Tag Archives: Emotion


I don’t feel so raw anymore.
I don’t feel so raw.
I don’t feel so.
I don’t feel.
I don’t.

Movie: Dhobi Ghat – Mumbai Musings

Movies are a big part of weekend planning. Realistically, what else is there to do in Mumbai? Let’s not go into the notions of what a ‘happening’ city this is. I’ve been active on the cultural circuit for the past year and a half and gone to everything I could find. Poetry slams, Open mics, music gigs, stand-up comedy, workshops, book readings, board game meets…to my utter disgust, all I found was the same frenzied networking, the same desperate need to be cool, the same petty politicking and hard-nosed business dealings, in place of any real interest in the event/field or depth of thought. I’ve struggled with this but had to conclude that Mumbai lets you make a living, not a life.

Dhobi Ghat, Kiran Rao’s directorial debut was this weekend’s big feature. It started on a less-than-pleasant note. Considering that movies are the only standard entertainment available and the skyrocketing multiplex prices, I tend to frequent the second-tier theatres that are still ‘safe’ for a woman to go to alone but cheaper. Moviestar Goregaon was my pick. We entered about ten minutes before the start of the show, when the lights were still on, which is probably why the filthy seats caught our notice. I don’t mean a broken armrest or an undone stitch on the upholstery. I mean filthy, godaloneknows what black, smelly, gunky-goo streaked across all the seats that we could find. The manager was apologetic enough but there were no cleaner seats available and so we had our tickets refunded. While on this, I must add that the theater is now under BIG cinemas which to me, means that service levels can only plummet. My past experiences show that Fame Adlabs, also part of the same group, offers rude staff, smelly (and bedbug-infested) seats and stale food for its high prices. I bid goodbye to another of my budget alternatives. The boy was most appalled at the fact that the other theatergoers streamed in, blindly (and deafly) made their way around us and arranged themselves comfortably in those same filthy seats, even as we pointed them out to the staff. Mumbai, you could redefine the laws of robotics.

We managed to finally catch the movie at 24 Karat, another theatre down the road and I was glad we’d persisted. After the kind of tortures that Bollywood has been visiting on our senses lately (Sheila Kejwani, anyone?), it was a real pleasure to not have to shield my eyes and ears.

A number of things stand out about the movie. Firstly, there isn’t one concrete plot. What there are, are a number of strong, well-etched characters and the little (and big) incidents that constitute their lives. Secondly, the absence of background music is noticeable. Most Bollywood films use music to cue the audience into the mood of the scene, sometimes excessively. Dhobi Ghat, in comparison, is understated, stark and disorienting because it doesn’t offer any such hints, preferring instead to let the audience figure it out for itself. It’s hard to tell whether you’re supposed to laugh at Zohaib’s poker-faced filmdom dreams or empathize with them. It’s tricky to deciding whether Shai’s pursuit of Arun (and parallel ignorance of Zohaib’s attention) is pathetic or natural. You’re not sure whether to dislike Arun or admire him. And thus we respond to the characters just the way we would to people in real life. With confusion, with warmth, with respect and then derision, with conflicting emotions.

It seems counter-intuitive but its not, that when the viewer is given so much to think about, even deeper levels make themselves visible. I liked how Dhobi Ghat effectively portrays that Mumbaikers blur the social order but don’t quite erase it. Economic classes, gender barriers, cultural divides are bridged and broken in mysterious ways. Most of us flit in and out of the periphery with a comfort that sometimes baffles outsiders. Interactions happen in that twilight zone as so relationships – odd, indefinable and yet deeply intimate ones like those of fellow train-passengers, bais & dhobis & house madams and people who occupy the same flat at different times.

Prateek Babbar (underutilized in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na) steals the show with a poker face arranged around brooding-animated-wry-resigned-intense-pragmatic eyes. A hundred emotions flit across his face in a single look over a brun maska. And most impressively, his very silhouette seems to evolve over the course of the movie, starting with an awkward, blurred  look to a more resolute, defined profile at the end of the movie. I don’t know if that’s good acting or good cinematography; I’m willing to bet on both.

Kriti Malhotra comes in second in terms of her performance as the anonymous face in a series of video-letters. She’s spontaneous, realistic and her voice washes over you with as much familiarity as the neighbor’s.

