January [2018: A Year of Reading Writing from India]

Works Read:


Samskara – A Rite for a Dead Man
By U. R. Ananthamurthy (Translated from Kannada by A. K. Ramanujan)


If this book were a person, I’d be nervous around her. The language is so tender, as though it might come apart if not handled with care. It was particularly lovely to stumble upon phrases that were forged in translation. I suspect that those which would have been ordinary in Kannada are especially delightful when they arrive in the new language; like a traveller in a strange place, they are more visible than those who belong there.

Some sentences I fell in love with:

“But how can a morsel go down the gullet with a woman waiting in the yard?”

“Anasuya simmered and simmered till she boiled over and cried.”

“So, the Agrahara had become famous in all ten directions –”

“– the black magic that Garuda used against Naranappa’s father must have boomeranged back on himself,”

“A night of undying stars, spread out like a peacock’s tail.”

“Even if he had left desire, desire had not left him.”

“The crowd was so think that, if you scattered a handful of sesame, not a seed would fall to the ground.”

“This man’s sympathies were like creepers that tangle up your feet.”


Silence! The Court is in Session
By Vijay Tendulkar (Translated from Marathi by Priya Adarkar)


If you count how many times the word ‘game’ appears in the play, you are left with an insufficiency of digits. So much is weaponised under the guise of play and humour; so much is genuinely funny. Benare’s life is picked at and destroyed, and she is told to calm down – that everyone is “Just joking.” I spend a lot of time thinking about humour. How it is rarely innocent. How power sits on its shoulders, smirking at the world below. How I am only sure that it is necessary, like food, even if it sometimes makes you bloat and gag. The play didn’t answer any of my questions about humour, but to know that there are others who have the same questions, who are confused in similar ways, is enough (for now).


The Veil
By Ismat Chugtai


Goribi doesn’t say a single word but by the end of the story I was convinced that she has the last laugh. In all her silence and misfortune, she isn’t a character to pity. I rather wanted to be her friend, convinced that she wears the veil not because she is an eternal bride but because she finds the world ridiculous and is busy laughing at everyone in her own private one. When Chugtai wrote ‘Lihaaf’ in 1942 she was summoned to court on charges of obscenity. I imagine Goribi laughs the way Chugtai did when the inspector handed her the summons titled ‘Ismat Chugtai vs The Crown.’


Poetry
By Rabindranath Tagore


My darling brother gave me the ‘Tagore for the 21st Century Reader’ collection for Christmas. It contains an assortment of Tagore’s novels, novellas, plays, short stories, and poetry. I’ve been inching my way through the poems over this month. A few years ago, when I read ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for the first time, I remember thinking that Shakespeare had to be a woman – there was no way that someone who wasn’t a woman could have written Juliet the way he did, could have known things about the female experience that he seemed to know. A residue of that feeling returns when I encounter the women in Tagore’s poems. Then there are his accounts of love. One is left feeling exposed, even though Tagore is writing about himself. In ‘Camellia’ he writes, “I wished a crisis would erupt right now/I could fulfil my existence by rescuing her,” and, “That she had recognised me was obvious/From the fact that she didn’t notice me.”

Also read:

Death is Getting Cheaper
By Baburao Bagul

Rats
By Bhabhendra Nath Saikia

Love Poem for a Wife
By A. K. Ramanujan

Chupulu
By Jayaprabha

Plays watched:


Lady Anandi
By Anuja Ghosalkar
[At The Goethe Institute]


Ghosalkar previewed ‘Lady Anandi’ at Meta two years ago and I was curious to see it in its final form. The docu-play was even better than I remembered. Not much was different, yet it felt alien from the preview. Then I realised that the last time I watched it, I was seated on the floor at the edge of the stage, in a much smaller hall than the one at Goethe. I could feel the thud of the actor’s feet, follow the journey of a sweat droplet from forehead to ear. This time we were seated towards the back of the room. Zoomed out, one is watching a performance, not a performer. Later, in the Q&A session, a man asked, “So do you think you could classify the play as a selfie?” Why must every artistic endeavour in this city be subjected to one cringeworthy question by some uncle in pants up to his collarbone?

