A Woman of her Time

Her skin like crumpled paper clung to her hand and the veins stood out like rivers disappearing into her arm. The winter wind howled outside the house as she looked at me, her hand holding mine. She touched my face with her palm, it felt cold against my cheek. She lies slumbering somewhere among my memories. Like walking through a fog on a forest trail I stumble upon them. I recall the cold stone floor as I stood watching her her cat quietly lapping at a bowl of milk. Or looking at my hazy  reflection the mirror one morning as I brushed my teeth and the  quiet breeze rustling the leaves in her farm outside. The nurses carrying her to bed as she was paralyzed because of a fall. I remember looking out of the car window as my mother pointed at a two floored building. It was my great grandmother’s clinic she said. Did I walk in and see the five roomed structure now rented out? Or did I imagine it. Pictures tell me that she held me in her arms as a baby, they tell me about her cats lazing on her lap. They paint a story of her life and the world she lived in. But my one memory of her is more precious than those preserved in Polaroids.

Who is this woman to me? She featured in so many bed time stories. A woman born to a poor family, who was married to a widowed judge as a child and raised two daughters. But this never completed her story. After her marriage she enrolled into a medical school, she failed several times but never gave up. She was limited by her education due to her family’s income, social background but above all else her  gender. She fought the battle when most would have surrendered. She worked to be a trained obstetrician. She supported a husband who was driven to madness as he lost his job and purpose with the revolution that brought a swift decay upon the maharajah’s court. She raised her step children along with her daughters. But who is she to me?

She was a stickler for some rules but in many ways she defied tradition and was ahead of her time. Did she believe women could strive for individual liberty? She lived the role of a single mother by chance not by choice. Did she believe in a society where marriage or motherhood can be a choice? As a girl of seven these questions were beginning to form but it would be years before these droplets of thought turned into a cloud. My grandmother and my mother, the women in my family she raised; have been like her, ahead of their time. But I have walked past the shackles of time, past the prison gates, into a world with open skies and endless possibilities.

And now the world I left behind calls me back. It wants me to climb back into the cast of an immutable tradition. What I often wonder is, would she want me to?ThinkstockPhotos-491904538©ThinkStockPhotos

 

 

 

 

 

B and Me

I was looking into a still lake on a grey winter’s morning. Thinking about the first letter he wrote me. Of his childlike writing and unmasked feelings. Those simple words in flowing cursive would someday move me to tears like no written word ever could. The fog seemed to clear and staring back at me from the depths I saw a smile upon my face. It was the day love found me.

The cup of hot chocolate felt warm in my hands as I looked across the street. It was a cafe tucked away in a busy street on a hilltop somewhere. A book nestled in my lap, the drolleries of Lear reminded me of him. There he was looking at me as his ridiculous puns and his innocent eyes pulled me into their depths. The mirror from across my table watched as I laughed by myself lost in a memory. It was the day I found love.

That night the piano man played me our song. Every note was a part of our tale that echoed through my heart. From that dusty attic where I hid him I watched him walk up to me and ask for a dance. My mind waltzed across the floor and my soul took flight. His eyes were like I last saw them, a moonlit night preserved in paintings. It was the day love found me.

My diary lay open and my pen traced words onto the empty pages. The ink in tune with my heart. “You write of everyone and yet you never write of me”, he would mock me. How could I tell him his story is mine and without it I will always be incomplete. How could I show him those tear stained pages where he lives. It was the day I found love.

I was as incomprehensible to him as he to me. But like an Eagle’s nest on that far off cliff he was home to me.thelaketoday

Once upon an another time

Once upon an another time,

I found my forever grow with me.

I walked down a winding road,

When did dreams need a hand to hold? 

Cloudy days and rain washed streets,

Cigarettes and fallen leaves,

Tyre tracks and window sills,

Candy floss and carousels.

I walked alone and found my way,

Along that lonely mountain pass.

Tea cups and handle bars,

Sun kissed valleys and humming bees,

Silhouettes and starry skies,

Among them I stood, only me.

I climbed the hill only to find,

I left the child I knew behind.

