coconut tree from pinterest

As far as tales go, this was not a very interesting one. When Sumalatha decided to grow her hair out, it was already halfway down her back and the decision did not mean very much. She made the declaration halfway through eating a particularly oily uniappam. The coconut oil that coated her fingers might have been a reminder of the numerous wonderful properties of that sweet smelling oil- including long and lustrous hair. Now see, this wasn’t a particularly remarkable observation either because she had been using coconut oil twice a week all her life. There was coconut oil in the beans thoran she loved, in the deep-fried pappadams, in batter fried pazham pori, in the ground chilli and onion she had with tapioca. There was coconut oil in the banana chips she secretly hid inside her pillowcase, a handful stolen in the afternoons when amamma slept. Amamma loved her banana chips and she selfishly preserved the one tin she received thrice a year for occasional treats. They never lasted very long and a delicious  crunch on a night of heavy rains revealed their secret hiding place underneath Sumalatha’s lustrous hair. The rains came in November, Sumalatha didn’t have the time or temerity to remember to move the banana chips when amamma terrified of the thunder snuggled in with her. She received a good beating and the tin of chips was moved to amamma’s locker of gold, Dubai sweets and now its newest oily occupant. Coming back to Sumalatha’s decision, the other thing we find perfectly unremarkable is that she continued eating the uniappam, the sweetness of the jaggery dissolving all resolutions. She wrapped one in the ends of her saree, to be safely tucked into the pillow cover later at night, and wiped her oil soaked hands on her long lustrous coconut-smelling hair.

That night Sumalatha remembered why she decided to grow her hair out. It was Silk really, Silk did it all. The previous occupant of the musty room she now slept in had left little clue of who he was until she found the stash. The stash was found in two parts like an exciting jigsaw puzzle that didn’t fit together perfectly even when both parts were found. Nari, amamma always said, was a quiet man who passed away just as quietly. He had left behind a transistor radio that didn’t work, and a mirror decorated with yellow, green and red paint marks. Sumalatha was not particularly attached to the room, she was only ever there at night. And the nights were brief, with room only for sleep and the occasional fantasy or two. Sumalatha did not fantasise very much. Until Silk of course. And then she fantasised about hair and strange mustachioed men and their large hands and broad shoulders, she dreamt of the burn of cigarette butts and pudgy fingers  between her legs.

Sumalatha had ordinary eyes, ordinary lips, a small button nose and a child’s body. She was fifteen years old or maybe nineteen, she wasn’t sure anymore. But the man who climbed the coconut tree thought she was a woman, so she must be fifteen. Or nineteen. She had come to this house when she was not a woman and had lived with ammamma and a house with seven empty rooms since then. Not many people came to the house, and she didn’t remember anyone from Bangalore who she thought should have come and visited her. Amamma did not speak much until she spoke a lot, and then she was fascinating until she ran out of her cup of tea and pappadam. There was a monthly ice cream trip to the town- one cup of vanilla ice cream that she licked clean. On her birthday she got the pink vanilla ice cream. The groceries arrived in tins and packets that someone had already opened and filled and taken things out of and put things in. She didn’t know from where. Vegetables came from the man who climbed the coconut tree. Bananas came from the small field behind the house. Amamma had black hair but was old and she still did all the cooking. Sumalatha only swept and mopped the house, once at 4 in the morning and then again at 9 before she took bath and then again at 5 in the evening before she took bath. She oiled her hair only in the mornings when amamma could boil hot water. Before she found Silk, she combed her hair only once a day. Now she combs her hair twice, even thrice sometimes. Once she had dried her hair in the sun in the morning, she flipped her hair down and pulled at each knot till her hair grew bigger and bigger. When she flipped it back, it sat like a large black halo that flowed down her back. She got ten minutes to let her hair down and then she had to comb it and tie it for the rest of the day.

