things there should be songs about
trying to hold hands. on Sunday afternoons, cotton dupattas drying in the balcony. mornings dyed with indigo and mist. raindrops on car windows. old songs in wallpapered taxis. old wallpapered taxis. softly singing with the music. yellow pink blue balloons at the traffic light. goodbyes that end with see me again.
You remember when ma
Walked from behind the curtains
A cake frosted with pink flowers
On a black tray?
A knife tied with a ribbon
And all the children
Gathering in a small circle
Their potato-chips-and-chowmein-filled plates
for a slice of cake
Something about the memory
Pastel wax candles
in between cherries
Is hardwired into my brain.
I stand in my kitchenette
Midnight in a foreign city
Hands flour-coated, sugar-dusted
for a thin float
Of the old vanilla birthday cake
To rise in the oven
Put it in on your tongue and let it sizzle
Drop it in a glass of soda
and watch it make bubbles
Melt it in the sun
Touch it until the skin on your finger
soaks into long pink wrinkles
Skate on it
Collect in your fist and crush firmly
And then slowly
Pour kaala khata all over
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.
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.
A mind made of photo-paper,
you can’t touch the film with skin
it scares the colours away,
and the photo evaporates,
walks out shyly through a backdoor in the camera,
and it’s as if the moment wasn’t there
you and I with blue mountains behind us,
bad lighting of a setting sun
cheap wool caps we had bought from a small shop
rolling the car windows down
we weren’t there,
you had touched the film
with your cold pink fingers,
and the photograph had disappeared.