What do you think is every south indian’s comfort food? i think it is a Dosa. A crepe. Wait, who does not like Dosa? You can easily fill an 80 pages notebook if you start listing out the names of Dosa varieties. But, Masala Dosa is one beautiful creation of man. A timeless classic.
The Silicon City’s traffic is stressing, I agree. But a warm Masala Dosa from Woody’s is worth it, I swear. If you have been to Commercials, Bengaluru and have not tried Masala Dosa in Woody’s Hotel, I would say that you have not enjoyed life to the fullest. Spicy red chilly chutney spread on the crepe which is crispy and has a tinge of sweetness, filled with a generous spoon of potato curry served with a spicy chilli-tomato chutney, fresh mint chutney for a balance and Karnataka’s signature sambhar (kannadigas LOVE sweet. There is jaggery literally in almost every dish of theirs) which has a distinct taste will make you want to come to Commercials everyday, despite the crowd, rain, distance, time and every possible interruption.
I revisited an old playlist of mine today and it was the best, tightest, warmest hug I could give myself. AJ was the first one to gift me a jar of songs. She made an effort to write a list of songs for every mood I would have when she flies to Mumbai. When we did not have 4G unlimited internet and could not send song links in seconds, this jar saved me. I downloaded these songs along with the ones I watch on 9XM everyday and had a little playlist for myself. All these songs were mine. Everything that happened in my world, was connected to one of these songs. Today, I exhausted my internet and Spotify didn’t work, thank Ambani. I did not have much to do and I had to listen to songs that I had downloaded on my phone a few years ago. I turned off the lights, plopped on my bed and scrolled through the songs. With the hype that I gave you in the first sentence of this, don’t think my playlist was a soft, slow, relaxing one. It has Main Tera Boyfriend, Yeh Jawani Teri, Hawa Hawa and Tune Mari Entryaan squeezed between Jag Ghoomeya, History, I Wanna Write You A Song and Issues. The mood that these songs come with, are very different. Some make me want to dance, when some make me whistle along. But, these are songs that make me feel like I’m home.
I string an incident with each song. Now, those memories come gushing out and take me back in time. I listened to Nallai Allai on repeat when I was in Kodaikanal. Listening to it now brings misty mountains in front of my eyes and the scent of dried eucalyptus leaves to my nostrils. That Vijaysethupathi song reminds me of the time AJ and I had the best sleep over, and how all of us danced on the terrace. I go back and listen to old songs because some things are too good to happen again. I can only relive memories through these songs. I listen to these songs because I can sing along effortlessly. It is like sitting on the floor of the dark attic or walking through dusty store room in my house, familiar and comforting. Sometimes, these songs are glued to memories I would rather forget. I stopped listening to some songs because they forced me to confront reality. Running away was an easier option. But, now coming back and listening to those songs, looking at that emotion in the eye and going past it, is much more relieving.
All of us have had different playlists growing up/ growing old. Sometimes, taking a pause and rewinding reminds us where we come from and what we are made of. V and I gift each other playlists too often. We have not met each other, but by sharing songs, we give pieces of ourselves to each other. I know her through her choice of songs. I know her through the lyrics she fell in love with. Making a playlist is an art, to her. And I could not agree more. Making a playlist for someone else is magic. Running out of songs to listen to, is a situation that I dread. I need to keep fuelling my playlist to run everyday. I gift songs to people when they feel like they are hitting rock bottom, hoping they would levitate, and I think, all of us need a bunch of songs and an old blanket with bobbles that we hold onto, to carry to our graves.
I am sorry, you could not be in the front row for that dance in kindergarten. I am sorry, the back of your ear was examined to see if you would be fair or dark, when you were just born. I am sorry, you had extra coats of rouge to look fair enough on stage. I am sorry, “Vellai aa irukavan poi solla maataan” (he who has a fair complexion wouldn’t lie) was a light joke. I am sorry, you had to scrub green gram powder wildly onto your face only to develop a mild allergy. I am sorry, you always had to pick clothes in bright and pastel shades because you did not want to look darker. I am sorry, you had to watch advertisements that preached that the only way to success was fair complexion. I am sorry, you had to watch movies where dark skinned people were milkmen, rag pickers and goons when fair people were doctors and engineers. I am sorry, people persuaded you to eat fruits saying you would become fair. I am sorry, you almost stopped using bright pink lipstick. I am sorry, your weekends had to be with your gran who always tried homemade skin whitening packs on you. I am sorry, you were told that you would look good when you go to college only if you are fair. I am sorry, you had to listen to your grand aunt rant about not wanting to marry her son to someone with a dark complexion. I am sorry, the smell of Fair&Lovely makes you nauseous now. I am sorry, you added filters to every photo of yours, that you almost forgot what you really looked like. I am sorry, every Casting Call poster said that they wanted fair girls but boys, they did not really care.
