After Happily Ever After


It's over.

How can you be so sure, you ask. 

I can feel it in my bones, I answer almost instantly, unthinkingly. 

Just as the words leave me, though, I wish I could take them back. Because they're not true. The truth is that I don't feel a thing anymore.

I don't feel the urgency to respond when your name flashes across my phone. I don't feel the rush to check why you're calling or what charming lies you've sent my way in your message. 

I don't feel the slow smile creep up on me each time I see you. And, I don't feel my every pore come alive and do the mexican wave across my skin each time your arm brushes mine. Neither do I feel the promise of warmth and safety in the crook of your arm nor the reassurance in your hug.

You no longer inspire poetry. Even the sad rhymes have dried up.

You still make me laugh, though. But your reciprocal, knowing grin doesn't turn my insides to mush. The butterflies in my stomach have long since flitted away, in search of greener pastures. 

My eyes no longer seek yours - from across a room full of strangers, or during a cozy evening with friends, or even from over the candlelight. 

And, when you smile your devilish smile to flirt, tease and charm other women, I smile my wry smile. I've seen through those words, words you throw around with no consideration for their meaning and implicit promises.

Time is no longer a traitor. I no longer have to plead with it to slow down, beg for one extra moment with you. Time has let go of its schadenfreude ways and we're friends once again. 

So, go on. Leave your guilt and my heart at the door on your way out.


There goes my hero...

Friends, family and acquaintances have always teased me about, what they call, my school-girl crush. I do not have a crush on Rahul Dravid. I have never had one. What I have is a deep admiration – for the gentleman he has shown he is and for the epitome of sportsmanship he has emerged to be.

This isn’t going to be a tribute to the cricketer. What can I say that the stats and awards do not already underline; what can be written that hasn’t already been eloquently captured by authors, commentators and experts. Instead, this is just a heartfelt tribute to my favourite sportsperson, whose decade-old picture I still have stowed away in my wallet. 

It might be a bit of a ramble, I’ll warn you of that.

As I start to write this, it is the midst of IPL season. The Mumbai Indians have just ended their innings with a score of 202 in 20 overs – a score that the commentators have already declared a tough ask. My dad has teasingly nudged me asking me how Rajasthan Royals expect to maintain a run rate of 10 per over with Rahul Dravid opening. I show some bluster, quite unlike my idol; I look at the TV and throw some words of encouragement at my team, almost begging them to win, as the camera pans scenes of the dug-out, waiting for the start of the second innings, even as my brother scoffs at me. “Sulker,” he says and smirks.

He isn’t completely off the mark. I have cried while watching matches. I may cry later tonight, too. That possibility certainly can’t be ruled out, no matter how much lip service I give my family. 

Or, I may do a mad, demented victory dance and shake the walls! Depending, of course on the outcome of the match.

But even as I predict my emotional volatility, I can say with reasonable certainty that Rahul Dravid will be as composed as ever. Irrespective of the outcome of the match, win or lose, he will step out at the end, take responsibility, give due credit and commendation, acknowledge compliments and praise with an embarrassed laugh. He will take a bow with dignity and quiet pride.

One evening 17 years ago, I remember sitting down with my dad, as he watched the test match at Lord’s, which would introduce to the world two icons of the game. The match has been (and, probably always will be) remembered for Sourav Ganguly pounding his way to smashing century, scoring the highest runs by any batsman on his debut at the Mecca of cricket.

Later, as parents, housing society uncles and silly schoolgirls went gaga over Ganguly, I remember resolving that I would make the quiet gentleman with boyish good looks, who missed his debut century by only 5 runs, my "favourite cricketer"! And, this fact I reiterated in countless scrapbooks, writing his name in coloured inks and drawing little hearts around it.


A year after his debut, I begged my dad to gift me a poster of Rahul Dravid. I stuck it on the inside of my cupboard since my mother was adamant that she would preserve the walls from the horrors of cello-tape.

The poster has captured Rahul Dravid, with a shy, reluctant smile and a sweaty brow. (He did sweat a lot, didn't he?!) And, he has smiled at me ever since, never fading with time, quietly watching the contents of the cupboard evolve from crayons and ribbons to notebooks and novels. Now, the cupboard is home to torn pages from diaries chronicling my girlhood - scraps of paper that contain excited rants about Rahul Dravid's stellar performances, disappointed lines berating the times he failed to perform, silly rhymes worshipping him.

The poster has remained there, slightly worn at the edges, tearing slightly at the top, but still resolutely stuck to the wooden door. In many ways Rahul Dravid, the cricketer, is much like that poster - resolute, charming and a survivor, seldom showing-off and quietly smiling at detractors and fans alike.

There was something about the quiet young man, the way he came, did his job well and smiled on even as his flashier counterpart walked away with the headlines. For the first ever time, that year, I picked up a newspaper and flipped first to the sports page. 

In hindsight, I can say with some confidence, that there was something about his countenance that inspired trust; that gave you this “Main hoon na” kind of reassuring vibe. Like the best-friend-underdog-hero who you’re rooting for to win the girl at the end of the movie. I’ve always been a sucker for that stereotype.

