean there’s been a world war? The world’s come crushing down?” he almost kept his drink away.

“When was the last time the world was not crushing apart, eh?” she retorted.

“Agreed,” he said, still impatient to hear more.

She could sense his curiosity and decided to push him a bit more.

“Shots?” she tapped her fingers on the bar table and looked at him for an answer.

“I’m not getting more out of you that easily, am I?”

“Nope!” Her cheek sported dimples as she giggled.

He couldn’t miss them.

The shots were ordered.

“The 2040s isn’t perfect. But it’s closest to what we have imagined of going back to creating a perfect world.” She spoke while licking the aftertaste of vodka off her lips.

He rested his right elbow on the table and gave her all his attention.

She went on speaking as if on a momentum.

“The 2040s are changed times. Third-world-war means that we have pretty much damaged the painting of the world map. The technology has sunken deep into the black sea. The phone lines are dead. The internet is a distant dream. But owing to our character of adaptation, those who managed to make it through the night have learnt to survive under the new Sun. For the time that’s on our hands that is. It is in a way a utopian dream for us lovers and the artists. The borders have been smudged. Who is the refuge and who owns the burnt lands is a question as orphan as the small faces around.”

“Tell me more.” He was all ears.  

“What do you want to know?”

“Are people still fighting? Is living in the mountains back?” His questions were almost ready.

“The gunshots behind the mountains are slowly fading out. People have gathered from the lands afar and speak the common language of survival. Because what better than to swim together in the waters today that could drown us tomorrow? We light these little campfires in the corners of the lakes and sing the songs we thought we never will.”

“We? You mean you have friends?”

“Well, I did meet someone. He was singing this Bob Dylan song…” she snapped her fingers as if trying to recall something.

“Blowing in the wind?” he said rather confidently.

“Yes” she said cheerfully.

“He was humming that song while we sat there, and I warmed my hands at the flame. That’s my favorite memory from it.”

“That…that sounds interesting,” he replied while slowly getting lost in his thoughts.

She circled her forefinger around the edges of her glass and looked at him.

“What are you thinking?” She probed him.

“I’m thinking that I’ll be quite old by that time and you’ll probably come around.” He said getting up.

“Maybe you’ll have gray hair and all the wisdom of past years. Maybe you’ll sing me a song.”

He looked at her for a moment and said, “Maybe.”

They both wore their biggest smiles of that night.

He checked his watch and said, “I so want to ask you for your number. But you guys don’t have them yet, do you?”

“Don’t worry. You don’t need to exchange numbers when you have the same hiding place.”

“See you around!”

Rocketman

The year is 2030.
There is a new airport called ‘An Egress’. It’s the same place from where I had boarded a small spaceship into the galaxies to look for a new home.
Writing this letter to you from a thousand light years away.
You must’ve been worried that you did not hear from me for long.
That’s because,
Sometimes the mammoth space tosses the bottled love letters all the way up to the moons.
I do have a good news though.
Yesterday, I found what could be our new home. It’s near Titan, the moon orbiting the Saturn.
Our new planet is strange. It has violet skies and frozen lakes. It is hauntingly beautiful.
The trees grow wild here and the roads aren’t paved.
The days are short and the nights are eerily silent – Like a flower with a hand grenade.
I wish I could tell you stories of all the planets I fell in love with.
Of all the homes they made inside me.
Of all the languages I did not know I could speak.
I remember you saying once that we often fall in love with unrequited things.
Like me thinking the universe will love us back, but I know she has too many other galaxies burning in her hands.
We are but tiny specs hoping for her to return our call.
Earth was a beautiful dream, the one that we dreamt collectively & ruined with our hands.
I hope once we all depart her, she’ll grow little trees in spaces we should have watered.
Afterall, she’s someone who’s seen a thousand summers and loved us with all the rage of the sea.
We may travel to every universe, but we’ll belong to her in all of them.

Mumbai

I have had a recurring dream.
It starts with me waking up at the break of purple dawn, my favorite time of day. I have always loved this city, at this hour, when it is still sound asleep. I can look at it through my window for hours. I have. I can hear it breathe and think of myself as an actor in one of its countless dreams.

In my dream, I see myself getting up and leaving the house wearing my night pajamas and a camera slinging across my shoulder. I think I’m headed down to Powai lake. I’m not so sure.

