The Pet Shop

1

I am someone who is prone to accidents. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never crashed my car to a lump or got my skull cracked open to end me up in intensive care but I am a frequent visitor to the emergency room to get a cast or a crape bandage or dressing. To put it as simply as I can, I get involved in a lot of self-induced accidents that stem from my clumsiness and as my sister puts it “pathetic mind body co-ordination.”

Twenty three years of dealing with this innate feature and breaking “handle with care” things and myself, I developed a certain mental dos and don’ts: Never be adventurous enough to think that you can cross through wet floors gracefully; never walk too close to the shelves at the super market or gift stores; sit down with ceramic plates at buffets and don’t think you can do it this time, you cannot.

With all these rules well set in my mind I entered the pet shop to buy a present for my mother on mother’s day and found my soulmate. Well, at least in my mind.

Amidst a gallery of small aquariums and fish bowls was a rather tall guy having a conversation with the shopkeeper. He was kind of sort of cute with his ruffled hair and awkward body language so I focused my attention on him for a while before going to see some puppies in the back room.

He was constantly shifting his weight from one leg to another and had no clue what to do with his hands while standing and talking to this unknown person. He decided to rest one hand on the nearby table and lean on it but instead it hit a fish bowl on that table making it swing back and forth a little and the gold fish in it went berserk assuming it was its end now. Close enough though.

He decided to consciously stand upright again to prevent any damage and a sudden empathetic relatability made me crush on him a little harder. As he was about to end his conversation, I decided to shift my focus to not make it too embarrassingly evident. He walked towards the birds section probably to select one of the colourful parrots for himself (and not his girlfriend I hope). The floor was absolutely flat but he tripped on some invisible object in the small distance between the counter to the bird cage. Somehow managing to not fall on his face he continued his walk a little embarrassed now because he probably heard my slight giggle.

I decided to blush a little less and move on to select the cutest puppy in the house. As I opened the door of the room where the pups were having their gala I heard a loud thud of something heavy falling on a glass. Yes, I knew what material sounds like what when it falls, judge me all you want. The thud was followed by crashing sound of glass breaking and a loud shriek from the counter side.

I turned to see what the hullabaloo was all about and was amused and worried about what I witnessed. The guy had somehow managed to topple a huge and heavy cage of tiny yellow birds on a beautiful glass aquarium that shattered it to pieces. So now, the small dingy room was filled with twenty tiny birds flying to their freedom in frivolous frenzy with the shopkeeper shouting “What the fuck” in continuous chorus. Meanwhile, the water from the aquarium along with the unfortunate fish was spreading on the room floor making it a huge mess.

The loud noises of crashing and falling somehow triggered the puppies in the room that I had forgotten to close in all this confusion. Six of them rushed in the room of catastrophe to sniff the fish on the floor, bark at the annoying birds or play with the water filled on the floor. The shop-keeper, like us, had no clue how to contain the situation and just stood there with exasperated immobility.

I took a deep sigh thanking the stars that for a change this was not caused by me and then glanced at the boy standing in the middle of the disaster. He was looking at it all in a daze for a few minutes and then he looked at me and his lower lip pouted a little with mortification and a hint of mirth.

I pursed my lips in an attempt to contain my laughter but eventually we both gave in and the room was filled with booming laughs.

2

I walked in the pet shop because it was starting to feel lonely since my break up and since Kanika moved out. Not that I missed her. It ended on a pretty bad note where I wouldn’t want to see her again at least for a while but I missed having someone in the house. Instead of resorting to tinder, I decided I would buy myself a cute fuzzy pet. “You are horribly irresponsible,” are one of the accusations directed at me by Kanika and I resolved to get rid of it by taking complete care of a living creature.

But not a dog. That’s too much responsibility. Let’s not get too ambitious to start with. Let’s take it slow. Krish suggested I should get myself an aquarium but honestly, that’s the worst pet to have in my opinion. They are just there with their presence only being evident when the aquarium water starts looking like sewage and it’s time for some tedious cleaning. So, NOT after much thought but just on a whim, I decided to get a birdie and the pet shop near my apartment seemed like a good place to get one.

I kept delaying the endeavour of actually going to the shop because human interaction made me uncomfortable to no limit. I liked to live alone in my now “bachelor’s pad” and order almost everything possible online. On most days my human interaction was limited to delivery boys of Amazon, Flipkart and Grofers until Krish dropped by and forced me to move out.

