Reverb 10.25: A Green Christmas

A photo Reverb10 post! It makes for a nice change. Also, it calls to the old challenge in me about trying to say something with a picture instead of words, of playing peek-a-boo with my readers by showing them something that is me and yet not instantly recognizable until it is explained.

December 25 – Photo – a present to yourself

Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you.

(Author: Tracey Clark)


Say hello to my window garden. Does it seem odd to you that I would introduce my plants to you? Pet-owners do that all the time and if you ask me, animals are a darned bigger nuisance.

Late last year, the doctor down the road was having his clinic renovated. I’d drop in for papers and he’d chat. One time he pointed to a green plant close to his table and complained about a patient who had asked for it but never came by to pick it up. I must have looked interested, because, without asking me, he clipped off a branch and handed it to me, asking me to put it in a little water.

I took it home, cradling the thick, fleshy green stem with its stiff leaves, in my hands. And instead of a glass of water, I took an old clay pot I’d saved from somewhere and filled it with mud. Then I stuck the stem into it and gave it some water.

A couple of days later, the leaves were still green so I continued to water the plant. I was up most nights and on my breaks from reading or writing or when I was on the phone, I’d sit at my window, sometimes putting my feet out of the window and resting them on the airconditioner. I nearly knocked over the plant a couple of times. In time, I shifted to a window-chair and got into the habit of stroking the leaves. I always liked the spicy, snappy smell it left on my fingers.

A few weeks later, I thought my ajwain plant looked lonely so I brought in a few mustard and jeera seeds in another old pot to keep it company. The mustard shot out almost immediately, with daily watering. The jeera never took. Mustard I’m afraid lived a very brief but dramatic life. It would look droopy just like a bent old man, in the morning. After I watered it, a mere half hour later, it would up and about, gadding with the other plant and flirting with the sun. And by evening, it would change colour to a yellowish-green. It died out in a few months.

I experimented with cooking, with lessons I had learnt off the internet (which even brought me this writing commission). I fell in love with another plant called basil (a distant cousin of the more familiar tulsi). I couldn’t find the plant anywhere. Even the plant-sellers who wheeled their wares past my colony gate each week couldn’t help me. Somehow I didn’t care for the blooms and petals in their colourful stock. I wanted only green things, edible things, plants that could integrate with me someday, through fragrance and food.

Finally, I picked up a packet of pesto leaves in the supermarket, ostensibly for yet another pesto-treat. But I picked out the freshest looking sprig and planted it. It actually took! Within a week, it was glowing a greener green than I’d seen in the supermarket. In a fortnight, it had shot out flowers. In over a month, the stalk had visibly grown. More basil plants followed with future pesto-menus. One restaurant gave me a packet of seeds as a special giveaway with the bill. And they turned out to be the elusive basil seeds. Not all of them took but I nurtured the ones that did, with pride.

At its prime, my garden had ajwain, mustard and basil all in flower and which could give at least 3 leaves each to flavour my fingers and my food. I rarely cooked with my plants. They never seemed big enough to cut. And in time the leaves would wither away and I’d clean them off, promising to cut the next batch that came up. Eventually my basil plants withered away took, leaving only tall brown stalks. I still water them, hoping that a magical little green leaf with show up suddenly.

I’ve discovered something magical with this garden. There is nothing quite like watching life grow, right under your care, in front of your very eyes. I’m not an animal person so pets are out of the question. People come with their own set of issues and norms and barriers. But plants, plants never let you down. They ask for so little – some water, some air, some sunshine and if you have it (I really do believe this), a little love.

I’m not one of those crazy women who ‘talks’ to her plants. But I do spend time with my garden, as tiny as it is, every single day. It’s the first thing I look at, when I get out of bed in the morning and the last thing that I see before I turn in for the night. When I’m back from a short trip or even a daytime visit, it’s the first thing that I go and check on. Even when I take a break, I like going out to look at my plants. Occasionally I touch them, stroke a shoot, pick out a yellowing leaf from the mud, angle the pot a little better towards the sunlight or just sigh in smiling satisfaction.

