Shiny Glass Crystals

Yes they sparkle

Measuring life through teacups

When I was young, I watched my mother hurrying, shuffling, getting her two children up and ready for school, getting her mother in law and husband food, getting dressed, and getting out and about to catch an overcrowded Mumbai bus to work.

I have so many memories of her being so present in my day to day life that sometimes I feel like she has been in several places at once. How else can someone manage to cram so many chores into a single day?

So it is nice to have another memory – one of Amma drinking her chaya in a steel glass, thin wisps of steam rising above its rim. My brother and I used to stand before her, wide-eyed and curious about this drink adults had while we were forced to gulp our glasses of Boost. We wanted chaya too but my mother said we could start to drink it when we were a little older. She always let us dip our biscuits into her glass, and by the time we were done, half the glass would be empty. She’d then kiss our foreheads or sometimes simply finish the rest of her tea and get up to do whatever it was that she did in the mornings.

She never complained but I remember her face lined with worry and haste and kindness and love – all at once. My favourite face was the one she had when she sipped on her everyday tea. All those lines across her forehead used to ease off and it seemed like she had slipped into a territory that was all hers. I liked seeing my mother that way.

As I grew up, I got tired of asking to sip on tea instead of milk and by the time I was in college, I never really cared for tea or understood why it was this tonic of relief to every adult I met. Everyone who came home drank Amma’s tea and kicked up their feet and talked about their children and spouses and neighbours. To my limited knowledge – alcohol was this tonic for my peers.

Eventually when I started working, I met a lot of people with whom I chit-chatted about things that we assigned importance to just to feel like we mattered and had purpose. Somewhere along the road, I had started to drink copious amounts of adrak chai and unknowingly infused some of my best memories with the taste of tea lingering in the back of my head. I didn’t realize I turned into one of those adults I used to wonder about as a child until the day I hadn’t had my daily cup of tea and I felt a gnawing sense of annoyance in the corners of my brain.

I was working from home that day and I realized that my tea-drinking habits were formed due to the long hours at work that I couldn’t get through without my chai and biscuits. I tried opening my laptop to check some emails – the start of a process my peers and I are well acquainted with – Drowning in Work. I was busy clicking some button or the other when all of a sudden, I saw my mother next to me drinking her tea while another mug of it rested next to me. She smiled, handed me the cup and asked if I had a lot of work that day.

“No, Amma.”

“Okay molu”, she says, then continues to take huge sips from her own glass until the worry-lines vanish. I drink from my mug and notice that mine have receded too.

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Filed under: Through the looking glass crystals, , ,

Love? Love.

“Maera, every emotion has meaning because you attach emotions to it, yes?”
“Yes, Maera. Correct.”
“So there is no universally true meaning of jealousy, love, friendship, then?”
“No, I don’t think so. People may feel or experience those things differently.”
“Maera…”
“Yes, Maera?”
“How did you know that you loved then? How do you know it really was love”
“Back in the days, when people used to tell me when I wasn’t actually in love… you remember, Maera? Geena, Shomaila, Davey… they all said it wasn’t love. Do you recall?”
“Yeah, yeah. They used to guffaw about how you thought it was love.”
“Well… I learned to love. Sometimes, a few things made it easier and sometimes, I had to work hard. But I knew it was a good deal.”
“A good deal? A good DEAL? *A* good deal? A *good* deal? Maera? What the hell?”
“Yeah, yeah. I know. It is, isn’t it?”
“NO! I mean YES! I mean… argh! No… you see it as a deal? Is that what it is?”
“Sure. He fit the bill and he wasn’t perfect and if I would have waited, better men might have come along but there’s always a limit on the waiting and there’s always a limit on the compromise, so there you are…”
“Maera…”
“…”

I’ll cut the fingers that point at me. I’ll cut them all. I’m Maera. I’m me. You can’t tell me that I haven’t loved. You don’t know. You don’t know anything. Have you ever been the memory of someone else? Have you been their skin? Have you known what it’s like to be a specter and walk among multitudes of deaf people… screaming… because you just wanted to scream until someone heard… even though you knew it was stupid to hope for it? And do you know the feeling when someone hears?

I swear. I’ll cut those fingers off. Stop pointing!

Well, I warned you.

So Maera picked up a large pair of scissors, the one that the strange man across the street used for snipping off the ends of metal sheets, and one by one, she cut their fingers off. She cut them and then threw them out into nothingness.

They were all screaming because the blood gushed out of the ends of the joints on their hands. They couldn’t hear each other. They were all deaf.

Then Maera and Maera, smiled at each other. Orion shined brightly at them, as though he approved. Then they embraced each other and went back to bed.

