Nani’s Garden

The strong smell of freshly brewed coffee was the most appealing part of it all. Nani’s house was the most soothing place for me. I could just sit on the porch with that strong coffee and watch the squirrel play on the mango tree in the centre of the garden. Relief washed over me when Nani came and sat next to me. She smelled of medicated talcum powder and incense after her evening bath and puja and that for me was the best combination of fragrances in the world.

The township was small with a large number of trees scattered throughout it and sitting on the chair in backyard porch chair it felt like staring into a jungle. I never liked utilizing my vision during my lying around time in my favourite spot in the world so I closed my eyes and let the surrounding sink in me through my senses. The sound of Nani chopping and slicing the fruits for the fruit cream I asked for brought a smile to my face. That woman would really give me anything I ask for if I agree not to wear my ripped jeans and crop tops in front of her.

I could still hear the squirrel rustling through the leaves of the tree and the soft wind that kind-of created a harmony in the air. I took a deep breath to gather every inch of the moment before I had to go back home the next morning.

The space was a riot of fragrances. One fighting the other for dominance. The deep breath filled my senses with all of them at once and it felt beautiful. The smell of green chillies was the most dominant one. It came from the freshly planted green chilly plant in Nani’s tiny kitchen garden. Being a fan of spicy food, my mouth instantly started watering.

The gardener had just watered the plants in the garden and even though the numerous flowers were all emitting striking scents, my senses were attracted to the sour scent of the soaked leaves of the lemon plant and the smell of the wet mud. People wait for the monsoon to get hit by this intoxicating fragrance; I say why not water your own garden once each day?

It was almost time for sunset and in the plains it was not a big deal for anyone. The sun neither artistically set behind the mighty mountains nor did the sea swallow it. So, I decided to keep my eyes shut. I knew it was time for sunset because I could hear a swarm of birds chirping in the sky eager to go home, unlike me.

“You don’t want to go home tomorrow do you?” Nani asked in a loud voice because of her hearing impairment. I just nodded my head with my eyes still closed. Somehow closing my eyes shut out reality for a while. Memories of this happy place could be better preserved through fragrances. Recalling these fragrances would be of great help when the stench of alcohol and smoke overpowers me back at home. The stench of alcohol coming from my father tripping and stumbling in the house each night. The sound of the birds chirping and the smooth breeze rustling through trees softly could help drown the sound of things breaking and parents shouting at each other at midnight.

Visual memories would not help. I had to gather memories of fragrances and sounds in store for when winter came.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Doctor’s Clinic

1

Life had become a huge act of persistent waiting in the waiting rooms of hospitals and clinics now. Some or the other body part was refusing to participate in keeping the body functional in its entirety and this time it was the heart. The waiting room had a soothing fragrance of some disinfectant and this was the most familiar smell lately. The spotlessly white room with plastic figurines of the blood vessels and the heart was the weekend retreat. I glanced through at the charts that educated people about how to keep a healthy heart every time I visited; murmuring each instruction in my head before I even read it. “At least the memory is intact,” I thought to myself proudly.

I followed all these instructions by now but I guess age didn’t really care about leading a healthy life. After seventy, your body did not adhere to any kind of rules or regulations. It would just randomly one day tell your hips to give you trouble and then it’s your head’s turn the very next day.

The waiting felt nice. There was always some other human in the room as well, unlike back at home, and it was comforting. The silence of the house since the death of Sunita was piercing and haunting and the murmur of people talking on phone calls and complaining about the waiting was a fresh change.

Maybe I liked the place because the disinfectant reminded me of Sunita a lot. It reminded me of the endless fights we got into because of her love for cleaning and my total neglect of that love. Or maybe we fought because of my total neglect of her. But now, when I sit in clean clinics that are totally unlike the hole for a house I live in now, I miss her.

The place on the whole reminded me of her. It promised endless care; the care that I had not cared about because it seemed natural and certain until I lost it. I was never a great husband. I wasn’t even a good one. I was hardly a husband at all actually. I was a visitor who realized the value of the home when there was no host to open the door. And now sitting in a cardiologist’s clinic, I was searching for a familiar home and a functional heart.