Also watched:

Clearing the Rubble
By Mahesh Dattani
[At Rangashankara]

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Trysts with Tea and Other Beings

This is the image in my head when I talk about my grandfather: he is sitting in the balcony of my grandparents’ house with the Heraldo in his arms, right leg crossed over left, bright pink bougainvillea framing his silhouette. He likes to sit here after his afternoon nap and listen to the koels and the bulbuls in the garden. Every so often he’ll look up and say, “We need to get a bigger bird bath,” but he doesn’t mean it, he’s rather fond of the clay one that hangs from the champa tree, chipped from that time the twine snapped in a June storm.

When I was growing up Pa would look over his newspaper and ask me which section I wanted. I always asked for the bit with the comic strips but he inquired each time, perhaps in the hope that a day would arrive when I’d ask for a more respectable section like City or International Affairs. There we’d sit in silence, a box of khara biscuits wordlessly traveling across the table. Pa always drank his tea faster than I did, much to my annoyance. I could cross my legs, hold the newspaper at an arm’s distance, look ponderously from a sentence to the cashew tree just the way he did – but when he reached for his cup and sipped the tea, I always found that mine was still too hot and was forced to return it to the table. Then Pa would look over his newspaper and ask, “What’s Dennis up to today?” and I’d show him.

Sometimes we’d spot a bird we didn’t recognise and he’d say, “We should look it up in the bird book.” I’d respond, “Yes, we should,” and we’d return to our reading as though the conversation hadn’t occurred.

I have yet to discover another person with whom I can sit in silence so comfortably.

It is 2013 and I have moved to Bangalore for college. The autowalas here have a sixth sense for telling when someone is new to the city, and in those first months I am constantly asked where I’m from. One day a scrawny sort of chap who looks like he could still be in school strikes up a conversation. When I answer that I’m from Goa, he says, “I went there with my friends once. Goa is not part of India, right? Do you need a visa to go there? I want to go again.”

After this indignity I begin to say that I’m from Bombay. What I don’t anticipate is that lying demands a certain consistency that I am not vigilant enough to pull off. I realise that the same autowalas park near my hostel every morning and that every autowala knows every other autowala. And now, because I have lied to one, I must lie to them all – including one particularly talkative man who tells me stories about his doctor-daughter and rascal-son with such warmth and openness that I mentally kick myself for lying. I want to tell stories in return but I cannot.

One day he asks about Bombay tea and I hear my voice tell a tale my mother once told me about her college days in Bombay. This voice describes the annual monsoon floods and the exact, pure joy that only a combination of rain and masala chai can produce. Autouncle is delighted. After this I tell many stories about Bombay. Some are blatantly plagiarised from my mother, others are peppered with my own memories of the city, still others are pulled entirely from my imagination. One morning I take great pains to accurately describe Regal Cinema’s butter popcorn. When we reach college, autouncle says he is hungry and is contemplating a second breakfast. “Shayad open dosa,” he says, as he drives off.

In the evenings I stand by my hostel window with a cup of chai and watch the people on the tree-lined road below. The autowalas are done for the day and are gathered around the smoke shop, their lit cigarettes a family of fireflies. On days that I tell Bombay stories, I come home with a renewed desire to write other stories. I sit at my desk and open my laptop.

My dorm room in Germany is one of five rooms that shares a kitchen. The kitchen is large with a striped blue floor and green cabinets. During my first week there I am unnerved every time I step into it, but cannot articulate why. Then an Iranian girl comes to visit a friend and cooks an elaborate stew of meat and French fries. As she tells us about her dissertation, I imagine delicious cartoon spirals sprouting from the broth. This is the first time the kitchen smells of food. After the German students cook, eat, and clean up, it is as though none of it ever happened. There is no hint of karipatta, no murmur of onion, no cloud of flavour that lounges in a corner rubbing its belly contentedly.

Luca is a linguistics student. He lives on the floor below us. Sometimes their oven decides not to work so he comes up to use ours. He is always carrying a loaf of bread when he does. I notice that Luca’s sentences drop at the end, as though he is terribly sad about the subject at hand. It doesn’t matter what he is saying, at the end I am left wanting to console him about a good grade or that time he got lost in Barcelona and had the adventure of a lifetime. “Lift, lift your sentences!” I want to yell. Then I wonder what my own sound like.

