Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Aftermath of Absolution

I'd trekked my way over the last dune beyond our makeshift barracks, with nothing but a rucksack holding my notebook, pen, and bottle of water. Where I had expected more nothingness, more sand, I found a plateau just over the ridge. I found a paradise in this desert.

I'd settled down, the hot sun over my head, a moment of calm and ironically, peace, in this landscape so inundated with visions of destruction. I sat, writing in my notebook, getting lost in the words that were now so rare, the pen clutched in my callused and roughened hand.

A shadow. A man. Out of nowhere. He was smiling inquisitively, light pool blue eyes, sandy eyebrows squinting down at me. Greek perhaps, though his skin, too, was the deeply-coloured brown as would be expected under this sun. His body language shouted a particular interest, even before we exchanged a word.

'Which paper you with?" he asked.

"Paper?" I squinted up at him, confused.

"You're a correspondent right? War correspondent?" He nodded at my notebook and pen.

"Corr..." my mind had to reshuffle a few times to fix the word in its place. "Oh. No, I'm with them."

"Huh," he blinked. "You're ... enlisted?"


"War isn't meant for a girl like you," he said, confusedly. His whole demeanour had changed, almost deflated. Now, he couldn't get away fast enough. His retreating footsteps were quickly erased by the gusting sand.

War was all I had ever known. 

Once more I bent my head to my notebook.

This is what the heart does. It bowls away entire civilizations, exploding, again and again. When you think the dust has settled, love drops his bomb on you thinking it's all in the timing, and he drops it and runs. Runs to a place where he himself will be safe, far away from the aftermath of the explosion, somewhere where he himself will not get hurt. That's why they say that love lasts forever, because he hits you with all he's got and runs for safety once you're in flames, once you are broken.

Love and war aren't exactly two opposites. Love is war. 

Love, not the coward love who runs, but the real guy, Love. He knows how to play war. He drops the bomb and holds you tight as you both disintegrate. He knows that it is by holding on that we remain standing when the dust finally settles. War is all I had ever known. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Travel of Art


"Noble, brooding, sorrowful, it helps one bear the world, and all fear of what may come in the sunless night.

Beloved Schubert, in your city I am adrift. I am consumed by past love; its germs, long embedded, half contained, have grown virulent again. There is no hope for me. I turned away four thousand nights ago, and the path was closed in by trees and brambles.

I am eaten by futile pity. I make too much of much.

From one city of shrunken power and lapsing music I travel now to another. Let there be some change in my state. Or let me live in a zone where hope is not a word. How can I long for what I do not grasp?"



"I stand on a little bridge over a side-canal, and view a landing-stage, its blue poles tipped with gold. Here is the watergate to the opera house: on it lie scraps of twisted metal, a wooden pallet, charred doors, a rusted bird. On the black walls graffiti proclaims: 'Ti amo. Patrizia'. This is the phoenix which burned down once before and this time has not risen. Surely what was lost so stupidly, so swiftly and in so short a time can be retrieved, redone, brought to life once more.


I see a small blue porcelain frog, and buy it for her.

I have drunk too much prosecco; no doubt she will smell it on my skin. On the way to the vaporetto I stop by a bar to sober up, and drink a little more -- strong grappa this time. I find that it is past midnight.

No light slits out from behind the shutters. I can make noise in the apartment, but not light, for she is asleep, and her dreams could stall. I strip and lie down by her side. As the night progresses, for all the fractures of the day, we edge absently into each other's arms. Or so I assume, for that is how we awake."

— Vikram Seth, An Equal Music

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Tribute to Apple Martini

From the moment we decided we hated each other, we knew we had each other's backs.

From the odd snarky comment, to the loquacious grin of mirth (on my side, of course; you couldn't expend that much energy to exercise your face muscles) it only somehow grew.

It's been over 6 years and perhaps a nominal value here doesn't count. But fluid like a sine curve, perhaps, the frequency of affinity and antagonism only strengthened.

Getting under my skin was one of your talents. Shedding my skin like a serpent so that you wouldn't really succeed was my talent. But underneath there was always the sure knowledge of that frequency like no other that we surfed upon.

