I think we learned to name cities
before we had actually seen them,
Small French and English towns
states in other continents
islands peppered along the seas,
We learnt to hold them on our tongues
before we could be there
smell their air
hear the chatter in cheap street-side cafes
with red and white checkered tablecloths,
Walk their cobblestoned roads
and feel the sun shine
in a hundred different ways,
We once had the map
a hodgepodge of words in our mind
like the mush on a party plate
and that was enough.
a friendship of pets
a sprinkling of clouds
a pond of stars
one pink of flamingoes
family of strangers
and cities of passengers
on a local train
storeys of cities
piled like a building
of banana pancakes
We could haunt the city together
Late one night
By the colour-catching river
Buy two movie tickets
For an empty theatre
Stop by a pub
Listen to a piano sing inside
Under red lights, quiet streets,
Until the dark dies
And all the stars
Melt into the white
Of the morning
Into two poached eggs
On our breakfast plates
Big Ben’s egg-white dial seen from Trafalgar Square
A tall man sitting crouched in a corner seat on the bus
A sandwich shop named Pickle & Toast
Very small green leaves you could almost miss
growing on trees after four months of fall
I have grown to love the electric wires crisscrossing over urban cities in India, cutting the sky into squares, rectangles, diamonds of all shapes. This is how electricity first came to the city, its buildings, its neighbourhoods — slowly. Lighting one bulb, one television screen, one electric kettle at a time.
And then soon, geysers, computers, factories.
But the city had always been there, its old rust-orange buildings, houses with windows, and families looking through them at an uncut, never-ending sky, waiting. For light, zigzag lines on a TV screen, warmth.
4. Wind before rain
The rain is beautiful, isn’t it? I love the smell of wet mud it leaves behind, like a song you continue to hum after it’s over. Rain falls carelessly and completely, drenching the trees, the houses, the bridges humans made to walk over water.
Sometimes when the rain turns into a storm, there are powercuts. As the lights go out, everyone in my house slowly comes together. We spread around the uncarpeted living room. I like sitting on the floor, the marble cold under my skin. We go around telling stories, interjecting, laughing, answering questions, listing cities we still haven’t visited. Then the lights come on and everyone finds something to do.
When I think of July, I imagine standing in the balcony as the hot afternoon dissolves into a cool breeze that will bring rain, maybe even a powercut as we wait for dinner. The chalk-white branches of the eucalyptus trees outside begin to dance. I imagine the first drop of rain falling on my cheek and disappearing. And I think, perhaps, it will rain.
I can see the charm of the city now.
It’s made up of so many little things. People from all over the world and their deep, moving lives, rain and storms of raindrops polka-dotted on the boots walking its stretches. The pips of buses pulling in, smiles, so much music and the sparkling sun-kissed water of the Thames.
It’s a city made entirely of people, whose moving, harlequin lives form the pulse of its coveted heart.
When you walk out of a forest, you turn into a tree. No longer human and made of skin. Your arms are barks, your legs are stems and you must let birds sit and chirp on them all day long. Before you notice, like wrinkles, your leaves will age. Like rings, years will settle in the iris of your hazel eyes.
And when you reach the city you can try to hide, camouflage yourself between the skyscrapers that rush past your neck, fit yourself between two grey towers, a little space on the pavement, on a hillock in a community park. But you will still swing with the wind, shed leaves in autumn and dress roads with your blood oranges. Your branches will spread, and the world will know where you’ve been.
There is no hiding it. You are a tree now.
And you must grow towards the sunlight until you catch fire and burn.
Yes, I look at the autumnal orange of the sky
Try to capture and recapture last evening’s purple on this day,
But when I stand at this hilltop,
Sapphire rooftops kissing the waking moon,
There is nothing more magical than blue.