Unsent Letters

He walked up to me, wheeling two large suitcases, and asked if the seat next to me was taken. I said it was not. He was new to the city. Originally from your hometown – something I’d guessed even before he said it. His mannerisms were so much like yours. He was right out of college, optimistic and wildly enthusiastic, bubbling with newfound energy. It reminded me of us at that age, when we were still together.

I saw you a few months ago at the mall. The same day that you saw me – yes, I caught¬†you turning away just as I looked up. There was indecision in your face; I’m sure it was mirrored in mine – do we speak? Do we smile? Or do we ignore? Do we pretend to forget?

A few aisles across, in the aisle for baby products to be exact, your wife was examining something on display. She was with a woman with a broken nose. Your mother. The frail short woman with the broken nose and kind voice. Am I still the only one who knows that story? Or did you tell your wife about it?

I noticed your hairline was receding, and there was a bit of grey. I wondered what you noticed when you saw me – the newly formed double chin or the lines that were beginning to show?

The chatty boy next to me was right out of college. And I ask myself, has it been that long? It seems like yesterday; it also seems like forever ago.

 

 


Note: This week a lot of us are talking about the upcoming A to Z challenge. Unsent Letters was the theme I had decided on at first before switching to my currently untitled minimalist fiction project. I didn’t want this chapter to go waste, so sharing it today ūüôā

Theme Reveal! #AtoZChallenge – 2017

Remember the time I told you about the girl I killed and buried so that another one could emerge in her place? One who looked and sounded like her, but was disdainful of all of the things the first one believed in?

Writing horror/gore comes easily to me¬†not because I’m never scared, but the opposite. That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always scared; there’s always a boogeyman under my bed. It’s easy to write about the familiar.¬†

I have participated in the A to Z Challenge once before, in 2014. Afterwards,¬†I was so drained that I swore, Never again!¬†and quit writing for a month or so.¬†And yet, here I am. For me, this year the challenge is not just about coming up with 26 different posts for each day of the month. It is about something else as well. The more challenging “unfamiliar territory”, if you will.

Last year, when I read around 80 books (which is the highest number for any single year that I’ve been reading) I read a lot of romance. One that stands out, and will definitely stand out for a long time, is The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan. When I read it, it seemed like a simple enough story of someone who had loved and lost. The events do not occur chronologically. The chapters are written in alphabetical order.

Later I realized I was wrong in much of my review. The more I thought about it, the cleverer the book seemed. It gives us glimpses of a relationship. These glimpses actually allow us to construct this relationship for ourselves. There is heartbreak, yes. The story is told from a single heartbroken point of view, also yes, but that is enough. The story is so beautiful. We’re given so little to work with and we end up creating and interpreting the rest.

All through these years, I’ve maintained that I cannot write romance. That it’s the most difficult genre for me to write. Romance isn’t easy to write because our emotions cannot always be captured in words.¬†Which is why this minimalist technique (that looks deceptively simple, in spite of being complex) works in making the reader feel what isn’t expressed in words. In this case, the book definitely owes much to Levithan’s skill.

thmrevel

For this year’s A to Z Challenge, I’m going to attempt something similar¬†in the genre that I have stayed away from ever since I buried the girl with the notebook. And I’m going to employ the technique that Levithan used in his book – of giving you brief snippets from¬†the story with events occurring at random.

Wait, I’m not done. What’s the other thing that I like as much as I like books? Music. The posts will be named after alternative/indie/progressive rock songs – songs I’ve loved, liked, sang in the shower, cried to, being comforted by (and two classic rock songs that I hate (but they fit)).¬†Because no story is complete without a good background score!

So here’s my theme: Minimalist Fiction (shall we add On the Rocks to that?)

a2z-badge-100-2017

Waking Up To Brown

“What is the one color you would never use to paint your room?” he asked.

“Brown,” I said without missing a beat.

“Why?”

“It’s so dull and depressing. Waking up to that every morning is not¬†something I imagine is a pleasant experience.”

My answer niggled at my mind¬†for the rest of the day. As if I had lied. I had given that answer without so much as a thought; aren’t answers you give without thinking often the truth? Why then did that answer feel like a blunder? After all, there were actual blunders I could waste time pondering over and feeling foolish.

