My 10 O' Clock flowers have been out of sorts, of late. They have been dormant for several weeks now. It is if they have suffered a deep cut in their soul and the wound has stopped them from blooming and bursting into a song like they used to before they wound themselves up into this listless state.


It’s not in the character of the 10 O' Clock to be so reticent; it is born to spread mirth and speak with the elements even when there is no rain; even when there is no puddle collecting around its feet from the gardener’s indulgent sprayer. Their continued torpor makes me worry. I wonder if they are sinking into some inexplicable sadness, like humans these days are, everywhere.


At this point, I want to give my 10 O' clocks a name for easy reference. Not the biological Portulaca. But something closer to the heart. Love Dots, perhaps?


Love is the word that first comes to my mind when I think of them dotting the pots over which their green shoots hang with gay abandon. But now a days they don’t materialize to charm and serenade me. They don’t sing ballads of love to me anymore. The Love Dots in my balcony have withdrawn to some anonymous corner of the desert.


Do deserts have corners, by the way? I do not know. But if there were, that’s probably were depressed souls of this part of the world would retreat. In the poles, it might be deep under the ice sheets. In every age and place, sombre, aching hearts need a place to hide. A place to bury their yesterday’s tales; a casket to hold their tomorrow’s fears and a chalice to hold their today’s tears. My Love Dots must have found a cover between the sandy layers of the ochre expanse.


I want to hold its hand and have a talk, soul to soul. Perhaps then, it may tell its poignant tale. It might reveal its secret sorrows that turned it into a mass of bare overgrowth.


The Love Dots have a flaw. They are by nature bright and beautiful, and a definite delight to the human eye. Now, how is that a flaw, a disadvantage? A happy-looking thing like that is not expected to tell sad stories from its life, and it cannot cry openly. Did my Love Dots too hold their angst inside for too long, and when they began to suffocate, finding no means to channelize, escape to the corners of the desert to wet the dunes with their tears?


I want to spend time with what remains of my Love Dots’ life in the pots outside. Perhaps, during our discourse we will realize that what’s going on inside me is what is going on inside it too. I may then be able to see that we have similar stories. Black and brown stories that we embellish with our colours for the world to see as flowers and poetry.


I will then tell my barren Love Dots, holding it so close to me that it will mistake my heartbeats for its own, and whisper, ‘You are not alone. The whole world is in disquiet. There is melancholy in every falling leaf. There is fear in every blade of grass. But there is sunshine too falling through the dense woods. The darkness that you harbour in your heart will flee one day and there will be Light.


I know it for certain, because this conviction is what has kept me alive. It isn’t a fallacy; it is an insight that dripped into me over countless nights. Without it, I too would have fled to the obscurest end of the earth or to the bottomless sea when terror welled up in my eyes and clouded the vistas outside. When waves of an unknown numbness began to take the shape of life. When little spider ran amok in the head building cobwebs. When I lost myself more often than I discovered in this long winding maze.


I still go astray every now and then and mill around aimlessly. There are days when I stare into the vast sea from my window and see only a blanket of grey, meaningless expanse. And like you, I imagine myself becoming a bloomless mop bereft of all joys, and then suddenly, as if ordained by a celestial power, I see a meteor shower in my soul. I see a million reasons to bloom and smile. The fears and the pains abate for a while. I am inspired to flail my hands and fly. In those moments I see Light.


My Love Dots,

I am waiting for you to troop back into my balcony. Your absence makes my life weirdly incomplete. Return from wherever you have gone to heal your wounds. There is nothing for you to love or anyone to love you in the wilderness. It is here that your life’s purpose lies. It’s here that the Light shines. It is here that Love thrives. Let’s bask in it together. And when at times, there is an eclipse and a shadow falls upon us, we will light a candle, for our sake and for the rest wallowing in the darkness here.

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Updated: 19 hours ago

Tuesdays are when temptations take over the palate in our house. It’s the day Pizza Hut offers a 1 + 1 deal, notifications for which land in my mail and message boxes promptly at the beginning of the day. It takes a lot of self-control and dissuasion to ignore the messages and settle for the drab, homemade dal-roti-sabji combo, but today was not one such day. There was a burning appetite for Pizza that I couldn’t conquer.


Ever since I made the Covid connection, I have been in a state of delusion. My gustatory demands have grown in the recovery period. I have begun to believe that to safely navigate out of the fatigue, I must eat the ‘good stuff’. Margherita Pizza, Jamoca-Almond Fudge, Choley-Baturey, Honey Cake, Kerala Pazham pori etc. And I want to make no compromise with regard to getting back to my elements. I will eat what it takes!


