Mensinkayi

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Mensinkayi/Large green chilly pepper dangling above a bajji shop – Mysore Mela 2010

The heat from the oil in the blackened kadai trembled through the air above it as she wiped the sweat of her brow.

“Aunty, two chilli bajji…”

“Eradu plate potato, ondu mensinkayi…”

“Chutney aunty…”

Unfazed by the clamour, expertly she dipped the slices of the large green chillies, potatoes into the flour mix, sliding them into the sizzling cauldron.

“You had two plates right, thirty rupees”, she spoke, one keen hand flipping the browning fritters. “Onion will have to wait sir, five minutes…”

Crammed between Chamundeshwari Theatre and Manjunatha Stores in a booth sized kiosk Bajji aunty must have served us at least a hundred times. Week after week during the aimless evenings of college we would frequent this haunt gorging on her hot oil squelched delicacies. Amidst these visits we found out more about her and she about us. She knew who dated whom, we knew she was a Christian with a son in Chennai. She knew what our regular order was, we knew her husband was a drunken lout. She was one of those ageless women, forever dressed in a faded salwar, its colour drawn out by the sultry bubbling oil it lived amidst. Fiery like her chillis she would yell at the drunken louts loafing outside Chamundeshwari hoping to whet their appetite before 9.30pm’s risque fare.

“No, go, nothing for you; useless fellows… go home, support your family; waste fellows…” she would rebuke, her ladle swinging wildly.

Change came to Mysore through the endless years of medical school, single screen giving way to multiplexes, Chamundeshwari stopped screening their 9.30pm blue film, Manjunatha stores expanded to another location, but Bajji aunty stayed the same. Dip, fry, serve, repeat; dip, fry, serve, repeat.

Correction, aunty grew too actually, third year I think it was, she began to make badges and nameplates as well. Troops of students would line up outside writing their names down in an old bespattered notebook.

“Two weeks time sir, it’ll be ready”

“What aunty, three weeks over, still no badge…”

“‘Sorry beta, tomorrow sure, here take one plate bajji, here, take, take…”

Expertly egos and angers would be soothed, drowned in crisp spicy fritters, our mouths hissing for respite. The last time I saw her was after my internship when my girlfriend and me paid her a final visit. “Thanks aunty, I think we’re together in part due to the many bajjis we’ve shared here…”. She smiled, wished us well and gifted us the obvious, the only thing she had, a lip smacking final plate of chilli bajjis.

It was almost five years later when I found myself passing the Chamundeshwari, to find the shutter drawn down, the shop silent. “What happened to the Bajji shop here?”

“Closed sir.”

“And aunty…?”

“She died, around 6 months ago, I think…”, the trader said turning away shrugging.

I imagined her funeral as I walked on. The shoulders under her coffin carrying her to the pyre. Somehow, I never saw her as one to be buried. The flames that she lived amidst shouldering her after death shrouding her, safe, secure, at peace.

Birth, death, burn, repeat. Birth, death, burn, repeat.

 

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Searching for the Known

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Does the bee have a favoured bloom

In its garden’s bouquet

One it rests on longer

Savouring its feel, tasting

Sweet pollen sprinkled nectar

Before fleeting off to sample

Lesser buds, only to return

Searching seas of yellow, red and green

For that face, that smile

For another dab of unbound desire

Panic in flight when it loses

Sight, smell, taste of its love

The relief within, when found

Alighting on petals, soft known ground

Sanctuary, asylum, haven, home

Gardens of cement, rock stone

Surround us, lost bees,

Numbed by time, searching

For once familiar ground known,

Drifting now futile, alone

Unfound, sanctuary, asylum, haven, home

Circle

Inspired by –

“…And his heart is laughing, screaming, pounding
The poem across the tracks rebounding
Shadowed by the exit light
His legs take their ascending flight
To seek the breast of darkness and be suckled by the night…”

                                                                            The Poem on the Underground Wall

                                                                            Artist – Simon and Garfunkel

He sat in the corner shrouded in the bright light that draped the station, the digital clock above reading 10.45pm. “The last train to Mysuru Road will arrive on Platform 2 in 2 minutes.”, the announcement droned multilingually. He leant back, his hand fidgeting within his pocket, feeling around for it, through loose change, keys, crumpled tickets finally finding the flat circular token.

The platform before him was busier than usual, the last commuters, tired IT executives, heavy crosses of ID tags hanging from their necks, stood in single columns like wriggling worms returning to the giant snake worming through the city.

From within the stony gloom, the caravan of coffins rattled forward to swallow its prey, headlights ablaze. He fidgeted further, fingers digging through his pocket scratching, pinching his skin. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead as he ran his fingers in regular circular motions on the token over and over, faster now.