I reached home, exhausted after a long walk, and plopped into bed. It was then that I noticed the walls.

Why had this never registered before?

Reaching For A Low Sky

“And what will you say when he asks since when you’ve been unwell?”
“Since yesterday afternoon.”
“And when he asks if you’ve taken any medication?”
“I took some cough syrup.”
At this point, a grin would spread across his face. This scene has been played out so many times in our home that I know what is coming. My fever-parched throat readies itself to whine, call out to my mother.
“And what will you say when the doctor asks when you’re getting married?”
“Mommy!” I shout out to her to let her know of my irritation that has nothing to do with my illness.
Mommy comes over, smiling at my father’s “dreams” of his daughter’s far-off wedding day. Dreams he has begun to have¬†when the daughter in question is seven.
“Your daddy’s¬†just teasing. But one day you’ll have to go.” Her¬†smile turns wistful. The father of the future bride barks out a laugh.

My brother was never teased this way. His fevers and coughs were just fevers and coughs. His visits to the doctor did not have prospective alliances looming over them, brides lurking around in their trousseau. His doctors were never equated to matchmakers waiting for eligible bachelors to fall ill.

Parents, armed with their bedtime fairy tales and their “good-natured ribbing”, are essentially salespeople. And good ones at that. Fairy tales tell you the damsel met her prince and they lived happily ever after. That is the height of your heroine’s aspirations. The ceiling, the sky. For instance, in my dad’s hypothetical scenario, never once does the doctor ask if I maybe wanted to become a doctor myself. Or anything, other than “Would you like a groom with your prescription?

This height of aspirations, not seeing beyond the “happily ever after”, was perfectly summarized in another conversation from my childhood. The youngest one in our group¬†loved (and I mean LOVED!) to play the bride in our games. Just the bride, mind you. She was quite young, a kindergartner at the time if I remember correctly. Our neighbor’s daughter, who was in college, often came over to pinch our cheeks when she saw us playing. One day, she asked the little one why she liked playing the role of the bride. She whispered something into the older girl’s ear, whereupon her eyes widened theatrically and she exclaimed, “Haaye main marr jaawaan!” This roused our curiosity, and after we demanded, “Didi, usne kya kaha? What did she say?!” a few times, Didi revealed to us that, “Use sajne ka shauk hai. She loves to dress up.

That is honestly all that’s sold to us. And that is enough. It leads to a lifetime of insecurities and doubts on self-worth, creating scared little girls whose only ambition is to be a bride someday. (Note how I say “bride” and not “wife”) And why? Because it’s nice to dress up? Play a bedecked and bejewelled centrepiece as a linear continuation of our childhood games?

Now you could argue that this limit on women’s aspirations is a thing of the past. After all, both the examples above¬†are from my childhood. And that now, girls are encouraged to choose other, better ambitions than settling down unwillingly into someone else’s life and getting lost in it. If you believe this, then I’m here to shatter those beliefs (as much as¬†I wish you were right)

girlslifevsboyslife
Image Source

These magazine covers are from September 2016.

This is just the beginning of a certain kind of conditioning that states your main aim is to look pretty. That’s your ladder. It starts at a young age and something we carry into adulthood. An unmarried woman past a certain age is automatically labeled a failure, even¬†if she’s the CEO of a company. She’s labeled “angry”, “aggressive”, “frustrated”. Never “successful”. Never “fulfilled” or “happy”. The world cannot compute even the possibility. The world has not taught the woman to aspire to this happiness, this success. How dare she?¬†

Then there are some of those (I’m struggling to not use expletives here) who complain, “But if women really could do better than they are now, why are all the famous scientists men?” These people need to be high-fived. In the face. With Thor’s hammer. (Then they would probably ask why Thor is male, but that’s just not an argument that’s worth getting into.)

When girls as young as eight are taught that their whole worth depends on their “swimsuit bodies”, it teaches them that their priorities are different. There are others who do not even have the advantage of a decent education. There are definitely those who go against their conditioning and against these obstacles. But the ones who’ve just been hit with the hammer have never heard of them. Cherry picking exists everywhere.

