Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Why can't we get all the people together in the world that we really like and then just stay together? I guess that wouldn't work. Someone would leave. Someone always leaves and then we have to say good-bye. I hate good-byes. I know what I need. I need more hellos.

from Peanuts

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Cinnamon Peeler

If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
and leave the yellow bark dust
on your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek
you could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under the rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbour to your hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler's wife.

I could hardly glance at you
before marriage
never touch you
- your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers...

When we swam once
I touched you in the water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
You climbed the bank and said

this is how you touch other women
the grass cutter's wife, the lime burner's daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume

and knew

what good is it
to be the lime burner's daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in the act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.

You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
peeler's wife. Smell me.

-- Michael Ondaatje

Much affection to July Child, on whose blog I discovered this beauty.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


This is no time to draw back

Flee from heaviness, set your feet free
Hold your dream close, ever closer
To a heart you never tell

To quieten..

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

For K

My blog has told you most of what is important in my life. Sometimes, it has even told me!

There are pieces I forget, though. People who touched me so hard, albeit for a short while.
K is one of them...

K, by blood is my uncle. He refuses to let me call him uncle, says it makes him feel old.
About six years ago, I was very unhappy. With school, the circumstances under which I was living, Mum not being there...
I am not given to asking for sympathy, I prefer it if people just let me be. At that point, an empty room and a diary were my only sources of comfort. Neither would create a hullabaloo about me, nor get unduly upset and guilty.
I was 16 years old. K and I had last met a couple of years back. I had heard dozens of stories about him. A wild man with no use for structured education. A charmer who could talk his way into, or out of anything. He had been living in the US since he was a child, was now working in Sales.
I liked him when we met. He was funny, loose-jointed in every way.
But it was only after I moved in with the Gp's that he and I became friends. God bless Yahoo!
K is one of the most naturally empathetic people I know. I would talk about Mum being away, the GP's...whose worry for my future frequently translated into harshness, my friends, my growing disillusionments with academics and family....he listened and talked back.
He wasn't an uncle dispensing wisdom, he was a guy who had roughed it and was still learning and who liked my confidence in him.
I told him about my first real crush. I was the first to know when he decided to ask his girlfriend to marry him. He told me about the proposal...the weekend away, how he thought she might react. When I asked how he knew that she was the One...he said...'she is giving me something I have never had before, and I am giving her something she hasn't had.' He asked if I was surprised that he was taking this step.

I wasn't.

I couldn't attend his wedding, thanks to examinations. He came to Calcutta with A, his wife a few days after. We sat in my room..just he and I.. and talked. A, from the little I saw of her was quiet, steady and deeply rooted. K's complete antithesis, said the petty elders.

They left for the US a few days before my birthday. On the day, a bouquet of roses and a card was delivered to the house.
The card, in his scrawling hand, had a spelling error. The petty elders sniggered. I, who had been sternly loyal to the accuracy of the English language ever since I could read....didn't care.

The petty elders harp on about K 'not even being a graduate.' I always heard notes of derision when they talked of his work.

I don't bother to defend him. I've failed a class and been labelled many things too. Their little snobocracy wouldn't understand.

K has a younger half-brother J. Another great guy, and one I've also had long, deep talks with. He worships his big brother, and K has been as tender and caring as can be.
J, always a dedicated student, won a full scholarship to study physics at the University of Rochester in New York.
He is immensely proud of his older brother. 'He talks life,' J once said of K during one of our talks.

K now has a daughter and a son. We're not in touch very frequently. But I think of him very very often, and I wanted to write about him. He could romantically be called a long-lost uncle...but I'm guessing he wouldn't like that.
Thank you K, for being a completely unconditional listener and leaning-post. I was a mess when you found me and you made it seem normal to be messed-up. No one else could have done that.

Love you and miss you lots.

Friday, February 15, 2008


A lot of people are my relationship with my parents. My interactions with Dad especially are rather radical for a parent-child relationship. That we share cigarettes and love the same brand of rum is the least of it.
I remember an episode when, once, dad, I and another relative were talking. There was some jokey reference to my getting married, and the relative asked my dad what might happen if I married a certain kind of guy. I don't remember what is was exactly, but I said that nobody else's opinion really mattered that since I would be the one getting married. 'That's sad,' said the relative.
Da didn't look sad. Instead he explained that the choice to marry would be mine. I would be living and sharing my life with whoever-the-hell. So, his approval wasn't really the question. I have never loved my dad more than I did at that moment.

