Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Weight Of Goodbye

My room has a corner that functions as some sort of shrine to the gods. It’s essentially a beautiful framed poster of the Dalai Lama bearing the quote, “We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves”. A quote I believe in and exercise. Above the poster is a verse from the Koran that Billy gave me one time when he was convinced my house in Cardiff had ghosts in it. (It did, but that’s another story.) Under the poster there’s a small wooden table scattered with what I suppose over the years have become my gods. There’s a clay Durga, a wooden Rio Jesus, my baby Krishna (my first crush), Ganga jal and a cotton turtle (the one upon whose back the Earth once sat). There are also guitar strings (some sort of teenage offering).

From time to time I forget this is a place of worship and when I return home, drunkenly place random objects here. This morning I noted with some irritation the presence of a pair of keys on the table. I had asked my dad to take them back to Calcutta with him. I’d said to him last night on the phone, “Go to my room and look at that puja thing…the keys to the Calcutta house are lying there. Please take them back when you fly out tomorrow morning.” He’s always doing this. Forgetting silly things.

The “Calcutta house” is where he grew up…a small apartment on the corner of Elgin Road, for those of you who know the city. For those who don’t, it doesn’t matter. It’s an apartment in a building that’s crumbling like any other in that city. I guess it’s never mattered to me that it’s a bit decrepit or that the bathrooms always seem damp or that the doors have no locks, because it’s a house full of stories and I have lived in those stories like the princess of my own fairytale. From the first room on the right that my father shared with his brother; where he couldn’t fall asleep one night because he thought the spider on the ceiling would come eat him…to the balcony from which his bunny rabbit jumped to death. The same balcony through which a thief once climbed. That was when they put the grills up. It’s a house with history. Four girls went to their weddings from there. It’s where daddy took mama after he married her in that small ceremony in Germany. It’s where we learnt how to be grandchildren. It’s where the shelves are always full of pickles and lime and no one is allowed to sleep beyond nine. Where the maalish-waali comes twice a week with her oils, and where tea is always served on time. The furniture has never changed. The style has always been the same…velvet couches, pictures of gods collecting dust, tiny windows encased in iron wrought into what someone in the 70s thought was an attractive repeat pattern. The house has always been full – visitors dropping by unannounced at odd hours – for breakfast, for tea, for chatter and gossip. It’s a house where every single one of us has dreamt of love. The kitchen is always a-bustle except at siesta. And there is always siesta. The house smells of spices and looks like old people live there. Which they did, up until recently.

Dada was the first to go and I still miss his gentle hands and smile of angels. The couch in his room still offers up indents for his back. Then the surprise one, his eldest daughter. When she went the whole world went quiet and the house was the dark heart of all that silence. And then, exhausted from loss, my grandmother left. I packed away the saris and love letters, the photographs and medicine bottles. The weight of memories. And I did not cry.

I went back two weeks ago. It was a quick trip: paperwork/ kitchen work/ pieces of my heart that needed closure. But those three days became a lifetime.  And then I left with the key, a soul that was whole again, and a chapter closed.

I’m glad I did, because it seems tomorrow my father will hand the apartment over to the building again, where it will become just square feet again. And next month a builder will tear it down so that by the time I visit in November, glass and steel will have replaced my grandmother’s meals.

It was only half way through the day today that I realized something with a start, and I bit down hard on my palm when I did. He hadn’t forgotten. It’s not something he forgot to take… I recall now the forlorn way he had said, “Okay, okay beta,” when I’d shouted over the phone from a noisy bar, “Take the key!”

I had forgotten.

The key isn’t clutter on a wooden table.
It is in its final and rightful resting place.

Goodbye Calcutta you dusty star, you elegant mistress of phantoms…bleached dress of vintage, patient denizen, articulate old lioness. I have closed the door, but in the apartment in my heart, the light is always on and the kitchen forever a-bustle. And teatime is as ever at four, for anyone who comes knocking at our door.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Love Of Boys.

