anything can wake them
the memories of you
today it was a leaf
falling from a tree
i was sitting under
later the particular way
a boy at the chicken shop
glanced at me
looking up from his chopping
droplets flying off
that he was too young
to be wielding
sometimes it is the breeze
that makes me
of your breath
on my ear
or the confident stride
of the girl
in the long straight blue skirt
with the short cropped hair
and black eyes
anything can wake them
a little breeze
nudging at the edge
of a folded paper
and there is a choice
let it blow away
or dwell on the moment
and unfold the memory
and soak it in
sometimes there is dust
to be blown off
and smudged charcoal details
like the shape
of the rocks
by the lake
with the mosquitoes
we tried to ignore
it is as clear as it was
or perhaps clearer
with details sharpened
and the background
like the pattern
on the bra
when i didn’t look away
as you changed
sometimes details fade
is clear in my head
but not your words
and other times
with too much unfolding
the smell of
on your skin
i cannot now recall
all it takes
is a moment
and my head fills
with memories of you
every one of you
who lit a spark
in my heart
i sink deep into
that delicious loneliness
but in the end
it is the memory
of a memory
an idea of you
that you never were
and never will be
Touch me in the rain,
And I’ll inhale the scent of you,
As we kiss.
The remembered joy of moments we shared
Animates my daily existence
And time spirals around a longing
For your electronically transmitted voice-
A window into that mystical shared space
We build, moment by moment-
Inadequate and ephemeral
To the desperate reality of blind clawing need;
Memories, leaving a bitter-sour aftertaste of dissatisfaction
Like forgotten black coffee.
You come to me, my love,
In the depths of the night
And in the reality of darkness
We relive and forge anew
Our inextinguishable passion.
And in the watery light of day,
A vague shadow of my self navigates
A pale meaningless Existence,
Hinged on the promise
Of the tantalizing sound
Of your voice
Beamed across the vast silent spaces
Radha looked at the new scab, through the green-tinted glass of the half-empty beer bottle. It looked, she decided, a little like an island. Or maybe a smallish continent. A pear-shaped continent on her arm, where the rock had scraped as she scrambled back up, after her fall. She smiled at the thought.
She had always liked to pick at scabs. Right from the time she was a little girl. She loved to pick at them, slowly, patiently… until she drew blood. Then she’d press the scab back quickly, wincing at the pain that replaced the itching sensation of healing flesh.
She would first examine each new scab. Carefully run her fingers over it, to understand its texture, thickness and weak points. Once she found the most likely border, she would gently edge her nail between the scab and her skin. Ever so slowly, she would begin to peel. She’d stop every time it seemed like it was going to hurt, and then keep going cautiously. It was an achievement if she could pull off the scab, without drawing blood. There was, however, a familiar pleasure even to the sharp indrawn breath and sting of fresh drawn blood.
She had been out on a walk. Exploring a new path she hadn’t seen before. It turned out to be a shortcut to the lake. It lead over the large rocks, that the main path circled around. She’d lost her footing, hopping from one rock to the other, underestimating the distance between them. And she’d slipped into the crevice between them. It wasn’t deep, so she’d scrambled up quite easily, but she’d scraped her arm rather hard against the edge of one of the rocks, and earned herself a new scab to pick in the process.
Radha took another swig from the bottle. She wondered if there was a streak of masochism in her. She could see it as clearly as if she had witnessed it, herself. Every detail that Nafisa had related with shame, at Radha’s insistence, played out with vivid detail to her dispassionate mind’s eye. The worst part was that she couldn’t even blame her partner.
A droplet of beer slid slowly down the side of the bottle. Radha watched it trace its way down the smooth greenness. Like a tear. Or a bead of sweat. Someone else’s sweat. Sliding its way over Nafisa’s elegant collar bone. Someone else’s sweat, marking her with someone else’s smell. She smiled, through blurring eyes at how territorial and animal that thought had sounded.