One night I am poring over an archive of Victorian propaganda when I sense that the world has gone quieter, as though someone has dropped a stolen blanket over it. Through the balcony’s glass door I see that the snow is coming down in sheets of white – a car parked at the other end of the quadrangle has already lost its wheels to a steadily rising sea of sparkle. Suddenly there is frantic knocking at my door. It is Luca. “Have you seen it? The first snow. Have you seen it!” It is funny how in our excitement we are reduced to the most basic stereotypes about ourselves. I say ‘just’ a lot when my words are trying to catch up with the impatience of my thoughts. Luca’s hands are having a conversation of their own.

I take the Red Label tea from the box containing tea, Haldirams, Maggi, and Nando’s cafreal masala that my mother has sent. We open the balcony in the hallway and sit down. It is so cold that I cannot feel my nose, but Luca is insistent that the best thing about snow is its smell. I cannot describe it even if I tried. “I knew it was going to snow tonight,” Luca says – “I sniff it in the air early on.” For a moment he looks so displaced, so small. Like the snow is the only thing in this place familiar to him.

I wonder when it will rain and sip my tea.

The apartment is on the second floor of a building whose floors look like each was an isolated, careful contemplation. There is speckled tile on the first floor but ours is a clear, cold beige. On most days Janani is home before I am, but on days she’s late I wander from my bedroom to hers to the kitchen. I have always wanted my own apartment, time that is mine alone, a space in which I am accountable to no one. Now that I have it I am not sure what to do with it.

Around the corner of our place is a spice shop. Every evening on my walk home from the gym I slow down as I pass by it. I am itching to step in to take a closer look but I am unfamiliar with spice terminology. What if I am drawn to a particularly haunting bucket of cinnamon? What do I ask for? A handful? A cup? One evening I tell myself not to be silly and walk in. “Josephite?” the owner asks. “Ha,” I say, looking intently at a basket of Kashmiri chillies. “Many times you walk, never come,” he observes, “Here, take, best raisins.” I leave with an assortment of goodies, all samples. “Next time you pay,” the man says, “This time try. Best quality. Try and see.”

Later I head to our terrace with my cinnamon tea. I take a sweatshirt for a pillow. Somewhere in the distance a woman is telling her daughter to stop fidgeting. Janani is in Koramangala teaching children. Mama phones. “Call your grandfather,” she says, “He wants me to order some book for you but I wasn’t sure if you’d read it. Talk to him and let me know.”

Downstairs, the city scribbles itself into being. A man in the street bellows drunkenly at what is probably empty space. The boys from the third floor are roaring with laughter, but it is far, far away. A lone coconut tree sways in the distance. The sky is never a clear blue. It is a Bangalore blue. Little shadows swim across the surface of my cup.

At the Elephant House

The boy with the postcards
Writes furiously to people in far flung
Places, faces the window as though reaching
For the right word, slippery on the tip of his
Tippy tongue

Outside, the gulls play their gully games
Shadow puppets on the frosted window like
A many-armed Hindu god
Tired with her pose
Took to window-cleaning for fun

A bespectacled woman orders
One chicken corn soup – (Extra corn)
Ham in a potato – (Leave the skin on, dear)
Smears butter onto the steaming tuber
(And a flowered purple sleeve)

A bouquet of French schoolchildren
Affronted by a sign:
“Sorry, no Wi-Fi – Pretend it’s 1995 and talk to each other!”
Sprout telecommunication devices to document
The indignity

By the bathroom, a young couple from a magazine
She in a Zadie Smith turban, yellow pencil
Behind his trust fund ear
Hover over a Sunday crossword
And two cups of hot coffee gone cold

2017: Notes from a Year of Reading Women

7th January, 2017

Regensburg. Snowing. Heaviest in ten years. Students ice-skating in main platz. Haven’t unpacked. Static everywhere. Hair floats around head in Medusillin currents. Made cafreal. Second floor haunted by chickeny smell. Long but uneventful flight. Munich like an eye shadow pallet from the sky. Fun Home – Alison Bechdel.