I am walking down the building. It’s the same old place that I had called ‘home’ for years. As I come around the end of stairs, the child in me goes for a jump and skips the last two steps. I say Hello to the security person who looks like he’s just taken over the shift from the night guard. I walk outside and take a deep breathe in. It feels as real as a dream can get.

The society gate has just been opened to the new day. Delivery boys are rushing in with renewed hopes. Oreo, my favorite dog wags his tail and I pet him saying, “good boy!” I look at my favorite couple – a huge tree and a bench sitting beside her. I smile at the thought of all the memories I’ve trusted them with. I’d like to think that they smile back.

I stroll down the loveliest of all streets, one that changes view with my every footstep. It looks perfect for our chance encounters, for our surrealism to merge into our reality.

I see myself hopping onto a local train and share a greeting with a new stranger for the day. The familiar voice from the train announcement gives everyone enough comfort for the day. I stand near the train door and let the wind flirt with my hair.

Blink of an eye and I’m sitting at Prithvi café. I fold the sleeves of my shirt all the way up to my elbows and feel proud at being surrounded by art connoisseurs. I wonder how many of them will later remember the moment they’re sharing right now. Sun beam escapes through the crevices of tree branches above and my eyelids close in.

I open my eyes and find myself playing with the strap of my office shoulder bag. My colleague stares at me like she’s seen a ghost and wears the expression of ‘what the hell I’m waiting for’ on her face. I walk inside the place that’s going to be more than a workplace. Few known faces turn around to say Hi.

With my heart overwhelmed with a pleasant feeling, I find myself in a cab on the way back home. I get down near Powai and walk towards a café at the corner. ‘Aromas’ it says. I keep looking at the place and a man sitting at the table outside turns around. I see myself holding a cup of Americano and with dreams for lifetime in eyes. He shakes his head looking at me and retreats into the conversation.

I think I hear someone calling out my name. I turn around and I’m blinded by sunlight breaking through. With my half-shut eyes, I think I see you across the street. I reach out to you, but I can’t move. My pockets are full of stones. You stare at me from distance and the syllable of your laughter fills the sky. It is mixed with a deafening alarm tune of my clock.

I see myself spiraling skywards. You look up and wave me goodbye.
I wave back to my favorite city.

Flying monster

Disclaimer: this blog post smells like a pile of shit.

What do you call an asshole with wings?

Hint: it starts with P.

Nope. Not me. I don’t have wings.

It’s the Pigeon.

Yeah, that multicolored, evil specie from the kingdom of birds that keeps spying on the windows in your house.

The first time I saw pigeons closely was when I was in school.
My elder sister had taken me to a place nearby our house where a man used to look after a large group of pigeons.
I saw that the flock had several grey birds along with one lone white bird – apparently a female. That was my first introduction to how much men in our country must compete for a woman.
The man made some weird sounds and pigeons flew around and came back.
“So, what are you thinking young man?” He asked me with the tone of being extremely proud over his pigeon-control skills.
“Do they come back to shit here, or do they shit here to fly around?” I replied.
My sister held my hand tight and took me away.

That question went answered for a long time, rather many years.
I grew up watching pigeons take over the country little by little.
I saw people outside temples feed them.
I saw Bollywood actors dance around them.
Being an animal lover, I always loved observing minute details about bird and animals.
I noticed it rather early how pigeons were so much unlike their friends from the bird family.
During 90s, I saw that the mighty kites, tiny sparrows and even middle-class crows were buying a house for themselves on trees in their locality.
But not the pigeons. Nope.
They were just keeping an eye on humans and their houses.
They were basically intruders who were making a room for themselves in buildings and houses instead of trees. Maybe they’re the rentless innkeepers in Barney Stinson’s words. Or maybe the other birds did not like them. Or maybe pigeons realized that humans are stupid and would let them stay rent free in exchange for a giant pile of poop.
You open a window, stroll into your balcony or just peep outside – they were ubiquitous. And so was their shit.

By now, I had learnt three things about pigeons.
One, they were horny all the time and had some target to keep up with. Maybe they were all part of this huge multinational pyramid scheme that demanded them to make x number of eggs on a quarterly basis.
Second, maybe Devil was the CEO of their organization.He must have been paying them dividend every time they capture a new locality and spread their genes around.
And third, they had skipped Darwin’s evolution and decided to stay as disgusting flying fucks over the time immemorial.

