Friday, 12 September 2008

The Call

He sighed.

And dialled the number he could (and did) recite in his sleep. It was also the number he often dialled when he meant to call another person and wasn't being particularly attentive. Sometimes when he was almost ready to explode, he thought, he would never be rid of this number.

It was answered on the third ring. He relaxed. If it went on to the fifth, it automatically went to her voicemail, which irritated him beyond tolerance. He had tried explaining how to change settings so that the voicemail thing didn't occur. But it had been an inopportune moment. A new pair of shoes had been bought and his advice had fallen on deaf ears.

He said what was the most difficult thing for him to say.
"What's up?"
This was not the most difficult thing for him to say - it was what lay beneath the innocuous greeting, the very act of him calling. Two words no one could accuse him of being extravagant with - I'm sorry.

Glumly, he looked at the scene ahead. He had had no sleep. He knew he looked deranged. His car was parked next to a petrol station, and he had found the petrol station itself after several hours of driving. It was in the middle of nowhere and slowly, everyone on his longitude were waking up. Where he was, it was dawn. These were the points in time when he seriously doubted his own sanity.


It amazed him how someone could inflict so much guilt and imply such pain with the utterance of a single word! The unfairness of the situation was starting to give him a headache.

"Talk to me. If you don't tell me what's wrong, how am I supposed to know? I can't read your mind na?"

"It's just..." after a pause that seemed to stretch through time and space and a million galaxies in between ,"I don't know, I really didn't mean to say what I did. You just didn't seem to understand! Maybe it's my fault."

He knew her well enough to know the trap that lay there for him. He bravely resisted the urge to snap yes! you are right! you are making a mountain out of a molehill - as usual! - and what's more, you will do it again!

"No no," he heard himself say in a soothing voice he barely recognised as his own. "Don't be silly. I over reacted a bit too you know. I should have been more patient."

"Anyway", (in a resigned tone that translated to: what can we do about the fact that you do act funny even when you know it will backfire on you), "I'll go sleep now sweetie, it's late here. Got an early day tomorrow."

He hung up and walked back to the car. There was a perverse angle to staying up the whole night and greeting dawn this way. But then again, he had always been nocturnal. He took out his wallet. Sandwiched between an old bill and a hundred rupee note, was a slightly creased photograph that he'd kept, and truth be admitted, sometimes looked at.

An impish grin and excited eyes looked back, a slightly wrinkled nose and plump cheeks squashed against his own face. It had been one of those insta-pic booths and his idea. For once though, he looked at his own face. He looked young, his hair was a little floppy and he was laughing. He looked very happy. And so did she.

She'd sounded low, he decided. And wondered what flowers to send.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

The Wish - I

The last guest departed three hours after Anita blew out two candles on a chocolate cake. These had been number shapes, a three and an o. Prachi and some of the others behind her yelled Make a Wish! and Anita caught herself hastily addressing an anonymous invisible entity in her mind. She made the wish as one would make a request, politely and matter of factly.

Please let me find someone special.

She hadn't meant to say that. But this was the first coherent thought that crossed her mind, catching her slightly unawares.

Now that she was alone, she was quite confused. She had thought she was reasonably happy with her life. But it seemed a part of her had long acknowledged a missing aspect and now suddenly, the rest of her had woken up to this realisation that could no longer be ignored.

She sat herself down with her diary and a pen. She always found she could deal with things better if they were down on pen and paper. Preferably in lists. She thought for a minute and wrote My Problem, underlining the words twice. Adding a colon, she wrote some more, and inspired, continued in a similar vein. It struck her that she had also created another subheading, Next Steps. This was a manhunt. She was definitely not being spontaneous, "Which should be a key ingredient in a romance, at least in my opinion", she thought.

Which is also when she realised, she wanted romance. Not just a man. She wanted to be swept off her feet. But she definitely needed to aid that occurence. Romance would not come knocking on her door while she sat writing her diary.

The bell rang.

Anita jumped a little in her chair and stared at the door, then slowly went up to it and rose on her toes to position her eye at the peep-hole. A man in a check shirt looked solemnly back, without any apparent weapons or accomplices lurking nearby.


"I am the person that moved into Flat 4A. I just managed to lock myself out. I need to make a phone call. And yours is the only flat on the floor that still sounded like people were awake. Oh and happy birthday. Sorry - it was rather obvious, the reason for the party, after the song, and you know the walls are thin...."

