Tag: life

#BlogHer17

1080x1080 VOTY Awards_060817-short blog post3It turns out I am one of the Voices Of The Year at this year’s BlogHer conference. It wasn’t a miracle – I submitted a few of my blog posts and somebody liked what they read. I am almost embarrassed to admit how much I’m looking forward to attending the conference in Orlando later this week.

But the excitement brings with it a small helping of shame. I wrote about my grief, and this brought me recognition, which leaves me feeling uncomfortable. I mined my loss for attention.

Maybe if my grandmother were around, she would ask me to just enjoy myself.

Here is home

Leaving often must mean looking for a home often, wishing the house would become by itself the kind of home you would like to come back to. A home that is warm and lived in, that tells stories of afternoons spent reading in the balcony, walls that have borne witness to both terrible arguments and the laughter of friends, tea and biscuits shared on brisk mornings.

Moving is never pleasant, except when you find something you had long ago given up as lost. Moving is stepping over sharp objects as you wonder how you ended up with so many things, even after making partially successful attempts to live like a minimalist. It is picking something to wear out of a suitcase because you forgot you had to meet someone and packed all your nice clothes a few days earlier than necessary. It is the mild annoyance that creeps up when you realize you have to sleep surrounded by carton boxes and plastic covers, because your house needs to be brought down and set up elsewhere.

Moving is also the citrusy air freshener that greets you when you open the door, the fresh coat of paint, fine sawdust in corners that come from repairing shelves. It is the sudden joy that catches you unawares, because for a moment, you think you left your problems behind and almost believe you can start anew. You find out then that you never truly leave something behind, it is within you like splinters and scars; some memories that you retrieve with abandon and others that you keep locked down.

Soon this house will smell of cumin and incense, occasionally of cigarette smoke from the dying embers of a habit that refuses to leave, perfume and detergent. Soon there will be stains on the carpet, grease in places you can never hope to get out, hair in the bathroom and furniture you can live without. Soon a bedroom will emerge, that you will attempt to make cozy, a kitchen that you wish to be bright and spotless, a study into which you retreat, a couch for you to be lazy in. Soon it will be a home.

But you’ve always carried your home with you.


A date with history

Everyone who makes advertisements got it right, nostalgia is powerful stuff.

There are some sights, sounds, smells and tastes that evoke a precise feeling. Or a memory. When the feeling is unpleasant or painful, I waste no time in pushing it back down. Infinite compartments exist for this purpose. Occasionally though, a memory that is warm and delicious comes to the surface. A favourite song from the nineties. A long forgotten dinner staple. The particular smell of a city in summer. Hail stones that throw themselves at the balcony door and melt in a puddle soon after.

I spent much of my childhood, or at least the parts of my childhood I remember, in a country where the locals spoke Arabic. When I hear an accent that does not distinguish p from b, I want to go up to them and say Hi. I want to tell them I like the way the English language behaves under their tongue, even if I made fun of it years ago. I want to tell them about the kuboos I ate growing up, the heat that burnt our feet, the dust storms that made buildings vanish, the cats that seemed to be everywhere, the meat that hung in revolving inverted cones. I also do not want to scare them away, so I smile to myself and keep walking.

If I may become your virtual salesperson for a minute, let me tell you about a cookie I like. A soft, thick cookie filled with dates, which is perfect in every way. It is not too sweet, and is always satisfying to bite into. Some buttery crumbs stick on to your fingers, which you can lick off later. A ma’amoul.

A few days ago, I came across a store that claimed to sell Middle Eastern Foods. Once inside, I spent many minutes looking at the products with English and Arabic lettering. I traced the font with my finger, from right to left. And there it was. A soft, thick cookie filled with dates. I sent my mother a message – Look what I found!

It wasn’t the same, but it was good enough.




This is what Rowan had to say:

It’s hard to walk the line between sentimental and maudlin. It’s even harder, sometimes, to pick a subject knowing that your readers don’t share your history with it. How much education is too much, veering into pedantic writing? How much is just not enough to build the connection? Anusha found that line this week and walked it with precise care. I want to tell them I like the way the English language behaves under their tongue, even if I made fun of it years ago. I want to tell them about the kuboos I ate growing up, the heat that burnt our feet, the dust storms that made buildings vanish, the cats that seemed to be everywhere, the meat that hung in revolving inverted cones. This eye for rich, sensual detail immerses the reader in a world they may not share but can feel through the screen or page. By the time Anusha finds her off-brand ma’amoul, we want one too. But it’s not just the descriptions that make this essay successful. What she’s done here is find a shared, universal emotion – nostalgia real or imagined – and connect her version of it to the reader’s own experience, bracketing the essay in the present day to ease us out of and return us to our daily lives. That’s how you share a memory.

