Stories

Cornflower Blue

Roshanara was moving through the street, striding across the pavement confidently. Thinking as she paced, contemplating to the proud sound of her sandals slapping the cement.

Delhi had reached the fag end of August, and the rain settled into its avenues like an ignorant guest. Leaves floated on, adrift on temporary streams, and the wind, pregnant with sticky humidity, assaulted all that walked against its tide. The sky was a cornflower blue, with white whispers fading in and out across its skin. Her cream cotton dress clung onto her, her body wrapped in a film of perspiration and a faint pungency that mixed into her jasmine attar. Her cocoa tresses, alight with golden tips, pirouetted along the current.

 

It was just after class. She had plugged in her music and listened to ABBA as she walked towards the metro station. The songs fit in as if soundtracks to a scene in a rose-tinted film. The pop romance of the 70s almost transported her into another world. She often thought about these things. Looking at the trees, the sky, the roads, the smoke from the cigarette perpetually between her long wan fingers; gazing with glazed eyes to the sounds of the patterned melody, she would imagine herself being somewhere else. Somewhere foreign and expensive. A place with cleaner air, prettier people, colorful sweaters and sunset autumns. A place with a river walking along its streets, adorned with old cafes strung with sophisticated women talking slowly and loftily in an indecipherable tongue, being scooped out by juveniles on bicycles as they lazily rode on into the lilac evening. She would imagine walking like that beautiful lonely girl in all the films she watched. She could be running to catch a tram. She could be dancing. In all these scenes, Roshanara would imagine herself being better than she was. The Roshanara of her daydreams was iridescent. Luminous. She was beautiful. She was the object of envy, lust, admiration, joy, bliss. She was bliss. She was carefree. Unbothered. Happy, like the pixie girls in the movies. The Roshanara of her daydreams wasn’t alone. No. The better Roshanara was thin enough for that phased out aesthetic the real her saved on Pinterest boards. She was reading great literature, stuff too hard for the real her to commit to. She was flirting unabashedly, having a copious amount of sex. She was living and breathing all that the inhibited libido of the real her fantasized about. The Roshanara of her daydreams was listening to ABBA too, she was also walking along the same street, in the same rain, against the same wet sky. The Roshanara of her daydreams, however, wasn’t coming from anywhere or going anywhere. The Roshanara of her daydreams lasted till the chorus and then evaporated.

 

It was calming, this disassociation from the present. Calming for the brief ethereal moments where she forgot everything but the song and the dream. Brief. These moments only lasted until the chorus. After that, the song became routine, predictable, sung-out, tired. The second time around, she would nod to the chorus unconsciously, the tune now fading out in the wake of new thoughts and trepidations spilling in. It was the same typical shit of yesterday and tomorrow. Time slavery, loneliness, failure, dying alone, ex-flames and living someone else’s life. It was the same cycle. Chorus after chorus. Like a retarded song with three lines and a beat like a venereal disease.

 

Roshanara, though constantly depressed by the vicious loop, would muster her best efforts to escape. It seemed like escape was the only exit from her mind. She thought about that a lot too, how she’d escape far too often. She would escape into mindless conversations with people she swore she loved. She knew her promises and declarations were superficial. She was only grateful for the momentary release they offered. Which is why all her relationships failed. Once her gross deformed insecure self had successfully captured the goose, she would fuck it and drop it immediately. She would say it’s boredom. She would even blame it on its shortcomings. But she knew on the last day, just as she knew on the first, as well as after every time she promised she loved it— she was wasting time, and would eventually waste more with someone else once they had dried up and shriveled like a grape sucked of its resin. She would watch films, shows, plays. She would read. She would visit. She would swim, run, walk, masturbate, sleep, starve, eat. Sometimes, she would even study. But that loop would continue to play in the background.

