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Azadirachta Indica

The roads are now full of hawkers crying out over neem leaves. Small, bitter and edging out towards tiny buds. People, too are buying them by the kilo. Neem bunches poke out of bright plastic bags high and mighty, or huddle with curry leaves. For a day in the year, they’re worshipped, ingested, delicately swallowed, bit into, grimaced upon and gracelessly spat out. For a day they live in our collective consciousness before finally they too wilt under the mighty suns gaze, droop crackle, and die as green powdery dust.

I didn’t know the neem trees name in any other language, I never thought to ask, or even thought it had one apart from ‘neem’ . But I don’t know anything, you see. Brought up under a literary landscape of beeches, maples, pines and firs, the neem only existed as a bitter pill to be swallowed in the summers. I didn’t wonder about this when my mother fanned me with copious boughs of neem leaves as I lay delirious under the pox, or when she rolled tender young neem shoots with jaggery, into my underlip (once a year, unfailingly). Or when I sat reading under its cool shadows, behind my grandmothers large house.

Having read scores books in English, I had somehow grown up in their landscape, seeing our trees, naming theirs. I looked in vain for pines and firs, in the sweltering heat and drenching rain, and proclaimed our greenery useless, only fit for shade. How exotic their trees sounded – Rowan and Elk, Apple and Juniper, Sycamores, Firs and Redwoods. How tall and richly green they were, how naked in winter and how blindingly colourful in fall. And ours stayed green always. Never coloured, never bared their selves, only bore pests, harboured insects and grew stunted and filthy.

And I came back to live in a city of trees, in a house made of trees. Paper flowers covered my terrace, branches of tamarind trees fanned me and tall coconut trees rose impossibly above, reaching for the sun. Mango trees bloomed in compounds, making me sneeze and huge neem trees swayed gently, scarily and somewhere a giant switch flipped, and I stepped outside.

I read up, fervently hoping to make up for decades of loss, Mango and Neem, slender Coconut palms  and the stately Ashoka, roadside Tamarinds, holy Peepuls and holier Banyans, Bananas, Jambuls and Tabuleias, Jacarandas and Moringas, large Curry leaf trees and Areca nut trees, slender Pepper vines and deadly Oleander. Thorny Rosebushes and wild Berries. Bor and Cashew, Gulmohar, Raintrees and Cotton trees, Jacarandas and Jackfruits.

I’m still woefully illiterate. Now the wide roads on my way home are lined with neem, tomorrow the mangoes will come, small, tart impossibly succulent and in a host of names – for which the English language must once accept defeat. Payris, Bangdas and Hapus, Banganapalli, Mallika and Neelams. Each with its own introduction, its own smell and its own sickly, addictive taste.

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Concealer

She sat in front of the dressing table and unscrewed the concealer, the same brand that she had been using for the last 5 years.She poured out the the ususal copious amounts of concealer and began to carefully apply the liquid on her face.

Remembering back to the day of her wedding when she, who had always been envied for her beauty and her flawless complexion, didn’t require any of this unsavoury stuff. She now sat with intense concentration to hide that very skin behind a clayey concealer. She remembered her wedding day nearly 5 years back – the beautician was amazed to see a bride so beautiful without the bridal paraphanelia.It was her face that had captured the attention and consequently the heart of her future husband.

This beauty which she was once so proud of was today the bane of her life. The challenge to hide her pain and still measure up to the standards of the world had become a matter of routine for her.Touching up the makeup she realized this careful regimen for her had now become a sad necessity.

Just as she finished and turned, the pallu of her sari caught on the bottle and it crashed to the ground. She saw the mess caused by the gooey liquid which was for her; not a whim, but a necessity. Suddenly she found herself crying, the broken pieces of glass reflecting her state of mind and something in her snapped and she thought, “Till when will I paint away the streaks of pain??”

She walked into the bathroom and washed away all her makeup to expose her peaches and cream marred by black and purple bruises. Purposefully, she picked up her handbag and strode out of her home into the world without her concealer!

This was the first step in the fight to get her life back!

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Death


I dread the thought of your birthday. Even after all this time, I can’t bring myself to think about you. When I meet anyone with your name, I feel sad. Not a melancholy silent sadness that is mature, but a raw sadness, raw and painful. One that probes the darkest recesses of my mind and wracks me with guilt. The day it happened I prayed for you. I remember the evening become night, as I constantly chanted every prayer I knew. I waited near the telephone a sense of horror creeping, increasing with every minute. I knew that something was terribly wrong. I prayed and slept.

The next morning crows cawed and you were no more. Strangely I remember nothing of that day. I cried, I must have. How the day passed I know not. Yet all the while I was conscious of a feeling of guilt. Of not having seen you for a long time. Of Mama and Mami. And Paati. I remember holding Amma. Being stoic and emotionless in front of Appa; breaking down in front of our friends. Images, snatches of conversations. Of meeting people, of a sense of doom. Bloody guilt all the time.

I barely saw Mama’s face. We were not allowed to see you. I remember being repulsed. Being scared. And today I regret not accompanying you on your last journey, a thought that pierces me. Bathing later was cathartic. Blessed sleep put me out of my misery.

For months later I was scared of the dark. And I hated you. For going away. For changing your seats in the van at the last moment. I hated you with a vehemence I did not know or understand. In vain I try to forget you. I don’t remember our joys, I vividly recall every fight we had. Vacations. Movies we saw. Of being scared and scarred on the way to manhood. Of a glorious friendship that could have been. Of a brother that was.

I feel the need for a grave. Hindus must have a grave. I need a place to mourn you. To cry beside you. I need some connection with you, however tenuous. Come back…

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Little Boxes

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky,
Little boxes, little boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

The life of an average individual is so predictable. Though different in the details, everyone leads the same life in essence. Like Malvina Reynolds says, we are all like little boxes! Sure I may be a 4*4 box painted in orange and you may be a 3.75*3.75 box painted in green, but at the end of the day we are both cuboids!

And the people in the houses
All go to the university,
And they all get put in boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
And there’s doctors and there’s lawyers
And business executives,
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

Each one trying to find your own niche in the world, looking for essentially the same things. I can bet that 90% of people reading this post will have a similar list, Security, Comfort, Family, Love etc…
There is a said way to go about this. Do well at school choose a good profession and spend more than a quarter of your life slogging towards it and the rest, slogging to keep what you have achieved.

And they all play on the golf-course,
And drink their Martini dry,
And they all have pretty children,
And the children go to school.
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university,
And they all get put in boxes
And they all come out the same.

Many people whose blogs I follow have been speaking about love and marriage increasingly lately. Not that I’m reading anything into it but we all eventually do want to be settled and not live out life alone. Children when they come along will have their futures planned so that they in turn can be secure and comfortable.
Restarts the circle…
Little boxes…

And the boys go into business,
And marry, and raise a family,
And they all get put in boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

Life goes on..

I do not venture to comment on the integrity or achievements of anyone’s life but don’t you feel like being a different shape sometimes.
I want to be a cone made out of mount board painted in fuchsia!
I don’t want to graduate I want to paint and only paint through my life!
I don’t want to care where my next meal is going to come from and whether I’ll be able to retain this roof over my head tomorrow!

Well but in the end, we are all little boxes, little boxes and we all look just the same!

I love Peter Seeger’s songs which my father exposed me to as a child. This is also the theme song for weeds. Do listen to the song.


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