Sunday, August 30, 2009

Weird things afoot

For some strange reason, I have an incessant need to write now. Oddly, there’s not much to say except for quick updates on some films I’ve seen recently.

I went to see ‘Daddy Cool’. It was so, so funny! I had definitely not expected this movie to turn out this way. First of all, Inder Kumar or Indra Kumar, or whatever his name is, is associated with the movie. And although I have watched and grudgingly enjoyed ‘Beta’ and ‘Dil’, I always found his films to be a tad crass. (‘Ishq’ and ‘Mann’ being cases in point.) 'Daddy Cool', though, remains on the correct side of decent. Aftab, I have to say, is very, very good! But the guy to watch out for is Prem Chopra as a grouchy uncle. He is hilarious! That was a really good watch.

I saw Kaminey again – more because my mum insisted that I accompany her. I thought it was a good movie, but well…one misses Pankaj Kapur. I don’t think Amol Gupte quite pulled off the role too well. I liked Shahid (who could resist Charlie after his ‘Ftaying alive! Ftaying Alive!' jig?) and Priyanka. But I think what I absolutely loved was the music. It’s mercurial, it’s balmy, it’s anthemic, it’s soothing…it’s everything. My favorite is the title track, “Kaminey”. The way that word has been used in the song…it’s quite exceptional. The first time I heard it, I wondered who’d written the lyrics. It was Gulzar, of course.

Anumita and hubby had just come over. That was great fun! I didn’t get a chance to bring up our impending outing to Oba’s, but I think I should just rein in the expenditure for some time. I really have to start saving money. I’m finally getting worried about my finances and I don’t like this kind of worry. Perhaps I should bury my sorrows and troubles somewhere…Oba would be a good place to start.

I have to meet with the doctor tomorrow. I hope she gives me the go-ahead to rejoin civilization soon. For some strange reason, I start feeling giddy at 8:30 a.m., queasy at 12, and really weary at 11:30 p.m. Other than that, I’m okay. Strange things happen inside the body. And all that when the mind is not even remotely involved. I can only imagine the circus that occurs when things get psychosomatic.

Anyway, one hopes for the best. One also hopes for a lot more money or for things to get a whole lot cheaper.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sometimes, simply...

You sit by the window, watching a regular day turn awesome by the minute. Skies get cloudy - like the grey, wise head of a demi-God. It pours steadily, and bright yellow and purple flowers shiver in their new adventure - one they didn't anticipate when they were buds. You nurse a cup of perfectly brewed tea... smouldering, angry with the world, trying to wrestle that poem from inside of you that won't come out. It's angry too, like a child who's not yet ready to leave the playground.

Then a friend stops by. With pink roses, strewn with delicate silver threads. In a sweet, little mud-pot. There is chatter, there is more tea. There is an attempt to leave. There is an attempt to get her to stay. Then there's a nice long walk by the pond. There's a much nicer, longer chat over coffee. There's a sleepover. There's channel surfing and more catching up.

Thanks Sue - for being a nice Saturday serendepity. May all your weekends be painted pink and tinted silver.

It's just a little thing, really...

I want to be free.

Last week, I was in hospital - for something as stupid and innocuous as a viral and malaria. Apparently, I'd had the infection for so long that my liver had gotten infected. Apparently, I'd had it for so long that I had to be given IV...which, I have to say, is the most painful thing I've undergone in life. It's ironical that something this horrible and painful comes in the category of 'treatment', not 'torture'...but medicine is full of such ironies. And if it all weren't so annoying and crappy, it would be amusing. But try being amused with something icky dripping into your veins! It's horrible. Scares one out of happiness.

In any case, the first night that I was admitted, was surreal. I'd insisted that my parents go home. I didn't see the point in them losing sleep over my illness. After much resistance, they left. So, there I was, in some stupid 'deluxe' room - spending the money I was saving to spend in some seaside resort later in the year. It was dark - pitch black. Only the outline of the door could be seen because of the light shining behind it.

I've never felt so scared. It was lonely, sure, but I think that was the best part of it. I can't imagine how people get through their illness having their families and friends around them. Just too much pressure!

It was a different kind of fear. It was like the shadow of fear - not the real thing, but definitely borne out of the real thing. It was a fear of what lay ahead - not in terms of recovery or time, but just...of what?

