Please don’t return this too, unopened like all the others. Or worse, tear it up without reading. It’s been just eight years but it feels like I have been sending you these letters forever, reaching far back into some earlier births aeons ago. I keep thinking what can I do to make you understand? - to make you see things differently, to get us back, if not on the same track, at least on tracks close enough for you to appreciate where I am coming from. And where you are heading. How can I make you understand?!
Together, we are more beautiful, more resilient - more armoured in our love for each other - than anything else in the universe. And apart, we are just broken human beings, isolated in pain, unable to handle problems, unable to handle life. The weakest, the worst versions of ourselves...
Once upon a time and place far away – but close enough still to rattle, so don't get too comfortable – once upon such a time and place, an unclaimed child grew up in the blind lanes of human indifference. Like a weed he took root in the cracks in the paving stones of ruthlessness and grew on a staple diet of mockery and offhand cruelty – daily kicks and cuffs and brushoffs. He was soon adopted by a petty vendor on the lookout for free labour in exchange for the meagrest of keep.
As he got to his teens, the vendor, the closest thing he had known to a parent, died. But he had learnt by then to be agile, hardboiled, forbiddingly spartan with a suppressed but ferocious grudge against society...
I’ve always known it. Because sometimes I am born as Abu, driven to a life of crime because I’ve voiced an inconvenient truth, sometimes I’m Rudraksh destined to witness evil, disguised as a divine plan. I am the match girl who froze to death on the streets of Copenhagen, I’m the child worker scarred for life in the fireworks factories of Sivakasi. I am the refugee toddler whose drowned body has washed up on an island beach time after time. There is no end to my suffering. And to my resilience. My mothers’ agonised screams echo down from the beginning of time...
A Fine Yarn
The truth, they said, will set you free. In this case, it did just the opposite. Abu’s fate was sealed the moment the truth was uttered - he was 7 at the time, not old enough to realise the benefits of lying.
The Books of Wisdom, the Fabulists, the Clan Elders, the Keepers of the Lore - they tell you only half the story, half the truth. They truncate beginnings to hook the listener. Fob him off with a neat ending where poetic justice is seen to be served. The whole truth never makes a good tale, it’s too boring, too inconvenient, doesn’t deliver the critical mass of dramatic punch.
You probably know that the ruler carried on without batting an eyelid. Have you never wondered what happened to the boy?...
The Preference for Sons
A Postcard from the Village
Storms and Uniforms
Because Memory is a Bridge
It did not take very long, after all. She had thought the selection would be excruciating – how does one define essentials for a one-way once-in-a-lifetime, excruciating trip such as this? Her grandmother’s knitted blanket, kept over three generations, was that just baggage to be discarded now? How would the texture of life feel away from these rooms - the front door hasp worn smooth with use, the curtains she had got, shredded now by the conflict but still bravely rippling in the front room? ...The Overlap
Three Ways of Looking...at Constellations of Meanings
The worst kiss
Milk. Blood. Money.
A fresh landslide had opened up a huge gash of reddish mud on the mountainside. Small, ominous dribbles of soil and gravel trickled down on the verge even as Laval peered out. Thick greenery dipped drunkenly into the wound from its edges. A line of labourers, mostly women, he noted in an irrelevant aside, ferried loads of fallen soil on woven cane baskets, the bands balanced on their foreheads like bandanas. Their line moved across the road, along the queue of cars for some time, and then down till the last figures became tiny dots of bright colours. An ordinary lorry stood by to receive the debris, it too made toy-size by the distance. It must be all these slopes, the gradient does things to one’s perspective, distorts stuff into looking smaller than it should, he thought.
“Why don’t they use proper equipment, speed things up?” Laval muttered to himself, then raised his voice and asked. “How long do you think?”
Take the heart. The heart’s the dragonfly. It’s the grasshopper, that sings all summer and takes leaps of faith, from grass to leaf, from leaf into sky, halfway to the stars and falls back to the grass again, nonchalant. Who vaguely knows that winter will come but will take care of itself. Meanwhile the ant, oh god, the ant plods on. Eat. Sleep. Hoard. Clean. Eat. Sleep. Hoard. Clean. The ant is the body, and her demands must be met, at all times. Punctually. To-everything-there-is-a-season-and-a-time-to-every-purpose-under-the-heaven kind punctually. You know the type. There’s one in every neighbourhood. Earnest. And sternest. And lectures everybody far and wide about the importance of being both...