I came here to regret. Even if I could not love or appreciate the woman I had, I resolved to miss her right.

2

The relatively quiet room that was especially designed to comfort the ailing didn’t really help to calm my anxiety as I sat there on the edge of the milky white sofa with my legs shaking a little. I constantly looked at the no smoking sign on the corner of a white wall to remind myself that for a while I could not use infamous roll of nicotine in my pocket.

The little plaster of Paris structure of the heart on the reception desk was sort-of creepy. It made me realize that heart wasn’t as beautiful a thing as portrayed in art and poetry. It was an ugly lump of flesh that could dismantle your entire life if it wasn’t taken care of. Quite a drama queen in my opinion. Since Ma’s heart started to create problems making her bed ridden for long durations, heart breaks started to seem miniscule in comparison to heart diseases.

The receptionist sitting in the room constantly taking calls and notes simultaneously made me want to consider becoming a receptionist myself. Studying further wouldn’t pay the bills anymore, I thought. It just gave me more debt. Plus, she looked busy enough to not have time to think about life; I needed that. Attend calls, say the same practiced thing, note down appointments, repeat.

I was never a very patient person and the green wall clock that had ‘HIMALAYA’ printed on it was painfully testing me. Waiting rooms were not a place for me. I got up to walk a little around the room.

I was here to take the doctor’s opinion on Ma’s angiography reports and whenever it came to Ma’s health my anxiety went berserk more than usual. The report paper was as crumpled as my cotton top now because I kept fidgeting with it during this unending waiting period.

Waiting gave me a lot of time to think and I did not like that. A lot of unanswered questions and worries clouded my thoughts as the room I was walking in became a little blurred. Would I have to leave my studies and take up a job now? How would I earn enough to pay for Shweta’s education, the house and take care of Ma alongside?

I knew Ma was not in a good state. Anyone could tell that by just looking at her but the reports would tell the extent of her illness and that scared the shit out of me. I had a very hazy memory of a bearded man who Ma told me was my father. I remember him coming home every evening and taking me in a bear hug till the age of four until one day only a crumpled car came back. Shweta was just a few months old then. I remembered Ma crying a lot for months since then and I guess that’s when her heart started to become weak. But Ma was always there. She was the only one there and now the fear of losing her crippled my mind.

The loud ringing of the receptionist’s phone brought me back to the waiting room and she signalled me to go inside the doctor’s office. I took a deep breath in order to appear prepared for whatever was coming and walked towards the office.

3

As I entered the waiting room, a slender girl of twenty six or twenty seven was moving towards the doctor’s office. I went to receptionist to confirm my appointment and then took a seat on a green chair in the corner of the room while my little boy climbed on my lap.

I checked the money in my pocket for the fiftieth time. It had taken a lot of night shifts at work to gather money for this appointment. Looking at the waiting room made me understand why the consulting cost so much. He was one of the best cardiologists in the city and he made sure that the appearance of his office conveyed that.

The office was shiny. My six year old’s eyes sparkled seeing the little toy area in the waiting room. He jumped off my lap to play a little. A deep sadness gripped my already dysfunctional heart because I knew I would never be able to give him such toys at home.

The receptionist looked aristocratic and intimidating. The entire room looked intimidating and I slouched my shoulders a little like that would make me invisible. My appearance was the most out of place thing in the perfectly synchronized room. The old brown pants and dusty cream shirt were a total mismatch with the sparkling white room with green stationery, accessories and bonsai plants.

I watched my little one play with the toys ecstatically. Had I ever seen him happier? I glanced at the clock in the room. It was about time to go into the doctor’s office so I called out to Ayush to stop playing and come to me.

He clung to a metallic blue electronic car as he came to me obediently.

“You have to keep that back you know right?” I told him and watched his face change colour. His eyes instantly became sad with a hint of tears in them. He loosened his grip on the metal toy reluctantly but didn’t let go completely for a while and looked at me expectantly for the first time in his six years of life.

I felt the money kept in my pocket once again and gave a defeated sigh.

