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.

My thoughts on finishing A Confederacy of Dunces.

 

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For the longest time, I did not want to finish reading A Confederacy of Dunces. I had around 20 pages left and I just wasn’t able to bring myself to accept that it’s coming to an end. Very few books in recent times have touched me so deeply. Be it the big, clumsy, slobbering Ignatius, the unemployed scholar who lives with his alcoholic mother or Constable Angelo Mancuso and his aunt Santa. And the way she grabbed her deceased mother’s photograph and kissed it. Mr. Clyde, the “mogul of the meat industry”, who is actually the owner of a dilapidated hot dog vending business and Burma Jones, the “coloured cat vagran” seeking gainful employment to stay out of jail and his stint at the Night of Joy bar where the owner, Lana Lee is carrying on a pornography ring.

Myrna Minkoff, the “musky minx”, the fiery Jewish beatnik who strongly suggests sexual healing to Ignatius and suspects him to be a closet homosexual. Throughout the novel we get to read their correspondence via letters.  How Ignatius finds her (and most of modern society) “an offense against taste and decency”. I can go on and on…

And what can I say about Ignatius? Underneath his faulty valved heart that despises all things modern and commercial, lies a man who is more than an obese, hulking lump of apathy. There’s a boy hidden somewhere in that lazy, flatulence riddled man who dearly loved his departed pet dog Rex and fought with his mother and the priest over his proper funeral rites. Between his “Crusades for Moorish Dignity” and his violent consternation against modernity, between his fevered advocacy for Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy and his tryst as a hot dog vendor in a pirate costume, replete with a mock cutlass, a billowing white smock and a gold earring, there’s a boy who never got accepted and never really wanted it as well. His strong opposition against this century lacking “theology and geometry” is rooted in his love for all things medieval. He’s a misfit and he doesn’t really care. But shocked? Yes. He’s shocked by everything, from the crude Broadways and commercial cinemas he so meticulously follows, simply to note and remark on the degeneracy of society to the lack of “taste and decency” among today’s youth. He hates it all. Shocked by it all. As is frequently expressed by his “Oh my God!”s.

“When Fortuna spins you downward, go out to a movie and get more out of life.”

Fortuna has not always been favourable or fair to Ignatius. Whose fine psyche cannot be scrutinized by those with pedestrian pursuits, whose sagacious and sensitive worldview, as he puts it, cannot be gauged by those less refined. He belongs in his messy lair strewn with suspiciously yellowed sheets and Big Chief tablets where he meticulously pens down his scholarly views.

“My life is a rather grim one. One day I shall perhaps describe it to you in great detail.”he says,

The suburban streets of New Orleans, with its neon bars, idyllic porches, middle class and deeply suspicious neighbours like Miss Annie, or the elegant, quirky, frivolous homosexuals of the French Quarters cannot handle him. Nor can his masochistic, self pity filled, maroon haired, bowling loving, alcoholic mother,Irene who finally commits to put Ignatius in a mental hospital as she plots with Santa to remarry, finding a potential groom in Mr. Robichaux as a slap on the face of unfeeling failure of a son who says about hs mother:

“It’s not your fate to be well treated,” Ignatius cried. “You’re an overt masochist. Nice treatment will confuse and destroy you.”

This book I shall remember for a long, long time and I strongly urge you to read it.

Read it for Ignatius and his belches and gargantuan appetite. His billowing figure, his huge paws and black, moist mustache and green hunting cap as he waddles from one misadventure to another. Read it for the inimitable humour and style of writing.

For a good laugh, for a few tears, and a million unforgettable moments. For example, his exchange with the good looking queer Dorian Greene (yes, quite reminiscent of Dorian Grey, just more colourful):

“I suspect that beneath your offensively and vulgarly effeminate façade there may be a soul of sorts. Have you read widely in Boethius?”
“Who? Oh, heavens no. I never even read newspapers.”
“Then you must begin a reading program immediately so that you may understand the crises of our age,” Ignatius said solemnly. “Begin with the late Romans, including Boethius, of course. Then you should dip rather extensively into early Medieval. You may skip the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. That is mostly dangerous propaganda. Now that I think of it, you had better skip the Romantics and the Victorians, too. For the contemporary period, you should study some selected comic books.”
“You’re fantastic.”
“I recommend Batman especially, for he tends to transcend the abysmal society in which he’s found himself. His morality is rather rigid, also. I rather respect Batman.”

