One-Eyed Queen

>> Wednesday, June 10, 2015

This post first appeared here on the lovely The Monochrome Collective.

Dumping ground.

That’s how people described the area we first moved into. We moved to Thane (Mumbai's do-i-need-a-passport-to-get-there suburb) some 20-odd years ago; a place that was a reclaimed dumping ground.

Andhon ke shehar mein kaana raja – literally, in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Sure, I stayed in a so-called-fancy 'flat' in the area among the sprawling chawls around, but once every year, I was made to realize where I really stood in the universe.

Every May/November, we would pack our huge suitcases and travel for three endless days in the train, to head to our native home in Kerala.

Once there, the days and weeks would be spent visiting first-cousins, aunts, grandparents, and do-you-remember-who-i-ams. I was a different human being here, an anomaly who spoke a weird mix of English-Hindi-Malayalam and wore 'fashion' clothes (I was 7 or 9, I have no idea why they thought I dressed well).

Here, the houses were bungalows. Every house I knew had a minimum of 3 bedrooms, a backyard, a frontyard, a car porch – all of which, was essentially our playground.

Summers meant getting pampered by everyone, seeing a snake or two, trial-and-error methods of figuring out the henna plant and/or discovering new species of itchy plants and insects. Want buttermilk? Stroll around your house for the herbs and spices. Want milk? Ask grandpa to milk the cow. Hungry? Look around and grab a pineapple, mango, banana, tomato or any fruit that was waiting to be picked.

Then, the inevitable happened. An uncle's family decided to visit us in Thane. I froze. We lived in a building where a mongrel frequently slept in the unlit corridor. There was no elevator. My neighbours didn't know a word of English. A calf was allowed to be housed in the corridor above ours. A whole calf!

Among the visitors, I was handed charge of 3-year-old Shankar. His Malayalam was better than mine so we managed to get along just fine. I took him out grocery-shopping, showed him the Kali temple, meandered around claustrophobic gullies… my version of Slumdog Millionaire. We were opposite the milk shop, and a long line of vehicles were piled up. I was an expert at running across roads, and was too lazy to wait for the vehicles to slink by. "Can you run?" I asked him.

He grinned and nodded.

We zapped across the street, just before the vehicles zoomed by.

He laughed so hard! The milkman was mildly amused.

We came back home and made custard. The little one loved it (his grandma had a no-egg policy, so he had never tasted custard, sheesh.)

I was slightly disappointed – now that my visitors had seen our shabby hovel, they would tell everyone in my 'gaon' how my house didn’t even have 24-hour water supply, let alone the 1+1+1+ yard. I would go back there and they’d realize that it was past 12, and I’m just a Cinderella with her goddarn pumpkin ("Make pachhadi with it," they'd say).

A few weeks after they left, the aunt called me.

"Shanku just can't stop telling his friends and everyone about you!" she giggled.

What? Is the brat manufacturing his version of poverty porn? That’s the problem with too much TV, I thought.

"Oh, is it?! What’s he saying?" I gulped.

"About how he and chechi (elder sister = me) swooped across the street and bought milk from a shop! The kids here can’t believe you can get milk in a shop!"

Then it struck me. Everyone I knew in Kerala would either have milk delivered from a neighbour's house or had a bovine output in their own house. 'Buying' milk was unheard of!

Well, well, well. Still the one-eyed queen, I guess!



>> Thursday, May 31, 2012

i see her falling.

Her hair flails around her head like a thousand tentacles.
Like the radiant sun.
Like a benign Medusa.

Her dress flutters in whispers.
The wind escapes through her fingers and her open arms.

Breath still, her eyes open in wondrous splendour capturing every glint of the sunlight.
The world reflects in her eyes.
In her fall.

And then i catch her.
The minx grins at me and says, "Let's do it again daddy!"


How Kurtas Are Made

>> Sunday, August 7, 2011

There’s a soft but desperate knock on the door. I don’t even bother opening my eyes, relying on my hands to find the latch. There he stands, huddled in the rain, shoulders quivering, shifty eyes… my gosh he is midnight poetry.

“What are you doing here?” I mumble, half worried, half amused. 

“I’m in trouble,” he squeaks.

“Really?” I lay the foundation for a small game of cat-and mouse, closing the door behind me, “What, what kind of trouble?”

“Umm, it’s not that big…” he says, not recognizing my mischief. I’m hurt. After all this time, even the smartest sponge would have caught on to that. “Not that big, but big enough to drag me out of bed at 3 am and bring me out in the fucking rain…”

Now I’m leaning against the frame, taking my own sweet time for it to sink in…

He’s looking at his fingers now, staring at the pathetic little creases that the rain has made on them. He slowly shifts his eyes to mine. Well played chap! “Come on in you cheap bastard!” 


