Survivor’s Diary

Hey there,

This is Aanya. 

It’s been fifteen years since the modern world faced its deadliest pandemic. Covid-19, was it? I think probably more than fifteen years. I’m writing this vlog from my apartment in Mumbai.

Today is April 20th. It is ten degrees outside. It had been raining incessantly for the past three days in a row. The rain finally stopped today morning. Yes, it’s not weird to have showers in April anymore. I know that the seasons used to be a thing back then. Not anymore – thanks to the climate crisis. 

I cannot wait to step outside and get some sunlight. But there’s still too much dust in the air. My glasses detect the air quality index as 397 AQI. It’s become slightly better because of the rain. I have been locked inside the apartment for more than two months because of the Pico virus pandemic. I couldn’t even open my bedroom window because the next building, which is at a one-hand distance, is coded red. 

Anyway, I’m trying to pick my clothes for the day, but there’s too much to match. I think I’ll go with a simple white top and blue pants. I guess I’ll wear my denim jacket. Yes, you are right! It’s trending again. Besides, that jacket has an attached viro mask. It keeps me protected from at least 70 percent of viruses out there. I haven’t upgraded it yet, though. The premium version of the mask comes with better air quality, and you can skip three ads a day. I heard from my friend Ron that Google recently launched masks with in-built ear pods. How cool is that? But then the government has partnered with Google. So, you have to listen to the president’s speech at least once a week, or your ear pods’ subscription gets put on hold. Yes, the president! We don’t have a prime minister anymore – only one president and only one party! We don’t have voting rights to choose the president either. But then, we can vote for our cities. The city with the most votes gets to have the president visit them in person. The rest of the cities will still have the president’s holograms to interact with, which are at every 200 meters.  

So, I am finally going out. Since my phone is doing all the writing, we can continue to be in the conversation. I am heading toward the central park. It’s the largest one in the city and my skin desperately needs sunlight. Doctors say it’s better than vitamin D shots. 

Anyway, here I am at the park. I need to key in my citizen code at the entrance. The AI will detect my social appreciation score. Those with more than 10k followers can move to the green zone. It is less crowded and more frequently sanitized. I am still at 8k. If you’re watching or listening to this vlog, please give as many hearts as you can.  

I’m sitting in the blue zone. It’s slightly better than the yellow zone. Fortunately, the park is less crowded today. I’m wearing a mask that covers my whole face. Please don’t feel bad for me. People can still see each other’s faces on their masks’ screens. We can interact virtually without directly talking to each other. We hardly do the latter anymore. Oh, I see someone in my vicinity just sent me hearts for my vlog. Thank you!

The last time I was sitting here, I found a match on the Purple app. It’s a dating app where you can meet people virtually. A few people even catch up in person. The app is integrated with my mask. I can put it on a search mode or hide myself to be unavailable. It’s interesting. People are a lot more honest on their profiles these days. There is a section to reveal if you are a carrier or under clinical depression. It helps your future match learn about you beforehand. A lot many people have also identified themselves as asexual these days. They say that they’d rather have a conversation with someone than sex. And that’s usually harder to find.

Okay! It looks like I’ve absorbed enough vitamin D for today. I think it’s time for me to go back home. I need to pack for my evening ride to Dharmshala. My parents stay there. They never moved to Mumbai because the air quality is slightly better over there. It would take me fifteen minutes or so to reach Dharmshala by the hyperloop train.

I can’t wait to see them. The recent lockdowns prevented me from visiting them for months together. They have a beautiful indoor garden and you can sit there without a mask. Moreover, they have two cats and a dog. I miss them. My dad is a writer. You wouldn’t believe it, but they both still write with their hands. Ron didn’t buy it the first time I told him. So, I took him there to visit them. It was quite embarrassing. My mom couldn’t stop but show off her collection of screenshots. She has an array of screenshots of writings by her and my dad. Some of their blogs date back to the pre-pandemic era. Dad says that he would often go to coffee shops when he was young and write his blogs. Imagine sitting among people at an open café and without masks! Sometimes, I get a strong feeling that I should have been born in the 2000s. I think I belong to that time. My mom laughed when I told her this. I was like, “why is that funny?” She said, “it’s not. It’s just that your father and I would often say the same thing. We always thought that we belonged to a different time than the one we were living in. We always wished to go back to the 80s!”

Brought to you by

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.

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!

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.

A ghost

456814_10150937408818624_1343781768_o

You tell me you don’t miss home anymore

You stare at the faceless portraits of people you come across

You wait until midnight to listen to your favourite song

In the new city that sucked you in

Just a month before

 

You tell me it’s hard for a ghost

To be dissolved in such a crowd

You tell me you can’t as much work on new art

You stare at rusty drafts that hoped to breathe life

Just a year back

 

You tell me you take the longer route back home

You chew on daydreams more than before

You stumble upon a broken tree and

The old abandoned houses try to pull you in

You wander the city like a ghost from another time

 

You tell me you don’t miss home anymore

As I get ready looking right at you

You mimic me until I smile

Then you draw a half smile in reply

I leave for the new office in the brand new town

You stay back on the other side of the glass

 

Renascence

paper_boat

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”

Writer’s block

writers_block

This little place they call a writer’s block.

Would you care to pay me a visit?

I surround myself with it. I stay in it, and I sleep over it.

I have made it my home now.

Would you push open the old creaking gate,

And tiptoe down the spiral staircase to the basement?

The house welcomes you with an archaic clock.

It is stuck at the hour you said goodbye.

Don’t be fooled; they’re my eyes.

Stare at them long enough & your reflection will wink back.

The guestroom is adorned with a flame.

My lungs blow oxygen once in a while to rekindle its dying spark.

Hear that fluttering sound right across the hall?

A foolish child tied my heart to the ribcage,

said it was his paper kite that someone tried to snatch away.

I keep thinking that you’d come around.

I hear you re-read the drafts I scribbled long back,

Ask me who did I write them for?

But I just lie here in an empty bed,

And watch the wind play its dirty tricks.

Our memories ride on the paper planes,

And fly across the room in a frenzy.

Till they become the wandering clouds,

that disappear into the sunbeam.

The memories that you’ll become in years to come,

The memories that you already are.