 

When it got too loud she would cry and break. It got loud in the mornings. It got loud when she was in her car. It got loud when she was smoking alone. It got loud when she stared at her naked ugly body in the mirror. It got loud when she ate too much. It got loud when she stepped on the scale. When she embarrassed herself. When she was confronted or insulted. Sometimes, it was loud randomly. Like a surprise boner, it would come out of the blue, when she was unprepared and had nowhere to go. Most times, when it happened publicly, people could see it play. Her face often gave it away. Or her hunger. Or her rare silence. But when it got loud, their consolation couldn’t drown the base. No. It would only fade when she would distract herself. Escape. She thought about that a lot. She thought about ways to escape, almost as often as she would think about all the possible deaths offered to her at that moment. It was a fun game she played.

 

She tore her headphones out of her ears and stuffed them hurriedly into her backpack. It was raining again. She walked faster and stood under a tree, staring at its foliage, amazed at its efficiency. It was pouring, but only the occasional droplet found its way through the green leaf umbrella. She zipped her bag open lazily and felt around for her pack. Her wet fingers placed the thin cigarette between her teeth as the other brought out the blue lighter close to the tobacco tip. Ignition. A pull and a cloudy sigh. It was a comfortable routine. The taste of the smoke sat in her throat and she licked her lips dry. She couldn’t calculate the wait, rain being unpredictable. How the once perfect panorama had now rudely descended into being a loud nuisance. Loud, she smiled.

 

In class earlier, they had talked about how the word ‘husband’ came from ‘animal husbandry’. A husband, therefore, was essentially the caretaker of the pack. The one who sheltered, fed and bred the animals. Many marriages did have a husband. The Caretaker. In a patriarchal prototype, it was the male. In a conventional setup, it could still be the male. In a progressive unit, one could argue that there was no husband. Or that both of them were the husbands. But for single people, single women, for Roshanara, everyone had to be their own husband.

A woman who was her own husband.

She smiled as she took another drag. Her face was a little numb now. Her fingers trembled. The nicotine was cutting off the synapses.

 

A woman who became her own husband.

 

What an empowering sentiment. A craftily worded sentence for independent people. A craftily worded sentence to make lonely people feel better about themselves. Pigeon shit is lucky, so is the abnormal birthmark tainting your skin. White lies for lonely people. Lonely. Yes, lonely. A word she could empathize with. Roshanara was her own husband. Had been for quite some time now. Ever since they moved to the big city. Peeled away from the comforts of a small town and a close-knit family, thrown to the wolves—left to fend off for herself. She could’ve involved her parents. But could she? It was much too embarrassing to confess what she was going through. The bullying in the new school. The sadness. The isolation. The loop. All gifts of the city. But she was proud of her silent struggle. It had made her who she was. She now knew how to escape. How to use people like she couldn’t before. She was her own husband, yes. The more she thought about it, the clearer it became.

 

Roshanara imagined herself being in a controlling relationship with the typical abusive husband, just like she was with herself. A husband who would fuck her almost every night, but cringe at the sight of her nudity. A husband who would taunt her with every meal, every ensemble, every poem, every question, every vulnerability. Her husband didn’t care about what she felt. He wasn’t one to censor his words. No. He had dreams. He hoped she would be a certain way. He didn’t like her, it was a loveless marriage. But they had grown accustomed to each other’s voices and couldn’t remember the pre-marital silence.

 

She laughed out loud now. Yes, she was her own husband. She was his property.

 

It had stopped raining now. She threw away the bud in a puddle and pulled her phone out of her bag. The Kinks played Waterloo Sunset and the sky was a cornflower blue again.