It is perhaps the last year that has seen the most change. In both of us as we meandered and struggled on our individual paths. But it's that strengthened frequency that brings these words to be written. From waking each other up through what was some of my darkest days, to you experiencing snow for the first time. From debating absolutely nothing in the most intricate and intelligent ways, to utter nonsense being spouted into creative masterpieces. From listening to me reenact literature drunk, to being a rapt audience to my lectures. From your foray into discovering Canadian whisky and spinning around on a chair at your workplace while you overtimed your way through weekends to meet project deadlines.

A karela by any other name would be as bitter. And despite your part-time job as God (and my coming out as an atheist; correlation stats please) I probably knew before you did that this moment was due to happen. Paper cranes, neuralizers, icecream, tv stands, coat racks, blown birthday candles, fights, tears, jokes, big-haired girls who shall now remain nameless and 50 pounds of grapes later, maybe this time you can fall into the rabbit's hole and enjoy the wonders of a curious heart.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Feeling of Falling

Out of the sky, the little bird dropped. She'd been shot right out of the sky while soaring freely, unbeknownst to her that she'd entered duck hunting territory, the bullet going through a foot and wing.

She plummeted fast, and hit the surface of the gigantic lake below, her unconscious self unable to prepare for breaking the surface cleanly, instead hitting it as if she'd flown into a window at full speed.

She regained consciousness, faintly aware of not being alone. She opened her eyes and found herself laying on a makeshift raft in the middle of the huge lake. She sat up in alarm, seeking a shore, but with the vastness of the water around her, it was the same as if it were the Atlantic ocean.

Then she realized that there was a duck on the raft. He was chewing a strand of grass lazily, watching the horizon as if he hadn't a care in the world.

'Um, hello?" the dove ventured.

'Hello. How are you feeling now? Better?' the duck laconically asked.

'I...think so?' the dove then remembered what had happened before she had fallen and the pain suddenly became prominent. She winced as she tried to extend her injured wing, but it lay limp and useless by her side. 

A tear dropped as she realized what this might mean—that she, who loved flying more than anything else, might never experience the wonders of the sky again. She huddled at her end of the raft, a cold and wet bundle of misery.

'Here,' the duck proffered a bundle of leaf toward her. She shook her head miserably, and remained as she was. 

They drifted that way for some time. The duck seemed quite content to scribble designs in the surface of the water with a piece of twig, artwork that disappeared just as soon as it was created. 

The sun sunk and disappeared. The dove dozed off and woke, disoriented, in the dark. The duck was still sitting up and nodded a silent acknowledgement to the dove.

'Aren't you going to sleep?' the dove asked.

'No, I don't really sleep much,' he replied, rather shortly.

The dove's eyefeathers furrowed in confusion — didn't all birds go to roost in the night? What was this duck's story?

'Why not?' the dove asked. 'And why are you even sitting here? Why don't you just fly home?'

'I flew away from home and ended up here. This is good enough for me,' he said.

'Good enough for what? Don't you have a flock to return to?' the dove was curious, and for some reason she felt a very odd affinity to this fellow stranger. It wasn't that she hadn't conversed with a duck before, of course she had, but this one was rather less quacky than those she knew.

'My flock is what I flew away from. They wanted me to migrate with them and I wasn't really ready to spend all that time with them.'

'So you're on a raft in the middle of nowhere?' even though she really liked flying, this kind of solitude rather appealed to her.

'Shh, look!' he nodded over the edge of the raft.

She scooted over and peeked over the edge. Schools of fish were swirling just below the surface, as faint light dawned over the horizon.

'Whoa!' she watched as the strange creatures swarmed over one another, a mass of open mouths as they fought one another in an alarming display of antagonism and false bravado.

'They're losers,' the duck rolled his eyes. 'But they kind of keep me company, and I can watch them without really being one of them.'

'Hmm,' the dove was thoughtful. 'Why don't you go get some breakfast, I'm OK being alone for awhile. You don't need to babysit me.'

'No, I'm good,' once again he shut himself away. 

