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travel

शहर

मुझे लगता है मैं धीरे धीरे लखनऊ भूल रही हूँ। पिचली बार नॉवेल्टी सिनेमा पहुँचने के लिए मुझे एक बार दोस्त को फोन करके पूछना पड़ा था कि कौन रास्ता लेना है चौराहे के बाद? ये पूछते ही मुझे लगा कि मैं बनारस में खड़ी हूं | ऐसा मैंने पहले कभी महसूस नहीं किया था – मुझे ऐसा लगा मैं यूनिवर्सल बुकस्टोर को नहीं बल्की काशी अन्नपूर्णा बुकस्टोर को खोज रही हूँ | ना जाने क्यों मुझे कबाब पराठे की तलभ नहीं हुई.. मुझे दिखा एक तो बस सत्य नारायण की कचौरी सब्जी | क्या हमारा सारा जिया बदलता जाता है? क्या हम एक जगह पे होते हुए दूसरे जगह को महसूस कर सकते हैं? क्या परिवर्तन इतना बड़ा नियम है संसार का कि वो लखनऊ जो मेरे दिल के सबसे करीब था वो बदल रहा है? बदल लखनऊ रहा है या मेरे अंदर का उसके प्रति प्रेम? क्यों मैं रॉयल कैफे या जैन चाट भंडार की चाट को वो अहमियत नहीं दे पर रही जो मैंने शायद अभी दो दिन पहले दीनानाथ चाट भंडार को दी थी?
जीवन बड़ा अजीब खेल है| मुझे लगता था मैं बहुत क्लिंगी टाइप की लड़की हूं.. एक बार जो पसंद आ गया फिर तो मैं लाख बॉम्बे, दिल्ली घूम लूं, कभी नहीं बदल सकती | पर क्यों मुझे यहां खड़े होके शिकंजी पीने की तलभ भी नहीं हो रही? क्यों मुझे गंगा घाट वाली मसाला नींबू चाय पीने की तलभ हो रही? मैं वो चिज ढूंढ ही नहीं रही जिसके लिए मैं एक समय बस पकड़ के आ जाया करती थी यहां। | एक खालीपन सा लग रहा | शहर अजनबी सा लग रहा | क्या लखनऊ मेरा कभी अपना था? आप मुझसे पूछे तो मुझे बहुत अच्छे से याद है | इस वृहद आसमान के नीचे अपनी बहाएं खोल लखनऊ ने मुझे वात्सल्य देकर अपना या था | मुझे कभी अकेला महसूस नहीं होने दिया था | पर शायद ये भी बदल गया है | मुझे शाम-ए-अवध में शाम-ए-बनारस दिख रहा है | मुझे सब कुछ झूठ लग रहा |

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Categories
Poems

The Wedding

As I peer at the neighbour’s house

So secretly that they’ll never know

A tiny girl was peering at them

With keen proclivity

I see the banana trees

I see five women in their kanjivaram sarees

Laden with golden ornaments

Hair set with gajras

And above all, they adorn beautiful smiles

Smiles that tell you

They’ve been through their shares of rough patches

Yet in that moment,

It doesn’t matter.

They’re happy.

Happy for the woman who is breaking stereotype.

Stereotype? Ah

As I observe the rituals taking place

Amidst a havoc

Or some would call a pandemic

I see there are merely fifteen guests

Probably only family members

But when the bride enters

In her yellow saree

With a tint of vintage

I can almost sense that it’s her mother’s saree

She enters with a radiant smile on her

Beautiful, confident, vivacious

She stares straightaway in the eyes of the bridegroom

Her eyes

Those eyes vividly telling him

She will always strive for Equality,

Even if the world falls apart.

And she wore her mother’s saree

To remind herself

Not to give in to the demands and expectations of the ugly society

And the guy smiles back.

Acknowledging that he too will break the barriers that exist at his home.

In their small ways

In their small world

Categories
Musings

Just a hug?

good girls don’t say ‘no’

good girls do whatever uncle says

good girls ensure that uncle is never infuriated

good girls should smile at all times

good girls should forget about their needs

good girls are born to appease

so many of us are victims of the good girl conditioning. I was recently reading a thread by Dr Nicole which talked about the same. As girls, when our relatives leave homes, we are expected to hug them even if that’s discomforting to us. Often, if we express our concern to our parents, we are given the stare that tells us, ‘what are you saying? you must ensure that guests feel warm and welcomed at our place! Oh, and it is just a hug!’