So, this fateful day I decided to go inside the shop and finally get the damn bird.

It is not like that I am clumsy but somehow things around me tend to go bananas and this makes social situations very embarrassing and an ultimate level of this embarrassment happened inside that pet shop. To worsen the circumstances, all the misadventure that happened inside that tiny shop was in front of a very pretty girl. Universe likes games.

So I was talking to the grumpy shopkeeper about the prices when she entered in the shop and suddenly I was very conscious of my posture and looks and position in the shop. From the corner of my eye I could see that she was observing me and my nerves went crazy.

My mother would have been very disappointed in me because in that moment I didn’t know how to stand like a normal person. I did not know what to do with my hands or which side to lean on. I casually tried to lean on a table nearby and almost toppled the fish bowl on it.

Realizing that I had made a fool of myself already. I took a deep breath and decided to stand straight like an obedient school boy. Ignoring the girl as much as I could I decided to move towards the birds and select one from the bunch but my conscious being decided to almost stumble and trip me on the way and make the girl giggle. Good going Abhay!

Distracted, I picked up a small cage that had a pretty red bird in it that matched the top of the girl in front of me. But picking up the cage somehow slid the huge grey cage next to it and to my extreme horror that humungous thing fell on a crystal aquarium situated just below it.

A series of F word played in my mind as I watched the disaster I had initiated unfold in front of me. Like in a bad comedy play, the situation escalated very quickly with the maddening swarm of birds fluttering irritatingly all about the room.

I watched the water from the broken aquarium fill up the room and the fish flow with it in pity and good amount of guilt. This accident was fatal for the completely innocent. I tried to avoid any eye contact with the shopkeeper who was evidently angry because he got louder with each “what the fuck.”

To make the situation go a little more out of control (if that was even possible) some puppies from the other room joined the party I had hosted. I watched all the elements go bonkers one by one and threw an instantaneous glance towards the helpless shopkeeper but quickly moved it to the stunned girl in front of me.

To be honest, I found all of this a little funny now but I was anxious about what the girl thought before being a laughing jackass. Her eyes were a little lighted and I saw pity coupled with surprising appreciation in it.

We both could not hold it in any longer and burst out laughing at it all together. Amidst that shared laughter I realized I wouldn’t get a no if I asked for coffee.

 

 

 

 

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In Search Of Aasha

Aasha gave me a cultured smile as she presented me the sparkling white china cup with aromatic tea in it. But my joke was worth a laugh, I wondered a little annoyed. What happened to the Aasha that burst into a robust laughter at the silliest of jokes? I observed her closely as she resumed her work in the kitchen with practiced expertise. She was dressed as if she were about to go out; a skinny tight blue jeans with a fancy black cotton top that did not seem comfortable at all. She even had a little makeup on. Her demeanour was calm and composed and her face, expressionless. She had also lost a lot of weight since the last time I saw her. I recalled her telling me that she was joining a gym over a phone call.

This was not the Aasha I grew up with. The girl whose entry was announced by elaborate chiming Indian accessories and a pleasant laughter was not here anymore. Even though I was meeting her after almost two years, one does not expect to meet a completely different person altogether. What happened to the colourful salwars and flashy dupattas? What happened to the impatience of her character and multitudes of fleeting expressions that adorned her face twenty-four seven? What happened to my elder sister in all these years? Even though I was wondering about all these questions, I knew the answer to them pretty clearly.

As I watched the defiant school feminist make lunch for me, I was forced to recall all the articles she used to write for an online feminist portal. Some of their titles swam in my mind as I heard the rattle of utensils like a music I didn’t like.

Being a Woman Does Not Mean Compromise’.

It’s a Man’s World But Women Run It

“Importance of Sisterhood”

“Married, Feminist and Housewife”

I know those words would be accusing her of hypocrisy now and burning a hole in her soul.

The thought made me nauseous and I decided to give up on finishing the tea. The silence between me and Aasha was unsettling for me because I wasn’t familiar with such a scenario. We used to have hours dedicated to pointless banter and numerous stories about each other’s life. There was judging and giggling and even fights but never silence.

Some decisions in a person’s life really take a toll on them. There are some decisions that you want to take and some that you feel like you have to take and it’s always the latter that render you speechless, sometimes for your entire life. The decisions that take your life away from your values are the hardest to make and they leave a lasting impact. They have the power to crush your previous sense of identity and then, you are left in the dark, desperately trying to form a new one. More than often, this new shattered identity that you form is a culmination of bits and pieces borrowed from others.

