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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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 etc.

Woman

It was a thin wire

Spindly thin

And she walked on it

Carefully fast

With her pink clown shoes

As she tried to keep

Her diminishing locks

From prying into her eye

 

So, with her tired arms

And bony fingers

She wobbled

The deadly waltz

With a sly hoop

Dancing on her neck

And twisting into her hair

 

 

The hall gasped

As she spun

And almost slipped off

Unexpectedly

But the greased line

A loving mother

Kept her bleeding heels

Steadily sloped

 

 

“It would be a miracle if she made it”

they whispered

in between their thin mints

and garlic popcorn

 

Two tickets for a dollar

We bought tampons for more