I am sorry, everybody at home were disappointed with the tan that you came back with, after a long sports day bringing home medals and certificates. I am sorry, you always had to stand facing bright lights for every selfie. I am sorry, Pears soap had to make you squeaky clean and fair instantly, making your skin dry. I am sorry, Santoor moms were always annoyingly fair. I am so sorry, it took a Kajol , a Sushmita Sen and a Priyanka Chopra for everybody to accept that dusky skin is beautiful. I am sorry, you had to see Rajnikanth in Sivaji bathe in a tub of fairness cream just because Shriya did not appreciate the difference in their complexion. I am very sorry, you had to listen to and watch ‘Oru Koodai Sunlight’ (attached youtube link at the end of the post and I suggest that you watch it) which is still the most pointless song I have ever come across. I am sorry, you had doubts about yourself. I am sorry, you grew up thinking you were not enough. I am sorry, you had to go through this, in the first place. But now, you know that you were not alone. I am proud of you for falling in love with who you are. I am proud of you for embracing everything about you, or even trying to.
There is this song that makes me feel like I’m looking at a sunset. Especially the ochre and deep orange ones. This song is dusk. Sitting on the bank of a river and watching a thousand rippling suns is what Moh Moh Ke Dhaage is all about, to me. Have you seen how the sun dangles and drones a little when its about to disappear? Have you ever felt that this sloppy dance that the Sun does, will make it drop itself from the sky? That is exactly how this song is designed. Or rather, painted. The singer just plays with my heart strings. The transition from yellow to orange to black happens right in front of my eyes and we get to see a hundred different skies in a minute. That is exactly what happens with this song. The waves of feelings that it gives, are just enough to drown me, drench me and leave me in a whole new world. I have always wondered how the colours of the evening sky changes in lapse. Sometimes from blue to orange to pink and sometimes, from grey to pink to deep red. There is a tinge of pain and teeming love in this song. There is hope, nervousness and contentment. There is no instrument like the flute to express melancholy. In this song, the flute in the background has the power to stir the insides of my ribcage. I love sunsets because there is so much drama in them. It is almost as interesting as watching a play. Something about this song brings montages of dusk in front of my eyes even when it is midnight and I have my earphones plugged in. I feel my body lighten and float like paper just how it does when the sun goes completely invisible and I let out a sigh of relief. On days I don’t feel like stepping outside and looking at the sky or it is too late to catch the sunset, I nestle in the arms of this song.
What would it be like, when the doors finally open? Who would be your first hug? Would you save it for later, for the one who lives a flight away from you? What would it be like, when the lingering smell of alcohol fades from your palms? Would it be a relief to be finally inhaling without a hindering mask? Would it remind us how we had taken almost everything for granted? What would it be like, to her, to be on a local train again and carelessly let her hair fly in the wind? By this time, she would have grown it out, her wavy locks. What would it be like, to her, having her feet in the sea and regain the forgotten feeling of sand tickling her soles?
Would it be raining on the first day? Would everyone want to get drenched head to toe, or complain about having to stay indoors one more day? What if it was sunny? Would they go out, or play a few more rounds of Ludo King with the ones sitting right across the room? Would the carrom board go for a slumber in the storage, or have a siesta under the bed and continue to make visits during the weekends? What would it be like, when Swiggy starts delivering regularly? Would the in-house MasterChef get a break? Or, would they continue to experiment with cocoa and pani puri? Who would your first drive be with? The ones who put up with your moods and messed up sleep cycle all these days or the ones you had not met in what seemed like ages?
Would the YouTube channels, art pages, podcasts and blogs that mushroomed during the lockdown still be active? Hope so, because we turned to them in our most difficult times and we will when the storm settles. Will you buy more sketch books and journals, or was it your one-time thing? Would households still whip up Dalgona Coffee, or agree that it was nothing more than just instagrammable? What would it be like, when no one really cares about each others’ productivity? Would you still update twice on Daylio just to make yourself feel better?