No enemies to call my own,

No shadows on the porch calling me home,

No letters in the mailbox haunting me,

For I was free like a sailor at sea.

By myself on those summer nights,

I knew that was where I wanted to be.

Piano keys and paintbrushes,

Musty books and ink blotches,

Soaring eagles and scuttling mice,

In unexpected places I found paradise.

Once upon an another time

I found my forever grow with me.

Where I stood my world began,

And my past never haunted me.

I Found You

You, who smile when you find the moon looking at you as the clouds leave her face, like a veil being lifted. You sing of nightingales and forgotten things. You dance to a tune that plays in the orchestra of your mind. You, who appreciate the enormity of life and yet are humbled by its fleeting presence. I found you.

Your eyes are like looking into a galaxy of emotions, the Stars sparkle in the depths light years away. You hold me spellbound with that smile like a newborn babe. And all I ever want to do is smile with you.

We come from two worlds. You have seen more frugality and hardship and believed a prosperous world would be a better one. I had wallowed in excess and romanticised the notion of a more equal world. Our conversations were like a painting, never before had so much contrast existed in harmony. 

For the first time in a long time I waited in eager anticipation for the future to unfold. I knew it could hold sorrow that could sway me to madness but I knew there was a real possibility of finding happiness more profound than the stillness of a lake in a quiet countryside. Because I found you.

Your stories of home and everyday life made me smile at the innocence in your heart. Your simple yet eloquent embrace brought tears to my eyes. I have seen something so mesmerising in our midnight conversations like gazing upon a scene so intense the time stands still.

I found you unexpectedly. It was like soaring into the clear blue sky with the wind caressing my face. I found you when you were hurting  from losing another. I looked on to the swirling sea of pain within you and a wave pulled me into the darkness. 

And I lost you to a sea of faces as you disappeared into the crowd on a busy train station…

  

Fickle love

Her hand was her story and entwined with mine it was ours. And at 24 that hand still eludes me.

Romantic love has a way of making it into stories. Love can be acted out by the players in the Queen’s Court. Love can be destroyed by the sweat of the slaves who built the Taj Mahal. Love thrives in the hearts of a revolutionary hiding from the guards in a darkened alley. Love dances by the light of a flickering candle and a frayed book- narrating a story of freedom, equality and justice. Love dies on a battlefield with the last breath of every soldier. And love is reborn with the first cry of every child.

I implore you to not belittle this emotion with mindless gifts and empty promises. Don’t singe the fabric of this treasure shared by all that grows and breathes with your petty bickering. Don’t confine it to a day of shallow celebration.

If  you don’t realise that love is more than a ring at the bottom of a champagne glass. If you can’t fathom the idea of love existing in multitudes. If you can not understand why forced monogamy may not be what true love is. If you chose to believe love is found in sameness and that it is possible to fall out of love. It is you who  will never find it.

Because love doesn’t have to be forever to be. A gesture, a look, a word, a song, a dance can make the heart take flight. Love doesn’t glitter it shines-through the eyes of those who can feel it. It comes in many hues, like seeing light through a kaleidoscope. Love cannot be chained and it is not the beginning or the end. It might find you at a crossroads and it may not walk the path you chose to take.

Love may be a part of your story if you find it, but it is never the entirety of it. Our stories are not measured by the promise of forever but by the life we live and world we leave behind.

 

 

 

 

For everyday things

   The intricate pattern on the clay like the veins on a leaf. My submerged feet through the clear sparkling water. The light dancing off the scales of a fish as the bird dives in. The tinkling of the spring nearby and the rustling of the leaves. The companionship of far-away mountain peaks half covered in snow . The solitude of the wooden log as it floats silently with the current. The water as it hits the rocks and the spray on my face.

 The lazy afternoon with the solitary star and that blanket of blue. The floating wisps of water higher than the soaring eagle’s reach. The silent sentinels of a time long past the towers in the distance keep a watch. A sombre shade of grey cloaks the obelisk. Like sages who witnessed battles from times bygone they smile at the musings of a girl no more than five and twenty on the river bank.

