Ne Vekkam Kori

Song written and performed by Kaber Vasuki.
Recorded by Prabhakaran


Ne vekkam kori paesadha unmaigal
Naan maedai aeri paada vandhen
Ne aasai kondu serithi veitha poigalai
Ne thoongumboothae thirudi sendraen

Unmai sonnan valikkum
Aanan kaalam valiyai thanikkum
Poigal sonnam inikkum
Aanan kaalam uravai murikkum

Ne vekkam kori…

Enna kaelli vanthu saerum endru
En unarvugalai naanae maruthathundu
Naan paesi enna aagum endru
Kaiyai katti nindrathum ninaivil undu

Aanal minji ponal maranam endra pothu
Vazhaikai vazha vekka padalaama
Ennai naanae maruthu kondae
Maranam varai pogalama

Ne vekkam kori


All the truths you were shy to say
I’ve come on stage to tell them
All the lies you’d so lovingly collected
I stole them while you were asleep

Saying the truth hurts
But time will heal those wounds
Lying might be sweet
But time will break those relationship

I’ve denied what I’ve felt to myself
Afraid of how other people might judge me
I remember times I’ve not spoken
Because I felt that my voice didn’t count

But when the worst that can happen is death
Should I be shy to be alive
Should I deny myself and keep walking
Until the day that I die

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About performing on stage

Performing at Justice Rocks.
Performing at Justice Rocks.

At Daksh 2010, towards the end of my final year at SASTRA University, I performed 4 of my songs for a crowd of about 100 or 200 people.

Daksh is a tech-fest and usually there isn’t any ‘cultural performance’, but that year a hostel band called Vallam Valibargal (I think) had decided that they would perform anyway.

They’d hijacked space next to the food stall and attracted a crowd​​ by belting out some popular covers. They had an electric guitar, a mirdhangam and a truly awful singer who mumbled the melody softly enough for the audience to zone out and focus on the talented lead guitarist.

Shak, Aman and I were watching them perform. I kept bothering the both of them about how I could have put on a way better show if I had been given a chance.

I was cribbing because I had written a theme-song for the tech-fest a year back which my seniors hadn’t used because I couldn’t afford to record it properly, I’d been rejected by the college band because I wasn’t a good enough singer and they weren’t interested in original Tamil songs, I was jealous of not having enough musically oriented friends to form a band and I was spitefully envious of Vallam Valibargal’s guitarist because he was pretty epic.

Needless to say, I was a naive and introverted child.

At one point, Aman who was genuinely interested in listening to them, simply turned to me and said “If you want to perform, I’ll get you their guitar after they are done.”

It was a half-taunt and at that moment I did something that surprised me. I said “Ok”, and shrugged like it was no big deal – I didn’t expect Aman to actually do anything.

But, Aman kept his word. After Vallam Valibargal finished their set, when the crowd was about to leave, Aman quickly went up to the band, smiled, spoke to them, relived the guitarist of his guitar and called me on stage.

A visiting pass-out responsible for the sound system adjusted the mike to my mouth level, did some volume checks and gave me a thumbs-up.

Just like that, I was standing in front of a crowd with a guitar in my hands and a mike in front of me, and I’d never performed to an audience in my life before.

At that point, I’d been writing songs for 2 years. I’d recorded some of my songs and put them on youtube. I’d performed now and then for as many as 10 of my best friends, but I’d never performed on stage and I had absolutely no idea about what to sing.

I was afraid that my voice might tremble out of control because of stage fright. I was afraid that the pick might slip from my grasp because my palms were getting really sweaty. And the crowd had never heard my songs before. They had absolutely no idea who I was. I was so scared I didn’t even announced my name.

I just sang.

I sang Perai Perandha Kadhai, a fairy-tale about why the moon disappears from the night only to reappear again. I sang it because it was Aman’s favorite song of mine. Then I sang Maanda Mannan Kaviyam, which was Shak’s favourite – a song about how a prince kills his father for the throne, but has to face his feelings of guilt. And then I sang Pachai Perundhu, which talks about the fluidity of choice, because I figured that the speakers were loud enough to reach the hostel and that song was my gang’s favorite.

But as I sang, the lyrics and the melodies reached the crowd. They responded to the music. I saw smiling faces clapping for me after every song. Most of them were just as surprised as I was. I heard whistles. Cameras and cell phones recorded me performing songs I’d written in seclusion months ago. It felt amazing!

But when it rains, it pours…

As I was removing the guitar, trying to stop my legs from shaking ​violently​ and unconsciously signalling to the crowd that the gig was over, the visiting pass-out who’d adjusted the sound system, walked ​up to​ me and said, “Remember that song you submitted for the tech-fest theme last year? Can you perform it?”

I looked at him, surprised that he even remembered. Behind him, at the edge of the barricade were a few other pass-outs. They’d come to visit the tech-fest and all of them knew the song​. I nodded, strapped the guitar back on and awkwardly announced that I had one more song. Some of the crowd ​had left, but those staying back paused and waited for me to sing.

And I started to sing Kannavu. The song is about how we all have dreams, and how despite the fact that we might never realize them, they are what move us – our personal reasons to live.

As I sang the song and slowly got to the first chorus, the handful of pass-outs began to chant the ‘aaas’ with me. I almost stopped singing then, I was so flattered, but slowly the aaas grew louder – one by one, the crowd had begun to sing with me. Not all of them. Not as dramatic as it might sound, but good enough.

Up until that point of time, I didn’t know if my songs were actually good or whether my friends were massaging my ego. But when a crowd of 100 people sings along to a song that none of them have ever heard before, you kind of start believing in yourself.

​The second time I performed on stage was at Spaces in Bessie Beach with my friend Ashwin. This was at an event marking the Pride Parade last year. I didn’t sing my songs then. Ashwin and I had christened ourselves ‘Asuras on Antacid’ ​​and we​ tried to perform some of his poetry set to music. He got a shock from the mike system because of faulty earthing and I was wearing feathers and a lousy office shirt.

Let’s just say neither of us wants to remember that day, ever.

The third time I performed was also as Asuras on Antacid – Ashwin, Kavya and me. Rituja came along with it. It was an audition for Chennai Live’s band hunt, and it was only marginally better than my second time.

Earlier this month, I performed at Justice Rocks – which was organized this year to foster a conversation about freedom of expression. From The Hindu’s report on the event:

…the spirit of Justice Rocks, a loosely-composed group of youngsters who direct their barbs at ‘cultural bullying, hate politics and fundamentalism’ through music and performing arts.

Setting: Spaces at Bessie Beach and I’d practiced. I’d taken my most relevant, meaningful and catchy songs and cut them down to a 15 minute set. And it was a lot of fun. I got to see live acts that inspired me, most notably:

1. Vedanth Bharadwaj – his voice is like that new Cadbury ad, smooth and silky.
2. Sofia Ashraf – who literally came on stage and just exploded. God, that girl has so much energy.
3. The F-16s  –  a really tight band with catchy songs who ended their performance by switching instruments and running amok on stage – all in key.
4. And Ashwin performed a spoken word piece at the very end which was from the heart and reached everyone there. He’s gotten a lot better since the last time we were on stage and he also managed to get off without suffering a shock.

When I performed, I gave it all I had. The audience loved it from what I could tell – they clapped hard and whistled and everything. There was this one kid sitting off stage who was just intently staring at me with an open mouth the whole time. I don’t think I’ve gotten a better compliment.

