Stream of Consciousness

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Buffalo

sometimes, it snows in May,
they said.
those art deco buildings
covered in silhouettes
tracing the crevices of your imaginations.
the sun peeks out sporadically
from the musty skies hanging low
bearing the weight of your secrets.

the air, devoid of pollen
strutted along.
there is a heaviness
about visiting a city
so parallel in time and space to your hometown.
the ground beneath your feet
is slushy with imprints of people
who left and never returned.

displacement

rafael said he had a family gathering to attend
a birthday, one from the in-laws side,
they all lived in the same city
rafael, his wife, the birthday people.
celebrations began at 6
customary cake,
the bubbles bursting out of a prosecco
silverware moving immaculately
to slice through the medium-rare steak.

this is a family
connected through space and time.
yet,
no one likes one another.

mia has no family gathering to attend
her family is 10,000 miles around the globe
her parents, sexagenarians
celebrated birthdays alone and dry,
without the western tradition of cutting cake.
the only person who visited routinely
was the cat, sitting by the window
waiting for fresh cat food
or the occasional steamed fish.

this is a family
displaced through space and time.
yet,
everyone likes each other.

Khasak and a little bit of O.V

he keeps coming back
with his celebrated book ‘khasakkinte itihasam’
set in the palm frond valley
with the humid wind bringing back all your memories
crowded with new ones you make every day
you breath a little subliminal.
his eyes moist with the heat,
the rounds of his specs tracing the contours
of your unimagined fantasies
his words tinkering your ear lobes
whispering those endearments
you have always longed to hear.
his khasak becomes your khasak
his amina becomes your amina
and,
his history becomes your history.

glossary 

khasakkinte itihasam- The Legends of khasak
khasak- Read here


O.V Vijayan’s death anniversary (March 30th) happens to fall five days before Vivie’s birthday (April 04). There is a common thread lying between O.V and V. To find it, you will need to find Khasak. 

elliptical

ellipticals curve
like the tongue forming a retroflex
to utter your name

postcards from kochi

IMG_4932 Picture courtesy Vinod M Venugopal  

i.

the dawn breaks at three-
not with the chirping birds
-to the sound of the amittu
from the nearby temple.
the stove is hot
newspapers have been delivered
the stereo cackles
kausalya supraja rama poorva sandhya pravarthathe;
the day begins thus
in a tongue undecipherable.

ii.

the smell of dosa wafts through
the remnants of last night’s thunderstorm
the frog is croaking the day’s news
in the audience are the mosquitoes and dragon flies;
when the curry leaves hit the burning oil
a cacophony breaks loose
the hum of an old lover’s voice
holding your heart precariously
as you remember the contours
of a now broken intimacy.

iii.

the sun is blazing down
at the ferries transporting
the madding crowd far from their workplaces;
gossip fills the air
gold prices, a celebrity wedding,
the new government, the metro,
vegetable prices, the neighbor’s new car,
these few minutes offer a respite
from the respise of humid palpability
covering our lives like a charade.

iv.

Venu swamy has come calling
with sealed lime pickle packets-
this is the secret to unravelling the mystery of the universe.
(this, and dosas).

v.

the clouds roll in,
by the time tea is served
with piping hot parippu vadas,
they are gray-blue
like the color of your sorrows;
they surround the space you occupy
accompanied by panchavaadyam
suddenly there is a canopy of darkness
enveloping the shadow figures
you make on the wall to pass time.

vi.

the children return from school
under open umbrellas
with empty lunch boxes
and a bagful of homework-
the rain plays havoc
to the awaited game of cricket
resorting instead to making paperboats
with worn out newspaper sheets
hoping to set sail
in the nearest puddle.

vii.

peace has now descended
with the appearance of a mazhavillu
the lack of shadow figurines on walls
and the commencement of a game
(and the abrupt ending);
ferries have been rested
serials have been switched on
the day’s stories exchanged over
platefuls of food
washed down with a cup of chukkuvellam.

viii.

the phone calls commence
some in the privacy of a blanket
where some endearments are exchanged.

ix.

the night wanes
into songs
if the phone call went well- romantic
if the phone call didn’t go well- mellow
for every other mood-rock.

x.

lights out-
silence envelops the soul
of the queen of the arabian sea;
she rests,
her heavy soul
where tourists have tread
and taken photographs
of her beauty,
tonight she will not pay heed,
not to her countless lovers
but to her own verisimilitude.


