Category Archives: Memories

Loneliness is an Island

This day has sent me to an island,
My thoughts are pecking the wet sand.
The horizon is bereft, and the waves roar,
But I remember being a castaway, before.

Though all this seems too familiar,
I don’t really know how to live here.
I have never had my food alone,
Or If I have, those days are gone.

A broken raft is my only hope,
Old logs tied with a primitive rope.
Trees provide shade on this hot day,
But as time passes, I’m filled with dismay.

Loneliness is a museum of memories,
Deaths to which I’m an accessory.
If I had one wish, I’d wish for love,
As rare on this island, as is a dove.

A setting sun isn’t enough a despair,
Worse are things that you can’t repair.
Shattered hearts don’t just hurt rib-cages,
On such islands, they send you for ages.

But when it’s dark, the sea is swept away,
The land breeze makes a sail-worthy bay.
The raft is ready, and so is the food,
And so am I, under a makeshift hood.

So off I go, uncertain but with a drive,
I won’t give up; I know I will survive.
It may be tough, but I’ve seen worse,
To me, no island is as potent a curse.

When you find me, famished and weak,
Just remember that I refused to be meek.
And I’ll tell you how I endured the sea,
Stranded in the day, till the night rescued me.

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What have I done?

What have I done?
I have seen a lot in life.
I have experienced true love.
I have felt bitter hate.
I have laughed like it was my last time.
I have cried like a little child would.
I have stood face to face with the truth.
I have been a victim of inconspicuous lies.
I have believed blindly, only to suffer later.
I have questioned many, as a result.
I have got angry over small things.
I have provided calm when it was needed.
I have held grudges.
I have made enemies.
I have forgiven.
I have gained friends.
I have remembered things that seemingly don’t matter.
I have forgotten events that appear to have changed my life.
I have been alone for as long as I can remember.
I have become a part of the community without effort.
I have celebrated life.
I have wished for death.
What have I done?
I have learned.
I have been human.

 

Stars: Candles of our Childhood

Stars. Hot balls of illuminated gas millions of miles away, results of narrow cosmic chances.

The same stars, due to these enormous distances, appear as pinpoints of twinkling light. And so distant these stars are, that the light that left them eons ago, reach us now. And in that way, looking at them is like peering into the past. But that is not the only way stars make us look back in the past. Some of us travel time in our own ways.

When I first wondered why stars existed, I was perhaps six or seven, enjoying my summer vacations at my grandma’s house. These were times of the mid-90s, and there was less pollution than there is now. Moreover, there were frequent power failures in Mumbra. As irritated as we were due to the extreme May heat, we were helpless. This was the time when color televisions were still not that popular, but I was still happy that there was a black and white one at my grandmother’s house. In my house, however, the only electrical appliance of note was a cassette tape. But these were useless boxes during power failures. My cousin and I were little, and not too comfortable playing in the dark, so we would often sit surrounding a lit candle after sundown, and this would really annoy the adults, because our shadows were proper hindrances to their chores. Consequently, the candle would be placed atop a small wooden cupboard. This was still manageable for us, as the light wouldn’t hurt our eyes now. We would sit in the candle-lit room till power resumed, or till the only source of light flickered away and extinguished, after which we’d run to the kitchen. It had the only emergency lamp in the entire house, but we avoided it out of fear of being scolded.

Just before one of these unpredictable power failures, our mothers decided to take us to the building terrace. They told us we would enjoy the cold evening breeze, though I knew the enjoyment was more theirs than ours. Part of the terrace has a sloping roof, with one half of the slope descending toward the rest of the terrace. We liked it immediately! Due to its smooth tarring, we could slide and roll on it. We enjoyed so much that we didn’t realize that the lights had went out. About half an hour later, tired of climbing a slope rather steep for our age, my cousin and I sat at its base, reclining and looking up at the sky. It was a beautiful sight! The waning moon hardly disturbed the darkness of the rest of the sky. I knew my cousin looked up, too, because we both were quiet. Being the younger one and looking up to me for knowledge, he asked, “How does the sky have so many stars?” I was as clueless as he was, and regarding his question carefully, I looked up again. Indeed, there were a huge number of them, so many that I had never seen so much starlight in one go.

“I think these are candles”, I replied.

“Candles? Why would someone light candles so high up?” he enquired.