The songs I sang were:

1. Kannadi Maaligai – about how as a society we desire for things that we don’t need and then complain about the problems that come from that.
2. Ulagathin Sondhakaran – about that feeling you get once in a while like you own the world.
3. Perai Perandha Kadhai
4. Pachai Perundhu
5. Kannavu

As always, I got by with a little help from my friends:

Kaushik invited me to perform at Justice Rocks. Kavya let me borrow her guitar. Vivek​ ​took photos and a few videos​ (which you shall see in due course). Shilpa ​​and Satwik came to cheer me on, despite their tight schedules *ahem*.

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The Perfect Book

You see it, sitting there inconspicuously among the other books. In a sea of replicas, cheap fiction and shoddy cover art – a single hardbound copy, perhaps the last copy that the book shop carries.

The title running down the spine is familiar. It takes a second, but you make the connection. It’s that book you’ve wanted to read. You’ve even memorized what your favorite reviewer said about it.

As your hands unconsciously flip through the paperback that you’d nostalgically picked up seconds ago, you mumble a quote to yourself – ‘a glorious work of art – the kind that rattles your mind from the surface of the senses to the core of your consciousness and rids your existence of all that is imperfect’.

You’ve read so much about the author – the absolute genius who was trampled to death by a herd of elephants when he was on a safari in Tanzania. He used to write long hand. He only ate after writing his quota for the day. Random trivia about him floods your mind, building a favorable image of him from latent memory.

He was only 25 when he died. You even remember the day he died – your facebook feed was filled with macros of his face and his quotes. You felt sad then, and you can recollect that feeling now, even though you’ve never read anything by him so far. He had so much to look forward to, tch-tch, if only he had lived, maybe he’d have done something amazing.

It’s vague, what he might have done, but the feeling is there, floating between your throat and your chest, displacing the nostalgia that the paperback had brought in you. That vague greatness he might have achieved, the vague greatness that reading his book – this book – the book – will infuse you with.

You replace the paperback in the discount heap you’d picked it from and you move towards the book. You reach the shelf. You stop and breathe. You gently tip the book on its solid spine and slide it out with a tactile caution you usually reserve for when you are being a gentle lover.

It is the perfect size. The dust jacket is not tacky, not torn. You open the book, the pages gently pry themselves from one another as if they were made of the smoothest silk. In the elegance of the typeset you see the promise of the profoundest enlightenment that is waiting to be gained by reading the book. The pages are virgin white and you are aroused.

So far, you have only been observing the beauty of the object and memories of hear-say. Now, slowly the desire to read the book flares up and your mind begins to sell it to you.

‘This is what will make you complete.’ Your mind plays a movie for you. ‘You are reclining on your sofa, a cigarette is burning in your ash-tray, forgotten. You are reading a masterpiece.’ But the book is not the focus of the movie. The focus of the movie is you. ‘You look intelligent holding this book in your hand. You look magnificent reading it. Women will swoon when you quote it. And for all that to happen, you must posses the book and you must posses it now.’

You are delighted by that image and you want to start reading, but you cannot read it here, in public, furtively without buying it. You cannot sample this book – there is no need for it to prove anything to you, this book is holy. You must purchase it. This is the purpose of your money.

You take the book to the cash counter. The clerk reads the title and smiles at you – what does he know, the clerk is not smart enough to read this book. You look around at the other people and you judge them for the books they are carrying to the counter. Inside your head you sneer at their taste. You are refined, they are uncouth.

You tuck the receipt into you wallet and refuse the plastic bag. Save the planet you pricks. You walk on clouds, stretch once you are outside the shop and subtly smile to yourself. Classical music is your life’s background score. Chess is your favorite sport. Politics is beneath you. God exists, within you. You have tested your glory on for size and realized that grace is becoming of you.

Tonight you will read the book. You will be transformed. You will be ideal.

You start reading it before bed that night, but frankly it’s a little bit beyond you. You need to be in a more relaxed place to read it. You also need a dictionary. You can still sense the greatness of the book however – you’ll start reading it again next weekend. Work day tomorrow, lots to do.

But next weekend comes and next weekend goes. You friend throws a party because he was promoted. You ex gets drunk and bitches about you in a 1000 word blog post that all your friends and her friends read before she sobers up and takes it down. You begin to acquire a taste for fried beans. You get married. You have a child. And still the book sits pretty on your shelf.

Every time you buy a new book, the memory of the book sitting unread gives you a jolt of guilt. You learn to ignore it, you learn to laugh at it. You learn to move on.

One day, your teenage son picks it up and reads it. You don’t know this however – you’ve forgotten that you even own the book. He reads it and falls in love with it. He scribbles in the margins. He memorizes passages and he quotes them to the girls he hits on. He re-stitches his favorite jeans’ back pocket so he can carry it around in style.

You notice, you smile, until one day he tells you he wants to be a novelist. What? You refuse, you over-react. He rebels. He runs away. You wife kills herself and your dog dies of old age. You are 40, miserable and crying your heart out.

Serves you right for being a pretentious douche.

Manu and Nivitha

The restaurant manager had loosened his tie. He was at the bill counter finalizing accounts for the day. Most of the late shift waiters had retired to the kitchen and were finishing dinner. The head chef had left through the back door five minutes ago because he wanted to get home early.

The restaurant was winding down. A hum of hushed conversations had filled the main hall until fifteen minutes ago, but the three other families that had been eating in there had left, and now only one table was occupied.

Manu and Nivitha were seated across each other under the wall shade of a corner at the only occupied table in the restaurant. A mutually-agreed-upon silence hung in between them and a practiced tension was tangible from their posture.

Manu’s hard gaze was focused on his ice-cream. However, if someone had asked him what flavor it was, he would have had to inspect. Seated across the table from him and causing him increasing agitation was his wife Nivitha. She was expressing her concerns, but he was feeling more insulted every minute. Inside his head, he was stopping his reflex for verbal revenge with his realization that her words only cut because they were stating the undecorated truth.

A fair argument he could pose to her was how her style of bringing his faults to his attention was emotionally violent, but Manu didn’t say a word. He had two reasons to not react.

1.They were at a restaurant and it might lead to drama. 2.Today was their weekly date-night and if he timed his apologies and promises right, there would be sex.

A waiter was pacing near their table with a bill-book in hand. He attempted to catch their attention, but Nivitha ignored him, and Manu didn’t want to invite the waiter’s approach for fear of how Nivitha would construe his action. He felt the heat of her gaze fixed on his averted eyes. She paused, sipped some water and continued talking.

The waiter, done waiting, awkwardly approached them, placed the bill-book on their table and rushed away as quickly as he could.

Moments after the waiter left, without Manu’s participation in any way, Nivitha’s mood suddenly changed.

She was reaching an emotional tipping point. Her lips were about to break into uncontrollable trembles and she wanted to get her frustrations out of her system. She could then pause, let go of all the pain and tears she was holding back, allow Manu to console her, and relax on the ride back home. She felt like she needed to explode in order to remain.

There existed, between the pair, an understanding of what would happen next, this was one of their routines. Manu was a little uncertain about the pacing because some variables were dependent on Nivitha’s “mood” – which was never clear cut, or stable. Nivitha on the other hand was certain about the sequence and speed of everything that would follow. She understood him extremely well.

While he continued to vacantly look away, she pieced together what must be going through his head. She took her purse out of her handbag, checked the bill-book and paid up. She avoided eye-contact with him, as he slowly looked up now to catch her eyes.