Before sleeping at night, she used to plait her hair. After Silk, she left it open spread across the pillow with coconut stains on them. Amamma said that if you left your hair untied at night, yakshis would get caught in it. Paru had a baby with the man who climbed the coconut tree because she left her hair open at night. But for Sumalatha, Silk had gotten into her hair. She found her behind the Godrej bureau two months ago when her little pot of kajal rolled under it. Cutouts of the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. Her first instinct was to look away, because Silk did not look like a good girl. But she couldn’t. Every picture was a revelation – of a thigh, of a waist, of the hollow the spine made in the middle of her back, of her large bosom and her strangely slim arms. This was the first discovery. The second piece of the puzzle required a lot more effort. After two weeks of staring at Silk under the kerosene lamp, Sumalatha wanted more. She rummaged every bit of the room until she found the stash of magazines Silk came from. Behind the red, green and yellow paint-stained mirror. The magazines had a lot of other women, but Sumalatha knew why Nari had cut Silk’s pictures out. She was exceptional. The second discovery revealed a very important detail the pictures left out. The stories that came with Silk’s pictures always described her hair. Her beautiful long lustrous black hair that fell over her face, covered her bosom, reached down to her waist and made men forget their moustaches. She did things Sumalatha had never heard or seen women do. The men did things she knew the man who climbed the coconut tree would never have done to Paru. Paru said afterall that it was all just a mistake and they just fell asleep together in Jacob achayan’s field. This was no mistake though, and night after glorious night Sumalatha imagined stories of Silk and the men, carefully trying to picture what ‘the mangoes were ripe for the plucking’ meant or what ‘his manly weapon drilled into her passion-filled flower’ might be in the ‘garden of youthful delights’. Amamma began to complain about her day beginning late because Sumalatha hadn’t woken up to sweep the house at four. Well how could she, when Silk had consumed her nights.

On Sunday, when the man who climbed the tree came to the house, Sumalatha went up to him and offered a mango. He took a bite and his face contorted into several degrees of sour, just like the mango. “Puli!” he said and threw it down. It fell down as he climbed up the tree. Sumalatha decided the mango was not ripe for the plucking after all. That night she read her favourite story of Silk’s yet. In this one, the mustachioed man drove a lorry. The lorry was called, ‘Chakkara’, whose gentle purrs were just as seductive as its roars. On TV, Sumalatha’s favourite actor also drove a lorry in a hit film. She imagined this man to be that man. Both were mustachioed and had arms as strong as an elephant. Lorry man meets Silk, a common servant girl working in a paddy field on a day when Chakkara the lorry gets a punctured tyre. The farmer who owns the paddy field sends Silk out to entertain the lorry man while he gets his men to fix the puncture. Silk feeds him crispy fried fish and freshly tapped toddy. “Chakkare, roar for me” he calls out to her. As she turns, her eyes wide in enquiry he smiles and points at his lorry, “I was talking to her.” Silk smiles and walks toward him, her hair magically coming undone in the wind just as  the hooks of her blouse pop open, and offers him a mango for dessert. At this point Sumalatha realised that her blouse was much too loose and her hair was tied up when she offered the mango to coconut man.

The next day was the day Sumalatha ate the uniappam and thought about the coconut oil oozing out of it and made her decision. You see, right before she thought of her hair she also realised that even if her blouse did pop open the coconut man would find her mango sour. He had looked down at her from up in the tree many times and had disappointedly looked away. She didn’t have Silk’s eyes or her body or that waist or that bosom, but she did have her hair. So she decided to grow it out and wait till the next monsoons. The mangoes would be ripe then.

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A List of : Assata Shakur(?) posters

erasure by omission

click on image

 

back to safety

peacockhen

In 2013 things were different from what it would be in 2014, but this I did not know in 2013, which was also a year of discoveries. I discovered that she did not wear coloured bras, only white and black and one beige. The black itself made her feel scandalous she said, but she wore it as a secret and hid it in the bottom of her shelf- she did not say from whom she kept this a secret. I also discovered that she said the word ‘bra’ in a whisper as if the bra kept falling out of the sentence. I said I only wore black bras. This, against the wisdom of my mother who bought me these bras insisting that I buy another colour because ‘everyone has black bras, they’ll steal yours’. In 2013 I also made another bold decision, to buy black satin underwear. It looked like nothing and felt silken and slippery. It was this new purchase that had in the first place started the conversation of the whispered black bra.

