Murg Musallam

I remember the fiery smell of garlic and chillies wafting through house that day. I remember the checkered blue apron she wore. A new beginning for both of us. Far away from home, my mum and I were in a new house. Just her and I, with nothing left to say. The living room was filled with brown boxes, Labelled and packed tight, all our memories bundled together with brown tape. Amongst the brown, that day, we found our old pressure cooker. This ‘cooker’ had seen as many days as me, perhaps even more, and on it that day, we discovered a recipe book. Flipping through its yellowed pages, we found ‘Murg Musallam’. I cannot remember why we decided to give it a try. Perhaps it was fate or perhaps it was the enticing statement which proclaimed ‘Pressure Cooking time – 5 mins’. She gathered all the ingredients, removed her gold bangles, and tied her hair up into a bun and then, we began.

I peeled the garlic cloves slowly while she chopped up the onions with vigour. The chicken was bathed in the marinade of curd and loads of chilli. And then we had to wait. So, we took glasses of orange juice, sat on the dining table and did something which felt so foreign to us. We talked. We talked about how the chicken would turn out, we talked about what we would eat it with and we talked all the way back into the kitchen. The entire meal took four hours of labour and gave back four hours of laughter.  When the whistle of the cooker finally went off, we plopped on the sofa and gave a sigh of relief. I am sure we smelled like Murgh Musallam too. But when it was time and we broke a piece of the crispy roti, dipped it in the piping hot masala and took a bite, we knew that it was worth it all. It was like a piece of heaven. As I sit down now and think of that day, I realise that Murg Musallam was more than just a meal. It was a connection.  I had known my mum for years before, but it was that day that I found her.

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The Bolted Door

 

There stands a door in front of me

Big old door, dusty with times gone by

Is it bolted from in or out? I am not quite sure

All I know that it’s been shut for ages now.

 

I pass by the door everyday

Sometimes, the lights are up

Telling me that there is someone is locked

In or out, I am not quite sure.

 

Somedays, it is pitch dark

With the shadows hiding too

Like someone dead is being mourned

The door is shut but why?

I am not quite sure.

 

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The Cycle of Life

It is hard to think of anything else while you and your bicycle are going down a hill at full speed. When all you hear is the rattling iron and all you see is the unending road ahead. With the wind in your hair, you feel you can do anything! Maybe, losing some control is the best way to gain some insight.

Yes! We have bought a bicycle. My friend, AA and I always wanted one. Since the start of college, we had been eyeing every cycle-owner with envy, imagining how it would feel to own such a thing of beauty. We had also been putting it off for the next semester. But after ‘some’ delay we are finally proud owners of our bicycle. We call her ‘Siyahi’, owing to her navy blue colour. And boy! we are in love with her.

If you happen to come down to NITK , and you see two girls on a cycle, one with her hands stretched wide, kissing the breeze and the other trying really hard to balance, while peddling with all her might, you can safely assume that they are us. Who is who, I will not reveal here.

I have spent the past month honing my riding skills, which in my case meant learning how to ride a cycle all over again. To people who say that you can never forget how to ride, I would say… Well…Yes, you can! It is possible! After seven years of staying off the wheel, I was falling into the ditch again. But that’s a thing of the past now. I have successfully conquered that obstacle and I am glad to inform you that now there is more riding than falling involved when I hit the pedal. It has been so long since I learned something. Not just read and later forgot. Like actually LEARN! There is something so pure about the joy of completing a physical task, where its just you and your body, and nobody else. When you are zooming straight ahead, the world turns into a tunnel. Everything looks like a movie being played in fast forward.  Its you and the road. Nothing else matters. You keep going on, hoping that this would never end. This feeling of being the master of your destination - the master of your fate.

After many riding sessions around the campus, I finally feel confident to take her out. Pavinje is a river bank close to our college. AA and I will be going there tomorrow for our first out-of-college-Siyahi adventure. I promise to put up pictures of the sunrise. Hopefully, we will get up on time. For now, here are some pictures of the good times:

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Gill Ma’am

The fans are spinning at full speed, spreading the yawns all around. The desks are neatly arranged in rows with the students sitting in pairs staring at the blackboard, which is now ghostly white, reminding us again of the long day at middle school. I am seated on the third bench from the front, feeling as uncomfortable as any teenager. I look at the ‘cool’ kids around. I feel lost and out of place. Most days at schools were like this. The sun would rise and reach up high, while we sat there staring blankly ahead. But that day, she walked in. Wearing a crisp cotton sari, devoid of makeup with her hair worn really short and her spectacles reaching right down to the tip of the nose, she wished us. Her voice commanded attention and in one ‘Good morning’, we all sat up straight. She would be our English teacher.
She studied the rows and columns, taking everything in with one strong piercing stare. We knew then that her class would be like no other. She taught us poetry, Shakespeare, grammar and William Blake. English had never been taught with so much passion before.

One day, she announced that we would be writing an article about the contrast between the life of an underprivileged boy and a rich boy. The first task would be to come up with a catchy title. ”A good title is never longer than five words”, she said.
“Think hard! Then come up to my desk, tell me what thought of. Surprise me!”.
I remember, I took more time thinking about the title than the article itself. I had to get it just right. When it sounded perfect in my head, I gathered my courage to go up to her. Her persona was intimidating, so I walked as slow as I could.