She knew that she would be reassured once their eyes met, and she intended to allow him to calm her soon, but she had to make him beg for a while so that he would remember the seriousness of everything she had just told him. She knew that he hadn’t paid any attention to what she had said, because he was caught up with how she had said it. She’d kept going because she knew that he would think about it later when he was alone.

It might take weeks, but she knew that he would eventually come around. He would not confess to her influence, but his actions would silently thank her for bringing him to his own attention.

2 a.m. Manu woke up.

Nivitha was asleep beside him. He could feel her tired breathing on his cheek. When he realized that he was no longer asleep, he noticed a vague discomfort had gripped his chest. He inhaled deeply and closed his eyes in an attempt to undo his awakening, but he couldn’t summon slumber. His head was cluttered with her words, and the fears that they had brought to his attention had manifested as a minor nightmare. Even as the sleepy images decomposed into his unconscious, the feelings they left behind wouldn’t let him fall asleep again.

Slowly, Manu extracted himself from Nivitha’s cuddle. As he placed her arm gently on the bed, he noticed that her brows were knit in worry. Even in her sleep, her troubles were etched on the expressions of her face. She too, was carrying the load from waking life into her dreams. For the first time ever, Manu felt that she used to be more fun. It seemed like she had never let herself go recently. Manu kissed her forehead to assuage the guilt that bolted across his chest. It didn’t help, because a glimpse of clarity came by and he understood that she was this way because of him.

Caught between the nightmare lingering on from slumber and the self-pity that routinely possessed him during the day, Manu fell into the pleasant trap of nostalgia.

As the flashback started, he noted the immense cliche that this moment was. For a second he wondered if he was subconsciously trained into this kind of thinking pattern because of the numerous movies he had watched as a child. With nowhere to proceed from there, that train of humor lost steam and in an instant, he was gripped painfully by a sense of detachment.

He got off the bed and sneaked out of the bedroom. He collapsed into the couch, kicked back, placed his feet on the leg rest and the story of him and Nivitha began to play in his head, frame by frame.

Nivitha and Manu had met in college and fallen in love unconsciously. They had not been aware of it when it happened. Their mutual courting was an affair that neither of them had wanted to think too much about. They had held a common fear. They had both been afraid that their relationship might not last.

Now, they were both afraid of many other things – she was intimidated by the task of being the sole bread winner, he was too scared to face his family and old friends, they wondered if they had enough money saved up, she was worried about what he was doing with his music, they were both putting on weight, beginning to age, and through all this they relied on each other’s presence to power through.

Unlike the love at first sight masala movies they’d grown up on, their romance was gradual and organic. It started out very playfully and it had evolved into something serious. Manu couldn’t put his finger on an incident or period in time when the change had happened. He didn’t know if his inability to place the transition was a good thing or a bad thing, and so he stopped thinking about it.

Later, he’d write a poem about the early days of their romance. He’d describe meeting her as the blooming of a lone flower. He would also delete the poem from his computer because in hindsight it sounded cheesy.

Nivitha suddenly realized that she was almost awake, though her eyes were closed.

She felt around for Manu’s hand, and not able to feel him, opened her eyes. She noticed that light from the living room came in from under the closed bedroom door. He wasn’t sleeping. She checked the time on her phone. It was 2.30 in the morning. He was probably thinking about what she had said earlier in the evening. She couldn’t feel what she felt then with the same intensity now, and couldn’t completely recollect everything that had happened.

Her memory booted from zero.

In the days that they had first met, Nivitha knew Manu as someone driven by a single ambition. He had wanted to be a rock star. In those days, she had been in awe of his drive, vision and clarity, but if she was to be truthful to herself, they had both been pretty naive.

The fact that there was no one similar to what Manu had envisioned for himself, in the entire spectrum of the music industry, had been all the more reason for him to try to strive towards it. He wanted to be the first Tamil rock star. He’d had an incredible and well placed confidence in his song-writing but she had learned quickly that he had other problems with his own ambition.

One of the first things she’d understood about Manu was that if you didn’t remind him often enough, he would start to feel like he didn’t exist. Although he wrote a new song every week, he never went to meet college bands or try to jam with them. He was insecure because he’d never had any vocal training, he was easily intimidated because his guitar skills were rudimentary, and also, he only knew what he had taught himself. He was chronically shy and never performed anywhere or told anyone beyond her and his younger brother Raghu about his songs. He just kept writing one every week, in a notebook full of chords, lyrics and website designs.

She’d tried to push him to expose his talents to a wider audience, she’d tried to convince him that he needed to get out there, but he’d preferred to make low quality demos and put them online on his soundcloud page. He had a couple of hundred followers who seemed to like his songs, but he always cribbed that they were not true fans because they didn’t spread his music enough. He needed to record in a studio, he’d say, and oh, he needed to make a music video too. It would go viral in his opinion, most definitely, and there was never any doubt about that. Nivitha couldn’t fathom his obsession with the internet and she didn’t understand why he would not meet more people and talk to them. He’d preferred to work on his art in seclusion and if she tried to pull him out of his cocoon, he’d snap back deeper into his shell every time she tried.

Reluctantly, she’d given up hope that his very visible talent would amount to anything, and because she had learned to be careful with his ego, she’d kept her analysis of the situation a secret from him – until today evening.

She knew that he realized all this now and he felt sorry for himself. She felt the urge to go and talk to him, to check if he was okay. But before she could force her body to wake up, she caught herself. Unconsciously she started biting her lips, reluctantly she exercised refrain.

She’d learned, over the two years of their marriage that brooding was good for Manu. He needed to sit around and scratch his beard before he did anything. She turned around, silenced her concerns with the iron will of emotional logic and tried to forget about it. Without her knowing why, tears formed in her eyes but soon enough she fell into an un-restful dream.

Manu loosened his lungi and closed his eyes. As he looked back, he realized that Nivitha had been the only one who actually placed faith in his musical talent. Somewhere along the way he had secretly given up on himself.

Initially when they’d both graduated and started to work, the novelty of the whole enterprise inspired his song-writing. He’d broken away from writing sad songs like Karpanai Kadathal that no one seemed to want to listen to, and started writing optimistic songs like Ulagathin Sondhakaran, which received more hits than everything else he’d written prior to that. He deleted all the songs he’d put up before that from his internet accounts and he saved up to record songs in a studio. He seemed to have found a consistency. And then something had happened and he’d stopped writing songs altogether.

Manu looked up at the clock. It was 3.30 and he still didn’t feel sleepy. He stood up, stretched, turned on the television and quickly set the volume to mute. Late night teleshopping ads were on – quacks selling aphrodisiacs, astrologers answering letters, hair oils that claimed to cure baldness, mixers that were also grinders, has-been actors endorsing a ‘World Famous Vaasthusastralogist’ – whatever the fuck that was, he couldn’t pay attention to any of it.

He turned off the tele and sat down again, trapped by his own thoughts.

Three years ago, a couple of years after they had both graduated from college and started working in an IT MNC, Manu and Nivitha decided to let their parents know about their relationship and get married. Neither his parents – a Brahmin teacher and housewife, nor her parents – a Chettiar landlord and housewife, agreed.

He remembered the months that had followed.

His parents had refused to meet Nivitha. They had no intention of letting their son marry a girl who would not pass the caste test and they had no intention of accepting him back into the house if he decided to go against their decision, or that’s what his father said over the phone when Manu first let him know. Manu had been too chicken to go home and talk to them face to face. His mother would secretly call Manu from Raghu’s phone. She’d promise to get him a ‘fair girl’ who would look good in ‘modern dresses’.