16th January, 2017

First deadline for Academic Writing seminar yesterday. Missed. Prof. on verge of tears about Trump. Says international conference on Hilary’s win planned in October. Didn’t laugh. Wanted to. Picked up printer from main post office. Gloves off for second. Tips of fingers like wedding bindis. The Vegetarian – Han Kang.

8th February, 2017

Irish Evening on campus. In advanced cultural seminar on Artefacts of the Scottish Rebellions when bagpipes bombard classroom. Prof. a jolly man with very pink face. Sang along. Ended class early. Glühwein with classmates at indoor courtyard. Fairy lights everywhere. Waiting for British visa. Have too much change in coins. Women Who Did: Stories by Men and Women 1890-1914.

20th February, 2017

Bad Bramstedt for the research break. Long walks. Red Riding Hood forest. Sunlight in lake like obnoxious amoeba. J and B’s retirement home being built just down the road. Water mildly polluted on site. J very annoyed. B bakes. Germans fond of cake. Neighbours taking in Estonian refugees. Tell myself that at least I have a home I can return to. Golf course pretty at sunset. The Green RoadAnne Enright.

22nd February, 2017

Dinner at J’s sister’s place in Hamburg. Apartment in red stone building. Large and open. Lots of books. Piano. Paintings everywhere. Instant Pot makes risotto and strawberry ice-cream. Post dinner ask for suggestions for female German writers. Everyone stumped. Tired. Tried writing. Not happening. Emailed Vj instead. Miss Bangalore. Every Day is Mother’s Day – Hilary Mantel.

1st March, 2017

Elephant House, Scotland. Sitting with MS’s Body Language. Found poem dedicated to Nana. Read and reread. Boy at next table writing postcards furiously. Couple near window, Edinburgh Castle framing heads. ‘Not my daughter, you bitch’ most popular line on bathroom walls. ‘This way to the Ministry of Magic’ scrawled over toilet. Discovered new favourite bookshop, Armchair Books. Sat in on session of parliament. More women than men. Nicola Sturgeon stellar debater. Lots of fighting. American classmates and I very amused. German classmates horrified. Hilarious. Just Kids – Patti Smith.

22nd March, 2017

Manipal Hospital, Goa. Day divided into three-hour shifts by Mum. Mine four to seven. Time not its usual self. Home three weeks but feels like no time has passed. Yesterday in the Victorian Popular Culture seminar in Room 202. Last night at The Jazz Club in Edinburgh. Dreaming every night. Dreams either horrific and heart-breaking or blissful. Tired but can’t sleep. Running helps. The Folktales of Scotland retold by Norah and William Montgomery.

12th May, 2017

Been a while. Went to Regensburg. Packed up. Officially unenrolled, closed bank account, cancelled health insurance. Overwhelmed. Aunt flew down. Felt and feel like problem child. Said bye to V and everyone. Left V printer as parting gift. Had last meal at Ganesha – Punjabi restaurant frequented when homesick and in need of Hindi. Pops home and better. Everyone recovering. Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

1st June, 2017

Extreme guilt about lack of writing. Reading to compensate. Bad habit. Reacquainting self with Goa. Introduced to Showbar, Taverna by friends. Getting restless. Got in touch with lady at Scroll, applied for Caravan internship. Emailed M. Headed to Bangalore to figure it out. Dance of the Happy Shades – Alice Munro.

15th June, 2017

Moved to Bangalore. Enrolled in college. Back at old hostel while apartment-hunting. Broker old-ish man with two hairs on head. Says never met someone as ‘scared’ as I am. Says this after I reject one dabba place after another. ‘1BHK penthouse with private terrace’ is one windowless room with rusty railing outside. Called yesterday to say he’d found ‘Best place, madam, no worries, even 24 hours water supply guaranteed.’ Irritated and impatient. A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf.

3rd July, 2017

Hostel food worse than remember. Found new gym. College classes mix of brilliant and despicable. Writing time eaten into by apartment-hunting. Suri says move in with her. Then we laugh. Know we’ll kill each other if we live together. Theory of Sexual Politics – Kate Millet. A Girlhood among Ghosts – Maxine Hong Kingston.

19th July, 2017

Wrote first ever academic paper am actually happy with. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte.

28th July, 2017

Found apartment! Landlady says she once rented an apartment to an unmarried couple because ‘Everyone needs a place to be in love.’ Move in next week. The Days of Abandonment – Elena Ferrante.