She was busy correcting into our class notebooks, placing dots above the ‘i’s. She was so deeply immersed that she failed to notice me. I managed to utter a feeble “Ma’am…”. Still lost in her job, she inquired, “What is it, Ishani?”

“I thought of a title, Ma’am.”
“Let’s hear it then?”
“So similar yet so different.”

To this day, I remember her reaction. She put her glasses aside, closed her register and looked up. And then, she smiled. “Well then, go ahead.” I knew that I had done well. I had created beauty. And, she was the first one to appreciate my creation. That is how it all started. That day, I saw the strength in my words.

I have come a long way from there. The last seven years have brought about a tide of change. I am little less awkward and a little more confident. I have met some great people in college, who encourage me to write, even on the days I feel too lazy to do so. ‘The Fishbowl Network’ has given a platform to my writing and I don’t feel so lost anymore. I have often thought of that day and wondered how my life would have turned out if that class had never happened. Maybe, I would have never discovered my love for words. Maybe, I would be incomplete. I had been yearning to meet her. I wished to thank her for all she had done, but always got caught up with trivialities of life. I did go to Delhi quite a few times, but never made an effort. You see, I thought I had time.

This summer was spent in Bhutan. Encircled by mountains, life was going pretty good. My mum’s colleague invited us over for dinner one day. There was good food and great company, chatter and laughter all around. There I met a boy, who was an year younger to me. I found out he had graduated out of the same school. I was overjoyed. I eagerly asked him about her, and how she was doing. He looked straight into my eye, and said, “Didn’t you hear?”

I took a deep breath. Somehow, I knew what he was going to say next.

“She passed away last year.”

I lay awake the entire night thinking about her. Twisting and turning in my bed, I thought of that day again. I thought of her smile, her sari, and her thin glasses. I felt like I had cheated her. In my bubble, I had forgotten about the harsh truth of life - the fact that it is too short.

It is impossible to talk her now but I would like her know that she is big reason that I am a writer today. Thank you, Gill Ma’am. I wouldn’t be who I am today, if you hadn’t looked up and smiled.

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Catcher In The Rye

“It’s really hard to be roommates with people if your suitcases are much better than theirs-if yours are really good ones and theirs aren’t”

A 16 year old mind is a like a burning furnace. Anger, rebellion, confusion and curiosity - are all muddled together into a fire of emotions. Life can be tough for a teenager. But sometimes among all this chaos lies the most unique wisdom.
‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D Salinger describes this contradiction in the most beautiful yet honest voice. Holden Caulfield is a 16 year old who has to make some big decisions. After being expelled from school, he faces an uncertain future. He leaves school early to live in New York for a few days. He is lured by the freedom of an independent life. But very soon, Holden realizes that adulthood is a place of conceit, dejection and loneliness. This loss of innocence is the central theme of the book.

At first glance, the book seems like an unending account of the rants of a teenager. But if you look closer, you see a jewel of a perspective. In his quintessential babble, Holden manages to shake you out of your prejudices. His stubborn opinions are shocking and refreshing at the same time. The book deals with the issue of identity crisis and of not feeling good enough. He talks about how the education system stifles creative expression. Holden’s experiences also underline the teenage confusions about love and sexuality.

The symbols used in the book are mundane but they bring out powerful views of the society. In the quote above, ‘suitcases’ denote the inequalities present in the world. One of my favorite passages of the book is his description of Museums. He considers them to be a metaphor for change. He says that no matter how many times you visit a Museum, the displays are always the same. The only thing which changes is you. Holden’s imagination paints a vivid picture of the world with all its beauty as well limitations.

The characters you meet along the way swirl the narrative with their quirkiness. Whether it’s the concerned mother on the subway, the philosophical NYC cab driver, or the Romeo-Juliet-loving nun - they all somehow etch in your mind. Also, New York City serves as the perfect back-drop for Holden’s adventures.

Catcher in the Rye is a book which should not be judged for its raw language. The absence of floweriness does not limit its ability to be a window to the society. The book succeeds in dissecting the facets of the teenage mind. Two days into Holden’s life reveals what lies within every teen – a burning furnace of wisdom.

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Black and White

black_and_white_hands

At seven, I used to see
In war, there was the good
And there was the enemy
Black and white would never mix
Every problem had a fix

Now, the world’s grey
The good have gone astray
Everyone just wants their way
War is inevitable they say
Deaths become mere stats
Both lands flooded with tears
Beyond the madness lasts

At seven, quarrels ended with play
Why can’t arguments remain the same?
Not turn into a war game

To turn earth into heaven
Everyone must be seven
When black and white would never mix
And every problem had a fix.

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THE BROKEN HALF OF THE SKY

“Today at work”, she says, “My boss went berserk”
Has all the luxuries of the world,
Except if you see closely,  she has no one.

Beautiful and intelligent she is for sure, but
Rumors tell me she was never chosen
Oh! That’s what happen when you,
Keep postponing it, till it is too late
Everyone has moved ahead fast
Now, no one wants to marry an old hag.