Nivitha’s family on the other hand had been informed by their daughter on one of her monthly visits home. They had decided that their only child was being too modern and moved from Trichy to Chennai to live with her – which meant Manu had to move out of the apartment they’d been sharing and pretend like they had not been living together earlier. He’d visit them every weekend for lunch on Sundays. They resented his visits and argued with Nivitha every time she invited him over. When they heard from one of the neighbors that Manu and Nivitha had been living together prior, her father almost had a heart attack, her mother cried non-stop for an entire day and both of them left to Trichy with broken hearts. When they stopped attending her calls, Nivitha cried non-stop for a week and walked around with a dark cloud over her head for a month.

Manu’s parents hopped from the issue of caste to the issues of incompatible horoscopes, the benefits of a vegetarian diet, the superiority of the Brahmin blood, and finished with family disgrace.

Things went on like this for the better part of a year before they’d both decided that it was all too messed up. Manu hated to see Nivitha so depressed. Manu hated talking to his parents. Manu decided that they had to get married. Nivitha didn’t need a lot of convincing.

On August 27th 2012, Manu and Nivitha got married in the presence of their closest friends, at the marriage registrar’s office, in true Kollywood style. They let their parents know by post, took a month off their jobs and disappeared to the backwaters of Kerala for a week.

When they got back, their parents still hadn’t replied, which was, surprisingly, a mild shock. Their house was a mess because they’d left in a hurry. They were extremely low on cash.

The two years that followed were a comfortable time of matrimonial bliss. Their careers became their primary priority. Once it was clear that the new US regulations would make their on-site dreams much harder, they took a bank loan and bought a small house on the ECR. They found neighbors to car-pool to work with. Their cooking and cleaning skills improved. Manu started reading business magazines and applied for a correspondence MBA. Nivitha started to take tuitions for their neighbour’s children on weekends. They feel into a comfortable routine, put on some weight, struggled to maintain a diet and in between all of this, found time to hang-out with their friends every month or so and go out for dinner one night every week without fail.

Manu looked at the clock again. It was 4.30. Manu leaned back into the couch and tried to fall asleep. He couldn’t. Sneaking back into the room to extract his laptop didn’t seem like a smart thing to do. He sighed to himself, crossed his legs and began to unconsciously scratch his beard.

Six months ago, a river of resentment that Manu had dammed away from his consciousness had flooded and broken the bridge of affection that linked him to Nivitha.

Early one Sunday afternoon, on their bed, both of them naked and spent, as she stroked his chest and playfully prodded him for the dreams he had for them, as she anticipated to be flattered and told she was his darling, that he had no desires that were devoid of her, that none of the threads of narrative that sustained his ego left her out, as he told her that he loved her because she truly listened to him, as he began to be less of the man that he usually had to be and opened up to her, one lover to another, the disgusting truth came out in words that he couldn’t control.

He had told her that he felt, maybe, they had rushed into buying a house. It slipped from him that he was cynical about his MBA. The words stammered out, the river flooded, the bridge broke. He started, careful not to hurt her. She stopped stroking his chest. He continued, trying to compensate. She turned away. He went on with nothing to lose, and she sat up and began to bite her lips.

He’d told her that he felt maybe he didn’t want all of this as much as she did. He’d told her that he wondered sometimes what it would have been like if he had given more time to his musical ambitions. He’d told her that he felt like he might have placed her over his dreams.

He’d seen her cry before. He’d seen her upset and angry or sad and in self-pity, but until he told all that, he had never ever seen her break, he had never seen her wail silently, he had never seen her lost so much in epiphany that she forgot to hide her tears from him. He’d immediately regretted it, but had also felt relieved that he’d told her the truth about what he felt, or what he had felt to be the truth at that moment anyway.

She had stood up from the bed, thrown on a night gown and left the room. He’d followed her out, naked. She’d turned on the tele and huddled in a corner of the living room, unwilling to listen to him apologize, bewildered and dazed. She’d thought he wanted all of this as much as she had. She’d thought he’d grown out of his music phase because he had stopped discussing it. She’d never imagined that he would have kept so much from her, that the world he lived in and the world she lived in were not the same.

Things had never really come back to normal since.

The next day she’d told him that he was free to quit his job and purse his music – they had enough saved up at that point for six months at least, she was going to get a promotion soon and if they cut down on a few things, they would be able to sail through. She’d kissed him on his forehead and he’d hugged her tight and promised her that he would accomplish great things. He’d thanked her for understanding him, he’d apologized for not having made things clear to her earlier. She’d smiled and kissed him again, but it was obvious from that moment on that something was completely and irrevocably broken.

Manu checked the time again. It was 6 in the morning. Six months had gone after the day she had told him he was free to quit his job. 3 months had gone by since he’d stopped working. All he had to show was a paunch, a beard, a high internet bill and a pair semen caked socks he’d tossed earlier in the kitchen dustbin.

Nivitha woke up suddenly. She checked the time, it was 6.30. There was no point in going back to sleep and waiting for the alarm to ring at 6.45. She sat-up, stretched and noticed that Manu wasn’t in bed. Her shoulders sunk and her mind wandered back to the conversation at the restaurant.

She’d told him that he had nothing to show for the time he’d been free. She’d told him that he had no reason not to write songs or go out and perform, that he was being a lazy, useless bum and that she’d give him a couple more months and if there was not going to be any progress by then, he’d have to go and find a job again. She’d told him that their savings had almost disappeared completely, that they couldn’t go on forever like this and that she couldn’t wait forever to have a baby. She half-smiled to herself. The baby bit ought to have scared him shitless – she knew he hadn’t thought that far. She sighed, hoped he was in a good mood and went to the living room. The tele was on in mute and a clean shaven Manu was snoring on the couch. He’d probably fallen asleep while watching something. She turned off the tele and went to the bathroom to freshen up.

Manu finished shaving and turned on the tele again. Nivitha would be up soon and he wanted to help her with the morning routine. As he wondered what he should do about with his life, he fell asleep.

He was carrying his guitar and waiting at the Isphani bus stop. It was deserted. He didn’t know why he was waiting there and he didn’t know why it was deserted. He heard footsteps and he turned towards the sound.

His heart was beating really fast. He made sure he tightened his grip on his guitar bag. His jaw clenched. His eyes widened and suddenly he was face to face with a lanky looking stranger.

The stranger was a young man, about his age. Manu didn’t know why, but he thought the stranger was beautiful. The word he was searching for was striking, but he kept thinking ‘beautiful’.

The stranger reached into his pockets and took out a box of Classic Milds and a lighter. The stranger lit a cigarette.

“Are you ready? We’re late.” The stranger twitched an eyebrow questioningly. Manu remembered all of a sudden why he was there with a guitar. He had to go and participate in a singing contest.

“I’m not ready.” As Manu said that, he felt his guitar crumble inside his bag. Blood was thumping in his ears and anxiety snaked and knotted at the bottom of his stomach. The stranger put a hand on his shoulder. He took the guitar bag from Manu and opened it. Inside was the plywood dust of what had been a wonderful instrument. Manu’s most beloved material possession was no more. Except for the head – the tuning knobs, three strings and the lowest four frets were intact.

The stranger took out the remnant of the instrument and gave it to Manu with a significant look. He dropped the guitar bag to the ground and threw his cigarette on it. The bag caught fire.

