raw mango dreams, again

When it rained finally it was a thunderstorm. Upstairs the dance class had stopped abruptly at the first sound of thunder. It mysteriously coincided with a sound I remembered well, a stick flying across the room and landing like a lash across bare ankles. The wooden stick rapped in a rhythm of one-two-three one-two-three for nearly a half hour before the first step was out of place. I thought of the girl, sweating profusely, a drop hovering over an eyelid, miserably trying to catch up with the rest. Dance, as if the rains needed anything else to set it off. What happened first? Did her step falter because of the thunder or the thunder came as if in casual annoyance at the mistake?

None of the lights were turned on in the house, no one had expected the darkness to come on so suddenly. I stared at the fan expectantly for over seven minutes before the electricity went off. Seven minutes of thunder, lightning and the shrill sharpness of the wind. Even the trees refused to dance in the wind. Not a drop of rain yet. They should continue dancing, maybe then it will rain. But the darkness had stopped everyone in its step, motionless. The fan stopped with a low dull creak and then the distant sound of a generator in the factory nearby. No one would go home until it rained and stopped, so they would continue working into an evening swiftly turning into night.

Creeping across the wall hesitantly, a lizard made the first sound which was immediately engulfed with a new round of thunder and lightning. The mandate was clear. Silence. I looked outside and could see only blackness, no light filtered through except when lightning struck. It hadn’t started raining, so I saw no need to shut the windows. The air was so heavy, if I completely stopped breathing I could almost hear the puddle of sweat the girl above had left. The wait for the rain came with an unbearable thirst, I finished half a bottle before good sense kicked in. I could not brave the rickety narrow staircase that led to the kitchen to get more water. Once the rain started it would not end for hours, perhaps the whole night. A rain that held everyone captive even in its absence.

Abruptly, the ceiling fan moved for twenty seconds before it stopped. Again the dull creak of the fan giving up, again the roll of thunder. I looked outside and saw that the lizard had managed to crawl outside through one of the three holes in the mosquito mesh. The air must have been too heavy inside the room for the creature to stay alive till the rains.

I tried keeping my eyes closed, in a desperate attempt to doze off and forget about the heat. When it would start raining, the heat would break and I could sleep through the night without staring at the unmoving fan achingly. It must have been a few hours before I woke up, or perhaps a few minutes, I couldn’t tell. No sign of the rain, and the thunder and lightning had stopped. I didn’t know whether the darkness remained because of the heavy clouds, there was no telling of the time. The factory workers might have been long gone or perhaps the generator had stopped working, because the silence had impossibly increased. I made a rash decision to drink the rest of the water, I reasoned it had to be late into the night and I would fall asleep again and wake up only in the morning. A morning with electricity, the cool weather after the rains and water.

The last dropped of water and it rained. Not a drizzle first, after a few hours of warning it had come in a downpour. It brought with it the thunder and lightning which had disappeared. I wondered whether everyone had stayed in the same place all night long, dancers frozen in motion. Would they dance now that the silence had broken?
I looked out of the window again, the night suddenly lit with energy. I would have missed it if I had looked out a split second later, because that’s all it took. A flash of lightning and the branch broke. I caught a brilliant green, a single mango attached inseparably to the branch. They say if you dream of raw mangoes, you are impatient.


गिनती से कल्पना तक

घर के छोटे से ड्राइंग रूम में, एक बड़ा सा दीवान था। हमारा घर जिसे क्वार्टर कहा जाता था – किसी विशाल से मकान का एक चौथाई हिस्सा। इस हिस्से के चार हिस्से और: सोने के लिए दो कमरे, एक कमरे की रसोई, और एक कमरे का ड्राइंग रूम। ड्राइंग रूम में सिमटी हुई कई कई चीज़ें – जैसे छह खाँचो का एक शोकेस और उसमे सिमटी हुई कई बनावटी चीज़ें; मम्मी-पापा की शादी और बिन मांगे दहेज में आया हुआ चार पीस का सोफा सेट, और एक पीस टीवी; एक ज़रुरत से ज़्यादा बड़ा डाइनिंग टेबल जिसकी छह कुर्सियां उसके चारों ओर किन्हीं नराज़ रिश्तेदारों सी बैठी रहतीं; एक गुर्राता हुआ बौना रेफ्रीद्गिटर जिसके कद से मम्मी को कोई ख़ास शिकायत नहीं थी (छोटे से कमरे में शहर बसाना मम्मी को बखूबी आता था); और आखिरकार एक बड़ा सा दीवान।
दीवान जो था, वो कमरे की सबसे बड़ी खिड़की से सटा हुआ था। खिड़की के चार पल्ले थे और उनसे लगे हुए रौशनदान। कभी कभी यूं होता कि अचानक शाम को बारिश होने लगती और मैदान में लड़कों का खेल रुक जाता। तब, मैं बिना किसी अफ़सोस के घर लौट आता और खिड़की के चारों पल्ले और रौशनदान खोलकर एकटक बारिश को देखता रहता। खिड़की के किनारों से मम्मी का चढ़ाया खांकर पर्दा धीमे धीमे हवा में उड़कर क्षण भर के लिए नज़र के आड़े आता और फिर सरक जाता।
मैदान के उस पार, ठीक बारह क्वार्टरों की एक कतार थी – जो हु-ब-हु हमारे क्वार्टरों जैसी थी। बारिश में उन क्वार्टरों को देखकर ऐसा लगता कि उनपर चढ़ा नीला सरकारी रंग, धीरे धीरे पिघल रहा है। मुझे लगता कि मैं अपने ही घर की नीरसता को धुलकर बहते हुए देख रहा हूँ। तब मुझे स्टील प्लांट की चिमनियों का खयाल आता।  पापा रोज़ वहां काम पर जाते थे, लेकिन उस प्लांट को मैंने सिर्फ दूर से देखा था। बहुत दूर से- ट्रैन में किसी दुसरे शहर जाते हुए, या अपने शहर वापस लौटते हुए। इतनी दूर से, प्लांट की सिर्फ चिमनियां ही साफ़ साफ़ दिखाई पड़ती थीं। मैनें उन चिमनियों की कभी गिनती नहीं की, जैसे मैंने कभी नहीं गिने रात के तारे और  नुक्कड़ के पेड़ पर लगे पलाश के फूल. चिमनी से निकलते भूरे धुएँ को गिनना तो खैर नामुमकिन था।
शाम की बारिश में, घर के छोटे से ड्राइंग में, बड़े से दीवान पर बैठकर खिड़की से बाहर झाँकते हुए मै वही करता था जो किया जा सकता है. जैसे मै कल्पना करता था की बारिश में पलाश के फूलों का नारंगी-लाल रंग पिघलकर गलियों में बहने लगेगा। और जब रात होगी, तो बची-कुचि बारिश तारों की चाँदनी में घुलकर टपकेगी। बारिशों में, चिमनी के धुंए का क्या होता होगा, इसकी कल्पना मैं नहीं कर पाता था.
bhilai map google earth