At that point, I realized that I am tired. It wasn't just the illness. It was just...what's there to do? Get happy? Then get sad? Then get sleepy? And hungry? And happy again? And sad? And be moved by beauty and poetry? And then happy? Sad?

I don't want to be saddled with any of that any more. I don't want to think or feel. I don't want to feel happy anymore, or sad. I don't want the summers of hope, or the winters of despair, or any of its varied seasons. I just want to be at peace.

I mean, I think in all my years, I have thought and felt everything that needs to be thought and felt. How different will yet another happy or sad feeling be? Every time, I feel an emotion, I'm compelled to share it, record it, ruminate over it, or bottle it up so that it becomes vintage memory to be savoured later. But optimism is as draining as pessismism. It takes a lot out of a person to hope and wish...even if it is a natural trait.

I just want to be free of it all. They say that death releases. Unfortunately, everyone who says that is still on this side of the fence. And although I am very curious to find out about what happens when one dies, I'm not quite sure if I really want a first-hand experience yet.

That night, lying on the hospital bed, drifting in and out of consciousness, feeling a thick sickening trickle in my veins, I remembered all the people who I cared about and who were dead. My grandparents, my cook, my friend who committed suicide, my friend who was shot, my teacher's mother, my uncle...They seemed to be on the other side of the door...oddly, they seemed to be in the part of the world where there was light. Whereas I, with my labored breathing, lay in darkness.

I don't know if there is some kind of metaphysical significance to what I felt then...but I just realized that I wanted to be free. I don't want to feel let down by people. I don't want to feel guilty because I'm not realizing some humongous potential I'm supposed to have. I don't want to feel so stricken with pathos or humor that I feel compelled to write. I don't want to feel angry or hurt. I don't even want to feel encouraged or charged up. Ironically, despite my innermost urge to be that way, I don't even want to be free. I, basically, don't want to want.

I'm done with people. I'm done with life.

In yoga, after one is through with the class, we do the shavasana - which most people like because its the most restful pose. It's often said to be the pose for the laziest people. But it's not. In that pose, one is required to be motionless, sure, (because you're supposed to be like a corpse). But more importantly, you are supposed to be thoughtless. You're supposed to surrender completely to the earth or the beyond. It's a beautiful feeling.

I want to live that feeling. No motion. No thought. Just surrender. The business of life being nothing more complicated than breathing in and breathing out.

I was like that when I was a teenager in college. I embodied all those traits Kipling wrote about in 'If'. I could meet triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same. I could risk everything at the turn of a pitch and toss. All people used to matter to me, but none too much.

But when I was this highly evolved soul haunting the corridors of my college, people thought that I sleepwalked through life. And I tried to remedy that. Slowly, over time, things started to matter - which wasn't too bad. Then, people started to matter - and that has been my undoing, I think. I just shouldn't have cared about people as much as I much as I do. It's not worth it. I mean, I'm sure a lot of human beings benefit from a close circle of people they love and who love them...but it doesn't work for me. I should only connect with people, at the level of ideas. Not anything more.

It's just entrapment. One day, the trap-door will open, and I will be out!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ode to Nariman Point...and how much I miss working there

The last time I saw you, there was rain
There was a stylish crowd, there was music by the bay;
The sea was playful, the waves were flirty
But to me it was just another day;
I left you in shades of green
And muted blue of thundershowers
I left you like I'd leave anything ordinary;
In the midst of mundane working hours
Your shine, your glean, your drive, your steam
I emptied the soul's caverns you'd sought to fill
I left you, not knowing I loved you so
I stay away, knowing I love you still.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


It was sudden. Plans to go for an outing after a long Monday usually are. I reached home, chatted with a friend, and finally got around to talking to my cousin. Then, suddenly, I felt like being out. Dressed up out – even though I was really tired. There’s a Firangi Paani just down the road from where I live, so I asked my cousin if he wanted to come along.

We went. Neither of us changed. I just slipped into a pair of heels that warranted a rick-ride. There’s no way I can walk on Bandra slopes in heels. My cousin was very reluctant to rick such a short distance though. We could practically see the restaurant lit up in its ruby-red glory from where we were standing. “It’s close by”, he said.

