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.

Interstellar

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Let’s pick a black hole to plunge into,
Let’s tumble down into the black velvet sky.
Let’s spin around the planets as tiny specks,
Until we transcend the dimensions of space and time.
Inject sunsets into my arm,
Let me feel your rush.
Let me love you violently in the privacy of my heart.
Your rib cage holds an ocean,
It’s the night we drain this sea
And plant flowers on its floor.
I think you’ve become a planet yourself,
Which is why I keep orbiting you like a dead satellite.
Turn the stars back on,
Let the moonlight slice the years gone by.
A taste of the universe sits on your tongue,
Show me how many galaxies you hold in your mouth.
Pour me a thunderstorm or two on the rocks,
Let us riot against the time.
Let’s tumble down, down, and down into the black velvet sky.
It’s the night we become one with the cosmic sublime.

Kintsugi

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Spinning little stars in a cracked marble universe.
It was the first time he wrote a story in his head.
He was five.
A kid with a glass marble held between tiny fingers.
He moved it close to his right eye,
and his left eyelid drew the curtain down.
The right eye watched the imagination unfold.
Planets spun around and their moons followed them,
like he’d follow his mother from one room to the next.
He twisted the round thing over,
and felt the crushed part with his thumb.
Imperfection. The first time he was drawn to it.
Maybe that’s what made rest of the piece so intriguing.
A world near-perfect with a slight flaw that hid a secret.
He wondered what must have caused it.
Each time he played the marbles, he could tell this piece apart.
From its beautiful imperfection.
It was the first time he cared more for the ‘broken’,
for he felt it needed a healing touch.

writing

Poetry

Poetry. She is a woman.
He ressurects her on nights that keep him awake.
She is his favourite garden dressed in black.
She drags him through the storm where the pretty things bloom.
She is made of all the sunsets he tried to evade.
She is an overdose of wildflowers stuffed in his chest.
She is his bruised knees and a pair of broken wings.
She tastes like his desires with a hint of bourbon .
They meet under the twinkle lights & he presses her against the bricks.
He caresses her like she’s his lifeline inscribed on a parchment.
She likes the way he calls her name with his hands around her neck.
She tells him things that petals confide to the Sun.
He can’t remember the first time her soul whispered to his. He knows she woke it.
But it hasn’t slept since.
Poetry. She is a woman.
A sunset chaser, star gazer.
A wide-eyed pretty little mess.

A Wormhole

author

‘Netflix Original Series – Episode 4’

I was binge watching yet another series with my flat mates in Mumbai.

10 years back, who would have thought that it would become so easy to stream your favourite series and watch it at ease?

My flat mate passed me a Budweiser pint and I struggled to open it with my teeth.

Nahi hoga tujh se saale, opener use kar le. Table pe pada hai!” my roommate mocked me as he tapped the space bar to pause the series.

I gave in to his banter and got up to grab the opener.

Poof!!

The lights went out.

What the…! Dude, is it just our place or the entire building?” He was utterly disappointed at being disconnected from internet.

It’s the entire society,” I peeped outside the window to check.

Shit! I haven’t even charged my phone.

Relax! This is Mumbai. It must be a temporary failure or something,” I assured him (and myself).

It wasn’t.

1 hour went by. My flat mates were getting increasingly worried about their phones’ batteries dying out. One guy informed his girlfriend in advance, in case it does.

I’ll go, get some Maggie from downstairs. Also, I’ll check with the security guy what the matter is,” I let my flat mates know as soon as I decided. They simply nodded in agreement.

Carefully, I walked myself out of the house. It was pitch black outside except for an occasional flash of light breaking its dominance. I could hear someone talking downstairs. It was our security guard. I walked down the last few steps to find him informing few other residents that he had already called someone to fix the problem. The gathered crowd did the formality of sharing their expertise (?) on the matter.

The guy will arrive soon”, the guard looked at me sideways and spoke.

