Can we please talk about things that matter?

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I know you’re gay and you know I am gay.

Correction: I don’t think I’m gay or that you’re gay or that jerking off (almost exclusively) to hairy dudes makes anyone one. You know the customary talk about having subtler straighter shades to your sexuality, I subscribe to those views too. I see ‘gay’ as a cultural identity that I don’t identify with or don’t want to identify with. I suppose you have similar concerns although we both know that our TV/Movie diet has always been rich in Vitamin-Gay. We’ve both talked obliquely about guys we’ve kinda-sorta fancied, and of course girls we’ve obviously fancied or who have fancied us back. I know you’ve gay friends whom you must have met through shady channels. You’ve introduced me to some of them, and so have I, but the-unspoken is a dark scary pool of void of questions like how-did-you-meet and when and where and for-what and is-that-all. Questions that enfeeble our crumbling moral stance, questions that don’t let us be who we ought to be. I know you play the gay-or-not game on every new guy you meet (or used to, I don’t know if marriage has changed that.) I know your life is a performance and that you’ve become your performance. I know you wouldn’t ever agree to being who you are because you’re always morphing into socially safer forms snuggling deep into warm nooks where there’s family and family dinners and sunny family getaways. Continue reading

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Friend with a Question Mark

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“This doesn’t feel right” he says.

“It doesn’t have to”

You want to say more and your face does that twitchy thing it does when you’re lying but it doesn’t matter because you’ve just switched off the lights in your roof garden, it’s well past midnight and he’s looking away and it isn’t until he lights the joint that you would meet his eyes.

Weed doesn’t work its magic on you but you didn’t smoke much either. He had to pluck it out of your hand after you coughed hysterically, collapsing on the ground beside a cactus pot. You are surprised by your theatricality, you’ve put worse things in your mouth out of sheer curiosity. You’re afraid your curiosity is merely a euphemism for something dark and twisted. He doesn’t need to know any of that and neither should you need to know anything about his life. Life is long and complicated and you feel lucky for being in this moment.

It was only yesterday though, when you were anything but delighted – you were pissed that you’d reach home to find someone in there already, a pair of eyes, a pair of limbs, a pair of ears, someone breathing in the same space as you. You have to learn to be live with people, your mom had said on the phone, stressing every word, but she’d corrected herself soon enough, cautioning you not to do any drugs-wugs and you were angry about that as well, or at least you wanted to be.

But on your way home through that night, you felt a pang of thrill knowing that you were headed towards something, that you were not hurtling with your eyes closed into a cold dead space as always, that someone was waiting for you in your house, walking around and breathing and touching objects that have known no human but you.

You’re relieved to discover that you can be silent around him and he can be silent around you but you try to be funny when you can and he tries to laugh and you both pretend not to take anything seriously. You’ve never learnt your lessons in intimacy but he looks broken too – why would he be here, otherwise?

Three nights through and you’re convinced he smokes for a good night’s sleep. He asks you whether you’ve watched that movie that you’d played for him that night four years ago when he was too high and you forced him to sleep over at your place. You tell yourself that he lives in the moment but truly, you’re swept by a wave of sadness, and a crumbling bitterness for you have, on a good number of nights, reminisced about that night you’d watched that movie together. It used to be a memory worth revisiting but only for you.

There comes another night, and he’s used to sharing his joint with you. You’re on the roof garden again, with your back on the floor, lying next to each other and he’s whispering his recurrent epiphany about the chasm between the phenomenal world and the ‘actual’ world.

“It isn’t about building more houses and raising children and slogging for months in cubicles and grocery shopping and sex and obesity and hero worship and politics and… ”

You yawn in the minute it takes for him to choose the next word. “Reality TV.”

Reality is starkly different, he says, and you cannot disagree.

What to make of the presence of an old friend in your life occupies your mind to and fro from work. You were happy to have had to call him up from work, asking him to be available when the delivery boy comes with groceries you’d ordered before you left for work, not because of the convenience of it but because it made you sound like everyone else who had a life. You are twenty five and insecure and hopeful and afraid and silly and lustful.