This was the point where Anita, under the influence of three glasses of champagne and another of red wine, opened the door to a neighbour she was not even aware she had had. The man was smiling a little, she still couldn't say much.


"Anita". She shook his hand, and then stood there, until he said very correctly, "Sorry could I make a call please? I really am sorry about this. You must have been ready to hit the bed".

The word bed seemed to ricochet in her brain until Anita willed herself to shut the door and try to locate her cellphone.

"Right there, on the telly".

Wordlessly she handed him the phone and tried to calm her jangling nerves. She desperately wanted to stop thinking, but her mind was playing divine intervention - brown eyes - nice smile - divine intervention - tall - about 6 feet at least - weird checks though - divine intervention - how about that a birthday wish coming true the same night- really sweet smile, in an endless loop.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Excuse Me?

Although I might feel like one occassionally, I am no longer a teenager, exactly. In fact, one might even go as far as to say, my teen years are well and truly behind me. Bat sized spectacles, frilly white blouses, plastic hairbands and the boyband cassettes that I would play on my Sony walkman are now indistinct memories of a bygone era, albeit still fondly preserved by my mother since, as she insists everytime I set foot in my childhood home, you never know when you might need something.

Members of the opposite sex that I am generally presented with, typically belong to a similar age group. If not older. They wear suits to work, have cars and hang framed paintings on their walls nowadays instead of rock posters. Most of them live with their wives or partners and would not look out of place in an advertisement of the Hum Do, hamare do genre.

I therefore find it very strange, when they still act like prepubescent boys and not men.

I have perfected the art of dodging doors that threaten to slam into my face as they stride along oblivious to the fact that I am almost running in heels to keep up. I usually collect my belongings and scamper helpfully out of cars without any expectations unless there is a chauffeur present who inspires the confidence that he knows his job. In most cases, the question of an air-kiss and hug greeting does not even arise. I am wary even when I shake hands for fear of my paw being crushed in an over zealous and steely grip. In fact, so unused am I to genteel behaviour, that when S first took me out to dinner and held my coat out for me, I almost fainted in disbelief. Even now, when he fetches me a drink without me having to ask for it, or unobstrusively flicks the cheque away before I can glance at it, I give him bewildered looks.

For other male friends have greeted me with questions on every personal aspect of my life - right from how much money I make to when I intend to get married, within a few seconds of saying Hi! Haven't spoken to you in years!

While I have inched towards middle age in the interim since we swapped notebooks and sympathised about what a bitch of a lecture that last Indian Eco class was, they are still quite the same. And when I let my dislike for such behaviour be known, they seem genuinely surprised at how I have "changed".

I wonder if professionally, they are as clueless when it comes to dealing with women as they seem to be in their personal lives. Or maybe, the poor women who they deal with on a day to day basis have simply given up on such things. And would collapse right there on the road if they offered to help with a heavy laptop bag when they are running to a meeting together.

Brings to mind a very strange dinner I had once attended. There was a guy there I had met some years back when we were both taking tuitions for CAT. Throughout the whole evening, this person just could not stop making lewd jokes - about everything. You name it, and he would turn it into some kind of an innuendo. I am no shrinking violet, but rarely have I been presented with such a sex-obsessed sense of humour and everyone else seemed just as bemused. I was the only girl present, unfortunately, and I was dying to get out of there before I felt compelled to say something rude. After I had escaped, I pondered over the cause of this erotic mirth in the fellow. The alcohol had not been excessive, conversation had centred around work and how we all felt homesick from time to time, and the people present were hardly the sort to get one's hormones overflowing.

No, it had to be me. Not used to speaking to a girl, the chap simply didn't know what would be a safe dinner table conversation and what was downright strange. If you don't believe me, try this for size - during a lull, I commented on how there were pigeons loudly cooing from atop a skylight in the room. To which, he replied with a peculiar smirk, they must be, you know...

I did know. And I wished he knew too - when to shut up.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Writer's block

The only instance where I cannot seem to suffer fools gladly is when it comes to writing. My house is strewn with books I cannot bear to finish. Mediocre, maudlin and melodramatic writing irritates me beyond belief.

Which is one of the two reasons why I just cannot begin to start working on something beyond a blog. It would be devastating if what I wrote was too unpalatable for even me.

