The Town of Theseus

Anika walked by gracefully. She was draped in a sari bought at a local flea market and a bindi larger than the rising sun sat on her glistened forehead ; owing to the 45 degrees celsius on an October afternoon.

She paused for a moment to makes sure her purse was still there. Her hair was awry. As if she had taken all the time in the world to make sure her sari pleats sat perfectly horizontal to one another but the hair was ignored into a messy blob. The scent of Casablanca lily wafted through the street as she made her way.

Ram Gali had been glorious in it’s time. It boasted of chattering men and laughter of women as they came every Sunday morning to buy the week’s grocery. The temple in the corner made the most money on that day and the hawker’s faces carried a smile and a bag full of rupees when they went home for the evening.

But a building was erected on a parallel street and the cacophony of Ram Gali started dying out. Rumour had it that the place sold everything in one place. It was air conditioned and ran over 12 hours a day. They called it a ‘MALL’. The only ‘maal’ the city knew was in the CDs hidden under the pillows and at the backs of their cupboard. And just like that, it became the spot for Sunday chores.

This was 10 years ago.

Today, Ram Gali was an abandoned road. Even the saccadic masking didn’t hide the ghosts of conversations and tobacco imprints had started fading from the side walks. The street was surprisingly clean with zero signs of cow dung. The walls had inscriptions of a ruling party that did not win a single seat this time. The shutter of half the shops remained closed for quite a while now and the ones open were counting their breathes. The lazy shopkeepers swat flies, watching the cricket match under the hot air emanating from the table fan which dozed lazily from right – to – left and back right. The oscillating wall clock waltzed to it’s usual rhythm chiming every time the minute hand touched number twelve.

The lone temple managed to get a small crowd on Saturdays but on Sundays, the pujari opened the doors just during the evening Aarti for the lone girl who was a daily visitor for over 25 years now. The mundane street lit up every Sunday when she walked in, carrying her beige umbrella, maroon hand purse and a familiar smile. She would go to the temple, offer her prayers and a measly 25 rupees to the coin box. She then walked around the temple clockwise, four times and walk out to Karim Bhai’s shop for a glass of lemonade.

Karim bhai had seen Anika coming to have his infamous lemon juice with a zest of mint since she had learnt how to walk. Anika and her Baba were his favourite customers because they were the only folk in the town who appreciated his innuendos. Sunday routine for him was like a well oiled machine till one day he saw her coming alone. Her eyes spoke myriads but her poise remained stout. Such was the enigma she carried with her. Silent tears trickled down her eyes as she savoured every sip of her routine lemonade. She left the ten rupee note beneath the glass and all Sundays thus, she came alone.

Today was one such afternoon. Her walk was slower than usual. The sari was meticulously draped and her eyes wandered around as she walked towards the temple.

The pendulum seemed to have gained it’s momentum. The sound of television sets were playing in a 2X speed and the sun seemed to be running towards the horizon. In no time she arrived to savour her last sip of her last glass at Karim Bhai’s. She inhaled it all in. The smell of dirt and sweat, interspersed with fading blue paint and forgotten footpaths, the sound of the table fan competing with the blare of the third umpire’s discussion ; while clutching on to the empty glass that was still cold. She stood up, walked up to Karim Bhai and left a paper note on his table and stepped out of the shop, never to look back.
Karim Bhai stretched his hand to grab the familiar 10 rupee note but found a six figure cheque lying on the timber. He ran out of his shop to find Anika but she was long gone.
That day, Ram Gali lost it’s ikigai.

The town, under the siege of black suits and crisp shirts was undergoing massive transformation. They trampled over the old, bit by bit ; replacing the stalactites and stalagmites that had grown in the streets with towering buildings. Taking one plank at a time they rebuilt the ship to an apparent new glory. They claimed that nothing’s changed. It’s just the foundation that needed revamping. They called it their very own ‘Town of Theseus’.But somehow, between two towering giants of glass and cement, Ram Gali had survived. Against all odds it had continued living and preserving the primordial.

