Wild and Homeless Books

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‘Hello. May I help you?’ The woman at the bookshop stood in the centre of the room, a large digest held in the crook of her arm, a pair of vintage 50’s style glasses perched on top of her head. The wrinkles and folds of her skin were so pronounced it was hard to tell what she must have looked like as a young woman. Perhaps she was once admired, courted and coiffured. Now her skin appeared so fragile, I was afraid it would crumble into snowflakes at the mere touch of my hand. Most people wouldn’t have given her a second glance. To me, she was enthralling, like the withered pages of an old book. Continue reading “Wild and Homeless Books”

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Gustavo II

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Luis places the phone back into the cradle. His father had just informed him in his usual brusque manner that he was in the city for a meeting and would be joining him for dinner. No “would you be free?” or “is it convenient?”. No sir. That wouldn’t suit the stature of the great Gustavo II. What came was a summon- ‘Pick you up at 6.”
 
A sinking feeling begins to float in the pit of his stomach. He pictures his father sitting on an armchair, a disgruntled expression on his face. He often finds himself hoping it is a mask and that someday, it would fall off, revealing the real, better person within.
 
It was hard to tell if Gustavo ever felt happy. He had one predominant emotion driving his interactions- resentment – and he would want to pull everyone around him into his emotional hurricane. Luis would often relent to the temptation, take the challenge and jump into Gustavo’s vortex. But it always ended in a skirmish. When Gustavo was enraged, which was almost a perpetual emotion, he became oppressive and dominant. Luis finds it hard to feel love for him. He recalls reading (was it the ‘Bodhi Tree’ column in the morning daily?) that all negative emotions stem from one single one – fear. If that was true, what was Gustavo afraid of? Could it be fear of failure, of appearing inadequate, of losing control, of being taken for granted, of losing his importance? Whatever it was, they were his own storms, emanating from some damage or triggers from his past, from another place and another time. It had nothing to do with Luis.
 
Giving the knot of his silk tie one final pull, he thinks of the impending maelstrom and suddenly feels drained. Maybe he shouldn’t go. Maybe he should never see Gustavo again. But couldn’t there be something else he could do? In the ornate dresser mirror, he sees an image of his father helping him onto his first bicycle; clapping hard at his first win at the school basketball game. Where were those days? What happened? Was it possible that Gustavo could express love to only those he could control, like a child, perhaps?
 
He extends his hand to touch the mirror, hoping to hold down those moments. They quickly vanish into oblivion, supplanted by a man resembling him, a man with sweat drenched skin, throbbing eyes, rapid breathing- a fearful man. He takes a closer look, nervously touching his stubble. If he carries this inner turmoil to Gustavo, all hell would break loose.
 
He suddenly feels tired. Smoothing down his shirt one last time, he makes up his mind.
 
He would simply imagine himself to be a fly sitting on the wall, watching them both – calm, unperturbed.
 
Perhaps, then, the hurricane would lose its strength in cooler temperatures.
 
Perhaps, then, Gustavo would be tempted to act like a fly himself, albeit on another wall, and soon it would become a comical dance of sorts…

 

 

 

Art- The Italian Painter Giorgio de Chirico, by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Italy, 1968

 

 

 

 

Mr. Dudley’s Console Table

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Exhausted from the day’s housework, she slumps into her favorite armchair, wiping her hands on an equally weary kitchen napkin, an apron worn like a battle scar, proud and defiant. On the front of the apron, buried deep underneath old stubborn yellow stains of spices, is a sunflower pattern with errant threads hanging out, rebelling against the tight weave of the fabric, now marching to their own drum. She fingers the threads absently. Sure, the threads like to be a sunflower, she idly muses; but they have broken away, having grown tired of the eons old, excruciatingly monotonous woven pattern. Sure, they would welcome being a sunflower again; but woven differently, perhaps in a twill weave the next time round? Continue reading “Mr. Dudley’s Console Table”

Small Spaces

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This was her favourite place, casual and languid, like a late evening cup of coffee. The balcony wasn’t large by any standards, but it was enough for her singledom. But then she never had a penchant for large spaces; their blank walls, vacant corridors mirrored the deep pit in her stomach. Small spaces, in contrast, were not just strong, making her feel safe, but were also quiet mostly and when they spoke, they did so, lovingly, in soft voices.