Manu looked at the stranger, incredulous about the situation he was in and stammered. “I-I- I can’t play wi-w-with just this!”

The stranger took out another cigarette and lit it.

Manu started to scream and stammer. “I-I’ve ne-nev-er played to a-a-a-a cr-crowd. I-I-I’ll suck. I-I h-had o-one shot and I-I-I th-thr-threw it away.”

The stranger looked Manu square in the eye. He took a few steps back and with no warning whatsoever lurched forward. He eyes blazed with fury. His cigarette fell off his lips. He stretched his arms out to his side and bent his knees into himself. He shouted a tribal war cry and his teeth seemed ten times bigger. He was about to ram into Manu and Manu shut his eyes. The tribal cry stopped.

Manu opened his eyes. The stranger was utterly normal again and blowing out rings.

“Did you think you were about to die?” he asked Manu.


“I never meant to kill you. But you felt it didn’t you? Do you know why?”


“You felt it because I knew you would.”

Suddenly a strange sense of optimism surged from the pit of Manu’s stomach. He blinked and he was on stage.

It was a giant stadium. He’d never been on stage before but that didn’t bother him. Everyone alive seemed to be in front of him, their faces almost invisible because of the spotlight that was on him.

In front of him was a microphone. In his hand was the remnant of his guitar. Manu took a step forward and began to sing Kannavu. He began to strum the air and the guitar was audible, but not for long. The minute he started singing the chorus again – the entire world, the whole stadium, all those people he couldn’t see properly and might never know, sang back the words that he had put to paper and set to tune – they sang his words along with him – words that, seconds before, they didn’t know could be put together in that way to mean that thing.

Manu had never been happier in his entire life. Manu had never known that if he sang in front of people, people would sing back to him.

Nivitha woke Manu up.

When Manu woke up, Nivitha was shaking him. He was breathing like a swimmer who had just broken to the surface and wanted nothing more than air. Nivitha looked concerned, edging on worried.

“Are you okay Maan? You screamed in your sleep. When did you shave? The tap was open and the tank was empty. Are you okay?”

Manu didn’t register anything she said. All he could feel was a sense of something in him but beyond him. He’d known that he might one day be able to perform live and people might sing along with him if he was good, but all of a sudden, because of a dream he couldn’t remember anymore, he felt like it was possible right now. At this very moment. He was thankful he had a guitar.

Inside of himself, he grasped for the lingering feeling that was escaping into the ether already. Trying to memorize how it felt, he put it in words in his own head. He never wanted to forget what he felt like right now.

He noticed then that Nivitha’s hands were on his shoulders. She looked like she’d just gotten out of bed. He swallowed and looked her in the eye. Without knowing why or for what, tears rolled down his cheek. Nivitha was shocked. She’d never seen him cry. She sat down on his lap and wiped his tears.

“Why are you crying Maan?” she whispered softly.

“Do you still know that I love you Nivitha?”

She smiled, wiped away his tears once more and playfully slapped him.

“Thoo” she said.

Manu smiled the cocky smile that he hadn’t flashed at her in a long time. He pulled her closer.

They kissed.

Why do I smoke

Earlier in life when I was a non-smoker and couldn’t understand why so many of my friends were smoking, the only reason I didn’t smoke was because I thought all the nutters around me smoked to be cool, and for me being cool has always been to go against the predominant ideas (I heard you say hipster, I agree) and so I didn’t smoke.

Later on, I began to notice that most people thought smoking was not cool and so I began to smoke because now I saw smoking as cool.

I smoke to show that I am an adult. I smoke because it helps me think. I invite my friends to share a cigarette when actually I just want to be with them, around them, talk to them, but I do not want my friends to know that I love them because then I would be weak and vulnerable to verbal assault, because I believe that caring is not cool and that apathy is so hot.

I smoke because the image of smoking is fucking awesome. Rajnikanth, Clint Eastwood, Kurt Vonnegut, need I say more? I smoke because I’ve come to enjoy the taste of tobacco. I smoke because it looks smart and I can pretend to be an intellectual while I gesture with a cigarette between my fingers. I smoke when I write because then I won’t look like I am working hard, because working hard is lame and I do not want to become a workaholic and give up my social life.

I smoke because the sound of a lighter clicking and gas being swallowed by a hungry flame makes me weak in the knees. I smoke because suckling on the nipples of mother nicotine is what I need. I smoke because the scratch of the match head and the hiss of a flame eating the stick is beautiful. The fire gobbling the cigarette as I swallow smoke is the glorious victory of the ten year old arsonist inside of me and the ash I create is proof of my power over the elements. I drag in because my lungs must be strong to handle the smoke and I exhale slowly because it exhibits control.

I continue to smoke because I am so sure that I will fail in anything I attempt and so attempting to quit will add another failure to my already long list. I continue to smoke because of the nicotine pangs below my heart after every meal and to say no to the temptation would hurt and hurting is something to avoid.

I think it’s okay to smoke because no one is perfect and we all need our pet follies. I think it’s okay to smoke because so many men in my family have been smokers and many of my heroes still are. I smoke because I am a rebel and which rebel didn’t smoke?

I smoke because it pisses of the authoritarians who come up to me and tell me that smoking is bad for me, like I don’t know. I smoke because I know that god fearing, orthodox Brahmins will judge me when they see me smoke and it strokes my ego to know that I have successfully made my authoritarian enemies stronger in their contempt of me. If they didn’t exist, who would I go to argue and prove to myself that I am a libertarian and an atheist and I see the light and they don’t? Ideas are valuable to me and I treat them with respect, and being a smoker has become such an ingrained part of my identity that I am afraid the rest of “me” will crumble should I quit.

I haven’t quit smoking because I think I can take it. I am young and strong, these cigarettes won’t affect me until later. Besides, I would have quit by then. I haven’t quit yet because I am afraid that if other people think I am strong enough to quit, they will have reason to suspect that I am awesome and I believe that I am more awesome than everyone else – my apparent mediocrity is a mask that I wear to blend in. I simply cannot let everyone know that I am actually much better than them, because then they will be intimidated and they will assault me.

Cigarettes are little gifts that I give myself everyday for the small things that I feel good about, we all need our little perks, don’t we? I am so scared that I will end up becoming the man I did not want to be when I was ten. I am terrified that I will disappoint my younger self and this flaming stick of dry leaves and paper is my shield against the naivety of my ancient dreams. The gust of smoke is my security blanket against the big, bad world that doesn’t want me to become who I wanted to be.

But most of all I smoke these days because I find nothing else to look forward to except my next cigarette.

The Autoread’s Project

Pasting an ad on one of the autos

The Auto Reads Project is among the coolest things that I’ve ever done. It took a bit of effort on part of everyone at The ilovereadin’ Library to pull off.

A link to The ilovereadin’ Library’s blog about the project.

The Hindu’s Metroplus covered the project. They also interviewed me.

DD covered it, but unfortunately the video is not online and I didn’t get to watch it when it broadcast either.

BusinessLine’s Weekend Life also covered the project.

Growing up with Fappy

Happy is the man who has tissues at hand, his favorite porn and some time to spend alone. I call my fountainhead, my joystick, my man-rod, Fappy.

We were both five, Girija and I, and we decided to get married. We had been watching a Kamal Hassan movie on television. In one scene he’s sitting on a bed strewn with flowers and the heroine walks in with a tumbler of milk. He drinks some of it and gives the rest back to her. She drinks what’s left and stands, head bent, smiling and coy. He makes her sit down beside him on the bed. They hug, the lights go out, there is moaning and then a song starts.