The world talks about women. But I'd like to talk about boys.

I love boys. I realized again two weeks ago that I absolutely love boys. I am in love with their slow lope, their fast drive, with their easy limbs and stretched out chests, and their slouched shoulders. With the way they talk to women and the way they talk to each other. The way they talk about women. The way they are affected by women. The way they smell – of testosterone and too much cologne. The way they preen – hair products and creams. Their quirks, their dreams. The way they want to grow up, and never stop having ideas for when they do. How boys self-destruct. How they go into their shells and how they hurt but never tell. How they're always up to no damn good. I like that I needn’t put on a show with them. I like how boys put themselves first, and I know there’s a lesson to be learnt there. How they are particular about the peculiar. How they protect and guard – both themselves and me.

I have been in love for so long with the easy nature of a group of boys in sync with each other, that for a long time as a teenager I thought I wanted to be one. I wanted so much to partake of their banter and baggy jeans, their heavy metal and ‘makeuplessness’. The way they sat around in groups of three and five and seven and ten and made a sport their lives. The way they committed to the perfection of it, equal parts enthusiastic exhilaration and healthy competition. The way they smoked their cigarettes on still summer evenings, dangling them between fingers then dragging on them from between finger and thumb. They’d hang them from between their mouths, the cheap brand, and lean down to tie shoelaces, or drum on their thighs. They’d strum at guitars in driveways and on rooftops. The way they caught with gymnast wrists a key chucked, a ball thrown, a can of coke, mid air. A whole world of male bonding that I became privilege to, fell in love with, and put up a house in.

And so I learnt their guarded ways. I learnt that they say everything except when it means something. I learnt how there is a whole 'nother boy inside every boy that does drugs. That there is a different boy under the skin of every boy after two drinks. That they don't understand women so they hurt them, and when they do they discard them. And when there is one, then there is nothing and no one else. That they're always looking for a yes...always looking for an out, always looking for a mountain to climb, a place to fly. That for every boy who is arrogant there are two who don't know how much they're worth. And then every once in a blue blue moon in an electric cloud sky, there's a humble boy. I learnt that boys sing in the shower, talk in their sleep, dance with left feet and take watches off when they play ball. They speak stupid and talk rough, but always with humor. What a blanket of humor their lives have. And then they talk about love – always under the guise of that humor. That everything that isn't humor ends up in songs – writing them, listening to them, belting them out drunkenly while cruising around town. I love how boys don’t care…and my god how they do.  

I love that the fabric of their tee shirts is soft and worn, second skin. The tiny holes in the cloth they won’t give up. Boxer shorts/ aversion to creases/ favorite sweatshirts/ the sound when he sneezes. How they like kisses and how they forget everything but then remember that one thing. And sometimes you meet a boy who remembers everything but says nothing. How they hurt and are quiet. How they dispense of hurt. Boys’ hands. Boys’ sneakers. Boys' sarcasm. Boys’ bed sheets. Boys when they lie awake at night, not sleeping, playing the same song over and over again. Stupid tattoos in secret places, beautiful tattoos that mean everything. How it feels like their whole world has stubble. How much boys eat. I love that I have met boys who have given me pieces of this world…access to it. Gentleman, assholes, pained souls, dreamers, humorists. Layered, complex, idiotic, exasperating, gentle, invested, devastatingly beautiful boys. I love them. I love them from their terrible hair product that leaves your fingers sticky, to their awkward shirt collars and elegant collarbones. I love the sweep of their spines, the belly fat they despise, the armpit with signature scent, the tear duct that claims to never have wept, the tried-to-grow-a-moustache but it didn’t work lip, scars-from-bike-accident legs, forgot-to-cut-them toenails, scared-it’ll-never-be-big-enough penis, don’t-like-that-patch-of-hair body part, hate-my-family, hate-my-bedroom, hate-my-past, hate-my-home but so damn proud contradiction. All of it. I love it because it is enough. It is so much. And it has been and always will be enough. And now you know it.