Empire Ant

Where is the pain of travel

When the road is your home?

Is it this new desert that is barren

Or my soul?

 

Far way from the soil

You must know

The rituals of death

Come from tradition.

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Diaspora

Life’s a door
I cannot open
My thoughts are worn
My words are gone.
I come from a place
small and obscure
I can never leave it
I loved the clouds not the skies.

Space Seeker

Cutting through the night road, bound by the sounds of the chirping insects I thought I was just one more the moths that flitted through light.

I’ve collected many night sights- crabs, orions even the occasional stray planet. But I didn’t have long, I must keep my eyes on the road. Alas man can not long look at what really matters.

A House the Trees Ate

Back home in Mangalore, where the city is quickly eating the few remnants of the sleepy town that once was, I spotted a house that was consumed not be the glassy steel of modernity but by wood and leaves.

My grandfather and I would have gone about our evening walk together in silence if he hadn’t pointed out that little plot of green. This was one of the cities less trafficked back alleys where empty plots draped in sunshine and grass hosted cricket games with concert wickets. Empty plots in these areas weren’t an unusual sight.

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My grandfather explained how the rich occupants of these large plots and luxurious homes, that contrasted the cramped quarters of the new city, had all succeed in raising children who were far more successful than them. The old Indian desire to make engineers and doctors paid off. Their children had left the country for better economic opportunities and their parents followed when they aged.

The abandoned plots hosted decaying mansions and overgrown trees while the city’s residents grew faster and busier. The sudden drop off the road leads directly to the house which must have once been impossible to miss.

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Like all old Christian houses in Mangalore the compound walls became part of the house walls.

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But the new trees and blooming plants make for impenetrable guardians. They choke ever inch of free space and entry is impossible. A few curious branches have already begun to climb in through the thick glass windows.

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The gate seemed funny. If you looked through it you would see a bit of forest guarded by the red brick compound wall, in the old remnants of the city.

The Glass House

I understand why she can’t stand the house, some people don’t mind being seen so much as having to see.

Down a wide, green, cobbled road, after the sleepy houses that have been around since the end of the British Raj, is where the family’s new house in Mangalore is hidden away. These large house that could have only existed in a time that has passed, are now green with moss, have plants booming in untamed corners, roofs collapsing, red tiles cracking and adventurous dogs (who take advantage of the very uneven terrain, frequent slopes and drooping trees to climb onto the sunny remains of roofs). The newer concrete  houses with aged cement, mossed paint, and small yards are also lonely as their owners also decide to leave town and live in countries where their children work. New, luxurious apartments have sprung up in the area. Smaller but very charming little apartments that have housed at least one generation also line the road, bolder than the behemoths drawn to the back of their plots.

Our house, the glass house, is down this road, down a small cobbled slip that runs down a gentle slope. A white house and a white car, clearly built by a man quite a lot of money and very little taste or reservation, guards the entrance to the lane. Travelers often stop to look twice at the awkward, white stone and wood, built in what is unmistakably supposed to be inspired by old Indian mansions. On the other side is a grey moss covered wall, and large trees that hide a large house behind it. On the other side of this entrance is a path to a large apartment.

Behind the awkward white house is an empty plot with old house that is surrounded by wild grass, and has a roof which has crashed to the ground.  It has a curious amounts of books inside, which are now a sickened shade brown. Behind this empty plot is our landlords house, and after that is our house. After the grey compound wall on the left, which houses a large grey house with a well forested garden, and a lonely old man, is a large courtyard and a two story house rented to three people. This house, with resilient wild flowers and plants exploding all over it, would have been rented to four people if there wasn’t a property dispute going on. Behind it, at the end of the street next to us, is a pink four story apartment that looks like a house. It does a poor job of hiding the street behind it.

Anyone who walks onto the tiny street is immediately spotted and heard by everyone on the street (maybe even by the people on the street behind it). Many species of bored housewives,canines and felines have eyes ready to pounce on anything that stroll by. The residents of the apartment can also steal glances unnoticed and unobstructed through our street and the next from their elevated windows. The awkward inward folding gates to our house is guarded by the Muslim women who are always drying clothes at the bottom of the apartment, the three families in the house before it, and the matron of our house.

She is always in her living room that looks straight at the gate. She asks adroit questions that’ll help her determined the age and occupation of at least three generations as she smiles and permits you to open the gate. Walk down along her house with an endless supply of young relatives sticking out of the many windows, and up the stairs try to avoid the inquiring stares from the living room of the people who live below us. The stairs end at our house which faces a window to our landlords house. You can often see their feet or upper torso as they leave the bedroom and head to the kitchen.

On the left you can see the entire street, and the entire street can see both you and into the first bedroom of the house. Above these house you can see another apartment from where you can once again be observed unnoticed. On the right you can see a basement. We used to live in the large apartment above the basement.It’s surprisingly populated for a basement. You can also see part of a large, old house behind it.The house is a perfect rectangle. Enter the living room and you can see straight down to the end of the house and into the street behind us. You can peek into all the room on the right and through their windows. You can also look left and once again see the basement and the house behind it.

There’s a strange man who’s always at the basement. They tell me there must be something wrong with him. The something is likely to be a physical condition but I’m not sure. He stand there, mostly during the afternoon, motionless between the always locked office and the three stairs to the elevators. He is clad in unassuming formals, well-worn old shoes and has rapidly graying hair. He talks to a few people occasionally, but never leaves his post. You’ll never seen him moving and you can’t afford to look at him because his post lets him look right at you.

