M for Messed Up Relationships

My phone crashed on Sunday night and a litany of other excuses. So life has been slightly off keeter this week but I haven’t given up on myself. It’s still April so I’m still on April 2015 A to Z Challenge. Also, I just realised that you don’t have to write on Sundays on this prompt so *whew* sigh of relief. So here’s one to start up this phone-free existence.

~O~O~O~O~O~

How can you call my relationship messed up
when arranged marriage
is about planets and castes
and love never enters the conversation

How can you say
I’m blind and dumb when
“Is he the right gender?”
is a more important question than
“Does she make you happy?”?

I break up
and I forgive abuse, lies and violence
while you tolerate these
and let them grow into ulcers and cheating
in marriages that sustain.

Husbands have secret dating profiles
Wives fantasise about their classmates
But because they come to dinner together,
you think they know about love.

While I, naked in mind to my best friend
(so what if he’s male?)
loving a girlfriend who makes me laugh
(and she’s married)
awake all night worrying
about an ex- who is killing himself slowly,

I’m just MESSED UP.

~O~O~O~O~O~

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I for I

I is for Ideasmith, a figment of my imagination.

I is for me, I stand distinct from you all and them all.

I is for an idea; that’s everything and that’s all it ever was.

I is for all the mes that pleased you and you and them too.

I is for everyone else inside me that hits back, rescues me from you.

I is a maze, a trap, a funhouse in Joker’s dungeons.

I is for a word everyone calls their own.

I is a place I’m not at anymore.

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*I is also for Isha who brought me back to poetry.I

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H for Holy Censored Expletive! – Dharam Sankat Mein

HI caught the media premier of a movie on Wednesday and am due to write its review. I thought I’d combine it with my April 2015 A to Z Challenge.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Paresh Rawal playing a man challenging society’s obsession with religion. Now where have we heard that one before? And a colourful godman, complete with wild locks and flashy sneakers, riding in on a motorbike. That’s known too. You’d be forgiven for wondering if Dharam Sankat Mein is what happens when MSG marries Oh My God. I’m not sure people will forgive the movie for those similarities, though.

Now take a look at the trailer.

Done? So you know the important plot points already. A Hindu man in Ahmedabad discovers that he was adopted from Muslim parents. It’s an interesting premise. Let’s talk about what I did like about the movie.

It is set in Ahmedabad. That makes for a nice change from movies set in Mumbai or Delhi (jaded, uber-urban brats and the idle problems of First Worlders in a poor country) or the ones set in ubiquitous North Indian towns (full of gossipy neighbours and a Mountain Dewesque desire to break free). Ahmedabad is a bustling city and close enough to a major metropolis to not be overawed by it. It’s also smaller and comparatively homogenous in culture, making the problems of diversity very real. And finally, given that our much discussed Prime Minister and his politics hail from there, it sets the tone for a rather bold statement.

I did wonder whether the frequent Gujarati sentences thrown in would bother the audience. I am a Mumbaiker after all, so Gujarati is like a second language to me. But that isn’t true for the rest of the country. Still, we’ve survived the Punjification of Hindi cinema for decades now, without flinching or letting it stop our acceptance of the stories. So I’ll hope North India doesn’t turn this movie down, solely because they couldn’t digest its linguistic flavour.

Paresh Rawal is in perfect form but that’s not surprising. The role was written for him. I wonder whether he is starting to get slotted, the way Amitabh Bachchan was in the early millennial decade. AB became the go-to guy for stories needing an old, strong man while Paresh Rawal seems to be the quintessential middle-aged skeptic dealing with change in a reluctant but humorous way (Hera Pheri, Hulchul, Oh My God). You already know what to expect and how he’ll behave, when he appears on screen.

Annu Kapoor was the surprise element for me in the film. As the firebrand Muslim lawyer next door, he delivers one Urdu couplet after another perfectly crafted verbal explosion and keeps the audience hooked. I was happy to see that he had a sizeable role in the movie and a chance to explore his rather unacknowledged talents.