After that one taxing day in July of 2012, Aasha forgot who she was. On that day she was suddenly thrown into a Robert Frost poem and was facing a forked road in the journey of her previously proud and happy life. She had to choose one out of the two and I witnessed her breaking down in front of those long-stretching and seemingly dark roads; her beliefs faltering, her convictions losing strength and her confidence slowly disappearing in the musty monsoon air, making it heavier on our chests.

Kabir had left his phone at home before going on one of his many Europe tours. Kabir was Aasha’s high school sweetheart. She had never known romantic love outside of Kabir and she never even wanted to. He was the perfect guy in her mind. Respectful, ambitious, caring and even a male feminist. At the delicate age of eighteen, Aasha was drooling over baby socks in kids’ clothing stores and imagining her dream house with Kabir.

She always yearned for a happy family life since we never had one. An absentee mother and a very busy father didn’t account for a family as such. So, we found solace and family in each other. During truth and dares, whenever she was asked what her deepest desire was, she always said she wanted a blissful and coherent family life where everyone is there for each other. I found my mother figure in her and she was trying to be the mother figure she never had.

She didn’t want to become a female President or a CEO. She wanted to become a nurturer. I knew it from a very young age. The amount of blossomed sunflowers in our balcony garden were a proof of her motherly instincts. I was a proof of her motherly instincts. She was determined to prove that a housemaker could also be a feminist. She just wanted to build a home and be the strongest and most supportive pillar of it. But now, only the pillar was visible with all its cemented strength and Aasha was nowhere to be found.

When she saw the texts and pictures of Nadia in Kabir’s phone that day, her world and beliefs crumbled like stale bread and I could do nothing but watch it disintegrate. It was just before I was about to leave for Canada.

Kabir was cheating on her. As she investigated more after her initial shock, she found out that he had been cheating on her for solid eight years now. His business trips were trips to the other woman as well and his love was divided in two.
So there she was with the forked road glaring down condescendingly on her like a strict professor with folded arms, waiting for her to give the correct answer. But she didn’t know what the correct answer was.

I expected my sister to choreograph a big confrontation when Kabir returned to pick up his phone but she wordlessly gave it back to him and wished him a happy journey. I also assumed that she would leave everything behind and accompany me to Canada to start a fresh life. She did ponder upon that possibility for a long time before choosing the road she did. But unlike the defiant rebel she previously was, she chose to stay.

Wasn’t she the one who stood by her best friend when she was procuring a divorce on the basis of her husband’s romantic affairs? I remember Aasha stringently counselling Heena and giving her numerous reasons to not stay in a relationship that had no trust or equal emotional investment. So what was different now?

You might wonder why would a girl who never compromised on her ideals and was ridiculously proud of them, not leave in such a circumstance. Wasn’t cheating, in a marriage or any relationship, in the list of ‘not acceptable 101’? Wasn’t staying with the defaulter a form of submission and unhealthy compromise?

I never had the courage to ask the reason for her staying. I never had the courage to bring this topic up again. Being the only one who knew about this limited my scope of verbal deliberation. But in my head I thought of the numerous reasons that might have made Aasha stay.

Maybe it was for her little six year old boy. Maybe she stayed to give Abeer a happy and coherent family.  The Stockholm Syndrome of Motherhood often forced you to make unreasonable sacrifices.

Maybe she stayed because she married too young and didn’t have the financial stability to start a fresh life. How would she support a kid and herself when she was financially dependent on Kabir? She wouldn’t be able to give Abeer the lifestyle he was accustomed to already.

Or maybe it was just fear. Fear of starting over and starting alone. Fear of not having a complete family again. Dread of probably not finding love again. Loneliness can be really scary when you’ve grown up with it. It makes it very hard to leave behind the person who filled in the gap. Probably she even had the fear of society, which was unlikely though. But you can never tell how strong someone’s abstract convictions are until it is time to incorporate them in their intimately private lives.

Whatever the reason might be, she chose the road that led back to Kabir and the enormous empty house that felt emptier since July twenty third. She chose the road of denial; carrying on with her life as it was.

She would never tell Abeer of his father’s liaisons, she once told me. She did not want to taint the superhuman respect Abeer had for his father. Moreover, she did not want to indoctrinate the thought that cheating was acceptable in Abeer’s innocent mind even if she was accepting it.