What would it be like, when four of us can squeeze ourselves into an auto? Would we have to wait in front of the trial room with a mount of clothes, or would we click away on Myntra? Would we pick date dresses for the girls, or suggest a Netflix party date? What would it be like, when the cinemas open again? How much of the sour cream seasoning will be in your popcorn tub? Would you still choose your laptop with Netflix subscription over missing iconic dialogues muffled by loud whistles? Would you want to skip ads or sing along with Vicco Vajratanti? What would it be like, when we have to go attend classes? Would we miss scrolling through our phones on the side? What if the doors open when you are half way through a book? What if they open when there are fifteen days left for your first mango pickle to be fermented? What if the doors stand ajar when your masterpiece just needs one last touch?
When the doors finally open, where would we all be? What would we all be? I wonder.
Baskets and bags hanging from the balconies on either sides of the road waiting to be pulleyed up once they are filled with milk packets and sometimes they are waiting to get rid of the garbage covers, welcome you to B street, Shanti Nagar. Here, one can often get confused by the electricity wires that resemble clothes line. Vegetable and fruit vendors walking up and down the street, pushing their carts and advertising by yelling the names of their product, is my morning alarm. Parking vehicles in this street without being shouted at by the reckless drivers in this area, is almost as difficult as tightrope walking. Constant honking is a ritual, here. This busy street is not left alone by the kids who love to throw plastic balls right at the balconies. The street takes a break from the chaos in the afternoons. It is the time of the day when kids stagger back to their houses from school like their energy had been sucked out of their bodies.
One’s evenings commence with kannada hymns played at the chapel, next street. Taking a walk across the streets in Shanti Nagar could be one of the best things to do in the evening if one loves dogs and enjoys petting them. The smell of sizzling chicken in the roadside eatery fills the air. Post-sunset, the street remains brightly lit, with its aligned, amber shaded street lights. Bikes speed past the street throughout the evening. The balconies are usually left open in the evenings, inviting the chill air of the city. At this hour, one can hear endless cooker whistles. Meal preparation for the next day is done at this dead of night. The road is abandoned by the vehicles, but not the still active kids of the street.
I complain about the leaky taps all day. On Sundays, the balcony has no access as washed clothes take over the whole place and the whole house smells of liquid detergent. I hate how the heater warms water so quickly. This means I have to get out of the bed soon. Coming back home from college and plopping on the cozy corner in the tiny living room, is the best feeling ever. I sit on this single bed to finish my assignments, have dinner and watch Netflix. One, because it is extremely comfortable to almost drown in a corner of the house. Two, because that is the only place we get internet. Mobile chargers, power banks and laptop charger have all made their home here. I get easily annoyed by the kids who incessantly throw plastic balls at my balcony during my nap time. They sing Despacito in gibberish and that makes me smile a bit. Moisture seeps through one of the walls and turns into an abstract art, pigeons knock on the glass windows, taps squeak every time they are opened and shut, cooker whistles freak me out in the middle of the night. There were so many reasons to hate this place. Things were imperfect. But, it is home, after all. And I miss it more than anything else.
This is the story of a girl. A little girl who wanted to gather and store stories in a tote bag. Or, it is the story of stories. You decide. The girl had a butterfly net, binoculars, magnifying glass, brown bags and tie straps on her, always. On days when the sun shone the brightest, on days when it was not so bright and on days when it rained, she would catch stories of smiles. Stories of piping hot tea, buttery cookies and a wrinkled face which always had flour in the creases. They were stories of an old woman, her Gran who had unwritten and untold stories in a small tinted jar. Gran owned a little café in the town. The smell of boiling milk filled the tiny room, all day. Gran’s frothy tea and cookies were the talk of the town. It is surprising how she had new guests everyday, and some old faces returned once in a while to visit her. They would hold her hands to express their gratitude, and leave. The little girl, being her curious self, tried to catch these stories, so that she could fill her tote bag and they will all be hers.
She sneaked into Gran’s café kitchen one evening and hid. Gran pulled her hair in a bun and started boiling milk in a huge barrel, to make tea for all her guests. What the little girl then saw, surprised and confused her at the same time. Gran climbed on a short stool to reach for the jar of stories and opened it. Glittery particles filled the air when Gran stuck a spoon into the jar and shovelled a little of what was inside. She then stirred it into the milk that was bubbling and ready to accept the other ingredients. When Gran took the tea cups and cookies to serve, the little girl followed her quietly. The guests Gran had today were a young couple who were quarrelling over something, an old man who sat in a corner, an old woman who sat in the middle of the room reading a book and a group of bikers. Gran, with a smile, served the tea, while the little girl waited in one side of the room with her butterfly net to catch these stories.
