Friday, May 26, 2017

The Flight

Hands folded behind her back in expertly unbeknownst-to-fliers signage, she signals that the child that just stumbled in is afraid to fly. “First flight for the little one?”, she fake-grins at the mother that follows a second after, stumbling. She has no time to stop and listen or return the smile. Instead, she thrusts her three bags of life through the fat first class seats, much to their occupants’ pretend class-based annoyance.

Seated in Row 21, the mother straps her son to his seat, as he snivels nervously. The fear of flying is a shitty nobody, compared to the fear of where they were going, or the fear they just left behind.

Wartime flights. The frictional wheels of the airplane against the bomb-pocked runway, drowning the low-volume screams in the horizon, not so far form the airport. The whizz of the wings in smoky air, filtered through artificially perfumed air-vents. The smells of burning hair and skin – repugnant and throaty, now smelled like Febreeze, with a hint of reality. The pilot’s flight-plan, riddled with do’s and don’ts red contours of no-fly zones, as he blinks stupid and promises a safe flight, albeit long, chugs a shot as he presses on.

The coach stewards botox their smiles on, and offer everyone sympathy cookies, butterscotch. The sweet and crisp meal, sinks its artificial flavors slowly. The cabin, a series of teeth grinding, mastication, and imagination – of their best home-made lunch, nonpareil.

The luck to flee was an opportunity that didn’t offer itself to everyone. Some burned with the bombs. Others had their limbs blown as trophies. Still others yet had other parts atrophy. Children smiled buried.

The lucky flew.

“Are we there yet?”


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Government Nouns - River

Picking up her spade, she eyeballs left to right in a ruse of privacy, and shoves it with might into the moist and welling bund. The Kaveri bleeds silently and brown into her dried puddle of a yard. She cups a few handfuls to her face, dunks her two unkempt children in. They squeal and splash about.

Image courtesy: Flickr

Growing up along the border was often a confusion of this’s and that’s or this’s or that’s. You took the bus far north and you aren’t a Kannadiga any more. Or you slather your face yellow with turmeric and vermilion and traipse too south into Kongu Naadu and you’re no longer a Tamil. You either picked a side, or settle in the middle – a strange limbo of cultures in a disarray of border politics, not-my-job’s, and associated freedoms.

As a little girl, she often wondered how maps worked – did a cartographer really walk the courses, and dig his drafting pen deep into the soil with an invisible ink? How did he cross the rivers and seas?

Did the water taste better on the other side of the bund?

Her youngest smiles evil, as a warm gush of urine makes its way up the little pond, now large enough for her little plot of tomatoes and spinach. She tugs at his right ear.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Government Nouns


The mellow smells of blood, tangy, in boiling water, two needles audibly clanging and stinging the sides of the saucepan. The neighbors in a friendly huddle of comfortingly shared bread, fleas, sex, and needles. The dog blending with the shaggy dust on the beer-sticky floorboards. A jenga-burst of half empty soda cans in untaken-out tins.

“The heat kills the virus,” – Thea’s voice is reassuring. Her grandfather was in Korea, vaccinating troops against the pox with his stainless steel syringe. She dropped out of school to help him at the shop, her medical degree earned through his stories of war, blown digits, and eyepatches.

A pair of gloves lie dead on the kitchen counter, which she flaps and then blows into balloons with alien fingers, yellowed, and expertly slips them on.

“Who’s next?”

Reed draws the shortest straw, as he sinks into the dusty barcalounger, raises the sleeve of his Sunday church shirt, and Thea tips the needle, expertly spattering the bubbles out. He exhales painless hope, as his wife kisses his chapped lips, then cringes a little at his breath.

“Remember – take the test,” says Thea. “It’s the one thing that you can get over the counter. The irony.”

“Oh and pray. Like our Governor.”

“Who’s next?”

Monday, August 03, 2015

Government Nouns


A muddy bund breaks two small pieces of backyard land in two, leached in soapy pesticidal discard, boiling its way down with water gushing out the nearby pump-set. Sad weevil families shriek and fall and drown, on their backs, legs in the air, poison awash. On the left, the happy Norman Borlaug paddies, tossed with indigenous genes stick up straight, whooshing handsomely with the little breeze. The right, a sorry excuse, sags with the weight of every surviving grain, stippled with weevil worms, inbred, dying, and organic. She bends over a small plot, sinking her feet into the muddy soil that gobbles them up hungrily. Expertly, she swings a sickle underhand, flinging the plant into an old sari made into a pouch around her neck. Her mother works the healthy plot, leveling every square inch. By noon, the harvest is complete, the two plots equaled by sickles, shorn, stumpy, stubbly.

Harvest days were always a struggle between choosing the rewards of a healthy meal, versus reserving grains for buyers. She decides to cook two pots today – one with a handful of the sweet, long-grained hybrid rice for her daughter, and they take turns in picking the insects out of the government rice on the sifting pan, tossing it expertly up and down, to separate the husk. Tomorrow, the insects and ugly rice will travel to a godown in the town, to be sold at a discount to welfare card-holders. The GM rice will feed the wealthy in a stew of GM chicken, fat with bright white eggs, slathered in GM butter from GM cows. The ironies of bipartite rice economy in the East – organic for the poor, and GM for the rich.