“Let’s get out of here and get you one of those,” I said with a weak smile on my face and Ayush’s face lit up like the streets on Diwali. He threw his arms around me in immense excitement and I guess my heart healed a little as we walked out of the waiting room.

Sisterhood

I twisted the head of the tap and the water ceased to flow down on the sink. I wiped the water off my hands with a handkerchief. How long had I been zoned out washing my hands?
The face in the mirror looked unsatisfied and tired. Festivities of this kingdom always were a taxing job. They required me to play the part of the timid, conforming, virtuous girl more efficiently than on normal days. It drained the life out of me.

This coronation was especially depressing. It had malice written all over it. Wasn’t King Duncan just murdered? Yet no one, especially Macbeth, had an ounce of grief. This celebration was tainted and to a great extent, insensitive.

As I was preparing myself to get in character before moving out, I heard someone’s clumsy handling of the washroom door knob. After a few minutes of noisy playing with the doorknob, a tall woman in a black robe stumbled inside the washroom.

“All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!” She shouted and burst into a fit of manic laughter as the door shut thud behind here.

As she tried to walk towards the sink she toppled and fell on her knees still laughing. She was lean with her hair tied in an aristocratic bun, but a few non-conforming strands of it were all over her face. Her complexion was flushed and her face sad. For a moment I couldn’t recognize who she was because I had never seen Lady Macbeth that vulnerable. She was a marble statue at every occasion. An unapproachable figure with a plastered smile and very few, but only kind, words.

I hurried towards her to help her stand up but she pushed me away to lean on the wall and sit awkwardly on the washroom floor. She was wrapped in a repelling stench of liquor. I carefully placed myself next to her to provide assistance which she obviously denied.

“Is something wrong my Queen?” I asked in a whispered tone but it somehow triggered her. Her sad face had angry eyes bored in it and my question acted as a catalyst to that anger.

In a hushed tone that was full of rage, her words came out from between her gritted teeth, “But everything about this is wrong. HE wears the crown of MY ambition.” And a tiny tear escaped her left eye as she swiftly wiped it off.

“Because I had too many dreams for a girl I was married to an ass-licking, ambition-less man and now look at him! He is the KING! MY GOAL, MY PLAN, MY BRAVERY, and MY CLEANING UP THE MESS; and he gets to sit on the throne with a gold crown on his rather dumb head,” Her voice got louder with every repeated and emphasised ‘my’.

“What are you talking about my Queen?” I ask in a concerned voice even though I knew what she meant. Treachery aside, I knew what she felt at the moment. Wasn’t this my life on a daily basis? Frustration of not getting what I deserve. Frustration of not being who I am meant to be. Frustration of being a woman in a man’s world.

“But you get to be the Queen! You get to sit next to him and wear your own crown.” I give my vague consolation that wasn’t even sufficient in my head.

She winced and laughed sarcastically. “Oh no, I get to be Lady Macbeth. Do you know my real name? Does anybody know my real name? NO, because I am Lady Macbeth. Lady to King Macbeth. That is all I am and that is all I’ll ever be. But do you know what I am should be? I should be Ruler of the Land Gruoch. I deserve to hear ‘All Hail the ruler, Gruoch!’ I am meant to be the power on that throne because I’VE done the good, the bad, and the ugly for it. But…”

As her voice trailed off she stared into the void for a few seconds and abruptly stood up to settle her garment and hair in the mirror. Still a little tipsy, she moved towards the door rather gauchely and unacknowledged my presence altogether. She sent a clear signal of ‘this talk never happened,’ to me and I was more than pleased to oblige.

“I know what you are going through my Queen. Trust me, I know,” I said in a reassuring voice. She stopped for a minute at the door with her back towards me and took a deep breath to fake composure, before finally joining the festivities again.

We all were playing our parts.

Life as a Literary Art and Creative Writing Student #1 (What do you want to explore through your writing?)

