Colour

Let us talk in rapid bursts of colour, you and I.

Like ripe mangoes bursting out of their skin in our hands,

the juice running streams down our

elbows.

Like the brief fury of red in the air,

when someone throws gulaal at you in the frenzy of holi.

Like the first time we kissed in a dark stairwell,

and it was crap, and I said so-

The words tumbling out of my mouth

and into your big eyes, which took no offence

but looked lazy back at me, smiling ‘Then teach me’.

So I did, and it wasn’t much better-

but there were stars exploding underneath my eyelids

As i felt your warm mouth,

hesitantly touch

mine.

We have:

gnarled, veiny hands and forearms,

(and feet too, from too much walking),

an interest in the blues,

a propensity for hedonism,

a love for the written word,

an appreciation of beauty in stretches of untamed road,

contrasting views of the world,

and an unceasing fascination with each other.

– dug up an old tidbit I’d scribbled sometime earlier this year. Inspired by something Shalmi said.

For N- who complains that I only write depressing things about him

dropped into my life

with whiskey-blood and a mouth full of smoke.

my feet forgot the pull of gravity

for months afterward.

i should have paid more attention to what the storm was singing.

the happiest i have ever been

is struggling not to fall asleep on strange living room floors,

on make-shift beds,

beside lights strung in bottles

losing track of which of these limbs belong to me.

The crackle at the other end of the line
told me that he was still there,
despite the dead silence.
The click at the back of his teeth,
and the sudden sharp uncontrolled intake of breath,
Impatient at the rising pitch of my voice,
wavering perilously close to tears.
Tremulous and shaky,
for the third phone call this month.
I am stricken by the irritation in his voice,
and struggle to make amends.
I apologize for being irritable,
for being a bore, for being predictable
and for the lack of sparkle in our conversation.
I dredge out the same dull things each time.
The worry in my thoughts
translate to a crease in between my eyebrows,
turning into a ceaseless litany of woe on the phone.
I can imagine the mouse
hovering over a link in red
and the impatience perched at the corner of his absent smile.
I hang up feeling stupid.
That evening sitting with work,
with cats lolling on the floor,
and stray roommates behind closed doors,
I remember my grandmother,
and us children rolling our eyes, every time her voice would start to rise
about my dead grandfather,
about money, and the servants.
The crack was coming, we knew it
because it came so often.
Impatience, and irritation.
‘I love her, but why can’t she just keep her misery to herself?’
I did not think those thoughts,
I did not vocalize them,
not even to myself.
Am I a bad person,
I wonder.
Don’t think so much,
a friend told me over the phone.
Isn’t it exhausting,
she asked, bewildered, frustrated.
Yes, I said.
But not giving shape to the thought in your head,
doesn’t un-make it.
But I am a fool,
who thinks too much, and sleeps too little, and gets confused,
and cries on the phone.
Offering apologies, swallowing the knot in my stomach.
So I keep my feelings to myself,
and try to take up littler space.
I will not intrude in your world.
I will back away one half footfall at a time,
and you will not hear me leave.
You will not care.
And I will make a mental note to myself,
to be kinder to my grandmother
when she tries not to cry.

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.

Let us say Goodbye

Let us say goodbye then,

You and I.

Let’s walk away, and begin to forget.

The kisses, of course,

And the remembering -of firsts and quirks, a handful of dates.

Let us put behind us our secret knowledge,

And all those times you dropped a kiss on the tip of my

nose.

The first time I ever wrote a love letter, I titled it ‘This is not a love letter’

And put it in caps, to emphasize how much it was not a love letter.

Let us obliterate the memory of that;

Leave it to the impersonal web of pixels and circuitry,

And the people who will stumble upon it one slow afternoon at work.

Let us erase the last traces of

That feeling in my chest when you laugh,

And how you call me ‘bitch’ with great affection.

Let’s rub away at the kisses

Till their last vestiges are wiped off the corners of our lips.

Let us kiss strangers till their tongues take away the electric of

Your tongue on my lips

And my lips on your fingers,

And your fingers playing a riff

In the dark.

Let’s forget the time you kissed my damp eyelashes (surprising yourself),

And pulled out the sting.

The world will not cease to turn,

And nothing will have been lost.

Except- a few brief hours

Where my hand on your chest was yours.

Nothing except laughing hysterically as we plotted murder,

and talked over each other, trying to win.

Nothing but staring at pixelated smudges on screens

Till our heads ached.

Nothing except the wind on our backs as we ambled home,

A happy tangle of limbs.

So you see it would be easy.

Let’s not make a fuss now.

Let’s not ascribe this affair undue importance

So the stars did not align for us

(They don’t align for anyone, you fool.)

The gods did not send any angels our way

(We never prayed for them, you see.)

Everything fades after a while,

Even memories, even pain, even something that came very close to being

Love.

In fragile things

Who’s to say what happiness is?

I could never have predicted (despite all the predictions I made)

that you would be so close.

That you would nestle – like the word last read in a half-read sentence-

deeply, firmly, lightly embedded.

I play with chopping blocks,

and fixatives.