With Mum...there was the danger of too much closeness. After she moved away, our relationship actually improved. She's thousands of miles away from me, has been for over six years now. I have never felt like there was the importance between us diminished in any way.

My parents and I are equals. I take the right to yell at my dad if I think he's drinking too much. This reminds me that I must not be in the same position myself. Respect doesn't always been looking up. Sometimes it means looking at one another without fear.
Mum and Dad see me. Not simply a product or their flesh and blood-chains, not simply the daughter they wanted and raised..but me.
Kids often tell their parents, 'Let me be. I'm not perfect, not exactly what you want. But I'm me!'
Parents find it hard to accept sometimes. Mine didn't. They let me be..but on a condition.
I had to see them. Let them be.
When we think of the term 'mother', I doubt too many of us think, 'sexy single woman with a helluva steely backbone and an intense heart.' That's part of who my mum is. My parents aren't just parents. They're people who love to live and who have taken risks.
They'repeople who have screwed up badly, and lived especially to tell the tale. They are survivors.
I could not be prouder of them. I had to learn to see them fully, in order to deal with them as individual to individual. I let them live exactly how they want, they extend the same consideration to me. I trust them wholly to understand me and let me wander through life at my own pace.
This trust and consideration has been earned by both sides.
We have broken up, been bitter, felt threatened by each other, cried a thousand helpless tears...
We have lost touch, refused to talk.
Through and after all this, I bear these two relationships with fierce, fierce pride.
Dad with his ear-stud, his love for gizmos, his self-centredness, just enough to make him go after what he wants and the world be total likeness to him...

Mum..who has passed on a mighty capacity for devotion, who still calls her ex-in-laws Ma and Baba and rings them up for recipes. Who proudly puts 'Tia's mother' as her primary identity.

My parents believe in knocking before they enter my room. They give me the fullest individuality possible, they relinquish any need to control my life.
Perhaps that is why they know my life intimately. I have the choice not to tell them things, but I would much rather they knew.
I don't take for granted that love flowers automatically in blood-ties, even those as tightly bound as parent and child.
We've taken long journeys, alone, in order to create and keep our relationships. It's never been as simple as blood=loyalty. Every drop of blood, whether matched or unmatched, has had to be proven worthy. 'After all, he's your father,' or 'She's my daughter' are not sufficient to cover up the ugliness. 'She's a principled woman' works much better.

My parents are comfortable and totally honest with me. They can be all the people they want to be, and I will cheer them on. There is no shame in this love. I have two vibrant, smart, alive individuals who run with life, with me and on their own. Not because they have to, but because it's fun hanging out.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Let the lover be disgraceful, crazy, absent-minded.
Someone sober will worry about events going badly.
Let the lover be.


Happy Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Sometimes the head lies so heavy on the rest of us...

Vasantotsav '08

So..I attended what my father insists on calling 'oi shob aatel concert.' 'Aatel' in Bengali loosely translates to 'wannabe-intellectual.' In Kolkata...this translates into studying literature, wearing cotton/khadi kurtas and chappals, carrying jholas, growing a beard...this is a little unfair because a lot of 'real' intellectuals also have these trimmings.

HAH! I've always wanted to use and explain that term!

Anyway...this aatel concert, more popularly known as Vasantotsav is a three-day affair organized by Dr. Vasantrao Deshpande Pratisthan, in memory of the late Hindustani Classical vocalist. I haven't heard him, but Google tells me that he was of the Patiala Gharana. (I love sounding knowledgable about things I don't know about!)
This year the performers included Ustad Zakir Hussain, Shankar Mahadevan, Dr. L. Subramaniam, Kishori Amonkar, Ghulam Ali and Begum Abida Parveen.
Now that I've name-dropped so grandly...let me affirm that I do in fact listen to these artists. I don't understand Gharana and Raaga and Thumri. I listen because their music moves me.

I missed Shankar Mahadevan and Zakir Hussain because P and I were making a Sensational Strawberry Shortcake for her brother's birthday. More on that deserves its own post!

Day 2 was Dr. Subramaniam and Abida Parveen. I went with M and S, a very sweet friend of ours who is alternately shocked and amused by M and my antics. The venue was the grounds of a school in Shaniwar Peth. For any non-Puneiite readers, Pune has a 'Peth' for every day of the week.
A chair would have cost us 2000 bucks, so we had settled gracefully for a square patch of earth for 350 rupees. It's called 'Bharatiya Baithak.'
(Note: The chairs were all plastic.)