As for the “happily ever after”, if there’s a more guilt ridden position than “wife”, I’ll be happy to hear it. If you work, you’re guilty. If you don’t, you still are. If you have friends and a social life, you’re guilty. If you don’t, you still are. There’s guilt anywhere you turn, because you are always expected to be a certain way and somehow, you are always failing to meet those expectations. To use my own example, I’ve lost count of the hints that have been dropped around me that it’s now “time to quit my job and take care of the household”.¬†Ridiculous as it sounds, it appears that I’m a rebel of sorts just because I go for work.

It’s taken me years, but I’m finally learning to let go of the “wife guilt”. Letting go of it one wedding bangle at a time. It’s taken me even more years, but I’m unlearning my “Cinderella Complex”. My “Snow White Complex”. My “Hell-literally-any-fairy-tale-with-a-prince-and-damsel-in-distress Complex”. I won’t deny that I suffered from it – it was a part of my upbringing. It is all I heard every time I fell ill, every time I changed schools, every time a family friend came to visit. Every time I was reminded that I was a cumbersome responsibility that my parents had to shed. All of these expectations that didn’t even lead to a cute dress up party, as my little friend claimed a long time ago, but a disappointing,¬†underwhelming experience (which I wrote about here).¬†

When I wrote the above-linked post, in his comments, Marty Rubin pointed out that women give up so much of their freedom when they get married. It occurred to me that though we all know this to be true in most cases, we still go ahead without a second thought because it never crosses our minds to¬†negotiate better for our future. We put a lid on¬†our dreams because of the fears that have been instilled in us. We don’t even realize it at the time, because our minds have been warped into believing that we’re meeting the ambition that was set for us from childhood.

Why are we doing this to little girls?


This is the Women’s Day week and I’ve written this post as a part of¬†#WomenOfBlogging. If you’ve written a post about this theme, please add it to the Linky:

    An InLinkz Link-up
Edit: The Linkup Widget isn’t appearing on my blog. If you have written a post for #WomenofBlogging, in addition to adding it to the Linky, please drop a comment below as well. Thanks!

There She Goes Again, With Her Dancing Shoes

It was¬†in the third grade (or second, or fourth, I forget) that they decided to split the dance and gymnastics classes at my school. At first, all the students of a class would attend both. After the split, girls attended dance and boys attended gymnastics. If you had a written note from your parents, you could attend gymnastics even if you were a girl. Boys either did not want to attend dance (or their parents did not want them to), or were not given the option. I’m inclined to believe the former. This was the 90s and schools just casually propagated certain stereotypes this way.

We had been learning kathak until then. That year they made us switch to bharatnatyam. We were asked to wear a frilly skirt over our school uniforms. The new dance teacher was a formidable looking woman who wore a teardrop bindi that started between her eyebrows and touched her hairline.

Every year, I looked forward to the day we got new books and other supplies from school. This included a new pair of ghungru – for dancing. But then¬†I was a skinny, awkward little thing whose ghungru came loose and slowly got dragged across the dance floor, held by an almost undone knot around my ankles. Add to it that bharatnatyam and I didn’t get along as well as kathak and I did. I thought I wanted to switch to gymnastics then, and chop my hair off like the other girls who chose that route.

My mother, an accomplished bharatnatyam dancer from a time in her life pre-marriage/pre-kids, took this as a personal affront (which is weird, because I was never enrolled in lessons outside of what was offered in school, but we’ll get to that). She had her waterworks and emotional blackmail at the ready. To which my father, when I thrust a pen and paper under his nose¬†to write the note, said, “You broke your mother’s heart. You can even stop going to school¬†from tomorrow.” Yup, my family is the overreacting kind.

Anyway, ghunghrus trailed, the elastic band of the skirt pinched, and a deadly looking teardrop bindi made me wanna pee my pants every time it looked my way. Then we moved, as we did every time, and the dancing stopped. Flash forward to a stranger asking my mother why I, the daughter of a once-famous (or so I hear) dancer, never learned it myself. She giggled in that schoolgirl way and left it at that. Later that day, I repeated the question to her. She had her reasons. I had my minor resentments.

I danced anyway, for school functions and such. I knew my limitations as a dancer, but I also knew I had fun while dancing. That’s all that mattered. And my teachers had enough confidence that I would not mess up on stage.