So Pizza it will be this Tuesday, we jointly decided. (‘Jointly’ should be taken in an operative sense. I propose, he accepts. The husband, I mean.)


The lady taking the order at the other end of the phone has a foreign accent that always makes me apologize a dozen times in a three-minute order taking ritual. You can’t have subtitles for a telecon, you see. Nevertheless, by now, I know the questions she would ask and I keep my answers ready in the expected order. Phone number. Tuesday deal. Flavour. Cash or card. No add-ons. No drinks. In spite of it, many details are lost between the two ends of the phone and here’s what happened today.


‘Have you stopped giving us ketchup for free?’ I asked the lady. Twice before, the pizzas had come without ketchup, I stressed.


What did she say? Had they stopped?


One can’t say, you see. There are cost pressures everywhere. Covid, Climate Change, War, Inflation, Energy Crisis and all else have resulted in getting us lesser and lesser for our money.


‘Have you stopped giving ketchup?’ I asked again.


This time my ears picked up what she said. No, they hadn’t. The ketchup sachets still come gratis. Thank God for small freebies.


Urging her not to forget to slip in the sachets this time, I disconnected the call. In 20 minutes, the antidote to my fatigue would arrive. Tell me about small sensory pleasures that turn us into silly, slavering mongrels!


As it turned out, the delivery boy didn’t show up in 20 minutes. The waiting made my hunger pangs go on an overdrive. I began to suspect that the lady must have got some delivery information wrong and the pizza must have gone elsewhere. It was a vexing thought. The last thing I wanted was to eat leftovers from yesterday. I called up the lady to make sure things weren’t leading me to the fridge, and she said something that I assumed meant 'the order was on its way'.


‘Confirm with the delivery boy that the ketchup sachets are there. There is no ketchup in the house,’ I said to the husband.


After what seemed like ever, my manna came to the door.


‘Ketchup,’ I prompted from my desk and the spouse opened the box to look.


‘Oh, I forgot to put them,’ I heard the delivery boy say.


‘This is the third time you have not given us ketchup,’ I hollered from where I sat. He couldn’t have seen me, but must have made no mistake in knowing how I felt about his oversight.


The spouse too made his disappointment apparent in his own way. ‘Why do you forget it every time?’


‘Sorry Sir, I will go and bring it now,’ the man said and left.


‘He is bringing it,’ said the spouse and I nodded approvingly.


‘They are making it a habit now. They must learn,’ I said with a grunt.


Soon after, I began to feel a knot in my stomach as reality sank in. It was the kind of unease that makes me reach out for Xanax before things spiral into a semblance of panic.


It’s the month of August and the temperatures are in the range of 45-46 degrees. One can’t look out the window without squinting. One can’t walk in the sun without getting scalded. One can’t be forgiving to the lethal intentions of desert summer during these days. Given this, did I really want the delivery boy to take a ride back to our house to give us a few sachets of ketchup? What on earth had stopped me from saying it was all right if he had forgotten? Did my kindness go to graze in this hot sun?


I felt ditched by a flash my own insensitivity. The sense of remorse one feels when she has not been the best version of her is very hurtful.


It might be a different thing that the very nature of the delivery boy’s job kept him outdoors for a major part of the day, rain or shine. If not us, he would be out delivering to someone else. But that didn’t dilute the fact that I had been inconsiderate to him. It didn’t absolve me of the guilt of being downright heartless to a fellow human being.


‘Don’t be so hard on you now’, I said to myself, as I sank my teeth into the cheesy Pizza. ‘You weren’t heartless; probably a little hasty and hungry.’


The self-talk placated my nerves presently and I got down to enjoying my meal.


‘I will answer the doorbell when he comes with the ketchup,’ I said to the husband, amidst the busy chomping. I wanted to apologize to the man for making him sprint back in the scorching sun to keep his side of the bargain. It was the only way I could have atoned for my indiscretion.


We were close to finishing our lunch and there was no sign of the delivery boy yet.


‘For all you know, he may not come,’ the husband said. ‘He must have said it just to please us.’


‘I will be happy if he doesn’t. I really don’t want him to. I was briefly brain-fogged then. Blame it on long Covid,’ I said, tossing a hardened piece of crust into the empty Pizza box.


(What do you think happened afterwards? Did he return with the ketchup?

Your guess is as good as mine.)





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Updated: 4 days ago


Khayal - Tujh Se Naraz Nahin Zindagi (Masoom)

Dear Zindagi,

I have always wondered why I address you so endearingly in spite of you treating me unfairly and without pity every so often. Despite all the uncertainties you hand out to me, all the rough roads you make me ride, all the aches you induce in my bones, why do I still stick with you without abandoning you in some dumpster down the road? Why?