Radha caught the droplet, just before it fell to the ground. She held the partially peeled bruise right under it. She winced slightly as the alcohol stung the raw area, where she’d worried the scab off the pink healing flesh.
Every time she closed her eyes, she saw them. Images Radha had conjured for herself, from Nafisa’s flat descriptions. Karan’s smooth dark skin and lightly muscled body, sliding against Nafisa. His deep black eyes enticing and mysterious, as Radha’s all too familiar ones could never be. Nafisa’s slim graceful form arching sensually against Karan’s. Her long wavy tresses, that Radha loved to run her fingers through, thrown back… for Karan. The magic of skin against skin made that much more magical with the newness of discovery, a novelty hard to compete with.
Strangely these images did not evoke any feelings in Radha. She watched them as dispassionately as she fingered her scab. If her eyes blurred, it was more because she felt she had to react, than from any spontaneous feeling. She longed to feel, again. And so she played it over in her head.
Fingers sliding over skin. Lips meeting, melding with a slight ‘pop’ of wet suction. A warmth and wetness that had always been hers and Nafisa’s alone… until now. The gasping, panting and wet slapping of naked skins. A part of Nafisa she could never share.
She’d asked Radha for permission. Nafisa had asked, in the certainity of shared convictions that came from challenging norms together all their lives. And Radha had given her permission readily, in the greed of reciprocity.
Reciprocity and the reluctance to set boundaries on another that came with pretensions of intellectualism. A middle-class idealism about a love that transcended all boundaries and challenged all structures. A love that was patient and kind, that knew no limits, set no boundaries and was not fed by jealousy. Radha didn’t know what kind of love that was. The love she knew was savage, greedy and possessive.
The worst part was, to be completely honest, if she’d had the opportunity, she’d have done the same.
She’d thought she could handle it, and to be fair, she had handled it. It just hadn’t been the way she would have liked to. She wondered now, how she had imagined it would feel. Certainly it hadn’t been so bleak and emotionless. She’d only seen the logic of it. And the excitement of novelty, the furtive meeting of eyes, the uncertainty, the strange new chemistry, the glamour of the leap into the unknown… a new path to explore.
But something in Radha had made her stumble as she took the new path. She hadn’t been able to make the leap from one rock to another. The crevice was small, but she’d fallen and scraped herself. She’d clambered back up, but she couldn’t try the leap again. Not now that she knew how it felt on the other side. At least she hoped she couldn’t.
It was one thing to make the leap unknowingly, as Nafisa had done. It was quite another to knowingly make her feel the bleakness and impassivity that Radha had herself felt. Perhaps that was the scariest thing. Not knowing whether, with the hindsight of experience she would still be selfish enough to take the leap, should the opportunity arise. Not knowing whether she was capable of that or not.
The fleeting brush she’d had with opportunity had backfired because of other consequences. Shobhana was a good friend of Nafisa’s, and she hadn’t wanted to endanger that. But was that all that had stopped her?
And something in her rebelled at being the wronged one. She did not want to play that part. Nor did she want the part of being in the wrong.
As destiny diced in her head, the scenes played themselves out over and over in a never ending loop in her mind’s eye.
Her fingers worried the alcohol-moist scab, peeling it easily off the bruise, exposing the raw pink flesh.
And somewhere inarticulable, there was a pain and an emptiness. A pain and an emptiness that Radha hoped she would never cause.
Radha took another swig of beer and considered the dramatic import of her thought. She grinned at the bottle through blurry eyes, and wondered who she could be. She could be kind and forgiving and faithful, and keep the moral high ground forever. Or she could equalize the score and take revenge in one sweep.