It was also the same year that we decided to buy our bras ourselves, coloured ones even. Of course we never did.
Later in 2016 when I would first experience not wearing a bra, I will think of what a painful excursion it would have been to buy bras in whispers. In this same year I first saw pasties and knew it wouldn’t warrant even a whisper, but stark disapproval of its very existence! Even in beige.
 It was during the second half of 2013 that a cow butted me from behind, causing me to roll over onto the road and lie for a few minutes in utter disbelief. The blunt horn had also torn into my favourite top, leaving a square of cloth limply hanging from the rest of the fabric. I remember limping back home ears burning, wondering whether she could see my blue bra from the little torn window on my back. I decided later that she would take time, if ever, to find the right pitch and tone for a blue bra.
It was the same year she had trouble breathing. In between deep raspy breaths, she sat at the edge of the bed telling me she went shopping with her sister. Blue bra, raspy breath.
Meanwhile I got my torn top sown, bright pink bordered square on the bright green fabric. In 2015, when my blue bra got stolen and reappeared on my next door neighbour’s clothesline I would wear my bright green top.
In 2014, I discovered through sheer accident that she was seeing someone. Through 2014 and 2015 there would be no conversation in whispers or otherwise, until the day my blue bra disappeared.
I discovered that year that she no longer whispered the word bra, but laughed and laughed about a cow having butted me two years ago.
p on swing
what about edward gorey

what about gardens . what about names . what about clothes without pockets

what about the little finger . what about quotes . what about book covers

what about water bottles . what about names with two syllables . what about twins
what about the chair . what about queen and king-sized beds . what about trees
what about photographs
what about monographs
what about microscopes
what about the seconds hand . what about 12 o’clock . what about mirrors
what about fabric and textile . what about notebook . what about blinking light
what about Maxim Gorky
what about two times two . what about chocolate . what about colouring books
what about fill-in-the-blanks . what about circles . what about the index finger
what about wire . what about radio
what about font
what about sundown . what about bath . what about horror films
what about windows . what about columns and rows . what about shadow
what about gobo . what about ‘many moons ago’ . what about mango
what about pulleys and levers
what about curtains . what about holes
what about brown
munch woman
Edvard Munch, Woman in Three Stages

Two apples rotten, one orange sour, two mangoes ripe

 Pick the sour orange first, peel it
Squeeze the juice out, sugar and a pinch of salt.
Keep the rind, throw the seeds.
Offer an apple to a cousin, the other to a lover.
Leave both uneaten apples as memories of slight.
Ashes and oil lamps keep the fruit flies away.
Two mangoes ripe,
Two mangoes ripe,
Eat a mango over the sink,
Let a lover watch, keep the other mango away.
The juice of the orange has frozen.
Offer a sour orange popsicle to a child
Tart, smile a secret smile.
Powder the orange into dust
Let a lover watch,
thin peeled orange paste on your face.
One mango ripe, cold and sweet
There’s none in the fridge, not in the fruit basket
The apple’s covered in ash and lamp oil
Popsicle stick covered with ants in the bin
The lover is asleep
A kiss of sweet mango, a sourness on his lips
A slim kitchen blade, to peel mangoes and cut apples
Slice the lover live, sweet mango on his lips

ginger tea

It was late, really late in the evening when he called. The conversation was quick, unusually quick. My response was ready, carefully written out and repeated in mind over and over again for three days now. At the end, it took no time at all. It must have been our most efficient meeting in all of seven months of working together. In good time the blog will be split down the middle- ‘text.image.’ , it says now. Text will become mine, Image his. A smooth parting.

After the ‘meeting’, I went downstairs to make some good strong ginger tea. A fraction of an image shot through my mind and out with a shudder – a glimpse of the tiny kitchen and electric stove top. Achan sat on the sofa, the same spot he had occupied all morning and everyday for the past four years. He didn’t look up, he didn’t hear anything as I walked past the living room and into the kitchen. Moving into a small flat, I thought would mean more contact between us- albeit forced. I didn’t think either of us would look forward to it. Amma’s leaving only meant the distance was furthered, to long uncomfortable silences.