I was the least impressed with Monica Dogra. Considering the footage she has in the movie, (the promos say it’s four people’s stories but she seems to be around the most), she doesn’t stand out much, except as a moderately pretty face. Interestingly, her act is what made me think that Dhobi Ghat may have made a good movie but it would be a great book. The characters are wonderfully created and the script is taut. Beyond that, it falls to the people who don the roles to bring them to life and I’m afraid Monica as Shai, just didn’t do it for me.

As always, I checked what Meetu had to say before watching the movie. This time, I don’t quite agree with her, when she says that the movie could have very well been set in New York or London or even Pune. Dhobi Ghat doesn’t just pay lip service to standard Mumbai iconography like trains and movies. It snaps up an accurate slice of Mumbai life, from its crowded chaos jostling with glitzy glamour to the near schizophrenic behavior that these contrasts seem to bring out in the city’s occupants.

I started this post talking about the robotic behaviour of Mumbaikers but I also speak for the tangible, prideful emotion that we carry collectively. A city is no more than a group of human beings, after all. And I’d like to think that the unique situations that this group finds itself in, day in and day out, makes us uniquely who we are. Dhobi Ghat seems to agree.

If you love Mumbai, this is definitely for you. If you’re appalled by it and there’s still room for an explanation, maybe this movie will give you one.

Reverb 10.11: What I Don’t Need In 2011 (And How I’m Avoiding Them)

A list! I love lists! And that’s only the first reason why this Reverb 10 prompt has me singing.

December 11: 11 Things

What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life?

(Author: Sam Davidson)

Fooo…..yes, I was all enthusiastic and eager and ecstatic (and other good-sounding ‘E’ words) at the thought of a list. But having discovered the list is (again!) about things that one has to bid goodbye to, my E stuff feels D’ed (dampened, defeated, disgusted, demeaned, disillusioned, devastated…).

11 Things My Life Does Not Need in 2011 (why not and how I plan to get rid of them):

1. Writer’s block:

I’ve faced this enough of times in the past year and can testify to it being the vilest, most horrible, uncomfortable, lonely, sickening feeling ever. It’s like being constipated for days on end and watching everyone else eat sumptuous tasty meals. It’s like being pregnant for eighteen months, watching your belly bloat to alarming proportions and wondering if the only way out will be for you to burst. *Shudder* Never, ever again, please.

I don’t really have a plan to get rid of the possibility of this but I guess I can keep my proverbial medical kit handy. Good friends, other career options and enough of distractions to tide me over till it passes.

2. Financial worries:

I’ve never been poor. But there have been times when money has felt a little stretched. Add a generous dose of good South-Indian girl guilt to that. That’s when if the outgoing includes items that are not mind-enhancing and matrimonial-prospect-inducing, they’re considered wasteful. Incoming has got to be a steady, predictable flow, no windfalls-followed-by-empty-periods for this one.

Considering I’ve chucked up a sensible, respectable career for a newfangled, alien venture like writing, am well past my sell-by (as prescribed by the Southern powers-that-be) date and show no signs of making up for it, pressure is high. Much of this of course, is self-induced which is the beauty of any childhood-implanted guilt. The recording plays on inside your head, long after the originators of the voices have fallen silent. Anyway, I really do not need the cringing self-doubt of dwindling savings with no albeit tiny-but-definitely-incoming money flow in sight. I don’t believe I have the nerve to go through with being footloose and income-free for very long. Which just means, I’ll run back to the safety and uninspiring boredom of a respectable job, again. And that’s the end of my writing career, my dreams and my self-worth.

How I plan to keep this wolf at bay is by thinking ahead and keeping open to income-generating options. Naturally, I have my pride and conscience and I don’t intend to resort to get-rich quick schemes. But I have chalked up a number of things that I can do and do well. There’s writing of course (all kinds) and also number-crunching, business analysis and a number of other things I’m still discovering. It’s still a tricky thing for me, marketing them in a way that doesn’t sound like I’m full of myself. But very simply, these are retailable skills. Money earned for work done is a simple enough mantra. And fingers crossed that there will be enough of takers for what I’m selling.

3. Emotional distance

One of the first things that I decided I wanted to do, when I quit last year, was to go back to being the person I was a decade ago. Starry-eyed, idealistic, passionate, uncontrollably alive. Also unfashionable, socially outcast and totally uncool. But I wanted that and I wanted it all, no exclusions.

A big revelation happened over the course of the year (through the novel and many wine-soaked conversations with E Vestigio and long distance phone calls with P, L and others). I cut out sarcasm. Then I whittled away at cynicism. I chipped off bitterness. And I’m gnawing away at polite behaviour.