Filed under: Through the looking glass crystals

Trees.

“You remembered?”
“Yes”
“But… I only mentioned it in passing… ten years ago…”
“I know. It was a beautiful thing and when you said it… I looked up and I shared the feelings you felt. It wasn’t an uncommon sight. Trees on either sides of the lane with rich, green leaves touching each other… forming an arch… stretching across miles. Sunshine droplets dripping from tiny spaces between them, falling on your cheeks as you stood there gazing. You held my hand, you looked at the branches, the leaves, the sunshine and you said you had never seen anything better. I looked at you and I said ‘me too’. I knew we could never go back there. So the next day, I drove here to my great-grandfather’s bungalow. Willie was a little surprised to see me. I haven’t been here since I was six when my mother took me away. Anyway, he asked me what I’d come back for and I told him I wanted to plant some trees. He laughed; he didn’t think I was actually going to plant little saplings across the road for miles. Then when he caught my eye looking at him in all seriousness, Willie went back into the garage, got some tools out and said ‘You’re your father’s boy. I don’t know what you’re up to; I never knew what your father was up to and I never asked him. I’m not going to ask you either. When do we begin?’ So Willie and I planted these ten years ago. How they’ve grown! Willie has tended them well. I’ve visited each year and I’ve dreamed of this day for a long time now. I remember you as you were, Maera. You were lovely. You’re just as lovely now. I loved you back then, I love you now. I’ve met a lot of women and I’ve been afraid… of losing the warmth in my heart… of losing the hundred emotions that take off when I think of you or hold… but one day you kissed me. You kissed me and everything made sense.”
“Stop it.”
“Stop what?”
“I can’t.”
“Is something wrong? I am not finished as yet, Maera. I’m asking you today to marry me.”
“I can’t”
“Wh… what? We’ve been together for twelve years now… why won’t you do this now?”
“I can’t. I need to go. Don’t call me. Don’t ask me why. Don’t think I don’t love you. If you can find it in your heart, forgive me. Bye. I will always love you.”
“Maera, we can talk…”
“No we can’t. Not anymore.”
_______________________________________________________

Maera looked outside the window. Skyline apartments lighted up quite nicely in the nights. Billboards too. It was a pretty sight. Leaning outside, she put her hand on the glass. An old, ripe brown leaf caught her fingers. She picked it up and fidgeted with it a bit. The veins were as elaborate and wrinkled as cracks on her skin. It was half-crushed, half torn. Maera picked up the journal she wrote in, thirty years ago. She flipped through the pages one by one. Then she found that one page. 13th November 2010. She couldn’t even cry. She put the leaf on the page, shut the book and put it back.

“I still love you.”

Filed under: Through the looking glass crystals

The Journal Entry

11th Aug 1994

Hey Diary. Today I’m going to tell you stuff about myself. About my twisted, convoluted ways. About my lies and deceptions. About how I wallow in self-pity sometimes.

I’m shallow. I lie to justify my behaviour. I lie to others and to myself. I lie about having these triggers of depression. I lie about caring. Truth is, I don’t (read: I am incapable of) giving a damn about anybody. I can’t feel anything but fear, pain and rejection. Joy is only momentary. It lasts for about three seconds before deserting me, leaving me buried in the valley of hate and loathing.

You know Diary, perhaps, killing a man is better than all the things I have done. I have deceived. I have been dishonest. I’ve caused pain to those people I’ve come closest to.

I’ve never really understood beauty. Never really cared much for art. Music is noise to me. Flowers are just three dimensional manifestations of shapes I drew on paper when I was in kindergarten. The sky and the stars are plain confusing. God, spirituality… everything is distant to my brain.

I don’t understand science either. Nor do I get poetry. Maybe this explains why I can’t do anything right or do it well. A classmate said that I need to go to church. Listen to sermons. God would touch me and finally I’d be able to feel joy. Another friend told me that I need to understand science to understand a lot of things. Quantum physics, she said, is the answer to everything.

Neither struck a chord with me. I am not reluctant to understand. I just can’t. I find myself in places where I want to be as a person that I dream of being. Deep down, I can’t recognize myself. People have told me a lot of things. I’m attractive. Intelligent. Smart. Capable. Kind. Do I believe these things? There’s an answer that springs into my head: Of course! Then there’s the truth that lurks somewhere far behind, repressed by my desire to believe in the things I hear about me.

I sit and wonder if I have a soul at all. Hah, funny. Led Zeppellin is playing and Robbie Plant just sang “I don’t know, but I’ve been told, Big lipped women ain’t got no soul”. Goddamn if my lips aren’t big!