 

But today, it closed it’s eyes forever.
Once you strip her off, of everything old, does any amount of new feel the same?

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making poetry out of broken bones and dead leaves

I do not want melted cheese dripping out of your words

because I have decided to go vegan since

the memories of mint chocolate chip ice cream

won’t erase itself from my amygdala.

I believed in braided manes and pink bows till

You swept in like a tornado over my untamed inferno and

Blizzard got into my roots and home,

Became a non existent entity.

 

I stopped going to family functions because

Their tongues seemed too distant and faces

Broken down into senseless metaphors under

White lights and blazing sunlight and I

Am more comfortable in the dark.

As I sat on the swing and

Let you make me taste the sky over

Fierce promises woven with laughter and bloody kisses

Like a mattress that now I sleep on

Because the bed doesn’t hurt me enough and

A ceiling separating the sky from my ludicrous notions.

 

I think I prefer the smell of dead roses and

have found solace on empty benches with

Whiskey replacing my blood, making

My head so much more clear that I know

I was in a hallucination these last four years.

Paragraphs and prose don’t mean anything more than

Collateral damage over empty sheets and yellow parchments

Because they need to stay as they are/trust me,

I let myself be written on with ink and knife till

A seismic wave hit me and

My skin is a canvas of awry scars and subtle stab marks.

 

Profession of love and candle light dinners

Are not even a part of my history book because

The pages got burnt the night when the candelabras shattered

Over them and love

Got punctured even before it reached your palate and

I stood there listening to moans and haunted echoes

Like Chinese whispers they don’t make sense anymore

And I am deaf now.

 

My hall is map of broken glasses and

stench of my bare feet and uncombed hair/ walls blanketed with

Lines that I cried every day/ my throat hurts because

I drank from the last glass that was half chipped where my

Lips touched them and

I could taste metal on my tongue but

I did not stop till I retched it all out and slept on the floor

Curled up into a ball because the last time I was at peace

Was when I rested my head inside mother’s womb.

 

Today I drank tea from my last splintered glass and

Carried myself with poise because, yesterday

I smashed my furniture and the walls could not contain anymore alphabets, so

I wrote a poem over dead leaves that littered the cobblestones of our relationship

And the lines somehow penetrated into

broken bones and still tissues of my chest/ my heart

has finally found a way to pump its way to live, another day.

-amrutha

(Artwork by Shalu Sanklecha. Follow @artisan.affair on instagram for her work)

BUILDING FOUNTAIN OVER MY COFFIN

BREATHE

because those lungs won’t stay young for too long.

they say the air is turning wild

unfathomable humans have woven their magic.

the surface seemed too unscathed too beastly

with untamed splashes

of stains all over wrong places.

We have this problem you see, we want our presence felt at a place we have laid

our body parts on

and footprints are only but a temporary means to leave marks.

They started with red. Too much of red within and hardly a streak outside,

yeah sometimes a splash across the evening sky doesn’t count.

So they found a way.

Why not, in the name of a better life a better world a better god, play the game of cutting each other?

There!

Earth has been tainted and coloured now.

Pieces of meat strewn around, oh look at the rivers.

They won’t boast of purity now.

Red. They like things red. It has a primal force

that no green blue or brown of the world

can match.

Wait.

No. Something is wrong.

This doesn’t feel complete.

Something is missing

Something.

Yes! Her skin is too clear and ego rampant.

The rage and storm is brewing faster than the Harvey. Let us mark her.

Leave imprints of naked fingers over her empty arms and unmarked legs, complete the artwork with cigarette butt marks at other places.

There. Now you can breathe.

What were you saying about the air?

I know you haven’t slept more peacefully.

LAUGH

Spread your arms wide enough to contain

all the happiness there is.

You don’t find it easy these days.

Fill every ounce of air there is

within those alveoli and let the vocal cords do their magic.

Inhale happiness and exhale laughter. *breathe in-breathe out*

Don’t forget the eyes.

I see them happy today. Moments, like these is what I live for.

Just let the feral take over your body and

Let the wolves know you are home.

No no. Don’t stop because they are looking.

They always do.

I told you.