The results are that I’m exploding more than once. I’m often caught at a loss for words or saying the most horribly inappropriate things at the wrong times. But I feel so very alive! The sense of being weighed down is going. Even though I’m actually a few kilos heavier than when I had a rigourous daily schedule, I feel lighter.

I’m not completely there yet but I intend to keep at it. Emotional distance from people and experiences is what I thought kept me sane. But it also kept me stifled, tiny and mostly dead. I’m letting go. Be warned, much madness up ahead but it’ll all be authentic, 100% me.

4. Poor health

Rheumatism. Spondilitis. Diabetes. All things that doctors have been threatening, are creeping up on me.

Malaria. Gastroentitis. Low blood pressure. Vitamin D deficiency. Weak bones. All things that have already made their presence felt in my life.

I was always a skinny kid but also a bundle of energy and I recuperated quickly. The most ironic thing about my health in the past decade was discovering that I was overstressed and vitamin-D deficient. On asking what I could do to get better, I was told to work less and play more!

That seems like wonderful advice to follow (even doctors say nice things sometimes). So I intend to worry less, laugh a lot more, eat well, run around like crazy in the sun – and hopefully live not just longer but better.

5. Unhealthy weight gain

As mentioned above, I was a skinny kid and I grew up into a lean adult. But shortly after I quit my job, I discovered that I was alarmingly fleshy for my snugfit jeans. I ended up getting a new wardrobe (of dresses and skirts) but that niggling belief that I was bloating hasn’t left. Of course I’m duly grateful that it’s only a little weight, that actually does look good on me. But I’m alarmed by the idea that it could just inflate (pun intended) out of control. What’s more, I really don’t want to add cholesterol, heart disease and other things to the repertoire I’ve listed above.

What I plan to do about this, has actually already been set in action. I signed up for yoga six months ago and did follow the regime for a good while. But the schedule didn’t suit me and I fell off the bandwagon. Mercifully for me, I also started swimming, an activity that brings me even more pleasure than health benefits. The weather has gotten a little too chilly to enjoy the swim much but I still managed to get into the pool 4 days last week and complete around 15 or more laps before shivering my way back to the changing room. Maybe I’ll sign up for a dance class too.

Persistence and patience are my friends and I don’t intend to let those sneaky kilos get the better of me.

6. Boredom

The killer of all things creative, happy and joyful, who would be scareder of boredom, than a storyteller (an entertainer)? Thankfully for me, the world is a treasure trove of interesting things and people and experiences.

I’m not going to deaden this by putting a schedule on it. Suffice to say that when something occurs to me, I explore it. A new hobby? An interesting person? A novel idea? I’m a sleuth for interesting experiences and each one I pick up only leads to bigger and greater delights.

7. Control

This is the other card in the evil side’s deck, supporting the first card of boredom. Control by family, by employers, by social norms, by stereotypes. It kills the spirit, it kills my soul and it damages my creativity.

I don’t have a plan to avoid every instance of being controlled by another person or entity. But when I do face one of them, I intend to stand my ground and not cave. Enough died, already.

8. Other people’s problems

Egos. Insecurities. Complexes. Weaknesses. Negative sentiments. I’ve had a strange affinity for all of these from other people. That, coupled with the ability to absorb and expand on all, I feel like I’ve been quite a bundle of other people’s nerves.

It’s rather tricky detaching oneself from these things without imposing emotional distance from them. I don’t get it most of the time. What’s more, standing up for myself has never come easy (no matter what the image may dictate).

No plan on this one either. Just the will to oppose it and hope that practice will make perfect.

9. High bills on clothes, makeup and socializing

This I really, really don’t need. I am no shopaholic but after a decade of denial, I decided to indulge. Now I think, enough of self-pampering and now for some balanced restraint.

This is the other aspect of keeping away financial worries – curbing the unnecessary outgoing along with building the possible incoming. I don’t really have to have expensive shoes that only last a month. Mumbai roads make dust of everything and none of the big shops guarantee any quality on this terrain. High-voltage partying has never been my scene and mercifully the social circle I move around in, doesn’t really cotton to it either. Mostly I am now okay with saying that I can’t afford it and so I won’t. Out with the fabulous lifestyle, in with some peace of mind.