As we grow up, we realise that we end up having very porous boundaries. A friend recently sent me a video by Dr Melissa who talks about the role patriarchy plays in the way we establish our boundaries. More often than not, we comply with whatever people around us ask to do primarily because we put their ‘happiness’ over our own ‘needs’. And that eventually causes resentment in our mind.

During the pandemic, I think besides spending time with family, I explored two authors religiously – Manav Kaul and Dushka Zapata. Dushka also talks about establishing boundaries but the gendered aspect of boundaries is something that I am understanding with a more nuanced interest these days. The combination of Dushka and Manav was a revelation of sort to me. I became self aware, especially reinstating my belief in how important solitude is. I feel the more time you spend with yourself, the more time you spend to understand who you are and why you are and most importantly – what are you doing to let go of those triggers is when you truly start to find comfort in your company. Or as Sartre put it – you prioritise existence over essence.

Of course, I do not mean to sound insensitive to people who are struggling with mental health issues. I am only talking about people like me, who if they try, can get rid of their patterns by self healing with no time limit on their mind. And again, to quote a friend, Shriya to be precise(because what she said was really intriguing so with all due credits) – ‘there is a difference between being kind and being lenient.’

Boundaries are also about being kind. Not to others but to our own self. We can only show up for others if we are in a good space mentally.

Hugs are something so trivial that I remember when I first told my college friends that I am not okay with it – they were surprised but what was comforting for me was that they accepted my boundaries. No questions asked, no judgements made. They went ahead with life.

Another incident was when a friend hugged me and I told him outrightly that I was not okay with it. He was taken by surprise but I think, post that incident, I have never saw the situation repeat itself.

What can I takeaway from this?

You cannot expect people to read your mind. If I do not appreciate hugs, I must tell it in a straightforward manner. without any mincing of words or in a way that I’m apologetic about it.

Sometimes people violate your boundary when they don’t know about it. YOU MUST MAKE IT VERY VIVID. But if they repeat it, cut them off. Simple as that.

Don’t let people around you define boundaries for you. I have come from a place where absolutely NO ONE understood my boundaries to a place where I think people respect it well. If they don’t, I either bring it up or make myself distant if they persistently do not understand the repercussions of their actions.

Food for thought:

  1. All the books by Dushka Zapata. Beautiful collection! I managed to read them on kindle. But for starters, you can also go back to her answers on quora.
  2. Dr Melissa on boundaries on Youtube.
  3. Good boundaries free you on Youtube.
  4. Hopefully have a circle with whom you can have these conversations and feel safe! (Yes, this is a shoutout to my very beautiful sararav <3!)

Categories
Stories

Mrinal meets Masaba

(Mrinal meets Masaba is a conversation between two fictional characters. If you wish to understand the context of the story, you can explore these characters. Two very powerful characters written by two of my favourite authors!)

Masaba – I love Thane, Modern Love India by Dhruv Sehgal (Available on Prime)

Mrinal – From Tagore’s short story, Mrinal ki Chithhi. You can read it online or watch the episode too. It has been taken down from Netflix so I’m not sure where exactly you can watch it but it was also aired on epic TV earlier.

While Masaba didn’t get to work on her dream project in Thane, she was happy to find a man who understood the horrors of her past and accepted things as they were. Positive in outlook after years, she plans a sojourn to Odisha. 

Why Odisha, you ask? That was the first place she visited after her divorce to find the peace she couldn’t find in her utterly dysfunctional marriage. 

As she reaches the ghats of Puri, she feels free. Akin to what she felt back in 2014 when she had first visited the place. While she has managed to find the love she wasn’t even seeking, she never lets it define her. The difference between the two versions of Masaba that visited the serene beach was that now her identity wasn’t synonymous to who she was with.

She wasn’t merely someone’s girlfriend or wife. She was Masaba. A woman who lived life on her terms. Masaba, who didn’t let society define who she was. 

Masaba, who was like Mastani, woh api takdeer khud likhti hai.

As she was casually walking on the beach while sipping a Kadak masala chai and contemplating about how far she’s come in her journey of introspection, she finds a woman writing something in her journal.

Masaba has always been intrigued by what is it that people write in their journal. The idea never comes from the place of judgement, the interest comes from a genuine place of knowing what the person is going through – how do they deal with it? How do they take life as it is?

She sits near the woman who is writing in her journal at the moment and continues to sip her tea. 