Suddenly, there was a heavy thump on a table. It was from the one the couple were sitting. Leaving the girl alone, the boy walked away without turning back. The girl continued to sip her tea casually. This was when the old man noticed the woman reading a book that he had written years ago. The man staggered to her table and started a conversation. They seemed to have a really good time, bonding over writing. Meanwhile, the bikers had begun planning the next trip, in spite of today being the last day of the previous one. The little girl caught as much as she could and ran back to the kitchen. Now, when she spilt it on the slab, all she could think of, was Gran. She thought of how Gran added stories to everyone’s lives and made beginnings out of endings. She thought of how the stories from the same jar had different effects on different people. She thought of how Gran, instead of keeping her stories to herself, gave it out generously. Now she knew why Gran was happy almost always. The little girl quickly pulled the stool, climbed on it and looked at the jar. It was half empty. Her shoulders fell in disappointment. But, she quickly remembered. She emptied all the stories in the tote bag, into the jar. They were all her stories. But, not anymore. This feeling was much better and the tote bag felt lighter. From then on, the stories that she collected went straight into Gran’s jar, who had no clue about how this was happening, but was just grateful.
We all have a love-hate relationship with words and at some point of time you would have thrown a pen across the room in frustration. Words, to me, is like the pair of spectacles that I stuff under my pillow and wake up thinking that I lost it in the crowded bus, the previous day. Sometimes, my professor finds them for me with her writing prompts, sometimes characters from my favourite movies do. But, there are times when I have to wait all day, for them to make an appearance. Life would have been easier if storks dropped off a bunch of words that I am looking for, on my doorstep. Blankly staring at walls when I do not have anymore words in mind, has made Amma worriedly ask me if I am okay. Not once. Several times. Words are inconsiderate and harsh. But, they are also kind sometimes. They cannot make up their mind, or I cannot wrap my head around it. I genuinely don’t know. “Um, what is.. what’s that I want to say? How should I say it? Uh okay, never mind”, I say in my brain almost every time I open Notes on my phone to make a blog post.
Deleting a whole paragraph letter by letter, the next morning just because it sounds a lot more stupid than it did last night, is extremely normal, yet hurtful. Being mad at words that sounded poetic last night, but are goofing around in the morning, is something that fellow aspiring writers would relate to, on a different level. I also hate how I have to open Notes a hundred times in a day only to write something that makes no sense because my brain needs a couple of knocks to detangle words. I have been mad at words that decide to untangle themselves when I am all tucked under the comforts of my musty blanket and my eyes involuntarily drooping. What’s with words and nights? They secretly have something going on. But, somehow third-wheeling in their romance does not make me feel miserable. In fact, I enjoy this whole chemistry in silence. What makes me furious, is the next morning hangover when I feel like I remember nothing about the previous night, but also remember everything. Despite all this, there have also been days where words piled in front of me in the dullest afternoons and waited for me. I am thankful for days of both kinds, for, one teaches me how precious words are and the other gives them to me in my cupped hands and watches how I handle them.
Apart from Shawarma, spicy Chindian food and gallons of Coca-Cola, there is one thing I miss with all my heart. Hugs. Social distancing is doing no good for a person like me who needs five hugs to survive the day; who chooses warm hugs over warm chai. And no one is talking about it. I miss the ‘good morning, I love your outfit’ hugs in the bus stop. The tired hugs in the ladies room. The ‘bye-bye’ hugs and the ‘been really long’ hugs. I miss feeling safe, heard, understood, complete, relieved and a lot of other things that make me a little less anxious. It has been a while since I had an oxytocin high and I am desperate for it. I believe that hugs have a healing effect that works even when words don’t. A light pat on the head while in a hug, is like a reassurance that things will get better. Someone loosening up in a hug is a sign that they are vulnerable and are willing to let me know.
The bone-crushing, muscle-snapping hug puts a smile on the face despite making it difficult to breathe. The lazy hug in the morning only to be reminded to brush the teeth ASAP, is such an energizer. A hug is that one puzzle piece which fits perfectly for every situation. It is a medium through which pain and pleasure are shared. It is the quickest and the most inexpensive therapy one can give and receive. Thinking about it puts me in awe and makes me want one badly. I am uncertain of when I can hug my humans again, but I just wish that I hugged them a bit more longer the last time I got to.