The tea powder was over. The tea powder never did get over when she was here. It was as if everything would always be where I hoped to find it. A little dance, right hand up for the tea box, left hand up for the sugar box, a swirl and turn for the Good Life from the fridge. I decided to make tea without the tea powder. There was ginger, that little sturdy bit of it leftover from the stir-fry two days ago. It was fresh and smelled sharp. I soaked it for ten minutes in boiling hot water. When Achan is not at home, I play music, my phone travels with me to the bathroom, to the kitchen, to the balcony in the rain. Mostly music and the periodic vibration of perfunctory text messages. Now it’s silence. He’s taken to reading again, achan. It’s a good thing I suppose, but the noise of the tv used to help distract us from our silences. Her voice would be the loudest, amma’s. When I was still in school, I would wait to hear the rumble of the bike and her loud bubbling laughter till I switched off the tv and ran upstairs. Seconds later I would be walking down, as if unaware of the quick flight and practised deceit. Half a conversation and a half dozen bursts of laughter would trail behind her as she walked in. Everything about her was quick, except her smiles. She changed out of the saree and into her favourite puff-sleeved maxi even as she made tea for the two of them. She discovered the empty biscuit tins even as she cut vegetables. Her presence was a jolt of energy and the only thing I’d look away from my endless novels for.

The fights had been ceaseless for the past couple of months. The blog was soundless for a month now, unwilling to bear the brunt of the viciousness that had creeped between us. We knew it would end, just as the blog did. An abrupt, non-conclusive end. I poured the ginger ‘tea’ into a cup and slipped out of the kitchen and past achan staring at a dead TV. When they first bought the TV, it was too big for the glorious wooden showcase that adorned an ugly yellow wall. It lay unused for two years till achan decided to cut the top half off(the showcase, not TV) and leave it in the balcony. The same place the swing, the exercise machine, a cot, a sofa and my yoga mat lay. A museum of the obsolete. Now the TV barely covered the yellow wall. The yellow of a hard-boiled egg. Achan liked them soft-boiled. I placed the tea gingerly on the coaster on my bed, looked into the mirror, squinted my eyes and stuck out my tongue. I didn’t smile. I hear achan calling me. I stare at my tea and then into the mirror. I wait a couple of minutes and then went downstairs.

“Make me some tea,” he said.

“Make me some tea,’ he used to say.

ghosts for the haunting and the Prologue(2)

How beautiful it is to look at, never have I seen or heard anything like it- Nalacharitam, Unnayi Warrier

 

krishna gopikas

***

Nila looks her best at  night. She is resplendent in the rains, full and flowing. The lazy river is antithetical to the typical Keralite who wakes up at the crack of dawn and shuts shop at sunset.  Nila belongs to the night, ripples of moonlight gleaming on her silvery waters. Nila likes being not merely the protagonist, but the solitary character to her own story. It is from her story that we borrow the beginnings to the story of Kathakali. It is on her banks that Kerala Kalamandalam, the premier institution of Kathakali was founded almost a century ago. It is on her banks that my father bought his first house in Kerala.

Painkulam is a small village in Shornur, the house we bought is part of someone’s ancestral house. It is ever so slightly odd to live in someone’s ancestral house, there’s no telling how many generations have grown up here. The newly painted walls, the tiled floors, the Usha ceiling fan, all hide layers of musty old stories. It’s usually in the still of the night or during a power cut in the monsoon that my little box-like room becomes claustrophobic with someone else’s ghosts. My father tells me that it is the ancestral house of a kathakali artist. A chutti artist, a glorified version of the regular makeup-artist. The man currently lives in America. As most stories are, his was also a love story. He fell in love with an American woman who came to learn Kathakali and went back with her to the U.S. Today he’s exported the Kathakali makeup tradition to the U.S and given it new forms and a new name and seems to be doing pretty well with some highly acclaimed art exhibitions. My father claims that it is the ghosts he’s left behind that have pushed me into kathakali. Perhaps it’s just that. The proximity to the Kalamandalam, an old veshakaran’s ghost, or simply a renewed interest in theatre. But a little more digging into why kathakali came back into my life, reveals more.