The story doesn’t flinch from delivering hard truths. It addresses latent religious biases, the defensive stance of minority groups, the sense of identity crisis that occurs with a parent’s death as well as the pressure to change to please the offspring. The trouble is that it tries to do all of these things and the effort shows. None of them get addressed fully before the story rushes off to deal with something else, equally big. For instance, when the imaan tells Paresh Rawal that he must learn the Muslim way, the audience starts to think about what this actually mean. But all the movie does is describe the motions of namaaz and make a passing reference/joke to pronouncing nuqtas.

satireThere are several things going on all at once and the pacing seems completely off. Paresh Rawal holds the bumpy set of incidents together but still one is left feeling disoriented. And all the effort that it takes for the key characters to hold the story together, leaves no room to flesh out the others, making them but cardboard cutouts in the background. The ending seemed too convenient, as if the film-makers, exhausted by the effort, decided to just stuff what was left into wherever there was room.

I have to say this. I was terribly disappointed with Naseeruddin Shah. His character is an extreme one but I would have expected better of this actor than to turn Baba Neelanand into camp horror.

Overall, Dharam Sankat Mein isn’t a bad story. I think I would preferred to read it, though. The medium of cinema seems to have overwhelmed the makers and the end result is amateurish. Since comparisons with Oh My God are inevitable, this film looks like a starry-eyed but not very polished attempt to follow up on that theme. But if your weekend’s only options are an overdone car race franchise or a violent postfeminist saga, this might get you a few somewhat intelligent laughs.

pareshrawal-dharamsankatmein

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G for GymRat

What I learnt from a college crush

I thought about this when I hit the gym today for my first personal training session. Romance and magic are the fuel of life. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I enjoy reliving it in words. And I’m late on April A to Z Challenge but I’ll make it up.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

I first remember gymming becoming a thing in the 90s. Maybe that’s when fitness fever hit India (let’s take a minute to thank Akshay Kumar, hairy glory and all). Or maybe it’s because I was newly adolescent and my generation was discovering vanity for the first time.

The year I turned 19 was also the year I dropped out of college. We have the lack of widespread internet at the time to thank for that, else I’d just have been pouring my angst and frustration into a blog. I was still on the rolls of the college but as an A.T.K.T. student (that’s actually ‘Allowed to keep term’ but we knew it better as ‘Aaj thoda, kal thoda’).

You know how everyone has a friend who is a bad influence, who is destined to go downhill? It just occurred to me that I didn’t have one; I was that friend. All the friends I can remember from that time were toppers, popular models, upcoming dancers and the like. One of them was competing in a year-long competition for the title of ‘Miss University’. Yes, that was a thing and it involved excellence in academics, sports and cultural activities. She understood priorities and balancing different people even then. I was only informed of this event sometime in February. It was time for the fashion show round, she explained. I’m not sure what association she made between me and style (I was in my grunge/goth phase then) but I was enlisted to help.

Maybe it was because of our colleges. She went to Bhavan’s, which was considered a respectable but tame college. I was a Mithibai girl, which meant I had glamour cred in the suburbs (Madhuri Dixit, Raveena Tandon, Urmila Matondker, Ekta Kapoor, Vivek Oberoi and Shahid Kapoor are some of the alumni). I didn’t care. I was the original hipster and I had decided that Mithibai filmipan was beneath me (never mind that I was going to be part of the entourage for a fashion show).

We turned up at the Bhavan’s campus early in the morning and it was awhile before the others showed up. They weren’t her friends but her choreographer and the supporting male models. One of them had longish hair and I took an instant condescencion to him. Bhavan’s himbo I decided, was no better than the Mithibai ones. The introductions were done and to my surprise, everyone was really friendly. I was used to my own college peers being a bit, shall we say bitchy, to outsiders and each other. It wasn’t cool to be openly nice.

We trooped up to the terrace for a final rehearsal. Someone switched on a battered music system and the strains of Suneeta Rao’s Paree hoon main rose in the air. The four boys positioned themselves at corners, their arms rising in unison. My friend began practising her walk in a heavy ghagara. But my attention was literally snatched by the boy in the front right corner — the long-haired himbo. Each male model had turned towards the center and had begun a strut towards my friend. When they reached her, they fell to their knees, their palms facing her in a gesture of admiration/worship. It was a classical sequence. But all I could think of was that walk, that walk, that walk. I had never consciously experienced male beauty before. And after that, I could barely keep my eyes off him.