The clouds swallowing the sun slowly, reminds me of sipping from a glass filled with red wine. I should just be honest and say that sunsets also intoxicate me a little. The sigh of relief when the sun completely goes down is similar to the one I heave when a singer finishes a song getting the right notes. Who called the sunset ‘an end’? My fellow sunset-watchers would completely disagree with that statement. It is a process in itself, and many of us fail to notice it. Sometimes, sunsets remind me of the melancholic violin and sometimes I am reminded of the tinkling piano. It amazes me how everyday we look up at a different sky and we never get to see the same sunset again. I tear up a little thinking about the stars far far away that bestow upon me a new sky everyday. Goodbyes have always been hard for me. By that, I mean montages of me being short of breath and forcing a smile amidst all the pressure I put on my lungs. I did not know what kind of goodbyes could leave a smile on my face, instill hope, be comforting and warm until I started watching sunsets. Sunsets give me the strength to hang in there. It brings me closer to people and whispers that I am not alone. The birds that fly back home reassure me that there is always a place where I can come running back to, if I mess up.
It is weird how I trust the promises made during a sunset a bit more than necessary. It is also magical how the disappointment and pain of the breaking of promises made during sunsets, heal faster. There is so much romance between sunsets and music that makes me jealous. Is the music enhancing the beauty of a sunset, or is it vice versa? I wish I knew. From grooving to Masakali on the terrace to sitting in a pool of tears listening to Oru Dheivam Thandha Poove, a setting sun has been the best spectator and the warmest embrace. The latter, quite literally. Watching a sunset is easier on my eyes, than watching a sunrise. The mellow glow and the slow down is what my heart needs everyday. The sunset is also an evidence that every person is similar to the 12PM sun that lowers its tones with the passing of time. I fear recreating sunsets on a canvas. Somehow, I cannot forgive myself if I mess up trying to recreate something as beautiful as a sunset. A smear of crimson, a spray of orange or lumps of purple and pinks – sunsets taught me that imperfect perfections exist. I only wish I had a palette to mix this oxymoron in the correct ratio to give life to my canvas.
“Hey, do you scrape coconuts with those teeth of yours?” is what I get when people do not have a better comeback. My ‘bugs bunny’ teeth was something I was never proud of. When I laughed, I always cupped my mouth with my hands. All my photos had a smile that was suppressed. My selfies had to have cringe-worthy pouts as that was the only way I could hide my untamed front teeth. Why would you make someone feel insecure about something as natural and beautiful as their smile? The insensitivity shocks me now and I cannot believe I took validation seriously. Avva said that massaging my jaws early in the morning and brushing with my finger using salt would help. They did not. The dentist said that I must close my mouth when I am sleeping. But, if I am conscious enough to shut my unintentionally open mouth, am I really sleeping?
Unlike many teenagers, I badly wanted to get braces. Not to enslave my protruding front teeth, but just to escape the coconut and squirrel and net-chewing mouse jokes. My friends and cousins warned that having braces is painful and hard to manage, considering the fact that I am a pile of laziness. But I strongly believed that the braces are definitely not going to hurt me as much as the people around me do, carelessly. Things got as dramatic as the sound of the previous line. Suction tools, water flosser and concave mirrors made their monthly trips to my mouth. The ill-fate of biting into a chicken leg with constant fear of breaking the braces string, cannot be put into words. It might sound ‘tried way too hard’ poetic if I say that I stepped on my glittery retainer, it broke into two halves and I saw freedom in those cracks. But, that is exactly what happened. Yes, I had a glittery retainer. I am pretty sure that the guy who had an appointment before me did not. Thank you for you effort, but I do not appreciate this disguised gender specification.
Deciding to put my teeth in a silver wire cage, was not the best idea. They were suffocated and they tried hard to fit in. (Oh, wait. It was not only my teeth trying to fit in). After three whole years of teeth confinement, a broken retainer, and a broken lower jaw braces, I released my freedom-craving gnashers. Once I did that, they chose to go back to their places. I let them do it. No regrets until now. At least, let them be wild and comfortable where they are. Avva keeps saying that the braces did not work well. I just smile and nod my head, as a response because the liberation cannot be explained. The silver caps and the lower jaw brackets are still in my mouth, hoping to wrestle against my teeth once again. The next time I visit my dentist, I am getting rid of them and they have no clue. It took me a wire, a few tiny brackets and three years to understand what is self-love, acceptance and how to catch a whiff of freedom in it, and finally get addicted to it.