When I think about my childhood, there is a lot of summer afternoons spent reading on the big flat green stool that used to stand by the tiny balcony by the kitchen upstairs in my mama-bari that stands out. There is a lot of running around on the roof- back when there was one big roof where the pigeons would come to roost and I would dance and show Pishimoni bharatnatyam and then we’d run up to the second roof to smell the rose garden and the adults would talk and I wouldn’t know, wouldn’t care what they spoke of- only know it was grown-up-language- like the roses, which the adults appreciated more. I was only a kid. I was happy to be a kid, more interested in clambering up the guava tree, messing around with the brown muck of the plants that grew chillies and tomatoes and if you crushed a leaf from the lime tree in between your palms and rubbed the bits together, you’d have a wonderful citrusy smell about you for a while. Inevitably in these memories is my Didibhai, making chaa for people, with her hard-gentle hands, her standing at the downstairs verandah waving us goodbye, for all eternity Didibhai at the downstairs verandah waving us goodbye. When I grew older I would put my head on her lap, despite the giant lump of hernia she carried with her. I would find a tiny spot of knee and shove a bit of my head on it, lazing on the sofa, reading, listening to the buzz of the adults. So I was sixteen- still a kid to be sure.

It doesn’t seem real. Writing is no relief but I must seek refuge in it because what else is there. So come run on sentences, because it seems like this is reality whether I write it or not. There is no question of makings things real. I am helpless and I just want there to be a light at the end of the tunnel. I want it to be summer again, and I want to be putting my head on faded soft cotton, that would be offered to me to blow my nose if I so wished. I want to be holding wrinkled hands. I don’t understand this day, this time. This needs to un-happen. Else, it needs to finish happening and go on to next summer when I can go laze on a bed between two old people whom I lived with as a lost, skinny nine year old. I remember being told that I spin like a kite in my sleep and choking with laughter at Hajabarala. I remember the disgustingly huge cockroaches and kind eyes laughing at me- Kichhu hobey na. I remember tetul’er chutney and korom-chaa’r tok and aam’er tok. This is not the way things are. I want to go back to a sleepy nine where I watch Chattaan despite school tomorrow. I want to be fed yellow rice balls in tiny glass bowls by a veiny hand that cares.

I want to be able to breathe, secure in the knowledge that things are okay. Please.

Bout of nostalgia

Annesha’s latest mix made me listen to the Gangs of Wasseypur soundtrack again. Right now I have ‘Womaniya’ blasting through my ears, and I want so, so badly to be back in Cal, on that day when I first watched the movie. That morning we reached Forum nearly three hours too early, crammed into the metro with a hundred other jostling, sweaty bodies. I was afraid that there was going to be a lot of awkwardness with someone who was there because of drunken antics that had happened a little while ago. There was no real awkwardness, and our motley assortment of people wandered Elgin Road searching for Crossword, taking the longest route possible. I remember sitting on the top floor with said person and looking out at this gigantic hoarding of Shahrukh Khan advertising some sort of vest(?) that bordered on the obscene. We were listening to these new-ish old songs and sharing a bowl of something or the other that was not enough for a single person, but we had no money. We kept getting the song names right, and then we wanted to look at the CD that was playing but the manager very firmly told us that it was against the rules. He took it out and let us stare at the CD cover though- lurid pink hearts and all. Then we walked back to the movie, and the Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi theme song began, and then the rest of the utterly brilliant movie followed. I was blown away by a Hindi movie after a long time, and when we staggered out into the sunlight, we were wobbly on our legs, and I was starving, but still broke so Chandrima fed me some sort of egg-fry thing from the roadside vendor on the footpath opposite Forum. It was delicious and then Squg turned up, glasses and all- and we debated for a long time where to go adventuring. Finally we let our stomachs guide us, and stopped at Sharma’s because K wanted kochuri and puri of which I stole some. Then A did his impression of Arunava which was incredibly spot on, and I laughed, and then I felt guilty for laughing, but it was all in good fun, so I laughed some more. We were back to wondering what to do next, and then someone started chanting ‘momos, momos’, so we started walking to the Metro Station to get to Denzong’s. I remember walking down the Gujarati part of the city for the first time and I was doing my usual thing, stopping to take pictures of cars, and saying ‘Byeee’ to random passersby on the street. Squg and I didn’t know each other as well back then, and she was torn between amusement and firmly taking me by the hand and dragging me along before I could cause any trouble. Anyway, so we wound up at Denzong’s and I remember texting N maybe(?)- we were always texting back then- and we settled down on the stairs/road next to the shop, and there was a cat mewling at us, and a turd somewhere close by, and ants too, but the momos were delicous, and salty, and the soup burned my tongue, and I wasn’t paying, so I sat down and gobbled a plate and a half. Then I went home, and I was very, very happy.