“Simple. When there is a power failure in grandma’s house, we light candles so we don’t get scared. In the sky, when there is a power failure, God lights candles so that those living there don’t get scared”, I said.
“What is moon then?”

“It is the largest of the candles.”
I looked at the moon to escape the discomforting ambiguity of my answer.

“A candle?”

“Of course, or why would it become smaller every day?”

“But it becomes larger too, sometimes. And look at its shape. I don’t think it is a candle.”

“It appears to be a different type of candle.”

“Why don’t we have a candle like the moon?”

I was growing irritated, not because of my cousin’s questions, but because of my own inability to answer them. I remained quiet. At the same time, I was curious, too. Were these really distant candles? How did they last all night? They would flicker, but why wouldn’t they get extinguished? And why would someone light so many small but only one large candle? I continued to wonder, while reclining at my new favorite place in Mumbra. We drew imaginary lines between stars, forming patterns, mostly letters in our names. We wrote in different styles, inventing many of our own constellations in the process. For reasons I was not yet familiar with, I felt at peace looking up. The sky had a quiet way about it. The soft breeze had put my cousin to sleep, but I wasn’t really sleepy. We remained till power resumed, and our mothers took us away.

At times, when I look up now, I find myself remembering that night. I smile at the how stupid my answers were, at my lost innocence. I try to recall the patterns we created, but I am largely unsuccessful, perhaps because I cannot find many of the stars that completed our patterns. It saddens me, but it is not difficult to not think about it for long. We live busy lives now, and we have other things to worry about. Not that our childhoods were not busy, but somehow it was far more enriching and gratifying. It was easy to be curious about something as commonplace as a night sky filled with stars.

Stars. Hot balls of illuminated gas millions of miles away, results of narrow cosmic chances.

And it is because of one of these chances that we exist, and are capable of wondering.

(Image Credits: Marc Van Norden. Click here to be redirected to the  original image)

A View Back In Time

I have always believed that our brain has been hardwired to compare. Be it objects, emotions or scenarios, our mind constantly compares. We are able to distinguish good from bad, black from white, shiny from rusty; and I feel this is where lies the basis of our intelligence. In short, I think that the human race is this intelligent because it can compare things better than any other group of organisms we know.

Since I am a part of this human race, and I am what can be safely called ‘normal’, I also have this quality to compare, especially to distinguish between things I saw during my childhood and those that exist now. And I dare say, I am really good at it!  Now there are some places that really don’t seem different with respect to time, until the difference is no longer possible to overlook. Mumbra, where I have spent a decent part of my childhood, is one such place… The streets are still as dirty as they were, 15 years ago; the people still quarrel like they did, back then; and the roads there still resemble the moon’s surface. The one remarkable change that one would easily notice now is the presence of a huge number buildings now. In a short while, many  residential structures have sprung up. It is jarring for the eyes, really. I mean, would you not be startled to discover a building that didn’t exist on your last visit, about three and a half month ago? To many, this is ‘rapid development.’

Mumbra is not that bad, as far as scenic beauty is concerned. Beautiful hills adorn one side of the town, a creek and mangroves on another. As a child, I enjoyed watching these hills while sitting on the windowsill of my Grandmother’s house on the first floor of Bhoora Mahal, though it is not really the best place to allow the creek’s view. The hills had something that had me gazing at them for apparently no reason. I enjoyed the way they turned green after a few rains, sometimes enveloped by clouds. And when it was summer, their hue would turn more and more earthern, till they were almost barren. My cousins and I would watch people (who looked no larger than ants from such a distance) climb up a long flight of stairs that reached all the way till the Mumbradevi temple, situated at the side of a steep cliff. It was a great time-killer, especially during summer vacations, when time-killing had to be ‘great’ by compulsion.

The View in 1999
The View in 1999

Soon, a ‘rapid development’, like those mentioned before, happened right beside my grandmother’s building. Not only did it block the view of the beautiful hills entirely, it also barred most of the natural light from entering grandmom’s house. It was a shocking change. No more sitting on the sill, no more watching the hills covered in clouds. It could well be the most shocking change I experienced till that age (I was around 12 years old, I guess).

