An expression in ink

You tell me I live in a society.  And societies have rules. Undocumented. Unsaid. Unanimous. Untampered. Unquestionable. I tell you I have a life. Mine. And while I know you are right. I also know that I’m not wrong.

When I make choices,  I understand all the directions the repercussions might burst into.  I may underestimate the magnitude,  but I get the general direction. But the choice in itself is valueless to me. I accept the consequences as a payment for the freedom of making it. But your comments and your slights are not to be wrapped in the same packing. When I travel to a new place,  I understand that I may be lost.  When I stand on the stage,  I confront the risk of drawing a blank.  And when I get a tattoo,  I know it’s permanent.

You don’t have to spell it out to me. I know how to read. Or listen. Or think. Or choose. Everything. The design. The place. The size.

You don’t have to protest about missing your vote on my pre-tattoo design deciding panel. I don’t need it. Your permission. Or approval. Or pat on the back. It’s still healing and I’d rather not get it infected.

It might surprise you to know that it wasn’t an impulsive decision. I did think long about it. But even if it was,  I don’t get why I need to tell you about it. If I have to maintain a journal of my choices,  I’d rather it be my body than the constricted puzzles in your brain.

I don’t need you to make me look for questions in my answers, when you really don’t care about the why or the what or the how. Because you’re too busy making the world fit into your own fancy mold to understand it.

Every statement that I make, does not need your approval stamp. And you can rant about your views in words that won’t sting more than an inked needle. And my mind will pay you no heed. Because opinions are like seashells.  I’ll choose the ones I like and leave the rest to the waves.

Dedicated to all who made me think yet again about something I’d already been pondering over for years – getting a tattoo. And dedicated to all those who are still letting others steer your life when you’re one hell of a driver yourself.

‘Tis the season!

Stockings hanging beside a fireplace towards the right with a christmas tree on the left.

Each morning on the 25th, the first thing I do is look under my pillow. And each morning on the 25th, for as long as I can remember, I without doubt find something or the other there – a box of chocolates, a little toy, a book. So it has become a habit of sorts. These days, my younger sisters wake me up before I can look myself with the standard – ‘What did Santa get for you this time?’. Before I can tell them, they rattle off with their own list of under the pillow goodies. It seems this time our Santa did a little upgrade. He finally found the socks we’d hung near the bedpost so there was less danger of us waking up while he sneakily tried to stuff gifts under our pillows. Maybe this Christmas, we can pat ourselves on the back for becoming more considerate.

I remember having a fight with my friends when I was in the fifth grade. All because they had the gall to suggest that Santa wasn’t real. With narrowed eyes and puffed up cheeks, I declared, ‘Maybe you are just not good children’, and stomped away. Because I believed in Santa. Despite all my rationality. I had years worth of gifts to prove it. Every 25th without fail. And even as Christmas creeps near this year, I see my younger sisters writing a letter to Santa and asking their dad to post it, with all the surety that it will be read that only children can have. And I wonder if they fight with their friends about Santa’s existence or not. And if they reply in the same pompous tone as I did or not.

It took me, after all, quite a long time to realize that there is no such thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ kids, there are just some which are incredibly lucky.

And in some ways more than the others, I have been quite so. Rather than being bad children, maybe my friends just did not have any person in their house who believed in Christmas or wanted their children to. It is not our festival anyway. We already have enough with Diwali and Holi and Dussehra and Janmashthmi.

But festivals are fun. And carols jolly. And as I shop with my Aunt reading off from a list of gifts that her husband handed her which she needs to get before 24th eve, I still find one box of chocolates stuffed beneath my pillow when I wake up on the 25th.

PS. Talking about Christmas music, I’ve been listening to this for about 3 years now.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis Appreciation Post

Yeah that’s right. Appreciation. Of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Like a big giant ‘Thank You‘ in as many words as possible.

But let’s start with this little conversation I have been subjected to more times than I care to count.

Me(randomly): I love Macklemore and Ryan!