Its harsh metallic screech drowning out the final announcement, the station reached into the train. Writhing masses crossed thresholds moving away from the light. Hissing shut the snake in front of him grew, swelled in size, dwarfing the platform and him; his palm closing on the circle pressed down. The station enveloped in darkness, disappeared.

Shadowed by the exit sign, he bound up the stairs, lost to the night. The platform empty for the day.

He unlocked his room, nervous fingers scratching the keyhole. Within the small one bedroom studio there was hardly place to walk. A crackling TV flickered in the corner… “…One more Metro train disappeared today, this is the third such occurrence in the last week. Twenty two people have been reported missing…”

Clicking it off, a soft smile playing on his face, he jingled past the change and wrapped his hand around the miniature chain of carriages and placed it softly on the circular track in the centre of the room. Sitting back on his chair, he gazed through the small windows at the frozen faces some bent into phones, some lost in routine; tied down now forever in a different loop.

Round and round he rolled his fingers over the token, loops within loops, in perpetual motion, in permanent pause.

 

 

 

When the Mind is without Fear

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Photograph of Painting at Chitrasanthe 2016 – Artist Prakash K

The screen stares at me, glowing in anticipation; I open tab after tab drawing blue boxes on the screen. My mind, blank, wonders what if Medicine had never happened, what if Christmas didn’t find me sitting here in this rank Emergency, sitting here at 2 at night waiting for that CT report, that other idiot’s X-ray and the mild fever hypochondriac’s blood counts.

I would probably be having some tea now, wrapped up in my favourite comforter, my mind numbed by my delectable combo of Netflix, food and warmth. Krithika by my side, complaining of my choice of film; bored out of her skull; unappreciative of the cuts, the editing, the dialogue, the direction and more.

“God, this is so depressing”, she would’ve said.

What then; would I have turned it off; we would’ve had gotten cosy then, probably. Man, I could have been having tea, comforter, sex and maybe with some luck, even a movie.

People call me movie crazy, but honestly, there’s just something enjoyable about soaking in your own mediocrity, watching someone else’s art take your breath away. There’s also a joy in choking and gagging at it when their art sucks. It’s as good a guilty pleasure as any. Watching their little lives play out on my screen pausing when I want, rewinding when I will it so, reliving their best, their deaths, their cheating wives, their deadbeat dads, their boring sons. Watching their stories makes my own real, my own interesting, even worthy.

I used to have this fantasy as a kid that my life was a movie, that someone somewhere was sitting in a plush theatre eating a version of popcorn and nachos watching my life play out, admiring my boring life, my deadbeat dad, my cheating wife, my worst and my best.

Man, maybe I am Movie Crazy.

The screen continues to glow in front of me, the last few days have been quite mundane; the ED has been calm, no deaths, no intubations, nothing, not even a VVIP connected patient to put in his place, just an unearthly calm.

I open the Guardian’s website and begin to solve the Quick Crossword, the cryptic is to snooty, the editor’s high handed, so the Quick it is.

4 Across ————- Believes in (6) ———- Trusts

16 Down ————- Cheap Wine from the Rhine (9) —————– Don’t know

24 a ——————-Cleaning Device (7,7) ——————-Umm… Vacuum Cleaner

18 a ——————- Actor from Gandhi (8) —— Kingsley

What a combination of words is the crossword. Letters, words, clues smushed together on a drunk chessboard, forced into union for eternity regardless of choice, of need, desire.

Aren’t we all in a way, crosswords forced into being, living in the spaces between the black and white, forced into being with, around people we don’t want, doing what we don’t need, falling down our own rabbit holes, falling, falling, waiting to land, waiting for life, or is it waiting for death, to begin.

Epilogue – The mind is an amazing place, will it out of structure and it searches for patterns and formats; will it to write in scheme and it struggles to force words together.

The above piece was a part of fifteen minute freewriting exercise at Write-Club Bangalore. The mind flows if forced to, force yours to flow and fly everyday.

Broken

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The trolley clattered on the shiny tiled floor, its back left wheel swinging dangerously on its axis. But I see that now; in retrospect, at the time I only saw my mother, her groaning, incoherent lopsided form.

“What happened??”, his stethoscope dangling on his left shoulder, a doctor spoke.

“Hmmm, what happened, come, come, come here…” he prodded me away as three nurses heaved my mother onto the larger bed, the left wheel of the trolley screeching in protest.

“Nothing sir, she was sleeping, then she got up to go to the bathroom and… and fell.”

“Ok, what time…? today??”

“Just now, half an hour back.”

“Vomiting, any fits, bleeding from the nose or ears??”, he paused as I took stock of his questions.

“No sir, no, once she vomited in the car”

“BP, sugar, any other problem, heart problem??”, he rattled off, mentally checking boxes in his head. I now remember his tired eyes.