He did remain the classic Mr. Nice Guy, Mr. Dependable through his career, playing his classy, stylish, reassuring game under the shadow of many Indian and international super-stars. But, when adversity came as it inevitably does, the quintessential twist in the tale, he stood firm, earning and justifying his epithet. The Wall. As a batsman he was ridiculed for being slow (in winning situations, the same style was referred to as being dependable). He came under fire as vice-captain when his captain was mired in conspiracy, and again later as captain when his tactics were sometimes criticized to tatters, as a one-time icon player who was passed over by his team at an IPL auction, as a leader on whose watch teammates were accused and found guilty of corruption. However, his stoic silence, a refusal to fall prey to personal criticism or impassioned yet fluent outbursts in defense of the very spirit of the game have reinforced my quixotic ideals.

I have often joked that in hard times I ask myself “What would Rahul Dravid do?” That really wouldn’t be such a bad guiding principle to live by.

To be infinite... and incomplete

I have been reading 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' on this trip. In one instance, Charlie, the narrator, while listening to a moving song, in the company of his favourite people, comments saying that he feels infinite. I marveled at the depth in the simple thought and the child in me almost cried out loud, "I also want! "

It wasn't too long before I did happen to feel infinite. And, incomplete at the same time.

Standing atop a rolling meadow, with a dull ache from dormant muscles that had woken up and stretched during an hour long horse ride, I am surrounded by mountains. Somewhere in the distance I can hear a stream gushing and I see a horse graze, alone but content nibbling on the grass, oblivious to tourists milling around. An eagle soars & my eyes follow only to encounter the warm sun that stares me down as if to admonish my  audacity to look it in the eye.

Staring at the mountains, some snow-kissed, others thriving with greenery, I feel both like a helpless Goliath, smug at having made it thus far, and like the aware David, realising that I am only a dwarf in front of this majestic being. And, that the only strength I really have is to just be present in the moment.

Frozen to the spot (pun intended), I realise the petty grudges, angry thoughts, irritable retorts, I've saved up inside me are so inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. I felt restless, wanting desperately to forget all else and be present. I felt incomplete.

But, it is only when you let these ebb away, the beauty of the moment surrounding you begins to take its place.
Just like not all poems rhymes or how not all stories have an end, so too with some moments, you can't tell where it began and where it ended. And, in that moment you feel infinite.

There, on the rolling meadows of mini Switzerland, with the rising mountains, gushing stream, grazing horse, soaring eagle, and proud sun, I felt infinite.

































Visited in June 2013

An awakening of the senses



The colours of Kashmir are vivid as ever this morning; probably more so, now that an early morning shower has refreshed the scene. The solid mountains are just waking up, their snowy heads peeking now out beneath a thick cloudy blanket.



Remnant dark clouds reflect in the placid lake waters, adding a dash of drama as we row across from our house-boat. Mr. Bulbul Flowerman, sitting in his plastic-covered shikara, calls out to us, drawing our attention to his wares, flowers in every hue, spilling over the sides of his humble boat.


***



The journey from Srinagar to Pahalgam is an experience that will make you feel truly alive. The long drive will offer tantalizing treats that will make every sense come alive…

No sooner than you get out of the city, large fields begin rolling by. Every shop, at every corner is named Kong Poush, after the innocuous flower with the vibrantly crimson centre, which gives India one of its favourite spices, saffron, or as it is locally known, kesar. Paddy is being cultivated in some of the field, with men and women bending over and crouching in calf-deep water, tending to the crop. Some fields lay near-barren, lightly green shoots just about sprouting up – these will bloom to add a dash of purple to the now-brown landscape in a couple of months.


We stopover at one of the Kong Poush-named shops that’s selling dry fruits and saffron to take back some of the fragrant spice with us. The spice is the most expensive one in the world, by weight – but then again, you only need a pinch of the potent dried stigma to pack in colour, fragrance and taste to your dish. As soon as we pull into the parking lot, we’re greeted by the sweet smell of saffron, heightened by the fresh qawwah being brewed, with spices and shavings of dry fruits, in the corner of the lot. The saffron is displayed at a central counter, displayed in ornate bowls, shining like gold. We haggle some, to no avail, and walk away with a few tiny 1-gram boxes of the famed spice.


A little after you journey beyond the ruins of Avantipur, an ancient temple site built by King Avanti in honour of the Gods Vishnu and Shiva, the pine and almond trees lining the roads, soon give way to small shops, decorated with streamers in red, gold and silver. They’re all selling cricket bats – big ones and small one, plain ones and some with colours and stickers. Behind many of these shops are stacks of wooden planks – willow that will be fashioned into bats, some which may adorn the hands of future stars!


Our next stop is the Anantnag sulphur springs. Known for their medicinal properties, it is little surprise that over the years a temple has been built around the springs, and people hail the site as religious ground. What is shocking, though, is people not only pray here, but the locals also use the springs as their personal washing machines, scrubbing clothes and utensils as fish swim in the shallow pools.



Our disappointment is washed away as we chew on some sweet locally baked bread and our driver meanders us along as we start following the course of the Lidder. The river gushes forward, like a gaggle of excited kids, who can barely contain their mirth, and we allow the foam and spray to lead our way.