She watched her reflection sway slightly as she stood up from her corner of the floor, leaning against the head of the bed. She walked to the mirror. Her eyes narrowed critically, taking in her slight frame with its little protruding belly. She was short. And her hair was thick and straight. On the whole, she reflected, hating herself as she did so, for being clichéd enough to consider her looks as a factor in the equation, she didn’t look that bad. If you took away the dark circles, which admittedly had been less pronounced before their little experiment with bisexuality and open relationships, and sucked in the protruding belly, she looked quite attractive in a cute school-girl way. Thankfully her dark skin lent a tinge of adultness to her image. On the other hand, Karan… Oh, Karan was exquisitely handsome. Tall and muscled with dark eyes and skin the colour and smoothness of chocolate. Radha sighed. She knew that it wasn’t a competition. She knew that there had never been any comparison between them as far as Nafisa was concerned. She knew she should not feel threatened. She knew that monogamy was just a social construct… but perhaps she was too well socialized into monogamy. Or perhaps having broken so many boundaries in her inter-religious lesbian relationship, this was one step too far for her.
In the background, her mind re-played the scene where Nafisa rode Karan. Something in her tightened. That was her place, with Nafisa. Her territory.
She waited for the anger to come. For the wave to build up. This was it. She was finally reacting.
It was like a failed masturbation. Nothing happened. All she felt, was tired.
Radha held the cold beer bottle to her forehead and took a deep breath. Sometimes you keep picking at the same scab till it bleeds. Then you let it scab over, and start again.
I took a long walk
All by myself
The air was heavy
With evening smells
Leaf dew greens
And a light flavouring
Of little green sprigs
Tipped with tiny white flowers
I sat down on a rock
And took my thoughts
Out of my head
I felt their texture in my hands
Gravelly as the rock
Squishy as the mud-between-toes
Faintly ticklish as a feather
Fuzzy as the underside of a leaf
Purposeful as a little bug
I played with them
Like a rubics cube
Until the crickets got too loud in my head
And I put them away
I walked back
Peering at the fingernail moon
In her pinky-purple sky
And everything seemed covered
With the transparent dust of memory
And I missed you.
Shards of shattered vase reflect
The pieces of a life, once known
The warmth, the dark, the comfort, calm
And all the hues of life and love
Waves of laughter, shades of joy
In plastic cups, arranged just so
With colours poised to spread a smile
Across the face of all the earth
Promises of future joys
And plans and insecurities
The tensions, sulks, spontaneous lies,
Moments of ingenuity
Till all at once, a sudden shock
Sends waves of pain upto the shore
The walls of safety creak and crack
Come crashing down on every hope
Silence spreads like drops of white
Dissolving in the pools of noise
Suffusing every moment with
A stillness inevitable
Words shift round inside blank heads
Like newsprint on wet paper bags,
They stretch, they bend, they theorise
And struggle to encompass life
Time plods on its well marked path
And seconds flow in frozen hours
Till all that’s left are images
So hopelessly inadequate
The world spins quickly, madly on
We play our parts and then are gone
Our fleeting trivial foolish lives
With all our joys and all our woes
A sunburst through the clouds of life,
A rain-shower on the plains of love
Momentary joys and strifes
Perspectives of a universe
No woman is an island, entire of herself;
Every woman is a piece of the earth, a part of the main,
If a clod be washed away by the sea, India is the less,
As well as if Kaniyakumari were,
As well as any of your friends, your roommate, sister, mother, lover, cousin or aunt were,
Any woman’s rape diminishes me,
Because I am involved in human-kind.
And therefore never troll the internet to know for whom the cameras flash,
They flash for thee.
A coffee brownness laps the edges of my consciousness,
As I stir in luxurious sleep
Resisting for a few seconds more, the totality of awakening
“Coffee?” asks her smiling voice,
Rich and dark with shades of brown
As the drink she offers me.
I smile and sip,
In our blue curtained room,
Our cocoon set delicately in the neon noise
Of the anonymous city.
The crisp rustling newspaper
Brings stories from far away
Earthquakes, terrorists and wars
And I shake my head and sigh
Safe and comfortable in my cocoon
Cradled in the garish anonymity of the city.
Honour killings in my hometown, yesterday.
A high caste girl, a low caste boy
Death on the railway tracks,
The vengeful honour of a family.
For a moment I shudder,
As I look at my love.