'Why,' she tried teasing him. 'Are you scared of flyinggg?'

'Actually, yes.'

She was shocked. A bird afraid to fly? She tried extending her wing again, and it wouldn't cooperate. A lump came to her throat. What would she give to be able to fly again, and here he had all the chance and he just took it for worse, just wasted it.

She once again bundled herself in a forlorn heap and slid into a deep, tormented sleep.

She woke up suddenly, something was hitting the raft on one side. She looked around, the raft had hit a shore!

She tried standing, but the pain in her injured foot was unbearable, and she sank down again once more. Then she realized, the duck was gone.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Fluidity of Consciousness

Somewhere in the midst of the coma came a momentary lull of relative silence. The weird thing is that most people think it's like sleeping; that the shutting down of facilities and functions renders stillness, but really, its a miasma of noise.

Voices clash with other voices. Some I could decipher as being in proximity while others, more distant, resounded with thousands more, not all in the same language. Pain convulsed my body—not only my own—as did joy, ecstasy, relief, and sorrow. Emotions that had no consciousness to the scale we processed when lucid now coursed through my pulse. And noise like no other pounded in my head, even while outside of me there was not a sound.

In the couple of months I was apparently dead to the world, relief came rarely when the noise would recede and a single voice was speaking.

I heard all these voices all saying the same thing. First it was just one. The most familiar one, saying in a sad, defeated but resigned tone, "You need to move on."

Then other voices joined in, not in sync but disjointed, yet all saying the same thing: "You need to move on." The voice of a friend who usually spoke in a joking tone but was distorted with concern. Another voice this time with a sigh. A bored voice. An exhausted voice. Voices of all shapes, colours, and dimensions. These voices found each other and the murmur grew like an incoming tidal wave, climbing higher gaining momentum and power.

In this stillness I heard another sound. A systematic beeping, right by my head. It caught the rhythm of the chorus of voices and with each line "you need to move on," I found myself floating closer to a stranger shore, each pulse pulling me closer and closer, like I was buoyant upon a moving tide which was tugging me in, pulling me out. The beeps, too, seemed to waver and slow as the chorus seemed to fade.

If I moved on, where would I go?

Someone later told me that's what I asked as I opened my eyes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Cost of Defence

'Stop,' his hand came out suddenly, a firm grip on my wrist.

I looked at his hand holding mine. I wouldn't look at him.

'What are you doing to yourself?' his voice was low and measured, a softer tinge to his usual bark during our daily drills, as he shouted orders, insults, and punishments.

I looked at the cigarette smouldering, still held captive in his firm grip on my hand. Ash accumulated on its tip, the orange mirroring the sun setting to the left.

'You don't even like the effing things, why do you still smoke them, for Christ's sake?'

'Sam, just leave me alone, k?' I muttered. 'Just because you're the lieutenant doesn't mean you can dictate my life choices.'

'Oh, hell yeah I can.' He sounded more threatening this time. I hesitated; was he right?

'You don't get it, OK. I saved every penny for 5 years for ... someone else. I didn't spend a dime except for the necessities. And now... Now I can spend my hundred thousand on whatever I want. I can burn it. That's what I'm doing. With this.' I shook my hand holding the half formed cigarette.

'You're poisoning yourself.'


His hand tightened on my wrist. It hurt. I finally looked at him, and his eyes met mine. Green eyes again.

I brought my knee up into his stomach. He let out a loud exhalation but otherwise didn't make a sound.

'"Don't let your guard down unless you want them to kill you", lieut. Isn't that what you drill into us?'

I dropped the cigarette into the sand and walked away, trying not to limp. His abs were hard as steel. Instead I massaged some feeling into my arm. 

'You don't put your life on the line for others if you only mean to punish yourself!' his voice yelled after me.

'Tell me about it,' I mumbled, as sand swirled around my boots, the heat giving way to the evening desert chill. I dropped onto the ground, watching the sun lower itself until it became a forgotten memory.

The Fury of Amusement

Under that over-bright sun, the esplanade thrumming with energy, noise, colour, movement, there we were above it all, in our own time-capsule, spinning together as a planet of our own.

