Poem: A swirl of one’s own

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In the ten days since you arrived,
We’ve heard you are like us.

Her father’s chin,
her mother’s ears.
When she’s angry,
she fits right in,
On the maternal side.

Forgotten uncles now
show their shadows.
In your absurdly tiny face.

But that beautiful swirl
On your perfect head.
Who did it come from?

You made it yourself.
Nobody else, quite has it
exactly so.

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The first intoxication

I’ve spent the whole of today thinking about the first few months on the Internet. We had one of the first few internet accounts in India. An unassuming vsnl account perhaps. I had a powwow username. I can’t quite describe how avante-garde that was. I felt like I was on the edge of the bleeding-edge.

It comes back today with this news about Roger Ebert. It was one of the first times I realised my love of cinema wasn’t as immature and idiotic as I thought it was. It was legitimate. This love for film was real and absolute.

But among other things, I also discovered this today. So whilst I lamented the loss of Ebert, I heard this amazing rendition of Pehla Nasha. When I sit down to think of Pehla Nasha, I think of being a 11 year old. The idea of your ‘first intoxication’ is a bit heady when taken literally.

That’s what the internet felt like. An intoxication. To put it into perspective, it was the first addiction I had. The first time I felt absolutely absorbed into the fabric of the universe. The first crazy-handshake-tune of meeting strangers. The IRC chats that led to strangers who had no idea where I lived.

I was so eager to fall in love at that age. Because I was convinced that it was the ultimate high. Convinced by beautiful songs from the East and the West, I had been waiting to fall in love since I was about eight. When it finally happened, it was so depressing and a complete let-down. Yes, it was a new love – a new reason to wait. My heart was filled with the binary tune of handshakes and data streams.

Pehla Nasha. That it was.

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I ate a paan in Benaras

It’s taken me a few months to digest everything that I saw and took in Varanasi. It’s an absurd metropolis of memory, silt, silk and myth. It made me wish I had been there sooner, and I had gone with more time. There was just so much to take in, to listen to. We walked by the ghats for a long time, while I spotted names and sights only recognisable in other people’s memories and books.

Women watching ganga aarti/ Varanasi

I can’t quite capture what Benaras was like. For a change, I was short of words and description.

On a small boat, on the Ganga,
were three women from the delta.
Each with a prayer, and a womb,
Full, empty, happy.

Their bangles descend to silt.
And their million bra-hooks.
Undone swiftly by the current,
Boobs hanging resplendent.
Praying for miscellaneous,
and the rather, odd,
thankless male descendant.

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Brave new world of make-up

Pots of rouge, little boxes of eyeshadows, gleaming rich colours in lipstick tubes, the creamy sets of foundation and the brushes, always the brushes! It’s a world with forbiddingly high walls if you don’t know what you’re doing. I had no clue.

I think it doesn’t help that my mother didn’t use make-up. All I used was a stick of kajal. Not even lipgloss. Anyway, lipgloss in the 90s was like jam. It was strangely sweet, stuck to your lips, gluey, gooey, and your hair would stick to it no end.

But more than ma not using make-up, I think make-up as a concept left me confused. Here I was, ardently feminist, and make-up seemed to be about dolling up, about looking beautiful. Plus, there was this whole absurd thought I’d digested. Using make-up meant you weren’t naturally beautiful. So like a lot of other make-up shy women, I spunked money on skincare. I also have a feeling I was in a relationship where using make-up would signal loss of morality somehow.

So here you go. The list of things I thought make-up meant.
1. You weren’t pretty and you were desperately trying to make yourself pretty.
2. You were desperate for attention.
3. You didn’t have enough morality to be yourself.
4. You weren’t an intellectual, as you were spending money on make-up rather than books.

I’ve finally started using make-up. By using I mean, dipping a tiny brush there, or sticking on some lipstick, before quickly wiping most of it off. It’s really, really difficult to use make-up suddenly. People will comment, most of it nice, and you can’t deal with that. So you feel you must gradually reveal it all.

Pots of colour

It took me forever to figure this out but make-up isn’t about beauty at all. It’s about colour and self-expression. I have strong feelings about a blusher by Nars, in the same way that I have strong feelings about wearing handspun cotton fabrics. I love looking and being colourful. I love being able to stick some twinkly, taupy shadow on my eyelids, because it expresses me. I love wearing a deep red lipstick sometimes because well, it captures what’s on my mind! There’s no shame in embracing colour, and no, it says nothing about my intelligence.

I don’t think I look any better or different, though I can almost disguise poor sleep. All I know, is that I feel free to express myself in any bloody way I want. It’s taken me a while to figure that out. So I’ll hold onto these pots for a bit, thankyouverymuch.

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A truth, cryptically told

Good girls make mistakes.

Good girls become girls who can be easily doubted. And they get married to boys who think they are perfect. Good girls then become sad women.

Brave Good girls then go onto enter the murky territory of legal truths. They get divorced. They walk off. They become the very things that society hates. The failure of modern Indian love stories. The very things we hate – the people who had the supposed freedom and then squandered it on a few tickets at the cinema and kurtis at Fab India.

Good girls then finally meet Decent men. I say men, because they are mature. They don’t always need assurance. Or promises. Then they sometimes get married. And are very happy. So happy that their happiness is overwhelming like a successful season of mangos. A hundred kinds, in different colours, with stories, and back-stories. Bursting, laughing, juicy and with the promise of double meanings.

Get over it.

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Three words: Apple, electricity, redemption

When I was a girl, of merely eleven years, my freedom came from power cuts at night. At precisely 11:20 every night, power went off, plunging our tiny street into darkness. There she was, the apple of someone else’s eyes. Stood before our door, begging my mother, ‘Can your little one coem out for a walk?’

And we’d walk. Till well past one at night. In the darkness, no one knew that I’d been asked to stay behind, and witness the love affair of an older girl. Delhi fluttered, like fireflies. In candles and dying electricity generators. They’d take off, on an absurdly loud bike. It’s breath filling our lungs with fumes and the promises of young adulthood.

There was no redemption in being the cover for someone’s love life. You stood, and sat by the corner on streets. Waiting for electricity, and light. Just in time, they’d ride in. Full of love, and covered with sweat. Their bikes heaving through the night. The lights would come on, all at once. And young girls, like me, or like you, would crawl back home. For a night of sleep, and someone else’s wet dreams.

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Poem: Time that flies

In the utterly quiet
are heard tiny wings.
Food uncovered,
or flowers.

Hearts and stomachs
They spasm. Tight.
Bees make honey,
Flies make disease.
This is love.
Some sweetness,
some lack of ease.

bee

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