Flash forward to me as a 25 year old, dancing (if you could call it that) with a bunch of my friends atop a platform to steps that had nothing to do with the slow sad song that was playing (I think the DJ was going through a rough patch. You’d guess the same if you knew which songs he played). Best day of my life. Until…

Flash forward to me as a 27 year old. My friend B was teaching me some sick moves, which I was copying with my two left feet and some mustered grace. At some point, I tried to show her that¬†step from Timber, slipped, and landed on my ass. Several hands shot out to help me up. I’d never laughed that hard before. Best day of my life! (So far)

Last year B asked me to join dance classes with her, to which I replied, “Uhhh, I don’t think so!” What followed was that she joined the classes and I went off to Pondicherry. And you all know how that¬†turned out.

Then it started gnawing at me and I wondered, Should I? After all, the best days in my life have seen me dancing. And by dancing, I mean, looking like someone drowning calling for help, but whatever. After toying with the question for a bit, I decided, Yeah, I should.

It… did not go very well.

Joining the dance class was like going back to the skinny, awkward little thing that I was (minus the skinniness). I realized I cannot keep count in my head, you know, of the 1, 2, 3, step, 5, 6, 7, step variety. Dancing while completely sober is not that fun, and dancing with strangers (not to mention more graceful and with more practice) will make you feel more like a misfit than you already do most of the time. (Also, some other shit happened that day that I may talk about during the A to Z Challenge. Or not. I’m not sure yet, just keep your eyes peeled, yeah?)

So I left, thinking, Ok, so what’s new, I always quit everything, boohoo.¬†And then I told myself, This is why we never wanted to learn dance in the first place. It’s ok. (Sour grapes, I tell ya)

Flash forward to a few days ago when another friend told me about yet another place from where he is taking¬†dance lessons. Another form of dance. One which I wanted to learn a long time ago, but never did because I’m a graceless two-left-feeter.

And now it’s begun to gnaw again. Should I give myself another chance to learn? Or just accept that any form of real dancing isn’t for me?

PS: I write some of my posts in advance and schedule them, including this one, so it’s possible that by the time you’re reading this, I have already joined said lessons. I’m impulsive like that.

Lessons from Blog Stalking

A quirky blog post title can sometimes grab your attention. I chanced upon one of these quirky titles a while ago on Twitter, visited the blog and got hooked. Hooked? Hell, I fell in love! The language, the stories she told, all of it. What’s more interesting is that the particular post title which introduced me to the blog was related to pregnancy – not a subject I would usually read about on blogs (or anywhere, for that matter).

It took me two or three days and I had read through all of her posts, written over a span of a few years. I read it with the enthusiasm I usually reserve for the best of books. I laughed and cried and gasped with her. What struck me most was her raw honesty. It was not about writing with “utter fearlessness” (maybe it was that too; wait I’ll get to that in a minute*), it was about how her soul, all her emotions were laid bare on paper. The blog had a heartbeat, or so it seemed. I’ve not seen that kind of honesty in a lot of blogs. She was writing for herself, like she did not care if there was an audience, and yet, she addressed her readers directly whenever she could. In *one of her posts, she called out the bullshit of one of the most despicable Indian bloggers I’ve had the displeasure of knowing. Called him out, and how! Of course, he didn’t mend his ways or anything, but felt good seeing someone showing that douchebag his place (something that I could only do passive aggressively till date).

I felt a kinship with her, like if she and I came across each other in real life, we could be good friends.

Unfortunately, she does not blog so often these days.

Recently, I decided to look for more blogs like hers. Personal blogs, life stories. Since this year, I’m going through some… “stuff”, my obvious choice was to find stories similar to mine.

I had little success.

So I went to my next obvious choice – personal bloggers whom I know/have heard of/have read at least and who write well (life’s too short to go through archives of bad grammar).

With more success than the previous attempt, and yet…

The reason I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for was because most bloggers lacked the complete and utter honesty of the first one, and the authenticity that comes with it. Not that they weren’t being true, but the extent to which they were true – it felt like something was holding them back – how I sometimes feel about my own writing. I get it though; not everyone wants their innermost thoughts plastered out, coating walls like that, which is perfectly understandable.