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Stories

Fortune

Her worn out flats slapped the pavement as she strode out across the street and into the bazaar. It was Tuesday, so as per convention all local craftsmen and farmers had displayed the best of this season’s harvest in the weekly market. Luscious rose-coloured apples, bulbous tomatoes, long swollen bottle gourds, fat sprawling pumpkins and a heap of muddied potatoes eyed Shahada as she looked upon them greedily, thinking of all that she could concoct out of these fresh bounties of the earth. Further along the path, she came across the long pile of handicrafts and clothes sitting by their parent artisans. Intricate wicker chairs and baskets adorned the floors as fine muslin, silk and cotton fell from the long stands lining the path along the pavilion. Their luxurious colours, in multitudes of shades, all shone out proudly in the glistening sunlight of July.  Following the handicraft section were the long counters choked with faded silver junk jewelry encrusted with fake stones, which gleamed as if they were real diamonds.

 

Diamonds.

The thought of that handsome stone sitting on the dainty pedestal that was a simple gold band. She imagined a sunbeam pierce the rock as it sat on her elongated finger, and gleamed at the thought of a million rainbows that would shoot out of its refractive surfaces.

Rainbows.

That’s what marriage would bring. The grandeur that was an Indian wedding. How illustrious she would look in the arduous folds of a blood red silk sari, thick with heavy gold embroidery, looping in pearls and tiny crystals. How magnificent she would look as she would walk towards the altar under a flower-draped pergola, waltzing with feminine grace. The embodiment of all that a bride should be. Her generously lined doe eyes would look up from the kohl embracing her waterline and meet the eyes of all the guests— quietly staring with a suppressed smile, awestruck as if looking upon some form of divinity. And why wouldn’t they look awestruck? That day she would really ascend to the gods, even if only for a day.

 

Shahada wasn’t one to fantasize unabashedly in the open court of the marketplace. She wasn’t one to stand in the middle of a bustling street, lost in thought. But it was easier to float into her hopes for tomorrow with the prospect of a ring meandering in her near future. It all began when she went to a renowned fortune teller two Tuesdays ago. It wasn’t just any soothsayer or a smooth talker. He wasn’t a quack or a con artist. He had the vision. He had the gift. Meena’s cousin’s husband’s sister swore by him. He was never wrong. So one fine day she strode into his purple marquee and sat herself down on the plush cushion seated on the carpeted floor. The entire room was a royal shade violet and consisted of a sprawling teak table, a stack of tarot cards, an old parrot poised on a long wooden staff attached to the floor, an intimidating crystal globe and another cushion for the maestro himself. It was all very well thought out and professional, Shahada noted as she looked around with a piqued interest.

 

“Hmm… so, my child, you want to know about your future? Look into the mystical beyond? Flesh out the blurs of tomorrow? Have, for yourself, a fresh prediction?”

Shahada could only nod aggressively, now more enthusiastic than ever, animated with the magic of this fantastical situation, curious about the outcome.

Pleased at her easy submission to this façade of his glory, the fabled clairvoyant felt himself getting hard. There was an unsurpassed eroticism in this blind acceptance. This prostration of nubile young girls. Desperate for him, and just as gullible. Easy pickings.

Shahada was a young twenty-something middle-class girl with a good face and attractive figure. ‘Marriage’ was the typical prophecy he doled out to her type. Ask a nobody to guess the inevitable and he just might.

And so, back in character, he swung his head back and rolled his eyes into his skull. His bony and frail hand, heavy with the weight of fat colorful gem-laden rings, reached out to touch her chest. He hummed loudly, swung his head clockwise for a couple of seconds and then suddenly shot up straight.

“Two Tuesdays from now, in the blue darkness of the evening, a diamond glimmer will emerge from the dark and forever change the course of your life.”

 

It was decided. Diamond. Shimmer. Forever change. Two Tuesdays from now Shahada would be getting married.

Oh, how she rose and chirped and sang and squealed with happiness. It was everything and more. Never mind that she didn’t have a suitor as of yet. It will all fall into place.

 

“A hundred rupees should do it”

 

And so her life really was changed forever. Today was the fated day. And yes, there was no suitor yet. But who knows? He could be anybody. He could bump into her in this bazaar right now. He would fall in love with her immediately. Her slovenly appearance would look soft and meek and sweet. He would immediately propose. It was fated.