Other Person: But why? OR Ohh. The guy who sang Thrift Shop, right? OR Umm… who?

Me(to all of them): ……..You didn’t just say that.

So let me (try and) address this. Wait a minute as I put Wings on my speaker. Why do I like them so much? How do I even answer that? It’s like asking ‘Why do you like the Harry Potter books?’ I can still try and explain that by saying ‘It’s my childhood’, so it doesn’t tell why I like it, but that it’s been close to me for a long time. That may give you some idea. A better comparison is ‘Why do you like Murakami?’ Try and answer that! It’s because it is Murakami. See? That is why I like them. Because, Murakami.

Okay. This demands to be clarified first – when I say Macklemore’s and Ryan’s songs, I do not mean And we danced and Thrift Shop. They are cool. And hip. And fun. Yes. But they are not all of their songs. And I certainly wouldn’t call them their best. They’re like ‘Tales of Beedle the Bard’ to the entire Harry Potter series. You haven’t even started the damn series yet and you’re already drawing conclusions? What is wrong with you? How can you find Thrift Shop on the internet without having Same Love pop out somewhere else and clicking on it? How do you go about this world justifying your Youtube song searching skills? Look around child, look around in this beautiful world for the gems, the ones that sparkle in the dark, the hidden ones.

And, believe me, there are gems – Otherside, Same LoveArrowsGrowing up – and they are beautiful; because there is one on drugs (but you’d say that every one sings about drugs these days, to which I’d say not like they do and not with the same message as theirs), and there’s one on love (and I can literally speak all the lyrics to it in one of my public speaking assignments with homosexuality as the topic because there is no better piece which presents the case for it in so heartbreaking a manner; like there is even need for being told that it is alright and definitely not a crime), and there’s one about ‘My old man he kicked me out when I told him that I live this way’ (because he sure as hell will) and there’s one about, well, growing up, but more specifically, about what Macklemore wants to tell his child as she grows up and really? Do you want me to say anything more? I just love them. And there’s still Kevin. And Downtown is so fun (it made me laugh at more than one scene like if I only had one helmet I would give it to you? That’s so cute). Because fuck. It is a moped song. Who makes a moped song? And I haven’t even talked about My oh My yet. Do you get the idea now? Here’s an excerpt from Arrows:

He doesn’t sleep
So in truth he never wakes up
Another day rushing to his death
Out of breath on the treadmill of the famous
He makes mistakes tells stories to his paintbrush
And when the world finally sees his art
He wishes that he never would have made it
Just escape, just escape ricochets
And eclipses faith living in a city
With a grey umbrella over your shoulders
And you’re becoming suffocated by the weight
Can’t hit those breaks
This is what you wanted, huh
But you got it all in vain cause you forgot who you are
Right as the world learned your name it goes…

Their music jumbles all these waves into a cat’s cradle in your hands telling you about all the cultures they’ve lived in and all you need to do is pull at one tiny string and it all falls aside to show just how much they actually care about them. And they are just so damn cute showing it and putting it out there, putting themselves out there and just talking about whatever the hell they want to be talking about, so much that I want to have an Irish Celebration with that one tune playing all the time in the background.

Most people get put off by the rapping. But for me, I see no other way that they can be them without Macklemore singing and Ryan working his magic like the most evil addictive witch I’ve ever read about. How do you squeeze in lyrics like they do or the cadences that Macklemore has without it being a rap? I’m not a huge fan of the genre myself, but I still love them, because there are things worth compromising your tastes for, and when you do, they reward you in strands of words and music wrapped wondrously around topics that sure as hell aren’t.

So you tell me. How can you not love them? Please do. Because I just cannot get it.

Writing Everyday

I hear about it. I read tips to and benefits of doing it everyday. Heck, there have been occasions I’ve suggested it to other people. But do I myself write everyday?

No. I don’t even write once a week. Once a month maybe, but I won’t bet on it.