After that, lights in Bhoora Mahal had to be kept on 16-hours-a-day (considering 8 hours of sleep). Meanwhile, more buildings got constructed, engulfing little huts and trees in the locality. The air lost some of its freshness each day. As time passed, some of my brain cells, that remembered the view from that window, died every moment. Only a picture clicked by my elder sister, from a borrowed film camera, back in 1999, kept the memory alive somehow. I had somehow stopped missing that view because I gave in to the fact that it could no longer be a possibility. True, I could view it from other places (such as building terraces), but it certainly never felt like how it felt from the sill. And one day, the ‘rapid development’ that stood beside a much-older Bhoora Mahal, crumbled and gave away.

Three people died, from what I heard, and many people lost everything they had. Too busy with my own life (no time left to be killed, anymore), I only went to meet my grandmom after a few weeks i.e. after Bhoora Mahal was declared safe. It was a sunny afternoon,  the characteristic of the day I remember because I realized it was too bright the moment I reached the first floor. My steps hurried, taking me faster in the direction of my destination. They hurried because I started to realize what awaited me. The moment, when I stepped into the house, was special. It felt as if I was re-entering my childhood. The moment was bright, like the fresh sunlight that embellished the room I was in. My joy was at a constant ascent. And each single spec of time that had settled on my life’s own window, began to disappear, allowing me to view those moments of my past vividly. Some memory triggers are nature’s own time machines. I relived my moment, standing on the window sill and gazing at my beloved hills in the same way as I did as a child. I did so one eyeful at a time, because it was choking me with emotions. My oscillating mind began to compare two images of the same scene, images separated by a period of about eight years. As tears began forming in my myopic eyes, I looked away uneagerly. I came back to the sill many times during the few hours I spent there. In the little amount of time I spent there, I understood the true meaning of nostalgia. It is good that some things don’t change.

What I saw in 2013
What I saw in 2013

My Legendary Talent

Average – If there is one word that describes me, it has to be this. I have always been strictly average, right from the moment I was born, during my childhood, during my stint as a student, even now. Some friends and critics have used terms like ‘gifted’ and ‘talented’ as my qualities, but I guess they have been excruciatingly kind. I don’t deny them entirely, however, as I believe that we all have been blessed with a few good talents. I guess I am a good singer, though not an excellent one. And I say ‘good’ because I have won a handful of prizes while in school and college. The first time I decided to step on stage happened long after (4 years) I discovered that I had the capability to make my vocal chords dance inside my throat. I was in Grade 7 then, and having sung a deeply patriotic and wisely chosen ‘Zindagi maut na ban jaaye…’ (Movie: Sarfarosh), I won the first prize. Even to people who thought my sole talent was Being Hopeless, I was suddenly the Sonu Nigam of my school. I didn’t complain. In fact, I made it a point to participate in as many competitions as I could – Quizzes, Drawing, Singing… You name it, chances were that I was in it. As my stage fright began to diminish, my confidence climbed steadily. After a while, all I was worried about was winning prizes, which I ironically found a dearth of (A handful of prizes, true, but I have small hands).

When one day I was told that a Talent Show was to be held in our school, I participated readily. Without thinking twice, I listed ‘Mimicry’ as my talent. I believed I mimicked the voices of cartoon characters well, especially those shown on Disney Hour everyday at 5 PM. No one, not even myself, knew whether I was fit to do it, or not. Perhaps, I just wanted to be different, not only with what I was about to do, but also the character I had chosen. Goofy has not been among Disney’s smartest characters, but his was the voice I was most confident of mimicking. After waiting eagerly for close to half an hour, I heard my name being announced and proceeded on to the stage. In front of an audience that comprised students of half a dozen classes and some teachers, I began my little act. Moments after I began to speak, the microphone stopped working. I was told that I had to continue my mimicry without one, because all numerous attempt failed to revive it (the mic, not the mimicry). Placing the dead microphone on a table, meant for props for other performers right behind me, I began what one could only call ‘In-efficacious Squall.’ I had to be loud to be audible to all, but that meant I had to end up sounding like a clown.