With resin.

Bloody hearts may lie strewn across my spotless white bench.

It gives off the faintest smell of formaldehyde

(-makes me light headed sometimes,

but nothing to compare with – no matter, that’s sop.)

And who’s to say that happiness cannot be found

In the rustle, as pages brush their bodies against each other for a moment,

In the middle of a story-

About October telling stories,

As February-fussy, timid- sulks,

and April sucks her dainty fingers clear of innards,

while May takes her side.

And I, I dream at the back of my mind,

About a wondrous, terrifying August.

On an evening, where the skeletons of trees look in through my window,

as I sit inhaling the hot breath of my brown-slatted-heater.

Fingers stained with chocolate that arrived in the mail today

(near a month too late).

Bearing solemn, sincere advice on a background of blue,

it brought with it the hope of a new year.

I listen to a pink moon sing,

And curl up by my heap of warm, fresh, laundry.

Who would have known that we would come to know

each other, from half a world away.

Through tangles of invisible wires,

and calling plans that rob us blind.

Who’s to know that happiness lies here?

In fragile things.

Valentine- Carol Ann Duffy

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

Here.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.

Lethal.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

Strawberries on the Side

She came home after work one day

And decided that something was a little bit ‘off’

with her (metaphorical) heart-

because everyone knows, the heart has nothing to do with it really-

except for occasionally when you feel a tightness in your chest,

and even then it’s really the brain playing tricks on you

(sneaky brain).

She stared at herself in the mirror,

frowned,

and bit her lip.

She took her largest pair of scissors – the yellow ones with the chip on one side-

and cut her heart neatly out, with a trail of nerves and arteries dangling from it.

It was seeping crimson all over her brown rug

(It was her favourite rug).

She lay down some newspapers on the floor with care, to soak it all up

(she was a very tidy person).

She held it flat on the palm of her hand and surveyed it critically for a while.

It was warm, and flushed, and it dripped red down her fingers,

Creating a brown crisp covering in places.

She shook her head, and let out a deep breath,

An exasperated click of her teeth, and then she set efficiently to work.

She took that heart and she tossed it in the washer

(Luckily she had some loose change lying around- the machine was known for its exactitude)

She chopped some haricots, and carrots, and put them in to boil with the rice.

She also cleared up the newspapers and scrubbed the dried spots off the floor

(she was nothing, if not efficient).

Thirty minutes later, she retrieved the heart.

It was sopping wet, but a lot of the vessels had come loose, she noted with satisfaction.

She neatly snipped away the rest.

The heart looked almost translucent now.

She turned it over and inspected it for damage.

There wasn’t much- just one smallish hole

(and of course the gaping ones that had connected to the vessels).

She wrung the heart, squeezing out all the excess fluid.

She fancied she saw silvery things fall into the sink as she did this-

Spontaneity, warmth, vulnerability, affection-

but she hadn’t been sleeping very much these days.

She turned it over in her hands and noticed that it looked skinny-

what is a skinny heart, anyway?

She smiled to herself, and hung it out on the balcony.

A crow flew by and pecked at the hole.

It cocked its head to one side suspiciously, didn’t seem to deem it edible, and flew away.

She went off to take a shower, and got distracted by a phone call.

An extremely satisfying thirty minutes passed by, cursing the new girl at work, and the deadlines piling up.

She hung up, and suddenly remembered the heart.

It was dark outside, by now.

She retrieved the cold thing, and placed it on the dresser, while she laid the table for dinner.

Once she was done, she came back and looked at herself.

She did up her hair, fastening the tendrils in place with bobby pins.

She rummaged for the face she’d tossed carelessly aside a while ago

(She hadn’t thought she’d need it again).

It was lying in an open carton by the balcony door amongst old birthday cards, raffia and cobwebs.

She dusted it clean, and pasted it back on, taking care not to catch her hair on the tape.

It looked beautiful and mysterious, and gleamed in the yellow light.

She looked at the heart- it seemed smaller somehow-

Like a deflated balloon.

When he came home, rolled up his sleeves, and sat down to dinner,

She chattered on about the funny thing that happened at work that day,

and that movie they had to see sometime soon.

For desert, she said she had something special.

She served him her low maintenance heart on a small white plate,

with fresh strawberries on the side.

He ate it while reading the paper,

with a strong coffee- black.

After he’d finished, he smiled and pushed the plate away.

“Delicious”, he said.

Calibri

I am your

one note song.

I am ugly,

but devoted.

Like a mole,

I try very hard to dig deep

Into the darkest recesses of your heart.

One day, I will plant a seed there,

Kick up my hind legs and drown it in mud.

A time will come

When you will wake up on a Sunday,

wander to the kitchen,

stand there a minute, blinking and thinking of eggs.

Crisp toast and runny yellow.

You will look out at the bright blue

and suddenly feel a sharp twist

in the centre of your gut.

It is not, as you would be prone to believe-

hunger.

It is a funnyfeeling.

It belongs to the witchery inside your head.

A word will bubble through to the surface.

Clear, and plain.

Like Calibri.

And you’ll think,

Oh.