I wish I had a picture of the stage, I fell so madly in love with it!
Twas designed on the lines of a royal court where the Nawabs reclined and smoked hookahs while musicians and dancers performed. There was even a red silk chaise for anchor Nana Patekar to 'recline' on.
Behind the stage was a giant canvas, with a painting of a twilight sky. The colours changed as the lights fell on, lavender-blue, hazy green...

Dr. Subramaniam won me over with his humility. His violin and his brilliant back-up musicians were rugged yet harmonious. Very simply, I was awed at their speed and perfection. How much devotion goes into training your fingers and mouth and mind to work like that!


I've listened to her and tried to read some of the poets whose kalams and ghazals she sings...but nothing had me prepared for her sheer stage presence.
Abida on stage is raw power and energy and passion. However many Higher Powers there may be, whether or not they co-exist in harmony...I'm pretty certain that on Saturday night this week past..they were back-slapping buddies who took a moment to brush away a surreptitious tear.
A plump woman with beautiful skin and masses of curly hair, dressed in black with a colourful shawl thrown around her was praising the Highest Power, that of Love. And never has love sounded so un-trite, so significant. There was no mournful chanting, no talk of fear or modesty or righteousness. Instead, there was complete giving, a passionate union and unsuppressed joy in loving so much.
She used her voice, her hair, her entire body and I wanted to go up and hug her, except I was afraid even that would restrain her.
She held us through 'Mast Kalandar' and 'Yar tha, Gulzar tha' and I swear...people were clapping and moving their bodies like they were at a rock concert. I don't think Heaven was ever felicitated with more celebration.

Day 3, I heard Ghulam Ali and very little of Kishori Amonkar. Ghulam Ali saab...again very sweet. he sang 'Kal Chaudvin ki Raat Thi' and 'Chupke Chupke' and 'Saamne Baitha Tha' and explained some of the shers most humbly.

Kishori Amonkar...I'm sorry I couldn't stay for your entire performance. I didn't know it would go on till midnight, and out of respect for Raju who came to pick us up, I had to leave at a decent time. You're very pretty, you know, and I think you would have a dimple in your right cheek if you smiled more. I saw you smile and praise one of your backup singers, a young, delicate looking girl.
You are wonderful to listen to, but watching you live, especially in cramped conditions with an aching back and legs isn't really happy. Had it been a smaller group, and had I been less achy, I would have sat through. I listen to you whenever I need to concentrate hard. I hope I get to see you again soon.

I'm so glad I took the plunge and went ahead with this, despite transport issues. I had only heard, and heard of, most of these artists...seeing and hearing them in this setting has been incredibly moving.
What saddened me was that I couldn't share it with any of the people I would have liked, apart from M.

Boss, who fostered in me a general interest in Sufism and Sufi music

My mashi, who got me to listen to Abida for the first time...

And most of all...S...without whom this grounded-in-rock-music woman would never have given this music a chance...

Friday, February 08, 2008

bhulbo na

The other day, a gentleman at the Store asked me, 'How can the liberal Bengali take Nandigram lying down?'

By taking a stand, sir, by taking a stand.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008 my cell phone has hung. I can't access my menu, my inbox...nothing!

Worst of all, I don't think the alarm will work either. Woe is me!

Have been very tired and hungry and PMS-ey all day. Reading Johnson's 'Preface to Shakespeare' for tomorrow's class. Am already exasperated!
I don't care to analyze Shakespeare. I don't care that he flouted the Three Unities. And I'm never reading his historical plays because, except for Julius Caeser...THEY'RE BORING!
I didn't even like Antony and Cleopatra! And I think we should all just leave poor Hamlet ALONE!

In Philosophy class today, we learnt that there is a theory that propounds the possiblility that 'Christianity' is really 'Krishna's Niti.'
Dude type no?!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


You tell me that silence
is nearer to peace than poems

but if for my gift
I brought you silence
(for I know silence)

you would say

This is not silence
this is another poem

and you would hand it back to me.

~Leonard Cohen

Sunday, February 03, 2008


"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

From The Velveteen Rabbit
Written by Margery Williams
Illustrations by William Nicholson

Read the whole story here.


While the romantic comedy has almost always trafficked in happy endings, that happiness is rarely accompanied by a sense of risk or exhilaration.
When you think of, say, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, you will recall the emotional combat of two strong-willed, independent individuals ending in mutual conquest.

Love was a dangerous and noble sport that required skill and cunning as well as commitment. It required movie stars whose physical appeal was matched by verbal dexterity and a vital sense of idiosyncrasy.

From Funny, how romance is dying
by A.O. Scott
Published in the New York Times
Reprinted in The Sunday Express