11th August, 2017

Finally went for one of A’s plays. She looked so perfectly comfortable on stage. Two Novellas and a Story – Ambai.

24th August, 2017

J and G heard I was feeling bleh so hosted movie night. Called Suri to ask what my comfort food was. Made mashed potatoes and beef cutlet pao. We watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The Passport – Herta Müller.

9th September, 2017

Getting difficult to read what I want. Syllabus in the way. More disillusioned by feminism with each gender studies class. Aunt says stop reading theory by white women. Sends me talks by Kaouthar Darmoni. Says the west has no concept of the divine feminine. Combo Kitchen new favourite place for lunch. Killer butter chicken. The Second Sex – Simone de Beauvoir. Women’s Estate – Judith Mitchell.

16th September, 2017

Officially 23. Brought in birthday with J, G, Jannoo and Sid yesterday. C baked cake for class. Last time I’ll see Sid for a while. Flew home for the weekend at night. Oroonoko – Aphra Behn.

22th September, 2017

At gym when frantic call from Jannoo. High-pitched ‘lizard,’ ‘help,’ ‘ohmygod.’ Attempt to scare away creature on return home. ‘Kill it’ she says. Then ‘No, don’t shoo it away, how sad.’ Name lizard Ronald because he looks like a Ronald. Sisterhood: Political Solidarity between Women – Bell Hooks. Pictures of a Displaced Girlhood – Marianne Hirsch.

7th October, 2017

Whining on Instagram about hating recent reads (The Bastard of Instanbul by Elif Shafak and The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa) so P suggested Sally Rooney. Am in love. Predicting that she will be called the voice of a generation. Conversations with Friends.

9th October, 2017

Prof. pronounces lullabies ‘loolabees.’ Most endearing thing have heard in a while. Will never say lull-ah-byes again. Everyday Use – Alice Walker.

17th October, 2017

Exams. More theory by white women. Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness – Elaine Showalter. The Sacred Calling – Adrienne Rich.

28th October, 2017

Three weeks off. Have list of things I want to do but am sure will end up sleeping a lot instead. The Adventures of Alice Laselles – Alexandrina Victoria.

7th November, 2017

Fun at sea. The Grownup – Gillian Flynn.

28th November, 2017

Wondering why so many Goan boys call themselves Pablo Escobar. Must write story about the Pablo Escobars of Goa. Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls – Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo.

4th December, 2017

College trip around corner. Everyone in state of dread. Train tickets not confirmed. J having meltdown with administration. Counting down the days to Goa. Cruelty to be away from home in December. A Hijra Life Story – A. Revathi.

27th December, 2017

Particularly jolly Christmas. Annual fantasy of moving back to Goa kicked in. Marinating pork for bbq. The Bell Jar — Sylvia Plath._

That’s all, folks! Here’s to (a hopefully less chaotic) 2018: A Year of Reading Writing from India.

Departure Poem

It has been 61 days
Since my departure

To the cold place

Back in the warmth
For the Frosty
Season
I look at the pictures
In my telecommunication
Device

And say
Over and over to my
Self
You are not alone
In your in-
Ability
To grasp their language

Their trees struggle
To exchange
Their th’s with their
S’s
As well

And no river cares much
For what lies beyond it

Much like the people
Who live in the big houses
By it

But you think of the brown
Leaf
That fell from the unimpressive branch
To the Danube

That day

And how you
Thought
With nostalgia
Of the fairy-tales
You read as a child

Where the leaves were only
Red
Yellow

Or

White

Leopard in the Champa Tree

When my grandmother died, her house became filled with all the people she had spoken to over the phone. If one of them said, “I looked forward to my weekly conversation with Jean,” six others would appear to claim the six other days of the week. “I would usually ring her on Saturday morning,” one might say, and another would pipe up, “Oh, I must have talked to her right after you did. We always spoke at around noon on Saturdays.”

It was one of the few things that made me smile during that week of her death. It was how I remembered her – sitting in her chair by the spindly table that held our telephone. Sometimes she would flip her soft white hair the same way that Justin Bieber did, and my brother and I would tease her. Other times, she would gesture that we must go to the kitchen, her palm briefly covering the phone’s mouthpiece. “There are cutlets,” she’d say, nodding all the time, then returning to her conversation.