“I can’t walk in these heels.”

And although he didn’t say it, I could guess what he was thinking: ‘Then don’t wear them.’

Since it was Monday, it was relatively empty. Nice. There was a smattering of people on different tables – mostly with pitchers of cocktails. The watermelon cocktail looked particularly fetching. Perhaps because of the lady who was having it. She was the only one who had ‘dressed up’. She wore a mustard and red halter dress in cotton and very pretty snakeskin sandals. Her nails were painted a bright purple and she wore some delicate gold rings – all on her thumb.

I was in the mood for a cocktail too – something sweet, frosty and heady. I was really tempted to order a strawberry daiquiri. My nails are painted red now. And I was wearing golden high-heels. I wanted a daiquiri.

But my stupid vow to not have liquor anymore started pounding inside my head. So I sulked and looked through the wine list again – hoping to find some fine print that would free me from my stupid self-imposed restriction.

I was taking really long with my ordering. The waiter tapped his pencil, shuffled his feet, looked at my cousin who shrugged his shoulders, and waited. Waited. Waited.

“Anything particular you are looking for?”, he asked me finally.

Then I began my story. Of how I’d given up alcohol but I still remember how good it tasted. And also how I’d like to try something that was non-alcoholic, but still had the same kind of bite.

“Can you make me a virgin strawberry daiquiri?”, I asked him.

“Without the liquor, it’ll just be a lot of ice and syrup, ma’am”, he informed me. “It won’t have the…bite.”

Now, I’m not sure, but I do think he was taunting me.

“Umm…”, I mumbled. Then poured over the list again.

“I could do one thing…”, he started.


“I could get you a chilled Coke.”

“A COKE!”, I snapped. Wow! As far as recommendations go, wasn’t he a big help?

“Yes…it’s cold, sweet, with a bite…and we can just call it a virgin Long Island Iced Tea.”

My cousin burst out laughing. I tried to look offended, but smiled nevertheless. Wit – that’s a toast I’ll always clink to.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The age of royalty

So, it’s a regular Monday. But instead of feeling all squirrelly at the prospect of a new, sparkly week (which happened I think, two decades ago), I’m feeling unusually lethargic. It’s a light day in office, so I think of leaving work early. I dream of reaching home, making some nice, green tea with lemon-grass and honey and watch the world go by. (Which, in Mumbai usually means – watch the world whiz by and suddenly screech to a halt, honk like crazy, and get moving again. Ah! City life!)

But of course, as I enter Bandra, my sleep has vanished. By the time the autorickshaw is at Khar and I spot the MANGO sale, all my dreams of a provincial arrangement have vaporized. I’m practically lunging out of the rick.

The MANGO sale, well…it’s awesome! MANGO is awesome! The clothes, the shoes, the tees, the scarves, the bags, the bikinis, the lacy stockings, the woollen coats, the leather skirts, the jewelled velvet pants, the satin caps – they’re just distilled finesse. Each one of them.

Now, something strange has happened since the last time I visited a MANGO store. I think it’s become cheaper. I wonder if it’s because I have more money now (by that I mean HA HA HA HA HA HA!) or if MANGO has reduced its prices. The new collection – clothes that aren’t discounted – seemed pretty reasonable too. Like there were these stretch, velvet pants in royal blues and plums, etc. that were only two thousand five hundred bucks. I mean, they’re comparable to say, stuff at Wills or Annabelle, and infinitely more chic.

And the bags! There was a bag in crushed leather in a delectable shade of caramel. The zipper was a smart, steel medallion and it had a soft, pliable handle. And this piece of art was for 1600 bucks or so! This is cheaper than a lot of those glossy, bright, cornea-searing totes you find in Esbeda and Shoppers Stop!

But what I was struck by was this pair of high-heels. It was a pair of pointy-toed shoes with strips of black, tan, and metallic leather sewn with bronzed thread. The sole was cupped in steel and the five-inch stiletto heel was in metal as well – right down to its slender, lethal, gorgeous tip. Usually, I don’t wear such shoes because I don’t get them in my size. But this one, that I bent and picked up reverentially like some holy chalice, seemed to be my size.

