Thursday 26 February 2015

The Mannequin (excerpt)

Image credit Buzzaria

Both the shop and Riju were new to the neighbourhood, he had moved here just over a year ago, and could still remember getting the flyer for its inauguration, the name spelt in a mix of upper and lower case fancy faux-oriental fonts, promising happy hours of shopping and a mix of quirky and exclusive. He had read it casually and forgotten of course, too raw from the break-up still, too self-absorbed in the puffed up ramifications of it, with sorting out his new place both inside his head and outside of it. He had not noticed anything for weeks, though the banners on the shop window had screamed for attention every morning on the way to work.  He only saw it when the mannequin was dressed oddly one day, an east-west fusion of accessories and attire that somehow did not gel, the colours clashing just as much as the styles, and he had stopped a minute in front of the glass window and wondered what had gone wrong, his professional eye arrested, somewhat disturbed even.  That was when he had first become aware of the mannequin. 

It was strange enough to see a mannequin like her, totally unlike the others used in the trade, the plasticky uberslim dummies with impossibly shapely pert-curves and unreal tummy-hollows.  This one looked like an actual person, her hips proportionately ample to match her great height, her breasts showing a hint of sag, her smile revealing one slightly crooked canine in a minute but significant acknowledgement of reality.  She looked as though someone had taken extreme care in the making, a person with great eye for detail.  And usually her entire get-up in the window reflected the same observant eye, the colours in unusual combinations but almost always near-perfect, the accessories bold or understated but always pulling the look together, the props harmonising sometimes, at others in striking contrast  but always just right.  He had not paid attention to all that before except most perfunctorily. 

So he had been astonished by the very faint frown lines, her smile that seemed a bit forced, strained as if she was fed up of showcasing the slightly off look.  He did not know what to make of it, was she always like this, or had she put on the look along with the outfit? He thought his eyes were playing tricks and he looked away and quickly looked back; and no, she was frowning a little harder even, there was a look of unmistakable urgency in her eyes.  As if she would say “Don’t just stand there, do something, you dumbass!”  any moment.  He had stood unresolved for some seconds before he scribbled “Please consider changing bangles to silver cuff.  Just a suggestion, please don’t mind,” on a post it note and put it into the suggestion box shaped like a surahi next to the door.

By the time he had got back in the evening, she was wearing a broad silver cuff and as he had drawn up close he had seen that it had embellished devanagari engraved on it.  And that one little detail had changed her from almost frumpy to funky.  Someone had painted “Thank you for your suggestions” on the surahi in bold fuchsia letters, or had that message always been there beyond the sphere of his attention? He was strangely moved and unnerved as well, but he had put it out of mind sooner rather than later.  Too much going on in his life to pay attention to the imaginary frowns of life-like mannequins.

At that point there was still some small hope, albeit simmering low on a backburner, that Yamini, or Yummy as she insisted on calling herself, would see things his way and get back together.  He still remembered all they had done together, the anniversaries of privately valued events, insignificant in themselves when they happened, but momentous now after the break up.  He had to stop himself from calling her by reflex at odd hours in the middle of some distracted daydream.

Sometimes he would set two mugs on the counter-top and pour out the coffee while half asleep still, black and rich like she preferred, and then come to when the dark liquid splashed into the whiteness of the ceramic, and correct the number with a stricken face which there was no-one to see.  He would hurry into the institute and perhaps an undergraduate student with a swinging thick bob and a similarly crazy-beautiful shoulder-blade would stop him in his tracks thinking that she had finally given in and come looking for him here, and his heart would leap into his mouth and then sink instantly back at knee level when the girl would turn her face and wish him respectfully and she would be nothing like the one he had thought her to be, transformed from his fantasy into his student after all, in just a half-swivel of head.  He learnt to live with a residual level of disappointment always swilling inside him.  Coping kept him busy, and distracted as well.

Meanwhile, the mannequin turned out to be habit-forming.  He remained unaware, but his steps would automatically slow while he passed the shop in the morning, she was usually dressed up, ready in the daily ensemble, looking him in the eye as he ambled past.  There was no fixed pattern that the window dresser followed, and the mannequin showed off traditional attire as often as she modelled western, carrying off the entire spectrum from demure to bold with equal aplomb. Without any conscious decision making on his part, she became a mascot for his days, sending him on his way with a splash of colours and a smile as a promise for the beginning of it, and marking it still with the same smile when he got back.  

This is an excerpt from my short story The Mannequin, inspired by a mannequin in Buzzaria in Delhi, though she is somewhat different from Riju's mascot :) and of course, she and Riju and their story is completely fictional. 

Tuesday 24 February 2015

The gift of rank

Image Arun Bansal

If you haven’t stood still and smelled your rankness;

haven’t been walled in, contained, desperate

to freefall into fresh, swirl to someplace else,

tired of knocking against the bricks of wells.

If you haven’t dried into a narrow smudge

or a slimy thread of odorous sludge;

if you haven’t faced down that final threat

that sucks off moisture from each drop of breath

and hangs it up between deathlike and death -

you haven’t learnt what waters teach us yet.

The lotus blooms only when waters still;

and still can be rank, but also tranquil.

Even rankness is a gift, nothing to spurn;

waters flow, and still, and stagnate by turns.

Because a friend posted that breath-taking waterscape, and the caption on it ran  something like "Let your life be like flowing water, stagnant waters smell." And because I have been, um, slightly challenged in the smelling department for a long time now : )

Sunday 22 February 2015

Stone mirror

I am the flattened stone with
the merest film. Leftover rain
polishes the mirror waiting to reflect
your skies of migrant birds,
and poplars rustling to receive
the friendly pats of the wind.

Saturday 14 February 2015

It's not a Valentine thing either

Love is such a short, thin and threadbare word,
so frequently used that it’s hardly heard.
I’ll love you more than you will ever know,
I’ll love you without threadbare being uttered.

Without the scents of flowers and of sandal,
without the showy moths and central candle.
I think I’ll love you but let the trite go
I won’t fashion your name into a ghazal.

Yet if someone should come upon my page
when I’m gone - in some future space and age -
he would know that the writer, long ago,
had loved beyond the limits of her language.

Sunday 8 February 2015

Loveweak again

Love is the sky, love is the sea,
as soft as earth, as dark as be,

as high as hills, as deep as spells,
a heartbreak maze and storm gospels;

it’s quiet as a mystic trance
and heady as a game of chance

with a poker pro in long shirtsleeves.
It’s whimsy of windblown leaves;

as prison scarred and hard as nails
and fragile as mermaid tales.     

Love’s sand in hand and birds in bush
but steely when shove comes to push.

It’s seagull call and eagle eyed
snake instinct done ivory wide.

It’s all eggshells in one basket
and a shaky bike to the market.

Love’s tart as lime, as monsoon grey
striped skypearl like a nacre day,

talk’s cheap white chalk, love’s ashes pink
tougher to brush off than you think.

Love’s needle thin, hope thick as sleep,
easier to give, harder to keep.