More than fated. It was a fact.

 

And so, she walked beyond the haggling women fighting for iridescent fish, beyond the sweet smell of freshly-spun dazzling sugar floss, beyond the kaleidoscopic display of clothes, dancing as if afloat on a cloud in a Bollywood chick flick. It was, after all, the best day of her life.

 

However, as the evening grew nearer, her faith in destiny became impatient. She paced across the house, manically running towards the balcony at the slightest sounds from the outside world— hoping for a Romeo on his knee with a red rose in his hand. Or a carnation. Or a lily. Yes. Lilies were nice. White? No, yellow. No white. Yes, holding a white lily, maddened with ardor as is suitable for a patient of unrequited one-sided love. But it was already six. Shahada was angry at his audacity. How dare he refuse her? Who does he think he is? Does he think she would come to his house and ask for his hand in marriage? And does he think she’d say yes after this pathetic display of laziness and/or arrogance? What gall!

 

Wait. What if he got lost. Her uncle always got lost in the park right across the street. In the evening, with the typical electricity shortages, the park can be as confusing as a jungle. The sheer amount of times she had to look for her uncle and guide him back home. What is her husband was lost? What if he was afraid of the dark? No, gross. She isn’t fated for a wimp. He’s just lost. He isn’t used to this, he comes from a big city will full-time electricity and well-illuminated and well-mapped parks. Yes.

 

So, she would obviously have to go out and look for him.

 

A sudden gusto possessed her as she sprang out of her salwar kameez, which was already the best pair she owned, and rolled on another— the one her mother wore at her engagement. She remembers looking at it as a child, as her mother dreamily dozed on about her mediocre meet-cute story. She knew then, that her meet-cute would be the stuff of classic cinema and literature. It would be devastatingly romantic and would put Romeo and Juliet to shame. And that salwar deserved more than her mother’s pathetic needlessly exaggerated tiresome story. So obviously, it was one of the few things she kept after her mother’s death.

 

Her chappals slapped the steep concrete stairs as she raced down the floors of her building and made her way into the park from across the street. It was dark, as expected. And the light was cut for the entire area. The stars, however, were out. As they are in all epic romances, thought Shahada as she strode across the darkness confidently, smiling to herself. Just then, she heard a faint rustle. In the loud silence that often takes over in power-shortages, even the hopping of crickets and the flopping of lizards creates a racket. The rustling grew, followed by the crunching of leaves. He’s here, she thought excitedly as she turned towards the sound, staring into oblivion expectantly, high with exhilaration and anticipation. The stride became quicker and turned into a run. She opened her arms in elation, ready for the last embrace. She only began to see the two shining lights moving towards her as she felt a huge body knock down her own. She could smell the blood on his breath and felt the weight of his paws pinning her shoulders to the ground. Shahada stared into the gleaming white eyes of the tiger as he snuck down to her neck and plunged his blunt teeth into her throat, tearing it out.

The stars disappeared from the darkness that seeped into her frozen eyes.

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All the writers I’ve loved before

My creative writing assignment required me to list out 10 of my favorite books. Naturally, I forgot all the good books I had ever read and found it increasingly difficult to name any beyond three. So, I decided to name 10 authors instead— which weirdly enough seemed like an easier thing to do. In order to protect this blog from my post-publication scrutiny, I will be listing 10 good authors at random, from off the top of my head. While it is true, that this blog post completely deviates from the task at hand, it, in many ways, does more than what was required.

So here goes:-

1. Sylvia Plath

So throwback to my sadness phase when life was shit and everything sucked. Coincidently also a throwback to a comparatively substance-free phase when I discovered, or rather was gifted, Plath’s Bell Jar. As a part of my pretentious-i-want-to-be-a-writer journey, I read the shit out of it. And even though the book was bleak and truly dark, I was amazed at how much I could empathize with.

Kinda fucked up.