10. Goodbyes to people I’m close to

This is more a fearful wish than an intelligent item on the planning list. Six months of 2010 were spent in trying to cope with saying goodbye to good friends, to notions of loyalty, to dreams of greatness. I know I learn from each of these experiences. But I’ve had a rough, really rough enough ride of it. I’m not sure I’m ready for another dose, just yet.

I can’t think of anything to put under 11 so this is going to be a list of 10. That’s my bit for letting go of control (even my own OCDness)!

Reverb 10.10: Waiting For Wisdom

Another somewhat uninspiring Reverb 10 prompt but that may just be because I write so much about this already in my blog. So here goes:

December 10 – Wisdom Wisdom

What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out?

(Author: Susannah Conway)

This has been a year (and a little more) of reflections and insights. I had a windfall of wisdom due to me, after the decade I spent chasing all manner of unwise things. I don’t know if I’ve collected all but I’m still making sense of much of them. Wisdom seems to me like the juice of ripe fruits. The orchard spans acres and acres and I haven’t even finished on the first tree. The feasting has begun but there’s much wisdom juice to still be sucked out. Let me just instead, list some of the wisdom-rich experiences of the past year.

I’m not counting the experience of turning thirty and quitting my job and starting my book. Yes, all of that is slightly stereotyped early mid-life crisis like, isn’t it? Those experiences are already being chronicled in The Thirty Diaries.

Last year, I participated in an online study that examined the trend of people quitting their regular jobs to pursue other lines for various reasons. My participation required me to write an essay type answer each day, to various soul-searching, thought-provoking questions that the group posed to me. The questions explored my notions of success and motivation as also my life lessons and my future plans. What I discovered for myself, was that I had spent a decade and more aspiring to (and with reasonable success, living up to) a common perception of success, as it was held by my family and friends. The big change in my life at thirty was less about quitting one track and more about deciding to figure out success for myself – what it is, how to measure it and how to get going on it.

The novel was begun last year but that was more of a task. It really became a soul exercise only this year when it hit me that fiction or otherwise, this was something I was creating from myself. The emotions, the ideologies, the characters and their stories, these were all things I shaped from the raw material of my own life experiences. While my novel is not autobiographical and none of my characters are based on me, their world and them is built from the clay and bricks of my own dreams and feelings and relationships. Writing about them is quite literally like building. For that, I have to go into the storehouse of my own emotion every single time. And what I find there, is not always to my expectation, let alone liking. There are wells over wells of forgotten feelings and repressed emotions that emerge with every soul-digging enterprise. When I write about a fifteen-year-old’s struggle to fit, it irrevocably takes me back to my own awkward adolescence and forces me to face what I thought and felt and believed, back then. The mind is storehouse of every single thing you’ve said and done and felt and in so many ways, you are better off not going there. Writing is signing away the safety valve of forgetfulness that life gives us. My madness is let loose. And yet, I wouldn’t stop it, if I could. Maybe there will be some wisdom in this unabashed tidal wave.

And finally there is the relationship. I’ve been writing about dating and the opposite sex and relationships for a long time now. But actually living it is a whole new experience. What’s more, the last time I was in a real relationship, I was a different person. The very act of being with someone is stepping over into a different world and being a different person. You are never quite the same again, even after the relationship ends. Building something with another person, just adjusting to another person’s world is causing the foundations of my own careful, precise, cleanly-ordered world to crack and crumble. It’s not comfortable, in the least. But this time, I can feel me growing, quite literally. Wisdom, I await you with humble arms, wide open.


You know those deep, dark patches of emotion that you could step into and be engulfed in a second so you thought you were actually drowning? Or the ones that explode right next to you and by the time you pick yourself and everyone else in the vicinity, up, there’s a pathetic little blackened wick lying there, so puny, you’re flummoxed. How about the pitchy puddles of memory that leave dirty scars on your fingers, your clothes, your eyes and lungs?

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you’re either too young or way too old. If it is the former, I get to be smug and protective at the same time, while telling you not to fret, life gets ugly and pretty at the same time and when it gets to you, you call it art. If however, it is the latter, then you have both my envy and my sympathy…and is that a touch of bitter humour? Irony, I think it is called.

I’m old enough to write about emotion and young enough to fumble when identifying one. Just right to write.

NovelRace 11: The Long, Dark Teatime Of The Writing Soul

My last NovelRace update was ages ago. I can’t quite explain why there hasn’t been one in all this while. Have I not been learning? Far from it.