Happiness doesn’t come easy here.

Remind them of sunny oceans and warm cups of tea in monsoon

of Christmas lights and fairy tales because

Claws of hierarchy has gnawed into

their arteries and the veins too, haven’t been spared.

You see, they are hurting everywhere.

Laugh and make them believe in piggyback rides and mistletoe kisses

of tooth fairies and sheer old good luck.

Let them see you laughter and burn on a pyre built on their altar

because they are way too high on vodka

to remember how it feels to

have heart broken and skin sutured

to have the ground crack open beneath bare feet and fall.

But more importantly, they have forgotten to swat away dust

from the back of their khakhi shorts and

find their way away from the riot

to set the world on fire.

CRY

because you are drowning.

And what better place to hide those useless, unwelcoming tears

Than under water.

You think you own yourself? You are the masters of your fate? Your destiny?

You think you decide what’ll happen to you?

Think again.

I will give you two seconds.

*1-2*

there. I just proved my point. I made you think, made you hear me out.

Everyday you get up to the drumrolls of feminism, secularism, nationalism and the likes

yet, every frequency of those sound waves hitting your eardrums

doesn’t manage to make it’s home inside your skin.

You still hope that the guy whose eyes your eyes met

at the bar of your friend’s funeral would text you.

You expect piercing bullets to not leave marks and trees

to offer you shade when you have cut them all down.

You expect the city to offer gold when all you have showered it with,

are your whimsical tears. Go on. Let it fall.

It’s the least of yourself you can give.

Cry, because a woman is raped every 15 minutes.

Cry, because someone’s dies on the road every 4 minutes.

Cry, because 21 children under the age of 5 die every minute

Cry, because we are meticulously killing humanity to silence the holocaust within

but we forget that Hitler, was one of us.

SCREAM

Because reasoning is light years away and

emotion is hot metal over wet tongue.

You are made up of star dust yet

you aren’t shining bright enough.

Frantic nights spent over long distance phone calls and

equal number of days of being sprawled over the atlas

Making paper dreams and combustible promises won’t leave any mark.

G strings and polaroids done right may

seem like a bloody paradise but

oh it is all a facade, so do not remain silent.

i see the blazing inferno behind monkey masks and plastic laughs so

Stop.

Stop with the filters and the god forsaken hearts.

You are an incomplete page of an incredible book

And you need to scream out loud.

Scream, till words are forced to leave the comfort of A4 sizes and dear diaries.

Scream, till it is not monochrome everywhere and shops don’t just sell the bedsheets red.

Scream, because your laughter has left the distorted shadows that haunt the roads you once called home and threaten to wipe away a little more.

Scream, till every syllable that never left your mouth

finds a pyre to burn off ambiguity and bring back hope into newspaper headlines and shadowed baggy eyes.

Scream with every father, friend and daughter till their demons are murdered in their own nightmares and they find a corner to lay their head to rest.

SCREAM BECAUSE

IF YOU DON’T SHATTER THE SCREEN

AND BREAK THE GLASS INTO BITS AND PIECES AND TURN IT INTO GALAXIES

AND THEIR STARS/

IF YOU DON’T TEAR YOUR VOICE BOX BUT

LEAVE THE STADIUM WITH A SILENT REMARK,

you will go with fall leaves sans epitaph over your cold tombstone.

Build a fountain over your coffin while you still can

because tomorrow

no one would be left to mourn.

-amrutha

bitter lemonade.

A W K W A R D

The word defines me. Mother should have

named me that – awkward.

My right foot came in front of my left

when I tried walking. I was one.

I tripped, fell and looked around, dazed.

yes.

A W K W A R D.

 

3rd grade.

Math teacher wanted a

Math textbook for the

Math oral exam.

I ran clutching mine, the idea of her possessing MY textbook

for the examination, gave me the happiness of winning a marathon.

(don’t judge)

 

So, I ran.

hair flying everywhere/ limbs gone awry and

thrust the book right at her hand which

rested on a book. The collision tore the book.

her book, not mine.

I haven’t seen a face redder than hers till date.