The no job
Moonlit Waters III
She had a soft spot for this agnabee, this foreigner who could be her own son give or take a year or two, but so different. He did not treat her like she had no feelings, though he said little and smiled even less. He always left the flat tidy, the dirty dishes stacked neatly in the sink, the laundry cleanly sorted into piles to wash, his slippers aligned next to the door, the newspaper folded crisply on the table. To her it conveyed a sort of respect, one that a young man may show to a distant aunt, he treated her more like an elderly family member than a cleaning woman. Called her aunty too, not Umm Mahmoud. He was a strange one, this man. He had a hurt child’s eyes in a taut face that looked much older than he was, and it was that way even when he came first, before all that business of the wife coming and then leaving and then the sudden divorce and the flat being back to a bachelor pad...
Moonlit Waters II
Abeer was back again at Fayoum; this time there was no discomfort, no weighing of words to say or not to say, just an easing into a place which felt long familiar, as though he had grown up looking at this grey-blue water right from childhood. Waded into it knee-deep many times, splashed in it and sputtered at its saltiness and fished in it on winter afternoons. There were places like this, he came upon them suddenly without any signs or warning, strange places but intimately part of him, of who he was, or had been at some point of time, and his memories looped back and touched their own beginnings in one huge arch, silent and comforting in a sweep of timelessness...
Seeing Red. And White.
One Step Backwards.
I was in love with that asphyxiating desperation only youth can muster. We spent more and more time together, I spent more and more of my scholarship money on things most unscholarly, it’s a familiar story. The only difference was the end. Instead of the usual dust up, Paul robbed me, then beat me almost to death, and left for good. Friends picked up my pieces and put them back together. I had failed my exams, had no money, had no stomach to ask my parents back home for help or explain the whole sordid saga. So I made a patchy recovery, stayed on and worked at whatever meanly-paid jobs I could find...
...all that remains here to see him through all his losses are the letters. Bits of paper that Bharati wrote as she got ready to die. Two years she’d had to prepare, and she had used them to make pickles, rows and rows of jars, and to scribble those odd conversational notes, an instruction manual for coping; straight talk tucked into desks and closets, messages in bottles and jars. Well, the pickles had finished a long time ago. But her letters are there still, in the empty jars, inside the closets and cabinets; read and reread. Bharati’s voice still echoes around him in this house; he can access that comfort whenever he wants. Though he hasn’t quite made out till now what she meant by “So must you” – what? Remember that they were together till her death, or remember it till his? He’s chosen to till his end, not that it’s a choice. One can’t remember or forget on demand. She was absurd sometimes. Abin smiles a little and looks down again at the note in his hand...
I'm NOT Wearing Your Ring
“It’s all a little fuzzy, but I dreamed of a royal ring on your finger; and a Great Sage in a fury cursed you. And the King forgot you, he didn’t come back, though you waited for him. I saw the ring slip off. And a huge fish swallowed it. And you were humiliated in the royal audience chamber, and your son ran into the forest with a lion. I haven’t had a wink of sleep Shunckoo, I don’t know what all this means. I wish you’d wait till your foster-father is back.”
“Oh, Anu! You poor thing! Of course the king will come back. He loves me beyond any doubt. Why would he marry me otherwise? Just calm down and stop worrying. Everything will be fine.”...
The reams of formalities, the microbial security scanning, all the endless paraphernalia over finally, Tony walks briskly into the departure lounge. It is already filling up with waiting passengers, empty seats are few. It hits him again with fresh force, he really is on his way to meet Larissa! This journey is a first for him in many ways.
Myra isn’t beautiful in the conventional sense, she doesn’t fit the mould. Her real beauty lies in things no-one notices, in the shape of her ears, for instance, behind which she tucks in her hair with a two-fingered movement, breathtaking in its grace. In the slant of her collarbones, from where her honey warm skin falls away in the most absurdly tender plane. And her eyes, those great wide hazel eyes with their thick fringe of lashes. Looking as though she can look right through me, but of course she can’t. Above all, her beauty lies in her unaffected ignorance of her own charm...
Not exactly a Fairy Tale