So I categorized personal bloggers into:

1) Those who speak about themselves, their thoughts, their lives (and if you’re like the first blogger – friends, family, frenemies, neighbors, dogs, whathaveyou)
2) Those who write one sentence about themselves and then weave generic scenarios around it. They write about everything from the traffic to the weather to vacations, and while the idea, the thought may be their own, they’re catering to someone else.

Type 2 is invariably more popular than Type 1, because they are writing stuff that a wider group can *relate* to, topics that *resonate* with so many people etc., etc.

Type 1 writes about more specific topics. I prefer Type 1.

When I first started blogging, there was this one blog I used to read. I didn’t add it to my list (like I did with Hyperbole and a Half) because¬†she used to write only once in a year or so. I used to visit it intermittently before. Because she was a Type 1, or used to be from what little I remember, I visited her blog during my above-described quest. The post on the top, written sometime last year, started with “I’m not a feminist because I don’t believe we should ask for equal rights.” I was taken aback – this was not someone who had misunderstood the concept – she knew this was about equal rights, and she voluntarily chose to not want them, which is… puzzling. This was a deal breaker for me, and I said, “Girl, bye.”

In the end, I found quite a few good blogs to go through. Blog stalking is a strangely enriching experience. You see their writing evolve through the years, you see their lives changing, their thoughts changing. You see them contradicting themselves – turning their beliefs around by a 180. Learning. You see them learning. In turn teaching you.
You also notice the silly things – how they adored certain things when they were young, but now love to bash those very same things because that’s what the rest of us are doing.
You see their pain. Their losses.
You see their struggles.
You see them fall in love, fall out of love. You see them move on.
You see them set goals. Achieve them. Or not.
It’s like this time capsule – so much of them captured in their archives.

Eventually, I reached those points in time where I had first come across their blogs. I called it the present, even though it could have been a few years ago (my version of the present is always a little ways behind everyone else – the past two years have been an unfortunate, unmemorable blur for me). I tried to remember where the blogger and I were in our respective lives during those timelines. I skipped the posts¬†I had read when they were originally written. Newer posts hit me like a jolt. For instance, someone had written about Demonetization, and I thought, “Whoa, wait, this is so recent.” Like I said, my version of the present is just a little bit old, so something that recent is basically the future for me (does that even make sense?)

There was one blog which surprised me a bit. I’d never heard of the blogger before, but when I checked the blog out, it became obvious that she had certainly visited mine at least once. I changed my blog layout when I returned from my break. In the old one, I had a Blog Roll on the sidebar – links to blogs I read. Some of those blogs are those of my friends who neither write often nor have their blogs listed on any communities. Like the blog of my friend Wii (who was, incidentally, the inspiration behind one of the two main characters in¬†this story (I hope he never reads¬†this post)). Some are the findings of a “blog-hunting exercise” I carried out some time ago. Interestingly, her blog roll was an identical copy of mine – the exact same blogs that I follow (including this one blog that only the blogger and I know of and hasn’t been updated since 2015 with a total of about 3 posts!)

At first, this made me think that if someone went through my archives, I’d be mortified. I’m more embarrassed by my old posts than anything that happened to me in real life. There have been times when I felt there’s too much of “me” in my posts, as if all my vulnerabilities and weaknesses are out there. (And typos; let’s not forget typos.) But then, I went back to all the good lessons I learned and thought,¬†who do I want to be? The honest writer, or the one that deletes the un-pretty posts once they start looking stale?

PS: While they were all fantastic, I won’t be linking to any of the blogs¬†because a) it’s not stalking if you spell it out, is it? b) I don’t want them to feel I’m flattering them or whatever c)¬†they should not¬†feel obligated to link back. Hence, it is best to keep it all anonymous.

Moth to a Flame

image1
Image Source

There’s no silence to be had
Between us, or so my instincts claim.
You rarely let me in even so,
Should I then try again?

Your glass is full of stories
Of your friends and your fame.
I’ve tried to wade in twice or more,
Gone against the grain.

Standoffish are you, or merely quiet?
Indifference, or am I a reminder of an old pain?
A puzzle, a mystery, so enticing.
So tell me, do I dare try again?

Linking to dVerse Poets OLN