She looked searchingly at the buzzing street below. Continue reading “Small Spaces”

Comma

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like the warm handiwork
of the sun
on a strikingly cold kitchen floor,
like the fragrance of freshly mowed grass
pervading the still winter air,
or the hum of a lazy song
glued in the head…

some days
are just like that…

like a comma
at the baseline of a text.

 

 

The Composite

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Jose deftly administers the final tempering on the ‘kadala curry.” The chick peas sizzle and protest before settling down like a gang of young boys reluctantly aligning with a new, sudden entrant in an ongoing gratifying soccer game.

Leaning on the wall, one hand resting on an ample waist, she scans the battlefield. Soiled vessels, spoons lie homeless on a greasy kitchen counter beside an open spice box; splattered yellow curry stains on the tiled wall behind the burner, a sink brimming with dirty dishes— a throbbing pain begins to radiate around her entire head. 

Jose strikes the ladle on the rim of the skillet repeatedly, compelling fragments of fused onions, tomatoes and spices, clinging on to the ladle for dear life, return to their simmering comrades inside the wok. Continue reading “The Composite”

The Morning Ritual

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Dimitri likes to brew his own tea every morning. He politely declines any offer from anyone else to prepare his tea, citing a preference for a distinct taste that he is accustomed to, one which he alone can brew. He fixes it- water on the boil, a spoonful sugar, a spoonful of tea leaves, a dash of milk. He strains the concoction in a cup, opens a cabinet and produces a tiny ornamental box. Lifting the ornate lid, he dips his thumb and forefinger into the case, takes a pinch of a secret ingredient and sprinkles it over the piping hot tea. The first sip, over a steamy haze, singes the tip of his tongue, rolls backwards hitting the roof of the mouth, and crashes at the rear of the throat like a waterfall. Piping hot steam with gold and purple hues rises from the cup, shuddering momentarily before settling onto his eyelids as condensed droplets, just like a bird that brakes its flight to swoop down on an overhanging branch and ruffles its feathers before perching motionless. The drops on each of the lids begin to draw closer, merging together into one before gently sliding into his eyes, forming a misty film. He walks inside the mist, finding himself in the middle of a thick pine forest, the trees deep green and far larger than he has ever seen.  Soaking in fresh rain-washed air, the forest snuggles under a quilt of a soft white cloud. A flock of larks hover above his head, singing melodiously even as they fly, unlike other birds who sing only when perched. As he reaches out to touch their magnificence, they scatter upon him a puff of silver dust, at once taking the shape of a Laughingthrush, instantly flying away, their characteristic laughing calls reverberating through the woods. Dimitri peers into the cup; the empty bottom stares back blankly. Continue reading “The Morning Ritual”

Of Books & Memoirs

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At St. Paul’s historic books library, rows and rows of books, yellowed with age, wait patiently.

Brushing aside a spider web woven loosely around, she pulls out a tattered hardbound book with faded gold lettering. As she opens the book and flips through the pages, a scent drifts through- warm and musty, like the inside of an attic. This one is different, she notes, from the one she gets from the books at town hall library which hosts more recent literature; perhaps it has something to do with the process of acid sizing in printing during early 19th century. Continue reading “Of Books & Memoirs”

The Music

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At the crack of dawn Mrs Holloway begins her day, pottering about the kitchen, brewing fresh tea for her husband of five decades.  This morning, the first sip of tea has a special
zing—special, not so much because she has added to it a dash of her homegrown window-sill ginger, but more because it is accompanied by soulful music. And the source? A new device sitting on the kitchen sideboard- a gift from her daughter. What is most endearing is that it looks exactly like the good old transistor she’d grown up with-wood around the outside with those now-archaic circular dials and speaker-albeit with a trendy digital makeover.
The device is pre-loaded with a strong repository of retro songs in random order. The songs play in a different sequence each time she plays the device, recreating the old magic of listening to radio that came with a surprise element.  Continue reading “The Music”