microphone-audience
Image courtesy: michaelangelocaruso.com

Three hundred quiet faces looked at me intently. I wanted to believe that they liked and secretly marveled inside their heads at my ‘Talent’, but it was clear enough that I was wasting the time of a more worthy participant. And right when I thought it could not get worse than this, my feet disturbed the cable of the then-not-working-now-functioning-perfectly-well microphone. The cable dragged the mic, and the whole hall erupted in laughter. It was not for my act… They all thought I had farted! The position of the mic right behind me didn’t help me either. I tried to explain what had happened, but the damage was already done. Red-faced, I took the long walk back, while everyone (including a few teachers) continued their relentless giggling. As I sat back in place, the student alongside asked me if I had an upset stomach and began laughing crazily. Others followed suit. Soon, around half of my classmates had demonstrated various methods of boisterous laughter, apart from suggesting various home remedies to cure flatulence. One went as far as asking whether farting was the talent I wanted to showcase. I remained quiet most of the time, having given up explaining long back as I knew it would have little or no effect. The teasing continued for a few more days until another victim was discovered, after which my schoolmates forgot about the Talent Show. It remained etched in my memory vividly, though. It kept reminding me that even with all the lack of my fear of facing an audience, I was vulnerable to embarrassment if I did not make the correct choices. It is an important lesson life has taught me; a lesson I learnt the hard way; a lesson I value; a lesson I will never forget.

P.S.: I used this title to pay homage to the novel ‘My Legendary Girlfriend’, the first novel I ever read completely (and re-read it 5 times). This novel is written by my favorite author, Mike Gayle, whose descriptive and rib-tickling writing has been among my primary inspirations.

An Account Of My “Minor” Surgery

It is not too difficult to get jitters imagining being in a hospital. The smell of spirit, the never-ending white walls, the medicines, shrewd nurses and of course, doctors who always tell you what to do and what not to do. When I was admitted to the JJ hospital for my Laproscopic Appendectomy (swell name, eh? It is a method to remove an inflamed appendix, for those who don’t know), my fear was quite evident, too. Who wouldn’t be scared? It was the General Male Surgical Ward: The prospect of being surrounded by men with amputated limbs and diabetic feet was enough to demoralize me! Although I wouldn’t be going through all what the other patients were, it was the first time I was admitted to a hospital. So my fear was understandable. Dr. Abhishek, a newbie in the ward, was given my responsibility. He had to visit me around 5 times a day. And often, the poor fellow had to wait, as I would be busy gorging on the roadside food below the hospital building or simply roaming around. I wasn’t sorry for it at all – Hospital food is never something that I consider worth relishing. Also, I did not like to wear the patient uniform provided to me. I would wear the same clothes that I normally would at home and shockingly, no one objected.

Dr. Abhishek, I must say, was a very nice man, but often appeared too stressed. Dealing with so many patients was not an easy task, that too while working in rotating shifts. Plus he was about to get married, so I could understand his plight, and how he must have felt constantly switching lives. It is ironic how someone who is supposed to provide comfort, can be at discomfort.

Relatives would have to wait for me, too. In one such instance, I had gone to the barber for a shave (Yes, I did that!) and ended up meeting them while they were leaving the hospital building. Apparently, they were trying to locate me for half an hour. After a couple of days of my stay, even the hospital staff knew that my medicine had to be kept at the table if I wasnt there. Although I feel ashamed of it now, I enjoyed every bit of this ‘special’ treatment back then. I hated the medicines, though. I would crib like a little child at the sight of tablets and capsules! “We can’t always inject medicines, right? Your body will then get so used to injections that oral medicines will have no effect. When you grow old and have to have medicines because your veins will be too hard to find, what will you do?”, Dr. Abhishek would rejoinder. Doctors always have their way, somehow, and he seemed to prefer the softer form of intimidation.

As a few days passed, I began to get used to the place and the people. I would talk and try to motivate patients with really extreme injuries, most of which had resulted in amputations. It was painful to see their agony, as much as it was difficult to understand the exact extent of their courage. I clearly remember walking towards my cot from the loo, and finding a man (probably in his sixties) weeping, as the doctor clawed the deep, wide wound on the sole of one of his feet. When he realized that I was watching all this, he smiled at me with tears still in his eyes. I saluted the man with a silent smile, too.

Such incidents gave me much-needed courage for my surgery, although I must say, I was not very scared of it. I trusted the doctors, many of whom performed multiple surgeries every Wednesday and Friday. Needless to say, there was always a long queue of patients wearing the same bottle green clothes, complete with a bottle green skull-cap. I got a chance to try this attire on a Friday. It was also the day when I came to know that ‘Laproscopic Appendectomy’ meant they would put a camera inside me through an incision. I was told that it was a safer option than the conventional method of opening the side of the patient’s torso. This added more to my already-brimming stock of self-assurance.