Writing everyday to me is like looking at the wonderful oranges my roommate has bought and arranged on her side of the table but not buying my own; like buying all those books on knowing more about history or getting more out of your life but never once opening them. Even when I do write, I never do any happy writing. I only write when I’m miserable about something, or on one of those days when my habitual random walks across the city didn’t show me something new and interesting or when I want to whine(like now). Writing is accompanied by a special kind of disappointment that follows after reading other bits and pieces and realizing I can be nowhere close. Raised in an Indian family with parents always talking and boasting about their kids, it‘s not a surprise that I’m this sickeningly competitive that I wouldn’t click on the ‘Write a story’ link that medium has placed at the heights of convenience just because I see it as an invitation to be inferior, willingly.

But then there is also the other reasons — the distractions in this world — the booze, the comics, the lazy mornings, the assignments, the lazy afternoons, the right color of a PowerPoint title slide, the lazy evenings, the shopping mania, the travelling time, the lazy nights. Where is the time? How do you get the time to write when the alternative is watching movies while eating chocolates, or chatting non-stop with your roommate/other friends (perks of living in a hostel) or reading all those wonderful books(fiction, of course) or posts (anything except news).

After all, creating is always harder than consuming. I know that. And I want to stop being a thankless marsh that just keeps on soaking anything thrown its way into a dull bottomless forgotten zone. I want to add a little of my own touch to things that are given to me, without looking over at how others are handling it every other second.

And so, this is my 2016 resolution — write something every week (I don’t have the guts to make it daily, but hey, it’s a decent start, right?) — no matter how small or random, just write. The rest will follow (hopefully).

How I embarrass myself where I don’t want to most

That is, in front of people I like.

And people I want to like me back.

More precisely, here, a guy who works in a cafe which makes the best coffee in town. And I love coffee.

First, something about me. If I have to describe myself in one word, it would be awkward. Not the cute awkward. No. But the uncomfortable bumpy ride in a car when you’re holding in your pee kind of awkward. I’m usually quiet but when I do say something, it is totally out of place and just plain random. Picture Luna Lovegood. That’s me when I speak. Only stick a weird smile to that face. Because for some reason I always find myself smiling when I speak to people no matter how inappropriate it is in the situation, and I can’t help it. Awkward right? Now you get the idea.

Today I walked into the cafe again. It was my third day visiting the cafe and the fifth day since the cafe had opened. I had coincidentally walked into it on its first day and had been taken in(head and soul) by the Siphon coffee they had. It’s hard to find cafes that actually brew coffee in India. So it was a rare gem.

‘You again!’ one of the chefs remarked. The cafe had an open kitchen where you could watch the chefs preparing your orders. Like in a bar. Albeit with healthier stuff. Mostly. If it’s not obvious yet, this is the chef. The one I want to look cool to(or at the least, not ruin myself with my terrific social skills). The cafe had an informal air about it where the owner roamed about chatting to customers, exchanging opinions and small talks. Somehow I had ended up talking to a number of chefs on my first visit owing to my fascination with coffee. Still I hadn’t counted on being remembered so to cover up my surprise I chimed, ‘Hey! That’s kinda rude!’ and sat down smiling. Fail! As if on cue, a thousand buzzers went off in my mind. In the world of Inside Out, my feelings panel would be ringing the ABORT siren with all its might. Why did I say that? He works here! If any customer calls him rude, isn’t that bad for him. Even though I had made it apparent that I was joking. What if had cost him his job? Did the owner hear that? And so my mind went on accusing me of more and more serious allegations I had no defense against until the waiter came to take my order. I hurriedly ordered my Siphon and opened my laptop, doing my best to type away my embarrassment through my assignment.

Maybe, it wasn’t so surprising that he remembered my face. The last time I came here was the second day the cafe had opened and he had recognized me from the previous day — ‘You came here yesterday, right? You were pretty interested in the coffee and all.’ ‘Yeah’, I said, feeling a bit flattered. And then jumped into another discussion about the various coffees they offered, before stopping when I had to word what I was saying in three different ways to get my point across(remember the awkward part?).