Because,


तुझसे नाराज़ नहीं, ज़िन्दगी, हैरान हूँ मैं

तेरे मासूम सवालों से परेशान हूँ मैं


Dear Zindagi, I am not annoyed with you, I am merely baffled. Just baffled. And I am troubled by your naïve questions. Oh so troubled I am!


Listening to this soulful melody from Masoom, that epic movie from my growing-up years, I experience the familiar sentiment of utter helplessness in the face of challenges that Gulzar Saab has so subtly alluded to here!


We don’t despise life, which is why we put up brave fights against odds of every kind, making every effort to survive in war or peace, love or hate, plentitude or penury.


We are not annoyed with life which is why at the slightest opportunity we celebrate it so wholesomely. Yet, when the dilemmas ambush us unexpectedly, we become a heap of nerves. Unprepared and unsure of where to seek help, we crumble into pieces of Bone China.


But to be fair to us,

Whoever thought that to live, one must learn to tackle pain? Whoever knew that to smile, one has to pay debts? And even when one smiles, it feels as if the lips are loaded with debts and dues of every kind.


"जीने के लिए सोचा ही नहीं दर्द संभालने होंगे

मुस्कुराए तो मुस्कुराने के क़र्ज़ उतारने होंगे

हो मुस्कुराऊँ कभी तो लगता है

जैसे होठों पे कर्ज़ रखा है"


The deception of life has never ceased to baffle me. In my moments of unbridled joy, when life seems as perfect as a snow flake, it is as if there is nothing but laughter to enjoy. Whoever in that moment of absolute mirth thinks of pain? But then, suffering is a grim reality. Fait accompIi that none can avoid. I am not sure if we deliberately choose to overlook the existence of pain or we are indeed so ignorant to believe that life is a bed of roses. Perhaps, we are stupid enough to be tricked by the illusions that life conjures up in our eyes and to be blinded by the mirage of transient pleasures.


But somewhere in the inner realms we are privy to the deceptive nature of life. We are acutely aware of the transitory nature of our smiles. Aren’t we? Isn’t that why even when we find a reason to smile, we feel burdened by our fears, turning the smile into a parody of sorts?


Dear Zindagi, seriously, I am not mad at you, I am just mystified.

Come to think of it, I have learnt much from you.


"ज़िन्दगी तेरे गम ने हमें रिश्ते नए समझाए

मिले जो हमें धूप में मिले छाँव के ठंडे साये"


You have made me understand the truth of relationships through the sorrows you have given me. And if I have found any cool shade of comfort, it is under the scorching sun.


How true!

Isn’t it in times of woe that we have learnt the profoundest lessons in life? That’s probably why suffering is so endemic to our living - to teach us the truth of our connections in life. To reveal the depth and shallowness of our affections. And what an irony it is that in those very intense, burning experiences we find relief by our realization of truth! It’s you taught who us the uncomfortable lesson that it’s not under the tree but in the sun that we find comfort.


Dear Zindagi, I am not annoyed with you; I am just perplexed.

So perplexed that it makes me want to cry.


"आज अगर भर आई हैं बूँदें बरस जायेंगी

कल क्या पता इनके लिए आँखें तरस जायेंगी

हो जाने कब गुम हुए कहा खोया

एक ऑंसुओं छुपाके रखा था"


Today, my eyes are brimming with tears, and the droplets will cascade copiously. Let them fall, for who knows, tomorrow these eyes will yearn for these very tears? And then I will wonder, where did that lone drop of tear that I had hidden for long go? Where did I lose it?


Somewhere at this point, every time I listen to this song intently, I feel a lump in my throat.

I think of the times when I haven’t let my tears flow, reining it in for God knows what reason, and then later, when secret sorrow clobbers the heart seeking an escape route, I find my eyes go desert dry. Strange, how once there was a river waiting to breach its banks, but now there isn’t even a mist to sweep the riverbed. Where did that tear I had saved for this moment of release go? Unwept, even my sorrow has often felt betrayed.


Dear Zindagi, despite all this, I am not angry with you. I can’t be.

बस तेरे मासूम सवालों से परेशान हूँ मैं...परेशान हूँ मैं...


As the song fades, I wonder why the poet has described life's questions as naïve? They are anything but that, aren't they?

Maybe, he loves life a tad bit more than I do. Or maybe the questions are, indeed, naïve. It is the answers that aren't.


****


(Now close your eyes, listen to the song and let the lyrics soak into you. Links to both versions are given. The female version has only two stanzas, while the male version has the full song.)


Film: Masoom (1983)

Lyricist: Gulzar






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