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The year is 2030.
You live in a macro-rental housing society inhabited by a thousand more people living in matchbox-shaped houses. Google owns it, and they call it a Smart box.
You are in your late thirties. Almost everyone you know works at Amazon or Reliance. Today is Friday. You decide to use the accumulated points on your card. The employers have given you one day’s leave for a month. The office shares a social media update on your behalf – it is an animation of you thanking them for being a great workplace. They brand it as a wellness time for employees.
You decide to go out for some beer. At the café, you meet someone and have a little chat. They dislike your opinions and give you a low rating with two stars.
You hop onto an Uber bus. The facial recognition app greets you by your Citizen code. The driverless bus runs over a bunch of people. Thankfully, they are all homeless, and the system ignores it as an error.
The Spotify chip in your ear begins to play a track by Imagine dragons, but it is interrupted by an advertisement asking you to upgrade to a pro-premium account.
On your way back, you decide to stop at the local Kindle store. You dimly remember it used to be a Crossword book shop at one point. They are all Kindle stores now. You sit down and join a few others who are watching elections. You really hope that the Tesla guy beats Adani to become the new global president. He has promised to run a contest for free tickets to Mars every year.

Alternate realities

“Every decision made is a decision against something else.”
The multiverse theory is simply mesmerizing.
Whenever you are presented with a choice,
you create an alternate universe with an option you do not pick.
Do you catch the last train, or does your parallel version?
The delicate guillotines of options, aren’t they?
When does it start or end?
Do you choose to collect silences or words?
Do you make sure you touch the roses with or without the thorns?
Do you move out of the town or stay back?
Do you get out of your house and take a left,
Or do you walk straight and bump into a stranger?
A stranger who later becomes your best friend.
You are but accumulations of all these moments,
and yet you vividly mark as yours only a handful of them.
You are now and then.
A thread of forever and nothingness.
A puzzle of summers and raw winters.
You are holding time with both hands
but forgetting it in soft memories.
A thousand of ‘you’ are living your ‘what ifs’
at this very moment in the alternate universes.
Maybe our dreams are our memories from the worlds we don’t live in.

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.

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.

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.

Renascence

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I remember drowning in the sea with a rock tied to my legs.
Though it was a mammoth ocean trying to claim me, I felt like a lost kite wandering off in an azure sky.
I was gasping for breath until a mermaid came to rescue me.
I opened my eyes to her face studying mine. Looking at the typewriter next to me, she grinned.
Write a tale which speaks of a white ship. The day you finish it, a giant wave will help you find your way back” the mermaid whispered into my right ear.
I was looking for the right words to say. But like all beautiful things, the creature was an ephemeral one.
With one flip of her tail, she disappeared into the dark sea.
It has been twenty-seven days since she left me here. Alas, marooned yet alive.
Sitting with my weary feet dug into the white sand & my eyes staring at the papers flying around in a frenzy.
Ready to prophesise with my words and undo the curse from the past.
I would like to believe that I have somehow made it already in the parallel universe.
The crumpled papers in the sand have slowly begun to unfold. They are asking me to breathe life into them.
But I’m busy pondering over the stale thoughts in my head.
It is insane how we let these voices in our head devour us. The things we need to purge, we let them feed on our brains like ravenous parasites.
But I have had enough of it now. I have stared far too long at the sand beneath my feet.
It is time to howl back at the Moon. Howl back at the ghosts of our ‘what ifs’ looking down on me.
I had buried your soul in my typewriter long after you left. And I see it burn out into the tiny sparks as I hit the keys.
Like a firefly, it hovers around my head. It’s been the only light on this godforsaken island.
I sometimes wonder if you’re keeping me company or waiting for me to wither & die.
Your love had grown like wildflowers in my ribs. I couldn’t pluck it, so it spread further to crush my lungs.
Much to your displeasure, I do feel a rush now.
There is a sparkle in my veins. It travels down my spine & kindles my senses.
I sit by the sea every day where sunlight breathes warmth through the singing trees.
This is where I shall conjure angels and create magic.
I could move through the time with waves. My words will shatter distances and defy the ocean’s depths.
You know, I keep thinking over what the mermaid said.
I have been writing for twenty-seven days straight. But the story never ends.
I’m stuck in a riddle that keeps me dying and alive at the same time.
There are days it rains & I hide under the tree. I have seen how the peace exists there in a daydream.
The rain drops fall over the pages, and I silently hope the ink will find its way to the egress.
If you read the poem well, you’ll even see the silhouette of a raven on the pages. It was sent by the Poseidon to keep an eye on me.
I have finally learned that the magic is concealed in one’s belief.
Why else would the mermaid choose me? When the sea is littered with lifelines, and she won’t touch a single one. That creature is in love with the dying.
Or maybe the resurrection is her task to summon all poets & writers and bring back the magic. I will never know.
Today, I’m standing at the spot beside the river where the willow branches touch the water. I can hear the waves singing paeans on my behalf.
I have now learned to hold hands with the wind and let the words become infinite.
I can see that the crumpled pages have joined into a giant paper boat.
The quest is at last complete. It is time to sail once again and say hello to the roaring breeze.

“The End”