April is the Cruellest Month

April is the cruellest month,
So said the Fool.
When old feelings start unraveling
From a long forgotten spool.

With parched lips I bid goodbye
To every illusion held dear.
My voice was gone, I had no voice
My eyes were dry. No tears.

I remember that April day
In that room that’s up the stairs
Where we made so many promises
That were broken without fanfare.

I remember the kisses
As you bruised my lips
And I in turn had drank you
In those oh-so-sinful sips.

That fateful April night I found
My kingdom in your bed.
But when I looked into your eyes
I found something else instead.

Waves of heat washed over me
As I tossed and turned in sweat
My mind a blur of could-have-beens
A pocketful of regrets.

Well, now you’re gone,
And here I must remain.
I no longer look for you
In my wreaths of daisy chains.

I tried my hand at needlework
Stitching broken bits of my heart
A button here, a pattern there
A patchwork piece of art.

And a bit of you I kept with me
Packed with infinite care
In a wooden box of memories
Sealed with a little prayer.

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Leaves

Is it only autumn when the leaves brown?
Being broken bit by bit
Withering away ever so gently
By the time it’s winter.
A silent farewell midst a riot of
Oranges, yellows and browns.
Picture book pretty even as they die.
So delicate, so fragile
Crumbling at the slightest touch.
Do they never get bruised
In the lushness of spring?

Please Call Again Later

“Your call is waiting…the person you are trying to reach is speaking to someone else…”

I have heard this recorded voice so  many times over the years that it’s almost as if I have formed a strange kinship with the woman saying it. I saw her today, in a little cafe. No, I didn’t recognize her by how she looks. But by her inimitable voice as she ordered a coffee. And I think, a sandwich.

So many times I have found the line busy, her voice my only companion. So many times, as I heard her repeat the same lines over and over, I have thought of her. Wondered how she looked. What she liked eating. Who all were there in her family. So many times, being unable to reach my friends over the phone, I have poured out my heart to her. And only her. She seemed so distant. So nonjudgmental. So mechanically comforting.

And there she sat in front of me. Having a cup of coffee. Probably waiting for someone.

It was an early wintry morning in Calcutta. A slight drizzle, a bit of fog.

What I really wanted was to sit down with her over a cup of coffee. But she was on her phone, trying to call someone. Over and over. Not getting through.

What fun! She must have been hearing her own voice, over and over. Telling herself to wait. Like we all often say. Just that we don’t get to hear it in our own voice.

There was a slight drizzle outside, a bit of fog.

Of Sunsets and Cigarettes

A part of you I cut away.
Snipped carefully,
folded and kept
in a box containing
other useless collectibles
like forgotten newspaper cuttings
and old, old photographs.

A part of me just looked away
from all the transgressions
you casually flicked my way
on afternoons and evenings
trimmed with complacency.
I looked away, as one often does.

A part of us sat that day
overlooking the sunset, the sea.
Did it rain?
No, nothing quite so dramatic, I’m afraid.
Just a cigarette smoked in silence
and a polite distance between us
measured with infinite precision.

Smoke and Mirrors

Here’s an old, old poem I found that I had written close to 8 years ago.

I am no poet.
I feed off illusions
born of ink and repentance
that you rub off on me.
I am your purgatory.

I am no poet.
I see your abattoir
of premature imageries,
lipstick-stained metaphors
and half-baked ballads.
An afterlife, of lives you passed on to me
I am your crematory.

I am no poet.
But a silent witness
of your guilty passions
peeking out through your
cheating rhyme schemes
of a world you created in green and blue
and highlighted in vermilion
in your crumbling, dog-eared notebook.
I am your confessional.

I am no poet.
I just watch you fumble
in search of your masterpiece
through dingy alleys
and empty bottles
staggering on stairways
clutching on muses who scatter
like broken bits of mantelpiece.
I am your part-time lover.

You are a poet, though.
Through and through.
With your string of words
that are an imprint
of an imprint made on you.
You’re all smoke and mirrors,
Heart hollowed out on your pages.
A paperback voyeur.

Guess who’s back?

Wow. Talk about a LONG hiatus.