***


We persistently drive on against cold winds and traffic snarls as we make a desperate dash towards Chandanwari – that’s where we can get our first up close look at the snow. But, we must get there before sun-down. Now it is early evening, but we have miles to go before we get close to the top. First world problems of traffic jams seem to have followed us to the midst of this serene world and our impatience grows as we try to motivate our drive to not give up hope. Some cajoling and some pestering later, we’re on our way as the cars magically disappear (maybe persistent honking does help!)


Once on top, even my incredible inappropriate shoes cannot stop me from jumping into the snow and begin a trudge to the top. Precariously I make my way up, until my concerned mother watching my slippery progress, sends along a knight in shining armour (read: Guide in a musty brown overcoat). For 200 rupees he will take me to the top, where you can see the Lidder river close to its origins, and ensure that I don’t find my face in the mucky-snow on my descent. The inappropriate footwear of all the other before me has carried the valley’s rainy mud on to the pristine snow, making the hilltop appear like the top of a black forest cake. But neither that, nor the snow numbing my feet through damp shoes can dampen my thrill at walking alongside this man with the hard red cheeks, up and up on the icy mountainside.




***

We make our way down to Betaab Valley, which was called something entirely else before Sunny Deol’s debut movie was shot in the scenic plains alongside the river. An entire valley named after a movie! Unbelievable! And, I guess, in a country where Bollywood is a religion, it is little wonder that the place is teeming with tourists and locals alike.


***

Later that evening, my feet finally go completely numb, as I sit atop a rock, dipping my legs in the icy cold river water. Every other nerve end in my body is standing up in attention, as shivers of cold and awe run across them at the stellar views in the cool, fresh mountain air. 

 
All around me, shooting into a sky that changes colour every minute – blue, orange, pink, red, grey – are snow capped mountains. They seem so close now, like as if I lifted my finger, I’d be able to scoop some snow into my hand. But I can’t seem to get my hands to stop hugging myself!

Visited in June 2013

The Crucifixion of Innocence

Inspiration can catch you at the oddest, most unexpected places. So, for someone as irreligious (is that even a word?!) as me, it was a wonder to have found my next muse in spiritual text!

The Bible recounts that before his death on the cross, Jesus said 7 things - he mourned to his Father (why have you forsaken Me?), spoke to his mother (Mother, behold, your son!), lamented his thirst and pain ("I thirst" and "It is finished"). And, through these words I was able to see the plight of a girl child. From her birth, through adolescence, marriage and even in death, the life of some women is nothing short of a daily crucifixion.

And, I call this one,

The Crucifixion of Innocence

There was a lot of screaming,
like someone in pain
I felt a slight sensation
which awakened me
and my shrill cries drowned all the other sounds
the hum of the machines
my mother’s heavy breathing 
the murmurs of the medicine men
I continued hailing my own arrival
even as the remnants of womb,
the rubble of my old home were cleaned off
my shriveled body
My sobs muted only with the pink linen
that was wrapped around me
reminding me of the warmth that once was

Carried from light to light,
Down a grey-green corridor
presented before a man
I look up, curiously, sniffle,
and hope that my watery eyes
convey my trust
“Into your hand I commend my life”
I say with every blink of my lids
And, a cold stare greets me
One look at the pink fabric
and my red face
My Father turns away,
and as he walks away
his words echo in the halls,
“it is finished” he sighs.

I am thirsty.
Always parched.
Always hankering for more.
More words to learn. More lines to read.
not for the dull dolls,
and the hand-me-down pities
but more dewdrops to touch, butterflies to catch.
More raindrops to drench myself and
camouflage the tears.
for more love or attention,
for at least just an acknowledgement
“My father, my father, why have you forsaken me?”
I weep at nights,
and in the dull lights of dusk,
I see hatred gleam in his smile

Hidden away in dark rooms and
behind curtains
my childhood passes by
Ill-fitting clothes hide
my blossoming body
But his hands still find every contour
tracing the fullness of youth
unwillingly molding to heat and hardness
I don’t know enough words that can
describe the feelings together of
shame, pain, pleasure and pain
that rip through my body
Sensation through every nerve
telling me that I am now
a woman

Dear woman, here is your son,
the one you always wished for,
I say to mother, as a resigned bride,
may this marriage bring you more happiness
than my birth did
A dot marks my forehead now
as red as the welts in my hand
deep in shade as the stains
on my bed each night
You will be with me in paradise
my mother promises me
as she holds me
soothing me like she never did before
caressing my face
wiping away tears that have long stopped flowing

Scars mar my hands and feet
that were once decorated to celebrate my womanhood
My core hurts and burns with each touch
“Girl, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing”
My mother’s scared voice advises me,
but this time instead of calming me,
the cowardly words only anger me,
do they know not what they have done?
do they realise not how they have brutalised my dignity,
raped my mind, tormented my body?
How can I forgive them - those who
cursed my birth and tried to break my spirit
I forsake your advice, Mother,
I forsake your promise of paradise someday,
For what good is an unknown paradise,
after living an everyday hell
I will burn everything with my fire
before they have a chance to light my pyre.