I did not ask him a question and continued walking. He seemed pleased with it.

I stepped outside our building and started moving in the direction of the grocery store.

The view outside was not usual. Unlike most other towns in our country, Mumbai rarely faced any electricity issues. Today’s unexpected power outage had forced people out of their matchbox-sized houses. Few were seen using their smartphones’ torch function to walk just a few feet away. Headlights of the moving vehicles on the street were generously offering some of their light.

It was the mid of June and weather was quite pleasant. The cold breeze was reminiscent of monsoons gone by and it was quite soothing to stroll. Therefore, instead of buying Maggie, I decided to first take a walk for a while. I headed towards my favourite spot – the long pathway behind the last row of buildings, the one that was adjacent to the hill.

Those days, I used to often take long walks with my roommate every night after the dinner. It was a stress buster for both of us. We used to consider ourselves fortunate to be staying in one of the few societies in the town, that were still blessed with dense trees looking over the walking track. It almost seemed as if trees from both sides of the pathway held hands together and watched us from above.

I marched faster with the passing time as my eyes adjusted to the darkness. I could hear voices coming out of open windows that would normally be shut or be reflecting light from television screens. I walked further into the night and towards the narrow passage. I had always loved the soothing sound of water gushing down the crevices of the wall that failed to hide the small hill sitting behind.

Two green eyes shone brightly in the black night and a feline jumped into the bushes watching me move in its direction. Walking further, I reached a point where it was almost difficult to view anything ahead. But then, I knew the path well.

Few more footsteps and I heard some noise. Few voices were chatting somewhere close by. I was intrigued and paced towards that place robotically. The voices grew familiar as I inched closer and the visibility enhanced drastically. It was almost as if the dust had settled down after a quick sand storm.

I could see the rough path leading to a house and a porch. My eyes widened looking at the sight. There was a veranda outside the house where few people, rather a family sat close together. They surrounded what seemed like a lantern. Their faces were lit up with the yellow light emitted by the lantern and a candle. Yes, there was a candle too. It was picturesque, like a postcard.

I felt warm just by looking at the view and watching them from distance.

It was us. Gathering around the candle on the evenings when electricity would decide to take a leave. It was me running around and being asked not to wander too far into the darkness alone. I watched the little kid looking back at me from far. He had joy written all over his face. Pure joy, unscathed of any worldly matters. He looked at me and nodded his head before responding to his mother’s call. She seemed to have brought a tray laden with tea cups for everyone. She placed it next to the candle and gently scolded a kitten not to come close to it. The kitten straightened up its tail and rubbed itself against her foot. Daadi on the other side, seemed too busy trying to adjust the flame of the lantern and my sister sitting next to her – wondering if she would ever learn to use it when she grows up. The father, later, informed the family that power would not be back for another hour or two. The family seemed rather unfazed with the news and continued to enjoy the hot tea under the twilight.

I smiled at the innocence of that scene. It had gently pierced through the boundaries of my space and time. It felt like I had looked up from my phone screen after a long, long time. Standing there & watching them, I felt I was too far to cherish the moment while forgetting everything else in the world. And yet, I felt oddly close enough to sense the warmth as the younger-me fidgeted with the flame of the candle with his forefinger.

I think memories sometimes act like black holes, don’t they? They suck us in and all we can do on the way is to watch the kaleidoscope of moments stuck in their orbit. 

I was shaken up by a tap on my shoulder.

Dude! Where are you lost? Power is back.”

What?” I turned around to see my roommate standing there with his eyebrows raised.

Let’s go. We are hungry. And where’s the Maggie? You didn’t get it?” He looked at my empty hands.

Without saying anything to him, I looked back. But the house, the porch and the family – they all had disappeared. They were replaced by a pathway illuminated by the street lamp. Similar to how magician’s assistants quickly changed the background on the stage.

There only stood a tall hoarding at the gate displaying an ad by a network provider –

‘At lightning speed. Stay connected with the ones that matter’.