It’s been a while since I paid this blog a visit. Time for a resurrection of sorts now, I suppose. Frankly, there has been too much going on. Major life changes, decisions and revisions and all that jazz. A lot of moving around, job switches, city hopping. Somethings have remained constant however:

Deadlines
Creative differences
Clients who KNOW. And yes, they KNOW BETTER.

Lot of realizations and introspection have taken place in the life of little me.

The life of an ad(wo)man is a whirlwind of sorts. There’s no space for boredom, sure, but a lot of space for regrets, repentance and…retribution.

So I guess I will be writing more often now. It’s a sunny late-autumn (there’s no such thing as autumn in India, I am just romanticizing) morning. And I shall not let the suspicious looking cup of tea in front me give me the Monday heebie-jeebies.

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Love Loves to Love Love

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“Love loves to love love. Nurse loves the new chemist. Constable 14A loves Mary Kelly. Gerty MacDowell loves the boy that has the bicycle. M. B. loves a fair gentleman. Li Chi Han lovey up kissy Cha Pu Chow. Jumbo, the elephant, loves Alice, the elephant. Old Mr Verschole with the ear trumpet loves old Mrs Verschoyle with the turnedin eye. The man in the brown macintosh loves a lady who is dead. His Majesty the King loves Her Majesty the Queen. Mrs Norman W. Tupper loves officer Taylor. You love a certain person. And this person loves that other person because everybody loves somebody but God loves everybody. ”

– James Joyce, Ulysses.

love2

P’s first day at work: G&G Enterprise

“That’s your desk,” the portly man announced with some authority. He fished in his black trouser pockets and pulled a blue and white handkerchief from it, blew his nose in a slow, deliberate manner, and shoved it back into his pocket after a perfunctory peek into it to check whether he had gotten anything interesting.

“Thank you,” I cleared my throat. He blinked at me. Once, twice.
“Well, you better start. We at G&G Enterprise, believe in quality along with quantity.” The fluorescent light made the bald patch on his head gleam. Sleek. He would have looked like a seal, had his face not been pinched into a perpetual scowl. He seemed deeply rueful of the general incompetence of his staff and humanity in general.

He didn’t return my half smile.

He took out a stack of paper from under an exceptionally dusty desk and slammed it on my would-be work space which was equally, cringeworthily dusty. An alarmingly stuffy room in a basement stacked with garbage. Piles of paper staggering ominously on crumbling, wooden desks and tables. One locked steel almirah. A lopsided calendar from two years back on a damp wall. A chair that was to be my seat of honour. And a remarkably stupid painting of flowers in a vase right in front of my desk. It was so ironic that I had to stifle a chuckle. A wastepaper basket filled to the brim with crumpled paper. A pen stand, a diary, a paper weight, a blotter. A telephone that I soon discovered was dead. These were to be my companions for Idon’tknowhowlong.

“Of course we don’t allow smoking under any circumstances. It is against our ethics. We believe in having a strong moral foundation.”

“Of course,” I quietly felt the pack of cigarettes in my pocket.
Officious, bald bastard. I threw my fakest smile at him.

“G&G Enterprise has 15 stellar employees. We are a small family with a solid core,” he said in a proud, scholarly 
voice. “Dedicated to Deadlines. That is our motto,” he paused. Probably for some response from my end.

What shit was he on? What’s with the speech?
“That is rather inspiring Mr K.”

“Very well. I understand you are aware of your work scope and been assigned your daily tasks? I do not tolerate lackadaisical loafers, mind you. I take daily updates and conduct surprise checks. Your generation is all about fast food, fast talking and foolery. Remember, nobody gets a free lunch,” he snickered maliciously at his own little wisecrack.”Anyhow, haven’t got all day to waste. We are very busy people. Any questions?”

“No,” I quietly shook my head.
“Well then! I shall be off now,” he waddled towards the door.
“Uh, Mr K?”
“Yes?”
“Who do I ask for a cup of tea?”
“Tea? Why, there’s a tea stall ride downstairs, across the road. Wonderful stuff for Rs 5/-”

Great. I sat down on my chair and sifted through the pile of yellow papers that I was expected to edit/salvage/study/puke over/burn. How wonderful.