Her wavy black tresses
Her deep dark eyes
Her lilting voice…
And thank our different Gods
For the anonymity of two young women
Sharing a room, a life, a love,
Blending into the milling crowds
Of the big city.
The putrid wave
Makes my hair stand
Dilutes my vision
And the pavement stones warp runnily into eachother.
Innocent film songs
Made lewd and leery
By the congratulatory laughter
That greets the singer
As he passes me
And joins his friends with a grin of triumph.
Anger speeds my feet
In their delicate dance
Weaving in and out of pedestrians
Avoiding bodily contact
Fill with shared wholesome-healthy laughter
And slide over me in fun
Undressing me in their heads
Like a Barbie doll,
Weighing my breasts in their sweaty mental paws
Squeezed, smelt and passed around
In the grimy market.
The sickly-sweet smell of decay
Colours the moment a festering gray
As the oh-so-casual hand
Stabs between my legs
Or pinches my breast
Or brushes my behind.
And my father/ friend/ husband/ brother/ lover
Fights for my ‘honour’ in impotent fury.
Asking me not to fight back
And risk the revenge of injured pride.
Haven’t I heard of acid attacks?
My safety is not worth this fight!
Watery frustration fills my eyes
And I cannot dredge up anger.
This is me,
A chunk of meat
Dripping obscene drops of red
As a hapless calf sniffs forlornly
At the butcher’s counter.
This is me,
In my sunny-yellow kurta
And lime-green salwar and chunni
Haggling with the mango seller.
This is me,
In my blue pinafore and black buckle-shoes
Lost in my own head
Playing with the end of my tight plait.
This is me,
In my low-cut red dress
And chic cropped hair
Gingerly avoiding puddles
In my high-heeled shoes.
This is me,
In my black flowing purdah
A hint of a baby blue churidar at my ankles
My deep black eyes hinting at my mystery.
This is me,
In my green cotton sari
And red blouse
Watching my daughter play in the mud
As I carry bricks in a metal pan on my head.
This is me,
In my oversize T-shirt and harem pants
Hung with colourful beads and earrings
Carrying my rainbow umbrella.
This is me,
Begging for spare change
To feed my hungry baby
And pay off the ones who let me beg
So I can try to feed my child tomorrow, again.
This is me,
In my green T-shirt and jeans
Talking to the mechanic about his life
And his sick mother
As he mends my cycle
And his friends snigger
And pass comments I can’t understand.
This is me,
Locked in with the others
After six p.m
So that we would not be raped
By our classmates
Who could be out till ten
And who, for some reason,
Could not have raped us
This is me,
To whom strangers feel entitled
To give advice on how to dress
Or how to cover my ‘apples’.
This is me,
Ask why I was out walking alone
At two in the afternoon
When I complain about being attacked
By three men.
This is me,
In a protest march
For women’s rights
Sneered at for not appreciating what I have
And not being in touch with the virtuous village woman
Or the abused prostitute
Or the oppressed Muslim
Or the rape victim
And thus not having a right to protest
This is me,
A toy on display
Who should be grateful
That they are only playing with her
In their fetid minds
Or brushing against her in passing.
And learn to dress properly
Stay in after dark
Not stare back at them with hate
Or hit back
Or say ‘no’.
It is, after all, only for my own safety.
Like the cellophane and cardboard
That shields the vapid, smiling
The rich smell of warmth and life
Permeates a coffee brownness
That wraps itself around me.
My entire being sighs
Saturated with a heavy laziness
That accumulates on my eyelids.
In the moment before
The comfort of sleep envelopes me
I draw in a deep breath
Absorbing it all,
To the core of my being.
The darkness that feels like home
The sound of our slow deep breathing,
The warmth of his breath on my cheek
The weight of his arm around me
The steadiness of his heartbeat
The familiar smell of our mingled sweat
The softness of his lips
And as the inevitability of sleep washes over me
We whisper to each-other
The familiar but ever new truth
Pressed between our meeting lips.