I’ve been reading like crazy. After an initial burst and burnout, I slowed down and prioritised my schedule. I’ve taken apart books and stories, read the way I did over a decade ago…with no regard for time or day or genre. It has been overwhelmingly enriching.

The writing has been much less. But I’ve been thinking a lot more. Long sojourns of brooding punctuated by brief frenzies of writing. I think my technique is improving too. And the wonderful Aha! moment happened a few months back when I discovered my characters thinking for themselves and taking their stories to their own logical conclusions. It hit me – I had just found my voice!

And yet, my heart has been heavy these past few months, quite unlike the exhilaration that came with the first few months. I know it could be a number of reasons. The initial burst of enthusiasm has waned, giving way to a more full-bodied, if less vibrant energy. There is also a flip side to finding the voice. Just like actors get into the skin of their characters, I find myself in the situations that I write in and feeling what my characters do. It is bewildering since my life for all purposes is petering out at the same slow pace as it has in these past few months. And yet, I find myself unaccountably sad, guiltwracked, troubled, cheerful, delighted and confused. My characters are facing these things in their stories and before I write in what happens to them, I have to feel the magnitude of each emotion to filter out the most potent bits of it into words.

I spent one entire month under sombre darkness. I wrote in an extra-marital affair and carrying the burden of the guilt, the secrecy, the injustice, the pain, the conflicts…it was too much. I couldn’t bear to look at my drafts for two weeks. And when I did, I hastily put down words to just ‘get it out of the way’. I know I will need to go back and much time and effort will be needed on the revisions. But I just don’t have it in me to face that just now.

The other thing I feel is a terrible sense of loss. Very early in my writing, I found a partner. He was working on a first novel too and enjoyed words just as I did. We became friends very quickly and the start of my career as a writer is linked inextricably with the beginning of our friendship. We talked long and often about our respective drafts. It’s difficult to explain just why this is so critical. But he opened up my mind to the world of literature and writing. He broadened my understanding of my own craft. And he expanded the scope of my story. In making a case to him when he played devil’s advocate, I strengthened my own story. My characters were shaped and nuanced by the fallout of our many discussions. And in all those emotions that I felt, he was with me. It felt like I had an extra brain to toss around all these thoughts.

That relationship has waned in these past five months. For reasons I won’t get into, I am quite unable to resume the friendship. I feel an overwhelming sense of betrayal, like he has abandoned both me and my book. We had promised each other once that the acknowledgements in each of our books would contain a lengthy mention of the other. I’ve written mine in already and I don’t know what to do with it. Should I remove it, since he’s left me mid-way? Should I let it stay since the project may never even have begun or, indeed, come this far, if it weren’t for him? It troubles me like something pricking in the corner of my eye. I can’t ignore it, I can’t seperate myself from it. And at the end of it all, my story suffers in an orphaned state.

I’ve tried to find other replacements. There have been others who’ve offered counsel, many other wonderful people who have given help and support. But none of them is him. He is after all, the godfather (as I once called him) of this book and that is not a role that can be replaced.

And I am troubled by my own dependence on him. I haven’t needed another person so much in all my years of work. But I also got away from that, in the hope that writing would be different, involve a different work ethic. I didn’t want to shield myself from other people in fear like one learns to in the corporate world. And while it was good, it was the best way to be, personally and professionally. But now that he’s gone, it brings home the reason why people hold themselves in reserve. To be let down, hurts so much, tangibly and in other not so visible ways. And yet, if the lesson in this is that one must be alone in what one does, I am in quandary. In my writing, I am my truest self and that person is not a solitary one at all. That is a person who needs company and connection and withers without it. If the only option is to be ‘independent’ then I think I’d rather get back to my old job. At least I just have to wear a facade there, not change my innermost being.

I’m ending this here because I don’t know where I stand. For the record, the novel now stands at 78,421 words. It’s nearly 80% complete in what I envisioned of the first draft. And after that, it will need considerable modification to ensure consistency of voice, grammar & punctuation checks and some major pruning down of length. I know if I leave this here it will haunt me all my life. And at the same time, having come this far, I know only how the easiest parts are behind me.

I just put aside Lord of the Rings an hour ago, having finally read it from cover-to-cover in one go. In that universe I would be akin to Frodo at the end of Book One. The Fellowship has broken and there is a long, ardous journey ahead with no hope of reprieve or return. But even Frodo had a Sam Gamgee and I don’t.