 

But most of all read it for the sheer genius of the author John Kennedy Toole, whose first and last masterpiece this is. Who took his life for not being able to accept the heartbreak of his book not getting published. The irony of him winning a Pulitzer Prize for the same book, posthumously. I wish he had been more like Ignatius in his apathy. I wish he had written more.

Do read A Confederacy of Dunces simply for the joy of reading.

 

Of New Market

New Market crawls with the noon crowd. The complacent, even happy, sun shines in hues of gold and white through the glass windows of the shops, over the parking lot, lighting up a million dusty roadside stalls selling everything from bags and purses to cheap, glittery jewellery and strings of beads in yellow, red and green; gaudy hair clips and suspicious looking cosmetics that form a riot of colours on the footpath; little curio shops that sell absurdly priced antiques, and beady eyed, paan chewing, semi-precious jewellery sellers who size you up from behind gold framed glasses.

And when you step into the dark labyrinths of the erstwhile Hogg Market, you are greeted by a dark coolness that relieves you of the heat outside, and the overpowering smell of meat emanating from the slaughterhouse within the complex. I’ve always managed to avoid that side of New Market though. And everywhere you can hear loud, frantic, extremely enthusiastic bargaining between wise women who are forever convinced that they are being conned and seasoned shop owners who are always on the lookout for a  good con.

Students and couples-in-love, in pairs and groups and hordes can be seen loitering about the parking lot. Sitting, standing, eating phuchka and ice creams and chaats. Being happy in general. The middled aged having a cold drink or two. Tired after several bouts of bargaining and some shopping too, expectedly. “Freshly cut” fruits and jhaal muri. Paapri chaat and bhel puri. Chana batura and juices. Dahi vada and dosas.They might seem diarrhea inducing (and probably are) but you cannot help but give in to monstrous growls in your belly, ignited by the sight and smell of these devious, positively evil food-like things.

Women and men saunter into jewellery stores and carefully pick out engagement rings, and wedding rings and bracelets and necklaces and earrings and jewelled wrist watches. All at a good price. Indian weddings are lavish affairs and we are sentimental about our shopping. And then they drift on to inspect colourful shoes and handbags and cushions and bed sheets; all the while digesting the aforementioned positively evil food-like things. What better than a vigorous bout of shopping to aid in the break down of your lunch/dinner/whatever it is?

I can write endlessly about New Market. As a child I used to find it a magical place. A you’ll-find-everything-there place. And that enchantment has not faded till date. Because it is one place where you’ll find everything. Literally everything. From banana chips to flower vases with plastic flower, cheap imitation jewellery and diamond earrings, heavenly brownies and spicy masala cola, suitcases and sand paper. Everything. And you can spend hours just walking around this place doing absolutely nothing. A window shopper’s paradise. A struggling, forever-broke young girl’s 4th circle of hell. Yep. The one associated with GREED. Anyhow, it’s one of of my favourite places in Calcutta. I especially make it a point to visit Nahoums. Mostly for those wonderfully decadent chocolate fudge brownies, the bread rolls and the jam tarts. And their shortbread. I also make it a point to haunt the different antique jewellery shops. Especially Chamba Lama and more recently, Asian Arts right beside it. Wonderful place for silver jewellery. My go to place for stone nose-pins.

New Market exhausts me, and makes me go through severe, tormenting pangs of guilt for blowing up money on absolutely unnecessary things. But I guess it also releases a gleeful rush of endorphin. It’s all about indulgences and at times it just feels good to blend in with a motley crowd of strangers. Anonymity is comforting even in the chaos.

P and his Dog

P was born in a white-washed, airy house with a small vegetable patch, lying somewhere north-east of the great big city. The sunlight flowing into the house made curious criss-cross patterns on the walls and wooden floor, where a lazy-eyed dog could often be seen stretching out. The family pet. It was a cheerful house inhabited by well-meaning, middle class folk with mediocre aspirations and expectations.

P was a slow child, bordering precariously close to being called stupid. He was the shame of the Annual Sports day. Always the last one to finish the race, but always managing a big, goofy grin, flashing a set of crooked teeth that melted most people’s hearts. He was nothing special when it came to lessons either- failing to live up to his big glasses and small frame. He was no mathematical genius.

P was a happy child. Every evening when the dusk settled in, spreading a loving violet hue across the front yard, he would sit down quietly on the steps of the house. And beside him would be the lazy eyed dog. The family pet. Little boy and his old dog, side by side. The sweet, pungent smell of the vegetable patch, mixing with the kitchen smells. And everything in the universe would feel just right.