You’re sad he’s taken away your depressing omegle hours, that you can’t croon Adele’s ‘Don’t You Remember’ in the shower anymore, that you can’t sleep only in your coffee-beans boxers and nude-dance to Katy Perry’s ‘This is How We Do It’ in the kitchen. You’re glad though, that you have a reason now to stop imagining bringing that hot guy who stays 898 meters away from you overnight. His nickname is ‘Soulmate’ with a question mark and he blocked you when you refused to send your ‘pic’ to him citing the oft-cited ‘I can’t chat with faceless profiles’ excuse but you’re convinced something gave away your ugliness and desperation before he could take a look at your sloppy pimply face. It probably broke your heart but you couldn’t stop fantasizing about him. You wonder sometimes whether his prompt refusal relieved you of a greater pain that you might have had to endure had he taken interest in what some like to call your little ‘quirks’ (which tend to be either cute or annoying, depending on things out of your control). You can fantasize about him now because it’s all in your head and it’s all within your reach.

You’re at the Corner House three blocks away from your house. You chose your apartment over a swankier option because it was two blocks away from Gold’s Gym and for once in your life, you wanted to make healthy lifestyle choices. Three months after having moved here, you’re still a treadmill-virgin and the last time you probably broke a sweat was when you ate an entire tub of mango ice-cream. You visit Corner House every weekend and they know your order (it’s not mango anymore) before you state it and are now probably surprised to find you have company today.

A voice in your head tells you that maybe it’s all in your head. Maybe you’re lonely only in your head, and no one actually sees you as a lonely person, because although they don’t have reasons to believe otherwise, they barely notice you or think about you. You look happy, you always do or at least you don’t look sad or have the words to talk about your sadness because it isn’t sadness or happiness but just a gaping absence of either. They don’t know, as they watch you eat your Caramel Cashew Delight, that you watched ‘Toy Story-3’ again last night because you knew it would make you weep uncontrollably and that it did.

He asks you if you’ve any plans that he’s coming in the way of. It’s Saturday. You sense that he’s not looking for a yes as an answer, that this is a cruel inquiry into your abject loneliness and lack of social life. You tell him your friends are all abroad, that it was more ‘fun’ years ago when you were all just out of college and stayed together. You’ve never stayed with friends even when you were pretty sure you had at least one acquaintance whom you could reasonably call a friend. You have had friends in childhood, which is a different life altogether, when the criteria for friendship was proximity and availability to play the same sport as you but lately, the plural of ‘friend’ gives you a funny jolt in your stomach. You tell him your friends are at ASU, UCLA, Illinois, Penn State. You’re fabricating a social life in real-time, re-visiting Instagram feeds of your classmates, preparing yourself for pointed questions about their life and your time together. You do have a friend at ASU but it miffs you that you are the kind of person who questions whether he’s still friends with someone who chats with him at 3 AM about what he did over the weekend. Gladly, he does not implore further.

He has been at your place for a week now and you’re running out of reasons to stay away. You don’t know why and you don’t want to question your motives. You work long hours. You take longer walks in supermarkets. You even visit the once if only to enquire about their plans (that you may as well have perused online at your leisure) and whether they have an in-house qualified nutritionist consultant and whether they host Zumba and aerobics sessions. You spend hours with coffee cups and ghee roast dosas. You hop from restaurant to restaurant and there’s no dearth of food that makes you more fat and miserable and keeps even the lesser Soulmate-with-Question-Marks out of your reach. When you reach home, you tell him you’ve had dinner. You feel the guilt every night but he appears unconcerned and maybe you deserved to find this out the hard way – that he doesn’t mind not having your company, that he merely needs a place to crash until an actual friend comes by to replace your clumsy attempts at intimacy.

You call your mom and tell her how pissed you are at not having any ‘personal space’. He’s your friend, she tells you and you feel reassured. She reminds you again, not to do any drugs-wugs.

It’s 8 PM when he texts you that he’s leaving. It’d take you an hour to reach and he can’t wait that long. He says he’d keep the keys with the neighbor aunty.

You knew this day would come. You knew you’d be on your way home one night to find it empty. You wish you could lie on your back on the cold floor of your roof garden. He’d be by your side, reluctantly offering you a joint, saying how it doesn’t feel right. He’d see you as he saw you a decade or more ago when you were a different person. You would one day come to rank this fantasy over the one about meeting Soulmate with a question mark.