Other NovelRace updates:

  1. NovelRace
  2. Adventures Galore!
  3. If You Fall, Get Up & Run Again!
  4. The Lone Runner
  5. My Characters Are For Real!
  6. The View From The Shoulders Of Giants
  7. So Much In A Name!
  8. Taking A Stand
  9. Everything But The Novel
  10. The Long, Dark Teatime Of The Writing Soul

The Art Of Crying

I’m remembering the lost art of crying
Of emotions being created
in fine precision
inside the heart

Being borne up to their peak at the eyelids
Rimming poised on the very brink
And then running down
One by perfect one

Immaculately shaped,
precisely timed droplets
That don’t destroy their individual identity
running into each other

I’m recalling the lost art of crying
Sobs are, after all, hiccups of a repressed soul
But the true beauty of tears
Is in the quiet, gentle rain of the heart

It cleans,
It nurtures,
It soothes,
And it needs no wailing or browbeating

These are the only real tears, the creation of the lost art of crying.

Palette Of Emotion

It just occurred to me that true hatred is exactly like true love….all-consuming.

It’s a feeling worth experiencing. Of course, all of them are. There are those who run away from certain emotions that seem too dark or dangerous or ‘bad’. I say, what is a painting without the black lines to define it? And what is a song without the steady, brooding percussion or the sombre bass? So also, what is life without emotion? Or emotion, without the darkness?

I relate to emotions visually.

Laughter is bright, pale colours..sunny yellow and sometimes blinding white.

Humiliation is a mottled dark green flecked with brownish-red.

Mischief is electric blue striped with pink pinstripes and shot with tiny yellow pinpricks.

Insecurity is a mud-brown cylinder with rust-coloured stripes. And it has little holes that ooze a sticky royal-blue something.

Adulation is gigantic waves of alternating scarlet and rust edged with greenish-yellow.

Glee is definitely bright orange and red and yellow balloons.

Fear is a ragged black cloth that’s threadbare in places and smudged white in places.

Peace is a silvery pool with traces of blue.

Anger is dark orange with navy-blue smudges fading inwards to red.

Rage is pure, undiluted blood-red.

Strangely enough, so is sexual passion.

Wrath, on the other hand is black with a trace of maroon on the edges.

Mystery is midnight-blue.

Happiness is like the air on a warm summer day. Ever so slightly tinted with pale lemon, sky-blue and flecked dusty brown and grey. Silver-lined and gold-flecked too.

And love? Love isn’t one colour. Love is like the super-adjustment that makes each bright colour brighter, each melancholy colour more livid, each pastel, more pallid, each dark colour, even darker….every single colour more of itself.

Hatred, quite similarly is like a shiny, transparent veneer that lies on top of the pallette. Except that is like tightly-bound cling-wrap that confines what it holds and displays it to full advantage. Or perhaps like a thin, hard sheath of ice around everything else.

Musical Memory

I’ve had a strange relationship with music.

I remember listening to Winds of change by the Scorpions on my walkman, lying between bundles of sheets and clothes in a corner bedroom. I remember that I was wearing a pair of corduroys that seemed to be the most comfortable and yet appropriate garb for the occasion. My grandfather was dead and his body, laid out in the main hall. We had returned from the hospital a few hours earlier and were waiting for the funeral arrangements to be made. The menfolk were out making arrangements while the women, exhausted from the chest-beating and crying had subsided and wilted in various corners of the house. I remember a sense of blankness settle over me like a white blanket, with nothing left to feel, no pain, no tears, no surprise, no relief, no anxiety, no patience. I think that is one of my strongest memories of what I sometimes associated with peace. Waiting without anticipation. This is the first memory that comes to mind each time I hear the song, not the image itself as much as that feeling.

To this day, I can’t listen to Berlin’s Take my breath away without feeling my smile droop. With time, I’ve learnt to do this inside my head only and not let it show, but happen it does. Why? Because the love of my life/ex-best friend once told me that the first time he kissed his first love, this song was playing in the background. Even though I had more of him, I never really had him the way she did. I felt like a replacement, a bad replacement for her. So this song feels alien to me, like I’ve stumbled into someone else’s love story by mistake.