Every room but the washroom(which has just one window) lets you see and be seen from at least two sides. Every side seems to have a conversation float by, every direction seems to have someone who look away when they catch your glance. no other house on the street must be able to see as much as we can, no other house can be seen as much as we can. She tells me it’s like the walls and roof have collapsed just like in all those old houses. I wonder what the view must be like from inside those shattered mansions.

How To Dirty Your Fingers

Back in Mangalore there’s this little wedge where you find a bearded man and an ice cream machine that only gives you vanilla and always leaves your hand covered with ice cream.

The shop is near the basement library near Tagor park and Tipu’s lighthouse where the roads climb at an alarming rate and you always worry you’ll fall over. With plants and coarse cement slabs all around, and bored retirees sitting around on cane chairs in front of the shop you might wonder how you ended up in someone’s backyard. Your alarm is unnecessary.

This is the shop, unnamed, unadorned with a bored old man staring at nothing in particular. It’s pointless to ask him anything. He’ll offer you a harmless cough, because there isn’t anything you need to learn about vanilla ice cream.He’ll give you a small cone of vanilla for 20, a medium sized cone for 25. There is no large cone. There are two flavors- vanilla and pink. My friends insist pink is actually strawberry, but think about it. Does strawberry ice cream ever taste like actual strawberry? No it doesn’t, it never does. There isn’t even a name for the taste that people market as strawberry. So I call it pink. It tastes pink.

I don’t know how to describe the taste. It tastes like ice-cream. It’s what all vanilla and pink (strawberry?) should aspire to be. When I think of ice cream, the ice cream the old man sells is what comes s to mind. It always drips all over your hands because there is always too much ice-cream for the cone to handle. He gives you the tiniest, single square layer of paper that masquerades as a tissue. The tissue always falls apart and your fingers are always covered with ice cream, but at least they’re delicious.

Sights Around Mangalore

My neck is usually strained and screaming with pain by the time I reach Mangalore. I can only tolerate bumpy, stuffy bus rides for so long; I always keep my bus window wide open to get as much fresh air as I can.

After the semi-conscious excuse for sleep that only a sleeper bus can offer,along with the unending chatter of passenger who act like they’ve found their soulmates sitting next to them, I’ve half a mind to hop out of the window. You can always see men with legs and mouths tightly shut preparing to sprint at the next stop. Everyone gropes around still dazed while they try to find their things, stretch in cramped quarters and ask the conductor how far away their stops are at least 6 times. They always manage to forget and receive a earful from the conductor.

It is tradition to complain about the driving, roads, sleep and ghat section once we’re off. Soon everyone sporting righteous outrage at the crass, loud nature of some co-passenger. Awkward silence and righteous indignity set in as the relatives who are supposed to pick us up, like always, are late but insist they’ve been waiting for us at another stop for hours.

The streets are quite, deserted, cool. The air is thick, pleasant and smells lazy. Stray dogs eye us as they enjoy their rule over the quit tarmac, the buzzing orange streetlights  their collaborates. We pile into a car, while everyone asks each other how they’ve been. they point out how so and so has gotten taller, thinner. They whisper how so and so has gotten fatter. they all decide they must eat. We leave the car before it has moved an inch and head over to the nearest restaurant. The one’s where regular customers eat are always located in a hotel. There we eat Mangalore buns that are surprisingly filling. When your eating buns and waiting for hot tea/ hoicks in town that’s still asleep and grey, you know your in Mangalore and no where else.

People discuss how the roads where back when they were kids, how certain granduncles were caught by leopards while they stopped off to pee etc. I stick my head out of the window and look at all the trees that seem to rush past me. The cool, green, residential areas that are far away from the main road are always deserted when morning buses drop off passengers. People point to the new apartments and reminisce about the old, luxurious, spacey tiled houses that always seem to invite rain are all but gone. they point to the few survivors and tell each other stories of how they used to play by the compound walls.

The few quite minutes you have after you get home and the age determined ques to the bathroom is set up is a voyeurs wet dream. You can drag a chair out to the large open baloneys that Mangalore houses always have and watch sleepy life sneak out of the apartments and houses. Inevitably I’m told to get potato chips, milk, tukudies,flavored banana chips etc. The shopkeepers, the customers and pedestrians wear dreamy looks. You’d think they lived in a world where clocks didn’t exist.

Someone always insists on going to some temple, visiting some obscure uncle/aunt before they die, so we’re always out of the house. This will always be one of the greater mysteries of life to me. Manglore is the one place where wasting time at home is pleasant. If you disagree the sun and humidity will send you rushing back for cover indoors.My family however insists on packing themselves into a sweaty car and braving the heat. The humidity and sun torture you. I’m always drenched in sweat in Manglore.

The veg restaurants we visit, once someone man’s up and tell’s everyone else that we should probably take a break, always serve amazing sandwiches. I don’t know why but sandwiches always taste better in Mangalore. The petty shops around ever corner are the best places to eat however. They always have some specialty whose name I am too tired to remember. I can remember taste but not where they come from.

My most recent discovery is this guy who has an dd love affair with the coconut. He has multiple shops carved into old house near the port of Mangalore, where the air always smells of fish. He serves you coconut based ice cream, mixed with other melted flavors of ice cream. The ice cream is served in a coconut and is meant to be scooped out with a piece of coconut husk he gives you. You can recognize his shops by the red, 90’s refrigerators they always have.

We leave Mangalore the same way we came. In a sweaty, sleeper but filled with loud gossip, loud passenger, loud conductors, loud streets. One day I want to stay awake through the trip and locate where it is you top smelling the salty air of Mangalore.