Girija and I, we were both very curious about what Kamal did to that shy lady. Girija asked my mom, who was watching the movie with us. My mom told us we’d know once we grew up and got married. Problem was we wanted to know immediately. We decided to get married, then and there. We went to the backyard. We hugged. Taking turns, we kissed each other’s cheeks and hands. Then somehow, we decided we should remove our clothes. So we got out of them and hugged tight, and Fappy kind of stood up. Girija laughed her head off. She asked me if she could touch it, and I said yes. She touched it. Fappy felt funny, but nothing happened. I was so amazed at her Fappylessness, but I was too scared to touch her, so I didn’t. We decided we knew what happens after marriage, put our clothes back on and went to watch the rest of the movie.

I was seven years old, slouching on the floor and watching the Animaniacs on television. My little brother was chewing on a plastic bag and looking at me very carefully. Every time I laughed at the cartoon, he’d laugh too. He was too young to understand the humour, so I guess he found it reassuring that I was in a good mood. Every time he laughed, I’d try to pull the plastic bag away from his mouth, and whenever I managed to do that, he’d start crying until I let him start chewing it again. It was like he had a switch – he could turn the tears on or off instantly.

On the Animaniacs show, Hello Nurse walked in. You know, that hot Nurse. Fappy stood up. I didn’t even know he could do that (having forgotten so completely about the Girija episode). It surprised me so much that I jerked up straight. My brother’s chewing noise stopped. I turned towards him. He was looking at me, his eyes the size of carom coins and his mouth gaping. He was scared because he sensed I was uncomfortable. I had no clue what was happening to me. All of a sudden, Fappy went back to sleep. I was relieved, and I turned back to the cartoon. My brother slapped the floor, gurgled, and gradually got back to chewing the bag again. On the tele, Wacko’s heart had pushed itself out of his chest and stood like a stick aimed at the nurse, pulsing. After that when I saw a cartoon character with his heart jutting out, I assumed he was having an erection. Never seen a female cartoon character with her heart jutting out have you?

I was eight. My dad got me a make-it-yourself Jaguar model. I’d got a bunch of these before, but this was different. Every other model I’d assembled before had maybe fifty parts, maximum. This one, I kid you not, this one had three hundred and fifty. There were three different assembly manual leaflets. And some of these parts were tiny. Dad asked me to be careful and not lose any of those parts. It was bed time when dad came home, so mom wouldn’t let me assemble it then. I had to sleep and do it after school the next day. I was so excited – the feeling was a huge brick of curiosity in my chest which melted into a growing sense of anticipation in my stomach, and then built into a steady thumping possession in my balls. I placed the box near my pillow – it was mine – and held onto Fappy under my sheets as I slept.

At twelve, I was in a History exam and I didn’t know anything. When did Ashoka convert to Buddhism? I didn’t know. So I wrote instead about why Ashoka was a great king. You know the standard yarn about him planting trees on the sides of the roads and converting to Buddhism after the war and converting Sri Lanka to Buddhism and then erecting the Ashoka Pillar. Did he erect the Ashoka pillar? I didn’t know, but I wrote it anyway. Mark on the map of the Indian sub-continent the major Indus Valley settlements and write in brief about the Aryan invasion. I thought that was a trick question. Wasn’t the Indus Valley a single settlement in the Indus Valley? Where is this valley anyway? Ok, free. Aryan invasion – the only thing I knew about that was, the Aryans came from Germany and Russia and chased the Dravidians into Tamil Nadu. So the Indus Valley must have been real close to Tamil Nadu. My Indus Valley was in Goa – it made sense then. The rest of the exam paper was equally unintelligible to me, because I’d been watching Dexter’s Lab instead of studying.

The pressure was on. The invigilator announced that there were exactly five minutes left. What! Unconsciously I crossed my legs with Fappy between them and rubbed my thighs together. Fappy grew and shrunk and grew and shrunk and when the exam paper was pulled away from my table, I was shaking slightly, eyes half closed and biting my lips. The invigilator kept staring at me. Fappy released all my tension into thin air. Well done Fappy.

One day, when I was fifteen, I stole a few rupees from mom’s purse and went to the magazine shop near our house. Cinema Gilma was four rupees and it had a colour centerfold. There wasn’t any nudity until I discovered porn on the Internet. Magazines like these – hot cakes sold like them. Anyway, I sneaked Cinema Gilma into my bedroom, locked the door, lied down on my bed and crossed my legs. I’d done this a few times before, but this time I was in for a shock. I was looking at cleavage and imagining things common to all ignorant thirteen year old male minds. Then, with sufficient warning, Fappy spat out some kind of goo. Terrified, I ran into the bathroom to check and there was a weird sticky liquid thing all over my underpants and thighs. What on earth was happening to me! Who do I ask? Shit, Shit, Shit. I washed my underwear, and then I decided to wash my other clothes too, to avoid any suspicions. My mom wondered why I was washing my clothes in the middle of the day – by hand that too. I told her I’d wash my clothes by myself and that I was old enough to do that. She gave me a weird stare, shrugged and went back to singing and chopping onions in the kitchen.

By the time I was smoking weed with Sherbet in college, I’d watched a huge amount of porn and I’d discovered at least five different techniques of pleasuring myself. This incident happened just before we lost our virginity. Sherbet and I were sitting in his room, stoned. We were watching a Pawan Kalyan movie on his laptop. He was a big fan. I was eating spoonfuls from a bottle of jam, and he was munching potato chips. In the middle of Shreya’s item number, he puts the chips away, looks at me like he’s happily constipated and says, out of the blue.

“Macha I have issues da.” He spreads his legs. It is very clear that Shreya has turned him on. I’m eating jam for Christ’s sakes.

“Dude, I’m eating jam macha. I don’t want to talk about your” air quotes, announcer voice “manliness.”

“Macha, serious da. I need to know if I have to go to a doctor. It doesn’t come out only.”

I give up on the jam.

“What do you mean da, it doesn’t come out?”

“Like it’s too big and the hole is too small.”

“What hole? What are you saying da? I don’t get you at all.”

“Macha. Don’t take me wrong ok? I need help da. I’ll show you what the problem is.”

I was stoned, and besides, I’m not Ghulam Nabi Azad.


He pulled down his pants and he showed me. His foreskin had all but sewed him shut. I could feel a tinge of empathy pain on Fappy. He had only a tiny gap for his jets to come out of.

“Dude. Mine doesn’t look like that at all.”

So I pull my pants down and show him what proper foreskin does. It gets the fuck out of the way.

Like I said, this happened just before we lost our virginity.

Axiom of Love

She sits down across from me. I am staring at the plain oothapam wondering why it costs 80 rupees. She is in tears.

She says: Why did you do it?

Her voice is broken.

We’ve been married 5 years now. She asks me why I had an affair – to put it simply. I don’t know what to say. Should I tell her the truth – can she take it. 5 years, we know each other quite well. Then again, she must be terribly hurt.

I say: I’m sorry. I don’t know why I did it. It’s just one of those…

I’m earnest. I am looking at her eyes.

I know she’ll forgive me. I don’t want to spend the entire day explaining myself. It’s a beautiful Saturday. Good for a matinee movie, expensive dinner and make-up sex. That’s what I hope for. I’ll have to steer it that way. I shouldn’t rush, but I shouldn’t give in to all her attempts at talking it out. I don’t want to talk it out, not right now. The time for that will come eventually.