I really love my garden. It’s shown me a different side to myself. A side that can care and nurture without feeling the effort. A side that takes take great pride in something that means so little to anyone else in the world. I feel like the garden represents a new aspect of me that I had never known existed, before. A city girl who always lived in concrete and metal structures….and I’m a green-thumbed gardener! Who’d have thought?

Someday I would like to have a living space big enough to accomodate a garden I can walk around in. I’ll want to grow basil (of course), tulsi, jasmine, rose, tomatoes, lemons and the plant that started it all for me – ajwain (in the picture, it’s the plant on the extreme left).

Crashing Point

I couldn’t sleep. I knew I had to. I stared in the direction of the wall in trepedition. I knew the clock’s hands were inching towards the crashing point. Perhaps they had already passed. I was too scared to switch on the light and check. If they had passed the point, then well, I would have crashed.

The crashing point is a concept rather than a position of the clock’s hands. When you are a kid, it’s about 43 minutes after your bedtime. At least it was for the kid me.
As you get older, you push the hands of the clock with your eyelids, daring them to crash on you. They never did on the rebellious me.
And I was duly packed off to bed to lie in wait for an extra 15 minutes for pushing bedtime by about that much. The crashing point knows when you’ve started waiting for it. At least mine did.

By the time you are an adult, you’ve gone a few rounds with the bedtime and you’ve lost a few of those bouts. Each time that happens, it is a surprise considering how infrequent it is, compared to how often you seem to win. And it’s a crashing defeat, please pardon the pun. At least it was for me.

The thing about the crashing point is that you really know where it is, after you’ve crashed a few times. That sounds almost Zen doesn’t it? There has to be a reason meditation always felt like a walk into the long, dark hallway with crashing point waiting at the end of it. And in my best times, we danced together, each one showing off our prowess at being able to return to our original places if we so desired.

Then I lost my crashing point.

A few years ago, I started to experience the frantic panic of not being able to get to crashing point at all. It wasn’t exactly insomnia. I woke up in the morning after all and that’s only possible if you have fallen asleep in the first place. And yet, the waking up felt like something else. Like sleep was an intercontinental cruise, a long, engaging journey whose start and end were clearly demarcated and noticeable. This, what I was experiencing, felt more like a tentative wade into dirty seawater and being yanked back, wet and sticky. That feeling wouldn’t go away for the rest of the day. The blurry, topheavy feeling of carrying an entire aeroplane on your head, being afraid to shake your head too much for fear you’d topple right over.

I don’t know now, whether that was necessarily a bad thing. The distance, the absorbedness, the sheer effort it took to just focus that numbed out most of what else was happening to me…I suppose that’s what people otherwise take to drugs and booze for.

The few times I did sleep heavily and well, I woke up feeling like my eyelids were stretched back a little too wide and they might tear in the corners. The day began bright and chirpy with a nursery rhyme ‘early to bed, early to rise’. And then I’d go into the day. A high heel grind into my bare toes. A toenail sluice right off and hang mid-way. A missed station. The sun burning hot, so hot, I had to yank my arm out of the sunlight or turn my face away. And then people. Faces. Expressions. Annoyance. Resentment. Pettiness. Fakeness. Joy, not for me. Jealousy. Bitterness. Bile. And as afternoon arrived, exhaustion.

And eventually, without thinking about it at all, I fell off the sleep bandwagon. Back into oblivion. Crashpointless. Up all night reading. Or so I said. Reading for awhile. Staring at the ceiling. A meditation on the dusty corners. Zen with a dust bunny. Lights out after awhile. Staring at the lights outside my window. An auto creaking its way down the road. Two in the a.m. and this city is still awake. I hated those kind of realizations so I took to shutting the window and curtaining it off even in the height of summer. The tchuk-tchuk of the fan was my background score for each nighttime drama.