I’m as hollow as my words are. As pale as today’s moon looks. As cold as a rock by the sea is. Is it any wonder, Diary, that I wander aimlessly as I wade through this life?

I feel empty now. Weightless. Lighter than your pages, Diary… but the wind won’t carry me away.

Filed under: Through the looking glass crystals

Oblivion.

Through the maze of endless twists, she walked.

Unknown to the trees, to the wind, to the sky.

She glided over the sands like the ghost of a lost thought.

She is quiet now, quiet as the starry night.

But once she had laughed. When the oceans still had their waves.

When the clouds still broke into rain.

When the flowers still held their fragrance.

But she is quiet now, quiet as the starry night.

Her eyes were arid. Her feet bled.

But she walked on barefoot through the thorns of a once flower laden path.

She didn’t care about the end. She didn’t care about the means.

What mattered were the steps

That her small feet took

Haltingly, tortuously

Leading into

Oblivion.

Filed under: Through the looking glass crystals

Coccoon

Slowly climbing up the old, rusty ladder, Maera peeked into the attic. Like all other attics, this one was strewn with boxes full of nothings, old rugs and reed mats, childhood memorabilia and random objects like a broken generator.

She wiped off the sheet of dust collected on one of the boxes and carefully opened it. Coughing slightly, she looked at the contents. There were “class photos” from grade one to grade 12, handmade greeting cards from “friends” in school and university and a bunch of “love” letters from a boy who she and her girlfriends called “Leech” because he refused to just let her be. Maera wondered why she still had these.

Buried within the box, there was an old family photo. Her mother, father, sister and her. They were laughing… something really funny must have happened, she thought. The last time they had all been together, was Diwali, a couple of years back. Her sister had flown back from The Netherlands with her husband. Maera had taken a week’s leave from work. She returned in three days.

Another photo. Her, Ronnie and Kevin grinning at the camera, showing the peace sign. Beneath the picture, there were two friendship bands they had given her in the last year of uni. They were both married now and had wives they were very happy with. She called them sometimes but nowadays they only talked about the unbearable heat or of work.

Maera put everything back in the box and looked around. Memories of the past came tumbling back to her head as she closed her eyes and swayed through frames of time and places. Seconds later, she opened her eyes and she was back where she was.

She heard the phone ring, downstairs and rushed to pick it up.

“Good evening?”

“Evening… Am… I speaking to Maera?”

“Yes… and who might you be?”

“Happy birthday! I’m SK, remember me?”

“Um, no… I think you’ve got the wrong person. I don’t know anyone by that name and today isn’t my birthday.”

“Oh… phone book FAIL, then. Good day.” Click.

The oven beeped impatiently from the kitchen indicating that the pasta was done. The fan on the ceiling whirred comfortingly. The needle on the clock struck 12 with a rather loud “tick”.

Maera walked to the cold bed that beckoned her with its white sheets and demons from nightmares. Tomorrow, she would be reborn from her ashes. “Happy Birthday, Maera”, she said to herself and closed her eyes.

Filed under: Through the looking glass crystals,

Enlightenment

Through the haze of the evening mist, Maera waded through. She always walked fast, with quick, long steps. She wasn’t restless, she just hated it when things were slow.

She stopped at the entrance of her house which was an independent villa among many other independent villas on the lane. Fumbling through her Gucci handbag for keys, she fished out her ‘skull keychain’ which she had kept through high school. She laughed. She was 24 now and the skull didn’t look cool to her anymore.

Bottles of Corona were stacked in the fridge. Maera’s feet automatically took her there and her hand picked up a bottle. Like breathing, this was involuntary.

She walked to the window and brushed aside the curtains. Her eyes widened at the sight outside. How did she never notice it while walking back home? It was Christmas and the streets were filled with exuberant people decorating their trees and snowmen. She took another sip of her beer.

Children ran around in shapeless patterns and their parents ran behind them. People stopped to greet each other and exchanged a few courtesies. Presently, someone was giving their neighbour some freshly baked cookies. They were all smiling. Maera looked at the smiles. Their teeth were white and their tongues swirled in their mouths like poisonous snakes that glide secretly before they bite you.

She opened another beer. Her gaze fell on a child. She looked closer. She choked on her drink.

“It can’t be, I must be drinking too much!”, she thought. She looked again but saw the same thing. The eyes. Why was they all white? Shaking slightly, she clasped the window bars. She slowly looked at another child. Two transparent balls of white. There was no iris, no pupil, nothing. She panicked and ran back inside her room. She downed her beer and then downed another.