Glossary

amittu– a kind of firework
kausalya supraja rama poorva sandhya pravarthathe– M.S Subbalakshmi’s Suprabhatham (a sanskrit verse played in the morning)
parippu vadas– fried lentil fritters
panchavaadyam– an orchestra of five instruments
mazhavillu– rainbow
chukkuvellam– water infused with dried ginger

 

 

 

sassafras

In your sleep
you see the face of your future lover
in the reel of the past, black and white.

His face has aged
the crow’s feet crinkling together
like the patterns on a dumpling, pleated and wrapped.

Your arms touch
unlocking the box of memories
where you see a rusty photograph, of you and him.

You smell again
the blooming magnolia
covering the streets, inch by inch.

You wake up
realizing nostalgia and dreaming
are two sides of the same coin, flip over or flip out.

 

Wichita

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There is a familiarity to the hot, humid heat enveloping your body, it smells strangely of summer days on the footpaths of Fort Kochi beach, strolling with a cone of roasted peanuts, watching the sun reside into oblivion. There by the Arabian Sea and the oldest Jewish settlement in India, here by the Arkansas river and the art of the Kiowan and Wichitan tribes. History has uncanny ways of repeating itself, using different symbolisms. It serves as a reminder of memories imprinted deeply, connecting our sensibilities with everything we profoundly associate with ourselves.

Wichita lies at the center of the prairie’s heartland, a midpoint to the country’s (over) populated coasts. Often heralded as the aviation capital of the world, there are four airforce bases surrounding the metropolitan area. The city is also divided into the east and the west, a great rivalry existing between the two quarters. Take a stroll along the riverside on the west or visit the historical Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen-Lambe house in the east, or do both.

However, the true beauty of Wichita lies in its skies. Different cloud types inhabit the vast expanse sketching bold and vivid sunsets. This is a city that can do Vivaldi’s Le Quattro Stagioni proud. One can find beauty in many things but to unequivocally appreciate the core essence of the heart of the city, one must be able to read between the clouds.

Zeffiro dolce Spira, mà contesa
Muove Borea improviso al Suo vicino;
E piange il Pastorel, perche sospesa
Teme fiera borasca, e ‘l suo destino

“We hear the cuckoo’s voice; then sweet songs of the turtle dove and finch are heard.
Soft breezes stir the air….but threatening north wind sweeps them suddenly aside. The shepherd trembles, fearful of violent storm and what may lie ahead.”

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Normandie Kitchen

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You’ve been stuck in traffic on the 10E. Your delay has been over 15 minutes. You exit on to Normandie Ave and big bold houses keep crossing your window pane. LA has moved past behind you. You reach then at Normandie house and be transported into the other. It is almost as if being thrown into a garden sculpted for your own liking, not zen minimalist at all but strikingly chaotic but oh! that’s the beauty of it. Once you enter, you wade through begonias, snapdragons, and milkweeds sketched by the beautiful champak and the overgrown Brahma Kamalam. Soon you enter the herb garden and smell the wonderful aromas of cilantro and mint. There is a lotus or two peeking out of the small pond by the corner, one could imagine this is Kew garden. There is a round table with fairy lights with a few scattered chairs staring up at the milky way. But the beauty of it all is the kitchen, a quaint old room with a communal table and stove, where many eclectic dishes have been cooked up on a number of occasions. This is Normandie Kitchen.

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At any given weekend, you can find a bunch of non related people gathering around the table, exchanging notes on food, mixing up a drink or two, tasting exotic fruits from the garden such as dragon fruit, and cooking delicious food. If you are in town and just passing by, you are welcome too. Throw in a couple of dogs and a cat and you have utter pandemonium. Yet, there is a rhythm binding together these people, their pets- the sheer love of food and drink. These are food connoisseurs, mixologists, and most of all food lovers. Conversations range from the sex lives of fruit flies to politics, etymology of words to the origin of certain signature dishes. If this all gets a bit much, you can go outside for a smoke and pretend to be oblivious to the cacophony.