Mrinal writes till the sun sets – the horizon looks magnificent. Once she is done writing, she looks towards Masaba. She smiles that reflects her aura – beaming with light.

Mrinal : how are you?

Masaba : Quite good, how come you figured it out that I was meaning to talk to you?

Mrinal : You know, while the world vilifies us for not being true to our tribe, I feel there is something that connects all of us alike, sisterhood is very real.

Masaba : well, I’m certain. What brings you to Odisha?

Mrinal: I was married to a very rich family in Bengal. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t bring myself to fit in the family. I was too small for their big home. I was that piece of a jigsaw puzzle that couldn’t simply fit.

Masaba : Were you journaling about this right now?

Mrinal : Oh no no, you don’t get the privilege to journal as an Indian woman from a conservative family. I was writing a letter to my husband back in Bengal – letting him know that the horizon right in front of me is a gentle reminder of how tiny I am in this vast universe. Which also implies that I can choose to be whatever I want. And in that case, I don’t want to restrict my identity as the younger DIL of his royal family. I don’t want to wake up thinking about what has to be cooked for the three meals. I want to wake up to this beautiful sun, soaking in all the light, reading books by Tagore and joining self help groups that are very famous here. I want to spend time observing my coffee while it brews. I want to sit and not think about the responsibilities that I have been burdened with.

I just want to be.

Masaba : wow, I am amazed by your audacity to take this step. Few years back, I was in the same shoes. But it took me years to get out of it. In fact, to tell you the truth, I am still trying to get out of my divorce.

But the way you articulate it, I must say, I am so proud of you.

Mrinal : as you sit in front of this vast expanse, do you still feel unsettled?

Masaba : I wouldn’t say I feel unsettled

Mrinal : then you must stay here. For days. Till you feel complete. They say in these beaches of Puri, you find pieces of your own self that you lost in the process of being subservient to others. You find your inner self which subconsciously gave in to the societal norms.

Masaba : how are you so articulate? How is it so easy for you even when its fresh for you? Sorry, I shouldn’t say easy but maybe effortless? I mean, you get my point, right? I didnt mean to invalidate your pain.

Mrinal gets up

Mrinal : what is your name/?

Masaba : I did tell you earlier.. Masaba.

Mrinal : In urdu, Masaba means refuge. And that is exactly what I found in you – a refuge which pushed me to pour my heart out to you.. If you spend some time in Puri, away from the clutches of your past, I am certain you will find your masaba too. Things do get better, my friend.

Categories
Poems

Love in silence

‘should I play our favourite music?’, he asks.

‘do we even have a favourite?’, I ask.

and then, on the ghats of Benaras

sharing the earphone

we listen to a timeless masterpiece by B Sivaramakrishnan Rao

Benaras is a hopelessly romantic place

if one has an eye for it

it makes you realise your life is bigger than your love sitting next to you

yet in the moment it also makes you realise how love is exactly what you need in the moment to live life in its ‘whole’ essence

‘what’s up with you?’, he asks.

I simply smile. and let that question go out there in the universe.

travel far far away.

‘what’s up with you?’, I ask.

He smiles. Ponders.

‘Well, I have just waited.’

‘Waited since the month of February for you to be here’.

I smile.

Sometimes there is an exchange of words and emotions in silence

every time I am in Benaras, sitting next to you, I think I experience it

I don’t know how to articulate it and put it across

but it feels surreal. do you get what I’m saying?

I am always very articulate with monologues in my head

he nods.

‘I do understand’, he says.

‘what do you understand?’, I ask.

‘that you feel safe here.’, he tells.

and I smile. again. and leave it at that.

It feels like Rao was here when he composed this piece

why can’t life always be this picturesque?

ghats, Aarti, music, chai, silence amidst the noise and you.

And while we loiter around from one ghat to another

we reach the Manikarnika ghat

I look at him with weepy eyes

his eyes just as watery

parting – the most atrocious act we’ve all been afflicted with

the location, almost feels cinematic

the person next to me, the song from Kabir cafe in my head, the ghats – is it all even real?

I want to say I am clueless

but the flames at the ghat of Manikarnika is a grim reminder

that this is all very real

and nothing ever lasts

Categories
Stories

The house next door

I like to read what people write in their journal. I don’t mean to intrude their privacy but I have an irresistible urge to know a person in and out. These days, I don’t even want to offer any help if they’re struggling. I merely want to immerse in an experience where I stand in the corner of the room with my cup of tea and see them live their lives with all their vulnerabilities. Of course, no friend has ever signed up to give me their journal. (I have, no doubt, been fortunate to get a sneak peak into it a multitude of times) But the entire thing. Nope. I have satiated my curiosity by reading what Virginia Woolf or Sylvia Path wrote.