It drove everyone mad. There was no use asking people to call at a particular time, because the line was always busy; I remember multiple occasions when I picked up the phone to call a friend, only to hear a voice on the other end ask, “Jean? Is that you?” Every year on her birthday, my grandfather would suggest that she disconnect the phone for the one hour when the family all sat down to her birthday lunch. And every year she would pretend that she thought he was being sensible, before she ignored the suggestion. On her birthdays, my brother and I began answering the phone with, “One sec, she’s right here.” She had seventy-two birthdays.

Nana’s room was downstairs. It had two purple walls and two almost-white pink ones. I picked out the colours when we first moved into their house, and she never changed them. There are striped curtains against a long window; the walls are covered with art from all the art my aunt collects. Most of the frames hold women’s faces, and I used to think that one of them was the face of my grandmother when she was young. I was convinced that it was her and that no one else had looked at it carefully enough. The woman in the picture had the same straight, thick, jet black hair that she did, and the same expression that she has in the pictures of her and my grandfather on their honeymoon. Like she has found herself in a new place and has already become its beloved.

***

The first phone I ever owned was a Nokia flip phone. It was silver and gold and had a small screen on the outside, where you could check the time. When I received messages, a small, black envelope would appear in the corner, and I’d tell myself to be patient – the message could wait. My grandmother was always telling me to be patient. To not react to things and people, to rise above something or the other, to focus on myself, and not the world. When my phone stopped working, I panicked. There was a picture in it of the two of us on my fifteenth birthday. I’m sitting on her lap. One of my arms is around her neck. Both of her arms are around my waist. Who took the picture? I don’t know. In it, I am wearing a green and white sleeveless blouse. Did she like the top? I don’t remember. When the phone stopped working, I became convinced that it was the only picture I had of the two of us. It wasn’t, but that didn’t matter.

***

She was the first person to tell me stories. We’d lie next to each other in that downstairs room and she’d look up at the ceiling. I looked at her, my head resting on her right shoulder. This close, I could see the fine white hairs on her chin. Her nose looked different, too, as if the crests and troughs of its bridge had decided to exchange places. I wondered if my nose would also change with time. Then it struck me that noses stay the same, even more than eyes do, but when the rest of your face changes, your nose is rudely made to seem different.

I begged for boarding school stories. So she told me about how a leopard crept into the school grounds one day, and I remember seeing the leopard sitting in the branches of a champa tree in my grandparents’ house. She smoked, she said. They all did. When they once suspected that they had been found out, they bribed a school maid to say that it was she who had been smoking in the bathrooms. What did you bribe her with? A box of imported cigarettes.

When she told me these stories, she also told me not to believe that boarding school was a nice place. There were nuns who made you kneel down, she said, and told me of how she was once humiliated in this way. Did she give me other reasons to hate boarding school? I don’t think so. And I didn’t take her word for it, either. In my mind, I saw how I would avoid all the nuns who would make me kneel down. I saw a great hall where I would sit with other girls of my age and eat breakfast and lunch and dinner. Our uniforms were very pretty and on Sundays we had to attend mass, after which we were allowed to go into the town. Sometimes we had midnight feasts, and lined the door of the common room with pillows, so that neither light nor sound would travel. Only later did we realise that the rabbits in the garden were the same ones we had in our stew. We didn’t really mind, though.

***

She came to us in our dreams, when she died. Ana, the lady who has worked in my grandparents’ house since my brother was born, said that for an entire week she dreamt that my grandmother was holding counsel in a forest clearing. There were wise old monkeys in the trees, she said, and then she laughed. She was convinced that my grandmother was playing a trick on her. My aunt said that she kept dreaming about, too. Mama said the same. And in their dreams, she was always in new places. In mine, I was convinced that I had imagined her death, and she seemed annoyed with me for believing that she was gone. How could you be so silly, she seemed to be saying, distractedly.