I realised there were some songs I used to sing so often, I could probably render them from any point within the song (this isn’t as simple as it sounds). I never even hum these songs inside my head now. These are Bairi piya from Devdas and Aa bhi ja from Sur. At least these stand out while I know there are a lot more but I’ve just hidden them away so carefully even I’ve forgotten where the key to them is. The abusive ex– liked these, particularly these two and I was made to sing them over and over on repeat. Made to sing I say, but those were the good moments, the rare ones in an otherwise very dark, destructive relationship. But to bring those songs to life with music again would be to acknowledge him as human and not the monster I last remember. I’m not in that place yet, I’m not ready to quite forgive him that much.

Speaking of singing, I have indeed had a strange association with music. I did the mandatory Carnatic music routine as a child, one I hated. All I can remember is the painful knees from being made to sit cross-legged. My one other memory is being forced, much, much against my will to parade my voice at family gatherings, strangers apparently family, ordering me to sing this and that, telling me I had potential and may one day even sing as well as my mother, expressing their disappointment that I couldn’t read the prayer books in Tamil. I hated, hated, hated it. When I was old enough I rebelled and stayed away from the spotlight.

It was a good ten years later, that I took to the stage again, all the way in post-graduate college. And then I realised I loved it. There were many, many experiences…of winning, of losing, of personal glories and defeats. And then abruptly it stopped. It wasn’t that clear to me back then but looking back I can see it clearly. The same relationship, the stain on my naivete, started when he walked out of a quiz he was watching to follow a voice he heard coming through the windows – mine, as I was performing on the stage below. I think somewhere it scared me out of the spotlight, the idea that being out there could bring out the worst kind of predators to hunt me down. I never really pursued the stage again.

It wasn’t till two years later, when I received an iPod for a birthday gift, that I felt able to touch music again. Should I say that he ruined music for me? It isn’t that. Music has never been about a collection of lovely sounds for me. It is a blinder, less mindful experience, more to be sensed with the heart and closed eyes than listened to with the ears and understood with the mind. It is who I was with and what I was doing and feeling when I heard that song. This is not necessarily the first time I heard the song but perhaps, the most poignant experience I ever had when I was listening to the song. It creates the world of the song for me and thereafter listening to the song for me, is experiencing that world all over again.

When love and hate collide makes me choke up every time I heard it. Def Leppard were crooning on the speakers of the car when we rode past the seaface at Bandra one night, the ex-love/ex-best friend after four years and other people. Our banter had ceased, each of us in our private thoughts when he suddenly broke in with, “You know, this song always reminds me of us”. I looked at him, wondering if I had heard him right and then summoning up every drop of my courage, asked, “Having second thoughts?” And he said “Yes”. The love of my life did come back to me and for a brief while entertained the notion of returning to me. He thought about it. He got engaged two months later to the girl he had been seeing. But in that brief window of solitude, us, the possibility of us was alive. ‘When the truth is like a stranger, hits you right between the eyes’. I swear it hits me every damn time I listen to it. If there hadn’t been that brief window of hope, one I didn’t take, I think I’d just have let him subside and pass out of my system like the other boyfriends did. But this song keeps alive the question of “What if I had said yes?”

There are of course the renewed joys of singing or listening to a song that has been a personal jewel.
Na Jaane Kyon brings to mind the accolades but also a rare moment of being recognized for the way I was actually feeling in that moment.
And our batch’s personal anthem and me, its singer.

The unbearable beauty of Dire Straits’ Romeo & Juliet which has been my callertune for four years and is always on my favorites list…how can I explain this? I’d just quote, “You promised me everything, you promised me thick & thin, now you just say Oh Romeo, I used to have a scene with him”. It reminds me of…love in its entirety, love as I’ve known it.

The most recent memory, a song I’ve always enjoyed but now listen to with a bittersweet longing of nostalgia. I saw The Lion King on my sixteenth birthday. And thirteen years later, I found someone who reminded me so much of the song that I personalized his phone number with it as his callertune. Each time he called me, which was at least once or twice a day, it was a serenade with Elton John’s Can You Feel The Love Tonight. I never told him and now that the relationship has been laid to rest, there seems to be no point in doing so. The heart of this star-struck voyager doesn’t beat in time with his anymore, but the song still reminds me of him.

Simon & Garfunkle’s Homeward Bound only (and yes I know this only ever makes sense to me) because of the line “..and all my words come back to me in shades of mediocrity, like emptiness and harmony..” Why? Because my name means harmony and that song is metaphorical for how I feel about the way the world receives me.

Yes, I do have a strange relationship with music. You would too, if it was like being dropped into a strange world, one that has never completely been discovered or overcome. Memory is a tricky place to get lost in.

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