Sunday, 3 July 2016

Sell me a lungful of air


The words scream out at you. White over red. Red over white. Or perhaps some other range of colours. What do they sell I wonder? Happiness? Or the idea that we will always need something more to keep us satiated? Not contentment, not satisfaction. Satiation.

That feeling you get when you gorge on a quintessential Bengali meal at a hotel because you miss home, before you go back to your empty room again; that feeling you get when you cram biscuits down your throat, knowing you have had three packets too many already, because you need something to take your mind off the near-physical pain in your chest; that feeling you get when you try to counter that the next day by eating bare minimum, anxiously checking your weight on the scale, away from prying eyes; that feeling you get when you want to cuddle because you are sick and it tumbles out of his mouth ever so honestly that the feverish warmth you bring with you is not welcome, but then he tells you that he will get you biriyani; that feeling you get when you wish you didn't have to go to work and could just lie in on a Monday morning, and your salary gets credited when you step inside your house that same evening; that feeling you get when you chop your hair off because you need something, anything to change for the better, and you step out missing the way your hair used to fall over your shoulders; that feeling you get when you see people you love leaving for faraway lands, to better, shinier things, and you tell yourself that you atleast have Skype installed.

Satiation. The knowledge that maybe today you haven't failed. Tomorrow is another day.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Nightmare on Borobagan Street

It started off like an episode of a television series, with a sneak preview of what was about to come. By the time that was over, I knew that I was going to be brutally murdered by the end of it all.

I was staying at a hotel, which seemed more like a B&B, with a collapsible gate cutting away the common staircase passage to make the living space private, much like my own house in Siuri. My parents were there too, at different points in time. I remember people fleetingly passing by. Psychology says that we never really see complete strangers in our dreams.  By that definition, they were all faces I should have recognised, and in some cases I did.

The walls were painted in the lightest hues of beige and green. Even then, I thought of how weird the combination was. That night, as I walked back towards the collapsible gate to go back to my room from the in-house restaurant after an early dinner, one of the young girls working in the restaurant managed to drop a whole pile of plates on my feet. Apologising profusely, she started picking up the pieces. Perhaps a zillion things were running through her mind then, starting from the harsh words of the owner and the excuses she might have to come up with, but the next thing I knew, she had managed to cut her hand. The nurse instinct kicked in and I asked for a roll of bandage, or atleast a clean piece of cloth and some cotton and antiseptic liquid. As I washed her hand with water pouring out of the bottle I usually carry around, a man in his late 20s came to me with a roll of bandage, some wads of cotton and a small bottle of Savlon. He hovered around as I bandaged her hand, all the while exchanging stories about who we were and where we came from. He hovered around when she started laughing at the way I managed to screw up the bandage knot. He hovered around as I vowed to set it right with utmost concentration. He hovered around and remained in my peripheral vision. Standing near the collapsible gate that separated my living space from the rest of the establishment, when we were about to exchange numbers on little slips of paper she had fished out of her pocket, I remember him inching closer, looking curiously at the slips of paper. I looked at him and asked him to back off. He didn’t listen. There were people standing around, watching him as he inched threateningly close, and no one said a word. It wasn’t a new experience though, so I knew not to drop my gaze. Both of us stopped what we were doing till he decided to back off. He stared back, reminding me faintly of an eccentric man who had once stalked me all over a train station, and my heart skipped a beat. The defiance changed to fury mingled with frustration, and he hit the collapsible gate with his bare hands with such strength that its very foundation seemed to rattle. He didn’t disappear, but he did move a couple of inches back. In hushed tones, the girl and I wrote down each other’s numbers.  She took one look at the man still standing a few inches away from the gate, and with a final tight grasp of my hand, asked me to stay safe and bade goodnight. I still remember his gaze as I locked the collapsible gate, the steely demeanour with which he refused to budge. As I lay down on my bed, with the night lights on, I could hear the sound of his shuffling feet outside the gate. As the night wore on, the pacing became faster and more determined. Many a times I thought I could hear him rattling the bars of the gate. I could hear him banging on my window. I could feel his presence inside my room. I could feel him standing at the foot of my bed. I could feel him reaching for my blanket.


When I woke up, I realised my blanket was lying on the floor and my bed was soaked with sweat. As I heard sounds of feet shuffling outside my roadside facing window, I prayed feverishly to the God I didn’t believe in for a simpler explanation. It took me what felt like a good fifteen minutes to realise that it was daylight outside; that I had been dreaming; that I was safe. It took me an hour of trying to shake off the fear to realise that our nightmares are a manifestation of our deepest fears, and this particular nightmare doesn’t exactly speak highly of how I view the society.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

The day you left

When Death took you, the sky was all sorts of red.

I sat and watched as each drop of your cold, dead blood painstakingly fell on the ground, and it sizzled on touching the soil. The sky, that day, was the darkest shade of crimson, and the most tragic shade of maroon.
The rivers ran green, sickened by the bile oozing out of your corpse, as you lay with your arms bent at an unfathomably awkward angle. The whole image was so strange that it almost looked normal, giving a casual passer-by the illusion that you were merely sleeping.
The air was swirling around you, slowly turning a brilliant shade of yellow, as gases started seeping out of your decaying body, mixing with the columns of steam on the hot summer day.