I actually held my breath while I slipped it on. Slowly. Tentatively. With a shivering hand. In front of a taunting mirror. And it fit! It fit! It. F.I.T!!!

In the mirror, I could see the reflection of a sharp marvellous heel that led up to a beautiful metallic cup that supported a canvas of exquisite leather art-work that made an ordinary pair of legs look spectacular. Not good. Not nice. But like the vision of a 100- foot-waterfall or a pine-forest-in-autumn kind of beautiful. Those legs happened to be mine.

And just a minute ago, they were these two ordinary limbs that I only used for walking. With these heels, man…my legs could be ammunition!

That these shoes were extraordinary is as newsworthy as saying that water’s wet. But just how extraordinary they were…now, that takes some thinking. Well, those shoes sort of shifted dimensions. When I put them on, it seemed as if the ground before me was layered with plush red carpet. The mirrors rose in height and got gilded frames. Ermine tufts nuzzled my neck and a glittering confetti of snowflakes showered the earth.

In those shoes, I could very easily walk into that world – into a topography and a timelessness that was unknown so far. I could be seated at a rhinestone-topped bar, crushing fine Belgian goblets and yet have poems embroidered in silk scarves sent up to my table. I could be anything but me.

The best part, however, was that this imagination-traipsing piece of wonder was at 70% off. It was for 1800 bucks…only.

I bought it. Of course.

Getting back to a more mundane world, I walked through Pali market to buy vegetables. Got some lauki, bought some milk. Entered my cute, small apartment. It was dark. I switched on the lights and opened the windows. Smoothed my turquoise couch, propped up the pillows on my cane sofa. Opened the fridge and started to put away the veggies. Thought for a little while about how I’m going to get through the rest of the month. I have to get my laptop repaired. I have a meeting with a gynac I can’t postpone. I have to lend some money to my cook. I have to buy groceries for the rest of the month. I have to pay off a big credit card debt.

I sat down and put on the shoes. The silver and tan, the black and bronze – they meshed everything that was elegant and sublime about life. Like poetry. Like art and music. Like a bubble bursting on a baby’s nose. Like raindrop on a lilypad. Like a woman tucking her eighty year old husband to sleep. The shoes glittered with tender smiles and soft tears. With rainbows and lightnings. These shoes were architected with everything that was good and fine in the world.

And they were at my feet.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In the future

If I were on a silver island far away,
I'd be soaking my feet and thinking aloud
In a jaded world, people sing about moonlight
In a fresh, new one, they'd eulogize the cloud

Friday, August 07, 2009

Ties that bind

It was Rakhi. Though I don’t celebrate the festival, I thought it would be a good opportunity to have my brothers buy me something.

My own brother is sailing. He never gets me anything I want. I wanted a skirt from Italy, and he said, ‘It won’t fit.’ I wanted a dress from Paris, and he said ‘It won’t fit’. I wanted a fleece and leather jacket from Dusseldorf, and he said ‘It won’t fit’. I wanted a cocktail dress from Neiman Marcus in New York, and he said ‘It won’t fit’. Capris from China won’t fit, glares from Norway won’t fit, blouses from Japan won’t fit, towels from Thailand won’t fit, bedsheets from Spain won’t fit. Apparently, there is no-one my size inhabiting any other continent.

My other cousin, who I was going to drag to ‘Love Aaj Kal’, sprinted off to Goa with his friends. That only left my other cousin in Lokhandwala.

Call went thus:

“Hi!”, I said.

“Hi!”, he actually sounded a little happy to hear my voice. It was short-lived. I asked me if we could meet.

“Why?”, he asked cautiously. Last time I met him, I insisted that he hear me out on certain topics. The session lasted four hours. After this, he lamented the fact that he didn’t have a gun to shoot himself.

“It’s Rakhi! And you’re my brother. At least one who’s available, any way.”

“Oh, I’m touched. I have nothing to give you, by the way.”

“That’s fine. Let’s just meet and talk.”

“NO! NO talking! I have a very important meeting tomorrow, and I am very disturbed. Let’s not meet tonight. Some other time. I’m really tensed.”

Of course, when I reached his place later, I realized why he was tensed. He was watching a movie that had Jeetendra wearing a full-sleeved variant of a peasant blouse and Dharmendra wearing a leather gladiator-type skirt.

