Niloy

 

He sat stirring a spoon of sugar in his coffee, wishing the choice between cowardice and courage was an easy one to make. Stains of yesterday’s dinner were visible on the tablecloth, he absently scratched at them with his fingernail. He had woken up with a sudden bout of nausea and his head swimming with guilt.

Before he could sip his coffee, his phone chimed with an agitating urgency. The sound of incoming messages were syncing with that of the irregular rhythm of his anxiety, every message tipping him closer to yet another moment of weakness. Niloy told himself that he was afraid of confronting her, afraid of her words that dig their way under his skin and nest in his heart. He placed his phone face down on the table and took to pacing the room instead, the harsh light of the sun’s glare exposing the worry lines on his forehead. Nothing is real till he confronts it, and he intended to keep it that way. Downstairs, his instruments groaned in exhaustion. They knew they had another long day in front of them.

He knows he is in trouble, he is in love. He has been in love before, he was just never consumed by it. Falling in love with her took him by surprise. It swept him up in its torrent, desperate and demanding, almost infantile in nature. He didn’t know then, it crept up on him when she laughed and he felt something detach from the familiar tinkling of her laughter, and come to rest on his tongue. He crushed it gently, the sweetened nectar pouring down his throat and filling up his ribcage. That’s when he knew. He carried the secret with him everywhere he went, rolling it around on his tongue, moulding the unfamiliar shape, testing its weight, asserting its existence.

Each time they spoke, he would wait for another piece to detach and add to the shape. The first time she cried, he tasted a piece of his bruised heart. The first time she said ‘I miss you’, he tasted an unripe bittersweet nectarine. What he couldn’t swallow was her rage. Her rage was acrid, angry words laced with hurt; they stifled him with their need to grow. They would feed on his inaction, grow to consume a room, burn down curtains and beds on its way. Niloy never housed her rage, he dealt with it like most men do- by shutting the front door on it and hoping it dissipates. Men after all have grown up with the privilege of being able to ignore a woman’s anger, of never having taught to acknowledge it. When confronted with a woman’s rage, men either discard it as an unnecessary distraction or stifle it with the remnants of their bruised ego in an attempt to bury its existence.

Yet the fruit of Niloy’s love matured, he nourished it with her softness and watered it with his attention. Niloy was an artist, and as is the case with artists, he sought out vulnerability. He would coax her pain out of the phone, will her to tell him when it hurt, where it hurt and who did the hurting. He would lie down on his blue bedspread, shut the door on his life and curl the night around his body; he only ever spoke in hushed voices to keep their world a secret. Then one night, when she had made him laugh harder than anyone ever had, made his body feel lighter than air, he told her he loved her. ‘Be mine’, he said. ‘You haven’t even met me yet’, she laughed. He told her it doesn’t matter, he loves her now, in this moment. He would love her when they met, when he could stare at her face unbidden, lightly touch her cinnamon skin, and see her eyes crinkle up when she laughs. He scattered his words like flower petals, letting the wind carry them where it wishes, throwing them without real intention.

She sensed his nonchalance, she refused to answer it with intent. He tried to part the heavy fabric of her silence, his pride willing the eight letters to find their way to him, wishing and wishing she felt the same way. After she said goodbye that night, he couldn’t sleep. He stepped out of the door and into the familiar darkness broken infrequently by the glimmer of stars. His thoughts wrapped around his shoulders like an unwelcomed touch, Niloy walked and tried hard to shed them. She didn’t love him, not yet anyway. And if she did, it didn’t glow bright enough for him. When he came home, his ego had made his decision for him. He would disappear, he would dissolve into his world once again, a world where the sound of music was loud enough to drown out the fitful knocking of love.

The next morning, he woke up in his old life. The smell of breakfast greeted him at the door, his father cooking. He ate, showered, slipped into a musty grey t-shirt and jeans, and stepped out of the house. His instrument on his back, he took the metro and seamlessly traced his steps back to where he was before he met her. Back to a life of pastel colours, diluted of real meaning. She called, she left messages. But he was far away, her words funnelled down, into the life he had slipped out of, a life that held her at its centre.

In the time he withdrew himself, her affection stumbled. It questioned itself before it even bloomed, it produced a half-hearted fruit, a sorry looking thing with orange flesh and splotches of brown. So when he did leap back to her, convinced he had secured her love, he plucked the fruit and tasted its over ripeness, and mistook it for love. He thought it was his for bruising, for loving, for consuming. So deep was he in his desperation for her, that he mistook her friendship for love, didn’t notice the fruit rotting. He tortured her, he demanded declarations of her need for him, of her want to be with him. He hammered down pillars and corridors, shrunk the room till all it contained was him and her.