The doctors were literally on a surgery spree that day. After all, patients had to wait for an entire week for one of these two days. By the time it was my turn, it was afternoon and I was already famished. They had prevented me to eat anything since the previous night (which is good, or they would have discovered that I ate outside food). I walked inside the operation theater alone. Here too, the walls were white and the entire room was well-lit and extremely clean. And then, I saw the operation table. It was not very wide and just about the length of my body. I wondered where I would be resting my arms. My imagination conjured images of corpses with their hands resting on their stomachs, and kept inside coffins about the same size as operation tables. It was the time of my life when I would do some act of cleanliness to ward of my nervousness. I can say I began to get really nervous, because I was washing my hands (arms, rather) all the way up to my elbows, without the slightest clue why. I could hear my bravado draining. Hell, I must have pissed tens of times in my mind! This feeling of mental incontinence was overwhelming.

“What are you doing there?”, said a voice from behind my back. I turned around to see a group of doctors standing before me. “Just washing my hands… I thought since this is a surgery, I should be clean… Am I right?”, I responded. “Mr. Shamsi,” said an old female doctor in a motherly voice “We are performing your surgery, not the other way around. Any way, you are too clean already.” They all laughed and I followed suit, but halfheartedly. I know what she was talking about.

Earlier that morning, I was given a shave from my chest, all the way down to my knees. The process, which I consider too shameful to speak in-detail, was appalling at best. I was happy with the end result, though. At least chances of infection would be slimmer, I thought. But the happiness was short-lived: They sprayed a solution on me (read: my shaved area) which, they said, would form an anti-bacterial coating. It also turned out to be the time I screamed my loudest in a medical facility. I feel it would be futile to make my readers understand how painful it was – I just cannot explain it!

My doctors asked me to lie down on the table. I did so, with my panic seeping out at places. I asked that motherly voiced lady about what would they do to me during the surgery.

“Nothing. We will just put you to sleep.”

“You mean you will inject something that will cause my Serotonin levels to go up? And how will I wake up? And will you be putting THAT camera inside my stomach?”

“Just relax and… why are your palms sweating?”, she said while injecting something.

“Oh, that is just the water I couldn’t wipe.”

operating room

When I opened my eyes some hours later, the light bedazzled me. I must have died and reached heaven, I thought. It did not take me much time to figure that the room was too well-lit for my liking. I was still half-asleep. A guy in bottle green-clothes walked up to me and showed me a little glass jar. It contained my inflamed appendix, and it looked absolutely horrific, as far as I can recollect. I realized it was Dr. Abhishek, and my eyes closed. When I regained consciousness again, I was no longer in the operation theater. But wherever I was, I was not alone. I could hear people moaning in pain, myself included. I tried to lift my head, and realized that I could not do it; not without having to experience more pain, at least. My hands were positioned exactly where I had imagined on the corpse, but they could move, which was relieving. I lifted the sheet that covered me to see the extent and number of incisions. The sight was shocking. I could not believe what I was seeing. I was aghast at how incapable my doctors had proven themselves.

“Where the hell are my clothes?!”

These were the first words to come out of my mouth after my surgery, and sadly, they were addressed to myself. I could not speak properly, may be because they had inserted tubes through my mouth. I was disgruntled. Which idiot wearing only a hospital shirt, after a painful surgery, won’t be? The night brought even more pain, as the effect of anesthesia faded. The only thing that helped me cope up with this pain was the presence of my mother, who sat beside me throughout the night and kept saying that everything would be alright. I was discharged two days later, as my surgery was “minor.” I thought otherwise but didn’t really care a bit about the term, perhaps because I was too busy bidding farewell to my fellow patients and wishing them speedy recovery. Most importantly, I was just happy to be heading home.

Image courtesy: dlflowtech.com

Love Is Such An Effort These Days

The Idea-smithy

I miss being in love. The feeling that saves you in the morning, one minute after you awaken into a mundane day. That stomach-clenching, gut-wrenching, breath-stopping, cliche-spewing sensation that surprises you often. That nervous, embarassing cloud that surrounds you and feels strangely good. I miss it.

No. Missing being in love is just loneliness, the lonely of not having a dream to inspire and carry you over life’s utter mundanity. It isn’t quite that, even if I am lonely.

I miss how easy it used to be to fall in love. I miss its effortlessness. I miss not even knowing that it could be an effort.

I feel my age now. In my body, some, yes. But mostly in this tiredness. I worry more about being hurt. Whether my sentiments are reciprocated or not matter more to me now than they ever did. And even if I now know I…

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