Lately, I went out to buy some groceries during the lockdown period and what I saw was anything but surprising. A large ground nearby was full of pigeons as they fed on and left no stone unturned with their grey-white souvenirs.
I finally got the answer to my question from the childhood.

They shit around to fly around and fly around to shit around!

Aaji

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What comes to your mind when someone says Aaji? (Daadi/Grandma)
I immediately think of the MasterChef from our childhood. I remember the one who used to cook delicious sabudana khichdi and thalipeeth for me. The one who would tell my mother, “I know exactly what he will like. Let me cook it for him,” with a sense of love and pride beaming across her face.

The one who narrated stories of Mahabharata to me and my sister. And also the same person who would scold my mother not to fast because ‘Gods would never want their children to stay on an empty stomach’.
I have far too many fond memories of her. Of course, I have seen her fight with my parents too. But the good parts outweigh those times far too easily.

I remember few funny incidences from my childhood. I had an aunt who lived downstairs – the one who never got married. As a kid, I have asked my aaji at least a thousand times ‘Why does she not have children like other people?’. Aaji would burst into a laughter every single time I said that and instead of answering me, let someone else know what I had just said. It was hilarious the way she’d try to control her laughter. Interestingly, she never told me anything else just to kill my curiosity. She’d rather say, “You’re a kid. When you grow up, you’ll know why.”

And I’d just add that to the list of things I was supposed to know automatically once I grow up. My next unanswered question in childhood was about sanitary napkins. As soon as the TV commercial would start, I’d demand everyone in the room to tell me what exactly it was. I had to wait all the way to my teen age to figure out why lady in the commercial was jumping around and throwing blue ink on what i thought were diapers.

I think my aaji along with others cared for my innocence, knowing well that that’s exactly the beauty of childhood years. I’m glad they did.

Recently, I went to meet my aging aaji. She has not been keeping well. She is bedridden and can barely stand on her own. It hurts to know that I would never see her cooking sabudana khichdi in the kitchen again like old times. I doubt she has accepted that though. I think she still thinks that she can do that one day.

When I sat next to her, she started asking me about what’s happening in my life. I told her everything was good, and asked her how she was doing.

“This lady is waiting for her daughter-in-law to cook some jalebis.”

“Who lady?” I was confused.

“This one. The one in green saari.” She pointed a finger at the television screen playing some series that she was so fond of.

She then went on to narrate the entire story plot that she remembered rather well.

In my mind, I thanked the makers of the series for keeping my aaji busy and entertained during her illness.
Thankfully, they make content for everyone. Funny how I had never thought this way before.

While I was lost in my thoughts with my eyes staring at the TV set, she told me to stay alert.

“What for?” I asked her with amusement.

“See, now a butterfly will come. It only listens to the little girl. This girl…Her name is Nanda. Keep watching…,” she spoke without moving her eyes off the screen.

I looked at her and the TV in turns with a smile on my face.

She was right. In the TV series, the girl whose name was Nanda then called the butterfly and an animated butterfly fluttered its wings only to come and land right on Nanda’s shoulder.

“How do they do that no?” Aaji asked with her eyebrows raised and the chin resting on the palm of her hand.

I had not seen her that curious for a long time.

Of course, I could see and knew that it was simply a computer-generated image of a butterfly. But I wasn’t sure if I wanted to give that as an explanation to her.

“How they must be guiding the butterfly to fly when they want and to sit on her shoulder like that no?Aaji smiled with joy as she asked me that. Her eyes were still glued onto the television set.

“You will know how. Once you watch the entire series, I think you will come to know,” I looked at her and grinned.

The bridge

There’s a lake that winds on forever.

There’s a path that no man has taken for years.

I wanted to see where it leads.

So I took a different route the other day.

I wandered a bit, honey. Even though they had asked me not to.

I took a journey to the roads that have cursed stories.

The legend says people who went there were scarred forever.

And now I have a memory weighing down on my sanity.

I came back changed. I came back scarred from the things I saw and I touched.

“There’s a forest beyond the rusty gate,” the old man had spoken.

“But don’t go in there, young lad” his words fell on my deaf ears.

How long I kept walking inside the gate, is a question now I ask myself.

All I know is that the forest got a hold of me.

I can feel it in my bones to this moment.