Death of a Salesman

salesman

“You don’t understand: Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman, there’s no rock bottom to the life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’s a man way out there in the blue riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back—that’s an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple spots on your hat and your finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream boy, it comes with the territory.” 

― Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

Well, we are all about selling and being sold, aren’t we?

 

Taking of a Toast and Tea

There’s a roadside tea stall (cha er dokan) near my house. There are two more identical tea stalls right beside it. And yet more, many, many more strewn carelessly, almost strategically, all around Calcutta. Kolkata, rather. They usually open early in the morning, around 6 am, or even before that. Big yellow taxis, newspaper-wallas on bicycles and cha er dokans. Familiar, comforting sights that Kolkata mornings greet you with.

tea3

Tea is a lot of things for a lot of people.

It’s a cheap and instant source of energy for taxi and truck drivers whose days start at ungodly hours. It’s a lazy Bengali’s object of late afternoon indulgence “ei, ek cup cha de toh!”. It’s a perfunctory offering to guests who come over at any odd hour at your place. Good tea-making skills are a positive way of impressing a prospective mother in law. It’s a source of inspiration for writers and poets who can mull over a cup for hours at end for the next great inspiration.

But more than anything else, a cup of tea is a wonderful conversation starter. That’s why tea-stalls are so popular outside college campuses and workplaces. It goes beyond a pot bubbling with a super sweet, milky, hot beverage. It’s an adda spot. What is adda, you ask? Well, according to Wikipedia:

“…is a form of intellectual exchange among members, who were originally of the same socio-economic strata, but the process has democratized in modern times. It is most popular among the youths belonging to the so-called “middle-class intelligentsia”. Although many Kolkatans boast of the city being the birthplace of adda culture, Satyajit Ray (in his film Agantuk) traces back the origin of the tradition to regular intellectual dialogues prevalent in Ancient Greece at the time of Socrates or Plato. Adda is a prominent leisurely activity in India and Bangladesh.”

But to me, it is the very essence of being a Bengali. Be it banal commentaries on the insignificant to cannot-be-missed-gossip to heated debates on the existing socio-economic and political state of Bengal and beyond, adda is all-important to us argumentative, intellectual folk. We swear by it. After all, we have a mind of our own. And an opinion on everything, of course. And usually, a tea-stall becomes the hotbed of artistic outbursts and matchless creativity. From Tagore to Ghatak, Madhuri Dixit to Mayakovsky, science, art and aesthetics, everything is touched upon. Oh, and politics. And Corruption. Nostalgia and recollections are other favourite topics, but usually among older people. It is at the very core of communication and has survived social networking. With style.

flcikr

I often like going to tea-stalls for a solitary cup of tea. And a biscuit or two from those glass jars filled with crumbling, sweet goodness. So, the other day I happened to eavesdrop on a group of old gentlemen gathered for their evening adda session.

They sat remembering before-times with affection. “It was so good, back in the day…” they concluded unanimously, in a way old people usually remember the past as being continuously better than the present [loud tea-sipping noises ensued].

Everything was cheaper. Everyone was better- better behaved, better looking, better everything. Things were simpler. People were less greedy. “You could walk down the road covered in gold from head to toe and still feel safe!” [heads nodding in agreement] “This neighbourhood you see? It was blissful! Quiet! Almost like paradise, so clean it was!” [mutters and sighs and grunts of approval] “Aj kal toh shobbai bidesh chole jacche…ei toh shedin amar nati America chole gelo…” (These days, everyone’s going abroad…just the other day my grandson left for America!) [a moment of silence, some order another cup of tea] “Ekhane theke hobe tai ba ki? Ja din kal poreche…” (What’s the point staying here anyway?) Then one of them broke into a fit of cough. The vagaries of old age.

I usually like smoking while having my tea. I sat, fidgeting with a packet of cigarettes. To light or not to light. Offending the fragile sensibilities of a  group of grandfatherly men is something that I did not really want. They are not approving of young ladies smoking. A young man smoking is fine though. I don’t mind. I am fond of old people, having lost my grandparents when I was too young to really know what their absence meant. So I finished my tea, smiled at the old man sitting next to me and offered him a matchbox for him to light his smoke. Then I left.

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“Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.”