“This movie is practically 40 years old”, my cousin informed.

I’d been feeling bad about insisting on meeting him when he was ‘down’, so I’d got some donuts for him. Well, 2 of them were for him. The other 2 were for his flatmate. But whilst explaining the subtle nuances of a crappy fight sequence, cousin polished off the entire case.

“Let’s go”, he declared wiping his fingers.

“Where? Versova Barista?”

“No. I’ll take you to this place in Juhu.”


So, I got up, combing my hair in a hurry, anticipating I don’t know what. Cousin strode out confidently, moved three digits of his hand, and hailed an auto.

“Chandan cinema”, he said confidently.

Now, I wouldn’t be got dead going to Chandan cinema! I mean, even if I went there alive, and I got killed there (not an altogether farfetched notion), my corpse would still walk out of there and collapse somewhere else, around Ramada or Prithvi perhaps, or wait, Kimaya! (I love that Kimaya store! Although I’m not quite sure why it features in this morbid fantasy.) Anyway, I shared my concerns with my cousin who looked at me quite pitifully.

“Chandan is a very nice place! That’s a safe place. You can come here by yourself at one in the night.”

“Why would I be alone at one in the night?”

“Oh, you’ll be alone!”, he laughed. I’m not so sure I quite understood where that insight came from, but I was a little unnerved. I mean, surely I could have friends at one in the night. Or at the very least, an annoying cat trailing me.

We went to this pool parlor that begins with a K. I forget the name. When I stepped in, two groups of really big, burly men turned to look at me. Hard. And then suddenly, they went back to their game.

Cousin and I settled down in a booth and he told me that this place is open through-out the night. Of course, anything that’s open at night in Juhu does not get my vote. I would much rather be in Bandra, Colaba, Versova, or even Vashi or Chembur. But not Juhu. Something about that area gives me the creeps. When I was in school, I have seen actors get into hideous brawls outside Holiday Inn. When we’d go to Bawa International or J-49 in college, invariably some doped, lanky woman would approach me to ‘take her to her room’. One night, I almost fell for it, only to realize that she, in fact, was a man. Very doped, very ill…but a man.

So, even though Juhu is posh and pretty and has places that serve good food and probably play nice music, I’d rather take my chances elsewhere.

But this place felt different. Although, at that time, it was only populated by men, I didn’t feel uncomfortable. My brother had excused himself for a bit, and I was sitting alone. But no-one bothered me, no-one stared, they’d keep shooting pool, and ordering coffee or Cokes. (The place doesn’t serve alcohol…or rather, it’s not on the menu. They might serve it if they know you, or you’re famous.)

I ordered a New York cheesecake and some Irish coffee. Both were nice and reasonably priced. Neither tasted like it was from New York or Ireland. So I ordered another type of tea and some omlettes.

Some time after 2 a.m., the really good crowd started trickling in. Very polished. Well-dressed women, well-groomed guys, non-sleazy businessmen. My cousin was sharing my plate of fries, and started pointing out certain people in the crowd. That really pretty girl in black is a playback singer, the guy in a faded blue tee and cream linen shorts is her boyfriend. He’d bought her a dog to replace the one he’d run over. And the clever-looking lady in the cream kurta and white pants was a famous producer. Her daughter’s studying script-writing in LA. So on and so forth.

Over coffee, cousin decided to do some kind of personality analysis. My personality analysis. It began with the misleading statement, “I can’t put my finger on it…” This was followed by forty minutes of incisive data presentation to support his contention of what is wrong with me. I am so tired of family trying to figure me out, but I heard him out nevertheless. It’s not that he’s right, it’s just that he’s interesting. Like he told me to do something other than writing. To expand my talents, so to speak. Writing would make me pigeon-holed.

“But it’s my forte”, I said.

“Yes…but if you keep doing only one thing, it won’t be good any more.”

“How’s that possible? You do more of something, you get better at it.”

He sighed.

“Okay…here’s what I mean. Think of a color, any color. If you keep adding only one color to a painting, do you know what happens?”

“It doesn’t dry?”

He sighed again.
“It starts turning black. Even a virtue must be measured and used carefully.”