I want to celebrate our reunion. She wants to analyze the fuck of out it. To be fair, she is only finding the least amount of reason to accept me. Or act like accepting me again. We both know what will happen in the end and we both hope I’ll change.

She wipes her eyes with the back of her hand from time to time. Her hanky and her cell phone are on the table next to her plate of idlies. The steam has stopped coming from them and they are probably as cold as our tea tumblers. I can’t pick up the guts to start drinking the tea. My oothapam is still steaming.

Because I’ll have to eventually, I say: Well, see. It was just that with the pregnancy and me traveling and all that. I just needed some relief. You know. There’s more pressure on me now, you’re not working, and my promotion’s getting delayed, and I don’t blame you for it, but… I needed a break and it just happened. But it’s over now. I’m sorry.

I try to hold her hand. She takes it back. She fights back the tears. She bites her tongue, checking the impulse to swear. She chews down the anger that rises from her chest every time she sees my face. But she tells her self she loves me. And she knows it’s an axiom by now.

She could go Kaali on my ass any minute though. I won’t put that beyond her.

The waiter comes to us with something in his hand. It’s a small gift box. He says it’s from one Ms.Abinaya.

He leaves it in near my plate. Across the table, her eyes waver between disgust and disbelief as they ping and then pong in a slow arc between me and the gift box. Her eyes – the disgust is in their widening and the disbelief is in their trajectory.

I don’t know if I should open it or not. She’s curios to see what it is and I’ll be hiding if I don’t open it. I have no clue what it is. She’ll be livid if I open something from Abinaya (who I just had an affair with) in front of her between our taking-me-back routine.

Something like Heller’s catch.

So I keep it aside and I look at her, with all the ability I have to pretend like a bomb didn’t just explode, and I try to give an explaining smile. I don’t know what I did – I can’t control my face so well.

I say: Let’s start eating?

I check on her with a few glances as I bend to the oothapam, and searching for a conversation that I fail to start, dig in.

She tears a piece off her idly.

The director yells cut.

He is happy. The lights go off. There is sporadic applause from the crew because it was first take. We’re done for the day.

As we get up and walk away from the set, I hold her hands and we stride a pace slower towards our cabins. I think of how I’m going to get her drunk and invite her over. I have a wonderful plans.

I think of Shruthi, my wife, pregnant and at her parent’s house. I remind myself to pay the rumor magazines and ask them to write a series of “bits” about how I don’t get along with my female co-stars.


Coconuts & Crows

“Why won’t you let me go out? I’ve never been outside this house.”

“The atmosphere is contagious. You have to be older to live in it.”

I knew he’d say that. He always has. I wonder why I keep asking him, but I also know that it wasn’t always like this. The world I read about in books is so different. It’s has lots of things like cities and trees and a variety of people. I lived in that world a long time ago, but I don’t remember any of it. As if reading my thoughts, Grandpa continues.

“I’m really sorry that you can’t see the world we saw. We messed it up.”

“I’m really sorry too.”

It was quite disappointing. I’d heard it so many times before but it never did sink in. I asked him again.

“Can’t we do anything about it? Can’t we fix it?”

“I don’t think we can. As a people we might be able to, but just you and me…”

Grandpa shrugged.

“… I don’t think we can Picalenari. It’s gone out of hand.”

I changed my name to Picalenari in the afternoon. I told Grandpa when he came in, he said he liked its weirdness. I’ve had many different names before but I won’t tell you what they were, it would just confuse you. So for our purposes, I’m Picalenari. Hello.

“When will I grow old enough to go out side?”

“You will.”

He was absorbed in one of my paintings hanging on the wall in front of us.

“My Tamagotchi died. I think I forgot to feed it yesterday.” I said. “Poor Pepsi”.

“You named your pet Pepsi?”

“Yes, I kind of miss drinking it.”

They stopped making Pepsi months ago. Sad. It used to be so good. Grandpa used to get me a Pepsi every other day, but now he can’t.

“I should be leaving now child. Take care of yourself?”

He stood up from the sofa. I didn’t want him to leave just yet. He smiled at me. He always understands.

“I’ll spend more time with you tomorrow. How does that sound?”


I did have a painting to complete. I would probably paint during the night.

“You’ll finish the new painting Picalenari? Can I see it tomorrow?”

“I think so Grandpa. It’s almost done.”

He smiled again, tugged at his sweater, adjusted his woolen cap, kissed me on my cheek and headed towards the door.

“Grandpa?” I called.

He turned towards me.

“Can you get me another book tomorrow?”

He looked surprised. “Is that one done?”


His proud smile came on. I love the warm feeling it gives me.

“Roald Dahl again?”

“That would be nice, but something else?”

“I’ll get you the Mahabarath.”

“What is it about?”

“You’ll see.” He winked at me, opened the door and walked out.

Everyday I wake up when I can’t sleep anymore. Grandpa says it’s a good habit. I brush and shower and throw my old clothes into the mesh bag. There are always washed clothes in the shelf. Then I eat something. Sometimes it’s roti , sometimes it’s curd rice and fried bindhi. There is always something in the fridge. I heat it on the gas stove if I have the mood to, or else I eat it cold. Then I go to the studio and paint. It’s a pretty boring life compared to the adventures Mowgli had. He probably lived before the atmosphere turned bad.

I’m a lot cleaner than Mowgli though. When my hair grows long, Grandpa cuts it for me. When my nails grow long, I cut them myself. I also had Pepsi to keep me company if I wasn’t painting. Grandpa comes every evening. He brings me books and he tells me how the world is doing. Sometimes he tells me about things I’ve never read about in books. It’s a lot of fun with him, but I never paint if he’s around.

When he isn’t around I’m mostly at the studio. When I finish a painting I show it to Grandpa. He likes my paintings. We usually hang them on a wall somewhere in the house. Some of them he likes so much that he asks me if he can take it with him. Unless the painting needs more work, I let him take it. He won’t stop asking me how I paint them. I have no clue, like I always tell him – they just happen.

After Grandpa left, I went to the studio. It’s the only place where nothing happens without me. Nothing changes here without me changing it. Not like my clothes or the food. The studio is only mine.

“He said his name is Picalenari today. I wanted to laugh, but I didn’t. It would have made him feel bad about changing his name.”

“Yea?” The young girl laughed. Her eyes twinkling with admiration. Her mouth slowly changing from a smile into a dead expression. The twinkling turning into a hazy, bloodshot stare. That woke the old man up.

He realised that he’d drifted off on the train again. He had to get down and cross over to the other side of the station. He got off the train, took the elevator to the ticket counter on the ground floor, bought a ticket, and took an elevator back to the opposite platform. Then he sat on a bench and waited for the next train. It was due in ten minutes.

A group of college students were standing at a short distance from where he was. Some were smoking. Some of them were laughing hysterically. A couple was kissing. The old man found it a little difficult to take in that sight. One of them reminded him of his own youth and his old friends. It evoked a terribly warm, almost burning feeling. The old man didn’t want to let go of that feeling. He knew he could, but he didn’t want to. It took him a second to decide this, but he decided it so fast that he didn’t notice it. He would never remember that decision. He would blame the feeling for having arisen or the college kids for having inadvertently reminded him. As he was still looking, one of them stepped out from the group and dropped a chocolate wrapper into a trashcan.

It was a girl. The old man noticed that she had eyes like the young girl from the dream. The old man remembered the young girl from the dream. The girl from the dream had just thrown a chocolate wrapper away.