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.


There are two reasons why you’d find a crowd in front of a shop in Kerala. One, it’s pouring: aunties with their big black umbrellas, hold up their sarees as the roads turn into rivulets; men with their well-oiled hair and their lungis tucked above their knees, won’t risk riding their bikes in this rain. The only other reason is that there is a strike/ a hartal, and there’s a queue of men outside an unassuming looking rickety old shop, with a small board in yellow that reads TODDY. Today it’s both. In the peak of the monsoon season, Kerala rid of its tourists and its sweltering heat takes a break and watches the rains. Life comes to a standstill. Nothing here works when there’s a strike and no one moves when it rains. In a country that celebrates religious holidays every other week, communist Kerala depends on the rains and hartals for a celebratory glass of toddy and fish fry.

Kerala, a small coastal state in the south of India is a place of indescribable beauty, and describable cliches. There’s green everywhere, in every possible shade- the green of the paddy fields, the green of the mango too raw, in the peacocks, in the hills, in the moss on the streets, in the ponds and the luridly painted houses. It’s an artist’s muse. But that is the tourist’s Kerala. The Kerala that is my native place and feel forced to visit every year is that of pettiness, party politics, overbearing relatives and houses that reek of fish and wetness. A place that rings of familiarity while still being completely alien to me. My romance with Kerala, comes from a nostalgia that doesn’t exist. Nostalgia for a past I created through stories.

My father is a brilliant storyteller. His stories of growing up in his hometown were coloured with the idea of growing up in a large ancestral home- a joint family household that owned most of the land in the village. He had 5 brothers and two sisters and numerous cousins for company, they played in mangroves, had little interest in school, and had servants to cater to every need. He also spoke of times of strife, of experiencing poverty as the landlord system changed after Independence, the caste system being abolished, the family separating. Having grown up in a big city and never having seen his ancestral home, this was the Kerala I dreamt of. The reality only disappointed me year after year. I wanted an elephant in my courtyard, a temple in my backyard, and to walk down streets my family owned. We merely retained the name, as new houses were built on old land and old servants became the new elite— nouveau riche, if you will. It was class over caste.

excerpt from Vidooshakan- the Harlequin

liSts foR the rAins

against the rain
The rains are here and so are my 5 o’clock allergies. Not that it comes dot at 5, but come it does. Around 4, I know it’s right round the corner. That’s about when the precautionary measures start. While the water is boiling, the itch creeps into the insides of my eyes. Right first, I wink rapidly. A watching pot never does boil, I increase the temperature. Left next, I shut my eyes tight and open wide again. I know if I scratch, it will only intensify. The water has just started boiling over when a single tear rolls down my right cheek. I add a big tablespoon of coffee into the vessel and let it boil once more. Turn off quickly and grab the nearest cup. The vessel is too hot. I pause for a second or two to deliberate. Sneeze first or pour the coffee into the cup. I go with coffee and sneeze comes with it. I stare at the cup, most of the coffee is in it. I decide to forget what else might be in there.
I shut all doors and windows. the house is covered in all kinds of weeds and creepers and creepy flowers. A single blow of the wind… I sneeze, once, twice, and then a marching band of sneezes. I pour the coffee into the sink and wash the burn off my hands.
I try again- a big roll of toilet paper, a giant blanket and a thinner bedsheet, switch on the fan, turn on the laptop, and all kinds of big and small eats. The blanket is too warm, and I sweat through sneezes 45, 46 and right through 59. I opt for the bedsheet. I sit up straight, throw the bedsheet off and switch on the fan. I can’t watch this anymore, to sneeze one has to concentrate. And one has to sneeze to rid oneself of a stuffed nose. Besides, i can barely see through eyes as small as beads. I rub both vigorously. An eyelash is in there, I’m sure of it. The right one, always the right one. I stick a finger in to pull it out. A finger covered in red and yellow and salt. Both eyes resolutely remain red, no eyelashes pulled out.
I think of the long summer before, the dry heat and the wet one as I watch the lizard on the ceiling. I think of that Christmas dinner last winter, I wore a black sweater. Many writers have written about autumn. It’s raining outside and the raintree is in a frenzy. Sneeze 83 to 86 and the lizard disappears. The rains outside have turned into a thunderstorm. It’s quite the sight.