To anyone else, our words were indecipherable, lost to the wind. But we were happy. For there was nothing else but the other and it was perfect for the moment.

Then in the middle of a joke, as we zoomed high and reached the zenith of our locus, you spread your arms wide, mirroring me with my expression of elation, to encompass everything, for in that moment the universe was ours.

Laughing out loud, blinded by the proximity of the sun and each other, your elbow knocked into my head and with an indignant yelp, I scrambled for my glasses before they fell over the side of our airborne ride. The typical clumsiness of our duo act sent us into gales of hilarity and even despite the dizzying moments on that amusement park ride, with the wind in our faces, we laughed until our tummies were sore, holding our bellies and each other, crying on the other's shoulder with laughter.

The sun made its way over, from one side to the other. Each time we disembarked, we again ran around the enclosure, chasing one another, to join the line again.

Perhaps in those moments we captured freedom, friendship and love. Your hand was in mine even as we flew closer to the sun, like Icarus before the fall.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Refuge of a Fugitive

Most of my life I have been on the run. From a past or myself, I am not exactly sure which or even if there is a difference between the two.

Phases of my life flit past, people coming and going, venues and abodes of the heart replenishing every few seasons or years.

I don't even know if maybe I am consciously causing this, an escape that I still yearn for and never find. Every time I find someone to call my own, somehow they elude and slip away from my grasp. Or is it me who leaves the warmth of the bed of attachment, sliding out from the sheets of emotion in the cold moonlight to carry on my own way with a sigh of relief?

Have you ever wondered what it might mean to one day actually settle down, really set the foundation to a life that isn't temporary, and completely at peace with oneself? To not keep pace with a ticking clock, or other people's needs or requirements or expectations. To be able to finally have the courage to say "No", and turn around and go back to that one last regret and pick it up and dust it off and claim it again as your own?

Maybe each time I look at an image of myself or look at myself reflected in someone else's eyes, maybe I can really find myself in the way I never could with a head in the clouds.

Maybe each time I braced myself for the explosion that was inevitable with every relation, maybe I had in brutal honesty anticipated it, knowing that that last shred of love would diminish and that by casting me off from their own lives, they were only proving to me what I had always secretly known: that I was not worth holding on to.

But sometimes that reflection in someone else's eyes are what haunts you for the rest of your life. Because for once maybe you were not looking at your own reflection in their eyes, but actually getting lost in that very familiar aspect, seeing them look at their own mirror image in yours and contemplating when would be the best time to run.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Price of Freedom

A last-minute campaign for a client whose consumer demographic was a mix of both Indian and Pakistani communities (thereby requiring a politically-correct Independence Day tagline for both at once) landed on my shoulders first thing Monday morning. My mind automatically envisioned the fusion of both flags, and out it came.

"Often we need to find ourselves before we can learn to love each other truly."

Then I hesitated. Was I really talking about two nations, or something much more personal?

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Catharsis of Innocence

There came a time when I discovered that writing while crying was a great consolation. Catharsis. Through scribbles on the inside of big people books at the age of 2 to writing make-believe stories in my journal in grade 2, writing was perhaps written in my destiny. Writing was to be my medicine and magic. What writing really was was the art of getting lost in my own mind.

There came a time when I realized that writing while crying was unproductive. I put all my emotions into writing when I was my most distraught, and then when the clouds of sorrow raised that art was already quenched. Little did my happiness become recorded in word. Little was my happiness embossed as a permanent marker for reminiscence sake.

Oh, I hoarded memories. Saved conversations, screenshots, notes folded in tiny little squares and stowed away where noone else could retrieve them. I hoarded every laugh and grin greedily, perhaps with a dark prescience that these were moments that would not last.

Maybe words were all I had. And they were not enough. And I discovered that I too was not enough.

Words, writing, getting lost in my mind fail to medicate or heal. Rather I myself have gotten lost. When words could not heal all the broken bits of me, my words ceased and I embraced silence.

Sometimes I look back at those scribbles in crayon, those half-formed words so carefully written and long for more than just solace but the ability to go back to a time when I could discover how to unconditionally belong.