Loss of Innocence

I wonder if people know the exact moment when they lost their innocence.

Like when they watched porn for the first time (really?).
Or as they succumbed to money that’s bigger than life.
Or in the eerie silence while they buried their boss’ body.

I remember the time when I realized I had ‘grown up’.

So I was waiting one sweltering morning at the bus stop, contemplating ringing up my driver chetan to find if he’d unfaithfully driven off without me. A familiar yellow Loyola school bus halted to wait, grunting.  Soon enough a child, barely 7 or 8, in his white shirt and black trousers and shoes sprinted to the bus in beaming relief. A number of eyes watched him run, some frowning in the heat, some eager and some curious, one smiling.

A month or even a couple of weeks earlier perhaps, I would have seen a bunch of morning office-goers at the bus stop, delighted at this kid catching his school bus. I may even have told myself, Just how beautiful are people, in gleaming at this moment and this kid who belongs to god-knows-who. I would’ve told you how some of them re-lived their own bus-chasing days (I still have mine) when they were younger, their school vehicles and whites and blacks and emblems and morning frenzies.

But I didn’t.

All I saw were a bunch of faces. Some frowning at the kid’s parents perhaps, for getting the child ready late, for making others wait – disapproval at their ways and busy lives. Some unimpressed at the (adjudged) irresponsible boy. I saw some eager to find if he catches the bus and at least some hoping in malice that he misses it. I saw someone else betting on the bus taking off without him. Perhaps the only aunty smiling may reminisce to her days in a pinafore but none else.

Where a month ago I’d have told you they egged him on with their gaze, instead I tell you these tales.

That was when I realized I wasn’t the person I was anymore, I knew I had finally landed on earth like Amma always wanted me to. That this is what they should call Loss of Innocence.

Imagine taking in everything people say with a pinch of salt, of doubting intentions. I do not see halos around people’s heads anymore (probably never should have). Goodness exists if you dig deep enough in everyone and tons of benefit of the doubt, sure. But not pure until proven otherwise as I used to think. I can actually, without prodding more to know why, believe that people will deliberately cause you harm to none of their benefit.

I mean I was always cynical, yet I had hope and faith in people. I loved people. (I still do, many of them).

Once I was over the depressing shock of it, I saw the reality of smirks following uncles/aunties “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Now I see them, more often than not, inquiring not on the kid’s ambitions but on just how audacious they can get, just how innocent ignorant(that’s what they call them) he/she is. A “Wait till you grow up and watch porn and crave money and distrust people” lurking.

So loss of innocence isn’t when you can guess that Hyderabadi biryani flavoured condoms must suck*. It’s when you can imagine people wishing anything but well for a child who is, for all purposes, just a child.

*I never intend puns

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End to a Beginning, that wasn’t

There are high streetlights visible from the coffee shop where we sit. Such an unlikely place to meet.

I’d always imagined us meeting at a wedding of a mutual acquaintance, in the middle of everyone dancing. It seemed a likely prospect, our world was so small.
Though which South Indian wedding ceremony involves dance, you may ask.

Or in an exotic (enough) setting away from home. Homes.
In a crowded beach with the sun setting behind us, or a random KFC outlet where two disinterested souls spot each other in delight before indulging in incessant chatter.

Or in one of the narrow aisles of our public library, between tall bookshelves that we’re engrossed in decoding.

For a long, long time I turned every lane and entered every wedding almost expectedly. Nothing materialized, until I was exhausted of momentarily getting my hopes high and adjusting my hair in place.

All the while that I was getting dressed today (I may not have much to show for it), I felt old. As difficult as it was, I avoided the thought of how young we had been, Wo jo adhoori si yaad baki hai and Jaise milte nahi kisi dariya ke do kinaare lines continually playing in my head.
But now, godforsaken Naina da kya kasoor won’t stop and I must repress my headbobbing. I don’t feel like the song though.

“I don’t drink or smoke”. I casually mention, unsure why I sound like my recently decommissioned matrimonial profile.

“Oh”

“Neither does he.” Now I know why.
It came out surprisingly easy, and I’m only happy for myself.

“Oh..”
I’m assuming the dots were there, or maybe the melancholy was only in my air.

I see fingers, long, thin and straight unlike my long crooked ones. They appear damp and soft, like they always did in pictures. I imagine a fountain pen in them, almost immediately replaced with a Gel pen by memory.