The old man watched her. Her movements melted out of the scene. Her expressions emanated from her face. She was standing next to the kissing couple. The old man noticed that the kissing boy was stealing glances at her. The old man felt jealous. Then he laughed because the girl was a dream. Then fear hit him with the realisation that dreams usually don’t predict the future. Then he laughed again because even if the girl was real, the relationship they seemed to share in the dream was not. But the memory of the dream, of having been with her, of having felt her admiring glance and having been validated by her seemed real. The old man turned away. He took out his inhaler and used it. He asked the person sitting beside him for the time. Five minutes for the train to arrive, and it would probably be late.

“Hello.” The girl who’d jumped from the dream to the platform was now sitting next to the old man. The station came to screeching pause – a movie projector running out of film.

“Hello.” The old man murmured.

“Have you seen my face well?” the girl asked. The old man looked around. They were in a painting.

“I think so.”

“It’s important. If you can explain my face, I can save you.”


She ruffled the old man’s woolen cap and handed him a picture. She smiled, but unlike the dream, she smiled like a mother would. In that picture, she stood in a coconut grove and crows were flying. The old man stared at the picture. He’d seen it before somewhere. Those coconuts and crows. He’d seem then somewhere, just as he’d seen the girl in the dream.

“Where did you take this?” he asked her, eyes locked on the picture. She didn’t reply. He looked up and she wasn’t there. The movie was playing again. The train came to a screeching halt.

“What book do you want?”

The book-shop keeper was generally pleasant to the old man. Today he wasn’t. He was smiling, but he smiled like he’d smile at a young punk, he didn’t smile like he always did. The old man looked at the shopkeeper. He’d come with the intent of buying a Mahabarath comic for Picalenari. The old man looked at the shopkeeper and wondered if he’d guessed. He didn’t want to be caught buying a book the shopkeeper already knew he’d buy.

“Have you seen this picture?” he asked the shopkeeper.

The shopkeeper glanced at it.

“No. Are you buying anything?”

The shopkeeper kept looking out the door to the street, as if he was expecting someone, as if the old man was a burden.

“I just remember seeing this somewhere. I don’t know where though.”

The old man observed the t-shirt that the girl was wearing. It had a photo printed on it. The very same photo that he was holding in his hand. How did the girl wear the t-shirt before the picture was taken?

He looked up. The shopkeeper had gone to the counter and was doing something on his computer.

The old man walked up to the him.

“This picture.” he showed the shopkeeper. “How did the girl know? See that t-shirt she’s wearing?”

The shopkeeper gave him a rude stare and plucked the photo out of the old man’s hand. The old man looked up to see if the shopkeeper was irritated. The old man looked beyond the shopkeeper. The old man saw a mirror. He saw himself staring out of the mirror at him. He was young again. The old man looked at his hands. The old man felt his face. The old man wasn’t old now. That woke him up.

He realised he’d drifted off on the train. He looked at his watch. He would be near Picalenari’s house any minute now.

My grandson keeps changing his name. I try to hide my smile when he does that, I hope my condescension does not show. I on the other hand, take a few minutes to recognize my own name in the emails I get that are still addressed to me. They are all emails about drugs – offering various physiological benefits. A lot of them are about mattresses that offer immense comfort. How can any mattress offer more comfort than another of the same material I wonder, but I guess they sell. Belief brews in claims and it seems to me that only resentment is born off the truth.

Everyone who used to call me by my name is dead. They didn’t stay back to see the filth that this world has become. They did not experience this atmosphere. I’m left here using my inhaler as often as I can.

The passenger next to me on the train is reading a comic version of the Mahabarath.

“Excuse me.” I look at the glassy eyed young man. “Could I have that book after you’re done? My grandson would like it very much, I think.”

He smiles at me, benevolence flooding his very being.

“I’m just admiring the art work old man. Tell me when you are getting off the train, I’ll give it to you.”

I thank him and look out the window again.

Most people call me old man now. I wonder if they even consider the possibility that I have a name. My grandson calls me Grandpa. Sometimes it feels like he calls me by my name, but he hasn’t yet.

When I reach the house, Picalenari is still sleeping. He must have been up all night painting. He does that sometimes.

I sit next to him on his bed and start reading the comic. Karna was always my favorite character. I think I was about forty when I realised that maybe I liked Karna because he represented a glorious loser. I liked to think of myself as a glorious loser. It became so ingrained in me that I slowly accepted every stereotypical characteristic of a loser. Glory, I learnt much later, never goes to the loser. I also learnt that glory never goes anywhere. It gets snatched and stolen but it exists only as an idea, just like any other lie.

Picalenari wakes up and smiles at me. I smile back.

“Here you go.” I hand him the comic. He sits up and grabs it from me. His face brightens up as he flips through the pages. I like it when he does that.

“Is your painting done?”

He nods.

Picalenari doesn’t talk if he hasn’t brushed his teeth. I try not to laugh at him for that.

I wait on the sofa in the living room while he brushes and takes a shower.

“Grandpa!” he shouts, once he has woken up properly. He rushes to hug me. I laugh.

“Is your painting done?” I ask him.

He nods.

When we are in the studio he asks me to sit down on a chair. He runs around the room turning on the various light switches. To me it seems random. He obviously has an order to them. This is what happens when you ask a child to design a room, and then build it without changing anything.

I look around and I’m surprised at the meticulous tidiness of the room. Children can surprise you sometimes. He slowly turns the easel to face me and he unveils a painting.

It’s an empty canvas.

“I don’t see anything Picalenari.”

“Grandpa, that’s because you will soon.”

I realise that I need my inhaler, I fumble around and find it, but it’s empty. I put it back in the pocket. I try to breathe plain air, slowly, slowly, slowly. It doesn’t work. I need air but I don’t have it. I struggle to breathe.

The girl from the dream, from the station, comes down the stairs now. I see her, and I struggle to talk. Picalenari acts as if it’s all normal. That girl coming here isn’t normal. I try to gesture to him. I try to ask him who she is. He doesn’t seem to know me at all anymore. He seems uninterested.

“Will you …”

That’s all I hear. I can only see Picalenari saying something. He’s looking at me, he’s looking through me. I don’t know why he ignores my pain.

“Picalenari!” I shout at him, but he doesn’t hear me. He is talking to the girl. Seating her, making her pose. She has the t-shirt on. The t-shirt with a picture of her in a coconut grove. Then she turns to me, and as she does, her face disappears. She isn’t headless, but she has no face. Faceless. No features that I can recognize. Nothing. Just a head. No face.

“What did she look like Grandpa?” Picalenari is asking me. He’s painting.

I try to tell him how beautiful she actually is. How gracefully her hair falls on her face. How vividly her eyes move. I try to remember poetry to describe it to him, but he is painting. As I recollect her features, the girl posing in the room regains them. Everything I say becomes a face, everything I say becomes a painting. I breadth again. I inhale slowly. I slowly exhale. I watch my breadth, waiting for it to become unnoticeable again. It regains composure. It regains strength.

“Grandpa!” Picalenari is shaking me violently. I’m on the sofa. I was waiting for him to brush and shower.

“I’m sorry Picalenari.”

He gives me an odd look. Mischievous and uncertain, he lets it go.

“Do you want to take a look at the painting?”

“Yes, yes.”

We go to the studio. He runs around turning on the lights again. He asks me to sit down. He turns the easel towards me.

“Grandpa, it’s called Coconuts and Crows. Do you like it?”

I try not to laugh.