She never even told Kabir that she knew about Nadia. Everything she was going through was inside her body that had practiced composure to perfection. But I could see her insecurities manifesting in her appearance. She was trying to turn into Nadia now. She had discarded the Indian clothes she adored and her wardrobe was now full of jeans and dresses and tank tops. She had developed a vehement dislike for her own chubbiness which once was “enviable curves” for her. She had given away her loud laughter and garrulous character for proficient sophistication. Probably she had the banal hope of getting Kabir back to herself if she could imitate Nadia. This made me sad. My sister thought that her supposed shortcomings were the reason behind Kabir’s philandering and that shattered me to no extent.

As she came back in hall to sit beside me and ask about my work I heard the message tone of Kabir’s phone as it lighted on the table next to us. We both peered to see Nadia’s name flash on the screen. Aasha’s eyes became blue for a nanosecond before they went back to their trained calmness. She pressed the power button to switch off the lighted phone and turned towards me to resume the meaningless conversation.

My heart sank to my stomach as I searched for my sister while she indulged in small talk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Never my Art

I never want you to be my poetry darling,

Never do I want to rhyme a word to your name.

I don’t want to dedicate any verse to you love,

Or hide you in a story under a stranger’s name.

‘Coz if I do

I know for sure,

I’m not hearing you laugh

Or hearing you snore.

‘Coz if I do

I know for sure,

I’m recalling your face

Instead of kissing your brow.

I never want you to be a song I write

‘Coz I write of sorrow

And regret,

Not love.

I write out of tears and not out of kisses;

Of endings and pain

That sears and sears.

I pen down longings

And waste ink on heartbreaks.

I paint in blood

And write of times

When my voice shakes.

So never do I want you to be my art darling;

‘Coz never do I want for this to have an expiry date.

It’s not Love

It’s not like I love you or anything.
Don’t get me wrong,
And don’t freak out.
It’s just not like that.
It’s just that whenever you are around
Or I talk about you,
Or even think about you
I suddenly become fifteen again.
I become the one with floral frocks, falling fast
For the first time –
Umm, In confusion (Not love, it’s not love)
It’s just that whenever my phone blinks
And your name flashes on it’s screen
Something somersaults in my tummy.
Something inside it gets really excited
When your name is mentioned
Or is even co-incidentally scribbled somewhere.
But don’t get me wrong.
It’s absolutely nothing romantic.
Maybe it’s just hunger you know; in the tummy.
A hunger for your awkward and slightly slanted smile,
The one that squints your tiny eyes almost completely.
It’s really adorable.
But wait, I don’t adore YOU per se.
It’s really just that smile.
Well sometimes the crooked nose as well.
But that’s just general.
Nothing deep.
I don’t want you to misunderstand so I’m making it crystal clear
Its nothing like one sees in cheesy movies
Or reads in corny novels.
Not at all.
It’s just that mostly I don’t feel normal when your fingers brush my skin.
But wait again
I think I have medical issues regarding pulse rate and breathing in that case.
So
It’s not you.
Don’t get me wrong.
It’s certainly not love for you.
I know that for sure.
But I do love your red tie.
It does something to me,
Something that would ruin the innocence of this poem.
You should have it checked though.
It’s a little hypnotic.
It’s not like I care about you madly,
I care ofcourse, but not insanely.
But yes, when someone hurts you
Scenes of all my favourite serial killer documentaries flash in my mind.
And when some girl you like doesn’t like you back
Leaving you heartbroken;
I want to shake her existence and ask her
“WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?”
That sorta thing.
But not love.
Nope.
I don’t know if you notice but you say my name differently
When I’m sad
Or drunk.
Yeah.
You kind-of pour all the care in that tone itself
And everything becomes just fine.
But that can be imagination.
Because of drinking you see.
Not love.
So you know
It’s just not what you might think it to be.
But I cannot deny,
Your silly jokes are quite loveable.
Though wrongly timed,
They still do the trick.
Trick to what?
Not the one that makes me fall for you. No.
The trick to just make someone laugh.
Gosh, the misinterpretations.
Do you understand me now?
Its not affection there,
No romantic feelings.
It’s just that I feel fifteen
And end up writing
Teenage “Love” poems at twenty two.
Oh Crap!
Not Love

Funereal Love

Oh behold!
A funeral.
Wailing women,
Sobbing men.
Children playing in the backyard
In hushed voices.
Someone told them not be loud,
“But why?”
I heard a small boy shout.
People streaming in
Like cascades of white water.
Some close, some distant.
Mostly silent;
Or with praises of the dead
In whispers.
Red nerves clouded the white of
Several eyes.
Cries,
Sulks,
or whimpers;
No dry eyes.