As we stepped outside and the lights fell on us, for the life of me I couldn’t see the magnificence in his face, hair or arms. And for the life of me, I couldn’t believe myself.

As I leave, all I think of with every step away are the stories that weren’t written about me, the poems I didn’t feature in.

Yet we all choose our stories really, don’t we?

PS : Too many break-up stories, I’ve heard this past year.

Civilization

“When I have kids, I’m going to raise them in the forest until they’re like 8-9 years old, then introduce them to urban society and ask them to pick between the two the life they’d like to live. I’d give them choice, not the illusion of it.”

“I’m not a fan of civilization myself,” says George.

Winter – Romance

I met G on New Year’s Eve 2016 at Mandi House.

It was winter. The best part of winter. When it’s cold but not too much.
You can smoke fumes out of your mouth in the thick morning air while walking to class. Peas still sprout when soaked overnight and Parachute oil hasn’t frozen in its entirety in the bottle. You wear just enough layers to not need a bra (at least the less endowed ones), yet do not have to hide your cute sweater under another quilted jacket. The chilly wind against their scantily clothed chests hasn’t eaten into the rickshaw bhayyas’ pace in the mornings, yet.

Shaving of course is out of the question.

At this point, I need to confess a couple of things. My roommate had been away for almost two months, and I was thoroughly enjoying it.
I lived in my natural habitat of a cluttered room, the little floorspace was filled with copies of The Hindu and printed fliers of IAS coaching material, collected and shoved into my bag after class. I’d started wearing bhasmam regularly because it reminded me of people I love. My warrior of a chair carried a backbreaking pile of dirty clothes to topple over any moment and I went to class in the clothes I went to bed in. The bed itself was filled with Haldiram’s Aloo Bujia, a thin plastic cover of 5 tomatoes bought for 10, and leftover packs from previous tiffin any time of the day.
I fit my body in there somehow.

Evenings were dry and beautiful with an occasional warm drizzle, and by all means I avoided being in my room for long. It’s when (home)sickness slowly creeps in and lodges itself on your neck to stay until dinner.

I was doing India’s Struggle for Independence by Bipan Chandra. Love you Zindagi played in my room every night after I returned from the reading room. I routinely smiled at other building-mates and refrained from (/clearly avoided) talking. By this time the chetan at the sambar vada/pizza sandwich shop that had open counters and high tables knew I wanted chai to the brim, just like the chetan at office does now. Old Rajendra Nagar was filled with puppies that followed you on the roads and needed to be fed from your tiffin bits at night.

The terrace was still the only place I could see the sky wasn’t as little as it seemed from amidst all the buildings on the ground.

Probably most important bit is I didn’t have to zone into my thoughts like I do now and did before. I was living in them.

In college, I’d go to canteen alone for a lot of different reasons, and I was lucky to always have people that asked “Are you here all by yourself?”
It was only after almost a year I realized I was disappointing people with answers such as “It’s alright” cos they thought I was upset at not having company. So I later rephrased it to “Oh a friend is coming. It’s alright” and things were sorted out. Unless they decided to give me company until the friend (never) came :D.

I hadn’t talked to a soul at ORN in the course of these two months. Except the sabjiwala and Komal at my reading room reception. And New Year’s Eve was to be spent watching a play at ShriRam’s Arts Center, Mandi House. Alone.

(Yeah don’t worry, a friend was coming).


“Can I have one at the extreme back please?”

First time at a theatre alone and I had mistaken a play for a movie, and extreme back for  balcony view.
G in the second queue overhears and looks over, smiles a friendly stranger smile. I return the smile and wait for the doors to open.

On the way to the Arts Center were walls painted Inquilab Zindabad, posters of Che Guevera, lots of young and older men and women all of whom seemed like students. Reading newspaper and eating Maggi, outside shacks and shops nearby and on circles around tall trees. And all I could think was how I’d have turned out had I joined DU and studied English, or even joined for MA after B.Tech.

I wasn’t sure then, but when was I ever?

I’d quite probably have turned leftist, sat under those trees reading The Hindu, turned up in loose neutral kurtas instead of my favourite Lifestyle sweater, worn chappal instead of Converse and carried a cloth bag instead of Wildcraft. I’d probably still have turned up for this play. Probably.
At least I knew I wasn’t a literature person by then.