I was dying to move to the table adjacent to the kitchen so I could watch the chefs work a little(which was fascinating) between my assignment. But owing to my overthinking cranial nerves, decided it would be too weird to move now that I had settled myself on another table. I struggled with my food(I’m a messy eater) and relished my coffee, as slowly as I could, so that I could finish my assignment and stay in the cafe a bit longer. When I could stall no more, I shut my laptop, put it in my bag and made my way to the billing machine.

As I paid the bill, the owner came up to me and started inquiring about the consistency of the coffee(he too mentioning that it was the third time I had visited). We also talked a bit about the other outlets they had, why they had such a limited coffee menu and what he had in mind for the cafe next. Since I was fairly curious about it (a euphemism), I asked him where he sourced his coffee from, and came to know about a wonderful independent coffee roaster in Delhi. The owner generously gave me the roaster’s number when I told him how I always had trouble finding good beans. While we were chatting I casually said, ‘You know, the first time I came around to this place, I was both happy and a little jealous. It’s such a rare cafe, especially in India but then, I had always hoped to open something like this myself 5–6 years down the line and you beat me to it.’ Fail! Mental facepalm. Why? It was going so good! What are you? A 10 year old school girl confessing her secret hobby? You’re not supposed to say these things out loud! How is the other person supposed to react to this?!

I needed to escape. I quickly paid. Focusing on the bills rather than the person on the other side of the machine(which was the owner again). But as I turned to leave, I saw the chef kneeling beside a cabinet and sorting through the stuff in there. He happened to look up and seeing me leave, did a quick wave. That killed me. The disheveled look with the lopsided specs and the clumsy wave — killed me. And knowing in another parallel segment of my brain that can somehow predict the outcomes of all my impulsive decisions to be regret, to be felt even by the tiniest of my bones, I still bent down (and smiled) and said, ‘Can I get your name?’ Boom! went the brain, but I was too far gone to withdraw now. ‘What?’, he remarked. ‘Your name. I didn’t get it.’ ‘Oh. It’s ____.’ He said. Damn! ‘Thanks’, I smiled. And turned away. But somehow there seemed to be something missing. What is the use if he doesn’t know my name? I turned around again(as the rational cells in my pumped up brain screamed in protest) and said, to no one in particular, ‘I’m Tulika by the way.’ Silence. I didn’t dare look around. The entire cafe seemed to freeze. What had I done? How loud was I? If I could blush, my face would have been a steaming beetroot by then. My mental eye spotted the door and I made my way to it looking down all the way for fear I would catch someone’s eyes and melt to the ground in a sloppy mess.

Once out, I walked a few steps to the right and buried my face in my hands. I had done it. This shot up to the top of my embarrassing moments list. Infact I couldn’t even remember the runner ups anymore. I can never show my face in there again! And it wa-is my favorite cafe. He’ll think that I was hitting on him for sure! What if he was married? He didn’t look old enough. But since when have I been a good judge of age? What if a married guy thought I was hitting on him? Was I hitting on him? And so they went on. Fazing in and out between all these thoughts was the quiet knowledge that he had the same name as my ex.

The status quo

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Writing has become difficult of late. Almost as difficult as speaking.

Earlier, even though uttering words in front of people was a considerable challenge, writing used to come naturally. Now the words choke on themselves, regardless of the medium. So much that I fear that soon, my thoughts will follow suit.

This comes off as a weird notion. Funny, even. But if anyone has been me for the past 21 years, they’ll realize it’s a prudent fear. When the search for words becomes as desperate as one draw of breath when struggling underwater, when you find yourself unable to talk to the people just beside you for no reason at all(except for being unable to come up with a single word to say), when you start getting morbid and suffocating thoughts anytime you’re by yourself (which is most times), when you’d actually want to be around people you know you can trust but act like you don’t mind being alone, and then get worried of this entitlement dragging you away from those who could have eventually made it to your small circle, when every morning you wake up is a huge internal sigh, when you mull over every little thing endlessly, no wayward thought that can prance around your wretched brain seems far-fetched.