It is rather funny and astounding that we are generally enthused and quick to answer fact based questions about this humongous outside world but falter and stutter when we are asked the simplest of questions about ourselves. You know what I am talking about right?
When a new professor in a new class goes on a ‘tell me a little about yourself’ drill and you vehemently hope that he’d start with the other row so that you can paraphrase their answers to form your own or at least borrow some ideas.

Have you wondered what makes us do that?
Well at least I have.

A similar thing happened when our creative writing professor asked us our first question that was simple yet eminent – ‘What does writing mean to you?
An awkward silence spread throughout the room followed by exchange of uncertain glances. One person waiting for the other to answer in confusion. I’m sure everyone had an answer to it but certain doubts and anxieties made them refrain from voicing their answer. Ever wondered what doubts people collectively share that render them speechless when asked a personal question in a particular setting?
Many a times these doubts stem from our inability to articulate what we actually feel or think. Language seems like an insufficient medium of expression making us decide to stick to silence instead. No one has the gift of perfect articulation of internal thoughts anyway.

Nevertheless, sticking to my resolution of speaking up more in class, I blurt out ‘hobby’ as my answer and immediately realize how inadequate that word was to explain what writing meant to me. I wouldn’t be sitting in a creative writing class if it was just a hobby. I was here to pull it out of the shallow kid’s pool of hobby and make it swim in the deeper adult area (or at least height above four feet area).

Later, at home, I sat down chewing the end of my pen and struggling to answer the second unsettling question – ‘What do you want to explore through your writing?’

A lot of potential answers knock on my door but none of them is happily welcomed inside in isolation. I begin to wonder what can be the potential meeting point of all those ideas, ideologies and social issues that I want to write about?
After a lot of deliberation while taking showers and cooking meals I realized that the point of confluence was my own mind or human mind in general. So, I got ready to write my slightly vague idea within five hundred words.

Human psyche or mind is in a constant state of confusion and conflict; a duel ground where two ideas fight with each other to gain prominence. Every single decision we take is preceded by this confusion and since life is nothing but a prolonged act of perpetual decision making; confusion becomes very central to one’s being. I want to explore this confusion and the resolution of it that occurs in a person’s mind before they take any big or small decision; the confusion that resides on the line of control of internal and external worlds.
I want to weave stories inside a characters mind and explore the ideologies, social influences and histories that create these conflicts and shape an individual’s line of thought and hence, way of life.

This exploration of the human psyche will also allow me to unravel the features of such ideologies and social constructs and showcase the dangers of their partial understanding or prevalent misinterpretations.

 

Day of an Empath

A rather silent day, calm.
Particularly uneventful.
People moving around close to each other,
But essentially in their own separate worlds.
And I, in mine.
But unfortunately (or not?)
My world absorbs the energies of others’.
Their vibe seeps into my skin and makes a home in my body.
X’s life is sad today, she probably cried in the shower. (I want to help but she has a smile here)
Y is just tired.
It isn’t visible but he hasn’t slept for a while now.
(I want to help but he won’t let me)
Z is numb; his energy stagnating but
Shattering.(I want to help but he doesn’t open up)

And I.
I just sit there.
Filling up to the brim.
Like a wine glass on a Saturday night.
Helplessly stationary, but bustling with waves inside.
By midnight.
I get full and a little more.
Enough for me to spill-over
And make myself a mess.

Saturated to that extent
How doesn’t one explode?
How does one explain the whys and stick to the don’ts?
How do I say that I’m sad
But nothing really happened to me?
How do I make sense to you,
When you don’t even believe in energies?
How do I not spill-over every night?
How do I make you stay?
When I’m clueless how to make you understand,
The intensity of an empath’s day ~ Devika Sinha

How much do you even cry?

Me?

Oh very much actually!

I’m this gooey, leaking heap of emotions.

Not subtle ones, oh hell NO!

Each feeling hits me like a fucking natural disaster.

Each hurt raging up like a sixty feet tsunami wave.

So, the cracks in my eyes are bound to leak that way.

 

So what?

Everyone has disasters within.

And I choose mine quite well.

I’m not very scared of drowning,

But famines terrify me to death.

I’d prefer torrential rain on my cheek,

Than a barren landscape in my chest.