I have half memories
of us as kids
and I am not too sure
if this is how it was
you tell me we shared a swing
when I was younger
to fit between your knees
standing behind the water tank
quiet and still
you and a shadow
in a hide-and-seek game
when we played House
always had jars full of sugar
and I was at your door
every two minutes
I remember sounds
cold feet on a marble floor
running away together,
someone pouring Bournvita
into a pink mug,
a smaller white cup
I think it was you
who showed me my first globe
see? this is how all oceans and land folds
around the curves of your fingers
I like thinking
of my childhood as ours
holding half our memories
like too many Gems-coloured playballs
knowing you have
the other half.
4 name of my favourite flower
blooms in dark magenta petals each spring
5 a bar with old bottles of cola
and two empty chairs
8 an ISD code
to make a call at midnight
2 a song on the radio
that could be for us
Find 1 a small way
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.
In the summer, we used to visit my father’s coastal hometown. The first evening, my cousins and I would spend hours sitting on the terrace. Long after the conversations died, we stayed, just sitting there. Lying on my back on the roof, I first learnt to distinguish between twinkling fireflies and stars.
I have found many things in the quiet. The time to listen to a favourite song over and over again. The comfort of a silence you can share in half with a friend. Sometimes I replay old memories in my head and try to remember exactly how I felt then.
Sitting there, still and quiet, I realise how slowly time moves. Yet so much could happen in a second. It could grow darker, I could remember something old and funny, our hands could touch. Maybe somewhere, slowly, a star could flutter, grow yellow wings and begin to move.
In Delhi, sometimes when you stop at a traffic light, a small girl with honey coloured eyes would walk up to your car window and knock. She’s selling flowers, and would you buy some? Usually red roses, each packed individually in a plastic wrapper marked with white dots or red hearts, a tape circled at the foot of the stem.
Sometimes, she has jasmines. They’ll wither away by tomorrow morning, but they look beautiful and soft now. She crouches near the signal, counting cars, her arms smell like gardens underneath the flowers.
I like to think that as you are driving through the city, the afternoon sun hot outside, you stop at a traffic light. When the girl with the flowers walks over to you, you roll down your window and smile at her. I like to think you almost buy me flowers, and I almost wear them in my hair.
5. Homemade coffee
It’s not that special. There isn’t a clever trick to the recipe, in fact, there is hardly a recipe. It’s just milk and coffee powder, and copious amounts of sugar. But it’s one of the most comforting things you can put in a steel glass, thick foam at its mouth.
I half-remember running around the house as a child, aunty running after me with a glass of milk. I’d hide next to the CPU under the study table, uncomfortably crouched, legs tangled in the computer’s wires. Each time, the familiar sound of a jingling spoon followed me. Aunty would find me, extend a hand and pull me out.
I keep thinking back to the small things. The simple pleasure of a glass of coffee that isn’t entirely a latte, or a cappuccino, or an espresso. Just milk and sugar and coffee. Made lovingly at home by a familiar hand, the glass warm and assuring as I hug it to my chest.
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.
3. Marble art
Maybe love is marble art, colours bleeding into colours until they belong together. Mixing, melting, meandering like rivulets rushing over salt water plains to join the sea. Made of the rolling laughter of two young girls running down a village street and other obscure sounds that exist only in flashes in our memory.
You start by pouring thin paint into a dish of water. Colours flow into each other with ease. Watch the paper drink them as you press it gently into the dish. When you’re finished, you will find this is the only way art exists — colours flowing in abstract directions as if they have a mind of their own. Every painting of mountains, plateaus, a woman’s back, has always been this way — just spills of colours blending into each other.
It reminds me of the first time I looked into a kaleidoscope. A little mirror universe I could hold in my hands. Each time I turned the tube, a new magic trick. It’s as if someone froze a moment from the bottom of my kaleidoscope, and produced it in colour in a darkroom — a piece of marbled paper to wrap a marbled heart with.
2. Letting go on the rollercoaster
Have you ever felt the breeze turn into feelings at the pit of your stomach? When the car windows are rolled all the way down, and your head is bent slightly out — eyes closed, time passing only in wind. It’s a lot like that. Like stretching your fingers as far as possible, to see how long you can be.
I remember how the city had darkened with night, a few stars placed carefully over its sky. At some point I realised I could stop screaming, and breathe normally, in and out. I let go of the handles crushing my body as my seat turned upside down in the air. My hair rolled out over my shirt, black curls melting into the night like waves into waves.
It felt very quiet. Slowly, my eyes followed one star to another, coming back again and again to an almond shaped moon. For a few minutes, I thought I had always felt this way. Floating weightlessly over the earth as if gravity was a ghost. Held in a big, cosmic hug.
1. Cassette tapes
I know how strange this sounds at first. By now, you’ve probably forgotten what they look like. Cassettes. Little rectangular glass cases, with two small holes in the middle to hold your fingers. They fit perfectly into your palm. A shiny black tape spools inside, and if the case is transparent, you can watch how it folds around the insides of the cassette.
When I was very young, ma used to drive my sister and me to our old neighbourhood. On the journey back, we played songs out of unlabelled cassettes kept in the glove box. Our collection was made up of a few Hindi songs from the 90s, a different one on each side of the cassettes.
I no longer remember any of the songs, only the purple of the late evening sky, and how happy the music made me. I remember being very excited the day the cassette player was replaced with a modern stereo. The cassettes were stored in a plastic bag and filed in a cabinet in the sitting room, next to other forgotten things and papers. I no longer know if they’re still there.