And then you begin to doubt everything about yourself, and about people around you. You think everything’s a raging sham; hypocritical even! All pretense and rues; like a big stage play being enacted for the sole reason that it’s always been this way, with you a slight anomaly, whose existence won’t register.

It is hard to look back and think of what brought this wave on — this inexplicable wave of self-doubt and listlessness, or is it called ennui? I hope not. It’s too sweet a word for such messed up meaning — or was that the point?

The Element Girl in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was the latest character that stuck with me. All the masks, all the false faces, the crushing loneliness, the ugly appearance, the few contact-points that you expend judiciously, all of them struck home, and felt more real than actual people. And I understood her. I understood her story, but for this one question that still keeps bugging me: Did she regret her choice to die just before she was vaporized by Ra? Just like in her dream? I think she did. Will I have second thoughts? During those times when the happiest of my memories and the strongest of my dreams can’t brave the faintest of glimmer in my darkening reveries, I doubt I will.

But then I convince myself that it’s all in my head. And it works. Atleast until the next day.

A Little Day Out


Nariman Point, Mumbai

I looked at my watch for the umpteenth time. 10:50. I had to leave by 12:00. But the session seemed to be going on forever. So much for yoga day! Compulsory attendance is all but useless when half the people are dozing off when they’re supposed to feel all material weight and worries lifting away from their bodies. Or maybe sleep is another form of relaxation. Hard as it is to come by in a business school.

Still, I had something to look forward to: A meeting with an old friend. It had only been 2 weeks since I started college, but it felt like ages.

After the session(and the attendance sham) finally got done with, I packed my bag and left for our meeting point, sending a small heads up to her phone:

‘Getting on the metro. Be there in an hour.’

It’s disconcerting. We used to live together in the same room, not long ago, and now, had to travel an hour to just see each other.

I was the one to arrive first. A quick call later, I stationed myself in front of her arrival platform and started counting down the minutes, keeping time with the giant LED board screaming the details of the next train to arrive. As soon as the train came into view, my phone rang. I cut the call and started looking around. In the Mumbai train arrival rush, a call serves little purpose other than adding to the confusion. After a few minutes, I spotted her among the crowd of people gushing out of the train onto the platform. Inadvertently, the corners of my mouth stretched themselves to form a huge smile and my excitement gave itself away in impatient jumps and elaborate waves — at last, we get to meet.

 — — —

We didn’t talk about old memories or incidents. It hadn’t been that long for us. Instead we clicked new memories and joked about how our other friend will get jealous over them. We talked about things off the top of our heads. We argued over who would give up her precious mobile data to look up a good dine-in nearby. We walked around aimlessly in the drizzle, in a beautiful part of a wonderful city. We complained about getting half wet because the other person was too selfish while holding the umbrella, continuously switching hands to show the right way to accommodate two people under one umbrella. We found it needlessly funny when one of the umbrellas broke while being wrestled open in the sudden strong wind, taking time to understand the mechanics of umbrella opening everytime it started raining from then on. We were horribly tensed up when one of us forgot her cell phone in the cab, and then immensely relieved when the driver picked up one of our relentless calls and came back to return the phone to us, immediately breaking into praises and gratitude for the Mumbai cab drivers. And when it was too late to stay back, we started planning out the next time we would meet.

It was a good day. Nothing extraordinary, but still beautiful. Staying with strangers for the past few weeks and trying to find the right ones (which takes a lot of time for me) somehow made this special, made it feel like home. It was normal, effortless — the same as always. It was the difference between stepping around lightly looking for landmines and running straight ahead with your arms spread out; the difference between molding yourself into a crammed or foreign place and fitting into a predefined place, designed just for you, every nook and cranny formed with you in mind, with a click; the difference between being dumped into preconceived categories and being accepted.

And this difference in immeasurable. And maybe, just maybe, that’s what makes it so special.