The week that she died played itself out like one of Marquez’ novellas. Four days after her death, my grandfather’s brother passed away. The person who called said that he had had a heart attack in a rickshaw. He’d just gotten back from a conference in Madras, and his suitcase was with him. We were still seated at the dining table in my grandparents’ house when we received the news, and I remember that no one was solemn. We looked at each other amusedly, our heavy eyes blinking with bewilderment. It didn’t seem like news at all, and we reacted to it like it was gossip. Do you remember Mr and Mrs Faria, our upstairs neighbours in Bombay? Their daughter was in today’s newspaper. It seems she has won Miss Earth. One of those beauty pageants, you know.

I rummaged through my cupboard at home, picking out appropriately mournful clothes. I chose the things I liked least, because I knew I would never wear them again. On the day of the funeral, as I was making my way down the stairs, Aunty L remarked that my hair looked lovely. Aunty L always wanted to have daughters, but had two sons instead. That’s what happens when you want only boys or only girls, my mother told me. You get just the opposite. So I scrunched up my face and closed my eyes, and said to myself: When I grow up I want to have three sons, three sons, three sons. Little boys with hair all parted from the right to the left. They will wear denim shorts with blue and white and green t-shirts, and they won’t only like the things that boys are meant to like. They will like playing House-House, and will look uninterested when I buy them Hotwheels. They will run around and drive me mad, but I will love them. You see, my grandmother used to say that attention to detail was everything.

That week, other people said other things to me. A lady in a red dress who sat on one of the kitchen stools took my hands in hers and closed her eyes. “Do you know,” she said, “That for new tomatoes to grow, the old ones need to be plucked?” I looked at her. I looked at her red dress that was getting under people’s shoes, and imagined that she had plucked all the tomatoes in the world, and coloured her dress with them. “No,” I said, and then someone rescued me from her.

I remember being angry. Why was Jack crying, I wanted to know. He didn’t even know her, and now he was weeping. And why was Papa not crying? How could Papa not cry after thirty-seven years? Papa needed to stop greeting people and start crying right now, or I would tell him exactly what I thought. Everyone grieves differently, my mother half-told half-scolded me, but her words made no sense on that day. I found a corner of the kitchen to cry in, and various people found me. R’s mother held me against herself, refusing to let go even when I couldn’t breathe. She had known my grandmother. My grandmother had liked her.

In the nights we went back to our own home. My aunt and Ana stayed with Papa, who finally cried while the rosary was being said. My hand went automatically to the back of his neck, where my fingers scratched his pepper-and-salt hair. I don’t know why I did that. I had never done it before, and haven’t done it since. I think in that moment he seemed like a child to me, and that is how I remember comforting the three boys I never wanted to have. Papa has become a different person since Nana died, and I’m grateful that I get to know him like this. He has grown into the spaces she spilled into. When I call him from college now, we have whole conversations. Nana isn’t here to do it for him anymore.

***

At home, I play Gounod’s Ave Maria on my piano, over and over and over, till my fingers aren’t mine anymore, and every note is the same note. My mother knocks on my door in the early hours of the morning. She has come to comfort me, although it is her mother who has died, and it is I who should be comforting her. After she leaves, I play again.

Years ago, when I was preparing for a Trinity exam, my piano teacher and I were both convinced that I would fail the scales portion of the test. I hated practicing my scales. I knew that every time I played the piano, I ought to begin with scales, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

A few days before the exam, Nana decided that it was up to her to make sure that I knew them. And after some protestation on my part, we settled down at the piano, me at the bench, she in a chair to my right.

If you can play it five times, without a mistake, you can go on to the next scale, she said. If not, you have to play it ten times, and then five more times without a single mistake.

By the end of that evening I knew my scales. I couldn’t hear the notes anymore. We were having a conversation about something, and my fingers had become independent of me. I could hear only our voices.

Sometimes, when I am playing, I can still hear them.

Taking Pictures

C, S, and I are on a winding staircase. It is the staircase from hostel that I have taken a picture of earlier in the day. When I look at the picture after editing and posting it to Instagram, it reminds me of the staircase to Trelawney’s Divination classroom, and I don’t know how long I stare at it. In the dream, we are making our way down the staircase. S and I are confused in that way that we become when we’re together. It is a proud confusion that lends itself to loud voices which declare we don’t know something. I think we only do this when we sense that the other will join in. C knows what is going on, and she skips down the stairs, her hair falling over her shoulders as she walks in happily.