Sometimes I’d replay a situation of the day. And then all over again with a different ending. Or a different twist in the story midway. And over again. And again. And again. And before I knew it, the other people were being replaced by childhood bullies, by ex-boyfriends, by screaming teachers or parents, by other people. Who says you need to sleep to dream? Waking nightmares are the real thing.

Who needs drugs, I wrote? Your body is the factory of chemicals, your brain the lab, the projector room and the control panel. I dosed on such potent fare each night. Occasionally I dozed as well, waking up to find my cheeks wet. It was delicious, the pain. And the hangover, devastatingly nauseating.

What I think is this. Living, it hurts. It heals as well but that takes time. And when your life is about bigger, faster, better, right now, there’s no time to even count your wounds or even stem the bleeding. And little by little you’re wearing away till all that’s left of you is a wraith. I’ve always had a talent for self-preservation, unconsciously, that kicks in when my masochism transcends adventure and goes into the realm of being serious. Insomnia was a drug. It had me out cold, just enough to be able to sustain the daily farce but inside a glass case of unfeeling. I would never have been able to bear it otherwise.

It has been awhile since I left behind the life I led, the person I was then. I find myself laughing much more. Sarcasm doesn’t come as often as it used to. And talking, really saying what I think or feel…I do and I wonder why I thought it so difficult. The world behaves differently too. People are nice. Or stupid. Sometimes I cry. A lot actually. And even in the middle of conversations or with other people. That’s news. That’s new. I never used to be able to cry, I think.

I spend days on end just stringing together moments the way kids put beads together. And then one day I can suddenly do everything and anything. A social outing. All the housework ever. Writing. In buckets and waterfalls of words. A blogpost. New chapters on the book. Short stories. And then a word document just because I’ve already posted and how would it look if I shot off 10 posts in a day after nothing for 10 days?

I sleep a lot these days. 12 hours sometimes. And then, 7 hours later, I’m drifting into deep sleep for another 10 hours again. I say, my body is making up for all that sleep deprivation of the years. But I don’t really need that kind of rest and relaxation, not after nine months, not after virtually zero exercise. It isn’t the heat, it isn’t depression and wanting to hide away. I think what it is, is making peace with the crashing point. Whoever called sleep, the little death or a sibling of death was seeing things the way I am. A little death every night allows you a new life every day. It is about succumbing, about giving in, about acceptance. Let go and tomorrow there will be a new person in a new world and how she takes the day is her problem. Today is over and not your worry any more.

I don’t know where the crashing point is. I’ve been staying up all night some nights and through the next day. Or sleeping for a couple of hours interspersed with bouts of talking and writing. Or slept through the hottest part of the day and awake at both of the cool ends. It’s around somewhere, I know it is. I won’t worry. It’ll happen to me. Perhaps it already is happening. The body can and does take care of itself. Its rhythms can even take tampering, just not micromanaging. The crashing point needs to have its own anonymity.

First Blood

Last night I was trying to sleep but a stupid mosquito kept buzzing in my ear. This despite the fact that the mosquito repellent is plugged in just above my head. WTF happened to MMR (Mosquito Mortality Rate…I kid you not)??!! So I switched on the light to swat it. Of course the bloody (and all of that blood is mine!) thing had vanished.

So I switched the light off again and tried to sleep. As an added precaution, I covered myself all over as best possible, hair and eyes included, leaving only the lower half of my face open for breathing.

Of course the maddening thing about the common cold (and why oh why don’t those scientists find a cure for it by now? Already??!!) is that you can’t breathe. Not through your nose. So you can guess what happened. Mouth open, I proceeded to sleep. Maybe I snore but thankfully I sleep alone (though that’s probably not a fact I should be proud to advertise).

Would you believe it? That damn mosquito found me again in the darkness. It flew….gak gak…straight into my mouth!

Okay you can call me a insectivore now. At least I get to sleep in peace.

I Must Be Dreaming

What a strange dream that was.