They completed the rehearsal and began talking about costumes and makeup. I lurked in the corner, drinking in every detail of his tight black tee-shirt, fitted black jeans and ankle-high brown leather boots. When he turned, the chin-length wavy hair that had made me so derisive, moved like a lion’s mane. It was stunning. He was stunning.

At some point we got to the Mumbai University club house and made our way to the green room. We passed the Mithibai contingent and one of the girls stage-whispered, “Isn’t she from Mithibai? What’s wrong with her?” followed by high-pitched laughter. My cheeks hot, I whirled around and threw out some acidic barb that I don’t even remember. That’s pretty much all I ever had, back in college — the wits to silence the prettier people around me. Cross and bothered, I made my way to the dressing room. The Bhavan’s team had seen some of it but they didn’t comment as I settled into a corner.

Until he spoke up.

“You’re from Mithibai?”

Inside my head, I was quavering down my toes but I fixed him with a cool smile and said,

“Yes. Problem?”

Before he could say anything, one of the other boys blurted out,

“But, but..you’re so nice! I thought Mithibai people were like…”

“Like them?”

I gestured to the other contingent outside the door. He nodded and we all burst out laughing. The tension was broken but I made sure I didn’t look in his direction. Cool was such a fragile thing. I couldn’t afford to lose it.

Later, I went out to fetch something for my friend. When I returned, I literally keeled over. I had almost run into…a mountain of man beauty. There he was, bare-chested (with the aesthetic sense to be clean-shaven even in those hairy-man days), glistening with the barest sheen of body oil, wearing a white dhoti that would be his costume. I spent a full ten seconds drinking in the view hungrily. I only came out of the trance when my friend snapped a finger under my nose. SHITSHITSHIT I thought and pulled back my uber-cool reserve. I didn’t look at him or even talk to him again. But ten minutes later, she pulled me aside and said,

“He’s got a crush on you. He can’t stop talking about you when you’re not in the room!”

I glared at her and told her to go back to practising. She stuck her tongue out at me and said,

“Listen, he’s a nice guy. Don’t be mean to him, okay?”

Still, I couldn’t stop my Cool Self. I told her I didn’t even know his name. It was true. She had introduced us but I had written him off at the time and hadn’t even bothered to remember his name. She rolled her eyes and told me again, a lovely musical, romantic name that started with G. Then we went back into the room.

I settled somewhere in his vicinity and dared to look at him. He was straining with a dumbbell in his hand. Dumbbells always made me think ‘stupid people’ and I dwelt on that idea for a few seconds to reign in my raging hormones. Then I asked him,

“Gymming now?”

He nearly slid off his seat when he realised I was talking to him. Then he spoke and to my surprise he didn’t stammer or look perturbed.

“It makes the bicep muscles stand out. That’ll look good on stage.”

Ah, I nodded and with that sage conversation we went back to an awkward-pretending-to-be-companionable silence where he did bicep curls and I chewed gum and looked around the room. We both realised at the same time that everyone in the room was looking at us and grinning. He shot them a sharp look and everybody went back to their business.

We didn’t speak again till it was time for the team to go up on stage. As he passed me in the wings, I whispered,

“All the best!”

He turned and gave me a dazzling smile and I could swear he was thinking,

“This one is for you.”

They wowed the crowd with their performance and he shone. The dhotis were slightly sheer cotton and one of the other boys was wearing Jockey undies in blue-and-red, which made us all call him Superboy. But G, G was spectacular, dignity and beauty in the flesh.

When the show was over, we wandered around the building. He drifted up next to me as I was staring at a rangoli of flowers laid out at the entrance.

“Beautiful, isn’t it? I would have done it with roses instead of marigolds, though,”

He said.

“You make rangolis?”

I asked incredulously. Rangoli-making was not at the popular end of the artistic scale. Besides, it was such a Hindu girl thing, I couldn’t imagine a Muslim boy, one as magnificent as him, making a rangoli. For a few seconds I dwelt on the mental image of his large square-set hands spilling out petals into a perfect design.

We had wandered to a staircase and there we sat and spoke. We talked about art and fashion and friends and life and God. I told him I had dropped out of college but I loved books and why that didn’t seem like a contradiction to me. He nodded in acceptance and told me about gymming and how it was both health and looks.