But he didn’t foresee the other side of warmth, the flames willing to lash out and lick the remaining bare walls. She set ablaze the words she had buried deep within, which he now sits dodging. Hurt, more than anger spills out, bubbling at the cracks, frothing and flowing towards his heart. He couldn’t love her rage, couldn’t accept it, and couldn’t love all of her. So, he yearned; a pitiful whine. He yearned for the rage to subside, yearned for her to play a requiem for her harshness. Now he runs far away from her words, back into his world insulated with his narrow understanding of love, of women.

Men, brave or weak are after all cowards in the matters of heart.

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A Disease Called Fascination

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Illustration by www.bitesizedsanity.com

My spoon scrapes up shards of blue stained glass, the exact shade of my melancholy, only slightly watered down. Your knuckles make that sound again, echo around my ribcage and reverberate in my head; I love you. You seem to be the kind of man drawn towards objects of fascination, after all, you have affixed your eyes on me. You swallow a teaspoon of this fascination every day, feeding your delusions till they branch out into acts of desperation, till you think you need me to even continue living.

Alright, I think to myself. I let you climb inside my mouth, slide down my throat and cling to my lungs. My ribcage made you feel safe, so close to my beating heart. My teeth crunch glass, drowning out the sound of your desperate appeals to be heard. They don’t go down easy, but that’s what you get for letting the paranoias of your mind feed you. Was that a scream I heard? Sounds of scampering, feet shuffling urgently, as if to flee. You grumble about the sharp pieces of glass, your feet are cut and bloody. I cannot stop, I am ravenous. I spoon more into my mouth, even beads of a confusing colour, all mixed in. Is this what anxiety looks like? When the streams of thoughts have lost direction and come to seek each other, like moths drawn to light? Thoughts of different colours, from the bluest of blues to the murkiest browns, spun around and around in a complicated jumble.

My throat is dry, I wash it all down with water, one easy swallow. Help, you scream; I am drowning, you say. You beat against my insides and plea for your freedom. But darling, I never imprisoned you. You were always a prisoner of your own fairy-tale. When you said you loved me, you meant when I was at my best. You loved me when I put up a string of Christmas lights around my rib-cage, when they glowed warmth, enveloping you in a womb-like safety. Two fingers down my throat, out you come, awash in relief. You run away, almost expecting me to hold you back, perhaps a little let down when I don’t. Maybe you know better now, you watch me from afar. You don’t wish to drown, merely to stay afloat in your fascination of me. I wish you were wiser, I wish you rather knew how to swim.

The Softness of Words

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Illustration by http://www.bitesizedsanity.com/

A spoonful of honey and holy basil,

it’s good for your throat, my mom would say

maybe those years of gulping it down

sticky sweet, trickling down my throat

softened my words at last

blunted the sharpness of my weapons.

 

Last year, I stuffed my words

into a dark and dank trunk

they grew mouldy and coughed up blood

I am so very ashamed to tell you

I seemed to have always peeked inside the trunk

When I had nothing soft to say.

 

I let them rise up to my throat

and roll onto my tongue

balancing their heavy weight at the tip of my tongue

I tried, I promise you I did, to taste its shape

But my bitterness stretched its arms in its sleepy slumber

and knocked my desperate words at your feet.

 

You didn’t hear them, you heard nothing

you let silence overstay its welcome

grow wild in a valley of its own

walk barefoot there if you caan

you will find a basketfull of my words

growing lush alongside wildflowers and ferns.

 

Months have churned in the great belly of time

now I count my words like change

a teaspoon of honey and holy basil

and a tablespoon of honesty

a dash of kindness and a sprinkle of softness

words sticky sweet, clinging to your ears, collecting in your tongue.

 

-Shiuli

Book Blogging Fail

Hellu! I have been away from blogging about my books and I have realised that as much as I love reading and talking about books, I always fall short on time to actually write about them and have therefore decided to limit my reviews and opinions on books to Instagram. So, if you would like to continue reading my book reviews, please follow me on Instagram. I am @ _tempestia. I am going to limit my blogging to only poetry and prose and the occasional travel posts. Okay, thank you for wasting your few precious seconds of time. Adios.

Book 18 of 2018- Warm Bodies by Issac Marion

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Warm Bodies is about R and Julie. R has a crisis, well he is a zombie so that only comes with the trade. R has no memory, no pulse and cannot recall his own name. R is also different from his fellow zombies. He eats people, but does not particularly enjoy it. He refers riding up and down the airport escalator and listening to Sinatra in his spare time.

Then suddenly, everything changes. Everything changes because of Julie, a living breathing girl he couldn’t get himself to kill and so brought back with him to the zombie lair. With Julie as his reluctant guest and then almost a friend, things begin to change. R feels himself changing. He feels none of his zombie instincts to kill and eat kicking in, instead he feels protective about her.

However, their unlikely friendship starts to stir and change things. What does the world reeking with the stench of the undead hold for these two? Will they change the world or bring upon more trouble upon themselves?