“No sir, only BP, doctor, is she alright??”

“We’ll see, we’ll see, what is her name, sir?”

“Debjani, doctor, Debjani Chakravarthy”

“Sister, vitals?” he turned towards the nurse busily scurrying around my mother.

“BP 180/100, sugar 128, doctor”

“GCS??”

“10 doctor, I think, please confirm…”

“Doctor, doctor, is she alright, what happened to her?” I followed him to my mother’s side who was now clad in a blue gown, her brown sari, bundled into a ball at the foot of the bed. The next few minutes were a blur.

“Sir, go complete the registration and get the hospital number… counter 14”

“Sir, pay for this scan and these tests and come back with the bills, counter 12”

“Sir, come, take off her bangles, here take her earrings.”

Under the mist of the oxygen mask, my mother breathed softly, the monitor beeping in the background, as I slid the bangles of her forearm. Glass ones snapped as we forced them against her wrist making her moan. Her shakha pola** though, those red-white encircling bands clung tightly to her forearm, reminders of my father, refusing to slide off and we struggled against them in vain.

“Sir, come here…”, the doctor ushered me back to the corridor. “Sir, I think she may have a bleed in her brain. We’ll do the scan and confirm it. She will require ICU admission and may need ventilation.”

“Huh..”, my head spun, actually no, it didn’t spin, it buzzed, it jumped, leapt insane, from thought to thought – bleed, I’ve to call Baba, why, why, why, how much will the ICU cost, why didn’t we take that insurance, what will Baba say…it danced a dervish within me.

“Sir, do you understand?”, he gently spoke again, “She is breathing now, but if it worsens she will need a ventilator, a machine, to breathe, for her…” he stressed each syllable speaking slowly, the words ballooning from his mouth. I nodded wordless.

Back, they heaved her onto the trolley, pushing her through the door , the wheel still clattering, into the Radiology block. And suddenly I was cold, my heart racing, I turned to her in a panic but she was still breathing softly, fogging the mask; it was only the air conditioning. Another heave into the doughnut shaped machine, she already felt lifeless.

“Sir, stay here, wear this…” and before I knew, I was wrapped in a lead apron alone in the cold with my mother. The machine hummed to life, rumbling round, faster and faster around my mother, peering into her head.

“Sir, see, see, here”, the doctor held up the scan to me, “Here is the blood, as you can see it has almost filled a quarter of the brain on the left side, increasing the pressure inside the head.”

“So… she needs Surgery??”

“No, sir, no…”, his soft voice was back, his eyes averting their gaze, he continued “this is not something we can solve by surgery, we have to admit her and see; wait for it to get absorbed”

“But will she be alright??”, I remember my voice quaking.

“Sir”, he hesitated with a breath and spoke “At this age with so much bleeding, it is difficult, it is very serious, already she is losing consciousness, we will need to intubate her and see. We can only hope for the best”

“But she will be alright, right??”

“Sir, if I connect her to the machine, it will breathe for her. I cannot say if and when she will come out, if she will talk, walk or understand you. I’m sorry.”

“Then, what is the treatment?”

“There isn’t any sir, we can only wait for the blood to be absorbed but the chance is small. the risk high. Now you have to decide sir, if you want to connect her to the machine or not. Either way, there is no guarantee, we can only hope” he was looking straight at me now. “The ICU admission will cost around 15000 per day and even after that…” he put up his hand to pause my optimism, my queries, “She may not make it out of this.”

Now my head spun, it swam and whizzed searching for footholds, adrift.

“Please, think about it, talk to your family and let me know. Please let me know in the next ten minutes or so…” he finished with a sip of water from a pink water bottle calming his parched throat. I nodded wordless.

“Sir, here take her bangles, we managed to remove them with soap.” the nurse spoke handing me a pair of soapy red and white bangles. “Sorry, one of them broke”

I nodded again, alone, my mother’s red and white bangles hanging on my fingers, clinking softly in the cold, cold wind.

 

**Shakha pola – Red White bangles worn by Bengali women

 

Buried

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Photograph of painting at Chitra Santhe 2016 – Artist Unknown

“Listen…” Shanthi said, wrapping her arm around mine as we crossed the road towards the brightly lit house. “Relax, don’t worry, it’ll be fine, it’s just a couple hours.”

“Yeah, I know”

“So; ready??” she said and without waiting rang the doorbell.

Faint tunes of a familiar melody rang within the house. A few heavy steps and a second later, the door swung open.

“Hello, hello, welcome.”

Shanthi’s father, Pankaj Verma was a striking figure, six-two with a neatly trimmed French beard, square rimmed glasses, a deep baritone and a noticeable limp that he tried to camouflage with a walking stick. He squeezed my hand with a vigour and gave it a couple of firm downward tugs before finally letting it go. I wiped my nervous moist hands on my pants.