I read The Fountainhead when I was still in school. It was one of those books which everybody who had read would swear by. A few years later, I read Atlas Shrugged and I too, put it down as one of those books I would use time and again to draw inspiration from.

Over time, subsequent re-readings were less than satisfactory. I understood that I did not really appreciate someone shoving a slightly deluded philosophy down my throat. I could not comprehend why a spirited woman would still look for validation from the opposite sex, and it seemed to me, the author worshipped the male ideal a little too closely for a woman to identify with her theme.

Recently, I liked Donna Tartt's The Secret History. A wonderful gothic novel, highly intelligent, with very tightly woven prose. With that unforgiving style of narration, however, you cannot really continue without growing repeptitive. Consequently, her second novel - The Little Friend - lies unfinished by my bed.

What really makes me love a book, is when the story it narrates is so deeply touching, that I forget everything about it except the story itself. The mastery of the craft of writing is obviously still there, but the power of the tale itself is what sweeps you along. I cannot read Love Story without sharing Oliver's sense of loss and hurt. The book carries with it that haunting tune as well.

Which brings me to the second reason why I have restricted my attempts at writing to this blog. The story I want to tell, has not come to me yet. Sometimes, I can almost glimpse the persons I will write about. But beyond a mere beckoning, they just refuse to spring to life. Although, on evenings such as this, they seem just that little bit closer than usual.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Dear Diary,

Today has been very unproductive. I am sorry to say I cheated on my diet. I
skipped running as well, neither did I go to the gym. My room's a mess. I washed my hair, but didn't get my eyebrows done. The laundry's done, but I haven't ironed any of the shirts I need over the week. I did throw out the trash. And made some paneer.

I thought of home all day today.

At some point, I fell asleep. And dreamt of being 15 all over again. When I woke up, I felt cheated. I am all grown up now! There is no more make-believe. I have my own apartment, my own job, and I am independent! And this is what it was all about.

I wish I was 15 again.

Monday, 12 May 2008


I asked my favourite uncle the other day, what kind of a kid was I?

And this is what he said:

Intelligent, focused, a book worm, knew lyrics to all hindi film songs before the movie got released, in love with Shahrukh Khan, aspiring leader, naughty, michkey at times (I guess the closest English translation to this would be sly but in a nice way), prone to diarrhoea and very loving.

I felt understood.

Monday, 5 May 2008


There are some irredeemable mistakes you have to live with and no amount of crying, taking responsibility or drawing lessons from the experience can ease the pain.

These are the things you do which you can't forgive yourself for. And while I may wince at being bluntly judged by those whose opinions matter, my inner critic is working overtime. And that's the voice that truly hurts.

I am beginning to realise the importance of being tough and decisive. Being nice is not really a virtue, because what I thought it involved are in fact things I detest. So while you think you are being sensitive, you are actually shirking from something you know will be unpleasant for you. When you stay mum in situations that you should actually bulldoze into, you aren't being tactful and kind, you are escaping from a confrontation.

Diplomacy is not such a great thing after all, speaking up can shock people but will be much more effective. And brute force is equally necessary in order to correct what's going terribly wrong.

There have been so many instances when something wrong has happened right under my very nose and sometimes to people I truly care about. Even then, I have chosen to stay out of it.

I wish now, I wasn't quite so tactful and nice. I wish I had been really unpleasant, rude and in your face. I wish I had nagged, shouted, been offensive and made life miserable for the people in question until they actually did what they were trying to get out of. They might have hated me for the rest of their lives, which by the way, is always my biggest concern. But winning friends isn't half as important as doing the right thing. And unfortunately, these days, the two seem to be becoming more and more mutually exclusive.

I'll get off my soapbox now, and stop this brief and vague sermon. But the next time someone says something that really pisses you off, ask yourself why and you will realise, it's probably because it was the truth.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Creative Writing - also, a book review

I am reading The Time Traveller's Wife. Again.

And wondering, why I love this story so much.

In a nutshell, this is sci-fi, but that's the least important part of it. In terms of sheer technique, it's quite remarkable. Apparently, Audrey Niffenegger took four years to finish it off. Which isn't very surprising, considering the hero (and I hate the word protagonist, so hero will have to do) suffers from a genetic abnormality that makes him time travel (duh!) , which makes the story weave back and forth across time, sometimes where two of him are present at the same time. Quite fantastical, ingenuous and never overwhelming.