Happily, she walks away,
After a few days, she sits down with me again
“Last night”, she says, “He worked till the clock struck twelve”
Fallen into the cycle of work, she says.

Of course, he isn’t married that’s why
Followed the path his heart desired.

This view of her amazes me and I ask
He isn’t married? Isn’t that his fault?
Empty and lonely, I remember you had said last.

She waves her hand and says, “Oh! Don’t be foolish”
Keen on his career he worked on,
You can’t blame a man for a choice well thought of!

 

This was my attempt at acrose poetry. In this form of poetry,  the first letter, syllable or word of each line spells out a word or a message. In my poem, it spells out the title ‘The Broken Half of the Sky’.

This poem was quite a bit of a challenge, because I first had to think of the appropriate line and still make sure that the poem had a continuity to it.

Hope you enjoyed my amateurish attempt!

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RAMBLINGS OF A TWENTY YEAR OLD

You know the feeling when you reach the top of the Ferris wheel and you can feel the fall is imminent? When your breath stops for a second and your intestines feel like they are going to come out any second? When you are so frightened of what is going to happen even before it actually does? Well, my twenties pretty much feel the same way. Having lived a sheltered life for so long, it is tough to think of the future. Suddenly, it all depends on you. And you feel so lost. You don’t have anything or anyone to fall back on - your parents,  your friends, your first prize in fifth grade spelling bee. All your past achievements feel pretty small, when it is time to take adult decisions. Decisions which could possibly change the course of your life (or not!). Everyone around you has made concrete plans and is raring to go, and you… Well, you are still stuck thinking. Ever felt that way?

As a kid, I remember I would stand proudly in front of the mirror, wearing my mom’s dupatta as a sari, and her bangles as my earrings, and I would try to imagine what I would look like when I was ‘all grown up’. I did not how big was ‘all grown up’ but, I always believed, without a doubt, that I would be someone great (and have really long hair!). I could not define what it meant to be great, but I knew that is exactly what I was going to be. I am twenty now and I am not quite sure anymore.

Great feels like something to big for me.  Sometimes, I find myself standing in front of the mirror, looking for that little girl inside. I don’t see her in me anymore. It has been a long time, hasn’t it? After all, I am all grown up now.

 

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BHUTAN IS HERE

The trees, tall and mighty are saying hello and the yellow flowers which shone so brightly in the morning, are now vanishing at dusk. Everything is alive and moving. But, how do you keep up with things which are constantly changing? I have come to a place which is so different, so new. I find myself looking up and  taking in deep breaths, reminding myself that I have arrived. I am in Bhutan.

Yesterday, we went by the brook nearby and I watched my parents turn into kids again. Our chappals were left by the bank, while we skipped and dipped in the clear water, leaving our worries far behind. I’d like to think they stayed back with the chappals.  My Mum and Dad gleefully collected pebbles along the brook – flat and round, big and small, shiny and dull, a bit of its journey preserved in every layer. With every pebble picked up, I could see heavier bags and lighter smiles. At home, my Dad proudly smiled at his pebble collection. It has been so long since I saw him this happy.

My mom has raised a kitchen garden right in front of our house. She grows everything from potatoes to pumpkins. Everyday, I see her lovingly tending to each plant. She squats by the garden, pulling out weeds, removing stones, or just gathering the earth around for some support. I think we were raised pretty much the same way.

As, I sit here on my front porch, the sun has set, leaving the sky a dull grey. The breeze is fierce, waking everything from the winter slumber. Far away, I can see mountains standing like guardians, looking after the valley. Their blue pines are interuppted by clusters of white prayer flags, mounted on wooden poles. The Bhutanese believe that the winds will carry the prayers, along with them to heaven.

I have just arrived here, and it will take some time to call this home, but when I see my Mum and Dad smile, I know that Bhutan is creeping into our lives, slowing and steadily, but surely….

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The Bag and the Bin

I see him. Everyday at the bus stop. I catch the bus for college everyday from that place. It is a mad rush every morning. People always on the go. Someplace to be. Something to do. They pass by him without sparing a glance. It is as if he is nothing more than the broken billboards, just a part of the sights of urban life. He is usually curled up beside the dustbin.  The Delhi heat has burnt his bare feet into blisters until you only see them and nothing else. His clothes barely cover his body and his disheveled hair conceals his face. He is no one.

Usually, he carries a shaggy ol’ bag wherever he goes. I am always left wondering what is inside. But, I do not dare talk to him. He reeks of smells unknown. He belongs to the other side. The side which has no identity. He has a blank look on his face, like he’s looking into something far beyond anyone’s comprehension. Some days, he smiles but to no one in particular, just to the infinite sky, like he is the only one who understood the joke. There are times, when he catches me looking at him. I turn away whenever he does. I have been taught not to trust him. I have learnt to look away.

Today morning, I went to the bus stop again. The place I catch the bus from everyday. But, I do not see him. His ol’ bag is by the dustbin, as if carefully left for safekeeping . The buses and the people move like they do everyday. But, he is not there anymore.

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