I cannot believe I am saying this, but I really enjoyed Warm Bodies. I never thought a zombie romance would interest me. I don’t even like zombies! The entire concept of zombies thoroughly creeps me out. The very idea of a human lacking its humanity is enough for me to cringe. Warm Bodies has been written well, you could probably finish this in 2 days. The story moves fast and I didn’t find myself losing interest midway at all. I especially like the idea of telling the story through the zombie’s perspective, since that’s not something I have ever come across in all the zombie fandom era.

Rating- 3.5/5.

Oh! Calcutta

The first time I went to Calcutta, I must have been 6 or 7 years old. You would think I wouldn’t remember much about the trip but I do. My father tells me I have an elephant’s memory. To a child though, Calcutta was just a holiday. What does a child understand about exploring roots or your own culture?

My family moved from Delhi to Bombay when I was 11 years old. I didn’t give Calcutta a second thought till I was at least 18. Since neither of my parents are from Calcutta and we are what we call ‘Probashi Bengalis’, meaning Bengalis who live outside of Calcutta, I grew up in a different setting. I didn’t grow up with a lot of Bengali friends, and from my observations, none of my Probashi Bengali friends liked interacting with each other in Bengali. Evidently, I didn’t pay much attention to what it means to be a Bengali. Over the years, I have endured a lot of taunts from other Bengalis on social media about how I am less of a Bengali because I don’t listen to Bengali music or muddle up Bengali words and mix up Hindi and English seamlessly into my mother tongue. Something I assure you annoys me immensely. Since when did identifying or belonging to a culture become a competition?

Who are the Bengalis? 

A quick Wikipedia search tells me that Bengalis are the third largest ethnic group in the world, after Han Chinese and Arabs. If you are familiar with Bengalis, you too might hold some much loved stereotypes about us. For example, if you believe all Bengalis can sing well or are artistically inclined in some manner, I would be more than happy to introduce you to my brother who has absolutely no drop of artistic talent. If you believe all Bengalis are highly intellectual, please acquaint yourself with Mamta Banerjee. Do all of us worship Rabindranath Tagore and Satyajit Ray? I have only ever watched two movies by Ray and read two books of Tagore. Granted, I did try to learn Rabindra Sangeet like a good Bengali girl and do know two of his songs by heart. Also, not all of us eat sweets every single day, especially not Rosogolla. I don’t even like Rosogolla! My point is, Bengalis are not the sum equivalent of your generalisations.

Let me acquaint you to a few things I have observed about my own community of people.

  1. Lethargee demands to be a surname– Bengalis are notoriously lazy. A point I want to elaborate upon when I talk more about Calcutta.
  2. We like to sit on our high horse– Elderly Bengalis will miss no chance to tell you how ours is a community more superior and intellectually blessed than the rest. Never-mind that they themselves might not have read a single book in their lives or uttered a single intelligent word in their entire lifetimes.
  3. Look, we are so cultured!– Bengalis will miss no chance in keeping up appearances about being ‘cultured’. If culture is wearing saris and rustic jewellery and a giant-sized bindi, then yes, we are all very cultured.

I know it seems like I do not like Bengalis at all. On the contrary, I revel in being a Bengali. This is why I also believe that I have the licence to critique and question a culture I belong to, in order to understand it better.

Long story short, I have been thirsting to travel to Calcutta since the moment this need to explore my roots hit me. This year in February, I finally flew to the city of joy. Was it everything I had hoped for? Did I find what it was I was looking for? I will blog about how I experienced Calcutta in the new few posts.

Book 17 of 2018- Ghachar Ghochar

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Rating- 4/5

 

I truly hope that 2018 will be a year of reading more of Indian writers, embracing them and falling in love with their writing. Keeping that in mind, I ordered my copy of one of the most spoken about books this year, Ghachar Ghochar. Ghachar Ghochar is a gibberish expression that signifies entanglement. Think about the condition of your earphones after they spend a day in your pockets, that’s Ghachar Ghochar.

Ghachar Ghochar follows a family as they traverse through poverty to riches, and how money changes their lives. A young man spends most of his time in a cafe in Bangalore, hoping for some clever anecdotes from a server he believes has insights into his life and state of mind. The family is poor, but there is enough to feed everyone, just not enough for wants that might arise out of greed. Their fortune changes when their uncle starts a business selling spices, they move out from their cramped home to a bigger dwelling.

There is a line in the book that really resonates- ‘It’s true what they say – it’s not we who control the money, it’s the money that controls us’. In the face of riches, the family is lost. Relationships change as the money comes in, their equation with each other changes. The implications of new money takes hold over the family. This is what ghachar ghochar represents, how money has the power to knot things up so badly, there is no hope for rescue.

I enjoyed the writing, there was warmth and unexpected strength in some characters. The representation of an Indian family did not feel odd, just natural.