As soon as I get seated I realize my folly. I can hardly see the actors’ faces, having especially asked for the backseat. The play is about the revolt of 1857 and I have a leaflet about the troupe and the actors. They’re probably college students, always rushing to catch the Metro for their practice sessions in scorching summers and chilly winters. I would’ve impressed with my Doordarshan-imparted Hindi, though started from the top every time I missed a line.
I would’ve sucked with the lines.

Memorizing dialogues and scenes, indulging chai sessions between, and Maggi from that shop outside on lazy afternoons after naps. Streetplays on weekends, processions at India Gate, LeftWord Books for every book launch. Never miss a LitFest and never miss a lecture. Debate over Yechury’s points on the phone with Achan and borrow Amma’s sari for characters when I went home for vacation.

I don’t really know how differently I’d have turned out.
What if’s and I have had a romantic relationship since forever anyway.


There’s a cosy canteen attached to Centre’s right with low tables and chairs. It’s evening now and the sky is losing light, it’s getting chilly outside. I sit down with hot chowmein at an empty table. There are a couple of benches and desks outside, and through the door I can see young students in their sweaters and mufflers clicking selfies before their foods arrive.
We could all be at a tea shop in a beautiful hill station at Manali or Nainital, sipping tea and eating chowmein. Barfi could jump in any second singing Iss dil ka kya karooon with Ileana De Cruz in her long dress, shoes and pink hairband. And I wouldn’t need to get up and dance because I’d already be.

Next to me, a lady who I’m positive appeared in Taare Zameen Par to judge the painting contest comments “Isn’t Three Arts Club doing quite brilliant these days?”
She has grey cropped hair,  wears a starched saree and is seated with other older men who look like they could be college professors or The Hindu editors, with a general wise air. All neutral shades. They drink tea. I wonder if I should’ve ordered tea with my chowmein.

G appears opposite to me at my table, placing a bag on the last vacant one, and has ordered Maggi. I shift my water bottle away from G’s plate, polite. I’m hardly ever impolite to strangers. At this point I’d like to say I’m one of those I’m sure everyone’s good at heart people. I love being disappointed.

“Is it your first time to a play?” G is smiling more broadly than the summer sun.

“I’ve been to a couple back home, first time alone though.” G sits down.

“So where are you from?” “I’m from Kerala. Where are you from?” I can’t help the full sentences amidst all the smiling.

“Delhi.”

I smile broadly as well.
Like when you find the flavor of tic-tac you were rummaging for in a large bucket at a supermarket. Except there’s no way we knew each other’s flavors. Yet.

G is an arts graduate. PG in English Literature. Civil Services preparation.
“ORN?”
“Yes. You go to Vajiram?”
“I go to Sriram.”
“Evening batch?”
“Morning, actually. You must go in the evening batch?”
“Morning, actually.”

Later as we walk out from the canteen into the tall trees, under the orange lamps I can spot G’s backpack that says WildCraft. I smile stupidly, like Swetha says I often do when seated by the window in our office bus.

Everyone should have the privilege to meet themselves, sometime.


I had earlier decided I’d remain stoic for as long as I could hold out. But that New Year night I talked to more humans over Never Have I Ever. And realized I’d always, always loved people.

When Umadri packed up and left for college in late May, I asked her to list out the things and people she’d miss (yea I do that). On top of the list, was who she was when we were at ORN.

Some days I think I’d give anything to go back to being the unfuck-withable dragon-hunter. Impenetrable to my mother’s calls to life as we know it.

Why is life not the way I know it?

IMG_20161216_175545                                               Old Rajendra Nagar, Winter 2016

Cry

I’m a crier.

I mean I own a weak-ass heart that feels too much.

It’s funny because I didn’t quite cry for a long time, although I was sad for the longest time. Then came this study leave before sixth semester exams in college when I cried 24×7.

Like after a breakup you look at your face in the washbasin mirror but realize it’s already wet all over with tears.
Like you don’t cry for two decades, and then you do.
And you can’t stop.

So one evening after my second last exam I cried to someone, and although I didn’t think it was possible, this time I cried it out.
Well, most of it. Which is when I started crying for all the right (you decide) reasons.

For those of us that feel too strongly, crying just happens to be the easiest release in a world where we’re a minority. It isn’t reserved just for when I’m really sad or really happy, it’s for everything overwhelming in between.


At how time conned us, and didn’t let me meet my parents’ magnificent younger selves.