That day, as I sat and watched life leaving you, little by little, I realised how chaotically beautiful colours could be. Never, since that day, have colours looked that beautiful.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Death and all his friends

"At times, I sit and look at myself in the mirror. And I wonder how it would feel like when I am finally dying. And it scares the living daylights out of me, so to speak," she pauses to take a sip from the cup of coffee threatening to shed its spiralling heat. "I feel myself choking up. I can't breathe. And I feel hot tears stinging my eyes." She looks up at me with eyes which seem half-curious, half-doubtful. "How do you speak of death so easily?"

I look down at my cup of tea, and smile.
"Death? Death doesn't scare me, love. The idea of never knowing how certain people are holding up does."

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Travelling spaces

Often, while entering Siuri, to avoid the Bakreshwar jam, our bus takes a left turn to go through a village. At close to 7 in the evening, with the lights inside the bus on, and the windows, layered with packed dust, shut, there is not much one can see and admire.

My strongest images related to the village include a Durga temple, made of red bricks, with an idol whose forehead is smeared with the brightest shade of vermilion. The narrow roads are lined with little huts, some made of bamboo, some made of bricks. How do they survive the cold? And the rain? I wonder. However, what caught me by surprise the first time I entered the village and rode along the bumpy rocky roads, was that I got a familiar smell that instantly reminded me of my Dida'r bari on a Sunday evening. It took me quite a few such sudden left turns to realise why.

Sundays during my years of growing up would always mean going over to Dida'r bari. For the first few years of my life, it would mean Didi and me playing around with Babai and Tubai, while Boro Mamu rolled cigarettes, and my two Mamis cooked something nice for us in the kitchen. I remember Chhoto Mamu on a reclining chair, sitting and talking in his serious voice, in his spotted brown loongi. As a child who was hardly six, I remember spending more of my time rolling on the floor with my cousins than siting down with Dida-Dadu. Sometime soon, the six of them left for Mumbai. The newly renovated ground floor was sold off, and Dida-Dadu shifted to the top floor. Since then, Sundays would mean quiet evenings having mishti while Dida watched TV and mum kept up a steady stream of conversation with her. Dadu would loiter around, procrastinating touching food till he finished his evening aarti. Baba would insist on sitting cross legged on the floor, and sip like an addict on a hot cup of tea, and simultaneously bite on a shingara and smoke a Filter Wills. Didi would always either be sitting quietly, or helping around in the kitchen to serve the food.

And then that smell would creep in, everytime, while we walked back on the street leading away from Dida'r bari, to hail a cab back home. I would turn back to wave back at Dadu, who till date hasn't forgotten to add "Bari pouchhe jaanio." Right then, that odour of melancholy would set in. The despair of having to get back to the grind of Monday, of having to get back to the routine of sleeping next to my mother and sister during the afternoon after school, the terror of not understanding mathematics and feeling like I don't belong, would gnaw at my insides.

The roads of the village manages to set off similar feelings on the Sundays when I come back. The stifling routine of waking up at 4, working straight through 9 hours, and then coming back home too tired to even read a book, staying shut in my room, making calls to folks back home, afraid to go out and realise once again that the town has nothing to offer, followed by needing to finish off dinner by 8 to sleep off by 9, so that one can wake up with a clear enough head for a tough day ahead, where we teachers can't afford to slack on alertness, suffocates me, irrespective of the fact that I can safely say that I enjoy my work enough for those 8 hours to be the best part of my day.

The bus moves on, perhaps with the message that that's how life is. You can't have everything. You can't choose to hide and yet be seen. You can't choose to love and not get hurt. You can't choose to maintain space and yet cling on. You can't choose to have everything, even things that you don't need. And before I know it, I am back inside my little house, keeping my morning glass of hot lemon water half-ready, and unpacking packets of oats and biscuits and other tidbits. And it is time to have dinner and sleep.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

You sang a different song

Sunlight streamed in
As we lay side by side.

You were sprawled upon the white,
While I lay curled up on the black.

A different tune was played that day.
A tune which did not use us.
A melancholic note here and there,
Slightly haphazard.
Slightly undone.
It wasn’t our song.

A few moments passed us by.
A sparrow called out.

And I realized it was near us.
Too near.
Creeping onto our little haven.
I didn’t mind though.
It happened often.

I waited for us to be touched.
Not in a way that would defile us.

I waited for the familiar happy fifth.
Which was you.
And then the fourth.
Which was me.

I waited.
As the waning rays played along my edge.
And slid down my curve.

I heard it.
I heard the fifth.
I heard you.

I waited.
It was a ritual.
A norm.
The fourth after the fifth.
It had always been that way.

I waited.
Till the light faded.
Till it was all silent.Till it was dark.

I lay.

All forgotten.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Different Dreams

My dreams are not yours.
In the sunkissed field of daffodils
Through which grasshoppers whizz past
With an almost lazy alacrity,
I find myself,
Soaking up to the skin
In optimism which will fall into disuse
Like a snowflake held too long on a warm tongue.

My dreams are not yours.
When the moon lights up my part of the world
And the narrow alleys are bathed
In the pearly hue poets hold dear,
I find myself,
Wondering if the stars feel outshone
And if they twinkle a tad too bright
To tell us they are hurting.

Somewhere down the sleet covered roads
Of moonlit heaven, hell and earth
I realised
My dreams are not yours.
And yours arent mine either.