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The kitchen is also the ideal place to let go of any food inhibitions and the aromas from the kitchen will make you do so. Here is experimentation at its best and the garden gives effortlessly. The curry leaf tree is of course my favorite and it has been used in many dishes prepared in the kitchen. One can also find mangoes, a variety of peppers, oranges, jackfruit, and even poultry. There are game nights, barbecue nights, or just another night where time stands still. This is more than just a couple of friends hanging out, eating and drinking in the hot summer sun or in the twilight of the rising moon, this is familial and also one of LA’s best kept secrets.

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Happy birthday, Brad! Brad is a resident of Normandie House and runs an exciting blog called Normandie Kitchen, when not dreaming about drosophila melanogaster. 

Mhadeno

My first meeting with Mhadeno Jamio, or Mha/Maha as we lovingly used to call her was in August, 2004. The then beautiful CIEFL campus in Hyderabad was filled with chirpy, young faces eager to begin walking in a new direction, on a path that will lead to accolades, stable and successful careers, and long lasting friendships. We came from different communities, spoke many languages, interacted with each other amicably. Mha was one of the four Naga girls in our batch, my first interaction with the community which proved to be a wonderful and long lasting one. She was the tiniest of them all, yet with a strong soul and a willpower made of iron, derived from a deep sense of conviction and self worthiness. Our academic interests did not overlap much and we didn’t share many classes, except A.V Ashok’s Literary Criticism and Rajeev’s Post Modern Poetry. During our M.A days, Mha would be at the forefront of any issue. She had a strong voice which stood out in the direst of times. Later when most of us wanted to pursue an M.Phil or Ph.D, she joined Google, Hyderabad. Although we lived in the same city, we got entangled in our different quotidian existence. We would meet occasionally at a party or at someone’s birthday bash. After a year, she decided to come back to academia and pursue an M.Phil. Many of our friends had moved on by then, after finishing their studies. CIEFL had become EFLU, the place was not the same. New faces, new buildings, new hopes and aspirations. We felt a bit like outsiders, with a lingering shadow or a smudged footstep, we went on about our life feeling a bit empty. Hostels came up in every corner, trees were getting cut, and the campus became a concrete jungle. This is when Mha and I decided to move out of the hostel and rent a house.

The two bedroom house was located in Taranaka, a ten minute walk to school. We each had a room and a bathroom and shared the common area and kitchen. Mha was the more meticulous one among us. She would cook, clean, and keep the house spot less. We loved hosting dinner parties and went grocery shopping together. There was a renewed vigor in our lives. Moving out of campus was the best decision we made. We created a home, weaved up stories, and conjured up dreams. In summer of ’09, we decided to take a little vacation and go on a trip to Coorg. I had always wanted to travel there and explore Bylakuppe and walk along the banks of Cauvery. We also had to help a friend pack up and relocate from Bangalore. We took the train from Hyderabad-Bangalore and spend the entire day helping our friend pack up his apartment. Our bus to Coorg was overnight, we reached Coorg in the wee hours of the morning and checked in to our first homestay experience. We had booked a cab for our entire trip. The next two days was such filled with new sights, new experiences. It was a rainy, foggy morning when we reached Talacauvery, the origin of the Cauvery river. Thankfully, we had an umbrella (though it wasn’t much of a help).

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Our next stop was the beautiful Abbey falls in Madikeri. The rains had left the falls plentiful water and to hear the gushing roar of the water falling down the rocks is quite rhythmic.

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The highlight of the trip however was river rafting in the Cauvery, something the three of us had never done before. There was a moment when our guide pushed us both into the river, and instead of climbing back up into the boat, we swam away wearing life jackets. I still remember the twinkle in her eye, the one which comes after doing something mischievously naughty. We laughed under the rainy, Madikeri sky that day. Nothing could stop us, not rules, not society or conformity. We lived that moment as if there wouldn’t be another moment like that.