Evening rolled around. Whenever someone passed us, he’d ward them off with,

“I’m just leaving. I’ve to go to the gym.”

Finally, we said bye and my friend and I made our way back to the suburbs. The college professor who had mentored their team was having a little get-together for them and I was invited along. G had bowed out saying he had to get to the gym. I was disappointed but there was nothing to be done about it.

My friend and I spent the train ride back talking about him and about the show. Since I was never going to see him again, I found it easier to tell her what I had felt and thought. It was a new experience for me, being interested in a guy who was so different from me, one who didn’t read, one who was a Body rather than a Mind. A guy who went to the gym!

We rung the doorbell at the professor’s house an hour and half later. And guess who answered the door? My friend turned to me, wide grin in place and said,

“Ooh, Ramya, I didn’t realise you were the GYM!”

He rolled his eyes but I grinned and walked in. We didn’t talk a lot to each other through the evening but it was comfortable sitting next to each other, laughing with the others, eating chips and cake. Nobody made any further jokes about us after that.

At around 11pm, we started looking at our watches. He stood up and stretched.

“Time to go to bed,”

one of the other boys said.

G pulled out of that wonderful stretch (I was dreaming of rolling mountains that his back reminded me of) and said,

“Nahin, I’m going to the gym.”

Our laughter carried into the night and he grinned at me. But he stood up and left and I was crestfallen. Then, my friend who had been standing near the door saying bye to everyone put her head back in and asked me,

“Hey, phone number? Okay?”

I nodded and smiled, my Cool Self be damned. I was so happy.

I never saw him again. He didn’t call. But I’ve never forgotten him. He changed how I thought about physicality, about male beauty, about attraction and about gender roles. And he was so beautiful. G. G for Gymrat.

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F for Four Year Old Lessons

FThis is something I wrote at one of Rochelle’s workshops. I haven’t edited it too much and I might consider performing it. Then again, once I put it out there, I might not need to anymore. This is a delayed poem for the April 2015 A to Z Challenge.

~O~O~O~O~O~

Four years old
and learning new lessons
A lesson on violence
written in finger-shaped streaks
across my face

A lesson of searching
for thoughts that shook loose
and rolled off into corners
where I can still hear them
rattling and thudding

A lesson of displacement
of finding myself
in a different corner of the room
from where I was 10 seconds ago
of vision blurring and refocussing
seeing a different person each time, every slap

A lesson of size
Of how it comes in hugs and punches
And unbreakable grips
And grips that can break you
Of security and fear
Holding hands and holding you

A lesson of waiting
Of devouring books
in search of words to explain
Of trying to believe in
a normal where love means smiles
And home is happiness

Four years old and still learning.

~O~O~O~O~O~

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D for Dear Once Upon A Time Woman…

DHere’s a piece that has been germinating since January this year. A letter, a poem, a truth. This is D for April 2015 A to Z Challenge.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Dear Once Upon A Time Woman,

We learnt a long time ago
that our most complicated relationship
would not be with men
but with each other
See, you were my person once
and I, yours
We’ve been so many things to each other

Cupboards
full of each other’s painful memories
wrapped up in soft cotton hankies
and favorite teeshirts with tear stains
Tucked away in the other person cupboard
Locked with keys that
no family, lover or friend has ever held

We’re blank sheets of paper
in each other’s hands
holding words that we never get to say
to the people who wound us
to those whose lives build our walls and our ceilings
These blueprints of ourselves,
painted in ugly thoughts and unsavoury words
on those untidy sheets of paper
That you and I are to each other

We told other people our secrets
But we gave each other
bits and parts of ourselves
that didn’t fit
into your handbag
my bookshelf
the corners of the desk that we shared

And now
my pockets are bulging
with uncategorisable ends of you
Your forgotten guilt is
poisoning my food
It’s making me ill

While your mind
it’s a whipping wind
of stray ideas
and words that I adopted
You’re tired of babysitting them,
you have your own children to care for

Dear person
My once upon a time person
it must be a once upon a time thing
Or we’ll be trapped in an eternal echo chamber
endless reflections in parallel mirrors
Memory and future, fantasy and life
muddying each other