"Good. Now you have my t-shirt, my pants, my coffee, my blanket, my Crocin, so do you mind telling me why you honour me with your presence?” 

He looks happy. Happier, I guess. He clutches the mug with both hands and I can see that his toes aren’t as white anymore. He smiles nervously at me and I feel like a schoolteacher. I sigh and drag my chair closer to him. “Hmm?” I ask. 

“She wants me to write poetry for her,” he blurts. 


“But I can’t write poetry.” 


“So what do I do?” 

“I’m sure there are plenty of fish in the sea…” 

“Nooooo…” he wails. “Poetry. For her. From me.”

“‘A rag and a bone and a hank of hair and the fool he called her his lady fair.’”

“See! You should teach me! You make up poetry like that!” he says, snapping his fingers.

I stare at the fool. I’m already the object of his admiration for rattling off an old bard’s lines. “You can’t learn or teach poetry,” I say with a touch of irritation. “Why does she want all this from you? Give her a nice card or flowers or candy or clothes. Why poetry?”

“She wants something unique, something that no one else has or will have.” One look at him and you know that he’s bought the idea as well.

“Well,” I say exasperatedly, “has she given you anything unique or, you know, a b…”

“A what?”

“Er,” he looks genuinely confused, so I decide to corrupt him later. “Anything. Unique. Ever?” I’m using his technique on him. I don’t feel so old anymore.

“Er…” his brain is working furiously now. I lay back and admire my handiwork. “She had my initial inscribed in her mehendi,” he grins.

“Wow, how original. I’m sure she’s the first person in history to do that. Let me call the Guinness people and tell them about this miracle here.” He looks hurt. I’m obviously treading the line here. No jokes about a piece of his heart. Nope, never. Unless we’re drunk. Maybe not even then.

“Okay, so how much do you love her?”

“This much!” he says incredulously, stretching his hands.

“What are you? Five? I’m asking whether you’ll die for her! Give her your marrow if she gets cancer. Sell your ancestral property for her. Rob a bank for her. Walk into the sea. Take an experimental drug. And you give me your fucking arms for measurement! Do I look like a fucking tailor to you? Kurta banaega apne pyaar ka?

He looks pensive. Certainly 3 am lectures are not his thing.

“Will you at least Google some good stuff for me?” he says at last.

“I’ll mail it to you by tomorrow afternoon. Shut the door on your fucking way out.”



>> Saturday, April 2, 2011

Here walked the great man, with one leg. Don’t mistake him for those mendicants or beggars strewn on the streets of holy cities, smoking hash and showing off their proud members to equally pious herds of worshippers.

No, Tobar wasn’t among them. He was greater, closer to enlightenment than priests who groped their young apprentices in frenzied closeted passion, women who silently prayed for a little private time with their brothers-in-law and children who gleefully tortured little insects. The chewed out stub of his old walking stick was testament of that. It accompanied him wherever he went; places he didn’t even take his god: the bathroom, the quiet hours on the river bank, the empty-fog-filled nights that slowly treaded from his ears to his head and the groaning, sweating lonely unregretful love he gave himself. You don’t need, or want, your god in these places. Tobar didn’t.

Tobar had loved, and how! He loved his house; the little ramshackle excuse for a residence. He loved the birds that noisily fluttered to his courtyard every morning with their expectant, beady eyes. If he were ever late, he could see them crook their neck at him and blink with annoyance. He loved the misshapen trees that squatted in his backyard and bore fruit whenever it pleased them. Oh, and there’s also the mad mad MAD sex that he loved, but he wouldn’t miss it if it weren’t there.

Everyone knew Tobar because everyone seemed to be born after him. They nodded respectfully whenever they saw him and wondering about this ageless handicap over steaming cups of tea was one of the pastimes. He taught little boys to use their slingshots but they knew better than to use their newfound skills from him. One whack from his angry stick and they knew their smashed skulls would be buried somewhere in his lazy backyard; and who knows, among many others too.

Then one day, just like that, they realized that he wasn’t there anymore. That the birds didn’t miss him anymore and had found other generous seed-givers. Then someone noticed a tree. Endless at both ends. What was curious about the tree was that a part of the bark near the ground grew almost parallel to the tree. Very familiarly. Like a walking stick.

Too bad Tobar wasn’t around to see everyone’s jaw drop open or he would have had the laugh of his life.


Gregory Medvenov

>> Saturday, September 18, 2010

Gregory Medvenov was a small man
with crazy eyes that never stood still
and a constant mumble above his chin.

They stared and whispered behind his back
of the rich Count who lived with just a butler at home.
If only he were poorer, they could avoid this odd one.

But one thing they never wondered about
was why the Cinderella man who left parties before midnight
always had bruises though he never got in a fight.

There was no reason to be curious about this man,
unless, you saw between the crazy eyes and mischievous grin.
You see, Gregory Medvenov, was Batman.