Except one.
That had laughter laying on the lids,
As her lips broke into a
A mellifluous Ghazal
Beside the shrouded figure,
Dissipating all the heavy silence,
With perfect notes and rhythms.
Creating a gaping audience,
Out of mourning relatives,
Instigating me to break through
The crowd
And take the front row.

The trance lingered,
For a five minutes or more,
Then a sudden hault,
Vacuum,
And a distant giggle
Of a kid in the yard.
“She is waiting for the corpse
To sing the male verse,”
I heard a tiny murmur
Didn’t see it’s source.
And there
Amidst a funeral
In a funereal atmosphere,
I witnessed love
That transcended spheres.
Tears of glee
Trickled down my cheeks,
For the unknown dead
And little known wife.
Morbid are things related to the death
But mortality adds to love,
The dark tinge of red.

The Other Woman

I love her and she loves me but I make love to a sin that has bewitched me.

Thrice or four times I have seen her cry. Her tears fall ceaselessly upon my shoulder as she swears to leave me this time, but cannot. I make a million promises going down on my knees, hugging her by the waist. Promises to never go back; promises to love her forever; promises I hope I can keep.
But here I am, standing at the gates of the dealer. In front of the pink house, burning with red passion I lose track of promises and I break all vows.

How hard is it to get rid of an addiction when the drug is the dealer and the dealer
is the drug? How hard is it to ignore the velvet voice over the phone asking you to come up?
I love her but I love her too. She loves me, but she loves me too. One is home and the other, an adventure. One is stability and the other, I don’t know. And I gravitate back to her, intoxicated, to get the answer to that ‘I don’t know.’

As she answers the door in her flimsy top, I undress my mistake mentally. Yes that’s what I call her; a mistake. A name she has grown to like with every lie I tell over the phone while I am tangled in the bed sheets with her.
Her skin: a magnet to my iron. I hold it tight enough to leave the impressions of blood on it. Her cologne: cocaine to my senses. I sniff till my vision becomes a haze.
I don’t have the patience to let her finish her sentences. With every word she says, I imagine her lips moving on mine.
I inspect her body before loving it and punish her for any scratch that is not mine. Not mine, but someone else’s, she dare not be. I make every desperate attempt to fence my property. I paint blue-red gashes wherever my teeth get access of her flesh and she climaxes under me with each hard bite.
I never let her dress even after having her a several times. I hate those fabrics that touch her constantly. Instead, I lazily trace all my embossed grazes that cover the round of her breast, the bent of her thigh, the curve of her shoulder and savour each cringe the wounds instigate in her. I let the pain of her revenge bites wash over me. She tends them with soft red kisses and cries.For a long time I admire all my branding proudly, the only form of art I know.
I kiss her from her neck to toe chanting “Mine! Mine! Mine!” with every breath, while she squirms and moans all night. I tickle her with soft touches and she laughs breathlessly in my mouth. That laughter, the one that drives me insane even when it bursts out in a public place, is the one that keeps me up in the nights she is away.

And in the nights when I live inside her, a small voice always pricks at the back of my mind, “two more days and she would go.” But never can I make her stay for me for more than two weeks, maximum four. Still in those days I ignore a hundred calls, from the woman waiting for me at home.
Accusations, loyalty and morals, all get side-lined while I count the moles on her neck and spine and my phone vibrates on the side table the entire night.

On our last night every time, I become the beast I fear. I fantasize peeling her skin to live inside it. I almost devour her limbs in an attempt to keep her inside me. I hurt her I know, but she never complains. She smiles through all of that physical pain. I try to quench my thirst before she leaves, but when I watch her climbing the train compartment, I find my mouth dry again.
I remember the times she used to cry at my feet. “Leave her,” she used to say “If you really love me.” I never could, I was too afraid. Weak, she said, to put a claim.

Now, she laughs when I propose to elope, like I have cracked the best of jokes.
“I am the other woman and I like that more. I like being the sin instead of your home. I love your racing heartbeat and your hunger for more. It’s fun to be the one you cheat with but not the one you cheat on. I love you too much to see your passion fade off.”