Not to say these aren’t interesting people. they are. their monotony also has a lot to teach. so many emotions, so raw and so beautiful.

But the obsession to know people around me has grown exponentially. Every time I get off the elevator I see this uncle from 206 who gleams at the sight of my dog. He talks to him in a language I do not understand. I am certain my dog, Taco, understands it though. he really really adores him. That’s the beauty of language of emotions – it overpowers the language of words. The cycle has been repeating for almost two months now.

Sometimes Taco flees from our home to his. This uncle, Mr A, is from Bombay who works here at some infrastructural project – details of which I’m oblivious to. So when Taco runs to 206, I run behind him. I consciously avoid entering the house because i may be tempted to enter into the prohibited terrain of ‘a journal of one’s own’

There is a mutual adoration that exists between Taco and Mr A in all its unadulterated form. While they indulge in their daily chatter – probably Taco cribbing that I pamper him with a little more love than he needs or approves of and Mr A talking about how he misses good desserts in this small city, my eyes fall upon the very thing I shouldn’t have seen.

A journal with a beautiful artwork on the outside. Probably handmade. With an ink-pot kept next to it.

‘Who uses a fountain pen in these times?’ I think in my head

While I was busy building my thoughts around the journal and its appearances, Mr A was done with his daily conversation with Taco and I was supposed to leave. It wasn’t said of course, but you understand it anyway. Some things are never said but you’ve to understand them.

‘who writes with a fountain pen in these times?’

‘oh I am an old school’, says Mr A.

‘well, that makes me all the more interested in what you write inside that journal!’, there – I say it. loud and clear.

‘oh it is nothing that would interest you. just an old school guy writing about his old school stuff’

‘my friends call me an octogenarian!’, I pinch myself to stop this act of desperation to read the journal and give the guy some space.

‘haha! you know, it fascinates me how your generation almost always finds comfort in labels.’

I look at him. or a witness to the entire scene would call it – a death stare

and suddenly I hear taco bark for making him wait for almost five minutes at the main door of my home. thankfully, I only crossed the limit of social etiquette in my head and not in reality.

2 am

I am not a night owl. I have different phases but for now, I go to bed on time. but today, I somehow dozed off on my couch while watching something. my sleep got disturbed at 1. 56 am to be precise when I heard some commotion in the verandah. I opened the door and saw Mr A getting into the elevator with a suitcase in his hand.

‘he must be leaving for home considering Dussehra is near’, I think.

and then I think of the unthinkable. since Mr A lives on rent, next to our flat, we might have a spare key to his home. Not very surprisingly, we did. I find it beautiful how we trust our neighbours unconditionally.

So I quickly leave and enter into his flat. was I scared? I cannot recall. probably the fascination to read his journal overpowered to the point that I wasn’t in control of my cognitive abilities.

I enter his house. a quiet space. not organised in way you’d like to call it a house but who am I to comment on his sacred space. did he consider these four walls his home? or was it just his space to dwell while he earns his bread? a house, so to speak.

‘you will get to know it very soon!’, I tell my head, with a gush of dopamine.

To my disappointment, the journal wasn’t there. I pulled up my socks and reminded myself that it is time to really bring what I have been practising since childhood into a reality – become ACP Pradyuman and begin the search! Who hasn’t grown up watching CID and trying to recreate all those scenes at their homes?

No sight of the journal in the drawing or dining area. I was trying to suppress the thought of him taking the journal with him. so I kept persevering.

I enter the bedroom and I see it there. the beauty that I saw a couple of days ago. I touch the journal and for a moment, I observe and feel the beauty of it. to say I was ecstatic would be an understatement.

And finally after relishing the moment, I open the journal.

22.08.2020

milk – 2 pckts

coffee – 500 g

paneer – 250 g

this is precisely how the first page looked like.

23.08.2020

milk – 4 pckts

paneer – 750 g

mushroom – 2 pckts

babycorn – 1 jar

must be a party day. I tell myself.

I close the journal. look at the stack of his books.

And I leave.

I locked his house well. I was still pretty entrenched in my character of ACP Pradyuman so I ensured that I do not leave any traces of my presence.

I go off to sleep on my couch after reading another journal entry of Sylvia Path.