Do you ever wonder what your dreams mean? Of course you do, everyone does. There’s a whole genre of study devoted to understanding the interpretation of dreams – from the scientific, medical point of view as well as the esoteric, mystical side. One of the most succint opinions I’ve ever heard on this subject comes from my father,

Dreams are the brain flushing out the waste that it accumulates during the day.

Not to say that I believe that. Well, sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. Belief is always a convenience thing with me.

I have loads of flying dreams, which Freud claims are about sex. Heh. Whatever.

I occasionally dream of thatha (who by the way, passed away 9 years back). I never dream of him dead or even as a ghost…in that, inside my dream I don’t seem to remember that he’s no more. I open the door and he’s dropped into Mumbai for a surprise visit; I’m arguing with him about something; I’ve received a birthday card from my folks in Delhi with (as was usual that time) a folded piece of paper inside it which is a letter from him. It’s a warm, fuzzy feeling to be able to say that my grandfather is alive and well in my dreams.

Then there are the dreams of people long past. An ex-boyfriend, a former best friend and occasionally even people I’ve loathed (like the bullies from school…yuurrrggh). Funnily enough in my dreams, I’m getting along like a house on fire with them. We’re usually laughing, talking, partying and having very intelligent, fun, fulfilling times together. Ah, so that’s what the originator of the phrase ‘only in your dreams!’ was thinking. :-)

Once in a rare bit there’s a dream of something that really did happen in the past, only things turn out slightly differently. Like we’re walking down a road which on wakefulness, I remember having done. But instead of taking a left like we actually did, we take a right in my dream. Of course that’s metaphorical but hey, you don’t really need to know the exact details of my dreams! Come to think of it, it’s not like even I remember them.

I dream the most when I’m going through some intensely difficult times in my life. A family emergency, a troubled relationship, a stressful time at work – these have been my optimal dreamtimes.

Of course I would have dreamt deeply last night. My mother has been hospitalized this week, after all and discharged only to relapse later. All of this while I am alone, facing the maid-from-hell and water problems. But of course. I will talk about this particular dream though.

Last night, my first online time in about 3 days, I looked into Facebook. I was shunning chat requests from friends online because I just didn’t feel like talking. I could probably have spent some mindless time playing Mafia Wars. But instead I chose to go picking on old scabs. I looked up people from the past (yes, yes, I do that. Everyone does.) whom I’d probably not consider adding to my Friends List for various reasons. No ex-es though, that’s been done to death way enough. But old classmates, friends-of-friends, people I met at a party 2 months back who don’t remember me this week (but I remember them because they’re journos and their pic appears next to their column)…that kind of people.

And in this random melee, I found her. She was the stuff of my nightmares. She partly inspired this post (though I also had a more current, more tangible version to contend with at the time of writing). I’ve never met her, spoken to her or seen her in real life. It’s all in the photographs and memories of his memories. At least what he told me about her. I was intrigued by her, then jealous, then resentful and finally just in pain. I have no idea whether there was any truth in what he said, which means I might be pinning all these emotions on a fictitious character. All I know is her name. That’s good enough to locate a person in this Facebooked age. We’ve got a couple of common FFs (Facebook friends). I haven’t looked her up in ages. On a whim I shot off a message to her, introducing myself. No friendship request though. And then I logged out.

In my dream, she said that contrary to what I thought, she knew of me as well. Then we ceased to talk about how we came to be talking in the first place. She made me laugh though I don’t remember what at. All I know is that she was fun. I believe we were having some sort of picnic somewhere and then had to run away or something. Okay, that sounds even sillier in writing than it does in my thoughts.

I told Astra the other day that sometimes a dream was just a simulation of a real world situation, something that needed to be faced anyway. And we could do it in a dream, play around, take a few risks with our imagination too, just to experience what we may not dare to, in real life. How about that? I never considered having fun with someone I might have such an awkward connection with. Whether I do in real life or not, is immaterial. I just know that in my dreams, I did. And in the end, how does it matter whether we played it out in the conscious universe or the subconscious one?