I saw the things stranger than ever.

And now I can’t tell the truth from the reality.

I saw you sitting cross-legged at a familiar place, once I crossed the wooden bridge.

I remember how the trees willowed down & darkness took over.

I remember it all happened as I walked over the damn bridge.

You sat on the other side like you’ve always been there.

Younger and happier as if pulled out of an old Polaroid.

In your favourite purple jacket, zipped halfway through.

You tucked your hands inside the pockets and started to walk.

I followed you like a ghost.

Beyond the bridge and into the woods.

At a place that time cannot rule.

Is it the end of our worlds or is it the beginning? Is it a shortcut to our memories?

Out there was your world that whispered to me.

I headed into the unknown, the one that felt familiar eerily.

I have come back changed now, and I can’t unsee the ghosts I have been with.

I took a little journey into the darkness, honey.

I cheated on time and now I’m being punished for it.

I can’t tell if I belong to this time or another.

I can’t help but wonder if you’re still sitting there, with your one leg crossed over another.

Like the December of 2009.

Children of God

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By the time my niece was two and a half years old, we had bonded quite well. So, I decided to take her out on a walk one day. My niece – an adorable tiny creature walking alongside me and clutching onto my two fingers. As we walked, she looked at the world with her beaming face. Probably there was even a tinier person sitting inside her brain and recording all that she was seeing. On the other hand, I thought of how much this place had changed since my childhood. I had not been to this part of the town lately, the not-so-wide streets and the old house where I grew up.

With the town overflowing with population and creating chaos with its blaring vehicles & busy stalls, where do you take the two-year old?  The only place that I could think of was a temple of Hanuman nearby. It was the place that I used to visit when I was around her age. The temple was not really a popular one despite being very old. Probably that was the reason why I enjoyed visiting it back in the days. It was located in one of the side-lanes, little far from the main street. One had to walk down the kachha road to reach there. So I walked, marched, and matched my footsteps with those little feet. On our way over there, I showed her things that she might find amusing – a puppy, a kitten, a tall tree and a man with a long beard. When we finally entered the temple through its black-coloured gates, I imagined how my family back home would react to this, knowing only too well my relationship (?) with God.

I almost felt awkward. The way you feel when you stumble upon your ex at an event or a ceremony and immediately resort to an explanation. “I’m just here for the event, you know. What’s up, God! How have you been?”  But today was not the time to introduce atheism to my niece. As we moved inside the temple, I could see that she was already well versed with the dos and don’t s of the religious place. Where to take off your footwear, how to fold hands in front of the deity, etc. As we sat down in front of the deity, she looked up and asked me, “Why don’t you fold your hands?”  It had to be replied with a smile and me asking her, “I don’t know how to. You show me.” “Like this. See. Like this,” she gestured.

Afterwards, I showed her around the temple. I suddenly remembered that one of my schoolmates used to stay inside the temple premises as he happened to be the son of a priest working there. I looked up with a false hope as if he would still be around. His house was shut and wore a deserted look. Meanwhile, my niece was running around a tree in circles and pausing intermittently as if to check if I’m noticing her new achievement or not. It was reminiscent of the time when I use to run around this place with my sister. I loved chasing kittens and yes, also looking at this giant tree standing right in the center. My sister and I would try to guess its age. We could never reach consensus on the number but we did agree that it must have been older than any of our grandparents. I stood next to the tree and touched its bark. It was still standing strong. The wrinkles on its branches did give away its age but rather gracefully, like strands of grey hair shining on an old man’s beard. It was still holding a promise to touch the sky with its leaves on top. As a child, I always related it with a popular story of a young man who climbs the tree to enter the world of dreams.

I touched the tree with my palm and wondered if it still remembers me. I had learned in school that trees are living beings just like us and I had always wondered since then whether they too have memory. I wondered if the tree silently acknowledged its old friend.  I would like to think that it did. Maybe that’s the kind of solace every believer seeks. Hoping for a positive outcome and negating the doubts in their head about whether God really did hear the prayer. Maybe, it is all about hope in the end.  Maybe that’s why we don’t tell children that magic isn’t real, that Santa is simply their mom or dad tucking gifts under their pillow or that some things just cannot be afforded. Maybe God is another name for hope, and adults are his children who need to sleep well at night. They need not always know everything in its naked reality.