Now, I don’t agree with that. I am not sure if I understand it entirely either. But I found the sentiment really profound.

And on that high note of incomprehensible wisdom, we called it a night. Which, in Juhu’s Neverland, ended at 3:30 in the morning.

Monday, August 03, 2009

If all 31sts get to be this way...

July ended on a beautiful note. It has been the most wholesome, and peacefully well-rounded month. Every time I looked out my window or stepped into the world, the skies were cool and moist, the breeze was playful, and the rains were perfect. I could take each day of the month, polish up its consummate elegance, and have a string of thirty-one pearls to cherish as keepsake. July 2009 was worthy of being an heirloom.

Last Friday, I had to wait back after office for a conference call. That, thankfully, ended early enough. To celebrate, a friend of mine and I traipsed over to the Costa at Juhu. It was my friend’s first time there, and I was quite keen that she like the place. For a Costa, it was quite empty on a Friday night, but charming all the same. I had a hazelnut cappuchino, and my friend had a ginger-chicken panini. For someone who has given up non-veg a long time ago, my radar is pretty sharp when it comes to recommending meat dishes for other people. In fact, I’d be good at it – recommending dishes. I usually get it right…some exceptions are people like my brother. But then, people like him seldom like anything.

After coffee, I went to the Lokhandwala Barista to meet my cousin, who, expectedly wasn’t there. One of his friends spotted me, though, and was more than cordial. He sat me down on the porch, introduced me to a group of nice people who chatted politely…but I felt awkward moving into their inner circle on a Friday night. They were clearly looking forward to letting loose and having fun. So I excused myself (mainly because a black, smelly dog started wandering around me) and went inside. I tried reading some work material, but kept looking up to see if my sibling had walked in. His friend saw me doing the ‘spot the meteor’ routine and tried tracking down my cousin. (By the way- it’s hard for both of us to co-ordinate because he doesn’t keep a mobile phone, and I seldom use mine to receive calls. Why both of us are in the field of ‘communication’, I don’t know. Our respective mothers think it’s because we slipped and fell on our heads when we were young. I, at least, have recovered. Partially.)

An hour later, my brother came looking all happy and excited: “I just thought of a brilliant script!”

“I’ve been waiting here for over an hour!”, I screamed.

“Huh? You said you’ll come by 9:30! I was waiting here, but since you didn’t come, I went back.”

“WHEN did I say I’ll be here at 9:30?”

“I don’t know…you say a lot of things a lot of times…anyway, listen to this…”

I have to admit that despite my irritation, I quite enjoyed his story. My cousin’s a really good storyteller. One evening, he was telling me a story about this spoilt girl who thought she was too good for the world and then, many years later she ended up being estranged from her daughter. Only after my rapt attention had been broken, I realized that he’d been talking about me. He’s mean, sometimes. So I just listen to his stories and never share my muffin with him. Familial ties notwithstanding, one must draw the line.

Of course, now that I was in ‘his’ area so to speak, he suggested we leave the place. Suddenly, people had started ‘looking at me’. Since all of these ‘starers’ existed in his imagination, I couldn’t really provide a strong enough counter-argument.

He’s moved into a new apartment, and I suggested he take me there. Grudgingly he said okay. By that time, it was close to midnight.

As a house-warming gift, I picked up a couple of chicken and vegetarian puffs for him and his flat-mate. He bought me some Coke at a stall where a guy walked up to me and asked me the time. Of course, this, in my cousin’s world, meant that he’d asked me if I wanted to have dinner with him…so he intervened and snapped ’12 o’clock’.

“They’ll look for any excuse to talk to a girl!”

“Not knowing the time is not an excuse.”

“How you managed to grow up in Bombay like a babe in the woods, I’ll never know!”

Thus we squibbled to his apartment. The walk was awesome! Lokhandwala, late at night, is almost fairy-tale like in its profile. Somewhere on the side, you can hear the sea, the narrow roads morph into woodsy little lanes that disappear into magical areas you can’t enter because you don’t know the secret code. Around nooks and corners, groups of people stand and talk – talk of the dreams they came with, probably think of what they’ll do when they receive their first thunderous applause, talk of the audience they will one day mesmerize, talk of their chances to steal a million hearts, and also probably talk of their final bow. I’ve always wondered how it must be to be in a relationship with an artist – knowing, tacitly, that one will always come second. You could have a person’s heart, but his or her imagination is a knave to something else.