But anyway, that was my introduction to the profoundly suicidal Plath— a beautiful jeweler of grief, with every book being a timid reflection of the artist who birthed it.  Singing of truths I felt, and I’m sure Plath did too.

2. Sidney Sheldon

So there are good books. The ones that make it on everyone’s ‘to-read’ lists. The ones that are at the top of the ‘good books’ charts. The ones that win awards.

Then there are the slightly trashy but unbelievably gripping ones. The ones you have a love-hate relationship with. The secret affairs. Names you would confess and not announce.

Sidney Sheldon is one of those names for me. Writing strong, seriously sexist female protagonists and their prototypical male counterparts in insane thrillers encompassing the exotic charm of foreign countries, Sheldon takes you on a trip you literally cannot look away from.

3.Manto

A truly controversial, seriously hot, Partition writer, who was called to court for his inappropriateness more than multiple times. Honestly, I cannot even describe my love for a writer like him. Masterful and strong, albeit provocative and overwhelming, this short story writer is an indisputable classic. I urge everyone to read him. Simple and yet sophisticated. Painful and yet serene. Heavy, despite being short. Truly exemplary.

4.Woody Allen

So yeah I know he isn’t a “writer”. But honestly, he is so much more.

A screenplay writer. Director. Actor. And just one of those people you are glad exists in the same time period as you— which is a really fucked up thing to say, especially after the Dylan Farrow allegations. But this article is about art more than the artist, and Allen is an artist supreme.

Anyway, I got introduced to him with Annie Hall — where I got a taste of the maestro as all things he is celebrated for. Brilliant beyond words, funny and charming, I was truly swept away. And it takes much to accomplish that.

No, I’m really easy.

Then came Manhattan, Vicky Christina Barcelona, A Crisis in Six Scenes, Blue Jasmine and so many more. Some shit. But the others good. And the good ones were everything.

(Allen works according to the Law of Averages, churning out films blind to public reaction, hoping that in the multitudes made one would be actual gold)

This man has my heart. Hopefully, he will have yours too.

5. John Green

While this is shaping up to be a hopelessly disappointing list of great names, the article is about my great ‘loves’, and the John-Green phase was a dominant one for many teenagers (along with the Rainbow-Rowell phase). I could probably fangirl about Kafka’s Metamorphosis, but a 15-year old Sashrika, who was constantly flipping through that one ratty copy of The Fault in our Stars (in its pre-fame days), will probably tell me to fuck off. So dropping my pretentious-artist facade, I will talk about John Green.

So yeah, my doctor weirdly enough recommended this factually inaccurate cancer drama, and after that I only had two things on my mind— a serious doubt in my doctor’s qualifications, and also a fascination with the new world Green introduced in his paperback. It was the world of impossible teenage love, depressing cancer (pre-cancer fame), a disarming Augustus Waters, and an unbelievably intellectual Hazel Green— who obviously became my new secret idol.

So then I read more from this American author, who had possessed me, and consequently voyaged into a world of oddly intellectual teenagers with great sex lives, no parental control, and love amidst cigarettes. I wanted these problems, this great coral-film life. The prototypical Green female fatale was always hopelessly depressed and obsessively bothered with the apparent futility of her existence— inspiring a similar need to have anxiety, which I diligently diagnosed myself with. I called my boredom an ‘Existential Crisis’.

But really, it was just summer break and Instagram wasn’t a big thing then.

It was a phase. A bold strong phase that died as soon as it caught on in the rest of the world. Exclusivity was a big thing for me.

6.Sudha Murthy

Also known as my ‘7th-grade phase’.  Along with Agatha Christie and the ever-present Rick Riordan.

Also, Sophie Kinsella. Holy shit, what was that?Probably a manifestation of my innate perversion, which now only brings me closer to the likes of Manto. Looking back at this strange assortment, one can only sigh.

