That summer we stayed with her aunt who smelt of cut grass and ghee. We walked the beaches, pretend nomads with face scarfs till a dog rushed out of a patch of wild flowers and begged for a game. Bored cattle strayed past, watching the sea while grazing. That night the sea’s breeze and scent carried through the window. The dog sat happy after the meal we gave him. She put on some music and the dog tried to bark in tune. She danced till her footsteps on the hardwood floor was all I could hear. When I woke up the french windows were open, she had a flower under her foot and a smile on her face.
In the river of time,
Flailing fish- history.
Colour the sky grey.
With the sun hidden away
There’s no better time
To look at dusty photos,
A time long away
When the sky
Feels the same.
See the maid, how clever her children are!
When we were children, said my grandmother
They let me run & I would go- very far.
Sophistication had no movement, rather
Only a few things worth learning.
Abdul cannot remember anything.
The questions are rare now because they know a “No” will invariably follow. Occasionally there are flashes in those glassy eyes but who would notice? Now and then images will consume him.
Bright robes dirtied by runs through the markets. Seated figures and gossip under the old mango tree. Their wares spread out on rough cloth, they watch him fly his silk kites and ignore the cuts the thread gives him.
“No” he repeats to no one as he looks out his window. Surely the city and roads of tar were always there. “Surely I dreamt.”
Yellow, tattered, bound by leather
the empty pages still do entice.
A long adventure must have surely befallen
this new companion who has not a word spoken.
But now to the silent fossil I have taken
with pen and paper; a new story in it written.
A constant purpose, a prophesy fulfilled
a page now- not unspoken.
The heat of the mid-day sun seemed to have seeped into the basement where we pawed through book, our fingers getting dirtier by the minute.
We were done with our practicals early and being unwilling to head home or brave the heat we choose to stay in college. A friend mentioned that old books where stored away in the basement, awaiting disposal, and when he mentioned that these books were as free as air, I sighed and realized I’d have major back pain by the time I got home. I pushed my laptop around and made room while we spiraled down the stairs.I couldn’t help but hope we’d find something extraordinary.
I had known about the pile before, but back then I imagined it was this secret stash meant to stay hidden in the basement. The basement is a cold,dark area that burrows under the science block. Quite a few people label it “shady” and find themselves peering uncomfortably into the dark trying to figure out if they’re alone down there. The last time I visited the pile, I had stuck my hands through dusty metal grills older than me and looked at attendance registers from the fifties. The basement is meant for staff only, so looking through names from the last century in a dusty,dark corner was rather thrilling.
But now I knew that I could take those books away. The pile had diminished considerably and had transformed into a scattered dump of books. The basement was damp, made me sweat and rather disappointingly wasn’t as dark as it was the last time I was there.My friends and I set about hopping over and going through the books. I didn’t see any registers and most of what we came across were old science textbooks (no wonder they were being thrown away). They were all hardbound and quite a few were more older than all our ages combined.
My finger grew dusty as I dug up book, books that never seemed to get any cleaner no matter how I tried. I picked up 3 magazines- the first called mainstream, (complaining that everything is too mainstream is a running joke in my circle of friends), a torn up copy of a magazine whose name seemed impossible to figure out, and another that demanded Modi resign all the way back in 2002. The laughs that it cause was worth the trip down here. I also picked up two ancient books on sociology. One had the name of my friend Deb on it, I texted him asking him if he was a time traveler. He explained that his fetish for social equality gave him super-powers. I also found a almanac from 1963 that was probably owned by a racist -the sections on Africa and the middle east were torn out.
I wish I had raided the pile before anyone else had gotten to it, but I can’t say I’m unhappy with my loot. I would have taken a lot more if I could have, maybe some of those issue from the 79 volumes on Gandhi’s sayings…
I don’t really have many pictures of myself when I was young, I was far to self-conscious and would scatter the second I heard some eager creature with a camera. So when I realize that my makeshift mouse-pad was an old picture of me on my 8th birthday I was quite startled.
I’d say something cliché like “memories came rushing back”, but really, that isn’t the truth. The picture felt like a rough jab because it reminded me that the memory -or even memories were always around. I remember what T-shirts people wore, how they smelt and where my dog had bitten three of my friends. It’s like writing a word on paper, closing your eyes and recalling every curve,swish and dot. On the left, my other wise pretty cousin is on the sofa with us, mouth wide open ready to chomp on a slice of chocolate cake she holds. I am in between. I look anorexic you’d think my cousin was inspired to enjoy her meal because of my plight yet I smile away trying to adjust my red birthday cap. My father sits on the right with his hand awkwardly feeling the wall behind the sofa. He looks like a cat about to be run over.
Most of those parties always went the same way. My dad would yell and throw a fit about me not helping him decorate, I’d ask him why people need birthdays in the first place (while I wondered why I had to decorate if the whole thing was about me). My father wears a simple white shirt and looks 40. He’s looked like he’s 40 ever since he finished high school. Now he’s 55 and still looks 40.
My cousin and I, both skinny and young, both in bright yellow hand me downs and with birthday caps that just won’t stay on our heads look like natural allies. She was almost done with high-school by then, but had not yet learnt how to avoid getting yelled at by the many aunts who inhabited the mansion. Back then I never understood why she was so eager to drag me away from cartoon network, and talk to me about the most random things. I never got why people kept telling her to go ask her mother to pay her bills. We’d sit by the little outlook on the hill and count the number of black cars and buses that needed a wash. She’d talk about how she’d have to dig up graves to find teeth so she could study dentistry.
I forgot about her entirely when my mother and I left that old house and that part of the family. In my defense I was a kid, I never got her rants about her nokia and pink cycle. I saw her again 3 years ago when both of us went back to the old house. We shrugged and said “meh” to everyone else there. We saw each other. We shrugged and said “meh”. She had a kid apparently.
It’s an odd photo. Very obviously candid. None of us seem affected by the din that must have been taking place in the center of the room. There only three of us three, on a sofa colored like pencil lead, against a bland green wall. For some reason that image always seems to simple,recent and familiar to forget.