As the starchy steam wallops their one room and roof, their mouths water. Missed, and now boiled weevils float in the froth. She strains the rice into a pungent mix of watery buttermilk, asafoetida, green chili peppers, and mustard, and saves the water. Lunch is served. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Part 14 Popcorn Man

He digs his right arm into the bag and shovels it into his face, as most of the corn flies half-crunch-munched to the floor. The little birds fly little, temporary flights, dodging, and landing around his swaying Parkinson legs, catching jettisoning popcorn kernels, mid-air bombs. He refuses, or takes and tosses any other food from passers-by – donuts lay rotting and trodden around him, he affirms a “No”, to the bananas I offer. In a second of personal affront, I wish that he shits bloody kernels tonight. And then I take it back. Arguably, the dynamics of choice aren’t differential – perhaps he is allergic to bananas. Nothing personal, bro. But I strain my eyes to adjudge if he were wearing any of the clothes that I had given him a month ago, or shoes. The same dirty rain-or-shine bomber hides the same dirty red and black hoodie. Nothing. He had chosen popcorn over bananas. He had chosen a favorite bomber over a new coat.

There is no need for a new coat when there is nowhere to hang it up, but at the corner of Walnut and Broad, no want for a new pair of shoes when your feet are now walking calluses.

I wonder if he had ever asked anything from anyone. Always wanting little, he enjoyed the convenience of little wants. Is he happy when he takes what’s given? Is he sad when he refuses?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Government Nouns

Job - The Wheel Seat

Slopped in hot pleather-sweat, dribbling into the starch of her sari to make a paste, she wishes she didn’t have to answer the phone that was hidden in the third zipper from the left in her handbag. Plonked on the wheel seat, the van’s dunce chair, the pariah of all seats, she lets it be, the muffled rings going relatively unnoticed as the van inches and brakes through office traffic. At every jerk, the sudden spills of somebody’s lunch heave into the air in old-oniony throngs. Morning smells in the privately owned van that plied middle-class Government working women. From counting notes in home economics envelopes to counting notes for the Officers they worked for, in mysterious packages handed under tables, in boxes of sweets, or beneath the flowers in a bouquet. The irresistible temptation to swipe a note or two for a kilo of tamarind, or malt.

The van grumbles to a halt at a traffic light, as her phone rings again, ungiving, interrupting the usual chit-chat over yesternight’s soaps. She senses the angry stares around in the trickles of mustache sweat that creep into the sides of her lips. She digs into the bag and fetches the phone out, flipping it open.

In what feels like a slap to her face, moments later, she is talking to her empty left palm. Gone.

The women begin screaming and yelling at the two miscreants on a motorcycle that zuzz-zzuzz through the vehicular gaps, past the lights and into the turning traffic. The driver hears the commotion and offers to chase the thieves down, but he is shot down by blaring horns against his effort to pulse his way through the traffic. Helpless, he scratches his oily hair, then sniffs his finger nails.

“What should I do?”

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Government Nouns


The seepage in the ceiling hangs full like a bladder. In a godless world, it would burst in the mornings when a neighbor flushed.
Buckets set out for rainy day harvesting. Window to window, door to door, clotheslines slide and sink to the middle. The sick of moldy wet laundry clings for sudden surprises outside.
A cockroach surfs the trickles of rain along the walls in unexpected convenience, onto the floor, and scatters away seeking some dark corner, hissed with poison the previous night, never to father little skittering children again.
A window brings fear and relief. The glass pokes like bloody teeth from corners. “Just stained glass”, he had promised, as a chicken fried breeze chatters in, elusive. The little one swallows her spit.
Huddled by the cracked window, they imagine the words to the images on one of three TV’s next door and wait for an uncertain meal.
A murky bladder bursts in the ceiling in a godless world.


When the Government decided to prioritize wholesome entertainment over necessities, it urged the cynics to posit existential crises, once again. What is the purpose of life? Do we just eat and shit? But when there’s nothing to eat, or nowhere to shit, why do we need a television? The poverty line grazers echoed in a Beckettsian silence – to pass the time.
To the middle and upper classes, they were free. That demanded possession regardless of the LCD television already rapping to Sun TV, muffled by the unwrapped and yellowing packaging around it in their living rooms. They made excellent wedding presents to the despicable. Or excellent charity.
To the wishful and homeless, it was a luxurious burden, sold in corners for meals.
In a stroke of luck, Sivan stood in a sweaty line for hours to claim his free television. But lineless, his wife was given one out of the generosity of the middle aged madam she worked odd jobs for. And his son had claimed another for ten Rupees.
So he sat two on top of each other on the floor, the third above a spare LPG canister, and prayed to Muruga for more rooms than one, and multi-tasked crying, and laughing with prime time soaps.