Let us not be labels anymore?
Not Best Friends
Or Karmic connections
Or Soulmates
Or Scorpio-and-Cancer

Let us just be
you and me
And sometimes
discovering what that is
needs us to go down different paths

You take left
I’ll check right
And we’ll find each other
When we figure out how to be
when there isn’t a place
to hide the things we don’t like about ourselves

Farewell, my other self
Till we meet again.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

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C for Crying

CI was going to slack off on C which is the real letter of today’s April A to Z Challenge. But then I read this and it pushed me to write what I did. Not even a tenth as good but it is poetry.

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I stopped at 16
It was time to leave the tears behind
But I really only pulled them in
They ebbed and settled under my skin
In goosebumps when a different him touched me
The tears I didn’t shed for him, rose up and whispered SUBSTITUTE
And heat blisters on my back spelt COMPROMISE
Creams and lotions pushed them away
and I bought myself a new pen that day
So now they come pouring forth
Like pushy, bashful children
in inky stains and paper cuts
Still, my pen can’t take the tears
of twenty years
So the older ones, slower, sluggish
Stay behind to hold on and die
In the graves of stretch marks
on my body
But I pay them no heed
I have a lot of crying left to do
Enough to last a lifetime
This is just April

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B For Blogger

I had a packed day yesterday and didn’t get home till after midnight so B didn’t get done. But today’s thoughts all came together for a post I’ve been wanting to write and magically it fit the letter of the day for April A to Z Challenge.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

People often ask me what it is like to be me. ‘Blogger’ is both a description of what I do for a living as well as who I am. Last month, one of my clients asked me to bring myself into the stories that I had been writing for them. It was the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me, personally or professionally. What I wrote for them allowed me to dip into my own deep well of personal sentiment and express it openly. I’ve spoken often about the many wonderful things that blogging has brought to my life. But like every other profession, passion and lifestyle choice, it has its share of things that I have to force myself to not focus on, or I’d just stop.

1. People form non-existent relationships with you:

The sharing I’ve done has brought up sharing from readers and other bloggers. Over 11 years, I’ve collected hundreds of emails, chats, comments and texts. It is personal, yes. But sometimes people tend to forget that you are not their best friend, not their personal mentor, not their spouse/partner, not their parent.

Many years ago, one young man decided that the poetry I that wrote, was about him. His girlfriend contacted me (I was anonymous back then and an email address is all readers had to go by) angrily demanding to know why I was chasing her boyfriend. The man in question, continued to stalk me months after that, under different identities and finally wanted me to attend his wedding. That episode gets laughs now but at that time it was extremely unpleasant.

There was another man who had been following my blog for several years but had never said a word. When we finally chatted, it transpired that he had studied with my ex. He got upset because he didn’t like the guy or the fact that I had been in a relationship with him. Our conversations became tinged with judgement, sniping and condescension, after that. It was not easy for me to articulate the fact that he had no claims over me, let alone who I dated.

2. People are disrespectful:

In the early days of this field, I was involved in several conversations on the ‘ethics’ of being compensated for blogging. I remember a time when bloggers like me were barraged with sudden demands from PR people (usually rude and dismissive). Simultaneously we were also subjected to condescension and ridicule by popular media and journalists. I know now that the second had to do with professional insecurity as traditional media feared the loss of its absolute control over people’s minds.

The first tends to continue, now in the form of usually very young social media professionals. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been summoned to a press conference or brand event and ordered to write or tweet about it. One such person even told me that he was looking for people who ‘did not have anything much to do with their time so they would be able to tweet every hour on the hour’. Someone I had known for years ran into me somewhere and said, “Oh, you’ve got some grand ideas now, haven’t you? Wanting to get paid so much and all!”

And then there are others who don’t think that what you do is a valid profession. I am still besieged by messages and calls from friends who open conversations with “Have you gotten a job yet?” Last year someone badgered me to join him at a pub. When I told him I was busy with a deliverable, he said I could bring it to the pub and he’d tell me what to write, over a beer. That was our last conversation. It seems like the fitting end, but really, it’s not nice having to cut people out of your life because they refuse to take you seriously.