I loved Wasseypur 2 even more, if possible. N came along for that one, only the viewing experience was super uncomfortable for me. We watched it at some seedy, shady cinema hall- Roxy or something like that, with a coolio bar-lounge monstrosity on the top floor that said ‘On the Roxxx’. My seat was right in front of the AC vent, and I shivered through the entirety of the next three hours. I stuck my ice cold hands into N’s shirt out of desperation, which didn’t help much, and made him squirm. We’d just started dating though, so he didn’t say anything, just twitched his lips and looked amused. My favourite scene was at the end when Faisal just would not stop shooting at Ramadhir Singh’s body. Sweet, sweet release it was, and it fed my bloodlust, and man, Sneha K was a genius with the score.
I don’t really remember what we did before and after very well- I vaguely remember walking with N along New Market and trying (and failing) to pick out a decent tee for him at Sanjay’s. Chandrima and Squg were straggling behind us. When we got out of the theatre, blinking in the sunlight, we were starving as usual and we wanted to go to this place that Tridipta kept telling us about. So we walked all the way, but it was a Sunday, and it was closed, so we wound up eating roadside chowmein again. Then we wanted lassi, so I stole about half of N’s mango lassi. Then someone wanted shoes or something, so we walked along the tram line where Tridipta told N and I that if he ever had a girlfriend, he would like to sit with her on a tram and not get off for the entirety of the way, and just talk, talk, talk. I thought that this was great, and poetic, and all that, only I remembered some Splitsvilla episode or something equally heinous where one of the vapid girls on the show had to impress Rannvijay on a tram journey like they were hitting on him- so that ruined it a bit- but I didn’t say anything, just smiled and nodded.
I think about last summer sometimes, and it’s strange that it happened to me. It was so great, so much fun, so- life-altering- which is a grandiose statement to make, but it really was. It brought a bunch of people into my life who are now my people, and there were so many new things I tried, and just good emotions I felt. I guess if someday I have to remember being young, and being happy, that summer will stand out even though a lot of great stuff has happened since- stuff that has been a lot shinier, and a lot more exciting. We airbrush our memories though- I cried a bunch over summer, and did many stupid things- but I do know that last summer, I’d never been happier in my life.
I go home in a month. Everything has changed. People are now old and familiar, like ha’pant-genji, and I love them infinitely more. But there are people still to meet, and new experiences to have with the old ones. Chaa awaits, and aimless rambles, and stuffing face, and getting wet, and lazy afternoons with music and kulfi, and falling asleep happy together, if I can.

Half Baked

I am a dust mote floating,
caught on a single ray of sunlight
that is your eyes,
and your laugh,
and your touch,
burning into my skin.

Look, goodbyes are all I know. They mean that there are more adventures to come. With me, it’s always time to go. But, well…I knew right away that there was something different this time around. I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Around you, my guilt seems to melt away, and time feels like an alien concept.
“Are you ever happy?”
Everyone has times when they know that they’re happy for the most part, but moments of pure, crystallized happiness are another matter altogether.
“I can pinpoint certain moments in my life when I’ve had this pure burst of happiness. It’s like- hang on, let me say this right… it’s like… I was floating, suspended- a dust mote lit up by the sun. If i could explain the fierce blaze of happiness I felt with my entire being- that’s what it was like. Like being tiny, tiny, tiny but so large that the happiness consumes you. In a good way. It wasn’t like being overwhelmed by a flood- it’s like floating, suspended, with a mind wiped clean- no, not like being high- like… I don’t know. I was never much good with words. You know what I mean.”
I was really, really happy that time in the fourth grade when Mrs. Gomes, my favourite teacher said that I was an asset to her class. I looked up the word ‘asset’ in the big green and black Oxford Dictionary we had at home, and I felt like I had something to be proud of.
When else? When we, my brother and I, were at the backseat of the family car, tired out playing Antakshari and finger chess. We’d fallen quiet and our parents were talking, laughing about grown-up things that did not include us. Not fighting. Never have I felt so happy to be excluded.
Watching cartoon after cartoon on Fox-kids, watching Spiderman with Ma and Bhai in the master bedroom made me really happy.
When else? Laughing till my skinny ten year old sides ached, my head on a kolbaalish as my Grandpa read ‘Haw-jo-baw-ro-law’ to me. The story about the crow(?) that I’ve now forgotten.
An evening on a deserted college campus, after the rain, with a cool breeze, and a few errant souls and old music playing on their phones. I wrap my arms around a lanky frame, and push my chin into the small of a back. Close is not close enough, I realize. All the time is not time enough. Kissing is not kissing enough. Too much all at once. I am startled, and taken aback by my discovery, but fiercely, fiercely happy.
Another sort of happiness- lying on a too-thin mattress with an eye peeping at me from behind skin, blurred, Neruda streaming into reality.
Almost every time I’ve danced un-selfconsciously, I’ve been very happy. Almost every time I’ve allowed myself to get caught in the rain, I’ve been happy.
Reading really, really good books, realizing that I was beginning to love them, I’ve been happy. Fahrenheit 451 comes to mind, curled up on a couch at a cafe, with crumbs from finished butter-tarts littering my clothes.
“Listen, you probably don’t remember this. The first time I came over to your new place, when you lived by the cows-”
“I did not live by cows!’, you interject.
“Uff, you did. Yes, you did! We passed them everyday on our way to your place. Before the auto and before Papon De, but after that advertisement in Bangla we couldn’t read”
“Yes, but that was a good 3 minute walk away- that is not the same as living by cows”.
“Okay, okay fine. That house, anyway.”
“Yes, yes, carry on”.
“We were supposed to go exploring. North Calcutta, and old houses touching elbows, and sweet-shops. But it started to rain buckets, so I came over instead. We had the place to ourselves because Lahiri- bless his soul-was in Sodepur. And we wanted to watch a movie about a talking lizard. Johnny Depp was a talking lizard, and I really liked Johnny Depp so we were going to watch that movie. But then you slid over to me and wrapped a long arm around my tiny waist. You bent down and put your face next to mine, and breathed into my ear. “Koto din tokey dekhini”, you said with feeling. It had only been three days. “Far too long”, you answered, and that was that.
Something deep inside me was singing then. Happy-happy-happy, it went, and I knew how happy I was. Who knows what strange twist of fate, or chance brings people into our lives, but how unutterably lucky, lucky, lucky when someone you could really love comes along and rubs their eyes, disbelieving, at the dumb luck of it, too.

Kissing you goodbye was not the hardest part because it did not feel real. Wanting so badly to reach out and feel your bony shoulders and bury my face in your neck- wanting to do that and not being able to- that was hard. It took me nine months to shed tears over the distance, but I did.
Dilli door nahi.