There I stood being at the podium and in one moment,

someone punched me right at my stomach.

There you go – awkward.

 

Until, I met her.

Just like that, the jigsaw puzzle I was trying to solve for 12 years

had a face.

Apparently, I was holding the last piece in the wrong direction.

Effortlessly, we held hands and tiptoed our way right through

boys diwalis tears and broken hearts

bunny-teeth acne algebra and mondays.

Ours was an origami that no one could create

morse code communications no one could decipher.

Friendship so rock solid that no permutations or combinations could do us apart.

 

11 years ago, we met.

9 years ago, she left.

 

WHY?

WHY WHY?

It’s been 108 months yet my closet of reasoning stays empty

but I have a room full of questions.

The four walls scream/ the ceiling a volatile emotional mess/ the floor

strewn with all pieces of puzzles and

no two pieces fit anymore.

 

That’s it.

I am done with it.

I am going to lock the door today and heat the key

in the furnace till it melts, evaporates and ceases to exist

for the naked eyes.

I trip/ I fall/ I stutter when new faces appear/I break things/

I am awkward,

But dropping the glass is sweeter than

stepping on the shards of someone else’s fault.

I don’t need faux magicians anymore.

 

This poem, is NOT for her.

because I don’t write poetry for airplanes that never take off

and this one was engineered wrong.

This is for YOU. Remember,

Somethings are better left lost.

-amrutha

Ahmedabad, I am here now.

Me and you?

We were one. Well,

Almost because the shimmer

Of distance composed of

City lights and waves dark

Darker than the souls we

Oh so beautifully share,

Is existent.

I left you because I thought

I needed more.

You were not enough. But all these years

I have had a page in my wallet

Creased with six lines.

The left side is zigzagged because I tore it from an atlas in my library.

It was Day 2

I was missing you.

And I’d forgotten to pack your picture.

I am here now.

The first time we met, after all these years

The smell of Rajma Chawal

Was all I received from my teary eyed mother

You? You refused to even look at me.

I get it. You were angry.

I can see the rust

That has crept up over the years.

I am an artist now. It

Shall be painted

With my set of oil pastels and water colours

And every other tool I possess until

the muck is obliterated

And colours will bleed at your every crevice.

As I walked and see more of you, I am aghast.

It is frustrating to look at you like this.

You have been trampled

And marred with blood

Where feet of size 3 ran

With bat and ball in their little fingers.

The sound of their laughter

that sang in every street that you proudly wore

Has been silenced. It is deafening.

But I promise,

I will sing for you.

I know there were times when

You cried for help

When her shrieking wont stop.

At 2 am, her tears were muffled

And humanity died a little in your arm.

And you called out,

Out loud but no one listened.

They slept on, in your other arm

Unaware and you?

Your arm was hurt but mended overnight

But the heart? A part of it ruined beyond repair.

I am awake now. I will hear you.

Every time it was just me and you

When I got back from school

Or a late night shenanigan,

You took my hand and squeeze it.

Assuring me that I should not be afraid of The dark. That I

Am safe in your embrace.

Today, you falter.

Your hands are shaking. I can see it in your eyes that you want

To tell me, You will be okay.

But you can’t. I know you love me

And you are afraid for me.

Come, give me your hand.

*squeezes it*

It will be alright.

You are lost. You are afraid.

Because there was a day, when

You gave hope, home and loved.

But the monsters trampled all over you

Slashing, digging, hurting you.

You can hardly breathe anymore

Your voice lost in the dead of the night

When you were screaming

For help.

help that never arrived.

But trust me.

I am here now

I am sorry to have left you.

You are my home.

I will make it alright.

Not perfect.

“Amu! You won’t know. You have it all sorted.”
 
Every time I hear those lines leaving the vocal cords of people
In different styles, dialects, languages, sounds, contexts
I wonder, if they indeed are right.
If I am so bloody sorted in life that I haven’t worn dirty sneakers.
 
Then,
I look down
And come across my own pair of worn out ones.
Whiteness long gone, right one’s lace untied with
A blotch of navy blue on the top right corner
Where my ex had accidentally dropped his ink pen.
 
