Hard candy for Diwali

I knew I was going to regret today the minute I woke up. A strong cloud of foreboding hung over my head and after almost a year I found myself craving for a Chocalate Ganache. My stomach tore in desire as I searched my fridge for anything, anything fattening or gluttonous or sinful. All I found were ragi flavored breakfast bars.

I stuffed the bar in my mouth and flakes of bland ragi dropped on my white tee. How did I ever eat this shit for 365 days? I thought. I kept stuffing not one, not two but three of those bars down my throat and simultaneously dusting off the big flakes off my clothes.

Bam, at the stroke of noon my mobile shrilled with Meghan Trainor singing that it was all about her base. The call was from mummy. She was demanding why I was not at her place helping her with all the cooking and other shit that always needs to be done.

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By the time she was done yelling at me, which was exactly 15 minutes, I was in an creased red chudidaar with a torn dupatta. I knew I could cleverly conceal the tear if I wore the dupatta right.

Another fifteen minutes of almost empty roads, I entered my parent’s home. Some may call it a mansion, I called it the fancy house of terrors, mostly because my mother lived there. As I entered the drive way I saw a red santro that belonged to my sister and her two kids. There was another that belonged to my widowed aunt and finally Munna uncle’s land rover, my mother’s younger brother.

I groaned, loud enough that the mansion’s watchman jerked towards me, twisted his head and gave me the “Are you alright, lady?” stare.

The living room smelled like a strange concoction of diya oil, motichor laddoos, marigold flowers and the stench of cigarettes. One sweep across the room and I took in my mother screaming at my twelve year old niece to be nice to Munna nanu, my sister screaming at mummy to leave her alone, my father screaming at them to take their bickering elsewhere because Arnab was debating about the steel flyover, my six year old nephew crashing into my pelvis and my aunt, who sat knitting sweaters in Bangalore with a glass of red wine.

In that instance I knew the reason for my daylong foreboding, this family, these people who I had managed to escape for last three years, working abroad. With a sinking feeling I realised I was back where I started.

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What Else Do You See?

Saw him in a Jason Mask at the Halloween party last week, walked over and greeted, “Hi”, but there was no response. “So … ”, I said, from under my devil’s mask, my pitch trying to cut through the stereo woofing by the window, “I am Zach and you are?”

He walked away, out through the main door and disappeared somewhere near the driveway.

Called my girlfriend, “Sweetie, come over here”, she came close, half tipsy, breath smelling like vodka and cigarette, tail wagging like Catwoman, “Do you know who came to our party in a Jason Mask?”download

“In a what?”

“In a Jason Mask”

“What’s that? Are you drunk?”

“I am not drunk,” I said, pulled off my Devil’s mask and kept it on the corner table, “You are drunk … and Jason Mask is … have you not seen Friday the 13th?” Continue reading

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

The Date

“You look lovely, by the way. The profile picture, doesn’t do you any justice, you know.” He says.

Ah fuck, the hopeful look in his puppy dog eyes tell me that I need to return the compliment. I scrutinise him hard, I mean, there must be something I could compliment him on.

He is big, muscular. Clearly he works out, a lot. His beard; stands out in a disarray of tiny hair that just could not decide what direction to take. His hair is gelled; gelled to the point that each spike reminds me of a mini Eiffel tower.

He is wearing a white V-neck t-shirt covered with a grey woollen blazer; a blood red silk handkerchief stuffing down his breast pocket.

What is it that the fashion whores call those things? I think. Ah yes, a pocket square.

 “That’s a nice pocket square.” I say. Smiling brilliantly, a smile I am sure does not reach my eyes, hell; I don’t even think it reaches my cheekbones.

“Well thanks, darling. I am glad you noticed.” He returns my smile and speaks in a low baritone that is meant to indicate sophistication and class. He probably expects my knees to wobble, my heart to flutter like a humming bird, my body to surge with electric energy and my pussy to melt on his face.

Seducing beautiful woman looking at her lover with wine glass.

But all he gets is a smirk followed by a burp.

I should’ve known that, a starter of deep fried calamaris, was a recipe for burps and farts. Already my stomach complains at the onslaught of that sea dwelling urchin and I know I will have to pay a visit to washroom.

What is it that those elitist whores call it? I think. Ah yes, the powder room.

“Looks like the hors d’oeuvre do not agree with you, my love.” He is amused by the burp and the shock on my face there after.

“Looks like you are right.” I say. I am too classy to ask him what the fuck hors d’oeuvre means; but not that classy, because I decide that I will be saving his number on my phone as ‘The French Whore’.

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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.

 

Pretty Fucking Please?

“Did you do something with your hair? It looks like you kinda did … you did right? It used to be all, I don’t know, wavy, somewhat curly. Right? It looks like it is more straight now … and wait … is it correct to say more straight or is it supposed to be straighter? And straighter? Is that how you say it? Straighter? Is that even a word? I don’t know. Anyway … how … how have you been?”

So that was a no-brainer, I was over-compensating for the damage by doing the awkward talk and she said, “Really? You called me all the way here to talk about my hairdo?”

I sagged in the chair. On my way to the coffee shop, I had already had an entire, fuck this, fuck that, fuck you conversation with myself, but as soon as I saw her, I, by the very own default nature of mine, wanted to be nice; give her a hug, ruffle her hair, tell her she is beautiful and all that. Basically, my feeling was: hello? Can we end this already? It is too much for me to handle, plus, I kinda, sorta, miss you.

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And after the long pause and more awkwardness, she decided to flinch her eyebrows, which I thought was an inappropriate reflex and also somewhat late in arrival. And then she removed her glasses, placed it on the table and said, “So when was the last time you’d actually noticed my hair?” Continue reading

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