As most 70/80s songs play, I can see my father contesting elections in engineering college (to lose, of course) in black & white, while my mother (in color, cos she has described the shades of her college saris to me) is studying her ass off in medical college hostel. Achan vehemently yells SFI slogans in CET while Amma scoffs at party members in MCH, and they both listen and tap their feet to the same songs, but I never got to see or hear any of it.

Neither know at the time they’d marry each other. Or that they’d have 3 kids who’ll listen to them humming these songs (with a much much lower tempo) some 15 years later on moonlit nights at engineering college quarters, sleeping on their shoulders and laps and chests. So I was upset when I finally heard the originals of Aayiram Padasarangal Kilungi  – “that’s NOT how you sing it, those are not even the lyrics, this record is all SO wrong”.
Because that’s not how Achan sang it to us.

Some days I wonder at how beautiful the world looks during sunrise and wish I could broadcast it across people’s minds in a network so we can feel one another (okay Amal I know that sounds wrong on many levels).
Or how we could both be looking at it and I could be thinking of you right now, and you could be thinking of me, but we’d never know.

And the sunrise could be a Kathak performance or a ghazal recital, or two lines of a brilliant poem or a song or an instrument, the beauty of how its boundlessness dissolves us into one, for as brief and fleeting a moment it be.

Like listening to Vijay Yesudas’ Malare and remembering that’s the closest I can listen to his father’s voice sing it, and how we weren’t lucky enough to belong to the generation whose lives can be traced along Yesudas’ songs.

Or those dusty college windows with sunlight streaming into classrooms and how there was never such a romance as Premam to enjoy all of that on evenings after classes, how I never had the appetite for those back then either.

Of how we were (I mean I was) ugly and sweaty and sick dressers in school (and college, pfft) and how the people and the happiness was innocently believed to be ‘a trial version of what’s to follow’ yet the trial was the best there ever came.

That there was this magical duet of If I Lose Myself we practised during monsoon 2015, when the song could hardly be heard over the patter on chetan’s studio roof, that we never took a video of, that the world never got to see, that’ll die in team memories.

Or of how we cycled through the college forests at Madras at 4am on borrowed bicycles after placing a wrist watch on loan, stopping under orange streetlamps for breaths and shouting across roads, turning in zigzags as trucks passed us by, not knowing it would be our only time.

Of how often I deserved to lose so many from my life yet how they always stayed. And stayed.

Of longing to have known certain people just a little bit more, and to have hung onto certain chapters of our lives just a little bit longer.

How life is short and life is unfair and life is cruel and yet how it comes back together to us every time. And just how much we endure in those hopes. Alone.

Of the stories we hear delivered, and how there remains so much more untold.
Of how no poetry is more beautiful than the conversations we leave unexplored.

And at the end of the day, how we all deserve more.
So much more.


I know most of this is worth smiling over. But you can only smile so much.
And then you can only cry.

No?

(I quit) Dragon hunting

G and I don’t talk a lot. I need to notify a day in advance so the Flight mode is switched off and we can call. So when we do, it’s for the most pressing of issues.
“I’m considering quitting dragon-hunting”, I chip in. At this point, I haven’t decided and am awaiting comments. Speculation is in order.

“Yes”.
Not No.
Not Think about it maybe.
Not even The world doesn’t care anyway so stop only if you want to, as I’d hoped.

Yes/No’s are powerful. They break hearts. They ruin self-esteem. They cause damage that takes a lifetime to heal. Yes/No’s change life as we know it.
Do not ask unless you’re ready to have it go either way.

The thing is, (surprise) I don’t really hunt dragons. Not because they do not exist, I knew that when I became a dragon-hunter. I couldn’t care less even if they did.
I do not make a living out of it, I hardly make anything out of it really. And not many know I call myself one, it’s privy to few. You don’t just tell people that you’re (surprise) boring, you let them figure it out.

Now I don’t have a particularly fragile heart, but dragons are a sensitive matter.

Well that’s all for today, I quit. There’s stuff aplenty out here on earth I’ve found, so I don’t think I’ll be going back anytime soon.
At least the dragons are happy.

 

 

Get Your Sunshine Back

Some of us were born with the sun shining out of our asses.

And with the stories we saw or the stories we lived,

Slowly the world sucked all of our sunshine out, soon filling us up with its shit.

And then they asked us, Why are you so full of it?

 

The day you remember what you once were

Push it all back out.

The day you remember what you once were,

Go get your sunshine back. There’s still tons of it left in the world.