Do you want to know the story?
Well, it is just another Ekta Kapoor direction, really.
Girl meets boy
Boy meets girl (obviously)
Stolen glances, social media exchanges, late night phone calls
And love. Or was it?
Because I always imagined love to come in all his glamour
Imaginary violin in the background, roses and
FOREVERS.
It turned out to be, one of the next few repetitive mistakes
Broken hearts, mended in a fortnight.
No, I did not even need ice cream, rebounds, bandages
To fix it.
To fix me.
Ah! Is that why she called me that?
Sorted. Because its been 2 years and she still can’t stop crying over her scars every time
Our conversations stretch too long
And I muffle my screams with a ball made out of my blanket so that 2 am remains silent.
 
I have always wanted to be a doctor.
I have fleeting images of running around
Carrying the doctor set and treating mom of her tears that she sometimes shed behind closed doors.
I used to grab on to the head mirror, fixing it like a crown
Covering the right eye with the silver plate that let me look at the site of complain.
It was a tiny little hole but
The three year old girl peered through the opening trying to decipher the cause of wet cheeks.
She took a tissue and tried drying the surface, first the right side then the left.
Seven attempts later, she succeeded.
She meticulously took a generous amount of Johnson baby cream
And applied it evenly all over the cheeks till
The smile returned. I remember being proud of myself.
I’d cured maa. I sure could cure other people too.
Today, I am an intern.
I am showered with awe, respect, raised eye brows and a thump at the back.
‘Beta, tumhaari to life set hai.’
YOU HAVE IT ALL SORTED.
Well, have I?
Every alternate day, I wonder if I would have been a better writer.
Some mornings, I get up to the remnants
Of my dreams where I was teaching 4th graders.
But I still don the stethoscope with a smile and take my vehicle to the hospital everyday.
Trust me, Sharma Aunty, Gupta uncle. I don’t know what I am doing.
 
“Amu is the mom of our gang.
She knows exactly what to do and what to say.”
Sometimes, I almost become comfortable with adopting those words.
Almost.
Remember when you were a kid? You cheated that one question and scored a 50 out of 50.
But you never really were happy because deep down
You knew you deserved a 49?
What? Don’t give me that poker face. Come on !
We have all done it once.
I feel I am a 49 when they call me that.
When they call me SORTED.
 
I wouldn’t mind it, really.
Somedays I want my coffee to be heated to a perfect temperature
On a day where clouds have obscured the sky
Just enough to scatter drizzle to let the petrichor through my window.
And I snuggle up to The Deathly Hallows and pink blanket
No interruptions. Not even pee breaks.
Well. Perfect right? Too perfect to be true.
That is what I am.
Just standing here, draped in an invisible cloak.
 
You don’t know about the demons I silence to maintain the facade.
I have so many skeletons of all kinds in my closet that the door won’t close.
I am disarrayed every moment when loneliness hits me hard and knocks me out
And i wake up to the smell of burnt cigarettes between my middle and the index finger.
 
I have had heart breaks. Yeah probably not from twenty two tinder dates. But from one true love.
I hate, I am jealous too. Inferiority complex creeps up every other day.
Even I change ten tops before choosing one, it’s just that I do it in 5 instead of 30 minutes you take.
And to beat it all, I am not even sure about being a doctor.
 
So no.
I am not sorted.
Stop calling me that.

Faces

Just some days,
You want to clutch on
To the strands that adore you
And pull it apart with every ounce of
Expression within.
And other days,
Tend to them
Like a new phone
Caressing it, tugging it
Behind your ears.
Also days come, when you
Want to wash the grim
Away,
Literally.
And you stand there, repeating the task
Over and over again
Till you find it within you
To step out to wear
A new piece of cloth.
You can't change the body, the skin,
Or strands the wind
oh so lovingly wants to carry off.
Sometimes you want to be carried away too when
The silence of the echoes of conversations
Within you won't be replaced
With bass or strum or tune
And everyone around you,
Becomes a liability.

-amrutha