Searching

I could taste the salt, the sand, and the sweet stickiness in the air, as we walked hand in hand on that night when the moon hid itself. We stopped at the shack that was now a restaurant, a bit disappointed that the grime was missing from the tables, and split an egg fried rice between us. I am not able to remember what we spoke of, but as you walked away to retrieve the vehicle that brought us there, I called out to you.

I woke then, and as the shadows quivered on the walls, I called you.

I haven’t cried in a long time, I tell you into the phone.

For so long, I say, I let the pain be at the centre of my being, with which I aligned myself. This pain that wasn’t what a doctor inflicted, nor was it from a wound. It emanated from within, sometimes tightening its hold on my chest. For so long, I continue, I was in search of an elusive happiness. I didn’t know what it was, but I found it occasionally, in beams of light that came down through the trees, in signs that I imagined were sent only for me, in casual laughter and conversations.

You wait.

When relief washed over me and took away most of the pain with it, I wondered if this was happiness. Is it the relief, is it the absence of pain? I ask you why it leaves me feeling empty and curiously numb. Maybe I have forgotten how to be happy.

You think I always want what I cannot have, or should not want, or do not need. You don’t say it, but I hear it in your smile, and in that long breath which says you would embrace me if this distance disappeared. I might find something elusive in the crook of your arm, something fleeting yet tangible, as if I could catch it in my palm and save it for posterity, to revisit whenever I had to. Was it happiness?

I cry then, for everything that was and everything that has come to be. Not sad, not happy, just being.

A sandwich and a book

Sometimes a memory comes at you like a mosquito, uncalled and unwanted. You shake your head and wave your hands, thinking it will go away. Mmmhhhh, you say. But it sits there, pricking, drawing blood, and you contemplate the angry red mark that is left behind.

Sometimes, a memory is delicious.

The sandwich

It happened all those years ago, and I remember what I was wearing, feeling like a girl which was unusual. A babypink shirt with sleeves that came just past the elbows, and a long skirt that was white at the waist and the colour changed every few centimetres, lightest pink, light pink, pink, darker pink, and a darkest pink at the ankles – ombré, I know to call it now, but back then it was the Shades of Pink Skirt. In that year of awkwardness, wanting to be a girl, but not very comfortable being one, I was taken in by the cool kids. A group of girls who left me in awe, with their perfect singing voices and school uniform skirts that they stitched in a stylish way I wanted to copy, with athletic bodies and artistic minds. That day, a bunch of us washed up at one of their homes, unannounced, filling the living room with laughter and chatter, and pointing at a younger brother on the verge of puberty, who had large feet but hadn’t yet shot up.

Are you hungry, Aunty asked us, as she walked into the kitchen and looked in her refrigerator.

Anusha is vegetarian, someone said, and there was silence for a moment.

Who is this new vegetarian friend you have brought home, Aunty wanted to know. You don’t even eat fish?

No but eggs are alright, if we make them in a pan that my mother likes to call The Egg Pan, and we leave the exhaust fan running so her kitchen doesn’t smell. No but my father isn’t a vegetarian sometimes, when he ate that whole fish or that grilled chicken and came home and tried to tell my mother his mouth doesn’t smell all that bad.

Aunty made me a special sandwich, because I was vegetarian and I couldn’t eat what the others were eating.

You will need a sandwich maker – an electric one or one you held in your hand and flipped over a gas stove.

  1. Bread-butter-jam sandwich

Take two slices of bread. On one, spread butter thickly. On another, spread jam. Place them together so the butter and jam can say hello to each other.

When the sandwich is done, the butter would have melted, making the bread golden brown, soft and crackling at the same time.

This could be what Memory tastes like. On some days, when Memory hums and buzzes and leaves behind angry red skin, I find myself making this sandwich to have with my cup of tea. I didn’t drink tea back then, I was too young for it my mother said.

The book

Another of the girls, with hair like the spring inside a ball-point pen and a heart-shaped face, lived with her two sisters in a home that felt like a story. They had many many books, posters of handsome men on their walls, a piano in the corner, bunk beds for the girls and music tapes. They spoke English to one another and discussed Literature and Movies at the dining table. She gave me my first grown-up books, books I couldn’t take from my Age Section at the British Council Library. She introduced me to the trilogy by Tolkien which I read all day for seven days and another book called The God of Small Things, which left me feeling sad for too long.