The sounds of the bazaar that never cease. That lone strand of her hair comes undone and sways in the breeze. The groove in her back as it disappears beneath the folds of her red saree. The earthenware cast shadows tall and stately, the brass pots catch the rays from the setting sun. A girl hops along the dusty road her hair in pleats a frayed blue backpack and her dupatta fluttering with the breeze. The cuckoo flies home and the crickets  begin to sing. I lean on the wide bark of an old banyan tree and watch the fading sky. A rickety scooter with dark fumes runs past me as I walk back home.

  
The night brings the diamonds to light. It cloaks us in darkness so we can watch them shine. Like a sleeping animal the town is asleep, alive only in its quiet breathing. The streetlights cast a dim glow upon the pavement and somewhere a lone dog howls. The moon is but a sliver of its rounded self, it amuses me to watch it wane. The crowded rooftops dotted with temple spires spread across the valley like a fog on a winters morning.

As I watch a new year dawn I wish for the world to endure. Broken it may be, but it has given me a day of silent wonder because it is the little things that make life worth living. It is not for torrid love, it is not for end of terror or war, it is not for treaties of peace, it is not for scientific wonders that will hold me enthralled; it is for everyday things that I want the world to go on.

Lost in translation

They always ask why I chose so poorly when it comes to love. Why I don’t chose the guy at a karaoke bar who sings like Frank Sinatra and asks me to sing along. Why I don’t stay and chat with the boy in a bookstore, who saw me holding a copy of The Idiot and asks if I thought the unevenness of the story made it more whole. Why I don’t stand and listen to the student who sits on a bench by the art gallery playing his violin, even though the strings pull at the chords in my heart.

I don’t chose wisely because I fear love. The possibility that I might find someone who would ask me to dance with him in an empty ballroom or a newly bought studio apartment. That he might have his favourite bedtime poem for nights when sleep evades him, that someday it might lull me to sleep. That I would one day hold his hand sitting side by side on rocking chairs out on the porch and listen to the crickets. It’s like that one frequency of sound which resonates with every crystal in the glass before it shatters. It is those shards I fear because they are impossible to put back together. 

 I imagine that feeling every night before I go to bed. Yes I am a romantic if you hadn’t guessed by now. But every morning as the sun shines through the blinds I put my dream to rest. It does peek out from the grave quite unexpectedly. That I might have met him sometime somewhere but I chose to walk away. That even though I sing like a crow I should have taken his hand as he reached out while singing “if you go away.”  That I didn’t ask him if he identified with the Prince or that he wondered if he world sometimes feels so full yet so desolate? That I chose to walk past and never gave the music a chance to thaw my frozen heart.

I chose instead that which cannot comprehend my love. That which cannot hold me captive to its tune. I chose that soul so foreign that it’s words are always lost in translation. I chose that which I couldn’t love even if I tried. So my heart remains and there it shall lie buried in my chest till the day I die.

  

The art of lying

I love you.

 You looked away.

Was I joking? You ask.

Yes. Of course. Love is for mermaids and barbies. Love is not for me. It is an incomprehensible mystery that doesn’t interest me. I have watched too many backs walk into the distance. I know, forever is a mythical three eyed beast.

 Yes you say. You deny its existence and put off meeting it till eternity.

You call me your friend. Do you want the title? You mock me with those uncertain eyes.

 No I don’t! Because I love an empty bed in the mornings. I never think of fooling around in the kitchen on a Sunday. Just us. Never. I don’t want to run my fingers through your hair and watch you smile in your sleep. The thought of you reading me a poem as I drift into a dream. With your voice rolling in the distance amongst the threads of my imagination. Why would I want those things?

Nobody in your life knows I exist. You never said it. But I knew. You were always holding back. I take time letting people in. You said.

You were always hidden. Like that garden guarded by walls I could not scale. I have a wall too, every brick is a scar. I was that girl who had her heart put back together so many times, she didn’t know it could work again. But I had a back door because I had hope. And through that I let you in. To you I must be a monster because I never found yours.