The windows against the staircase let in a purple moonlight that floods the entrance to underground area we’re in. When our eyes have adjusted, I see the reds and greys of little fires all over the room. A man has noticed us walking in, and smiles at us from behind a coal pit. He has large, flat knives in his each of his hands, and my eyes move from his sweaty face to a shape that resembles a small deer. It is hung from the depths of the dark ceiling. There is meat everywhere. No drums are being beaten, but there is an excitement in the air as if they were.

We walk a little further into the room. On the left, the room is an endless stream of metres of dark. To the right, it halts under an open sky. I notice the main college gate. The man is still watching us, still smiling. As if from behind him, a voice says, “In the course of a revolution, you must have a place to gather, and eat, and drink.” It is like being in a market. This place is full of people, but I cannot see them. I see only what I want to see. Only a fraction, a fragment of what it contains. Everything else is just beyond that wall, that tree, that bench. But this space is full, and we have discovered it later than many. Their indifference is their warmest welcome. You took long enough, they are saying.

S and I look around, in that way we both sometimes look at a new place, like we have already conquered it. C has disappeared down a corridor. I don’t worry about her. She has been here before.

B began blogging in her last year of college. Three times she blogged about Daily Outfits. She has been writing about other things ever since.

The box P has given me on my birthday is red. It is made of a material that feels like jute, and is shaped like a treasure chest. Its smaller sides are thin slices of wood, and I wonder what I will keep in it. When I go back to hostel the next day, I put it in the small patch of sunlight that has thudded its way onto my desk. In it, I keep the only earrings I wear. They are made of a blue that was skimmed from the surface of the ocean on a dull afternoon. In the picture, I make everything brighter, but only the earrings catch the light.

The spine of Joe Sacco’s Journalism lies along one side of the picture. I only notice later.

I am afraid that I do not miss anything. That I do not remember names, dates, places; things that made me feel something on some day; that nothing makes me feel anything. The people I know have the same face when they ask (but really, they are saying, trying to understand), “You really don’t remember?” It made you laugh so much. We talked about it for days. How can you not remember.

It is a look of confusion, a retraction of some trust that is so intricately woven into a single memory that it cannot exist without it. Without it, there is no proof of something forged, so the only conclusion is that it cannot have been. I have learned to quickly change the subject.

When R and I talked after years, I couldn’t remember the name of a rap song that he says he called comforting. He refers to it a few times, and each time I am a little more convinced that I am not the person he is thinking of. I think of his room, with its white walls that cannot be warm because no one has taught them how to be. Of his cupboard near the room door, and the many Axe deodorants that he must have kept in his drawer on the right. I think of how his stepmother looks when she walks into the room. She is always wearing a skirt and blouse, and if she is wearing pants they don’t suit her, but she doesn’t know it.

I will never be able to think of him without thinking of those walls, that cupboard, his stepmother’s pants. I have taken his tones and his pauses, his eyes and his lips, the lengths of his laugh and his name, and constructed a world for him. He has never told me these things, but I know that I am not wrong about them.

“I think I remember the song,” I say, and it makes him happy. I can’t ask whether he remembers what I do. These are not memories that are shared.

On the second day, I take a picture of a painting of Marjane Satrapi. The canvas is a bright orange, but I make it grey. If you look carefully, you can see the pencil markings on her eyelids from the first sketch.

I like the picture when I take it. But over the next two weeks, the images I take fall over the Satrapi picture, and I want to delete it, pretend it never existed. She looks uncomfortable. Her image is not saying anything. I have taken Satrapi and made her silent. The picture does not belong to any story I have to tell.

I let it be.

My cupboard in hostel is divided into two halves, one for shelves, the other for hangers. On the top, there is a large shelf where I keep the books I have finished reading and the shorts that I have come to not wear in Bangalore. My cupboard has been making me think of how I will have to move out soon. The piles of folded clothes will be pulled off of shelves and fall into waiting boxes, and the room will look as it did on the first day I fell asleep in it, after setting my alarm for five the next morning. I didn’t know how long it would take to reach college. Nor did I know how long I would take to wake up. I woke up before the alarm went off, and got ready for my first day as a college student.

I have not been able to take a picture of it yet.