Bylakkuppe was revisiting my love for Buddhism. A couple of years earlier, I had gone on two Buddhist trails- Sanchi Stupa in Sanchi, MP and Sarnath, near Benares. This was different. Bylakkupe is the largest Tibetan settlement in South India. The biggest monastry, the Namdroling monastry, is home to many Tibetan Lamas. The beautiful inside is ornate, covered in Tibetan symbolisms, and has an unseen calmness. This was a very solemn experience, compared to the river rafting one earlier. In here, we knew time was just an illusion, a concept created to anchor your mind in the future. It meant nothing to us. We surpassed the continuity of being mortal, just for a few minutes, before returning to reality.

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Our last stop was Nisargadhama, an island formed by Cauvery.

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We boarded the overnight bus back to Bangalore, spent the day eating lunch at Samarkhand, watched a movie at Forum, and took the night train back to Hyderabad. It was a such a relaxing and enlightening vacation. This was the last time we spent days together, hoarding new experiences. Come 2010, Mha decided to quit her M.Phil and move back closer to home. I decided to move much further away from home and joined the Ph.D program in LA.

I never saw Mha again. We regularly kept in touch the first year she went back home and I moved to the foreign land. Soon after, Mha fell sick. She was diagnosed with Stage 4, colon cancer. Suddenly, every single moment we had ever spent together seemed precious and all those days, cribbing under the strong Hyderabad sun, futile. I miss her presence every single day. She holds a place in my heart, no one can ever fill. Wherever you are, Mha, I hope you are well and happy, and found that peace you were constantly looking for.

Death arrives among all that sound
like a shoe with no foot in it, like a suit with no man in it,
comes and knocks, using a ring with no stone in it, with no
finger in it,
comes and shouts with no mouth, with no tongue, with no
throat.
Nevertheless its steps can be heard
and its clothing makes a hushed sound, like a tree.
-Nothing but Death, Pablo Neruda 


Today is Mha’s first death anniversary. This post is an attempt to keep my memories of her alive, through words, through photos. You can read a poem about her here.

the death of a museum

It was a hot summer afternoon when I first lay eyes on it, this life size rhinoceros staring at me. I was a puny little girl, holding on to my father’s sturdy hand on our first visit to the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in New Delhi. The memory is a blurred one, maybe because I was only 5 years, yet the picture postcard remains vivid, I had never been anywhere like this before. In front of me where rows of dinosaur fossils, taxidermied animals and birds, and plenty of useful information. It was probably my first encounter with an institution of knowledge, that did not charge a fee to peruse.

I still have a vague memory of my uncle walking us through the different galleries, chattering away about the various exhibits. His excitement made his eyes twinkle, it still does, all these years later. I remember the last visit to the museum. It was again a hot summer afternoon, 25 years later, and I was supposed to meet a dear, old friend at the museum. He had never heard of this place. This time, I was the tour guide.

The Delhi NMNH was only the first of many museums I had the privilege of visiting over the years. My uncle went on to helping set up and revive museums in Bhopal and Mysore. These were all summer destinations, a great amount of time spent wandering these dusty museum galleries. I always wondered where the milieu was, probably eating an ice cream at Connaught place, or feeding giraffes in the Mysore zoo, or shopping in one of the ever crowded markets. Museums, I had begun to fear, were becoming obsolete to the Indian youth.

It was my tryst with destiny that the university where I did my doctoral degree was near the NMNH in Los Angeles, literally across the street. Unlike the Indian museums, there was an entry fee, which was waived for students at the university. Recently, when a cousin sister visited with her 4 year old son, one of the places I encouraged them to visit was the natural history museum. After all, which kid doesn’t love dinosaurs. It was almost like reliving my first childhood memory of a museum, a throwback to all those years.

As researchers, we spend years building up a career, making new discoveries and having eureka moments, sometimes all it takes is a fire to burn it ablaze. In the end, the ashes remain as a testimony of the millions of children who found joy and delight in being taken on an adventure, every week of their early childhood, and to the twinkle in my uncle’s eye, which I hope he is able to retrieve again.


This post is based on this news. My uncle is the director of this museum and the museum to him, a child.