You get the hang of it very quickly and here's a tip, pay close attention to the chapter headings.

Comic relief is not very rampant here, it's essentially a tender romance. And while you can guess where it must head, it's never morbid or cynical. You identify with Clare and can picture their domesticity. And although very few of us are ever likely to meet a time travelling, fantastically fit, fluent in three languages, librarian hunk of a guy that worships the ground we walk on (okay at least one reason why I love the book is clearly because I have a slight crush on Henry), you know what she means when she says: "'s better to be happy for a short while, even if you lose it, than to be just okay for your whole life..."

It's nothing like The Lovely Bones, which I hated because it was a morbid tear jerker. Neither is it like Carol Shields or Anne Tyler, who seem too dispassionate about the characters they create.

Audrey seems to love Henry and Clare. And you start loving them too. They adore each other and you can see why. You adore them too.

And while you don't exactly grab for tissues, you do get swept along with them as they live and love each other through foibles and flaws.

If I ever get around to writing a book, I know now, I'll write it for myself. I'll create characters I can love or hate, and I will cry when they do hurtful things to each other. But it's so difficult getting words to do what you want with them! While you watch out for annoying things like repetitive usage, meandering and over dramatisation of events, or on the flip side, an overtly cryptic style, you tend to forget you are writing of human beings.

Sometimes it seems easy because you write the way you think. And sometimes, you wonder if you are making any sense at all.

That's why, when you come across a book which seems very close to something you would want to write yourself, you like it immensely. And hats off to Ms Niffenegger for achieving just that.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

The real Mr Darcy

Readingwise, nothing can beat the year when I discovered the following books, back to back - Gone with the Wind, Pride & Prejudice and Rebecca. All three remain my perennial favourites. Elizabeth's wit, Scarlett's courage and charm, the gauche herione crippled by shyness in Rebecca inspired in me ambitions I had scarcely dared to entertain.

And the men!

Swashbuckling Rhett, whose sardonic eyebrow cocking smile hid a yearning to be understood. Kind, noble Maxim. Who, all gruff and grim, never let on his fears. And the imperious Darcy. Who humbled himself before the woman he came to admire.

I lived in those worlds then. Still do sometimes, it must be admitted. Every afternoon, my reading corner in the Southern Avenue flat would magically disappear, and I would be in Atlanta, peeping behind voluminous skirts as men bowed and women tossed their curls. Or I would be running along to the cove in Manderley, heart in my mouth, as the Cornish sea frothed in menace.

I suspect, all these women writers, at some point, were little girls much like I was. And maybe Margaret Mitchel really did meet her Rhett. Or Daphne du Maurier really did love a Maxim. Her precious Manderley does exist, so did perhaps Mr de Winter.

Much has been made of Austen's little romance with a young Irishman named Tom Lefroy in the movie Becoming Jane. So while that solves our mystery of who the real Darcy was, why Jane never let go of her prejudices to be united with her Darcy, I wonder. She died young, leaving behind her works that continue to charm and enthrall. But did she die of a broken heart?

It's true though, to create something that moves us as much as these beautiful pieces of literature do, requires much more than talent, ingenuity and wit. It needs that special brand of wisdom and feeling that can only come from one who has experienced something similar. From someone who has known great love and even greater pain.

I had known neither when I first read these books. But now that I am older, and have seen much more than I ever thought I would, these books still touch me in a way few things can. That's the real magic these women had. And while many maudlin efforts are made everyday to reach some of their stature, I would be surprised if anyone really can.

Sunday, 30 March 2008


Since I wrote last, things have changed.

Part of me was wondering how best to break the ice. And then I decided, it was probably not essential I provide an explanation. Makes things more interesting if you need to guess what cloud it was and how it passed.

Books, movies and running around a lot has kept me busy. I have come very close to being genuinely happy. And I am allowing myself to make plans that are beyond the immediate horizon.

I am still struggling to define a tiny spot for myself. And those who have felt very often that they somehow operate at a different wavelength would know how that feels. Only, now I know I am in no hurry. The restlessness I feel is my own pace-setter. Now running ahead is because I want to and not because I have to.

So, while the journey continues, I am beginning to have fun.