Two days ago, I remembered this book, because Memory attacked me. And I recalled a large dingy house, bats and jackfruits, pickles, a beautiful black man, twins who did something bad, and an old lady who did something worse. I bought the book, thirteen years after I first laid hands on it, and read it in a day. I understood things differently now. I also saw the language differently, the audacity that created words and whole universes within them.

Back then, when I thought my world was divided into 1. Vegetarians and Non-vegetarians, 2. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, 3. Those with Egg Pans and those without, I didn’t realize the world tricks us into thinking it is a kind place. I didn’t know why the maid at our house in India didn’t use the same toilet we did, even though she cleaned it for us. I didn’t know what everyone meant when they said, if only he were born into a different family, he could be anything he wanted. Or when someone was told he or she didn’t know their place, for they had desirable qualities like being smart and resourceful, but these qualities weren’t desirable in them because it made them forget their place. I didn’t know what we did to those who dream and desire, for freedom and forbidden things.

I understood anew the social structures that History passes down and the Present upholds, too scared to accept changes, punishing those who transgress. I felt the sadness returning to me, as memory collided with lived experiences, a force so strong I had to stop reading for a while.

A Memory that tastes like a bread-butter-jam sandwich is what I need now.

Years to go

I want to be a fabulous old woman.

A woman who doesn’t dye her white hair black or brown or red, a woman who pulls up errant children by their ears and makes them brush their teeth after they eat chocolate, a woman who asks young ones to go on mad adventures, to fall in love and enjoy the drowning, to collect people the way others collect stamps, a woman who tells you of the time she jumped off the balcony -it really wasn’t that high- a woman who wears her eccentricity like a scarf around her neck, a woman with a wardrobe full of curiosities -clothes and earrings and books from all over the world, gifts from friends who have long disappeared, souvenirs from flames extinguished- a woman whose body is wrinkled, soft and hard in different places from years of use, a woman who cooks for those she adores meals that warm hearts and stomachs, a woman who tells others off for being scared and for being unkind.

I want to be a fabulous old woman now.


The Late Show

Let’s get it to it then. The week that was, with yours truly.

***

Now that everyone has decided their wedding must resemble a Bollywood Musical, I get to watch many dance performances that were choreographed by a creative cousin or an out-of-work choreographer. So this is how I came across the Punjabi rap song Wakhra Swag (Unique Swag), in which, to nobody’s surprise, two men talk about their unique swag. While doing so, they decide to hate on youth (read women) who run behind fast fashion and branded consumer goods. They single out Gucci, Armani, Aldo and Audi for their cause. The men, naturally, are true sons of the soil, wearing black kurta-pyjama, locally sourced shoes, and driving a 350cc Yamaha motorcycle. Of course, women serve other purposes in the music video – like trying out sexy steps every twenty seconds or pretending to put on make-up, because these are things that women typically do. They are also paid to smile as rappers get in their face to tell them off for their poor choices. As the video draws to a close, the girl under fire walks about wearing a patiala suit, no doubt the rap song showed her how wrong she was. The man watches her, and shows her the universally recognized hand sign that means Super! But he’s wearing Jimmy Choo shoes as he does this. Maybe they are fake Jimmy Choos he bought in Delhi-6.

***

Having got that out of the way, we shall move on to more pleasant discussions, such as my day at The Hindu Lit for Life 2017. I would like to talk to about two sessions in particular – Poet Vairamuthu’s seemingly extemporaneous speech on Words, Music and Meaning; and Dr. Perumal Murugan’s conversation with A.R. Venkatachalapathy, whom he fondly called Chalapathy. As Vairamuthu recalled familiar anecdotes, involving at least two musical geniuses and some extraordinary directors, I started smiling to myself. Do you think he talks this way at home, to his family, I wondered. Would he speak to his sons in chaste Tamil? What if they picked up that notorious Chennai slang from playing in the streets and called him Naina, would he ground them? It is not imperative to know these answers. If Vairamuthu reminded me of a teacher we are openly in awe of and secretly a little bit in love with; the author Perumal Murugan reminded me of an affable friend of our father’s, whom you might want to confide in, you imagine he could tell you the kind of stories that make you feel guilty for not having a story to give him in return. There was one point that Perumal Murugan made, and he said this thought came to him on completing Koola Madhari. Where earlier he thought his life to be one of hardships, of straining to overcome new and strange obstacles, he now thought of his life until then as a happy one. Why do the good parts desert us faster, he asked. I am going to make an effort to remember the good parts more often, even if the bad bits change me in unforeseen ways and make me want to open up to strangers. This is a fairly simple idea, but it is entirely possible that my recent laps in the waters of self-pity had blinded me temporarily.

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The Late Show ends here, owing to general lack of sponsors and abysmal rating points. If you are interested in frequent updates, please write in.