 

Facial Hair

 

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I woke up with a full-fledged beard. Lush, unruly, reckless. I stood before the mirror, stroking it, trying to come to terms with the man I had ceased to be – the man with at best a week’s accrual of patchy stubble. I nudged the bathroom door shut to the studio apartment outside, muting its early morning smallness, containing myself to the confines of this room with its slick blue slippery tiles, steamy air and an indifferent white glow of the light bulb. With that beard, a smattering of hair on my chest and those idle pecs, I could pass for a married man. A young father.

Neighborhood women peek through the curtains at me, as I walk my daughter to the school, imagining, I’d like to believe, what I would be like in bed. We stay in a quiet locality with broad streets lined with tall trees. In the evening, the kids are often out on the streets to play. My daughter is five. I take her out for a walk except on Sundays when her mother takes her to the park near my in-laws’ place. On Sundays, I smoke. That Sunday, I was up on the terrace, smoking, and getting some fresh air. The sky was open and the air carried a certain chill. I ambled about, panning a dizzying vista of lit windows, watching families at dinner table, or in the living room watching TV. Continue reading

A Night Of Vegan Cheese

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“You know he’s the kind of guy who free-balls to the grocery store”, I could almost picture him as I said this, standing within my arm’s reach in a pool of pulsating sex-vibes, “… straight out of the tennis court, with a modest intimation of sweat and pheromones but nothing too overwhelming; clean but also dirty, composed but also holding back something you want to get hold of; with a gym bag and a big headphone; his hair short, soft and prickly to touch; his chin sharp as a ledge dotted with a stubble that’d drive you insane if it brushes against your neck like this…” I rubbed her neck with my wrist but regretted almost immediately for it was wet with the grime of a long summer day, “…his arms smooth and supple, and his eyes big and eager but also deep and Continue reading

The Thirty-Year-Old Virgins

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Divya assured herself, despite a burning dubiety, that she’d reached a significant milestone in her relationship with Aditya when, on a late Saturday night, her antsy phone buzzed with a storm of messages from Aditya. A cold inexplicable fear gipped her heart as she clutched the phone and scrolled through the stream of messages. Aditya’s love for poetry, or rather what he believed to be poetry, was notorious in the posse of aspiring writers who met every Saturday in a derelict café in North Bangalore. Divya wouldn’t have taken to him if she could take to anyone else but being a year shy of turning into a thirty-year-old virgin, Divya knew all too well the seething urgency of falling in love. She had begun with mild doses of admiration weaved intricately into casual conversations – finding the most opportune moments to call his fiction Kafkaesque or finding his jarring asymmetric poetic compositions venomously post-modern. Every praise was a chuckle pickled and preserved and it spread a sourness in her heart every time he blushed. She would overcome with pity – for the poor boy but more so for herself, and guilt and sorrow and a cruel screaming gaiety and it’d leave her wiping her hands with the tissue-paper for a minute too long as if she’d been plunged into a deep undersea cavern by the impact of his work of ground-breaking ingenuity. She’d then make a quiet show of getting back to normality – by pretending, for instance, not to have heard the last sliver of conversation or visibly forcing a laugh – and appear briefly flustered as if she’d witnessed sharp inerasable visions of other-worldly love-making with the man himself. Continue reading

An Old Carton

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“Sweets, get going!!  We’re all waiting for you.”

“All?”

“Just come, will you? The heat is killing me, I’m going to kill you if you don’t come over in five.”

Would she be with them? The Chitra Basu. In her faded floral palazzo pants billowing in the warm summer wind, cat-eye sunglasses catching the glare of the sun and her lush locks shrouding half her beautiful face, brushing her supple pink unpainted lips. I picked my handbag, stashed some notes from the drawer, snatched the keys, locked the door and walked out before I could allow myself to hold back and hesitate. Continue reading

Dopey Hopes

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Morning shower used to be fun. Research says that lonely people spend longer hours in warm showers. Now my only sliver of solace and warmth is disrupted by calls from the cab-drivers. They assign a different cab-driver every day and every driver is a new nightmare. Despite satellites tracking and streaming my precise location right into his goddamn phone, the driver inevitably prefers to call me up and – against a backdrop of dire honking – I must explain in excruciating detail the herculean journey he must undertake to reach me at Number 12, 17th Main.

The commute is too long for the distance but too short for me to listen to music. I don’t like music because music is a lie. When you don a headphone, you’re immersing yourself in a lie but when you must immerse yourself in a lie, it’s a shame when you can’t immerse yourself long enough. Continue reading