Her head seemed to be all too steady in a room that spun. She didn’t blink for some reason. She wasn’t afraid. She didn’t need to be afraid. She stood there, drinking beer after beer.

The room didn’t spin anymore.

The next day’s newspaper carried the headline in big fonts:

“Girl found dead in her apartment”

Reports said that she had a stroke because of her alcoholism. They also found a note:

In about two minutes, I know I’m going to die because I’ve understood everything.

Filed under: Through the looking glass crystals

The magic within

Red, orange, green and blue.

The paints on her colour palate never got extinguished or lost their shine. They were always as thick as she needed them to be. When she wanted to paint the sun, the orange would turn a little more fiery and the yellow would get just a little more radiant. Her colours had a mind of their own, she thought.

The canvas always absorbed her paint perfectly. Its surface was always smooth enough to make for the pencil sketches she so meticulously drew, seem to be lines of unmatched clarity and distinction. The canvas had a mind of its own, she thought.

Her brushes were always flexible when she needed them to be but sometimes they were taut and bristled. They held the paint when she wanted to paint the background and dutifully tapered down when she needed to do the corners. Her paint brushes, she thought, had a mind of their own.

So she painted with her magic colours and her brushes and her canvas and her pencils. Red, orange, green and blue. The sea in her painting came alive with tides that leaped forward boisterously. The sand gleamed under the yellow ball of fire that beamed at the world.

Across the bank of the sea, was a man. He was looking far ahead at nothing in particular but he still had his eyes focused on something of indiscernible  importance. She smiled at him. The character, she thought, had a mind of its own.

As though he read her thoughts, he turned around and looked at her with a puzzled expression on his face. For a second she was startled. Only for a second.

Then she smiled. Slowly, she ran her fingers over the completed painting. She closed her eyes. The magical vision encompassed her soul. The luminous rays of phantasms, emanating from the prism.

A mind of her own. A mind of her own.

Filed under: Through the looking glass crystals,

Alone

Maera lay awake in bed looking at the glow-in-the-dark stickers she had put on the ceiling a few months ago. He had given them to her as a present. She shut her eyes tight, trying not to cry but two pearl drops of tears trickled down her cheeks and fell on the pillow.

Must everything that meets the eye, remind her of him? Nights are cruel and unforgiving. They somehow seem to collect every memory buried within you and relay them right in front of your eyes. Like scenes from a film that you don’t want to remember but can’t afford to forget. He was in all of them. Smiling. Holding her by the hand. Feeding her popcorn during that movie that they thought was hilarious while everyone else was dabbing their eyes with this and that. She laughed, her eyes still moist.

Why did it have to end like this? She didn’t understand it. Everything seemed to be perfect. They were so happy together. Sure, they had their tiffs and struggles, typical to any other relationship but at the end of the day, they just HAD to say I love you before they slept. Was that why sleep had evaded her for so many days? Because her little ritual was not performed?

The curtains at her window puffed up and then settled back. The wind rustled the tree leaves outside. They seemed to be laughing derisively at her helplessness.

Tomorrow, she would wake up. Drink her coffee. Eat her usual breakfast of a chilly cheese toast and rush out to catch the early morning bus. After work, she would come home. New thoughts would haunt her about the same things. Everything in the universe would conspire to remind her of her ill fate and a loss she could never fully recuperate from.

Even though she was fifty, she always felt young when he was with her. Now, she was just a poor old neighbour that became everyone’s subject of discussion at tea time.

She pulled up her blanket and covered her face. She prayed for sleep.

Filed under: Through the looking glass crystals, ,

D-Day

There, in the distance, the old man thought he saw a fair damsel. He squinted his eyes and tried to focus. There are things you don’t get to see everyday!

“She’s coming this way!”, he thought incredulously. Indeed, the damsel was approaching him rapidly with a wry smile… if that ever so slight curve of her mouth could be called that. She came to him and extended her hand. Her hand. There were no lines on it. It was smooth and the fingers were long, slender. Slowly, carefully, the old man touched her fingertips. They were ultra cold for half a second but soon they warmed up.

“Who are you?”, he asked.

“Death”, she replied.

“You’re beautiful. I imagined you to be a like a lot of things but never this. You’re beautiful.”

She smiled. This time, it was a defined, definite smile. She regarded his face. He looked shaken, a little scared, but ready and awed too. She told him to close his eyes. He obeyed.

After a second, Death let go of the old man’s hand. His soul must have gone home by now. Death then slowly assumed the form of a little boy child with gleaming eyes and sunshine hair and proceeded north where a woman lay on the bed, waiting.

Sometimes, Death loved its job.

Filed under: Through the looking glass crystals,