“Hello, I’m Anuj” I muttered as I shuffled inwards, back towards the wall.

Shanthi meanwhile already in a warm embrace of her father, barely registered my discomfort.

“Hello, Anuj, come; come inside”, Neelu Verma, a matronly aunty with a sallow thin face and an even thinner smile gestured inward into the depths of this unfamiliar home. The passage from the door led into a lavish living room and taking a seat on the roomy four-seater sofa, I drank in the room; the bookshelf crowded with medical texts, the framed photos of family trips, the neat centre table placed square in the middle, symmetrically dividing the entire room, and finally, finally the painting. The painting hung on the wall opposite the sofa was squarely opposite me and it was formidable. It was a face, except it wasn’t.

Continue reading “Buried”

Melancholy

Inspired by –

“Kahin pe hai dukh ki chhaaya

Kahin hai khushiyon ki dhoop

Bura bhala jaisa bhi ho

Yahi toh hai bagiya ka roop

Phoolon se, kaaton se, mali ne haar piroye

Kahe ko roye”

                                                                                Safal Hogi Teri Aradhana

Film – Aradhana

 

Lingering ruby drops trickle

Down creased wooden hands

Falling full stops kiss the waiting floor

Crimson spheres once, now broken by time

Scattering spotting my canvas below

 

Familiar tears smear my face

Arcing slivers, they move

Inking in my waiting canvas

Painting, smothering, staining me rouge

Tired eyes floating in gory deluge

 

My tongue they coat, acrid taste

Years of wounded words remembered fade

Only salt, salt remains

Choking, clogging, gagging it falls

Stifling, smothering, strangling it rains

 

My eyes defeated fall away,

The bleeding canvas still in wait

No ruby dot, no blemish on it made

Empty, disgusted, I turn away

Durrell Diaries – Chapter One

The small Tempo Traveller swerved to narrowly avoid the cyclist. Audible gasps filled the air reminding me of my foreign companions. New to Indian roads, traffic and the nonchalant reckless driving they Oohed and Aahed at every deft turn of the steering wheel. Shaking my head, I typed out on Google Maps – ‘Pygmy Hog Centre, Basishta’… No results found. Odd, I thought, Google that could find me and my obscure blog was unable to find the centre fighting to save the world’s rarest species of wild pig. Minutes later, we turned into a small clearing on the crammed road and shuddered to a halt on the slanted ground.

A rusting gate stood, green letters on a white board proclaiming proudly on it – ‘Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme’. Flagging this on the side were logos of the associated organisations one of them being the Dodo logo, I had flown to Guwahati for.

In front of me, Lee Durrell and the group from Durrell Conservation Trust walked on, into their programme to save a species most Indians didn’t know or care about. The pygmy hog for those of you who don’t know (most of you I suspect) is the world’s smallest species of pig and was once thought to be extinct. Interestingly they owe their rediscovery to the meat eaters of Assam.

Continue reading “Durrell Diaries – Chapter One”

Thirteen makes a Dozen

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                  The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp – Oil on canvas, Rembrant (1632)                             Source – Wikimedia Commons

The dark cool corridor stretched out in front of us as we filed along. Nervous hands stuck deep in pockets warm, excited hands reaching out felt unfamiliar walls, forced hands listlessly hung. One hundred and fifty of us, strangers scuffled on, into the depths of the Anatomy Department, the year was 2007. We smelt them first, scrunching our noses hurriedly, tears stinging the corners of our eyes, as the dead, the preserved dead announced themselves. Sniffing we entered the Dissection Hall, eleven bodies lay bare, stripped on cold metal tables beckoning. Formalin hung in the air, stifling us as we explored our morbid settings.

“Good Morning…”

“Good Morning…”, the voice exclaimed with finality silencing our sniggers and whispers.

Continue reading “Thirteen makes a Dozen”

I Know…

Recently there was a session at Write Club Bangalore about identifying and understanding different gender identity. The goal of the session was to write a piece from the perspective of any one of the genders and fill it with raw emotion, to push oneself out of their comfort zone and write about characters we may have met but never really understood or tried to understand. Kudos to Bright for hosting such a different and challenging session. This is what I came up with.

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I Know…

The diagram of the neatly divided penis stared at Arjun. Ramrod straight arrows spelling out its innards; corpora cavernosa, corpora spongiosa, glans, he licked his lips. The weight on his chest returned, that all too familiar empty weight. Blocking out thoughts of Ashok, he began to draw, strokes of the pencil creasing into the empty page. He drew with a calm, not copying, imagining, not replicating, reproducing; caressing the page drawing emotions, drawing…

Continue reading “I Know…”