During the day, it is so easy to look at these people and call them ‘wannabes’. But in the truth of the night, they shone – each one of them shone – like a little hopeful pin-prick in the sky.

We reached the apartment, where my cousin’s room-mate was just retiring for the night. He gamely stayed up though, and boy! Was it fun! My cousin showed me his room and told me how he uses the same blanket he had since his hostel days.

I don’t know…I just felt very comforted knowing that he’s following his dream – building a home with strangers, sitting now against a light-green wall, folding the blanket his parents had given him when he’d left home for the first time. His room-mate and he were talking about some story session to be held the next day. They seemed to be a little unsure of how it would go…but somehow, I felt so sure that my cousin will make it BIG soon. So big that this home, this conversation, this wall, this blanket – all this will mean nothing.

Sometimes, in some moments you see stuff – stuff that slices through whatever reality you’re in. And I saw my cousin telling his story to a hungry crowd.

After they’d talked shop for some time, he started getting jittery. I was quietly sipping Coke, when he told me I should get going. “This is not a safe place”, he went on and on. In fact, his room-mate told me that I could crash in with them for the night if I were okay. But I just wanted to hang back, talk to them, and enjoy my Friday night. But cousin made it impossible.

Cousin: “I’ll come and drop you.”

Me: “No need. I’ll go later.”

Cousin: Stay here then…or wait, I’ll go drop you.

Me: I want to just stay for some more time. Please.

Cousin’s room-mate: Come on! Let her stay…she can take care of herself.

Cousin: You stay out of this…she’s family.

Me: I can take care of myself.

Cousin: Why don’t you goddamn understand! This is NOT Bandra…you can’t just go around any time you want!

Cousin’s room-mate: Oh come on now! This place is safe…Mukta, stay here if you feel like…whatever you want. Just chill!

Me (not liking the look of murder in my cousin’s eyes): Can I at least finish my Coke?

Cousin (who’d already started pacing up and down): Can’t you drink any faster?

Room-mate: Will you please calm down? Mukta, you want to stay back? He’ll drop you later.

Me: No, it’s okay. He’s getting jittery. I’ll go.

Five minutes later, I’d said my goodbyes and walked out with my cousin hovering around me like the shadow of death. And then he started with his surreal-speak.

“See, you don’t understand”, he began. (It’s a phrase he uses in his conversation with me very often.) “It takes one bad incident to throw things out of gear…You’ve been lucky so far, don’t push it. You are very trusting and all…and I don’t want that to break. I know you…if your trust is broken, you won’t recover very easily.”

“I think my failed marriage has pretty much taken care of that. I’ve recovered.”, I retorted.

“Okay, fine…it’s not about you being trusting…you’re sort of…” Then he made a big production of thinking for the right word while it was right there on the tip of his tongue. “You’re stupid.”

That made things much better. I kicked him, he yelped, and hailed me an auto. And then, insisting that I was not an imbecile, I told him to leave me alone. I could definitely go by myself. When I passed Juhu, I saw so many happy people – children playing with balloons, people having coffee in those thin, small plastic cups. It was around 2:30 in the morning. In a matter of twenty minutes I reached Bandra. I messaged his room-mate that I’d reached safely. But I hadn’t just reached safe. I’d reached in a state so wild and happy and free, that ‘safe’ was too much of a come-down.

I went for a walk down Pali Naka. My cousin is right. Bandra is such a precious little place. It’s like…in other places, you feel like a little ‘tight’. And once you reach Bandra, you just untuck your shirt, loosen your belt, and get comfy. Bandra has that sluchy kind of charm.

On my way back home, I looked up. For a second, I wondered how many people would be looking up at the sky right at that moment. And I thought of my cousin in his room, his room-mate making coffee, all those people still at Versova beach or making plans to go to Juhu…At the moment that I was looking up at the sky, the sky was looking down at them.

Thus July passed, with a silent goodbye, a benign sky, and a soft, hard truth – with an artist, you never come first. But even the second place is higher than where most people ever get to be.