  
But there were gaps you couldn’t seal. I saw that lonely heart through your timid gaze. When I looked away and felt your eyes on me I saw a yearning. When you thought I was drunk and won’t remember you told me you didn’t trust easily, I knew you were fighting to keep me out and let me in. When you called me because we hadn’t seen each other in days, I knew my voice made you smile. You were my secret garden. 

Does it bother you? You asked one day. Not knowing me well enough?

No. I am not inquisitive. I saw glimpses of you and created the rest. But knowing will ruin it. Knowing you are flawed like me. Knowing you run wild like overgrown weeds. Knowing you dream of ridiculous things. Knowing you are capable of love. But incapable of loving me.

So I lied.

Unfinished conversations

“There is flattery in friendship” – William Shakespeare.

I don’t know if you remember, but the first time we talked it was about literature. You said you love Shakespeare’s comedy plays. And all I could do was smile.

You seemed to like Indian ghazals. I did not tell you I cry every time I listen to “kagaz ki kashti”. Or that sometimes i dream of that unknown silhouette and a midnight seranade with an old Hindi song I heard over the radio.

You are the only person (without dentures or wrinkles) who knows a perfect cup of tea is a work of art.

I know you have your own version of literary characters. I often wonder how different your Anna Karenin is from mine. Every time someone mentions Sherlock Holmes do you conjure him out of thin air and does it remind you of the smell of pipe tobacco?

Sometimes I wish I didn’t hide behind a veil of *everything blonde*! I will never find out if you like moments of silent meditation.

Paris in the rain or the sound of hoofs on paved London streets? Lonely passes in the Himalayas or the parathewali galli in Chandni Chowk?

You know the subtle beauty of old age. It is not the profound wisdom but the toothless smile of innocence. That is why our grandparents are our best friends.

I met a dreamer and did not ask if his dreams ever came true.

These unfinished conversations will haunt me forever. Of Philosophical discussions, of favourite Rusty stories, of tea on a rainy day, of sunsets and valleys.

Goodbye and good luck.

B



The scarlet letter

Shards of glass all around me,

An eye streaked with tears,

Dark mascara staining the bloodless cheek

Bright red lips silently trembling.

 

 

I can’t sit still, for soon I die;

In my ashes I shall be free.

 

 

A heart that beats woefully,

Betrayal and incomprehension weighing it down.

A mind lost to a hurricane of thoughts,

Fragmented memories and frightening scenes.

 

 

I can’t sit still, for soon I die;

In my ashes I shall be free

 

 

Voices outside my head talk to those inside,

Caught in the crossfire I lie unable to move.

My lifeless hand with that scarlet A looks up at me,

A pool of blood and the ravings of a madwoman.

 

 

I can’t sit still, for soon I die;

In my ashes I shall be free

 

 

The whiskey bottle and my pen, beacons through the fading vision,

And I write on that paper. Ink. Blood. Tears.

Your scornful words, your despising words,

They find my language incomprehensible.

 

 

I can’t sit still, for soon I die;

In my ashes I shall be free.

 

 

It was base of me to have lived my youth,

When it is honourable for you to overlook heinous crimes?

It was selfish of me to have danced in merriment and give in to hopeless abandon,

When you scared innocence out of your heart?

 

 

I can’t sit still, for soon I die;

In my ashes I shall be free

 

 

I blame you not! In my letter, I write of my soul

The endless ocean, the crashing waves,

The unyielding desert, stillness and silence.

The night sky, each light, a smile, a tear from my lonely life flicker.

 

 

I can’t sit still, for soon I die;

In my ashes I shall be free

 

 

For my soul is untouched like a new born babe.

The dignity of my body, lost to your talk.

Enslaved my freedom, chained to that look of disdain.

 

 

I can’t sit still, for soon I die;

In my ashes I shall be free

 

 

You see me for who I am but don’t comprehend,

I am freer than a bird, I soar higher than an eagle.

My story, not scandalous as you claim, it is but like the sky.

warmth of a sunny day, cloaked in darkness of a moonless night.

 

 

I can’t sit still, for soon I die;

In my ashes I shall be free

 

 

One sheet of paper, smudged at places,

All there will be, this is my memory.