I have to end this on a cliche, I’m the queen of cliches after all.

You may say I’m a dreamer.

You really may, I won’t take offense.

Turquoise Nights

We live in cold storage during the week, shutting away emotions, fears, aches and fevers till such a time that we can experience them ‘on our own time’. And then the weekend is when it all comes back….like trying to live all of the previous five days in these two. Of course the weekend really starts on Friday evening.

I hate crowds. I feel suffocated in groups larger than three. Strange since I live such a crowded life. But that’s just clutter – bodies, masses of breathing carbon moving around me. The real people are the ones who are greater than rituals, more meaningful than furniture, more unpredictable than habits. They make me feel. Too much. Not more than three at a time, please….it is positively decadent luxury. Like starving through the week and then feasting like a glutton after that. An average human being could die of that in the non-metaphorical world.

Fridays are often a plethora of impressions, a crazy psychedelia of emotions. People I missed so much and suddenly find I feel not a thing for, sudden realization of how much I love someone, accidentally bumping into those I was petrified of and now I find myself getting bored with, a gnawing emptiness when unaccountably I miss someone at the most inopportune moment, an inexplicable sense of loss of someone sitting right in front of me, annoyance over ill-timed but not unwanted affection, deep mirth over the hysterical irony of life’s situations. It is that instantly suffocating smell of smoke that I’ve never quite gotten used to, the headiness of a slight alcohol high that I’m constantly playing hide-and-seek with, the giddiness of meaningless jokes and deep conversations sleeping together. It is like not being able to tell green from blue and periodically getting stuck in a turquoise tapestry.

So I suddenly shot out, on the pretense of ‘taking a walk’. It felt more like those days in a swimming pool, trying to stay under the water the longest, learning to deal with the burning eyes and lungs that felt like they’d explode. An almost imagined movement at the corner of my eye would make me wonder (always) if the stories were true and there were strange, magical creatures at the bottom. And then, suddenly, I was tearing for breath, like even being conscious of that forbidden idea meant that I had to be expelled from Wonderland. So thrashing, I’d make it back to the top, breaking the surface of water just in time to put all such stupidity out of my mind. But I never really forgot. This is what it feels like, all these years later.

The moment I walked out, was like that moment of instant clarity, of great gasps of air free for me to breathe. The grand tapestry crystallized into a good comfortable sepia film. And as always I knew, that I never wanted to be a part of the other world again. I stood and watched the sea across the road, for how long I cannot tell. The cars seem to zoom past, not quite real but a film running by that I could walk through anytime I wanted, only I’d tear the screen if I did and there wouldn’t be any more film to watch.

I told someone once that I wished I had a job that let me work through the night, alone, when everyone else slept, without having to talk to or meet anybody else…and sleep through the day when the world was awake. ‘Escapism’ is what he called it. Is it?

You know how people keep telling you to ‘just be yourself’? Well that ain’t quite possible sometimes. For what if your self is nothing more than the capacity to conceive infinite new images and facades? A talent, a capability, a tendency to create…that’s all. Not a creation or a being or a tangible characteristic itself. Well all I want is to be myself then. Apart, distant, while close enough to see and even feel…just a bit. But able to switch off the impressions when it got to be too much.

From across the years an almost forgotten voice of a friend comes calling, “Don’t worry so much, little one. Some day you’ll learn how not to be swayed this way and that way by the vagaries of life. It will come with time.” Still waiting.

Then my phone buzzed. Blurry-visioned (though not from tears), I saw my hand move slow-motion almost to read. A text from the only person in the group I thought had any genuine affection for me.

Come back.

And without another thought, not a backward glance at my sepia film, I just turned and walked back in. Love is everything then. It is really all that binds me to this world, that holds me back. I now understand why they call it a bond. When it tugs at me, no matter how close I am to achieving nirvana, I come back. Invisible silver threads weave me into the turquoise tapestry.

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