Anyway, Murthy was probably one of the first female writers I ever read, second only to the magnanimous Enid Blyton. She introduced me to feminism, as well as the ‘Indian woman’ and her conventional prisons. She also brought me childhood, when mine was a raging dumpster fire.

From what I remember, there was warmth in her stories— something I needed in the cold corridors of school in the new city.

7. Margaret Atwood

Oh man. I’m not even sure if I’m qualified to do this, but this is the one person I love even though she is nothing more than a warm acquaintance.

So yeah, I saw two shows — The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace. And yeah, I fangirled the fuck out of them for months. And then I thought, “Shit, I need to read something from her”—but oddly enough never got around to it. She is on top of my list.

But I did get around to reading this short story of hers— Stone Mattress. Fuck.

8.Ruskin Bond

This guy dominated my childhood. Young Sashrika started reading with this guy right here. And no, she didn’t read any of those ‘Rusty’ stories. Weirdly enough, she couldn’t stay interested in books that didn’t have a female protagonist. But she did read a lot of his short stories. An enormous amount of short stories. The first book she ever read was A Road to the Bazaar, and she skimmed through it and pretended to have had read it. Just like she pretended to swim up until eighth grade. Picture an awkward-gangly me doggy paddling and christening it as ‘swimming’.

Anyway, I did eventually start reading him. It was easy, clean and comfortable. I liked Bond immediately. And that had nothing to do with the fact that, for the longest time, my retarded self truly believed that Ruskin Bond was James Bond’s uncle. Thanks, Dad.

Bond is easily one of the better Indian writers. No questions asked. He stirred a desire to live in the hills— which is huge for someone who hates the cold.

9. Chekhov

Another essential phase. Amongst that of Maupassant, War and Peace, Virginia Woolf, and also Khalid Hosseini. Wow. I think weird assortments are kind of my thing now?

Anyway, another segway into the art of short story writing— another thing I probably would never be able to master, Chekhov came to me as a Hindi chapter titled: Girgit, conversely known as The Chameleon. A short, yet full story which, on the surface is just an ordinary plotline, but in actuality goes much deeper. I guess I was always fascinated with Son Papdi-style literature —with layers that make it so much more fun to analyze. Also probably why I took up literature later. Odd.

While the names of the characters are hard to get used to, a collection of his work is truly worth your time.

10.Gregory David Roberts

I guess it’s only appropriate to end with Roberts. Oh man, Shantaram — easily one of my favorite books. Probably my favourite? No genre can trap this beautiful piece of art that flowed through me and left me much too quickly. Honestly, a recommended read for everyone who is looking for not only a great book, but also a spiritual journey of sorts.

Is it sad that I can probably list more shows than authors?

Also after writing this I realized what a dumbass I am— 10 books are so much easier. I guess the ambiguity of authors saved me from the anxiety of picking specific books?

Fuck. I just realized I could’ve named a lot of great songwriters.

Holy shit am I smelling another post?

no

poems

Black

Crisp pearl seafoam

Swirled

Onto the burning coals

Of your almost empty

Paper Chalice

 

And when your Aphrodite

From within the froth

Curved to find

The Jukebox

From another century

Your softer shoes

Walked into the 80s

 

Your soul

Singing in blacker eyes

Making your

Thin cup

Seem

Fuller somehow

Your hair

Seem

Longer now

And your face

Less

Pockmarked

 

How

You didn’t belong

In my coffee shop

This Wednesday

poems

Sunday best

I pace

Throwing windows open

Moonwalking across rooms

Playing a jarring melancholy that hums along the floors

Staring back at my dry aesthetic

Ripping through cloth to find the right lie

Thrust in steam and scent

Molested with intoxication in older shades

Mona Lisa painting now

And then I pause

My feet forget how to pace

Standing high, jewelled

Breathing in the obscure lyric

Imagining a simulation

Where everything is the same

Except for me

And it looks so much better now

Quieter how

This is probably what Van Gogh’s left ear felt like