As a child I must have been terrified of Poothana. In full costume, she was even more of a demoness than I had imagined when I read the stories. That image of Poothana trying to kill the baby, the god I worshipped, stuck in my mind as the all-encompassing figure of evil. Years later when I started researching Hindu mythology and its many manifestations in India, Poothana came back to me. She had haunted me as a demoness when I was a child, but now she haunted me in her vesham as the noble woman. I read the story again, and this time as a Kathakali padam. I went back and looked for the demons and the gods in Kathakali, in an effort to find the heroes and villains of my own story. I was no longer a child who believed in the good of the gods, but I was more importantly not the child who believed in the evil of the demons. Kathakali became a synecdoche for the various understandings and manifestations of caste in Kerala.

excerpt from Vidooshakan- the Harlequin.

Find part(1) here

the night of the chocolate cake and Marius’ love and Marius’ pity

akbarpadamsee-lg
Akbar Padamsee, ‘Christ’

Late last night, I baked a cake. It was well after they had stopped drilling a hole to put up the Ravi Varma painting in the house next door.  New neighbours, old walls. The dead cat had been removed by someone from the  balcony. The remains of food from the table had been cleaned, my guest was an older man. The urge to have the chocolate cake, was not so much as to have it as to bake it. I sieved the flour while I listened to the television I leave on all night, when alone in the house. The cocoa dust in the flour mixed poorly, too dry, too lumpy. The oil made it silken, the sugar made it sweet and then the perfume of the vanilla. It was a note of that, the essence of vanilla that made me turn off the television. The music rang sharply, and I sighed in relief.

The sound of the microwave, dully whirring, the cake moving in slow circles of precise measures would take fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes of a few pages from a novel, the beginnings of a film, one very short short story, one very long dream. My options were as few as many. I could see the cake through the yellow inside, like the perfect sun set that no would wax eloquent about. Marius and Lenia made my cake burn slightly on the bottom, leaving the centre still soft to the touch.

Marius: Listen Lenia, I shall explain-
Not for love of you for you are a harlot,
Even a witty harlot, but I must
Remove this heat of the sun
Of the City. Sometimes my thoughts
Take fire and as in verse
The lines turn forth. Listen then, Lenia
My beloved of the moment, and
Take your fingers away from my pouch,
For in the moment of relief I feel cool,
And your hand is irritating,
Not enkindling, and listen – 

Three walls there were
And a road along them-
A weary road along them.
The walls and vales
Were lined with women.
Below the cross was a man of thirty,
A wasted face of much beauty,
He was made indifferently well-
But nothing to me,
A lover of women.

I pitied this man,
Though my blood had beat faster,
For you know Lenia
That I am a lover of women, not men.

Thrice did he cry out
And into my belly came
The gear of desire
But I pitied the man;

Three hours passed-
In the vales below the women
Waited and watched him
And desired him
Till I too grew mad with fire.

Lenia: Did you not think of me?

Marius: They were as nothing, as the
Dust, and I was no longer
A lover of women.

Lenia: Look on me Marius, am I not desire?
My body is creamed and desireful.

Marius: The full lips of John
Stroked my body,
And the red nails of john
Did vile things and made
My body soft.

Lenia: Listen Marius, you are no poet.

Marius: I will not remember those things,
The white disease of the body of John.

 

The winds come down from
The mountains and Marius slept again
In the arms of a woman

 

Sultan Padamsee, ‘Epithalmium’ from Yaraana (read full poem)

 

I used oil instead of butter, granulated sugar instead of icing sugar and walnuts for crunch- broken down, right on the top.

At 2 in the morning, I covered the cake with a lid and placed it in the fridge. Uneaten and decorated.