3. People see your blog as a free outlet for their personal agendas:

There are two types of people who do this. The first is the kind mentioned on top. Some of them believe that if there is money involved, they own your thinking and your blog. It has taken many years, several conversations and much negotiation to establish that a personal blog is not an advertising platform, it’s a conversation starter for brands.

The second kind is friends, family and even random acquaintances. When people know you have a moderately popular blog, they sometimes believe that they need to tell you what to write. Strangers and familiars impose their ideas on you and tell you you’re a bad person if you don’t write as they say. These include their personal dramas, causes that they believe in and their opinions of films, TV shows, food, travel and the like (never mind the fact that your blog is not based on any of these).

4. People don’t know how to deal with being written about:

Right from the start, my policy has been to be very careful when I write about other people. Given that I write freely about my life, my emotions and my relationships, other people feature frequently. ,I take care to not mention locations, employment, age etc. Sometimes I twist facts very slightly and make an uncle into an aunt, a friend into a colleague, morning into evening – that kind of thing. If I’m going to mention them often or in a very important way, I usually let them know that I’m going to write about them (how important is my discretion). And if they feature often, I give them running nicknames on my blog (my ex was Mr.Everyday).

I have never broken a confidence online. Yet, I find that people are simultaneously flattered and paranoid about what I do. Men I date ask if I’m going to write about them immediately, which makes me laugh and say, “Yes, my life is not ALL about you.” But when I do write something, even if it reasonably complimentary (as well as respectful of their privacy), they tend to get upset.

One friend accused me of sounding ‘weird and gross’. This was regarding a post where the only mention of him, was where I quoted him verbatim. It was all of two sentences, one where I introduced him as a friend and the second, his exact words. I know he is uncomfortable with what he said, which is why he tried to make it sound like my fault. That happens more often that you might think.

I’ve rarely ranted about an individual on my blog and when I have, I have kept their identities secret. The instances where names have been mentioned, have been cases of specific wrongdoing such as someone copying my content or a brand behaving badly. Yet, people tend to worry and fluctuate in how they feel. It makes every single relationship in my life tricky.

5. People mistake you for your blog:

Yes, this is a personal blog and yes, it’s all true (except for where I say it’s fiction). But it’s not ALL of me. Let me reiterate some of the things people have said to me:

“You sound quite cheerful. Not at all depressed.”
“I thought you were this strong, powerful feminist. But you’re not.”
“You are supposed to be all sorted out and wise. How can you be confused?”
“Why did your engagement end? Did you lie when you blogged about your relationship?”
“How can you make spelling mistakes/garble speech? Aren’t you supposed to be this hotshot blogger?”
“You look nothing like your blog.” *disappointed frown* (from when I didn’t have pictures of myself on the blog)
“Your blog is much cooler than you are.”

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Follow the April 2015 AtoZ HERE.

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A for Ask Me Anything

April’s here and with it the A to Z challenge! Here’s Day 1. I didn’t think too much and I’m not overpromising my month. Enjoy All Fools Day!

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Ask me anything, he says.A[1]

She thinks about how to translate that in her head, into the language of her. Does he mean “I know it all”? Mr.Know-it-all. Nobody likes him that much. But she always had a hankering for knowledge. For an information-glutton such as she, he would represent an eternal, endless cornucopia. But know-it-alls come with other expensive traits. Like ego. And the ability to forget entirely about the person at the other end of a phone call. That there is another person. That a conversation takes two, even if one never says a word.

She stops her thought-car, reverses and turns down another alley. Maybe he means, “I’m an open book”. Is anyone ever really one? Even books only ever open to two pages at a time. The others have to be flipped through, unstuck or deciphered from between dogearring, silverfishing, print fading, spine-breaking and food splashes. This says so much more about her than it does about him. One more turn, only a few degrees right this time. Are people who call themselves open book liars then? They imply holistic openness. But the truth is, even open book people decide which pages they want you to see, and those pages are usually masks.

She sighs.

“Are you there?” he asks.

She replies, “Yes, sorry. Can you tell me how to activate the new billing plan on my account?”

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Follow the April 2015 AtoZ HERE.

If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

I Wear: The Return Of Roaring Reds (And Some Yellow)

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